From Newsday.com - Pope Names Cardinals Despite Failing Health:
"Access to the pope has been curtailed in recent months, with meetings cut to three or four minutes to conserve his strength, said Pecklers. And his longtime secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, is said to be signing more of the papers crossing his desk, he said.
Dziwisz (pronounced DJEE-vish) was ordained a priest by John Paul and worked for him in Krakow before he was elected pope. Dziwisz is widely viewed as the gatekeeper and, increasingly, the proxy for John Paul. Dziwisz 'is the single, most important figure in this pontificate in the last few years since the pope's health has declined,' said the Rev. Richard McBrien, a theologian and historian at Notre Dame.
Concerns about the pope have been reinforced by reported episodes of possible mental deterioration.
A Vatican source who asked not to be named said that when the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, met the pope this month, Williams was told not to expect any meaningful conversation because of the pope's difficulty conversing. One person present said he heard the pope ask an aide, 'Where is he from?' as Williams departed. He said the aide replied, 'England.'
Yet Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., insisted that when he saw the pope at an audience last week, John Paul 'spoke in seven or eight different languages and . . . he prayed and he waved to the people. Everything he wanted to say, he said.'
Some speculate that the moments in which the pope seems disconnected or disoriented may be suggestive of a man who may become confused when he is tired or when his medications are not working properly - a problem that would not be unusual for a man of 83 who still pushes himself tremendously and who has suffered from Parkinson's disease for years.
Still, there is a sense that a step in the pope's decline may have occurred before people's eyes this week. "Prior to this week, when you asked cardinals about what happens if the pope becomes unable to function, they'd say, 'We'll cross that bridge when we come to it,'" said John Allen, author of "Conclave," a book about papal succession.
"I think for the first time there's a sense that we may be at that bridge."