The Vatican has dismissed as baseless a report that Pope Francis has a brain tumour, with a spokesman challenging anyone who thinks the pontiff is seriously ill to try keeping up with him.
Quotidiano Nazionale, the newspaper which made the claim, on Wednesday (local time) said it stood by its story that a "small dark spot" had been detected on the 78-year-old pontiff's brain several months ago.
The paper said it was discovered by Japanese neurosurgeon Takanori Fukushima, a world expert on skull base tumours who is partly based at the San Rossore di Barbaricina clinic near Pisa in central Italy.
According to the report, the professor and a medical team were flown by helicopter to the Vatican to examine Francis and concluded that the tumour was treatable without surgery.
Quotidiano based its story largely on the supposed account of a nurse at the clinic who reportedly saw medical notes under Francis's real name, Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
But Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi insisted the claims were baseless – and that he had checked them with the Pope himself.
"I can confirm that no Japanese doctor came to the Vatican to see the Pope and there were no examinations of the type indicated in the article," he told hundreds of journalists in an unusually well-attended Vatican press briefing.
He repeated an early condemnation of the report as "an irresponsible act that was completely unjustified and unspeakable".
Clearly exasperated, the Vatican media chief resorted to irony to get his message across.
"If you had to run after him during his overseas trips, you'd know," (he is in good health), Lombardi said.
"He does have some problems with his legs but the head seems to me to be working absolutely perfectly."
Fukushima did meet Pope Francis but it was in October 2014, according to a post on the surgeon's Japanese blog, which does not indicate any professional connection.
Andrea Cangini, the director of Quotidiano, said he had anticipated the Vatican reaction.
"This denial is understandable and to be expected," he said.
"We waited a long time before publishing the report in order to carry out every possible check. We don't have the slightest doubt that it is founded."