With the Pope’s death expected sometime tonight, that’s a big question. The answer, of course, is: nobody really knows.

But certainly, these hints are not reassuring:

VATICAN CITY – Ailing Pope John Paul approved a flurry of Church appointments around the world on Friday in another possible indication he was approaching the end of his life.

A Vatican statement said the Pope had appointed 17 new bishops and archbishops and accepted the resignation of six others.

The nominations and resignations included bishops in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, republics of the former Soviet Union and the Pacific.

The large number of appointments and resignations, unusual for one day, was an indication that the Pope, who appeared close to death on Friday, wanted to clear up unfinished business.

National Catholic Reporter:

Despite popular impressions that the business of the papacy comes grinding to a halt when the pope is sick, the normal pace of activity during the pope’s recent illness has suffered barely a hiccup. According to official Vatican bulletins, during March John Paul II:

  • Appointed 29 bishops;
  • Issued 10 messages for various groups and occasions, totaling 5,891 words;
  • Issued two telegrams;
  • Participated in one ad limina visit, with the bishops of Tanzania;
  • Prepared the text of four Sunday Angelus messages;
  • Written his annual Holy Thursday letter to Priests, of 2,095 words;
  • Appointed five officers for an upcoming Synod of Bishops;
  • Appointed four new officers to the government of the Vatican city-state;
  • Appointed a new member of the Prefecture of Economic Affairs;
  • Appointed six members of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Even with a pope in the flush of health, it would strain credibility to believe that he was personally responsible for all this activity. Given John Paul’s current fatigue and weakness, however, it is all the more impossible to maintain that the pope himself is personally engaged in the details of all these appointments and texts.

From the testimony of everyone who has seen him during this period, it’s clear that Pope John Paul II retains full lucidity and is capable of saying “yes” or “no” to proposals placed before him, and can still add some characteristic personal touches. At the same time, however, everyone concedes that, increasingly, the bulk of the work is being performed by others.

So, the $64,000 question: Who are these others? Who’s really running the show?

Let’s hope it’s the Holy Spirit.

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