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Vatican says pope hit head during Mexico trip

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI hit his head during his March 2012 trip to Mexico, The Vatican said Thursday, but denied the accident had any "relevant" role in his resignation.

It was the latest revelation of a hidden health issue to emerge from the Holy See since the pope's shock announcement, and adds to questions about the gravity of the pontiff's condition. On Tuesday, the Vatican said for the first time that Benedict has a pacemaker, and that he had its batteries replaced just three months ago.

Italy's La Stampa newspaper reported Thursday that Benedict hit his head and bled when he got up in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar bedroom in Leon, Mexico. The report said blood stained his hair and sheets.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi confirmed the incident but said "it was not relevant for the trip, in that it didn't affect it, nor in the decision" to resign.

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reported earlier in the week that Benedict had taken the decision to resign after the Mexico-Cuba trip, which was physically exhausting for the 85-year-old pope.

Earlier Thursday, Benedict held a 45-minute, off-the-cuff reminiscence about the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, blaming the media for what he called the media's distorted interpretation of the church meetings at the time for many "calamities" that plague the Catholic Church today.

It was the second day in a row that Benedict has sent very pointed messages to his successor and the cardinals who will elect him about the direction the church must take once he is no longer pope. While his farewell remarks on Wednesday were in many ways bittersweet, Benedict was more combative on Thursday as he addressed an audience hall full of thousands of priests.

Benedict was a young theological expert at Vatican II, the 1962-65 meetings that brought the Catholic Church into the modern world with important documents on the church's relations with other religions, its place in the world and the liturgy.

Benedict has spent much of his eight-year pontificate seeking to correct what he considers the misinterpretation of Vatican II, insisting that it wasn't a revolutionary break from the past, as liberal Catholics paint it, but a renewal and reawakening of the best traditions of the ancient church.

He nailed that point home on Thursday, blaming botched media reporting of the council's deliberations for having reduced the work to "political power struggles between various currents in the church."

Because the media's interpretation was dominant and "accessible to all," it fueled the popular understanding of what the council was all about, he said. That led in the years that followed to "so many calamities, so many problems, really so many miseries: Seminaries that closed, convents that closed, the liturgy that was banalized."

In what will be one of his final public remarks as pope, Benedict said he hoped the "true council" will one day be understood.

"Our job in this 'Year of Faith' is to work so that the true council, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, is truly realized and that the church is truly renovated."

Just hours earlier, Benedict delivered another pointed message during an emotional Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, his last public liturgy before he resigns as pope Feb. 28.

In his homily, Benedict lamented the internal church rivalries that he said had "defiled the face of the church" — a not-too-subtle message to his successor and the cardinals who will elect him.

Those rivalries came to the fore last year with the leaks of internal papal documents by the pope's own butler. The documentation revealed bitter infighting within the highest ranks of the Catholic Church, allegations of corruption and mismanagement of the Holy See's affairs.

Benedict took the scandal as a personal betrayal and a wound on the entire church. In a sign of his desire to get to the bottom of the leaks, he appointed a commission of cardinals to investigate alongside Vatican investigators. His butler, Paolo Gabriele, was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison, although Benedict ultimately pardoned him.

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