Benedict, 85, who made history by becoming the first pope since the Middle Ages to step down, has looked increasingly frail in his few public appearances since his resignation in February.
He appeared particularly unsteady when he was visited by his successor, Pope Francis, at Castel Gandolfo, the summer papal residence outside Rome where Benedict has been staying.
Paloma Gomez Borerro, a veteran Vatican correspondent from Spain, claimed that “Benedict is in a very bad way. In the last 15 days he has undergone a tremendous physical deterioration.”
Benedict is due to move to a former convent within the Vatican within the next month, but Gomez Borrero said she thought it unlikely he would spend much time there. “We won’t have him with us for very much longer,” she said.
Vatican insiders said her claim that Benedict had deteriorated sharply in the past 15 days was “alarmist,” but conceded that he had become weaker.
“Anyone who has watched the pope over the last few months has seen that he has deteriorated,” said a senior insider.
“At his final public appearances, it was evident that he was having difficulty walking. The overall decline has been steady.”