SANTA MONICA, CA — A powerful pope who has been on the road and in the spotlight for decades died Tuesday after being stabbed in the neck by a priest in Santa Monica, the Vatican said.
A day earlier, the pope had been on a tour of Latin America.
Francis, 82, had been hospitalized after he was stabbed at a church in the seaside resort of Santa Barbara in the early hours of Monday morning, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Text said in a statement.
The Vatican said he was admitted to the hospital with a “serious” injury and had died shortly afterward.
A spokesman for the Santa Barbara County coroner’s office said in an email the cause of death was “undetermined.”
In a news conference Tuesday, Santa Barbara Mayor Bob Calkins said he believed the assailant had been “acting violently” when he stabbed the pope in the throat.
He said the attacker was a man in his 40s and that he had a long history of violence against clergy.
The attacker, who police later identified as a priest, was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder and attempted murder.
In a statement Tuesday night, the U.S. bishops’ conference called on the Vatican to “do more to protect” the pope.
“Pope Francis is loved and respected by so many and so many lives are lost every day, yet the Pope’s faith and faith-healing power are the foundation of his appeal to us,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the U., the bishops’ U.N. ambassador.
The Vatican statement said that the suspect was arrested at a local airport and was being held without bail.
The U.K. prime minister said the U,S.
and other countries are “at a crossroads” with respect to the pope and the church and that his death could have significant repercussions for the world.
In his first public remarks since his death, Pope Francis said he had suffered a “major attack” in his native Argentina and that the “life of the pope is under siege.”
He also said he wanted to apologize to the Argentinian people for the “grave mistake” in their handling of the matter.
Francises comments came as thousands of people gathered in Santa Barbara to honor him and a crowd of thousands gathered in the small town of Santa Cruz to remember the pontiff who was elected in 1979 and who became known for his uncompromising stance on social issues and for his tough-on-crime policies.
In the early 1960s, the Argentinean pontiff was charged with tax evasion, racketeering and corruption.
He was sentenced to seven years in prison and received a “temporary” release in 1971.
He spent most of the next eight years in exile, eventually settling in the Vatican and founding the Pontificate of Jesus, which he established in 1982.
Francisco is survived by his wife of 62 years, Sister Beatriz, and his daughter Beatriz-Maria.