VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI will officially be called “His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus” or simply “Roman pontiff emeritus” after he steps down from the papacy on Thursday.
Following Vatican tradition upon the death of a pope, his ”Fisherman’s Ring” also will be destroyed and he will return to wearing his episcopal ring from his time as Cardinal Ratzinger.
These were just two of a series of significant aspects concerning the papal resignation and the following interregnum disclosed by the Vatican today.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters the Holy Father had chosen his new title after consulting with others. Contrary to recent reports, he said the Pope preferred not to use the title “Bishop Emeritus of Rome” that some had predicted, including a senior Vatican canonist.
The Vatican disclosed that in retirement, the Pope would also wear a simple white cassock but without the mozzetta (elbow-length cape). And instead of red shoes, he will wear brown ones he was given last year in León, Mexico, a city “famous for beautiful and comfortable shoes.”
Father Lombardi stressed that the Holy Father is “spending these last days in the apostolic palace in a spirit of prayer” and will have no meetings, talks or audiences today. His aides are currently packing his belongings; those related to his office as Pope he will leave behind for his successor, while files from his time as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are being sorted and packed.
The Vatican spokesman said that Benedict XVI has been receiving “hundreds of messages from all over the world from heads of state, world leaders and others.” Archbishop Georg Gänswein, prefect of the Pontifical Household, is reading a selection of them to him, Father Lombardi said, so that he knows “of the love, gratitude and affection from people throughout the whole world.”
His Final Day
Fifty thousand tickets have been requested for tomorrow’s general audience, the Pope’s final appearance in St. Peter’s Square, but many more people are expected. The Holy Father will be driven around the square so many of the faithful can see him up close, but he will not be having the usual bacciamani — the brief personal greetings that take place after the ceremony — because too many want to personally say goodbye to him.
Instead he will be having a private audience afterwards in the Clementine Hall with a small delegation of heads of state from nations including Slovakia, San Marino and Andorra, as well as Horst Seehofer, minister-president of Bavaria, Germany.
At 11am on Thursday, the final day of his pontificate, the Pope will meet cardinals in the Clementine Hall. After a short address from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, each cardinal will have a chance to say something personally to the Pope.
At 4:55pm, the Pope will be taken down to the San Damaso courtyard in the apostolic palace where Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and other senior staff from the Secretariat of State will bid him farewell.
He will then be driven to the heliport in the Vatican Gardens where he will take his leave from Cardinal Sodano and others, before boarding the helicopter for the 15-minute flight to the apostolic palace at Castel Gandolfo. There he will be greeted by civil authorities and Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano. The Pope will greet the faithful from balcony in the courtyard of the apostolic palace.
At 8pm, the gates will symbolically close and the Swiss Guards will leave the premises as their duty is to protect the Pope - the office that Benedict will no longer hold from that moment forward. However, the Vatican reassured that Benedict XVI will continue to have security protection from the Vatican police instead.
The Pope’s ring and his papal seal are to be destroyed soon afterwards, according to the apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis (On the Vacancy of the Apostolic See and Election of the Roman Pontiff), but the exact time is to be determined by the College of Cardinals, the Vatican said.
The Cardinals Assemble
Not until the period sede vacante begins can Cardinal Sodano send a letter to the cardinals asking them to come to Rome.
The Vatican said prelates will not be housed in the Domus Sanctae Marthae residence until the eve of the beginning of the conclave so that the rooms can be prepared. They will be assigned rooms by lot beforehand.
The meetings of cardinals prior to the conclave, called the general congregation, will take place in the New Synod Hall, in the Paul VI hall. During these discussions, the assembled cardinals will prepare for the election of the new Pope, examine the conclave rules and, similar to a synod, discuss the challenges facing the Church.
One of the first and most pressing duties is deciding on whether to move the date of the conclave forward, as allowed in the Pope’s motu proprio, published Feb. 25. Usually a conclave can only start from a statutory 15 days after the death or resignation of a pope.
The Vatican stressed the formal convocation of cardinals is a formality as some are in Rome already, but it still has significance. Father Pius Pietrzyk, a canonist from Zanesville, Ohio, told the Register that the new motu proprio “requires all cardinals to respond to the convoking of the conclave” and that “only those who are unable to attend by reason of illness or other grave impediment are excused.” Moreover, he added, “it is up to the cardinals to decide what that means.”
This may be particularly pertinent to Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, the former archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, who, along with Indonesian Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja, has said he will not be attending the conclave. Although Cardinal O'Brien is ill, his resignation statement suggested he would not be voting due to the media attention his presence is likely to bring on account of allegations of misconduct, allegations Cardinal O’Brien denies.
“What if the Cardinal-Electors decide that is not a sufficiently grave reason? Then they have to wait for him to attend before they can set an earlier vote,” noted Father Pietrzyk, who is currently based in Rome. All voting cardinals, except those legitimately impeded, must be present before they can vote to begin the voting early.
“A cardinal can always refuse to attend,” Father Pietrzyk said, “but unless excused, the cardinals may not vote before the lapse of the 15 days.”
Father Pietrzyk is wary of beginning before the required 15 days as it might add “a degree of ambiguity” to the election.
“If it’s just one cardinal, I don’t think anyone will seriously question the election,” he said, but added, “If we as a Church have learned anything over the last 2,000 years, it’s that we must avoid at all costs anything that would, even in the slightest, question the legitimacy of the Holy Father.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.