Unlike fellow octogenarians playing bocce ball or shuffleboard, the daily activities of the departing sovereign are shrouded in mystery. On Tuesday, the Vatican revealed that Benedict, who spent the morning packing, would be known as emeritus pope, keeping his white cassock but trading in his red shoes for a pair of hand-cobbled brown loafers made in Mexico.
Benedict will spend the next few months in his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, a small lake town about 15 miles outside Rome, as he awaits the completion of renovations on a residence attached to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery. There, he plans to while away the rest of his days poring over books and Bibles. The 8,600-square-foot complex on a hill west of the apse of St. Peter’s Basilica, not far from the grotto where he likes to take his afternoon walk, will for Benedict be the papal version of Boca. “A place of the sacred, given its style as a hermitage,” according to the Vatican Web site.
John Paul II established it in 1994 as a convent for nuns providing him with spiritual assistance. In November, an order was moved out so that the site could undergo renovations. On a recent visit, an eagle-topped fountain that sits below the monastery poured turquoise water out of a series of spouts and waterfalls as prelates warned about the especially bloodthirsty tiger mosquitoes that swarm in the summer.
Benedict will share his retirement home with his longtime housekeepers, the consecrated laywomen who belong to the Memores Domini association of Communion and Liberation, a religious movement that has become controversial for its propinquity to power players in Italy. Asked at a recent news briefing whether Benedict would receive a pension, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, responded that although a retirement fund had not been established, “obviously he will be taken care of.”
The pope’s retirement complex will also be home to Archbishop Georg Ganswein (a.k.a. Gorgeous George), Benedict’s longtime confidant and personal secretary. But Ganswein will keep his day job as the new head of the household for the incoming pope. His simultaneous service to two popes has raised some concerns in the Vatican about a conflict of interest, but the church insists that Benedict will not be an eminence grise.
“He’s not going to be a meddling pope whatsoever,” said the Rev. Tom Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, who said popes often consult the writings of their previous successors to St. Peter or turn in prayer to their predecessors buried in the tombs under St. Peter’s Basilica. “What’s better than to take a stroll in the gardens for a consultation? What better person to turn to than the one who has been there?” Rosica said.