That’s the best-case scenario. It’s not the universal view within the Vatican, where there is a sense of bewilderment and even a touch, though never uttered near the record, of resentment about the pope leaving them in the lurch. Benedict’s papacy was often tripped up by public relations missteps and inconvenient revelations about dysfunction within the Vatican. The last year of his tenure was especially hard on him and the Vatican. A security breach of papal correspondence exploded into the scandal known as VatiLeaks, and this month a parade of freshly revealed scandals involving top cardinals is accompanying Benedict to the door. Some critics have suggested that Benedict is using the Vatican walls as a fortress against future scandals.
In the meantime, the Vatican has occupied itself with such vexing questions as, what’s in a name?
On Monday afternoon, a day before the Vatican unveiled the title emeritus pope, Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, the No. 2 official overseeing the church during the interregnum between the pope’s last day and the election of a new pontiff, made the case against calling Benedict just that. “An emeritus bishop reserves some rights,” Celata said. “He still has a connection to the office.”
The church believes that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger transmutated into Benedict XVI in 2005. By personally choosing to retain the official title “Your Holiness Benedict XVI,” the pope apparently believed there was no going back.
In his final weekly blessing to a large crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Benedict appeared from the window of his apartment in the Apostolic Palace and assured the faithful that his future of prayer and meditation “doesn’t mean abandoning the church. On the contrary, if God asks me, this is because I can continue to serve it with the same dedication and the same love which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suitable to my age and to my strength.”
Like the pope, some people in the square seemed ready to move on.
“I want to see him for the last time,” said Gregory Esola, 54, a Catholic from Cameroon who has worked in Rome for nearly 30 years. As the pope’s assistants hung a purple drape with the papal seal out of the pope’s window, Esola said he appreciated Benedict’s stepping aside for the sake of the church. “The devil is in the church, and he’s too old to combat it. We need somebody who is young and powerful now.”