The pope’s sudden retirement, however, has left the Vatican facing a bevy of nearly unprecedented technicalities, with the Holy See selecting a high-ranking bureaucrat, Monsignor Giuseppe Sciacca, to aid in overseeing the legal transition. Yet to be established, Lombardi said, is what Benedict’s title will be after his retirement, or even what color he will exchange his papal white robes for.
After retirement, he said, Benedict — born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger — will no longer enjoy papal infallibility, or the ability to speak undisputed truth on religious matters. After the new pope is chosen, Benedict is scheduled to retire to a cloistered nunnery on Vatican City grounds.
The retirement creates the bizarre happenstance of having two popes — one former, one current — within the walls of Vatican City. Although Benedict is expected to keep a low profile in retirement, Lombardi suggested he would remain a vital figure in the city-state.
“I think the successor and also the cardinals will be very happy to have very nearby a person that best of all can understand what the spiritual needs of the church are,” Lombardi said.
Although Wednesday’s Mass, including the traditional blessing of the ashes, which are placed on the foreheads of worshipers to mark the beginning of Lent, was solemn, the pope’s earlier appearance had a decidedly more personal tone. At the general audience in the Vatican’s vast Paul VI hall, an emotive pope was serenaded in his native German by Italian schoolchildren and repeatedly interrupted by thunderous applause.
He stepped down, he told the crowd, “for the good of the church.”
“I have felt, almost physically, your prayers in these days, which are not easy for me,” he told the crowd. “The strength that the love of the church and your prayers brings to me. Continue to pray for me and for the future pope. The Lord will guide us.”
Stefano Pitrelli in Rome and Eliza Mackintosh in London contributed to this report.