Carol King explains what will happen after Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation and the reasons behind it.

Newspaper ‘Il Sole 24 Ore’ has reported that Pope Benedict XVI had a new heart pacemaker fitted three months ago.

The Pope will go to live at the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, following his retirement on 28 February.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told a press conference that after Benedict XVI’s successor is elected, he will then live in a monastery on Vatican Hill that once belonged to an order of enclosed nuns. He said the 85-year-old Pope will dedicate the rest of his life to study, prayer and reflection.

Castel Gandolfo - Pope Benedict XVI
Castel Gandolfo

The move has raised concern among some commentators, wondering how a retired Pope can exist alongside a ruling Pope in a situation without precedent in the modern era. Already some are raising questions regarding what might happen should the two men issue different statements regarding theological issues important to the Church, particularly given that Benedict XVI will still be living in the Vatican State. Father Lombardi was keen to downplay the possibility of any such schism, stressing that Benedict XVI would be relinquishing his papal office entirely to the new pontiff. Technically, Benedict XVI will retain the title, Bishop of Rome Emeritus but he will no longer be addressed as ‘His Holiness’ and will be known under his former title of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Monastery Mater Ecclesiae Vatican hill
Monastery 'Mater Ecclesiae' - Vatican Hill

Father Lombardi explained that the Pope is neither ill nor depressed. The Pope announced his resignation in Latin at a meeting of cardinals in the Vatican. He cited health reasons as why he was stepping down from office but he does not suffer from any specific illness. Some have suggested that the resignation is linked to the Vatileaks scandal; while there is no evidence for this, the scandal has no doubt taken its toll on the octogenarian Pope.

Benedict XVI announced his resignation on 11 February, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes patroness of the sick. The Pope suffers from rheumatism and has had prostate cancer. He has looked frail in that he now walks with a cane and often uses a moved platform to get around. It has also been reported that the Pope’s doctors advised him to avoid transatlantic flights, which would prove awkward given he was due to visit Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for World Youth Day on 1 July.

On 10 February, the day before his resignation, Benedict XVI tweeted from his @Pontifex account: “We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.”

The last time a Pope resigned was 600 years ago, and the news came as a shock to both the world – and the Vatican. According to the Code of Canon Law, as long as a Pope’s resignation is “freely manifested” it does not need to be accepted by any one because the Pope is the supreme authority.

However, Germany publication ‘Der Spiegel’ reported that the Pope’s brother, Georg Ratzinger, had known of the resignation plans “for months”, saying that his brother wanted “more quiet” in his old age. There is speculation in the press that Georg may join his brother in the Italian cloister to live with him in retirement.

British magazine ‘The Tablet’ noted that in 2010, Benedict XVI visited the tomb of Pope Celestine V in Aquila, Italy and left his pallium, the sign of his episcopal authority, on Celestine V’s tomb. Previously a holy hermit, Celestine V resigned just months after becoming Pope in the 13th century when he realised he was unequal to the task and was later canonised.

Pope Resigns

In 2011, rumours circulated in the media that the Pope may resign. The Pope himself alluded to resignation in an interview published in 2010 in the book ‘Light of the World’. He said: “When a Pope arrives at a clear awareness that he no longer has the physical, mental, or psychological capacity to carry out the task that has been entrusted to him, then he has the right, and in some cases, even the duty to resign”.

Italian film director Nanni Moretti made a film in 2011 ‘Habemus Papam’ (We Have a Pope), telling the fictional story of a cardinal who, against his wishes is elected pope, but then panics and resigns.

Tributes to the Pope poured in from around the world. Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano said the resignation of the Pope was responsible and an “act of courage”.

Pope Benedict XVI will not take part in the papal conclave for the election of his successor. The Vatican has said that it expects to have a new Pope before Easter – Holy Week is one of the busiest times in the Church calendar.

Speculation began almost immediately regarding who will be the new pontiff. Irish bookmaker Paddy Power and British gaming company Ladbrokes are already taking bets on who will be Benedict XVI’s successor. ‘Italy Magazine’ will be running a feature on the leading candidates and what to expect from a papal conclave.