Expectations of a retired pope in modern history

Soon to be Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Soon to be Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Since this is the first time in more than 600 years that a pope has abdicated the papal throne, citing his age and failing strength due physical and mental weakness, instead of leading the Catholic Church until he breathes his last, it leaves everybody wondering now what is it that is expected of Pope Benedict XVI, especially that there is no existing precedence recorded in modern times as all popes have died in office.

The Vatican, however, has come out with pronouncements, a pioneering landmark if you may for a retiring pope, which no doubt was done with the consultation of the scholarly Benedict, to satisfy the curiosity of the people.

How shall the ex-pope be addressed?

He will also continue to be known by his papal title of Benedict XVI, rather than reverting to Joseph Ratzinger, and he will continue to be addressed as “Your Holiness” Benedict XVI – in the same way, for example, as US presidents continue to be referred to as “president” after leaving office. But he will, henceforth, be known as Pope emeritus, or Roman pontiff emeritus. Emeritus is a Latin word meaning “retired.”

Where would be his new home?

He will be housed in a former convent known as Mater Ecclesiae (Mother of the Church), which formerly housed a cloistered convent still located in a corner in the Vatican gardens.

What clothing would he be wearing?

As Pope emeritus he will wear a simple white cassock – rather than the black of an ordinary priest, or the red of a cardinal. He will no longer be donning elaborate hats and vestments that only an incumbent pope could wear. Also, the red shoes that he has been known to be wearing during his papacy will now be replaced by brown shoes reportedly handmade for him by Mexican craftsmen during a visit to the country last year.

Will he continue wearing his papal ring?

Definitely not. The gold ring, also known as the fisherman’s ring, will be smashed with a specially designed silver hammer when the Pope leaves office. No change here from normal practice. “Objects strictly tied to the ministry of St Peter must be destroyed,” the Vatican says. His personal seal will also be defaced.

What duties would he be performing?

Nothing, except to devote his time, as he mentioned, in prayers. He said that would include “prayer throughout the day and the liturgy of the hours, morning prayer, evening prayer, Mass every day.” Since he is a true scholar, writing and studying also seems likely to be on the agenda – Benedict had a library of 200,000 books installed in the papal apartments when he was elected in 2005. He also enjoys playing the piano and watching old black-and-white comedies – and he loves cats. At least one, Contessina, is known to live at Mater Ecclesiae. Also, one thing for sure: he won’t be writing any more tweets.

Will he continue receiving personal protection?

As Pope emeritus he will no longer be entitled to his personal security detail, the 100 to 120 members of the Swiss Guard who are responsible for round-the-clock protection he used to get.

Will an ex-pope receive a retirement benefit?

As a pope has not retired for 600 years, there’s no precedent for a papal pension plan, but Canon law requires each diocese to look after the welfare of retiring clerics. Since he is or has been Bishop of Rome, Rome will doubtless take good care of its Pope emeritus.

Will he continue having a personal secretary?

Most likely his personal secretary now, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, will continue serving him, while at the same time keeping up his role as head of the papal household for Benedict’s successor. In effect Ganswein will be serving two masters.

Will the Pope emeritus continue to be infallible?

Benedict’s infallibility ends as soon as he becomes Pope emeritus. Infallibility only applies when it is expressed “ex-cathedra” or as part of a doctrinal statement about the Church.  Since a resigned pope could no longer be able to make ex-cathedra statements, then infallibility no longer applies to him.


2 comments on “Expectations of a retired pope in modern history

  1. Apolinario B Villalobos says:

    Very enlightening blog. I have jut finished reading an historical book about the Vatican that includes its past popes. The one about the just retired pope is a very important landmark of the Christendom.Thanks.

    • quierosaber says:

      They say now that the real reason why he quit is to save the Catholic Church from ignominy, thus, he voluntarily made himself a sacrificial lamb to purge the Church of what he calls ‘The Filth’- specifically referring to pedophile priest scandal that has been damaging the image of the Church. While it took great courage to give up his throne knowing that every pope died in office, it is hope that what he has done could truly effect the change that he wants done. Certainly his successor will have his hands full. He should be an effective CEO, other than being a pope.

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