pope benedict xvi

'Pope Emeritus' Benedict XVI (left), and Pope Francis. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Now that the cardinals have elected and installed their new boss, Pope Francis can get to work being the Roman Catholic pontiff, with his next order of business doing something no other pope has done in centuries: meet the guy he replaced.

Benedict’s resignation — the first by a pope in 600 years — paved the way for the conclave that elected Francis on March 13, but it also created an almost unprecedented potential for confusion and division in a church hierarchy that has room for only one pope at a time.That will happen on Saturday, when Francis is scheduled to travel a few miles outside Rome to the hilltop town of Castel Gandolfo, the summer papal residence where Benedict XVI has been staying — out of sight — since he resigned and left the Vatican on Feb. 28.

“Benedict XVI could turn into a shadow pope who has stepped down but can still exert indirect influence,” said Hans Kung, the dissident Swiss theologian and friend (as well as frequent critic) of Benedict’s since he and the former Joseph Ratzinger were up-and-coming theologians.

Alessandro Speciale 03-12-2013

The Sistine Chapel, where the conclave is taking place. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

As if the task of choosing the Vicar of Christ and the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics wasn’t daunting enough, the voting must also take place under the gaze of Michelangelo’s brilliant but imposing frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.

That’s what the late Pope John Paul II decreed when he rewrote the conclave rules in 1996, and so it shall be starting today — and for however many days it takes the 115 cardinal-electors to choose a successor to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who retired last month.

In the Sistine Chapel, “everything is conducive to an awareness of the presence of God, in whose sight each person will one day be judged,” John Paul II wrote in his 1996 Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis,” which regulates papal elections.

RNS photo by David Gibson

A poster of Pope Benedict XVI on the streets of Rome. The conclave will begin on Tuesday. RNS photo by David Gibson

VATICAN CITY — Amid all of the prognosticating about who the cardinals could choose as the next pope in the conclave that starts here on Tuesday, one reliable thread has emerged: the desire to elect a pontiff who can be a pastor to the world as well as a taskmaster to the Roman Curia.

Finding such a combination in a single man, of course, may prove difficult if not impossible, which adds to the almost unprecedented level of uncertainty surrounding this papal election.

So if anything is possible, some say it might be better to reverse the prevailing wisdom — look for a pope who will talk tough to Catholics (and the world) while shepherding the Curia with a firm hand in order to better police the wayward.

The prospect might appall progressives and others who were happy to see the end of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, but it has enough appeal to conservatives that they are trying to make the case.

One reason for their sense of urgency is that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger turned out to be more of a papal pussycat as Benedict XVI than the watchdog of orthodoxy that he had been for decades while serving under John Paul II.

Is now the time for a pope who could be more of a Ratzinger than a Benedict?

Reporters listen as cardinals speak to the press in the Vatican Tuesday. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Tensions among the Roman Catholic cardinals meeting here to choose a new pope appeared to escalate on Wednesday as the American prelates in Rome canceled their daily press briefing under pressure from colleagues who are frustrated over news coverage of their secret talks.

The cardinals also announced that they still had not been able to agree on a start date for the conclave, in which 115 electors will cast their ballots for a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

The effort to control the flow of information from the daily pre-conclave “General Congregation” meetings marked a sharp reversal from the unprecedented openness that had characterized this first papal conclave of the digital age.

Elaina Ramsey 03-06-2013

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Alessandro Speciale 03-05-2013

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley celebrates Sunady Mass on March 3, 2013. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Roman Catholic cardinals on Monday met for the first of a series of closed-door meetings in the run-up to the conclave that will elect the successor to former Pope Benedict XVI.

But as cardinals filed into a Vatican conference room under the gaze of dozens of cameras, church officials said 12 voting prelates still haven’t arrived in Rome, pushing back the possibility of an early start to the conclave.

Alessandro Speciale 02-28-2013
Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithful as he leaves St Peter's Square on Feb. 27. Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images

VATICAN CITY — The papacy of Benedict XVI came to a quiet end at 8 p.m. on Thursday, making him the first pope in 600 years to voluntarily leave office.

While there was no formal ceremony to mark the historic passage, the end of Benedict’s papacy and the beginning of the “sede vacante” interim period was clear when the Swiss Guards left their post at the gate of the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

The Swiss Guards are charged with protecting the pope. When Benedict ceased to be pope, his security was no longer in their hands. At the Vatican, officials sealed the pope’s apartment as prescribed by church law, and will destroy the pope’s ring and official seal in the coming days.

Vatican City at night, Vladimir Mucibabic / Shutterstock.com

Vatican City at night, Vladimir Mucibabic / Shutterstock.com

The Vatican appears rocked by scandalous rumors and resignations just as church leaders must gear up to replace frail Pope Benedict XVI with a closed-door conclave.

But Vatican experts say if you think the world’s largest nongovernmental institution is in unprecedented chaos right now, think again.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano presents the papal fisherman ring to Pope Benedict XVI at the new pope’s installation Mass. The fisherman’s ring bears an image of Peter, his boat and his net, which figure in two Gospel accounts of miraculous catches of fish. Benedict said that while fish die when removed from the sea, “in the mission of a fisher of men the reverse is true.” 

“Have you ever heard of the Borgias?” quipped professor Terrence Tilley, chairman of the theology department for Fordham University in New York. They were the larcenous, adulterous, murderous, election-rigging, Renaissance-era family of renaissance popes “who ran the papacy for decades like a private fief.”

For all the sex, money, and power headlines wafting out of Rome these days, at least no one has been murdered. Infighting and innuendo, though, are ancient traditions that have moved into the bright lights of the 24/7 news cycle and social media.

Alessandro Speciale 02-27-2013
Pope Benedict XVI. RNS photo courtesy Gregory A. Shemitz.

Pope Benedict XVI. RNS photo courtesy Gregory A. Shemitz.

In his final public address, Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday forcefully defended his decision to resign while trying to reassure Catholics still reeling from the shock of his unprecedented move.

For the first time since his stunning announcement on Feb. 11, the 85-year-old pope explained at length his decision to become the first pope in six centuries to resign. His tenure officially ends Thursday at 8 p.m. local time.

Benedict admitted that his resignation is a “grave” and “novel” act but, he added, his choice had been made “with profound serenity.”

“Loving the church means having the courage to make difficult, agonizing choices, having ever before oneself the good of the church and not one’s own,” he said.

Alessandro Speciale 02-26-2013
RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 2007. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI will be known as “Pope Emeritus” after his retirement on Feb. 28, and will continue to wear white vestments, the Vatican announced on Tuesday.

Ever since Benedict’s surprise announcement that he would become the first pope in 600 years to resign, there had been wide speculation about seemingly small issues, such as what he would be called or whether he would retain the title of “pope.” Such details, however, carry great symbolical value within the tradition-bound Roman Catholic Church.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, told reporters that Benedict will continue to be called “His Holiness” and that his title will be “Pope Emeritus” or “Emeritus Roman Pontiff.”

He said Benedict had decided the issue himself, after consultations with experts.

View of St. Peter's Basilica, Iakov Kalinin/ Shutterstock.com

View of St. Peter's Basilica, Iakov Kalinin/ Shutterstock.com

If you want a crash course on how papal politics really works, look no further than the saga of Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

On Friday, Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric grabbed headlines by telling the BBC that priestly celibacy was “not of divine origin” and that he’d be “happy” if priests had the option to marry.

On Saturday, O’Brien was back in the news, this time after four men reportedly accused him of “inappropriate acts” dating back to the 1980s.

By Monday, O’Brien had resigned as archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh and announced he would skip the conclave.

From champion of married priests to disgraced churchman within 72 hours, O’Brien’s trajectory is stunning but also emblematic of the frenetic and fever-pitched campaigning that occurs during the tiny window between a pope’s death or resignation and the election of his successor.

Wikimedia photo courtesy Gavin Scott.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland. Wikimedia photo courtesy Gavin Scott.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland resigned on Monday in the wake of explosive charges that he had made “inappropriate” sexual advances to four men, three of them priests, and one now a former seminarian, starting in the 1980s.

O’Brien said he would skip next month’s conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, leaving the United Kingdom without a cardinal’s voice in the election of a new pope.

In a statement, O’Brien said Benedict had accepted his resignation effective immediately, and he appeared to allude to the events surrounding his sudden exit.

“Looking back over my years of ministry: For any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologize to all whom I have offended,” said the cardinal, who turns 75 next month, which is the mandatory retirement age for bishops. Cardinals retain the right to vote in a conclave until age 80.

Alessandro Speciale 02-22-2013
Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. RNS photo by Grzegorz Galazka.

Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. RNS photo by Grzegorz Galazka.

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Wednesday confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI is considering changes to church law regulating the election of a new pope, but stopped short of saying whether voting could start earlier than currently planned.

Pope John Paul II’s 1996 Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis” regulates what happens between the death or resignation of a pope and the election of his successor.

It stipulates that the conclave of cardinals must begin 15 to 20 days after the end of the previous pontificate.

But after Benedict’s surprise announcement that he will resign on Feb. 28, several voices within the church have asked for an earlier start to the voting to shorten the time the Catholic Church is left without a leader.

Alessandro Speciale 02-19-2013
The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Photo by Rene Shaw.

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Photo by Rene Shaw.

VATICAN CITY — As of 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, Pope Benedict XVI will no longer be pope and the Vatican will go into “sede vacante” mode — a Latin expression that means that the seat of St. Peter is vacant.

So who’s in charge until a new pope is chosen? The “interregnum” between two popes is governed by ancient rituals and by institutions half forgotten even within the Vatican.

But it is also the only time that the Catholic Church comes close to vaguely resembling a democracy, with the College of Cardinals acting somewhat like a Parliament with limited powers as it prepares to choose the new pontiff in a closed-doors conclave.

Pope Benedict in 2007. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

Pope Benedict in 2007. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the surprising choice cast a pall over the liberal wing of the flock and left conservatives giddy with the prospect of total victory. Ratzinger had for decades served as the Vatican’s guardian of orthodoxy, the man known as “God’s Rottweiler,” and his vocal fans were crowing about the glorious reign to come.

“He’ll correct the lackadaisical attitudes that have been able to creep into the lives of Catholics,” the Rev. M. Price Oswalt, an Oklahoma City priest who was in St. Peter’s Square that April day, told The New York Times. “He’s going to have a German mentality of leadership: either get on the train or get off the track. He will not put up with rebellious children.”

Now, however, with Benedict set to leave office eight years later in an unprecedented departure, many on the Catholic right are counting up the ways that Benedict failed them, and wondering how their favorite watchdog turned into a papal pussycat.

Christian Piatt 02-15-2013
Michaelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica, javi_indy / Shutterstock.com

Michaelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica, javi_indy / Shutterstock.com

For the first time in six centuries, the head of the Catholic Church is stepping down. Some, like Huffington Post Religion’s Senior Editor Paul Raushenbush, have suggested this is an indication that the stodgy religious institution is creeping its way toward modernism. Could it be that the role of Pope will be considered to be that more like a CEO than a sovereign ruler? Is there room within today’s church for its leadership to step down when they feel they can no longer adequately fill the tremendous demands heaped upon them?

Can Popes retire? And if so, do they have to give up those cool red shoes?

So if, indeed, the Catholic Church is moving in a new direction, why not consider a more thorough overhaul? Some have suggested that the next Pope should come from the southern hemisphere, given that this is where the faith is growing the most (actually, it’s not really growing much at all in the northern half of the world). But as some have suggested within the church, the process of selecting a Pope is not necessarily driven by creating a representative leadership.

That said, it seems a rare opportunity to do something exciting. I, like many people, assumed that the successor to Pope Benedict would have to come from within the College of Cardinals. But though this has been tradition for most of the life of the Church, Pope Clement V is a rare exception. He was plucked from a monastery to become Pope, with the hope of overcoming much of the perceived corruption within the College.

And though the College of Cardinals is not explicitly mired in scandal at the moment, the Church itself certainly has suffered some blows in the court of public opinion, as well as in the court of law, in some cases. So given that precedent, perhaps it’s time for another radical departure from tradition, one that will signal to the world that the Church is more committed than ever before to its mandate to care for the poor, and support the marginalized.

Daniel Burke 02-12-2013

Not all Catholics appreciated Pope Benedict XVI’s staunch defense of Christian orthodoxy, traditional marriage, and life from conception to natural death. But American evangelicals sure did.

As word spread on Monday of Benedict’s resignation, many evangelicals lamented the impending loss of a powerful spokesman for their conservative causes.

“Pope Benedict XVI has exemplified moral courage and an unwavering commitment to the Gospel message,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian political group.

“We honor him for his lifelong service to the Lord and his inestimable intellectual contribution to Christian orthodoxy.”

The high praise — “evangelical Benedictions,” you might say — extended beyond U.S. borders as well.

RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

Pope Benedict XVI came into office with the reputation of a conservative hardliner, a vigorous defender of orthodoxy who wanted to restore Tradition — yes, with a capital “T” — to a church that was seen as disturbingly undisciplined.

Yet with the stunning announcement that he is resigning as the 264th successor to Saint Peter, Benedict may wind up fundamentally changing the way the church and the world view the papacy.

That’s because the papacy has come to represent more than an office, and the pope more than just a higher-ranking priest or bishop who enjoys lifetime tenure, a nice Vatican apartment, and the privilege of wearing a white cassock no matter the season.

Instead, the papacy is seen as a divine mission unlike any other in the church, and one that ends only in death.

“Christ did not come down from the cross,” the late John Paul II, Benedict’s immediate predecessor, would tell aides who wondered if his failing health and public suffering should compel him to relinquish his office.

A man is elected pope by the cardinals, yes, but at the behest of the Holy Spirit, according to Catholic theology. He takes a new name, and can’t even go home to collect his things: He moves into the Vatican right away, inhabiting a new identity in a new position — so superior that canon law says a pope can resign, but says he cannot resign to anyone.

St. Peter's Basilica Dome, David Carillet/ Shutterstock.com

St. Peter's Basilica Dome, David Carillet/ Shutterstock.com

Pope Benedict XVI’s sudden announcement that he would resign by the end of the month took the church and the world by surprise, in large part because it was a move without precedent in the modern world.

But what comes next is as old and familiar as the papacy itself: Speculating about who will succeed to the Throne of St. Peter.

Indeed, within months of Benedict’s own election in 2005, church insiders and online oddsmakers were trying to figure out who might be next, given that Benedict — now 85 — was already aging,  increasingly frail, and had himself declared that he did not expect his reign to be a long one.

So what will happen when the world’s cardinals gather before the splendor of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope? Who are the “papabile,” as the Italians say, the “pope-able” cardinals?

Will the conclave make the epochal break with the European monopoly and pick a cardinal from Latin America or Africa? The Catholic Church is booming in the Southern Hemisphere, as opposed to Europe and North America, where it is on life-support or barely treading water.

Alessandro Speciale 02-11-2013
vipflash / Shutterstock.com

Reception of Pope Benedict XVI at Schloss Bellevue on September 22, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. vipflash / Shutterstock.com

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI will soon become the first pope to resign since 1415, short-circuiting many of the initial stages of electing a new pope. But the Vatican says the transition to a new papacy shouldn’t be all that different from normal.

Of course, the traditional rituals associated with confirming the death of a pope and planning his funeral will not be necessary. But the process outlined below, rife with secrecy and tradition, will largely follow centuries-old protocol.

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