Benedict’s last day

Even on his last day as pontiff, Benedict XVI had to do the work of the church.

He appointed two bishops — Father Samuel Jofre as bishop of the Diocese of Villa Maria in Argentina, and Msgr. Joseph Dinh Duc Dao as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Xuan Luc in Vietnam.

And he sent a telegram of condolence to the ordinary of the Archdiocese of Tours on the occasion of the death today of emeritus Cardinal Jean Marcel Honore, 92.

Other than these final acts, the day was one for farewells, cheers and tears. Late in the morning he met with the College of Cardinals in the Clementine Hall.

His final tweet in the afternoon was, “Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”

In the afternoon, he left the Apostolic Palace, said some more goodbyes, and entered a car to be driven to a waiting helicopter near the historic walls of the Vatican City State.

The helicopter flew him the short distance to Castel Gandolfo, where he disembarked and entered the papal villa. Soon he appeared on the balcony and addressed a crowd of locals and those who made the journey there to greet him.

“You know that this day is different for me than the preceding ones,” said Benedict XVI. “I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I will be until 8:00 this evening and then no longer. I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth.”

“But I would still — with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, and with all my inner strength — like to work for the common good and the Good of the Church and of humanity,” he continued. “I feel very supported by your kindness. Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the Church and the world. Thank you. I now wholeheartedly impart my blessing. Blessed be God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Good night! Thank you all!”

He left the balcony and disappeared from view.

A few hours later, the Swiss Guard closed the doors of the pope’s new residence and turned their duties over to Italian police. The Swiss changed into civilian clothes and left. Their duty will be to protect Benedict’s successor.

And with that, the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI came to an end.

Thank you, Holy Father emeritus!




• After 1 p.m. our time today, Pope Benedict XVI will no longer tweet under @Pontifex. I don’t know if he will continue to tweet at all in retirement.

• In retirement he will be called “His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus,” “Pope Emeritus,” or “Roman Pontiff Emeritus.”

• No more ruby slippers, er, red shoes. Retirement calls for comfortable shoes: a pair of brown loafers he got in Mexico last year. Nobody has said what kind of socks he will wear, but I recommend wool in the winter and polyester in the summer. And nothing is more comfortable than a pair of broken-in hiking boots.

• Johnny Cash will always be known as the Man in Black. Pope Emeritus Benedict will continue to wear a white cassock, but not the little cape, because that is a symbol of jurisdiction.

• Swiss Guards: Out. Swiss cheese: As much as he wants.

• Don’t worry about his safety. The Corps of Gendarmerie of Vatican City will watch him. Gendarmerie is just a fancy word for cops.

• How about a cat? His Holiness really likes cats, and now he has the time and freedom to keep one. Hey Pope Emeritus, I’ve got plenty of cats you can have. Call me.

• In America, people often retire to the Sunbelt — Arizona and Florida being two popular landing spots. Most of Italy qualifies as European Sunbelt, so he could go anywhere and be fine. However, the Pope Emeritus has decided to spent some time at Castel Gandolfo (the papal summer residence) and when things quiet down go right back to the Vatican City State. He’s chosen the Mater Ecclesiae Convent, located in the Vatican’s back 40. It’s a rather unremarkable four-story building built 21 years ago as a convent for cloistered nuns. They left last November and the place was available.

• What’s he going to do all day? Don’t know. If it were me, I’d just chill.  In his pre-papal days, he asked Pope John Paul II if he could retire and hang out at the Vatican Library, but instead JPII made him head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Hanging out at the library sounds like a plan to me.

• It’s just as well he hangs around the Vatican. He doesn’t have a driver’s license, doesn’t own a car, and, in fact, never learned to drive. All the papal cars, and the various “Popemobiles,” will belong to the new pope. Back in the day when they were both faculty members in the theology department at the University of Tübingen in Germany, Hans Küng used to race around town in a red Alfa Romeo sports car, and the then-Father Joseph Ratzinger used to pedal around on a bicycle.

• If he gets bored playing with his cat, playing piano, or stacking books in the library, he can invite John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter over for a visit. Allen can regale the pope emeritus with thrilling tales of adventure from his days as a student at Thomas More Prep-Marian in Hays, Kansas.

Conclave date

We still don’t know as of today when the conclave will start, although it appears that the cardinals will not even gather to discuss it until Monday, March 4.

By now, most of the cardinal-electors are in Rome or will soon be there.

Currently, the rules say that the cardinals must wait for 15 full days after the throne of Saint Peter becomes “sede vacante” before a conclave can start. This allows time for the funeral services of the deceased pope and for all the cardinals to get to Rome. 

In recognition of the unique circumstances brought on by his resignation, Pope Benedict XVI issued an apostolic letter “motu proprio” (on his own initiative) on Feb. 25 changing the rules, letting the cardinals move the date up if all of them are present. Even so, the conclave must begin no more than 20 days (March 20) after the start of sede vacante.

There has been a lot of chatter about cardinals hoping to have a new pope inaugurated before the beginning of Holy Week, which kicks off with Palm Sunday on March 24. Easter Sunday is March 31.

So there are your key dates: The conclave will not begin before March 4 or after March 20.  

Benedict’s last day

Stop and say a prayer for Pope Benedict XVI at 1 p.m. U.S. Central Time Zone on Thursday, February 28.  At that moment he will become “pope emeritus,” and the throne of St. Peter becomes “sede vacante.”

Pope Benedict will meet with the cardinal-electors in the morning, and then he will be transported by helicopter to the papal summer residence at Castle Gandolfo, south of Rome.

As his final public act of his papacy, he will greet the faithful from the balcony. No doubt he will offer a blessing and ask for prayers for the cardinal-electors, too.

At 8 p.m. Italian time (1 p.m. in Kansas City), his retirement will become official and his protective detail of Swiss Guards will depart, being replaced by Vatican police.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI will remain at Castle Gandolfo while the cardinal-electors choose his successor from among themselves. Later, he will return to the Vatican City State to take up residence at a monastery being renovated for his use. There, he has said he will live a life of prayer and contemplation.

Nevertheless, he will always serve the church, as he stated in his final general audience today, Feb. 27:

“‘Always’ is also ‘forever’ — there is no return to private life. My decision to renounce the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I am not returning to private life, to a life of trips, meetings, receptions, conferences, etc. I am not abandoning the cross, but am remaining beside the Crucified Lord in a new way. I no longer bear the power of the office for the governance of the Church, but I remain in the service of prayer, within St. Peter’s paddock, so to speak. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be a great example to me in this. He has shown us the way for a life that, active or passive, belongs wholly to God’s work.”

The “A” Team

It’s not likely to happen, but the names of two American cardinals have been bandied about as “papabili,” or “popeable.” They are Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan of New York, and Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, OFM Cap, of Boston.

Here are the other members of America’s 11-member cardinal-elector team:

• Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, emeritus

• Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, emeritus

• Cardinal William J. Levada, emeritus

• Cardinal Francis E. George, Chicago

• Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, Rome

• Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, Washington, D. C.

• Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, Rome

• Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Galveston-Houston

• Cardinal James M. Harvey, Rome



What’s in a name?

For the first few hundred years, new popes kept their baptismal names. That changed in 533 AD with the election of Mercurius. It simply would not do to have a pope named for Mercury, the Roman god (or a Ford product). He said, “Call me John II,” or something like that.
Changing the papal name became the general custom at the end of the 10th century (the 900s), but some popes used their baptismal name even up until the 16th century. The last one was Pope Marcellus II, in 1555.
New popes have taken names in honor of a saint or a previous pope. In the case of the latter, the reason is usually to send a signal that there is some quality or virtue in the previous pope that the new pope wants to emulate. Pope John Paul I named himself for Pope John XXIII who launched the Second Vatican Council, and Pope Paul VI who finished and carried it through. Pope John Paul II named himself for the short-lived Pope John Paul I.
Here are the top papal names: John, 23; Benedict, 16; Gregory, 16; Clement, 14; Innocent, 13; Leo, 13, Pius, 12 and Stephen, 10.

Hometown heroes

Various news mediums and blogs the world over have been speculating about who’s “papabili,” that is, “pope-able.”

The Catholic News Services has moved a story with 12 of the 117 cardinal-electors as contending papabili. One of those is Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York.

Does Cardinal Dolan really have a shot? Well, being an American counts against him, but CNS noted that the St. Louis native has plenty of charm. And he speaks Italian, and knows Rome from his days as rector at the North American Pontifical College.

Why should being an American count against him? Because of the global prominence of the papacy.

Even in this multi-polar world, the influence of the U.S. is deemed great enough without an adding American pope to further tip the scales of power.

The press in every country that has a cardinal has being playing the “Could Cardinal X possibly be the next pope” game.  Is it possible? Well, it’s possible that Godzilla may crawl out of the sea and eat the top 12 or so papabili, giving hometown favorite Cardinal X a decent shot. Don’t count on it, however.

Here, according to CNS, are the top 12 papabili:

• Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, 63, United States

• Cardinal Peter Erdo, 60, Hungary

• Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, Canada

• Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, 70, Italy

• Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, 70, Honduras

• Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, 69, Argentina

• Cardinal Robert Sarah, 67, Guinea

• Cardinal Odilo Scherer, 63, Brazil

• Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, 68, Austria

• Cardinal Angelo Scola, 71, Italy

• Cardinal Luis Tagle, 55, Philippines

• Cardinal Peter Turkson, 64, Ghana

A lot of people in Northeastern Kansas are rooting for Cardinal Schonborn. The dapper Austrian prelate wowed lots of people when he visited the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas in January 2010.

Sadly, Cardinal Schonborn (who was the executive editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church) has had his hands full riding herd on an unruly presbyterate in the Archdiocese of Vienna. That can’t help.

Anyone who’s speculating on papabili has to remember an old conclave saying: He who enters the conclave as pope leaves it as a cardinal.