Retiring Pope Benedict XVI in uncharted territory

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 12 2013 11:30 a.m. MST

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 28, 2012 file photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano Pope Benedict XVI meets with Fidel Castro in Havana. Benedict announced Monday Feb. 11, 2013 he would resign Feb. 28, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years.

L'Osservatore Romano, File, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

VATICAN CITY — For months, construction crews have been renovating a four-story building attached to a monastery on the northern edge of the Vatican gardens where nuns would live for a few years at a time in cloister.

Only a handful of Vatican officials knew it would one day be Pope Benedict XVI's retirement home.

On Tuesday, construction materials littered the front lawn of the house and plastic tubing snaked down from the top floor to a cargo container. The restoration has become even more critical following Benedict's announcement that he will resign Feb. 28 and live his remaining days here in prayer.

From a new name to this new home to the awkward reality of having a reigning pope and a retired one, Benedict is facing uncharted territory as he becomes the first pontiff in six centuries to retire.

The Vatican on Tuesday tried to quash any notion that Benedict aimed to pull strings behind the scenes. The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a top spokesman, said Benedict will have no influence on the election of his successor.

"The pope will surely say absolutely nothing about the process of election," he told reporters.

The 85-year-old Benedict said Monday he was stepping down simply because he simply no longer had the strength in mind or body to carry on. Lombardi on Tuesday also revealed for the first time that Benedict has had a pacemaker for years and had its battery replaced just a few months ago.

Although no date for a conclave to choose the next pope has been announced, it must begin within 20 days of his Feb. 28 retirement. That means a new pope will likely be elected by the College of Cardinals by Easter — March 31 this year.

The decision immediately raised questions about what Benedict would be called, where he would live — and how that might affect his successor.

The Vatican's senior communications adviser, Greg Burke, said Tuesday the fact that Benedict had chosen to live in a monastery is significant.

"It is something that he has wanted to do for a while," Burke said. "But I think it also suggests that his role is going to be a very quiet one, and that is important so you don't have a situation of ... two different popes at the same time, and one influencing the other.

"I think the obvious thing is when he says retirement, it really means retiring," he said.

As for his name, Burke said Benedict would most likely be referred to "Bishop of Rome, emeritus" as opposed to "Pope Emeritus." Lombardi also said Benedict would take some kind of "emeritus" title.

Other Vatican officials said it would probably be up to the next pope to decide Benedict's new title, and wouldn't exclude that he might still be called "Your Holiness" as a courtesy, much as retired presidents are often referred to as "President." It was not clear whether the retired pope will retain the name Benedict - or revert to being called Joseph Ratzinger again.

Benedict had important unfinished business before his retirement: He has been widely expected to issue his fourth encyclical, concerning faith, before Easter. But Lombardi ruled out that the encyclical would be ready before his retirement.

Already, Benedict was changing his schedule to take into account his new circumstances. He had been scheduled to go to a church on Rome's Aventine hill for the annual Ash Wednesday service this week starting the church's Lenten season; the service will take place in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome instead. Lombardi said a larger space was needed to accommodate the throngs expected to greet the outgoing pope - but observers suspect the Vatican may have also wanted to spare Benedict from the crowds along the hill.

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