February 26th, 2013
01:30 PM ET

The pope in retirement: What to expect

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Editor
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(CNN) - Don't expect a lot of shuffleboard games for the soon-to-be former Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. Peter, Head of the College of Bishops, Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the Universal Church: Pope Benedict XVI.

On Thursday, at 8 p.m. in Rome, Benedict will become the first retired pontiff in 600 years. And with no modern guides, everything he does will be pioneering for a 21st century papal retiree.

The leader of 1.2 billion Catholics around the globe will leave his seat at the ornate Apostolic Palace and retire to a former gardener's house at the Vatican to lead a life of prayer, likely removed entirely from public life.

The Vatican said Tuesday he will keep the name Benedict XVI and still be addressed as "his holiness." He will also be known as pope emeritus, emeritus pope or Roman pontifex emeritus.

He will forego his ornate papal wardrobe and elbow-length cape, called a mozzetta, for a simple white cassock. He also will retire his famous red shoes in favor of a brown pair picked up on his trip to Mexico last year.

The 85-year-old will first leave Rome to go to the papal retreat Castle Gandolfo until a successor is named. Then he will head to the Mater Ecclesiae (Mother of the Church) building, which formerly housed a cloistered convent in the Vatican gardens.

While "convent" or "monastery," as officials have been calling it, may be the right name for the former home of a group of cloistered nuns tasked with prayer for the pope, the space does not have the long stone-arched hallways and massive common areas evoked by such terms.

The pope's new home

"It used to be the gardener's house," Sister Ancilla Armijo said. "It's just a small house. What they added was just a library for the sisters and a new chapel."

Armijo is a nun in the Benedictine Order at the Abbey of St. Walburga in Colorado, not far from the Wyoming border. From October 7, 2004, to October 7, 2009, she and six other Benedictine sisters from around the world lived in Mater Ecclesiae praying for the pope - first for an ailing Pope John Paul II and then all the way through to the election and papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

Armijo joined the order in 1972 at age 16. She said joining a cloistered group of international nuns on the Vatican grounds was unique.

While the house has a sense of being removed from the Vatican, she said it provides views of the papal apartment, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica.

"We felt connected to the Vatican itself," she said, although "it's not like there's any access to the Vatican itself, the main buildings or anything like that."

The Mater Ecclesiae is "very small" and "very hot," she said. "There's no trees shading it. I think it'll work for him if they have air conditioning for him. They'll have to remodel the kitchen and things like that because it was so simple."

While she lived there, bars adorned the windows and separated the nuns from their visitors in the meeting room, in keeping with a cloistered, set-apart lifestyle.

When Benedict arrives, he can stroll the private courtyard and take in the perfumed aroma from the 15 or so John Paul II rose bushes, a white-petaled flower cultivated in honor of his predecessor. Armijo said a group donated the rose bushes to the Vatican in honor of the late pontiff. Benedict gave them to the sisters to grow. Every two weeks they sent a bouquet up to the papal residence.

In the gardens, Armijo said, Benedict can also find lemon and orange trees in addition to a small vegetable garden used by the house for meals.

The monastery, when Armijo lived there, had a few bedrooms, a kitchen, a living area, a library and a chapel. The walls were plain and whitewashed. It does not bear the artistic treasures other parts of the Vatican hold, like Michelangelo's masterworks the Pieta sculpture in St. Peter's, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or the massive Last Judgment painting above the altar in the Sistine Chapel.

"The only real piece of art is in the chapel. It has a beautiful bronzed life-sized crucifix," Armijo said.

A life of prayer

In the chapel, the pope might say Mass every day for his small household, said Monsignor Rick Hilgartner, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Divine Worship.

Benedict has said he will devote his life to prayer. There is no playbook for the life of prayer for a retired pope, Hilgartner said. "Nothing beyond the normal routine” for a monk or a priest.

He said that would include "prayer throughout the day and the liturgy of the hours, morning prayer, evening prayer, Mass every day."

Benedict is likely to keep a small staff at the house to tend to his needs. "He has some German sisters" - nuns - "who cared for him in his domestic needs at the Apostolic Palace and they're apparently moving with him to this monastery. So he'll provide for their spiritual needs, saying Mass every day," Hilgartner said.

There may be a stipend for the retired pope. Italian news outlets have reported retired clerics receive up to €2,500 a month. Hilgartner said Benedict won't need much if any money. The Vatican will take care of his lodging and his health care.

"He didn't have a pension because the presumption was he would be in office until he died," Hilgartner said. "His needs will be cared for. Because of the way he'll be living, those needs will be somewhat limited."

Back to the books

Benedict, a theologian by training, is likely to switch from universal pastor back to scholar.

"My sense is that he will lay low out of deference to the new pope, that he will stay out of the way and under the radar," Hilgartner said. He expects Benedict to behave mostly like a retired scholar, doing lots of reading and maybe a little writing.

Benedict was rumored to be working on his fourth encyclical before he announced he would resign, Hilgartner said. Encyclicals are papal letters to the church, often on pressing matters that carry the weight of the office the pope with them.

"He had written the encyclical on hope, the encyclical on love, and another one on social justice and charity," Hilgartner said, adding that the rumored fourth may be on faith. As a retired pope, Benedict's final encyclical would not carry the weight of the office.

That is something Benedict had not imposed on his previous scholarly works while in office.

"He was careful not to bless his own writings with the papacy," said Pia de Solenni, a moral theologian from Seattle.

When he published books as the pope, his byline was "Joseph Ratzinger - Pope Benedict XVI," de Solenni noted.

"I think he was willing to engage with others." She said his books are "a sharing of ideas, and he's putting his ideas out on paper. To me it's an incredible mark of his humility."

One thing is fairly certain: He won't be tweeting any longer. The Vatican said his official Twitter handle @pontifex will be retired along with Benedict.

Life beyond the walls of the Vatican

Benedict said he no longer had the strength to go on. After he announced his retirement, the Vatican said he had begun thinking about leaving the office after a strenuous papal visit barnstorming across Mexico and Cuba.

When he leaves the office he will give up his Fisherman's Ring, which takes its name from St. Peter's occupation. It will be destroyed along with "the lead seal of the pontificate," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

He will also be giving up his personal security detail, the 100 to 120 members of the Swiss Guard who are responsible for round-the-clock protection of the pope.

"He received security like any other head of state," former Swiss guard member Andreas Widmer said.

While best known for their Renaissance-era dress uniforms - brightly striped, puffy-sleeved shirts and pants - along with their ceremonial battle axes, they are a formidable modern security detail, according to Widmer, who now runs the entrepreneurship program at the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America.

Widmer had a kinship with Benedict in the late 1980s while he was a young German-speaking member of the guard and Benedict, whose native tongue is German, was a top cardinal serving John Paul II.

He described Benedict as an "unbelievable introvert." He said Benedict was always friendly with people at the Vatican one on one, even beggars on the streets, but large crowds sapped his energy.

The task of protecting two popes would have meant doubling the Swiss Guard force, a group unaffiliated with other Swiss security forces, as the guard predates the Swiss state.

But Widmer suspects that would not have been an issue anyway. His hunch is that Benedict will retire and remain cloistered.

"My guess is Benedict is not going to leave the Vatican," Widmer said. "It's not like he's going to make these huge moves. My guess is anything he's going to write and say will only come out after he dies."

A turbulent time

Before he became pope at age 78, Benedict had talked at length about retiring.

Speculation has swirled over what finally pushed him to step aside - Vatileaks, the sexual abuse crisis, or the growing tide of secularism.

The "Vatileaks" scandal began with his butler leaking documents showing disarray and mismanagement and led to an internal review that was reported to contain details of gay sex scandals - reports which the Vatican calls baseless - and money woes. Three cardinals reported their findings to the pontiff this week.

The Vatican spokesman said the matter was concluded and the pope would reveal the contents of the report only to his successor.

The sexual abuse scandal continues to haunt the church as reforms have slowly taken hold across the American church and other cases have surfaced around the globe.

While the vast majority of the abuse cases happened in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, the recent revelation of more cases and the failings of the church in dealing with many of them have left fresh scars that have been slow to heal, victims' advocates say.

Cases are still in the process of being litigated. Two top American cardinals gave depositions shortly before they were to leave for Rome for the pope's farewell.

Benedict was unable to stop the tide of growing secularism in Europe and the United States, though he often railed against it.

All of this likely took its toll on the 85-year-old, who walks with a cane, has a pacemaker, and has looked increasingly frailer in recent months.

In retirement, he will have none of those global problems to sort out anymore. Those responsibilities will fall to the next pope.

Instead, Benedict has said his task will be prayer and reflection.

Sister Armijo said she cried when she found out the pope was resigning. But now that she has had time to process the idea, she said her feelings have shifted from sadness to gratitude.

"He's a person of great courage to do something like this. To dedicate his life to prayer. I think it will help people to see there's a value to dedicating your life to prayer," she said.

"Prayer is something worth dedicating your life to."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Pope • Pope Benedict XVI • Pope John Paul II • Vatican

soundoff (401 Responses)
  1. Sheila

    A man who does not feel up to the job he has been assigned is resigning. And...?

    February 26, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
  2. wut?!?

    "The Vatican said Tuesday he will keep the name Benedict XVI and still be addressed as "his holiness." He will also be known as pope emeritus, emeritus pope or Roman pontifex emeritus."

    Rather, he should be addressed as his "coppingoutness" for breaking tradition and leaving his post while still alive.

    February 26, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • GrowUp

      I wonder if he gets to keep the Papal panties?

      February 26, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
    • GrowUp

      or do they just pass them around for the Cardinals to sniff?

      February 26, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  3. palintwit

    On one hand the pope molests underage boys and on the other hand Sarah Palin's teabaggers molest underage girls.

    February 26, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Please provide a reference for your Tea Baggers allegation. No reference is required for your other allegation.

      February 26, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
    • Lol...

      I heard Todd Palin has been a Pimp in Alaska for sometime now...and that he ran Designer Meth to Russia...but whose counting?

      February 27, 2013 at 12:06 am |
    • Really?

      That explain alot happening in Alaska...all these cops are "retiring" aka I didn't get caught helping Todd Palin's Pimping Service...
      And that explains why the FBI changed Special Agent in Charge...and they sent a Girl not a Guy...ouch...if they are doing these things then it sounds to me like some peoples need to file charges...that crap has to stop...period...but now we will sell our soul for money or in Sarah Palin's case her body and those of her children evidently and Pappa Pimpin Palin there to collect the $$$

      February 27, 2013 at 12:10 am |
  4. gman

    @paul not a catholic, but CNN did have an article about these prophecies. Accordingly, the next pope is supposed to be named Peter, and is the last. According to the laws of the Catholic church, no Pope is allowed to take the name Peter.

    So the end is not neigh. @Paul just another loony trying to start something with 1/2 truths and no real information.

    Of course it brings up my question....why does a church need laws anyway? Isn't the bible supposed the be the only "law" they follow.

    February 26, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  5. GrowUp

    Good riddance to the Nazi bigot who has done his best to spread ignorance and hate. He better pray there is no hell or pack for very warm weather.

    February 26, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  6. frankb2910

    Just like Christopher Hitchens once said. "You can get away with the most hedious of crimes if you can just call yourself pastor. In this case pope. The pope is the CEO for this and should stand responsible. . Sadly he'll get away with it. Watch and see how it unfolds.

    February 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  7. cricket

    A problem he may have is finding little boys to molest. I doubt if that item falls within his retirement package.

    February 26, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • GrowUp

      Don't be so sure.

      February 26, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  8. maximo

    Millions around the world love the Pope and the most important thing is that God is with Him.
    Thank you Benedict XVI.
    The Church will always be protected by God. No matter how hard some people try to destroy It , they won't be able to do it.
    Proof of that, the Church has survived 2000 years and still standing

    February 26, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • Kara

      The pope is a liar and a fraud, God is not with him.

      February 26, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • Mass Debater

      "The Church will always be protected by God"

      Yeah, but who's going to protect the kid's from the Church?

      February 26, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • The Bible is a book of badly written fairy tales

      As long as there are uneducated and unthinking people like you, the RCC will be just fine.

      February 26, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • GrowUp

      War and starvation have also survived for thousands of years. And your point is?

      February 26, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
    • KyleDasan

      Based on my own limited and cursory research, the Greek and Roman gods were worshiped for several thousands of years as well. Egyptian Gods, even longer. It wasn't until the polytheist "God" of the Jews and of the Christians came about that those other religions died off. And they didn't really die off, just because accepted as "Myth". It might take a few hundred or so years, (hopefully sooner), but the Church will someday face the same fate. We're seeing the start of it now.

      February 26, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Jimmy

      @KyleDasan....pretty sure you meant monotheist. But hey, throw whatvever words out there you want.

      February 26, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
  9. EX catholic

    Really, this is like; who cares? Well, probably only current Idolaters-Romanists and their atheists friends.

    February 26, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • maximo

      You talk with so much hate. I will pray for you.

      February 26, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  10. Mike H.

    The Pope's golden handshake at retirement: Immunity from prosecution for the misdeeds of pedophile priests. Unless Benedict XVI actively and knowingly covered-up, I think he should be left alone to retire in peace.

    February 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Watch Mea Maximus Culpa and get back to us. Either TheRat is guilty or someone's getting sued. No hint of lawsuits so far.

      February 26, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  11. Lacrimae Rerum

    C'mon now. Remember what your mother taught you: "If you can't say anything nice...run to the CNN com box."

    February 26, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  12. rjackson

    The Pope does not wear Prada shoes. This rumor was debunked back in 2008 by the Vatican, but journalists who don't bother fact checking have repeated the claim until it has become an accepted "truth."

    February 26, 2013 at 3:06 pm |

      In private he likes high heels to look better and be like able to his associates in hinduism gay ism of collage of Cardinals.

      February 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm |

    As a retired Pope, he will never be a free person, but kept under hose arrest and supervised, to stop him from speaking truth about college of hindu Mithra ism, racist savior ism, labeled as Christianity to hind fool humanity. They will do every thing to keep humanity in hinduism, darkness of hindu dark ages.

    February 26, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
    • Pat Darby

      Hatred and stupidity...
      ignorance and
      speaking untruths spoken from hatred, ignorance, and meanness..

      February 26, 2013 at 3:11 pm |

      Spoken from hindu soul ,filthy desire of a hindu, denier of truth absolute. Way of hindu secular s, kenjers to deny truth absolute in life.

      February 26, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  14. Bruce

    Why are people so mean!

    February 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Why did Pope-A-Dope fail the children?

      February 26, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • GrowUp

      Because they follow the examples set by their religious leaders.

      February 26, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  15. tyekwondo

    Y'all are rather big and mighty behind the safety of a computer monitor, aren't you?

    February 26, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • PaganScorp

      Bring him on over, i'll be glad to say it to his face.

      February 26, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      I avoid religious charlatans as much as possible. If they insist on engaging me, I tell them exactly what I believe, regardless of their age or gender. Usually ends with a firm "Now, fuck off!"

      February 26, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • frankb2910

      What exactly would you do my friend if they were speaking their minds in front of you? A hundred years ago they would have been put to death. Now unfortunately for people like you , you have to act civil and talk the best talk you can to defend your beliefs.

      February 26, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • JJ

      Anything to not be near you disgusting pedophile supporters.

      February 26, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
  16. PaganScorp

    All the gold he can eat.

    February 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  17. TheMirrorMan

    Ratzinger can expect the vilification of the RCC and his tenure to continue.

    February 26, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
  18. Journey


    February 26, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  19. Paul

    According to the Prophecy of the Popes, the next is the last Pope and the city of Rome and the Vatican will be destroyed.

    February 26, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      yeah, will be funy to see how many nuts start spouting that as a warning.

      February 26, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      The destruction of Rome is a little harsh. Given that the vatican is populated by mentally ill delusional liars, I can think of many worse things, such as the abuse of innocent children and protecting their abusers, than its destruction.

      February 26, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • omeany


      February 26, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • Glenn

      The prophecy is St. Malachy's prophecy from the 1100s. The next pope will be the last. Many believe it is the end of mankind, I hope it is not.

      February 26, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Not one biblical prophecy has been proven to have come true. Certainly none of the doomsday prophecies have come true.

      Why should we pay attention to this one? But that being said, one can only hope ('cause prayer is bullsh!t) that the end of religion is near.

      February 26, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Puzzled in Peoria


      Dozens of Bible prophecies concerning Jesus Christ have come true, including his birth in Bethlehem and his manner of death. Prophecies in the book of Daniel concerning ancient empires came true as well. You don't know your Bible very well.

      February 26, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Tommy

      Most of the prophecies in Daniel didn't come true, the info has been posted here several times showing how they were wrong.

      February 26, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Chuckles


      Hey, we have a black president.... anything could happen.

      Just saying, if Hollywood has taught us anything, whenever there is a black pres. of the US, massive amounts of destruction isnt far behind.

      February 26, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Only The Babble says Babble prophecies have come true. And notice I used the word "proven" – self supporting circular logic and claims are not proof.

      February 26, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • drrichard

      Another crackpot prophecy like Y2K, Nostradamus, or the Mayans. There is no good evidence for it appearing before fairly modern times. Worry about today, not what someone may have written centuries ago.

      February 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      we do not have a black president. We have a grey president.just as white as he is black.
      Why does everyone focus on that anyway?

      February 26, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Chuckles


      He is of African-American descent. People focus on his skin color because it is not white and that's a big deal for America with the past that we have. I pointed it out in this case because it was supposed to be a joke, the kind you chuckle at and forget.

      February 26, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  20. Yeah

    So Popey failed to appropriately handle the major scandals that plagued his reign, he failed to stop the flight of European and American adherents from his church, and now he is going to hide and reflect. Well I hope they give him a nice model train set to play with.

    February 26, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.