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. Sane Person

    A Grand Jury?

    February 26, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
  2. 3piece

    Instead of following all of the outdated, scientifically unsupported and incorrect fallacies a majority of you perceive as "religion". I challenge you to discover what you believe for yourself. And I don't mean an existing religion. I'm talking a new, full scale code of what you believe is right and wrong, and your wildest thoughts of how we came to be. This is your religion! This is who and what you truly are in your purest form! What I'm getting at is be independent, and think and believe for yourself, not because someone else tells you to, while they collect billions of dollars annually, in profit. Let alone end up building an empire and then putting a leader who violates children in control. My point is that, buying into these myths that have been passed down through the thousands of religions existing today, none of them are sufficient. No person should ever trust, or give a previously established religion or group their support, especially in the current situation where our highers seem to be in a race for control. You are the decider for what you believe in, nothing should change this! Its time you stand on your feet.


    February 26, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • Atheist Man

      You are challenging these people to face reality, and take personal responsibility for their lives. That's asking a lot from those who have two-way conversations with invisible friends.

      February 26, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • Hcalla

      are you Jed McKenna?

      February 26, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • The Eternal Satyr

      If you were truly a gnostic you'd know that the pistics to whom you are preaching are not yet ready to do what you ask. They're not "ripe" yet.

      Gnosticism is the final step in the spiritual evolution of the human being. The adherents of organized religion (especially the Abrahamic religions) are simply not at that stage yet. Perhaps in a few more lifetimes, if ever.

      February 26, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
  3. DefyTheGods

    How about "Darth Sidous"?

    February 26, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  4. Herb Rosenbaum

    Will he revert to his civilian name ?

    February 26, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      HIs full name will be HIs Holiness, Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger pope emeritus.

      February 26, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
    • Sane Person

      Either that or Prisoner #120131A

      February 26, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • Poopal position

      He was just trying to get a name longer than Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel in a can.

      February 26, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
  5. Herb Rosenbaum

    Will he be called Ratzinger again, as before ?

    February 26, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      He can be called either by his honorific or his name.

      February 26, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
  6. Herb Rosenbaum

    Will they call him Ratzinger again, or just ex-Pope ?

    February 26, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  7. One-eye

    How abouts funding child abuse victims with Preparation H? They won't need any of your fancy clothes.

    February 26, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
  8. Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!

    I propose that when he dies, a large group of us start claiming that by praying fervently to Benedict XVI, we were cured of burning cases of hemorrhoids. Hundreds, maybe thousands of us all claiming the same thing. The Holy Vatican Office Of Verifying Silly Claims will do its usual rigorous investigation, as they have with so many saints, and presto zippo, Saint Benedict XVI, patron said of hemorrhoid sufferers.

    February 26, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • Larry Mandrell

      Seems like most of you Catholic bashers got your Religion Degrees form the university of chick publications.

      February 26, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • Theo Noh

      No one bashes Catholics worse than their own scandals.

      February 26, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  9. Reasonably

    Seriously. Let it go.

    February 26, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
  10. Righteo

    The pope expects to hand choose his successor, live in lavish luxury with expensive meals and even more expensive clothes, and glory at his imminent sainthood.

    So humble!

    February 26, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
  11. t3chn0ph0b3

    He can expect to be stuck in a convent in the Vatican for the rest of his life. Who else will shelter him from prosecution?

    February 26, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
  12. paul.c

    Well he can expect to be compleatly immune from any questions about church child molestation,he will fade into the background free of responsibility and prosecution from such matters...well done catholics,i am sure jesus would be very proud

    February 26, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • Babbabouey

      He's dead so I doubt he will do much complaining. Sorry to be the one to give you that news :'(

      February 26, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
  13. MWC

    Forget Vatileaks, I think this pope might be a queen. Putting out press releases about what shows and outfits he is going wear? Who cares!

    February 26, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • GrowUp

      He certainly has that Liberace look down.

      February 26, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • Righteo

      I alwys thought he looked more like Nosferatu.

      February 26, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  14. Gary

    How hard is it to proof read a dang article CNN?
    "to lead a life a prayer, likely removed"
    I don't even want to finish the article.

    February 26, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  15. chiva2k

    he should were his sombrero he pick up from mexico too.

    February 26, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
  16. GrowUp

    Love to watch the Cardinals jockey for power and perks. Ah, organized religion: the best show in town.

    February 26, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  17. hawaiiguest

    He will never leave Vatican city again, because he has lost his diplomatic immunity granted to him by George W. Bush, he will be able to be charged for his crimes against humanity.

    February 26, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Has he been indicted? Are you still holding your stone hawaii?

      February 26, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Do you have any reading comprehension at all you moronic little tool?

      February 26, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • Maximo

      Please do not talk nonsence he is retired and does not want to travel anymore. Beside leadesr around the world had expressed their respect for the Pope. And you people are full of hate because deep down knnow the Pope is well respected and admired by millions. And not matters what you said God will be always with him. The Pope is old and wise and he wants to espend his last year writing and praying for you and me.

      February 26, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Yup, just do what every other current practicing Catholic does and completely ignore his role in the pedophile cover-up, and not actually address what's been written. Not to mention the propogation of controlling behaviour all over the world.
      Fuck the pope, fuck the church, and fuck anyone that's willing to look the other way from attrocities, hate, bigotry, and suffering this criminal organization goes out of it's way to spread.

      February 26, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
  18. GrowUp

    Will he still wear designer Dior gowns?

    February 26, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  19. GrowUp

    Maybe his hotline to God was disconnected for non-payment.

    February 26, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
  20. pkfops

    I wonder how much money he'll be getting.

    February 26, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      The article said probably none. There is no fund since he was expected to serve until his death. His expenses will be covered within the Vatican budget.

      February 26, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • tokencode

      Actually its $3k a month unless the next pope decides to double it to $6k a month.. That's AFTER the vatofslime pays all of his expenses.... If you want a good retirement package, become a pedophile....

      February 27, 2013 at 12:30 am |
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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.