February 26th, 2013
01:30 PM ET

The pope in retirement: What to expect

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Editor
[twitter-follow screen_name='EricCNNBelief']

(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. Colonel Buckley

    I am not Catholic, but I respect and admire the Pope for making a decision that I deem to be in the benefit of the people of the Catholic church – world wide. He has acknowledged that due to health concerns, he cannot execute the heavy responsibilities that are levied on the Pope. He deserves all our prayers.

    February 26, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • End Religion

      He colluded with the church to protect pedophiles and use scare tactics to keep victims quiet. This is what you find worthy of praise?

      February 26, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • NorthVanCan

      Dude, if you think he deserves your prayers, what about the kids that have been victimized ?
      Why don't you pray for them ,and justice, like jailing the criminals and all that sheltered them?
      Get your head out of the sand .......BOY!

      February 26, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
    • JJ

      Why do you admire pedophiles and those who support them? You would probably make a good priest.

      February 26, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  2. Jesus Christ Son of God

    What shoes he will wear? Who cares? He is just an 85 year old man, like any other 85 year old man.

    February 26, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • Arvn Huac

      They will be very very very expensive shoes.

      February 26, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • Paul Price

      They are a pair of brown loafers given to him in Mexico in 2012

      February 26, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
    • Zingo

      It only cost him a few million dollars to go there and get them.

      February 26, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
  3. JD

    I see little in these posts but intolerance and Catholic bashing based on little understanding and thought....Worst of all are the people blasting religion while showing complete unwillingness to forgive... the real cause of war

    February 26, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • Flint Fredstone

      Name one war caused by atheists criticizing religion, Mr. "Real Cause Of War"

      February 26, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • End Religion

      JD, the pope colluded with the church to protect pedophiles and use scare tactics to keep victims quiet. Why don't you sit down with each victim and give them your "get over it" speech face to face?

      February 26, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • Baruch

      The Vatican holds millions in stock in weapons manufacturing...assault weapons, weapons of war. The Vatican makes money from war. That is a fact. There is nothing peaceful about the Vatican except for it's facade.

      February 26, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
  4. M.A.D

    My Take: Are we ready to expect pope in his retirement to sleep, eat, and dream s ex, like any 85 years old?

    February 26, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • Flint Fredstone

      In lavish luxury as any humble man of god would do.

      February 26, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
  5. Lacrimae Rerum

    The real irony is that he's praying for all of us...even all the haters here who are so quick to throw stones and feel superior. He's praying that you will give up your sarcasm and cruelty and turn to God.

    We need to keep in mind that we are promised exactly as much love and mercy as we measure out to others, and will receive exactly the same kind of judgements we render upon each other.

    February 26, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • Chuckles

      I think you need to look up what irony means...

      February 26, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
    • Akira

      And yet, that doesn't stop people on this board who are absolutely hateful...as they hide behind their cloak of false piety. It doesn't phase them at all.

      February 26, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Doobs

      What love and mercy have been measured out for the priests who showed their "love" to children, and the men who covered up for them, including your pious-ass pope? They sure showed mercy when those kids cried out for them to stop raping them, or went to their parents for help, didn't they?

      I really, really don't want someone like that "praying" for me.

      February 26, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
  6. Atheist Man

    Pope to his closest friends: "Why are all these so called victims all butt-hurt?".

    February 26, 2013 at 6:35 pm |

      They were blessed by a hindu santan, filthy goon man god of hindus ignorants by performance of hindu filthy holy tradition of hinduism, sodomy to be good gentile, slave.

      February 26, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
  7. Richard Sanchez Junior

    If the Pope was a member of The Avengers, what would hes super powers be?

    February 26, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • Zingo

      Popey will never look as good in a skin-tight shiny black outfit as Emma Peel.

      February 26, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
  8. Jane

    The Church is made up of 100 percent sinners but It is the Body of Christ. Priests are unsung Heroes. Many thanks to all the brave men/priests who dedicate their lives to God.

    February 26, 2013 at 6:24 pm |

      Dedicated to promote hindu racist Mithra savior ism of hindu dark ages, to be gentiles, slaves of another man, just like them. height of hinduism crookedness mad holy.

      February 26, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  9. ed

    Retired to the rectory. Errr,,,,make that plural.

    February 26, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
  10. reader

    He can expect immunity from prosecution

    February 26, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
  11. AvdBerg

    Spiritual Truth

    visit http://www.gaychristian101.com for the real spiritual truth.

    Narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:14)

    February 26, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  12. Church Lady

    I wonder who will be ex-pope benedict new room mate? Could it be......SATAN?

    February 26, 2013 at 5:48 pm |

      Since he achieved highest place in kingdom of King Lucifer, secular, pretending to be truth himself, he was crowned to be son of hindu filthy Lucifer, secular, kenjer of all, his god hindu Lucifer will cohabit with next pope to do his hindu filthy work.

      February 26, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
  13. Church Lady

    And he will get a lifetime of free healthcare. Isn't that special?

    February 26, 2013 at 5:43 pm |

      in a lock up till he dies.

      February 26, 2013 at 5:45 pm |

    Pay attention to Hebrew word for spirit of truth, related to word HEM, truth, Mayhem, will of truth, also known as Karma. Letter D appears AS first letter by principal of Sanskrit, meaning The, a noun and on the end of a word by Hebrew principal. FIGURE IT OUT, IT IS ABOUT ARRIVAL OF MOHAMMAD, PBH, ARRIVED AND DEPARTED LONG TIME AGO, AS IT WAS PREDICTED, EXCEPT FOR HINDU DENIERS OF TRUTH LIKE YOU.

    February 26, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • Church Lady

      OK That is gust fine......

      February 26, 2013 at 5:45 pm |

      Barf eater I words flumble senseless senseless I humiliate self Islam all.

      February 26, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  15. Atheist Man

    He who has enabled countless child rapists......what a great man.....NOT.

    February 26, 2013 at 5:33 pm |

      It is a holy tradition of hindu Magi's, crook fortune tellers, profession of Vatican organizers in following of hindu, boy abuser Plato etc, before they decided to call it Christianity.

      February 26, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
  16. motive

    he can expect to get arrested

    February 26, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • Theo Noh

      The whole point of having the Vatican be a country is that they can deny extradition and prosecution. And no taxes. Holy things like that.

      February 26, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  17. Wyeast

    Is that a picture of Santa Claus?

    February 26, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Poopal position


      February 26, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
  18. Bart Hawkins

    The red Papal shoes were NOT manufactured by Prada – but by an Itailian cobbler.....

    You keep getting it all wrong CNN.

    February 26, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
    • ed

      I thought only the devil wears Prada.

      February 26, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
  19. brian

    Will he keep mumbling in bad Latin after he retires?

    February 26, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
    • Atheist Man

      Only when he is about to come.

      February 26, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  20. 420


    February 26, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
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.