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. Pope On A Rope Soap

    Now I'll have lots more time to market my line of male toiletry products.

    They go anywhere and everywhere.

    February 28, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  2. Phaerisee

    We have to avoid political groups such as Legion of Christ and Opus Dei when selecting a Pope. Many may remember the adultery scandal involving the Legion of Christ, and there is the Opus Dei scandal involving the kidnapping of Emanuela Orlandi. We need a Pope that is not a member of a secret society or prelature such as these. The only area not saturated with these groups and political intrigue is Africa. We have two excallent candidates, Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria and Cardinal Turkson of Ghana. If we are serious about defending the Church we must defend against the possibility of future scandal. Let us look to Africa for some honesty, sincerity and Piety in the next Pope.

    February 27, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • Doobs

      Good luck with that.

      February 27, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • Yeah

      Yes, we need a pope who will give all his people machetes and tell them to hack the other tribes to death.

      February 27, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • End Religion

      Imagine the growth in email scams if a Nigerian becomes Pope.

      February 27, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • Ken

      Leading a cult demands dishonesty, so good friggin luck with that, Fairy-see.

      February 28, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • Ken

      ER, the Vatican is already a big source of spam but you're probably right.

      February 28, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
  3. Ceres

    "small staff at the house to tend to his needs"
    Did nothing "in office" and will do nothing during retirement except use other peoples' money to live just like while "in office". Except at least now he doesn't have to figure out how to suppress the information about pedophiles within the church. Pathetic religions.

    February 27, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Be honest


      February 28, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
  4. Andy

    Thank you for your service, Holy Father, and God bless you in your well deserved retirement.

    February 27, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • Be honest

      Amen to that Andy. Bless you for your respectful comment.
      Pope John Paul II showed us the dignity of age and suffering right up to the end. Pope Benedict showed us the dignity and humility of admitting when he'd done all he could and stepped down for the good of the Church. Wonderful representatives of Christ's representatives. Ubi Caritas et amor Deus ibi est.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
  5. Atheist Hunter


    February 27, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  6. Olaf Big

    This sounds more like house arrest than happy retirement to me, which of course makes sense. Vatican has lots of secrets to guard, and you don't want a frail 85-year old spilling out the beans in a casual chat with a sympathetic reporter.

    February 27, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  7. doug mann

    I don't know what he'll do but I hope it doesn't involve little boys.

    February 27, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  8. billmosby

    He'll dodder around vatican city, show up at ransom meetings and shout, "No, no, you're doing it all wrong!"

    February 27, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • billmosby

      oops, "random meetings". lol.

      February 27, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  9. Obamabus

    He'll soon get bored and get a job as the greeter at the Vatican Walmart.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • palintwit

      That job has already been taken by a Vatican teabagger.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  10. Stan

    Drrichard, Y2K was a real event. I remember reading about the " Hotscrams " that occurred at a good number of nuclear power plants. A hotscram is a partial meltdown. The victory was that these partial meltdowns were containable because of the hard work that was done to protect our most critical infrastructure from the Y2K issue. Without that work there would have been full and complete meltdowns. Just because it seemed like there weren't any major issues doesn't mean that there weren't any.

    February 27, 2013 at 9:43 am |
    • billmosby

      Thanks, this is the first indication that there is indeed a parallel universe out there that is much like ours, in which no such meltdowns occurred. A hot scram just means that the reactor was shut down (scrammed) but maintained at operating temperature by decay heat and pump power input in anticipation of resuming power production.

      How did you get to our universe? You can make big, big bucks if you tell the right people.


      February 27, 2013 at 11:08 am |
  11. jaron kadek

    He will sit around and wait for his check like the rest of us.

    February 27, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • billmosby

      And watch to see how much he gets for his red shoes on ebay. Has to switch to brown shoes once he's no longer the Pope.

      February 27, 2013 at 11:11 am |
  12. palintwit

    The pope molests little boys and the teabaggers molest their sisters and cousins. So what's the difference?

    February 27, 2013 at 9:20 am |
  13. Tea Party Patriot

    A growing number of us are convinced that Sarah Palin is the only one who can heal and re-unify our country. But first she must return to her motorhome and resume her cross country tour. She will have to visit cities both large and small, being careful to speak only to real Americans, dispensing her sage advice and folksy, homespun common sense solutions. We can be a great nation again if we all follow the "Palin Path".

    February 27, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • mudhut

      Said no one ever.

      February 27, 2013 at 9:14 am |
    • TyroneHoglegg

      You get my support and vote for funniest post ever!!!!!

      Still laughing....

      February 27, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • CBS News

      Today President Palin nuked Saskatchewan, believing it part of the Middle East.

      February 27, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  14. mudhut

    He will exfoliate and buff the scrotum of a 1000 altar and 30 choir boys. Aaaaaamennnnn.

    February 27, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • Be honest

      mudhut, doug mann and all the other posters who focus on child abuse issues, I have to say, in my opinion, that as a psychologist who has worked for many years with social services/child protection agencies the people who drag child abuse and perverted comments into every post – no matter what that post is about .........are THE most likely to be active or closet abusers!

      The Pope DID do something about it. He admitted it publicly; he MET victims' the Church PAID massive amounts to victims......the thing he couldn't do was turn the clock back.

      The moral degenerates who abuse children [and I mean ALL of them in ALL religions, ALL professions, THOUSANDS of families] will be judged by God. Not you, not me – God. And Jesus said to His disciples "It is impossible but that offence will come; but woe to himthrough whom they come. It were better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck and he be cast into the river than that he should offend one of these little ones"

      That includes the ultimate child abuse of abortion.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
  15. ThereIsNoGod

    What do they do? Retire to Thailand with all of the other diddlers!

    February 27, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    February 27, 2013 at 7:34 am |
    • Poopal position

      It worked! I prayed and my stool has returned to its normal dark green color and it doesn't stink one bit! Allelujah!

      February 27, 2013 at 8:04 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!:

      February 27, 2013 at 8:30 am |
    • rdiane1


      Prayer is a conversation, hardly magical spells, although some certainly treat it as such, then wonder why it didn't work. I certainly pray for healing, but also expect people to make use of the brains God created.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • Saraswati


      I guarantee you 10 times as many people would read your comment if you dropped the word "liar" and the screaming lunatic all-caps from your first line. I very much. doubt prayer does anything over the general benefits of meditation, but every time I see your comment – posted, what, five times a day? – I just read that first line and just think "Total loon..."

      February 27, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • According to the bible prayer cannot change things

      If god's supreme plan rules in the heavens then prayer is useless. If you pray for something that's not in the plan it won't happen, no matter how hard you pray. And if you pray for something in the plan, it would have happened anyway even without your prayer.

      If god gives us free will then no matter how hard you pray god refuses to do anything, like not doing anything for the 6m Jews because that would interfere with Hitler’s free will

      February 27, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  17. Lucina Maestro

    In a way it was a courageus step that Pope Benedicy XVI took by resignin but being the traditionalis that he is supposed to be he should realise that by staying to close to the new pope that is going to replace him and having his former principal secretary work for the new pope and his old Boss is a conflict of intrest and if he really wants to do what is for the good of the church then he should go and retired in a far away monastery I am very sure the church could send him far away and nobody will now let's face it the priest that violeted their promise to god by violating the children are still in hiding they could do the same with now soon to be expope he freely give up the job so now he should freely take the live of a simple priest or monk and go far away and not become a shadoe to the new pope. another passing tought most of the cardinals electors are in their 60 or 70 years old according to the cannon law they could elect someone from the archbishop branch I am sure there is a younger and stronger priest that will have the courage and the strenght to clean and stear the barc of St. Peter and he will make the church stronger by correcting the wrongs of the past and mending and shapping the future of the church otherwise stay tuned for another older cardinal to be elected pope and wait another 8 years and we will have this very unsettleing situation once again.

    February 27, 2013 at 5:09 am |
    • realbuckyball

      *conflict of interest would be the NEW pope being one of HIS cronies, not the OLD one nearby. Look up the definition. Does not fit. Meaningless statement.
      *"life" not "live"
      *shadow" not "shadoe"
      *"thought" not "tought"
      *"canon" not "cannon"
      *no such thing as "archbishop" branch
      no such thing as "barque" of St. Peter, (made up sh1t)
      *shaping" not "shapping",
      Grade "F" composition and content

      February 27, 2013 at 5:50 am |
    • steve

      they are goig to keep on the vatican grounds in his own apartments.....I am sure that his remaining behind the vatican walls will insulate him from the out sid world and any inquires that are being made into the child mollestation investigations...he is non-extradictable as long as he stays within the vatican...

      February 27, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  18. End Religion


    February 27, 2013 at 3:17 am |
    • End Religion

      See what other shenanigans this Wendy Wright lady is up to and learn more about the arrest she refers to in the video:

      February 27, 2013 at 3:55 am |
    • Science

      Creationist should watch, but will they ?

      February 27, 2013 at 5:44 am |
    • Science

      BBC. Planet of the Apemen. Battle for Earth 1. Ho-mo Erectus


      Fact = Evolution = Truth

      February 27, 2013 at 5:54 am |
  19. tbear

    After retirement they die! 🙂

    February 27, 2013 at 2:41 am |
  20. Al

    What to expect? Same old crap from another old white guy. When the Pope sees his shadow that means 6 more weeks of crappy sermons.

    February 27, 2013 at 2:33 am |
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.