VATICAN CITY — The College of Cardinals will meet twice Monday to begin discussing the issues the Catholic Church faces as the cardinals prepare to choose a successor to His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus.
But they aren’t expected to announce the date they will begin to vote, it was revealed at a news conference Friday. “It’s important not to expect the announcement of the date of the conclave on Monday,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, head of the Canadian Catholic Television Network Salt and Light, who provided English and French translations for the Rev. Frederico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. “Just be patient until we announce that.”
The cardinals, he said, need time to “get into the rhythm of those meetings” before they make a significant decision. These “general” meetings before the conclave are open to all.
Until last week, the rule was that a conclave couldn’t begin until 15 days after the papal see or office became vacant. But that assumed a pope had died unexpectedly and allowed for a funeral and the traditional nine memorial Masses. Days before he abdicated, Benedict changed the rules, giving the cardinals the option to vote earlier if they wished.
Now as 115 cardinals gather to elect a pope, eeeeeeeeeeBenedict’s decision confronts them and future popes with a host of new factors.
The possibility of resignation could allow the cardinals to choose a younger man, knowing a limited term is an option, or an older one, knowing he could quit if he felt unable to fulfill his duties.
It could lead to pressure on successors — driven by scandals, unpopular decisions, or illness — to step down. Such pressure, or even the possibility of it, could affect how a pope makes decisions, some church officials fear.
This is a very different interregnum — vacancy — than the one after the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, when millions of mourners poured into Rome.
On Friday, the day after Pope Emeritus Benedict, 85, flew to the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, to begin his retirement, the priests briefing the media were in high spirits. They broke into laughter at several points in their lengthy news conference — though they didn’t always translate the joke from Italian. Translating the news conferences into languages other than Italian, however, has been an innovation for this vacancy.
Father Lombardi showed reporters a video of the papal apartments being sealed by Cardinal Tarcisco Bertone, who ceased to be Vatican secretary of state when the see became vacant at 8 p.m. Thursday, and is now the camerlengo, or chamberlain, who handles basic operational issues until a pope is chosen.
Sealing the apartment is an ancient tradition, written into church rules, but traditionally done after the camerlengo has verified the pope’s death.
The video showed Cardinal Bertone placing white tape across the doors of the papal elevator and stamping it with an ordinary office-style self-inking stamp bearing the seal of the vacant see. Then he tied the doors of the papal apartments closed with a ceremonial red ribbon, using a glue gun on the knot for good measure. The next morning he sealed the papal rooms at the Lateran Palace, the residence at St. John Lateran Basilica, which is the pope’s cathedral.
When an Italian reporter asked if the pope’s rooms at Castel Gandolfo were also sealed, Father Lombardi and his translators burst into laughter.
“The Pope [Emeritus] is not sealed in his apartment at Castel Gandolfo,” Father Rosica managed to say. “It is normal that the apartment not be sealed when he is inside it.”
After Benedict — who wasn’t yet emeritus — arrived as Castel Gandolfo, he gave unscheduled greetings to hundreds of well-wishers who crowded into his courtyard on a hill overlooking the idyllic Lake Albano.
“Dear friends, I’m happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of creation and your well-wishes, which do me such good,” he said. “You know this day is different for me than the preceding ones. I am no longer the supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I will be until 8 o’clock this evening and then no more. I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth. But … I would still with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, and with all my inner strength, like to work for the common good and the good of the church and of humanity.”
After that he spent the evening watching television coverage of his departure, said Father Lombardi, who repeatedly thanked the media for a “magnificent job telling the story.”
Both the Pope Emeritus and his spokesmen seemed surprised and happily overwhelmed by the tremendous show of love for the departing pontiff. In unscripted remarks at both his last public audience and his final meeting with the cardinals, Benedict spoke of the vast, supportive crowds as a sign that “the church is alive” — a signature line from his inaugural Mass in 2005.
Father Lombardi relayed a report from Archbishop George Ganswein, secretary to Pontiff Emeritus, who reported that after dinner and praying the liturgy of the hours, Benedict read some of the many messages from well-wishers and spent time gazing out over Lake Albano from a reception hall.
Father Lombardi said that after announcing his intention to resign, Pope Emeritus Benedict, a classically trained pianist, resumed playing the piano each night in his Vatican apartment. He didn’t do so Thursday because he opted to watch the news, but “will most likely be taking up that habit again.”
He brought books with him, and was reading one of his favorite theologians, Hans Urs von Balthasar. He was also expected to resume his tradition of reciting the rosary while walking the gardens late in the afternoon.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ann Rodgers is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
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