Benedict vows to obey successor on last day as pope
Papacy ends at 20:00 Italian time Thursday28 February, 13:38
The 85-year-old German pontiff shocked the world this month by saying he would step down from what is usually a life position because he did not have the physical and mental strength to continue to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. At 17:00 Italian time he will fly from the Vatican by helicopter to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.
He will stay at Castel Gandolfo for two months before moving to a monastery inside the Vatican that is currently being renovated. His last public act as pope will be to greet the faithful after arriving at Castel Gandolfo.
He will no longer be pope at 20:00 Italian time, when the office of pope will become "sede vacante" (vacant seat). The outgoing pope told cardinals on Thursday that the support and advice he had received from them during the seven years, 10 months and nine days he has spent as pope were of "great help".
"It has been a joy for me too to walk with you over these years," Benedict said.
He added that the college of cardinals "should be like an orchestra in which diversity can lead to synchronous harmony".
Benedict then greeted one by one all of the cardinals, many of whom were visibly moved.
Among the cardinals he spoke to were former Los Angeles archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony, who is set to take part in the conclave to elect the next pope despite controversy over his alleged role in protecting priests who sexually abused children in the United States.
Benedict reiterated on Wednesday that his decision was the for good of the Church at his last general audience. He said the decision was made "in full awareness of its seriousness, but also with a deep serenity of spirit... I asked God to enlighten me to make the right decision for the good of the Church". Benedict also responded to those who criticised the move on the grounds that you "don't climb down from the cross". "I am not abandoning the cross" he said, adding he stayed attached to the "crucified Lord" in a "new way". The Archbishop of Sydney George Pell, however, criticised the move, saying it sets a dangerous precedent.
"People who, for example, might disagree with a future pope will mount a campaign to get him to resign," Pell, who is one of the cardinals who will elect Benedict's successor at the upcoming conclave, told ABC radio.
"He was well aware that this is a break with tradition (and) slightly destabilizing. "But he felt that because of his weakness and sickness, which was only too evident today, that he didn't have the strength to lead the church in these demanding times. "He's as aware, as I am, of the slight change to the tradition" Pell described the outgoing pope as a "brilliant teacher", but added that "government wasn't his strongest point".
The Australian cardinal cited the example of the VatiLeaks scandal, which saw Benedict's butler convicted of leaking confidential Church documents to the media, before he was pardoned late last year. "He has to know his theology, but I think I prefer somebody who can lead the church and pull it together a bit," Pell said of the next pope.
The Vatican said Tuesday that Benedict XVI will be called 'pope emeritus' or 'Roman pontiff emeritus' after he steps down.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said this week that a pre-conclave meeting of cardinals is likely to take place on Monday March 4. The meeting could reveal the date of the start of the conclave to elect Benedict's successor. On Monday Benedict issued a decree changing the rules of the conclave to make it possible for it take place sooner than the mandatory 15 days from a papacy's end, and so before mid-March.