It was a remarkable bookend to a papacy that began on April 19, 2005, with a similarly meek speech delivered from the loggia overlooking St. Peter’s Square, where the newly elected Benedict said he was but a “simple humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.”
Over eight years, Benedict tried to set the church on a more traditional course, convinced that all the ills afflicting it — sexual abuse, dwindling numbers of priests and empty pews — were a result of a misreading of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
His successor is likely to follow in his footsteps given that the vast majority of the 115 cardinals who will elect the next pope were appointed by Benedict himself and share his conservative bent.
For the most part, his cardinals have said they understood Benedict’s decision. But Sydney Cardinal George Pell caused a stir yesterday by saying it was “slightly destabilizing” — a rare critique of a pope by one of his cardinals.
Benedict’s journey into retirement began with a final audience with his cardinals yesterday morning, where he sought to defuse concerns about his future role and the possible conflicts arising from the peculiar situation of having both a reigning pope and a retired one living side-by-side inside the Vatican.
“Among you is also the future pope, whom I today promise my unconditional reverence and obedience,” Benedict told the cardinals.
Benedict’s decision to live at the Vatican in retirement, be called “emeritus pope” and “Your Holiness” rather than revert back to “Joseph Ratzinger” and wear the white cassock associated with the papacy has deepened concerns about the shadow he might cast over the next papacy.
Benedict has tried to address those worries over the past two weeks, saying that once retired he would be “hidden from the world” and living a life of prayer. Yesterday, he took a step further with his own public pledge to place himself entirely under the authority of the new pope.