benedict xvi
Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd during one of his weekly general audiences in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in 2007. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Benedict will be 'Pope Emeritus' after resignation

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI will be known as “Pope Emeritus” after his retirement on Thursday (Feb. 28), and will continue to wear white vestments, the Vatican announced on Tuesday.

benedict xvi

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd during one of his weekly general audiences in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in 2007. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

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Ever since Benedict's surprise announcement that he would become the first pope in 600 years to resign, there had been wide speculation about seemingly small issues, such as what he would be called or whether he would retain the title of "pope." Such details, however, carry great symbolical value within the tradition-bound Roman Catholic Church.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's chief spokesman, told reporters that Benedict will continue to be called “His Holiness” and that his title will be “Pope Emeritus” or “Emeritus Roman Pontiff.”

He said Benedict had decided the issue himself, after consultations with experts.

According to Lombardi, the former pope will wear a plain white cassock but will renounce his trademark red shoes. He will settle instead for the brown loafers he received as a gift during his 2012 trip to Mexico.

With his Tuesday decision, Benedict again went against what had been the conventional wisdom in Rome in the past two weeks, which said Benedict would go back to wearing the traditional black vestments of clerics and that he would assume the title of “bishop emeritus of Rome” to lessen confusion between the old pope and his successor.

Benedict's private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, will remain as head of the papal household -- a move that already had raised questions about the unprecedented situation of two popes living a few hundred meters away from each other inside the Vatican walls.

Gaenswein will continue to have a key role in setting the new pope's agenda and appointments, while continuing to live at Benedict's side in the Vatican convent where he will retire after the conclave is over. The new pope, of course, could give Gaenswein a new job at his discretion.

Benedict has said he will remain “hidden from the world” in retirement. The Vatican has said that he will lead a life of prayer and study.

As attention now moves to the process to elect Benedict's successor, Lombardi said that the daily cardinals' meetings that will govern the church during the interregnum period won't likely begin before March 4.

On Friday, the first day of the "sede vacante" -- the period when the papacy is vacant -- the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, will issue an invitation to Rome to all cardinals, as prescribed by church law. But the cardinals are likely to wait until after the weekend to start their daily "general congregation" meetings before the opening of the conclave.

The exact start date of the conclave remains unclear; church law calls for a conclave between 15 and 20 days after the death or resignation of a pope, but Benedict issued a personal decree that gives the cardinals the option to start the conclave sooner.

There are 117 cardinals under age 80 and thus eligible to vote for the new pope, but two have announced they won't be in Rome for the conclave.

Most cardinals are expected to be in Rome by Thursday morning, when Benedict will meet them for a final farewell before flying off by helicopter to the popes' summer residence in Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.

While there won't be an official act or ceremony to mark the end of Benedict's reign, Lombardi said the colorful Swiss Guards protecting the entrance of the papal villa will leave their posts when his resignation becomes effective at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

Swiss Guards are charged with protecting the pope; when he's no longer pope, Benedict will no longer be under their watch. Lombardi said Benedict's security will be guaranteed by Vatican police manning the Castel Gandolfo complex.