He's to become a monk
Pope Benedict XVI will begin his retreat from public life officially at 8pm on February 28. And like a machine without emotion, the Catholic Church is preparing for life after the 85-year-old Pope in earnest.
A Vatican statement indicates that after his retirement, the Pope, who is likely to revert to his old name 'Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger', will head to a monastery to spend the rest of his life there. The retiring pope is barred from meeting the 117 cardinals who will choose his successor before the conclave opens in the first week of March.
According to Vatican rules set down by Pope John Paul II, all eligible cardinals (those younger than 80 years) must be in Rome within a week of the seat of St Peter being declared vacant. In his statement, Pope Benedict explained that the seat will officially fall vacant on February 28; so, the cardinals must decide when to hold the conclave to elect a new pope before March 7, 2013. It is expected that a new pope will be in place before Easter.
Even if he had wished, Ratzinger will have no role in the election of his successor, as he is 85 years old and ineligible to vote in the conclave.
Before his election in 2005, Ratzinger had indicated that he wanted to return to academia. The former theology professor will now have the opportunity to retire out of public eye and into reading and writing books.
While many have expressed surprise at the Pope's decision, announced during the canonization of three saints on Monday, some in his home country, Germany, have indicated that it was quite obvious two years ago.
On that occasion Benedict XVI, who was on a trip to Germany, was asked if a pope could retire and he responded in the affirmative. After the announcement, his elder brother Msgr Georg Ratzinger, who is 88 and living in a German monastery, told the BBC that he was not surprised by the Pope's decision, as they had been in touch.
"[The Pope] realised that he no longer had the energy levels required for the job and decided he couldn't continue," Georg Ratzinger said. "Most are surprised but he has indicated that if he found that he lacked the energy to continue, he would relinquish the position."
He explained that the Pope's decision was influenced by improvements in healthcare.
"[Most] people are surprised but it is just that people never used to grow that old," Ratzinger explained.
Since late last year, the Pope has been moving around in a trolley after his arthritis worsened. Holy mass on Christmas last year was held up for two hours after it became clear that he was not well. It is also understood that the Pope was reluctant to undertake overseas trips. One trip that he will now avoid is the one to Brazil that had been planned for him before the resignation.