BUT for a head injury he sustained during a trip to Mexico last March, Pope Benedict XVI would not have suddenly resigned on Monday, it has emerged.
Vatican Spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed that the Pope hit his head during his March 2012 trip to Mexico, but denied the accident had any "relevant" role in his resignation, citing old-age and not a particular health problem as reason for his resignation.
However, a prelate who was on the trip with the pope told an Italian paper that after the injury he knew that "the pope no longer had the physical strength to endure these long trips" and "the change of time zone, the burden of public commitments" was adding to his problems. The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, reported earlier in the week that Benedict had taken the decision to resign after the Mexico-Cuba trip, which was physically exhausting for the 85-year-old pope.
This came as Pope Benedict XVI, who said he would remain hidden or secluded after his retirement, enumerated what could pass as an action plan for his successor.
How Pope sustained head injury
Benedict XVI was injured in Leon, Mexico when he was trying to move around an unfamiliar room in the dark not being able to find the switch for the light. Italy's La Stampa newspaper said he bled and blood stained his hair and sheets.
The BBC reported yesterday that the previously unpublicized head injury made the Pope to resign from the post, adding that it was soon after his trip to Mexico and Cuba last year that the Pope announced his possible resignation.
The head injury was the latest revelation of a hidden health issue to emerge from the Holy See since the Pope's shock announcement, and adds to questions about the gravity of the pontiff's condition. On Tuesday, the Vatican said for the first time that Benedict has a pacemaker, and that he had its batteries replaced just three months ago.
To be hidden from the world
Pope Benedict will see out his life in prayer, "hidden from the world", he said yesterday in his first personal comment on his plans since he announced his retirement.
His remarks, in a voice that was hoarse at times, followed Monday's resignation notice which spoke of "a life dedicated to prayer." The Vatican has said the 85-year-old German would live within its walls. His seclusion may allay concern that the first living former Pope in centuries might trouble Church unity.
Speaking unscripted to thousands of priests from the diocese of Rome, in what turned out to be a farewell address in his capacity as bishop of the Italian capital, Benedict outlined a cloistered life ahead, once he steps down in two weeks time:
"Even if I am withdrawing into prayer, I will always be close to all of you and I am sure that you will be close to me, even if I remain hidden to the world," he said.
After February 28, when he becomes the first pontiff in hundreds of years to resign instead of ruling for life, Benedict will first go to the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo, South of Rome, and then move permanently into the four-storey Mater Ecclesiae convent, in the gardens behind St. Peter's Basilica.
The Vatican has already said that he would not influence the election of his successor, which will take place in a secret conclave between March 15 and 20 in the Sistine Chapel.
Confusion over his post-retirement title
The Vatican, which is navigating uncharted waters since Pope's shock announcement, said experts had not decided what his title would be or whether he would wear the white of a Pope, the red of a cardinal or the black of an ordinary priest.
"In my opinion, once he resigns he should put aside the white cassock and put on the robes of a cardinal," said Father Thomas Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Centre at Georgetown University and an author of books on the Vatican.
"He should no longer be called pope, or Benedict, or your Holiness, but should be referred to as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger," Reese added. "After the new pope is elected, he should attend his installation along with the other retired cardinals and pledge his allegiance to the new pope."
Action plan for successor
Earlier yesterday, Benedict held a 45-minute reminiscence about the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, blaming the media for what he called media's distorted interpretation of the church meetings at the time for many "calamities" that plague the Catholic Church today.
It was the second day in a row that Benedict has sent very pointed messages to his successor and the cardinals who will elect him about the direction the church must take once he is no longer pope. While his farewell remarks on Wednesday were in many ways bitter-sweet, Benedict was more combative yesterday as he addressed an audience hall full of thousands of priests.
Benedict was a young theological expert at Vatican II, the 1962-65 meetings that brought the Catholic Church into the modern world with important documents on the church's relations with other religions, its place in the world and the liturgy.
Benedict has spent much of his eight-year pontificate seeking to correct what he considers the misinterpretation of Vatican II, insisting that it wasn't a revolutionary break from the past, as liberal Catholics paint it, but a renewal and reawakening of the best traditions of the ancient church.
He stressed that point yesterday, blaming botched media reporting of the council's deliberations for having reduced the work to "political power struggles between various currents in the church."
Because the media's interpretation was dominant and "accessible to all," it fueled the popular understanding of what the council was all about, he said. That led in the years that followed to "so many calamities, so many problems, really so many miseries: Seminaries that closed; convents that closed; the liturgy that was banalized."
In what will be one of his final public remarks as pope, Benedict said he hoped the "true council" will one day be understood.
"Our job in this 'Year of Faith' is to work so that the true council, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, is truly realized and that the church is truly renovated."
Hours earlier, Benedict delivered another pointed message during an emotional Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, his last public liturgy before he resigns as pope on February 28.
In his homily, Benedict lamented the internal church rivalries that he said had "defiled the face of the church" -- a not-too-subtle message to his successor and the cardinals who will elect the new pope.
Those rivalries came to the fore last year with the leaks of internal papal documents by the pope's own butler. The documentation revealed bitter infighting within the highest ranks of the Catholic Church, allegations of corruption and mismanagement of the Holy See's affairs.
Benedict took the scandal as a personal betrayal and a wound on the entire church. In a sign of his desire to get to the bottom of the leaks, he appointed a commission of cardinals to investigate alongside Vatican investigators. His butler, Paolo Gabriele, was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison, although Benedict ultimately pardoned him.