Vatican plays down prospect of church schism over 'two Popes'
After Pope Benedict XVI formally resigns on the evening of February 28, he will be taken – probably by helicopter – to Castel Gandolfo, a summer papal retreat in the hills outside Rome.
The 85-year-old is expected to remain there for 15 to 20 days, until the conclave of cardinals gathers at the Vatican and elects a new Pontiff.
Benedict – it is unclear whether by then he will have reverted to being plain Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as he was before his election in 2005 – will then take up residence in a cloistered monastery within the Vatican City state.
The building is tucked away behind the Vatican's magnificent landscaped gardens, at the furthest boundary of the tiny territory, the smallest country in the world.
That means he will inevitably run into his successor, whoever that might be – an arrangement that has not been witnessed for centuries.
"He certainly won't be a recluse," said Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. "He will be free to come and go."
The fact that Benedict resigned, rather than dying in office like generations of his predecessors, raises a nightmarish prospect for the Vatican – the existence of two Popes and a divided church.
Benedict, a noted theologian who recently published the third part of a trilogy on the life of Christ, would continue to write and publish treatises and essays, the Vatican said.
That could produce a situation where the former Pope says one thing on a crucial doctrinal matter, while his successor says something different.
"Traditionally, Popes have not resigned because there is this question of what do we do with two Popes," said John Thavis, a veteran Vatican observer.
"What should be the role of a former Pope – does he have to stay quiet for the rest of his life? "What if he speaks up and disagrees with his successor? You then have the prospect of the church effectively having two Popes."
Father Lombardi insisted there was no prospect of a schism in the church.
"We have no fears of this kind," he told a packed press conference at the Vatican. "He will renounce the post, so there will be nothing to discuss." (© Daily Telegraph, London)