The word “farewell” often evokes strong emotions, but in the case of Pope Benedict XVI -- who Thursday will become the first pope in about 600 years to resign from his post -- it brings up a number of questions, too.
As the 85-year-old pontiff addressed his final general audience in St. Peter's Square Wednesday, speaking of joy and gratitude, one thought in many people’s minds was undoubtedly, “What’s next?”
The next steps for Pope Benedict XVI, at this point, are more or less known. After he officially retires Thursday at 8 p.m., he’ll stay away from Rome at the papal retreat Castel Gondolfo until his successor is named. Then, he’ll retire to an apartment on the Vatican grounds to live a secluded life of prayer and study.
Next steps for the Catholic Church, however, especially to those outside the faith, are a little less clear. To get some perspective on some of the questions floating around out there, HLN spoke to Mark Bosco, a Jesuit priest and theology professor at Loyola University Chicago, about what will happen between now and the conclave -- the meeting where cardinals will elect the next pope -- as well as his thoughts on who the next pope might be and the legacy of Benedict XVI.
HLN: Who will be "in charge"? In a church without a pope, is there someone to assume his duties in the interim?
Mark Bosco: There is -- in the College of Cardinals -- a cardinal who basically keeps the conclave going, the Cardinal Chamberlain, or Camerlengo. He’s in charge of getting us into conclave. He’s literally in charge of the church or at least the bureaucracy of the Vatican until the next pope is elected. Although, there’s no possible way that he would do anything other than keep the functioning of the church. He wouldn’t make any decisions or anything like that.
HLN: How was news of the pope’s retirement communicated to other leaders in the church?
MB: Since this was almost unprecedented, he brought them [the cardinals] together for a talk. What was kind of surprising is he wrote his resignation in Latin. Some of the cardinals I heard actually had to really pay attention, because everyone speaks in Italian now. Latin’s perhaps the official language of church law, but there are very few people who can have a conversation in Latin. Which says to me, he really wanted to make this official. This is so important that he spoke the language of church law.
HLN: What happens between now and the conclave?
MB: They [the cardinals] have these conversations. The tradition is that they each talk one on one with another cardinal, but not about that cardinal, about a third person. So one cardinal might say to another, “Have you heard about this one? What is he about? Do you know him?” This way, there’s not any sense of jockeying for the position. Once they go into conclave though, it’s different. That’s when they start the election process.
HLN: How does the pope’s retiring affect the typical process of electing a new pope?
MB: The big difference is that the two weeks where we’d have a sober memorial or mourning of a pope who dies, that will probably be shortened. What was nice about that time is that it also allowed the cardinals to be together and to have their conversations.
HLN: What’s the significance of Pope Benedict XVI going to Castel Gondolfo?
MB: He’s going to remain there for two full months, removing himself from the conclave completely. So he’s trying to tell both the worldwide body of the church and the cardinals “I am not a player. I’m not an influence in this conclave.” It’s a way that he’s trying to remove himself, because one of the things that’s always plagued the church throughout its 2,000-year history is this kind of idea of a pope or an anti-pope, or these factions.
HLN: What are the biggest misconceptions out there right now about this change?
MB: Some people think that this is politically motivated. I think that that’s false. I just don’t think that that’s Benedict. I think he’s very spiritually motivated to be a quiet man of prayer and to do whatever writing he’ll do as Joseph Ratzinger, not as the pope.
I think the second misconception is that there are all these kinds of secret rituals. It’s basically an election. It’s just, here we go and we write the name down. There’s a way to read the ballots, but if they don’t have the majority, they go into silence again, they go into prayer, they maybe speak one on one with one another again to see what’s going on.
HLN: Any thoughts on who the next pope will be?
MB: These are just my thoughts. I really think it will not be a European, unless it’s an Italian. My first instinct would be that an Italian would get it, just because the last two popes were not Italian, and there might be a concerted effort to have an Italian again.
That being said, I think there is real desire by so many cardinals from the Southern hemisphere to show the worldwide globalization of the church. My hope would be that it would be a South American or an Asian, maybe.
HLN: What will Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy be?
MB: It will be a little bit fraught, but I think it’ll be that he really was a teaching pope who wanted and tried to say that being a person of faith was an exciting and a powerful thing and it didn’t go against rationality or reason -- to really have tried to ask Europe and the secular world to see Christianity or faith as an aspect of modernity.
I think his legacy will also have been, literally, abdicating. That he will be remembered through history in some ways for allowing that. And it’s a radical thing to do, for a conservative pope.
He reminded us that the church is a fallible thing, the way he tried to deal with the sexual abuse scandals. I think his legacy will be very mixed on that. I do think this pope has done more than any other pope to address it, but is that always enough?