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'Pope Emeritus' Benedict XVI Will Wear White, But Trade In Red Shoes

A church group prepares to pray for Pope Benedict XVI on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica on Tuesday.
Peter Macdiarmid
Getty Images
A church group prepares to pray for Pope Benedict XVI on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica on Tuesday.

It's settled. When the pontiff steps down Thursday, he'll still be known as Benedict XVI and have the title of "pope emeritus." In public, he'll wear an understated white cassock and stylish brown shoes from Mexico.

The Vatican announcement on Tuesday ends speculation over some of the thorny issues that have been the subject of speculation in the days since the world learned that the 85-year-old Benedict would voluntarily step down, the first pope to do so in more than 700 years.

Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi says instead of reverting to his birth name, Joseph Ratzinger, the 265th pope will be known as "His Holiness Benedict XVI, Roman pontiff emeritus."

According to Lombardi, Benedict will continue to wear a white cassock (sans the pontifical ornaments), but forgo his trademark red shoes. Instead, he will wear a pair of handmade brown shoes given to him during a papal visit to Mexico in 2012.

According to The National Catholic Reporter, the pope's "fisherman's ring," which contains the formal seal, will be destroyed, as is custom at the end of a papacy.

" 'It will be broken at a particular moment; when that will happen is up to the college of cardinals,' said Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who provided English translation of the press conference.

"Rosica also said the decisions regarding the retired pope's title and clothing were made by Benedict, 'but obviously he would have discussed those with other people around him.' "

Before Benedict, the last (and only) pope to resign voluntarily was Celestine V, an erstwhile hermit who served for just five months in 1294 before deciding that the job wasn't for him. Gregory XII was deposed in 1415.

George Ferzoco, a researcher in the Department of Theology at Bristol University in England, tells NPR's Philip Reeves that Celestine set the precedent for Benedict.

"The law passed by Celestine the day before he actually resigned served as the legal bedrock for the decision that Benedict XVI made to resign the papacy," Ferzoco says.

While Celestine's edict may have laid the groundwork for a papal resignation, it didn't offer much in the way of how exactly to carry that out, says Thomas F.X. Noble, a history professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

"The code of canon law doesn't spell out in detail what you have to do," he says.

"I say, with all due respect, that [Vatican officials] are making it up as they go along, because they don't have any experience to guide them," Noble says.

Benedict is expected to reside in a former nunnery inside the Vatican walls just a few hundred yards from where his successor will reside, in the Vatican Palace. But first he'll reside temporarily at Castel Gandolfo outside the Vatican until renovations at the three-story nunnery are complete.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the new residence is:

"Set on a hill within the Vatican City State, it commands wonderful views of the terracotta rooftops of Rome, the Spanish Steps and the distant Apennine mountains, which at this time of year are coated in glistening snow.

"Gardeners were busy weeding and trimming the surrounding gardens, and a cement mixer churned away in the driveway that leads to the entrance of the residence.

"Mature palm trees and umbrella pines provide shade, and the roof of the Sistine Chapel looms so close it almost seems to be within touching distance."

Benedict's elder brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, says the pope emeritus would be happy to advise his successor, if required. However, Notre Dame's Noble thinks he'll be very careful not to upstage his successor.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we don't see Benedict in public at all," Noble says. "If we do, I suspect that it won't be for quite a while."

In any case, inside a cloistered residence inside the Vatican's inner sanctum, "No one, no paparazzi or anyone else, is going to have access to him," he says.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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