Benedict’s Papacy Draws to Close

Resignation Leaves Church in Limbo

  • Pope Benedict XVI greets faithful from his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, the scenic town where Pope Benedict XVI will spend his first post-Vatican days and made his last public blessing as pope,Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

    Pope Benedict XVI greets faithful from his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, the scenic town where Pope Benedict XVI will spend his first post-Vatican days and made his last public blessing as pope,Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

  • Vatican Swiss guards close the main door of the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Benedict XVI greeted the faithful for the last time as pope on Thursday, telling tearful well-wishers that he is beginning the final stage of his life as "simply a pilgrim," hours before he becomes the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

    Vatican Swiss guards close the main door of the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Benedict XVI greeted the faithful for the last time as pope on Thursday, telling tearful well-wishers that he is beginning the final stage of his life as "simply a pilgrim," hours before he becomes the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

  • In this image taken from video, Pope Benedict XVI delivers his final message to the assembly of cardinals at the Vatican Thursday Feb. 28, 2013, before he retires in just a few hours. Benedict urged the cardinals to work in unity and promised his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor in a poignant and powerful farewell before he becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Vatican TV)

    In this image taken from video, Pope Benedict XVI delivers his final message to the assembly of cardinals at the Vatican Thursday Feb. 28, 2013, before he retires in just a few hours. Benedict urged the cardinals to work in unity and promised his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor in a poignant and powerful farewell before he becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Vatican TV)

  • In this image taken from video as Pope Benedict XVI, seated at centre, delivered his final greetings to the assembly of cardinals at the Vatican Thursday Feb. 28, 2013, before he retires in just a few hours.  Benedict urged the cardinals to work in unity and promised his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor in his final words to his cardinals Thursday in a poignant and powerful farewell before he becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Vatican TV)

    In this image taken from video as Pope Benedict XVI, seated at centre, delivered his final greetings to the assembly of cardinals at the Vatican Thursday Feb. 28, 2013, before he retires in just a few hours. Benedict urged the cardinals to work in unity and promised his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor in his final words to his cardinals Thursday in a poignant and powerful farewell before he becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Vatican TV)

  • In this image taken from video as Pope Benedict XVI enters to deliver his final greetings to the assembly of cardinals at the Vatican Thursday Feb. 28, 2013, before he retires in just a few hours.  Benedict urged the cardinals to work in unity and promised his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor in his final words to his cardinals Thursday in a poignant and powerful farewell before he becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Vatican TV)

    In this image taken from video as Pope Benedict XVI enters to deliver his final greetings to the assembly of cardinals at the Vatican Thursday Feb. 28, 2013, before he retires in just a few hours. Benedict urged the cardinals to work in unity and promised his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor in his final words to his cardinals Thursday in a poignant and powerful farewell before he becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Vatican TV)

  • The helicopter taking Pope Benedict XVI to Castel Gandolfo leaves the Vatican in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Pope Benedict left the Apostolic palace inside the Vatican for the last time as pontiff, headed to the helipad at the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and flew to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

    The helicopter taking Pope Benedict XVI to Castel Gandolfo leaves the Vatican in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Pope Benedict left the Apostolic palace inside the Vatican for the last time as pontiff, headed to the helipad at the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and flew to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

  • The helicopter taking Pope Benedict XVI to Castel Gandolfo leaves the Vatican in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Pope Benedict left the Apostolic palace inside the Vatican for the last time as pontiff, headed to the helipad at the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and flew to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

    The helicopter taking Pope Benedict XVI to Castel Gandolfo leaves the Vatican in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Pope Benedict left the Apostolic palace inside the Vatican for the last time as pontiff, headed to the helipad at the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and flew to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

  • Faithful gather in front of Pope's summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, the scenic town where Pope Benedict XVI will spend his first post-Vatican days and make his last public blessing as pope,Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

    Faithful gather in front of Pope's summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, the scenic town where Pope Benedict XVI will spend his first post-Vatican days and make his last public blessing as pope,Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

  • A priest enters the square where the papal  summer residence is located, in Castel Gandolfo, the scenic town where Pope Benedict XVI will spend his first post-Vatican days and make his last public blessing as pope,Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

    A priest enters the square where the papal summer residence is located, in Castel Gandolfo, the scenic town where Pope Benedict XVI will spend his first post-Vatican days and make his last public blessing as pope,Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

  • People wait for the taking off of the helicopter which will take Pope Benedict XVI to Castel Gandolfo in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Pope Benedict will leave the Apostolic palace inside the Vatican for the last time as pontiff, head to the helipad at the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and fly to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

    People wait for the taking off of the helicopter which will take Pope Benedict XVI to Castel Gandolfo in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Pope Benedict will leave the Apostolic palace inside the Vatican for the last time as pontiff, head to the helipad at the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and fly to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

  • People wait for the taking off of the helicopter which will take Pope Benedict XVI to Castel Gandolfo in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Pope Benedict will leave the Apostolic palace inside the Vatican for the last time as pontiff, head to the helipad at the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and fly to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

    People wait for the taking off of the helicopter which will take Pope Benedict XVI to Castel Gandolfo in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Pope Benedict will leave the Apostolic palace inside the Vatican for the last time as pontiff, head to the helipad at the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and fly to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

  • A helicopter with Pope Benedict XVI onboard leaves the Vatican in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. The 85-year-old German Pope Benedict is stepping down on Thursday evening, the first pope to do so in 600 years, after saying he no longer has the mental or physical strength to vigorously lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

    A helicopter with Pope Benedict XVI onboard leaves the Vatican in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. The 85-year-old German Pope Benedict is stepping down on Thursday evening, the first pope to do so in 600 years, after saying he no longer has the mental or physical strength to vigorously lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

  • RETRANSMISSION OF SOB103 TO PROVIDE DIFFERENT CROP -- A helicopter with Pope Benedict XVI onboard leaves the Vatican in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. The 85-year-old German Pope Benedict is stepping down on Thursday evening, the first pope to do so in 600 years, after saying he no longer has the mental or physical strength to vigorously lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

    RETRANSMISSION OF SOB103 TO PROVIDE DIFFERENT CROP -- A helicopter with Pope Benedict XVI onboard leaves the Vatican in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. The 85-year-old German Pope Benedict is stepping down on Thursday evening, the first pope to do so in 600 years, after saying he no longer has the mental or physical strength to vigorously lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

  • Vatican Swiss guards close the main door of the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome,Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Benedict XVI greeted the faithful for the last time as pope on Thursday, telling tearful well-wishers that he is beginning the final stage of his life as "simply a pilgrim," hours before he becomes the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

    Vatican Swiss guards close the main door of the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome,Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Benedict XVI greeted the faithful for the last time as pope on Thursday, telling tearful well-wishers that he is beginning the final stage of his life as "simply a pilgrim," hours before he becomes the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

  • Pope Benedict XVI greets faithful from his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, the scenic town where Pope Benedict XVI will spend his first post-Vatican days and made his last public blessing as pope,Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
  • Vatican Swiss guards close the main door of the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Benedict XVI greeted the faithful for the last time as pope on Thursday, telling tearful well-wishers that he is beginning the final stage of his life as "simply a pilgrim," hours before he becomes the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
  • In this image taken from video, Pope Benedict XVI delivers his final message to the assembly of cardinals at the Vatican Thursday Feb. 28, 2013, before he retires in just a few hours. Benedict urged the cardinals to work in unity and promised his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor in a poignant and powerful farewell before he becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Vatican TV)
  • In this image taken from video as Pope Benedict XVI, seated at centre, delivered his final greetings to the assembly of cardinals at the Vatican Thursday Feb. 28, 2013, before he retires in just a few hours.  Benedict urged the cardinals to work in unity and promised his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor in his final words to his cardinals Thursday in a poignant and powerful farewell before he becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Vatican TV)
  • In this image taken from video as Pope Benedict XVI enters to deliver his final greetings to the assembly of cardinals at the Vatican Thursday Feb. 28, 2013, before he retires in just a few hours.  Benedict urged the cardinals to work in unity and promised his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor in his final words to his cardinals Thursday in a poignant and powerful farewell before he becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Vatican TV)
  • The helicopter taking Pope Benedict XVI to Castel Gandolfo leaves the Vatican in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Pope Benedict left the Apostolic palace inside the Vatican for the last time as pontiff, headed to the helipad at the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and flew to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
  • The helicopter taking Pope Benedict XVI to Castel Gandolfo leaves the Vatican in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Pope Benedict left the Apostolic palace inside the Vatican for the last time as pontiff, headed to the helipad at the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and flew to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
  • Faithful gather in front of Pope's summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, the scenic town where Pope Benedict XVI will spend his first post-Vatican days and make his last public blessing as pope,Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
  • A priest enters the square where the papal  summer residence is located, in Castel Gandolfo, the scenic town where Pope Benedict XVI will spend his first post-Vatican days and make his last public blessing as pope,Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
  • People wait for the taking off of the helicopter which will take Pope Benedict XVI to Castel Gandolfo in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Pope Benedict will leave the Apostolic palace inside the Vatican for the last time as pontiff, head to the helipad at the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and fly to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
  • People wait for the taking off of the helicopter which will take Pope Benedict XVI to Castel Gandolfo in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Pope Benedict will leave the Apostolic palace inside the Vatican for the last time as pontiff, head to the helipad at the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and fly to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
  • A helicopter with Pope Benedict XVI onboard leaves the Vatican in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. The 85-year-old German Pope Benedict is stepping down on Thursday evening, the first pope to do so in 600 years, after saying he no longer has the mental or physical strength to vigorously lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
  • RETRANSMISSION OF SOB103 TO PROVIDE DIFFERENT CROP -- A helicopter with Pope Benedict XVI onboard leaves the Vatican in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. The 85-year-old German Pope Benedict is stepping down on Thursday evening, the first pope to do so in 600 years, after saying he no longer has the mental or physical strength to vigorously lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
  • Vatican Swiss guards close the main door of the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome,Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Benedict XVI greeted the faithful for the last time as pope on Thursday, telling tearful well-wishers that he is beginning the final stage of his life as "simply a pilgrim," hours before he becomes the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Castel Gandolfo, Italy — Benedict XVI left the Catholic Church in unprecedented limbo yesterday as he became the first pope in 600 years to resign, capping a tearful day of farewells that included an extraordinary pledge of obedience to his successor.

As bells tolled, two Swiss Guards at the papal palace in Castel Gandolfo shut the thick wooden doors shortly after 8 p.m., symbolically closing out a papacy whose legacy will be most marked by the way it ended — a resignation instead of a death.

Benedict, who will spend his first two months of retirement inside the palace walls, leaves behind an eight-year term shaped by struggles to move the church beyond clerical sex abuse scandals and to reawaken Christianity in an indifferent world — efforts his successor will now have to take up.

For the time being, the governance of the Catholic Church shifts to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the camerlengo, or chamberlain, who along with the College of Cardinals will guide the church and make plans for the conclave to elect the 266th leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

One of Bertone’s first acts was to lock the papal apartment inside the Vatican. In another task steeped in symbolism, he will ensure that Benedict’s fisherman’s ring and seal are destroyed.

On Benedict’s last day, the mood was vastly different inside the Vatican than at Castel Gandolfo. At the seat of the popes, Benedict’s staff tearfully bade the pontiff good-bye in scenes of dignified solemnity. A more lively atmosphere reigned in the countryside, with well-wishers jamming the hilltop town’s main square shouting “Viva il Papa!” (Long live the pope!) and wildly waving the yellow and white flags of the Holy See.

“I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth,” Benedict told the cheering crowd in his final public words as pope.

It was a remarkable bookend to a papacy that began on April 19, 2005, with a similarly meek speech delivered from the loggia overlooking St. Peter’s Square, where the newly elected Benedict said he was but a “simple humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.”

Over eight years, Benedict tried to set the church on a more traditional course, convinced that all the ills afflicting it — sexual abuse, dwindling numbers of priests and empty pews — were a result of a misreading of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

His successor is likely to follow in his footsteps given that the vast majority of the 115 cardinals who will elect the next pope were appointed by Benedict himself and share his conservative bent.

For the most part, his cardinals have said they understood Benedict’s decision. But Sydney Cardinal George Pell caused a stir on yesterday by saying it was “slightly destabilizing” — a rare critique of a pope by one of his cardinals.

Benedict’s journey into retirement began with a final audience with his cardinals yesterday morning, where he sought to defuse concerns about his future role and the possible conflicts arising from the peculiar situation of having both a reigning pope and a retired one living side-by-side inside the Vatican.

Then, as bells tolled in St. Peter’s, Benedict took off in a helicopter that circled St. Peter’s Square, where banners reading “Thank You” were held up skyward. He flew to the Vatican’s retreat, Castel Gandolfo, overlooking Lake Albano.

At the same time, the Vatican sent a final tweet from Benedict’s Twitter account, #Pontifex. “Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”