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Pope Benedict to retire to renovated monastery after summer retreat

Roman Catholics set to have a new pope by Easter as Vatican announces retiring pontiff will live in monastery after spending time at the papal summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo.

Pope Benedict celebrates the 2012 Easter Vigil mass in St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican.
Pope Benedict celebrates the 2012 Easter Vigil mass in St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican.

VATICAN CITY // For months, construction crews have been renovating a four-storey building attached to a monastery on the northern edge of the Vatican gardens where nuns would live for a few years at a time in cloister.

Only a handful of Vatican officials knew it would one day be Pope Benedict XVI's retirement home.

The restoration has become even more critical after Benedict's stunning announcement that he will resign on February 28.

From a new name to this new home to the awkward reality of having a reigning pope and a retired one, Benedict faces uncharted territory as he becomes the first pontiff in six centuries to retire.

The 85-year-old Benedict said he was stepping down because he no longer had the strength in mind or body to carry on. Rev Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, yesterday revealed for the first time that Benedict has had a pacemaker for years.

Although no date for a conclave to choose the next pope has been announced, it must begin within 20 days of his retirement. That means a new pope will likely be elected by the College of Cardinals by Easter - March 31 this year.

The decision immediately raised questions about what Benedict would be called, where he would live, and how that might affect his successor.

The Vatican's senior communications adviser, Greg Burke, said yesterday that Benedict had chosen to live in a monastery was significant.

"I think the obvious thing is when he says retirement, it really means retiring," he said.

Mr Burke said Benedict would probably be referred to as "Bishop of Rome, emeritus" as opposed to "Pope Emeritus". Mr Lombardi also said Benedict would take some kind of "emeritus" title.

Immediately after his resignation, Benedict will spend some time at the papal summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo, overlooking Lake Albano in the hills south of Rome where he has spent previous summer holidays reading and writing. By March, the weather may start to warm up and he should be able to enjoy the gardens and feed the goldfish in a pond near a statue of the Madonna where he often liked to visit. Mr Lombardi said Benedict would then return to the Vatican and live at a monastery inside the Vatican gardens.