(Left) Pope Benedict photo by Gregory A. Shemitz, (right) Pope Francis photo by Andrea Sabbadini.

(Left) Pope Benedict photo by Gregory A. Shemitz, (right) Pope Francis photo by Andrea Sabbadini.

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VATICAN CITY (RNS) More than two months after his resignation, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will return to the Vatican on Thursday (May 2) to live in a small retrofitted convent.

Benedict’s return will present the Vatican with the unprecedented situation of a reigning pope and a retired pope living a short distance from each other.

The potential difficulty is compounded by the fact that Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, will move in with the former pope while he continues to serve as the prefect of the papal household, charged with managing the schedule for Pope Francis.

Benedict’s second secretary, the Rev. Alfred Xuereb, a Maltese priest, has also been serving as a personal aide to the Argentine pontiff since his election.

The two popes have already met and prayed together when Francis visited Benedict at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. They also have often spoken on the phone, according to the Vatican.

Ahead of his resignation, Benedict, now 86, said he would “withdraw into prayer” and live his final years “hidden from the world.”

But observers fear that the staunchly conservative former pope could become a lightning rod for those who might oppose Francis’ announced reforms, especially if he ever deviated from Benedict’s precedents.

Francis set up a group of eight cardinals from around the world to advise him on the running of the church and on how to rein in the scandal-plagued Roman Curia, the church’s central bureaucracy.

The creation of the group has sparked expectations of wide-ranging reforms among Catholics.

But in an interview on the Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, on Tuesday (April 30), Archbishop Angelo Becciu, deputy to Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, shot down media speculations of possible reforms, saying it was “premature” to draw any conclusions.

Since his election on March 13, Pope Francis has given the papacy a distinctly different style than the aloofness of his predecessor, washing the feet of young female inmates during Holy Week and shunning the luxurious papal apartments in favor of a Vatican guesthouse.

But doctrinally, Francis has so far walked on the same path as Benedict. He recently allowed an investigation on American nuns launched by his predecessor to continue.

Announcing Benedict’s return, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, denied rumors of Benedict’s declining health. “He’s an elderly man, weakened by age, but he has no illness,” he said.

In the small Mater Ecclesiae convent inside the Vatican, Benedict will be assisted by four members of Memores Domini, the conservative lay group that staffed his apartment during his pontificate.

His apartment will include a guest room for his older brother Georg Ratzinger, who is also a priest.

Benedict will return to the Vatican by helicopter, just as he left on February 28. Lombardi told Vatican Radio that Pope Francis will greet him at the Mater Ecclesiae convent.



  1. Pope Francis should recognize the SSPX, enlisting their zealous support for the church’s primary mission. This means he will also have to recognize that there were/are a number of real misinterpretations/misapplications by church liberals of Vatican II Documents. At the same time, the SSPX will have to recognize the validity of P. Paul’s Novus Ordo Missae, however much it was a travesty on Catholics who wanted to worship an awesome God in an awesome expression to Him. We never asked for all this, I still say as I attend weekly Mass at a Novus Ordo parish staffed with mind-boggling liberal priests of a Congregation who have been in the forefront of making their own (mis)applications of their misinterpretations of Vatican II. Recently I attended the cornerstone blessing of the new SSPX St. Thomas Acquinas Seminary in Virginia. That we should ever have done away with the Traditional Mass as an option at each parish each Sunday was a big mistake, I feel.

    • Miguel Moreno

      Pope Benedict already bent over backwards for SSPX. He gave them what they’d asked for previously, yet they still have not come in. Called their bluff. Enough already

      • Pope Benedict, while realizing, as most Cardinals also realize, that the excesses in misinterpretation of the Council Documents, and the misapplications of them created a real problem for many of us. I am not a member of the SSPX, but I hear them. Many Cardinals and some in the Curia also know that the Council (V2) was solely a pastoral council. Many have been heartshaken by the abuses which occurred after V2 in liturgical practice. Much of the difficulty comes from the semantic differences which occurred in the negotiations between Cardinal Levada’s team and Bishop Fellay and his team. I, along with millions of Roman Catholics, was heartbroken when our liturgies were changed from sublime worship of God in the Holy Sacrifice of The Mass to unbelievable liturgies which did not have the solemn reverence that God deserves. However, I could never question the validity of the Paul VI Novus Ordo Missae. I know that more than a few of the SSPX adherents believe contrarily. The issue is whether there is a real break with Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church. Clarifications need to be made relative to the assertion of Pope Benedict that V2 did not in any way change things with respect to the Magisterium as propounded by previous councils and popes. After all, all of the people in the SSPX are indeed Catholics, and they can be a tremendous source for reevangelizing Europe, and every other country. What they need to do is to be able to reestablish canonical ties with Rome and learn to live side by side with the New Ordo. In time to come, I believe this would be best for our whole church. I do not believe the present approach can be very pleasing to Almighty God. I also believe that many, many more Catholics would come to love the traditional Mass. I recently attended a Solemn Pontifical Mass celebrated by Bishop Fellay at the Blessing of the Cornerstone for the new SSPX St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary. I felt so uplifted in attending and participating in this Mass so awesome for an absolutely awesome almighty God. It so beautifully expresses what we Catholics profess and how spiritually we worship God with the profound solemnity which God deserves. Yes, let us pray that the SSPX, bishops, priests, solemnly professed religious, and laity can have a canonical status in their real home, the Roman Catholic Church.

    • Few things would make me happier than to see SSPX come into full communion with the Church. The problem, however, is not the Pope or the Vatican…the problem is SSPX. They must realize that they do not get to “negotiate” with the Holy Father about V2. We have had 3 (4 technically) popes since V2 with an established teaching on its documents. SSPX doesn’t get to come in and change that teaching. I fear the point of no return is approaching for SSPX…if they can’t accept the Vatican’s outstretched hand now, what would get them to?

      All this being said, I agree that the zeal and passion of SSPX would be a huge blessing for the Church. I pray that my SSPX brothers and sisters will soon join us in full communion.

      • I believe that any comments by popes since V2 about V2, have not put the Council in the full context of being a pastoral council. It was not a domatic council.I think it is reasonable to exoect the Vatican to give clarifications about any number of aspects of Vatican 2, and, above all to call a spade a spade when we consider some of the council’s aftermath of misinterpretations, misapplications, esp., in the liturgy as was effected by the ministrations of Archbip Bugnini. Also some religious congregations, particularly in the U.S. took it upon themselves to be prime interpretors and implementors of their erroneous interpretations of V2 Documents, e.g., the OSFS Congregation. The Holy See needs to negotiate with itself, not with the SSPX, and it is high time that some clarifications be made about the aftermath of misapplications. Particularly required for all of us is the understanding of what is required of us re a pastoral Council, and a dogmatic one, each of which have specificity of requirements for us Catholics. The only MISTAKE(S) of V2 were the misinterpretations and misapplication of those gross errors. Yes, the Holy See needs to negotiate with itself and clear up the mess we find ourselves in following what became a disaster for the Catholic Church. This is the least it ought to be able and willing to do. Our mission as a church supposedly unified can only be aided by an outreach to all of us, including Catholics in the SSPX.
        I am not an SSPX Catholic, but as an historian I have sympathy and empathy for them.

  2. I feel that x pope Benedick, should not be in the Vatican at all. Being that he retired because of ill health, he should stay entirely retired . That makes it look like Pope Fransis cannot handle it and x pope Benedick, has to be there for help. X pope Benedict should keep his word and stay entirely retired and pray as he said at retirement. Very sad.

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