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The Pope announces his resignation

Pope Benedict  said on Monday he will resign on Feb. 28 because he no longer has the strength to fulfill the duties of his office, becoming the first pontiff since the Middle Ages to step down.

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By Susannah Cullinane, (CNN) — Cardinals from around the world are gathering in Michelangelo’s masterpiece the Sistine Chapel for a conclave to elect a new pope. The historic process is filled with pomp and ceremony and so shrouded in secrecy that its very name means “under lock and key.”

But it’s a curious idiosyncrasy that, in an era when one of Benedict’s XVI’s final acts was to send a message via Twitter — and his predecessor ordered that the Sistine Chapel be swept for recording devices — the conclave’s results will be announced by smoke from burning ballot papers. Black fumes will signify an inconclusive vote, while white will indicate that a successor has been chosen.

And until the official announcement of “Habemus Papam — we have a new pope” — is made around an hour later, it is a modest little stove and chimney that will steal the show.

The Vatican says the cast iron stove is “cylindrical in shape with a narrower upper portion” and approximately one meter high. “It has a door in its lower section enabling ignition, a valve for manual regulation of the draft and an upper door through which the documents to be burnt are introduced. The dates of election to the papacy and the names of the last six pontiffs are stamped on the upper cap of the stove.”

CNN’s senior Vatican analyst John Allen said the “oldish-looking” stove and its attached chimney were introduced to preserve the independence of the conclave process.

“The whole purpose of the secrecy is to protect the cardinals from outside influence,” he said, the theory being that details of the ballot papers could expose the cardinals to repercussions or other pressures.

The Vatican’s constitution requires a two-thirds majority to elect a new pope.

On the first day of the conclave, one voting session will be held: on other days the cardinals will vote twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. If a second ballot must be taken immediately, the first bundle of ballots and any private notes are burned with the second. The cardinals chosen to be scrutineers are responsible for burning the ballots, with help from the secretary of the College of Cardinals and masters of ceremonies, who are allowed to enter the chapel after voting has concluded.

Depending on how long the cardinals take to agree, pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square could be reading smoke signals for days on end. And those signals haven’t always been particularly clear.

Frederic Baumgartner, professor of history at Virginia Tech University and author of “Behind Locked Doors: A History of the Papal Elections,” said that before the 1800s, “beginning to unbar doors and window was taken as a symbol that the election was complete. There was also mention of noise from where the cardinals were locked in and the firing of cannons at Castel Sant’ Angelo.”

In the 19th century, Baumgartner said, there was mention of smoke being “taken as meaning that there had been no election – and that they were burning the ballots after scrutiny. The smoke was described often as yellow. What I get from the sources that I was reading from the 1800s is that when they didn’t see smoke then they were hopeful.”

But the first reference to the different meanings of white or black smoke occurred at the 1903 conclave. “The primary reason they went for the black and white smoke was because there was confusion in the crowds as to what was going on,” Baumgartner explained.

But the confusion didn’t stop there.

Priest and archivist Fr. Nicholas Schofield said that in the event of an inconclusive ballot, wet straw had traditionally been added to the fire to make the smoke black. But uncertainty around the results of a 1958 conclave had led to the introduction of chemicals to make the color of the smoke more obvious.

Nonetheless, CNN’s senior Vatican analyst, John Allen, said smoke from the fire “normally comes out an indistinct grey at the start.” At the 1978 conclave that resulted in the election of Pope John Paul II there were some false alarms and John Paul II later specified that the bells of St. Peters be rung to signify a successful election. “The problem with that is that bells go off at the Vatican all the time.”

At Pope Benedict XVI’s election in 2005, Allen recalled, bells had rung out at the same time as smoke came from the Sistine Chapel chimney, but it transpired that they were just marking the top of the hour.

The confusion occurred despite the introduction that year of an auxiliary smoke-emitting device aimed at improving the visibility of the smoke.

“In order to improve the draft, the vent is preheated by means of electric resistance and it’s equipped with a ventilator for use if necessary,” the Vatican said in a statement.

Ahead of this year’s conclave, spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the chemical technique had been improved to ensure a clear color signal.

Once the senior cardinal deacon appears on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square to formally announce the election of a new pope and his name, the little stove’s time in the spotlight should be over and the focus will then move to the pope elect.

“He’s supposed to act as if it’s a difficult decision and then he has to be fitted with his vestments,” Baumgartner said, estimating the appearance might come about an hour after the smoke signal. “If a man was really conflicted about the job, he may take a little longer.”

Baumgartner said that he was not aware of any wrong announcements about a new pope being made in modern times – but there had been some in the past.

“There used to be a tradition that the Romans [residents of Rome] would go and ransack the dwelling of the cardinal that was elected — on the grounds that he didn’t need it anymore. There was at least one example of the Rome’s residents ransacking the house of the wrong cardinal, during the 400-500 years the tradition was followed.

“Not only did he not become pope but he didn’t have anything left in his house.”

By Laura Smith-Spark, Hada Messia, and Richard Allen Greene, ROME (CNN) — Black smoke poured from the chimney fixed to the roof of the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday morning, indicating that the cardinals’ first two votes of the day were inconclusive.

The 115 voting cardinals are taking part in the second day of the secretive conclave to elect a new pope.

After a lunch break, the cardinals returned to the Sistine Chapel, famed for its frescoes by Michelangelo, for another round of balloting.

Outside, all eyes turned again to the chimney on the chapel roof as the world awaits the outcome of the closed-door election.

If the cardinals elect a new pope with the afternoon first ballot, white smoke could billow forth around 5:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m. ET.)

If no pope is elected they will vote once more Wednesday evening. If no result comes at that time, another puff of black smoke will be sent up.

Three ballots have been held so far in total, all inconclusive.

A two-thirds majority is required to confirm a new pontiff to step into the shoes left empty by the historic resignation of Benedict XVI at the end of last month.

Whoever it may be will take on the leadership of a church that has been rocked by child sex abuse scandals and corruption claims in recent years.

White or black smoke?

The black smoke that poured from the chimney at 11:39 a.m. indicated that no result came from the two votes held Wednesday morning.

The smoke came somewhat earlier in the day than expected because once the cardinals are familiar with the voting procedures, they can move relatively quickly, according to the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman.

However, that does not mean they are moving rapidly toward a decisive vote.

After the two morning ballots, the cardinals went to lunch in the Vatican hotel where they are staying.

While away from the Sistine Chapel, they are able to have informal conversations and mull their options before voting again.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters that the inconclusive results so far were not unexpected, based on the number of ballots held in past conclaves.

Rosica added, “This is normal and one should not interpret this as division amongst the cardinals.”

Abuse claims

In response to a question about criticism leveled against some cardinals by a group representing the victims of clerical sex abuse, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, the Vatican spokesmen defended their right to take part in the conclave.

“We are very well aware of SNAP and their activities,” Rosica said. “SNAP have chosen this event to amplify their activities.”

The cardinals named by SNAP “are worthy of our esteem,” he said.

Last week, SNAP released its “Dirty Dozen” list of men it judged would be the worst candidates for pope because of their handling of, or comments on, past allegations of child sex abuse against clergy.

In one high-profile case, four California men who alleged clerical sex abuse have settled their lawsuits against their former priest, the Los Angeles Archdiocese and Cardinal Roger Mahony for almost $10 million, their attorneys said Tuesday.

In the run-up to the conclave, victims’ groups called on Mahony not to take part because of his handling of the abuse scandal.

Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for Mahony, said the allegations predated his time as archbishop.

The emergence of such sex abuse scandals has shaken global confidence in the church in recent years, and dealing with the issue effectively is sure to be a priority for the new pope.

Peal of Vatican bells

The cardinals will conduct four votes a day for three days, Lombardi said, with a break likely on Saturday if no one has been elected by then. The day’s pause would allow the cardinals time for further discussions before they cast their ballots again.

Two stoves are set up in the Sistine Chapel especially for the votes. The ballots are burned in one, while special cartridges containing a mix of chemicals are released in the other to make the color of the smoke more obvious, either black or white, Rosica said.

The cartridges produce smoke for about seven minutes, he said.

If a pope has been elected, the cardinals burn the ballots immediately. If not, the cardinals hold on to them and proceed to a second round of voting.

They burn the ballots from both rounds together after the second round.

In the past, discerning the color has been difficult at times, as it has appeared gray. But there is a second, unmistakable sign: If the smoke is indeed white, the Vatican church bells ring to celebrate the choice.

This can happen after a short delay, as was the case when the white smoke went up to signal the election of Benedict XVI.

In any case, the wait for the announcement of a new church leader should not be too long. The longest papal conclave in the past century took just five days.

If a new pope is in place by Sunday, he would probably lead the Angelus prayers on that day, Lombardi said. The first public Mass would be the inauguration Mass.

‘Intense period’

Black smoke also billowed from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday night, after the cardinals failed to choose a new pope in the first vote of their conclave.

Huddled under umbrellas as rain came down, crowds of onlookers watched the chimney and big screens set up in St. Peter’s Square.

Filipino priest and CNN iReporter Joel Camaya was among a number of Catholic faithful in the square who watched as the black smoke poured out.

There was “a collective sigh of disappointment and everyone started heading home,” he said. “There was no pope, yet.”

The public interest reflects the “very intense and beautiful period” the church is experiencing at the moment, Lombardi said. “We are feeling the level of intensity of the wait. We saw many people in the square last night, a lot more than I myself had expected.”

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI also watched on television as the black smoke rose on Tuesday, Lombardi said.

Benedict had earlier watched on TV as the scarlet-clad cardinals attended a special Mass and took their oath of secrecy in the Sistine Chapel to begin the conclave to elect his successor, he said.

The Vatican received calls Tuesday night from people concerned that the heavy black smoke might have caused damage to the Sistine Chapel or created problems for the cardinals, Rosica said.

But, he said, he could confirm that the frescoes have not been damaged and that the cardinals are enjoying good health.

Communication ban

The cardinals will remain locked in isolation until one candidate, almost certainly from among their number, garners a two-thirds majority, or 77 votes, and is named the new spiritual head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

Until that moment, the cardinals are barred from communicating with the outside world in any way. Jamming devices have been installed to prevent the use of cell phones or other devices.

The cardinals stay in the Casa Santa Marta, a Vatican City hotel, for the duration of the conclave, moving from there to the Pauline Chapel to pray or the Sistine Chapel to vote.

Applause echoed around St. Peter’s Basilica on Tuesday as Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, offered thanks for the “brilliant pontificate” of Benedict, whose unexpected resignation precipitated the selection of a new pope.

When cardinals elected Benedict in 2005, after a conclave that ran into a second day, the white smoke signaling the decision came about six hours after an earlier, inconclusive vote.

Benedict is currently staying at the summer papal residence, Castel Gandolfo, while restoration work is carried out on a small monastery within Vatican City. Once it is ready, he will live out his days there in study and prayer.

CNN’s Richard Allen Greene and Hada Messia reported from Rome and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN’s Ben Brumfield and Stephen Howie contributed to this report.

National & World News
03/12/13

Black Smoke: No new Pope today

(CNN) — Black smoke rose Tuesday from the chimney over the Sistine Chapel, indicating that a new pope has not been selected.

 

Rome (CNN) — The Catholic cardinals gathered in Rome voted Friday to begin the secret election, or conclave, to elect a new pope next Tuesday afternoon, the Vatican said.

The 115 cardinal-electors taking part in the conclave will enter the closed-door process after a morning Mass, the Vatican said. Only those younger than 80 are eligible to vote.

The cardinals voted Friday morning to accept the letters of explanation of two cardinal-electors who are eligible to vote for the next pope but will not attend the conclave: Keith O’Brien of Scotland and Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja of Indonesia.

Darmaatmadja cited health reasons, and O’Brien cited personal reasons.

O’Brien resigned in scandal last week after allegations that he made sexual advances toward young men studying to be priests. He apologized in a statement Sunday, saying, “There have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”

Since Monday, the cardinals have been uniting for what are known as General Congregations, a series of meetings in which they discuss the issues facing the church.

These include how to tackle the issue of child sex abuse by priests and a scandal over leaks from the Vatican last year that revealed claims of corruption within the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy.

Electronic shield

The chimney used to send up the smoke signals that announce whether or not a new pope has been elected could be raised over the Sistine Chapel on Friday, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.

The voting takes place inside the chapel, beneath the ornate ceiling painted by Michelangelo.

The building was closed to tourists Tuesday and will remain so for the foreseeable future, the Vatican said. Work is well under way to transform it for the conclave.

The cardinals have sworn an oath of secrecy. Nonetheless, the Vatican is taking no chances.

An electronic shield will be put up around the conclave to prevent the use of mobile phones and other devices that might allow communication with the outside world.

However, Lombardi denied a report in the Italian media that the cardinals will be searched as they go in and out of the conclave.

Among the things the cardinals have to do is draw lots for which rooms they get at the Casa Santa Marta, the hotel within the walls of Vatican City where they stay during the conclave.

The hotel also contains a suite where the newly elected pope will live for a few weeks before moving to the papal apartments.

The apartments were placed under seal after Benedict XVI left last week and must be renovated before the new pope can take up residence, the Vatican said.

CNN’s Richard Allen Greene reported from Rome and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. Hada Messia contributed to this report.

From Richard Allen Greene and Mark Morgenstein, ROME (CNN) — More than 140 Catholic cardinals met Monday at the Vatican, where the process of selecting a new pope edged toward beginning.

The cardinals met twice during the day, in the morning and in the evening. After the evening session, most left by car, though some departed on foot. Few spoke as they left the meeting.

After the morning session, a decision had not been made on when the conclave to select Pope Benedict XVI’s successor would start, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters.

“It’s on the table, but no decision has been reached,” Lombardi said.

The General Congregations meeting is a key step before the conclave, in which all cardinals younger than 80 are to meet in the Vatican to vote for the next pope.

Of the 142 cardinals who attended Monday morning’s session, 103 were cardinal electors, Lombardi said. Another 12 cardinal electors were expected to arrive later Monday and Tuesday, he said.

During the afternoon meeting, four more cardinals joined those who had already been here; the group decided that congregations on Tuesday and Wednesday would take place in the morning only, he added.

And the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Pontifical Household, held the first meditation as outlined by the Apostolic Constitution, Lombardi said.

Benedict announced his intention to step down on February 11 and resigned Thursday, becoming the first pope to do so in 600 years. The transfer of papal power has almost always happened after the sitting pope has died.

Normally, the College of Cardinals is not allowed to select a new pontiff until 15 to 20 days after the office becomes vacant. However, Benedict amended the 500-year-old policy to get a successor into place more rapidly.

The cardinals may to be able to do so before March 15, Lombardi has said.

This would give the new pontiff more than a week to prepare for the March 24 Palm Sunday celebrations.

Some gambling houses are offering odds on who will next lead the Catholic Church.

Favorites include the archbishop of Milan, Italy, Cardinal Angelo Scola; Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Italy; Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who would become the first African pontiff since Pope Gelasius I died more than 1,500 years ago; and Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada, who would become the first North American pope.

One former cardinal who won’t participate in the conclave is Keith O’Brien of Scotland, who resigned last month. O’Brien apologized Sunday for sexual impropriety, without specifying any incident. “To those I have offended, I apologize and ask forgiveness,” he said in a statement.

The Vatican refused to answer questions on Monday about whether it will discipline O’Brien. In response to questions from British journalists, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Thomas Rosica read the statement that O’Brien released on Sunday.

“That is all we can say, is what’s been said,” Rosica said.

But others did comment. “It looks as if the incidence of abuse is practically zero right now as far as we can tell, but they are still the victims and the wound therefore is deep in their hearts and minds very often,” Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, told reporters in Rome. “As long as it’s with them, it’s with all of us and that will last for a long time, so the next pope has to be aware of this.”

Philip Tartaglia, the archbishop of Glasgow and apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, will administer O’Brien’s archdiocese until a new appointment is made.

“The most stinging charge which has been leveled against us in this matter is hypocrisy, and for obvious reasons,” Tartaglia said in prepared remarks slated for delivery Monday night in his sermon at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow. “I think there is little doubt that the credibility and moral authority of the Catholic Church in Scotland has been dealt a serious blow, and we will need to come to terms with that.”

He added, “As for the Church’s mission in our country, yes, our credibility and moral authority have been undermined. It will take time, perhaps a long time, to recover these intangible but important realities. But we cannot be defeatist. The answer to this sad episode is not to throw in the towel. We need, rather, to renew our faithfulness to Jesus Christ and to go about our business humbly.”

While Benedict has no direct involvement in the selection of his successor, his influence will be felt: He appointed 67 of at least 115 cardinals set to make the decision.

Cardinals must vote in person, via paper ballot. Once the process begins, the cardinals aren’t allowed to talk with anyone outside of the conclave. They cannot leave until white smoke emerges from the Vatican chimney — the signal that a new leader has been picked.

Lombardi said Monday that 4,300 journalists have been accredited to cover the papal conclave.

CNN’s Richard Allen Green reported from Rome. CNN’s Mark Morgenstein reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

A very special mass helped children in Dauphin County say goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI. The mass held at Saint Catherine Laboure Parish in Swatara Township Thursday morning. “It was a way for us to say thank you, to promise our prayers, and to say goodbye to the pope from public life,” said Father Neil Sullivan, Pastor at Saint Catherine Laboure Parish. “It’s historical, so they’re part of history today and also it shows that there is a connection between us and the pope.”

It’s a day these children are happy to take part in and that they won’t soon forget.

“He’s our Holy Father and he’s the head of the church. This is the second time this happened in 2,000 years in the church and the last time it happened was 600 years ago, so it’s a rare occurrence for us,” said student Ali Januzzi. “It’s really special. It’s cool to know we have been part of history, and in the making of history.”

“He wants to spend the rest of his life in prayer and it’s very shocking because the pope hasn’t resigned for the last 600 years, but he has a good reason and that does matter. The pope has a big job. He has to pray a lot, he has to lead the church and he says right now he doesn’t have the energy, his age is catching up with him. He has a very good reason and he was a great pope,” said student Alex Giorgione. “This day will definitely be marked in history.”

Students also got to sign scrolls with messages to send to the pope.

“It was a neat experience for us. The mass was different from our other masses just because of the special things that we did with the banners and getting to celebrate everything he has done for us,” said Ali Januzzi.

“I really hope the pope enjoys his retirement and that he will find peace and that no one will get mad at him for resigning,” said Alex Giorgione. “I hope he has a great retirement and I wrote that I kind of look up to him and I also wrote a piece of the scripture to show him that I have learned from him and he’s been a great pope. And I also signed my first, middle, and last name because there is a lot of Giorgione’s in Italy.”

Pope Benedict’s  FarewellROME (CNN) — [Updated at 1:05 p.m. ET]

We now have an official English translation of what Benedict said in his last public appearance as pope, from the balcony of the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo:

“Dear friends,

“I am happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of Creation and your well wishes, which do me such good. Thank you for your friendship and your affection.

“You know that this day is different for me than the preceding ones. I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I will be until 8 this evening and then no longer. I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth. But I would still [applause] … thank you … I would still — with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, and with all my inner strength — like to work for the common good and the good of the church and of humanity. I feel very supported by your kindness. Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the church and the world. Thank you. I now wholeheartedly impart my blessing.

“Blessed be God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Good night! Thank you all!”

We should note that although Benedict said he was no longer pope, he officially will be the pontiff until 2 p.m ET (8 p.m. in Rome).

[Updated at 11:52 a.m. ET]

And that, if things go according to plan, will have been the last we see of Benedict as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

His papacy is expected to end at 2 p.m ET (8 p.m. in Rome).

Benedict, who will be known as pope emeritus, is expected to stay at the Castel Gandolfo papal retreat until the Catholic Church’s cardinals elect his successor.

After the successor is chosen, Benedict is expected to live in a former gardener’s house at the Vatican to lead a life of prayer.

The cardinals’ conclave is expected to begin sometime in March.

[Updated at 11:43 a.m. ET]

“Dear friends,” the pope tells the crowd, according to an English translation, “I am happy to enjoy your sympathy. I give thanks for your friendship and for your affection.

“You know that this is a different day for me than earlier days. I am no longer the pope, but I’m still in the church. I’m just a pilgrim who is starting the last part of his pilgrimage on this Earth.

“And with all my heart and prayer and love, and with my thoughts and strength, I would like to work for the common good … and feel very much supported (by you). … Thank you all very much.

“So accept my blessing. May god bless you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

“Thank you all. Good night. Thank you all.”

With that, as bells ring and the crowd cheers, he turns around and re-enters the retreat.

[Updated at 11:38 a.m. ET]

Benedict has appeared on the balcony. This is expected to be his last public appearance as pope.

Massive amounts of flag-waving from the crowd now. The pope stretches out his hands.

[Updated at 11:34 a.m. ET]

To give you an idea of how big this crowd is relative to the space available to it: In a town of about 9,000 residents, about 10,000 people are now in or near the village square.

[Updated at 11:33 a.m. ET]

Benedict is out of the car, and after shaking a hand or two, is walking into the papal retreat in the town of Castel Gandolfo.

The thousands of people waiting in the village square — many waving Vatican flags — are waiting for him to appear on the residence’s balcony.

[Updated at 11:30 a.m. ET]

A car is now taking Benedict to the papal retreat at the Italian town of Castel Gandolfo.

He’ll get a warm greeting in the town after a roughly 2-kilometer drive. Thousands of people have been standing in the village square for hours, ready to greet him and perhaps hear him say something from the balcony of the papal retreat.

That address from the balcony could in the next 15 minutes or so.

[Updated at 11:27 a.m. ET]

Benedict is off the helicopter. Standing just outside the helicopter, he’s greeting a delegation at the heliport in the Castel Gandolfo area.

[Updated at 11:24 a.m. ET]

The helicopter, having circled the Vatican as bells rang for the pope in the city-state, has landed in the Castel Gandolfo area. Benedict is due to be greeted by Castel Gandolfo’s mayor before a vehicle takes him to the papal retreat, where he’ll greet the 10,000 people waiting for him.

[Updated at 11:15 a.m. ET]

Benedict, minutes ago, sent what may be his final Twitter post as pope:

“Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives,” he tweeted.

He collected about 2 million Twitter followers since his accounts opened late last year. More than 1.5 million of those follow the English language account.

[Updated at 11:08 a.m. ET]

Bells ring in Vatican City as the helicopter carrying Benedict takes off.

About 10,000 people await him in the town of Castel Gandolfo, where Benedict should land in 10-15 minutes from now.

[Updated at 11:04 a.m. ET]

And now, Benedict’s last moments as pope in Vatican City. He’s aboard the helicopter, which will take off soon.

[Updated at 11 a.m. ET]

About 15 minutes behind schedule, a motorcade has now taken Benedict away from the area of his papal apartments.

[Updated at 10:58 a.m. ET]

More Vatican staff greet the pope in the San Damaso courtyard, and the applause from the public continues. The ovation has been going on for about two minutes.

The pope has now entered a black car that will take him to a helicopter, which will send him to Castel Gandolfo 15 miles away.

[Updated at 10:56 a.m. ET]

Benedict’s journey out of the Vatican has begun. He just finished shaking hands with and saying goodbye to some staff members, and now he’s walking outside. He’ll be taken to a helicopter.

Crowds applaud as goes outside.

[Updated at 10:42 a.m. ET]

Here’s the rough timeline that we have of the events that remain in Benedict’s last hours as pope:

– 10:45 a.m. ET: Pope departs courtyard of San Damaso at the Vatican, and is driven to a heliport.

– 11 a.m. ET: Helicopter departs for Castel Gandolfo, about 15 miles southeast of the Vatican. He’ll remain at a summer papal residence at Castel Gandolfo until his successor is chosen.

– 11:15 a.m.: Helicopter is due to arrive at Castel Gandolfo.

– 11:30 a.m.: Benedict greets the crowd and is expected to make a brief salute from a balcony at the Castel Gandolfo residence.

– 2 p.m.: Benedict ceases to be pope, and the Swiss Guard departs from him. He will continue to be guarded by security personnel, but not by the Swiss Guard.

[Updated at 10:22 a.m. ET]

We’re about 20 minutes from the moment Benedict will start leaving the Vatican for the papal resort in the Italian town of Castel Gandolfo.

What kind of influence will Benedict have over the choice of his successor? Not direct influence, CNN contributor the Rev. Edward Beck says, noting that Benedict will be in seclusion and the cardinals’ conclave is to be conducted in secret.

But perhaps he will have had some indirect influence just because he appointed 67 of the roughly 115 cardinals who will be making the selection.

“Many of them would be in the same stream of consciousness, the name theology, the same thought pattern as Benedict, at least theologically perhaps,” Beck said of the 67 cardinals that Benedict appointed during his eight years as pope.

Beck also wondered whether, because Benedict is still alive — he’ll be the first living ex-pope in nearly 600 years — the cardinal electors’ choices will be influenced by a desire to respect Benedict. That is to say, whether they’ll select someone aligned with Benedict theologically because they don’t want to disrespect the living ex-pontiff.

“It’s a question I would have, because we haven’t had this obviously in 600 years,” Beck said.

[Updated at 9:49 a.m. ET]

There’s a “party atmosphere” at Italy’s Castel Gandolfo, the seaside papal resort town where, starting tonight, Benedict will be in seclusion until his successor is chosen, CNN’s Becky Anderson reports.

About 10,000 people have gathered in the village square, awaiting his arrival set for this evening, according to Journalist Barbie Nadeau.

A banner with solver balloons reads, “Thank you Benedict — we are with you.”

Area residents, many of whom have worked at the papal retreat in the town, have gathered to see what is expected to be Benedict’s last public appearance as pope. Benedict is expected to appear on a balcony of the papal retreat Thursday evening, shortly before the moment he resigns. In anticipation of his appearance, a banner has just been unfurled below the balcony.

We’re about an hour away from the moment that Benedict will leave the Vatican and eventually embark on a helicopter trip to Castel Gandolfo, about 15 miles southeast of the Vatican.

[Updated at 8:32 a.m. ET]

We’ve just gotten a clarification on the number of cardinals eligible to vote for the next pontiff: 115, says Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

Two of them might be too sick to attend the conclave, though some arrangements may be made to enable them to vote, Lombardi said.

He did not name the two cardinals. He also didn’t say for sure that they wouldn’t attend the conclave, and he didn’t describe how they might be allowed to vote if they don’t attend.

Lombardi’s comments came during a Vatican press briefing about Benedict’s last day as pope and the coming election of a new pontiff has ended. That briefing has just ended.

[Updated at 8:22 a.m. ET]

Regarding the Fisherman’s Ring, a symbol of office that is due to be destroyed after Benedict resigns tonight, a Vatican spokesman says Benedict has the right to wear it until 8 p.m. Rome time.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi says he does not know whether the pope will be wearing it on his helicopter ride to Castel Gandolfo — the retreat where Benedict will be staying until a successor is chosen — or whether he’ll leave it at Vatican’s papal apartments.

[Updated at 8:15 a.m. ET]

A media briefing at the Vatican continues, and a Vatican spokesman has recently finished talking about when Benedict will learn the identity of his successor. The answer: The same time the rest of the world finds out.

Benedict will not get any advance notice of who his successor will be when he is elected during a conclave that’s due to begin in March, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Thomas Rosica says.

Starting tonight, Benedict is expected stay at a seaside papal retreat, Castel Gandolfo, until a successor is named. Then, with a title of pope emeritus, he will retire to a former gardener’s house at the Vatican to lead a life of prayer, likely removed entirely from public life.

Read this article for more information on what Benedict’s retirement is expected to be like.

[Updated at 8:04 a.m. ET]

Ah, conclave secrecy. What kind of precautions will the Vatican take to shield cardinal electors from the temptation of leaking information to the public when they gather to elect the next pope in March? That’s one of the topics that Vatican spokesmen are addressing now in a news conference on Benedict’s last day as pope.

As we noted earlier in this post, cardinal electors will be forbidden to communicate with the outside world during the conclave. A few minutes ago, Vatican spokesmen declined to say whether BlackBerrys, iPhones and laptops would be taken away from cardinals when they are in the conclave.

There is no internet access inside Santa Marta, where the cardinals will stay during the conclave, the Rev. Federico Lombardi said.

[Updated at 7:50 a.m. ET]

Speaking of Twitter, the pope — who has collected more than 2 million Twitter followers on various language feeds since joining the social media service late last year — will send his final tweet this afternoon Rome time, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters minutes ago.

Then, the account @Pontifex will go dormant until the next pope decides whether he wants to use it, Lombardi said.

[Updated at 7:36 a.m. ET]

The days ahead will be busy — but publicly quiet — for the cardinals who have to elect a new pope. A tweet by of them illustrates this.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of Italy, who commentators have speculated might be a candidate for the papacy, has signaled to his Twitter followers that he’ll be leaving them for a few days.

Cardinals are forbidden to communicate with the outside world — now including by Twitter — during the conclave to elect a new pope.

[Updated at 7:23 a.m. ET]

More than 140 cardinals were at this morning’s meeting with the pope, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Thomas Roscia says at a press briefing.

That includes both cardinals who will be eligible to choose the next pope, and those who are not. To be eligible to vote in the conclave that is expected to begin in March, a cardinal must be under the age of 80.

Not all of the electors, however, were at today’s meeting. Some cardinals from around the world have still to arrive at the Vatican for the coming conclave.

At least 115 cardinals are eligible. Benedict appointed 67 of them.

[Updated at 7:10 a.m. ET]

When the pope met with the cardinals this morning, many of them will be the ones who will chose his successor during a conclave that is expected to start at the Vatican sometime in March. (Some of the cardinals, on the other hand, are too old too be eligible to vote.)

Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbsihop of Los Angeles, was at the meeting. When he greeted the pope, he asked Benedict to pray for the people of Los Angeles, according to a tweet from Mahony.

“He grasped my hand and said “Yes”!!” Mahony tweeted.

[Updated at 6:57 a.m. ET]

Although this is his last day, the pope is still at work.

This includes receiving resignations and nominating bishops. Today he accepted the resignation of Mons. José Ángel Rova as bishop of Villa Maria, Argentina, and nominated Samuel Jofré to replace him.

He also nominated Mons. Joseph Dinh Duc Dao to be auxiliary bishop of Xuân Lôc, Vietnam – apparently his final official act as pope.

[Posted at 5:25 a.m. ET]

On the final day of his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI met with cardinals at the Vatican on Thursday, saying “I will continue to serve you in prayer.”

After the pontiff completed his remarks, the cardinals greeted him individually, shaking hands and sharing a few words with the retiring head of the Catholic Church.

Benedict announced on February 11 that he would step down, becoming the first pontiff to leave the job alive in 598 years.

CNN’s Hada Messia, Jason Hanna, Laura Smith-Spark, and Richard Allen Greene contributed to this report.

Pope Benedict XVI issued his final Twitter message Thursday: “Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives,” he tweeted.

 

VATICAN POPEIt’s the beginning of the end for Pope Benedict XVI as he celebrates his final audience in Rome.  The pontiff made his final public appearance in front of thousands in Saint Peter’s Square one day before he is set to resign as the leader of the Catholic Church.

It really is an amazing time in the Catholic Church.  This is living history.  For the first time in 600 years, the Pope is stepping aside.  Pope Benedict XVI is announcing his resignation which will go into effect tomorrow at 8 p.m.  The 85-year-old pontiff says his failing health is causing him to take his life and the church in a different direction.

Pope Benedict XVI held his final audience.  Fifty thousand tickets were issued for the weekly prayer service in Saint Peter’s Square.  However, Vatican followers guess the crowds pushed upwards of 200,000 followers.  Everyone was interested in hearing from Pope Benedict XVI in one of his final appearances before heading off into retirement.  On Thursday morning, the Pope will meet with the Cardinals.  He will then ride a helicopter to his summer home near Rome and at 8 p.m. local time his papacy will end.

“His Holiness Benedict XVI, that name will remain with him, Emeritus Pope or Pope Emeritus or the Roman Pontiff Emeritus,” said Father Thomas Rosica, Vatican Spokesperson.

“On Thursday we’ll be with him for a while. And that I look forward to and that will drive it home, because literally we will say goodbye,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, New York.

The future is looking a little different for Pope Benedict in the days to come.  The 85-year-old will no longer be protected by the swiss guards.

He will have Vatican police protection.  The Vatican says he will spend the rest of his days in deep prayer at his home until work on a monastery within the Vatican grounds is finished later this spring.

This article from CNN lays out the process ahead for the conclave:

With Pope Benedict XVI leaving the papal office after resigning two weeks ago, the Catholic Church will have to rush to pick his replacement before Easter.

Normally, the College of Cardinals is not allowed to select a new pontiff until 15 to 20 days after the office becomes vacant — usually when the previous pope has died.

Benedict’s resignation is a rare exception. The last man to quit the head of the Catholic Church did so 600 years ago.

The situation calls for some rule bending, and having the current pope involved is proving advantageous.

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policy on pope selection to get a successor into place more rapidly.

The cardinals may to be able to pull it off before March 15, according to Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi.

This would give the new pontiff a little over a week to prepare for the next mass, Palm Sunday celebrations, on March 24.

While Benedict won’t be directly involved in his successor’s selection, his influence will undoubtedly be felt. He appointed 67 of the 117 cardinals set to make the decision.

The pope gives his last audience Wednesday morning. His last day on the job is Thursday.

Here’s a look at the process of electing a new pope:

What has to happen first?

There are alternative methods to choosing a new pope, but as a rule, cardinals pick a peer via paper ballot.

When a pope dies, the dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals calls for a meeting of all cardinals eligible to vote — those under age 80.

They have to vote in person. Although some work at the Vatican, most are spread out worldwide running dioceses or archdioceses, and will have to travel to Rome.

Once they get there, they can’t leave until the process is done and aren’t allowed to talk with anyone outside of the conclave.

Though Benedict left the rules greatly untouched, experts on the Church’s constitution will comb through the section on the “Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Roman Pontiff” (how to elect a new pope when the office is vacant) and interpret proper protocol for the election.

Benedict’s predecessor, the widely popular John Paul II, made a number of changes to the voting process in 1996 to make it less taxing on the cardinals.

What does balloting look like?

The meeting of cardinals, called the conclave, usually begins with a special morning mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. In the afternoon, they walk in a procession to the Sistine Chapel — known for its famous ceiling painting by Renaissance artist Michelangelo — to begin the actual voting process.

Ballots are passed out, and cardinals write in a candidate’s name and fold it up, then one by one, in order of seniority, they approach an altar and ceremoniously place their ballots into a chalice.

Voting is secret, but ballots are counted in the open. A cardinal needs a vote of two-thirds plus one to ascend to the papacy. If there is no winner, the vote is repeated up to three times on the first day.

What does the smoke from the chimney mean?

After each vote, the ballots land in the fireplace. If no one has won, a chemical is added to make the smoke black. This lets people waiting in St. Peter’s Square below know that there is no new pope yet.

If there is a winner, no chemical is added, and the smoke remains white, telling the world that the conclave has agreed on a new pontiff.

What if there is no winner?

Then they vote again and again and again. By the end of the third day, if there is still no new pope, they break for a day for prayer, discussions and exaltation from a senior cardinal. This recovery day was instituted by John Paul II.

Voting can go on for another seven rounds of balloting. Still no pope? Another day’s rest. Then another seven rounds. Still no new pope? Another day of rest and an exaltation. Then seven more ballots.

John Paul decided to save the cardinals from themselves, if they reach this point. He reduced the necessary result to elect a new pope to an absolute majority — 50% plus one vote — if they cross this tiring threshold.

When there’s finally a winner, what next?

The winner must accept the decision for it to be valid. Once he does, the dean asks him to choose a papal name. The oldest cardinal announces the new pope to the crowd in the square from a balcony. The new pope joins him to bless the crowd and the rest of the world.

Past popes have been crowned during a coronation ceremony, but John Paul II refused it, and Benedict followed suit. Both were inaugurated in a mass in St. Peter’s Cathedral.

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