What will Benedict’s role being in the election of his successor?
To hear [Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico] Lombardi and others tell it, he won’t have any role at all.
“Benedict XVI will surely say absolutely nothing about the process of election,” Lombardi told the media. “He will be retired and will not interfere in any way in the process. You can be assured that the cardinals will be completely autonomous in their decision.”
That said, Benedict’s imprint is nevertheless destined to be on the conclave in two ways.
First, he has by now appointed the majority of the cardinals who will elect his successor (67 out of 117 who will be under 80 when the sede vacante begins and thus hold the right to vote). In that sense, one can expect these are men who mostly share his outlook on things.
Second, because he’s still alive, at least some cardinals may feel special pressure not to do anything that would be perceived as a repudiation of Benedict’s papacy, or that they suspect would cause him consternation. How that might translate into choices inside the conclave isn’t entirely clear, but it’s a piece of the puzzle worth considering.
What will Benedict do after the new pope is on the job?
Here we’re really in the realm of the hypothetical, because the only honest answer is that we just don’t know.
It’s reasonable to think that after some period of near-complete withdrawal to make it clear that the new pope is fully in charge, Benedict might want to resume writing on the scholarly and spiritual topics that have always been his passion.
Lombardi hinted at that possibility Tuesday, saying Benedict’s long-awaited encyclical on faith (timed to coincide with the Year of Faith, and completing a triptych with his earlier works on love and hope) would not be ready to go before he steps down. He left open the possibility, however, that Benedict might be able to make use of this material in another form in a private capacity.
Whether Benedict will publish writings while he’s still alive, however, or whether he’ll take appointments, appear at Vatican events, or otherwise play some sort of public role, is all apparently still being pondered.
What are the implications of all this for future popes?
Once again, Vatican officials have been at pains to say that Benedict’s is an “absolutely personal” choice, and that because every situation is different, it’s impossible to say what future popes might do.
Lombardi made a special point today of stressing that Benedict wouldn’t do anything to tie his successor’s hands. He said, for instance, that while Benedict clearly wants a pope to be present at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in July, it will be up the next pontiff to freely decide if he wants to go or not.