At the Vatican, the College of Cardinals is making preparations for the selection of the next pope now that Benedict XVI has officially stepped down, the first pope to do so in over 600 years. On Thursday (February 28), his final day, Benedict met with the cardinals already gathered in Rome and promised “unconditional reverence and obedience” to his successor. He then took a helicopter to the papal villa, Castel Gandolfo, where he will stay until moving to a Vatican monastery for what he has said will be a life of prayer outside of public view. During his last papal audience on Wednesday (February 27), Benedict spoke of the joy of leading the church, as well as the many difficulties he faced a pope:
Pope Benedict XVI: “I will continue to accompany the church with my prayers and I ask each of you to pray for me and for the new pope.”
With the papal seat empty, the cardinals will soon decide when to begin the conclave to elect their next leader. Earlier this week, Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland, who recently resigned because of age, announced he would not attend the conclave after charges against him by other priests of “inappropriate” behavior. American Cardinal Roger Mahony will participate, despite objections from some American Catholics over Mahony’s role in covering up clergy sex abuse. All cardinals under the age of 80 can cast ballots for the next pope, who is selected by a vote of at least a two-third’s majority.