Pope Benedict 'will not interfere in successor's affairs'

  • 12 February 2013
  • From the section Europe

Pope Benedict XVI will not interfere in the affairs of his successor after his decision to resign later this month, the pontiff's brother has said.

Georg Ratzinger told the BBC the Pope would only "make himself available" if he were needed.

The Pope said on Monday he would resign after nearly eight years as the head of the Catholic Church because he was too old to continue at the age of 85.

The Vatican now says it expects a new pontiff to be elected before Easter.

Benedict XVI will bid farewell to his followers in a final audience in St Peter's Square on 27 February, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi has said.

This will be the day before he officially steps down.

The unexpected development - the first papal resignation in nearly 600 years - surprised governments, Vatican-watchers and even the Pope's closest aides.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 after John Paul II's death.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says that in theory there has never been anything stopping Pope Benedict or any of his predecessors from stepping aside.

Under the Catholic Church's governing code, Canon Law, the only conditions for the validity of such a resignation are that it be made freely and be properly published.

But resignation is extremely rare: the last pontiff to step aside was Pope Gregory XII, who resigned in 1415 amid a schism within the Church.

'Natural process'

Speaking to the BBC from his home in Regensburg, Germany, Georg Ratzinger said his brother had been advised by his doctor not to take any more transatlantic trips and had been considering stepping down for months.

"When he got to the second half of his 80s, he felt that his age was showing and that he was gradually losing the abilities he may have had and that it takes to fulfil this office properly."

He said the resignation therefore was part of a "natural process".

And he added: "Where he's needed he will make himself available, but he will not want to want to intervene in the affairs of his successor."

He later admitted at a news conference that he had been "very surprised" by his brother's move but saw "the reasons behind the decision".

The next pontiff will be chosen by members of a 117-strong conclave held in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.

Analysts say Europeans are still among the favourites, including the current Archbishop of Milan, Angelo Scola, and Christoph Schoenbron, a former Austrian student of the current Pope.

But strong candidates could emerge from Africa and Latin America, which both have very large Catholic populations. Among the names being mentioned are Ghana's Cardinal Peter Turkson and Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria.

Georg Ratzinger said he believed the next pontiff would be another European and not from Latin America or Africa.

"I am convinced there will be a pope from one of these countries at some point," he told a news conference in Germany.

"I have my doubts though it will be now as there are so many capable Europeans and the Africans are not as well-known and possibly don't have the experience yet."

'Some duties'

The Pope was to retire to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo when he leaves office, the Vatican said, before moving into a renovated monastery used by cloistered nuns for "a period of prayer and reflection".

"He'll stay in Rome and will certainly have some duties and of course will continue to educate himself intellectually and theologically," Georg Ratzinger told the BBC.

Father Lombardi said on Tuesday the Pope had been wearing a pacemaker for some time, but was generally in good health, Reuters news agency reports.

According to a report in Italy's Il Sole 24 business newspaper, he had surgery to replace a pacemaker just under three months ago.

At 78, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was one of the oldest popes in history at his election.

He took the helm as one of the fiercest storms the Catholic Church has faced in decades - the scandal of child sex abuse by priests - was breaking.

The pontiff said in his Monday's statement: "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."

A theological conservative before and during his time as pontiff, he has taken traditional positions on homosexuality and women priests, while urging abstinence and continuing opposition to the use of contraceptives.

His attempts at inter-faith relations were mixed, with Muslims, Jews and Protestants all taking offence at various times, despite his efforts to reach out and make visits to key holy sites, including those in Jerusalem.