Benedict's Worsening Health Spurs Questions of What's Next

Vatican hasn't published rituals, procedures to follow when a pope emeritus dies
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 28, 2022 9:40 AM CST
Benedict's Dwindling Health Spurs Questions of What's Next
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI arrives in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican to attend the beatification ceremony of Pope Paul VI on Oct. 19, 2014.   (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)

The Vatican has detailed rituals and procedures to follow when a pope dies, but it hasn't published such rules for a pope emeritus. As a result, official word Wednesday that the health of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had worsened prompted questions about what happens if and when he dies. The answer is: There is no specific answer, at least not one the Vatican has announced ahead of time. The only thing certain is that the most important ritual following the death of a pope—a conclave to elect a new one—doesn't apply. Pope Francis sounded the alarm about the 95-year-old Benedict's health when he asked during his weekly Wednesday general audience for a special prayer for his predecessor, saying the retired pope was "very sick."

Francis later visited Benedict at his home in Vatican City, the Vatican Gardens. A Vatican spokesman confirmed that Benedict had experienced a worsening in his condition, due to his age, in the previous few hours, but he said the situation was under control. Most church watchers assume that, when they become necessary, funeral rituals for Benedict will closely hew to those for a retired bishop of Rome: a funeral in either St. Peter's Basilica or the piazza, in this case presided over by Francis rather than the dean of the College of Cardinals, and burial in the grotto underneath the basilica, reports the AP.

Because Benedict was a head of state, the funeral would presumably take on greater pomp, with the attendance of official delegations from around the world. To give them time to arrive, and to honor Benedict's former status as pope, he would likely lie in state for a period of days in the basilica before the funeral, as occurred for popes past. One thing that would distinguish a funeral for Benedict from that of the reigning pope is that the nine days of funeral rites before burial, called the "novemdiales," presumably wouldn't take place, church historian Alberto Melloni said. But one tradition that would be retained is the placing on the casket of the book of the Gospels.

(Read more Pope Benedict XVI stories.)

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