Under that timetable, Benedict will be far from the Vatican when he ceases being pope at 8 p.m. — a deadline decided by Benedict himself because that’s when his normal workday ends.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said no formal or symbolic act was needed to make his resignation official at that time, because Benedict has already done all that was required to resign by affirming he had taken the decision freely.
Benedict’s final official acts as pope will include audiences with the Romanian and Guatemalan presidents this week and the Italian president on Feb. 23.
Making sure the transition goes smoothly, Benedict made an important appointment Wednesday, naming the No. 2 administrator of the Vatican city-state, Monsignor Giuseppe Sciacca, as a legal adviser to the camerlengo.
The camerlengo, or chamberlain, helps administer the Vatican bureaucracy in the period between Benedict’s resignation and the election of a new pope.
The current camerlengo is Benedict’s longtime trusted aide, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state. Cardinal Bertone takes over the moment Benedict retires and will play a key role in organizing and participating in the conclave to elect a new pope, expected sometime in mid-March.
At that conclave, the church’s 117 cardinals under the age of 80 will get to vote on who should succeed Benedict.
The Vatican has made clear that Benedict will play no role in the election of his successor, and once retired, he will be fully retired. He plans to live a life of prayer in a converted monastery on the far northern edge of the Vatican gardens.
But his continued physical presence within the Vatican walls has raised questions about how removed he really will be from the life of the church. Father Lombardi acknowledged that Benedict would still be able to see his friends and colleagues.
“I think the successor and also the cardinals will be very happy to have very nearby a person that best of all can understand what the spiritual needs of the church are,” Father Lombardi said.
Benedict is expected however, to keep a low public profile.
As a result, Benedict’s final public appearances — his last general audience will be Feb. 27 — are expected to draw great crowds, as they may well represent some of the last public speeches for a man who has spent his life — as a priest, a cardinal and a pope — teaching and preaching.
And they will also give the faithful a way to say farewell under happier circumstances than when his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, died in 2005.
Wednesday’s audience was the start of a busy day for Benedict: He also will preside over Ash Wednesday services later in the day to mark the official start of the Catholic Church’s solemn Lenten season. The service is usually held in a church on Rome’s Aventine Hill but was moved at the last minute to St. Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican said the shift was made to accommodate the crowds, though it will also spare the pope the usual procession to the church.
The Vatican insisted that no serious medical ailment was behind Benedict’s decision to retire, though it admitted for the first time on Tuesday that Benedict has had a pacemaker for years and recently had its battery replaced.