ROME -- More than 100,000 pilgrims
gathered in St. Peter's Square, Rome, Wednesday to cheer as Pope
Benedict XVI gave his final general audience before making history by
being the first pope to resign office since the Middle Ages.
the crowd where many toted banners saying "Grazie!" ("Thank you!") the
pope said, "I'd like to thank everybody for the help I have received."
He said that he has experienced both joyful and difficult moments as
Although the day appeared sunny and
celebratory, a new series of controversial revelations swirls around the
papacy, threatening to leave a mark on Benedict's eight-year papacy and
adding to the challenges to be faced by the next pope.
succeeds him, Benedict said Wednesday, "will no longer have any privacy.
He will belong forever and totally to everyone and to all the church."
added that will remain true for him even after his abdication, which
will take place barely 30 hours after his remarks Wednesday: "I am not
abandoning the cross; I remain close to the crucified Lord in a new
way," he said.
The faithful who were part of an overflow crowd in
St. Peter's reflected a mix of sympathy for the plight of the
85-year-old pontiff's decision to step down for reasons of age and
declining health, and frustration and sometimes anger toward the series
of scandals that have come to light on Benedict's watch.
he doesn't take the decision [to resign] lightly, and I pray for him and
his mission," said Italo Batisti, 56, a church maintenance worker from
Rome. "But I also don't understand how all these things happened. The
church should be a place for prayer and reflection, not for denying
In the latest developments, Scottish Cardinal Keith
O'Brien said he would not attend the conclave that will select the next
pope while denying allegations of "inappropriate behavior" with priests
in the 1980s.
A few days earlier, an Italian newspaper broke a
story about a high-level investigation into a network of gay clergy
working in the Vatican, possibly connected to documents leaked last year
by Benedict's former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who the pope recently
pardoned. The Vatican Bank has been touched with charges of money
laundering and other scandals.
"The Holy Father is a good man, a
holy man, but perhaps his age held him back from keeping tight enough
control on what has been going on," said 71-year-old Pascal Venturi, a
retired Italian police officer now living in Boston. "My religious faith
is strong and I returned [to Rome] in part to say goodbye to the pope.
But I am very frustrated by the lack of control over what takes place in
Benedict's address Wednesday was unusually
personal, in contrast with the often scholarly discourses on issues of
faith or international affairs that have generally characterize
Benedict's Wednesday audiences.
STORY: STORY: Pope Benedict's address
said he had "serene trust in God's will" in making the decision to
leave not for his own good but for the good of the church, and he
thanked the faithful for understanding his decision to resign.
he was known during his papacy as a shy scholar, Benedict appeared
warmed by the massive crowds, kissing and blessing children on his final
lap around the square, while adults cheered and cardinals wept.
"My heart is open to the world," the pope said. "I will continue to accompany the Church with my prayers.
"I am asking each of you to pray for me," he said.
audience was the last time Benedict will officially address the public
as pope. But observers may be able to catch a glimpse of him lat
Thursday afternoon as he travels by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, south
of Rome, for several weeks of reflection before returning to the
Vatican, where he is expected to live a cloistered life of prayer,
writing, reading, and meditation.
The Vatican announced Tuesday
that after leaving the papacy he will retain the name Benedict and will
be referred to as "Roman pontiff emeritus." He will dress far more
simply than he did as pope, using a plain white cassock, and he will
give up the famous red shoes of the papacy, which the Vatican says,
symbolize the blood of the martyrs. Benedict will wear brown shoes
Vatican press officials said that some 50,000 tickets had
been issued for the audience, with at least that many more estimated to
be gathered in the standing-room-only part of the square. Officials said
it was among the largest audiences in St. Peter's Square of Benedict's
Once a new pope is elected, and Benedict returns to live
within Vatican walls in retirement, it raising questions about having a
reigning and a retired pope, living side-by-side. But the Vatican says
it foresees no problems and Benedict has said he will pray and be
"hidden to the world."
Pope Benedict XVI officially steps down
Thursday at 8:00 p.m. local time. The date for the conclave, the process
by which the next pope will be selected, has not yet been announced. it
may be Monday before enough cardinals have gathered in Rome and begun
meeting in advisory sessions before a date is announced.
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard in London