On his last day in the job, Pope Benedict pledged to give “unconditional reverence and obedience” to his successor.
The ailing pontiff met for a private audience with the College of Cardinals on Thursday morning and thanked the princes of the church for their support and wisdom during his eight-year reign.
He promised to pray for them in coming days. “I will continue to remain close to you in prayer ... so that God can guide you in the difficult decision you have to take on announcing my successor,” Benedict told the cardinals.
The meeting was held in the ornate 16th-century Clementine Hall in the Apostolic Palace within Vatican City.
The room is used for ceremonies and receptions and is also where the Pope’s body usually lies for private visitation after his death.
The cardinals all rose and applauded as Benedict entered the chamber and Angelo Cardinal Sodano of Italy, dean of the College of Cardinals, addressed him on their behalf.
“It is we who must thank you for the example you have given us,” Sodano said. Benedict then addressed the 144 men in attendance, including many of the 115 cardinals under age 80 who will enter a papal conclave to begin choosing his successor within 15 days.
“The College of Cardinals is like an orchestra,” he told them, saying all the different instruments must come together to create a harmony.
“The church is a living being,” he said. “It is in this world but it’s not of the world.” “Among you there is a future Pope to whom I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience,” Benedict said.
His words were met with a standing ovation by the cardinals who then lined up to share a few personal, private words with him.
The entire meeting lasted about an hour and Benedict paused just once to have a drink of water.
His personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein stood to the Pope’s right and also greeted every cardinal.
Australian cardinal criticises Pope
Australia’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, criticised outgoing Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday, describing his historic resignation as destabilising and questioning his governance skills. Pell said Benedict was a “brilliant teacher” but “government wasn’t his strong point”. Pell added his decision to resign set a worrying precedent for the Church. “People who, for example, might disagree with a future pope, will get him to resign,” suggested Pell.