With Pope Benedict XVI's eight-year tenure in St. Peter's throne officially
over, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley said predicting who will replace the
now-pontiff emeritus remains "difficult to forecast" as the Catholic world's
focus turns from a historic retirement to a closely watched conclave.
O'Malley told reporters in Rome he and his colleagues are still "trying to learn more" about each other as they inch toward Monday's meeting to decide when the conclave will begin to find the Catholic world's 266th leader.
"Certainly it's a whole new ballgame after this resignation," he said, according to a recording of yesterday's press conference at the Pontifical North American College. "It's very difficult to forecast how it will play itself out. People are living longer, and we know that that means they have diminished energy and the task of being the pope of the church is an extraordinarily demanding job. It could result in a conclave choosing a younger man, but they may say, well, we can choose an older man because if he gets sick or is unable to do it, he would be able to resign.
"So it's very difficult to forecast."
O'Malley has been floated as a possible papal contender by Italian media, though he has brushed off any interest in the church's highest post, telling reporters earlier this month that he bought a round-trip ticket to Rome.
O'Malley said the next pope's "ability to communicate the faith" is important, as well as the ability to "touch the heart" of young Catholics.
In meeting with Benedict yesterday, O'Malley said he gave the pope a traditional Bavarian greeting before telling him "how much the people in Boston are praying for him and we're so grateful for everything he has meant to us."
Benedict's official retirement yesterday -- the first in almost six centuries -- left many observers and Vatican staff teary-eyed as he left via helicopter for his summer castle.
"I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth," Benedict told the cheering crowd in his final public words as pope.
Around the time he took off, the Vatican sent a final tweet from Benedict's Twitter account, @Pontifex. "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives."
For O'Malley, yesterday was a day of "mixed emotions," his spokesman said.
"Sad to see Pope Benedict leave but also ready to celebrate his many accomplishments on behalf of the church and its more than 1 billion members," spokesman Terrence Donilon said in an email.
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