George Ferzoco is betting on a sainthood. Some time in the 2060s, predicts the Bristol University theology lecturer, the man who was once Pope Benedict XVI will be canonized: declared a saint by the Catholic Church.
Ever since Benedict gave Vatican Cardinals’ his three weeks notice, journalists and insiders have been busy imagining what his imminent retirement will look like.
Several Holy See City press conferences later, and key questions linger: Where will the Pope live out his final hours? And how? What shall we call him? And who gets to keep his papal swag?
What we know is that, promptly upon abdicating, the Pope will skip town—travelling to Castel Gandolfo: a papal retreat in the hills south of Rome. Benedict is said to like the gardens, and a Madonna statue that rests near the goldfish pond.
The official word is that Benedict will then return to the Vatican, to live in a monastery that is currently being renovated—though some aren’t buying it. One Monsignor, who did not want his name used, told Maclean’s that this was unlikely: “I think he will live out his final days in Castel Gondolfo… It would be too hard for him to return to the Vatican: to walk around in the afternoons, to be a former pope.”
As to the other questions: How? The Pope’s brother thinks that Benedict will simply repose—that he will not “write any new works.” Swag? A Vatican spokesperson confirms that Benedict’s papal ring, an emblem of holy authority, will be destroyed. Title? Reports are conflicting, though “Pope emeritus,” “Bishop of Rome emeritus,” “Cardinal,” “Pope Benedict XVI,” “Your Holiness,” and straight-up “Joseph Ratzinger” (the Pope’s given name) are all being bandied about.
There’s no set rule—though, Vatican City being an absolute monarchy, it’s possible that Benedict will write one in the coming weeks.
But what about the Pope’s spiritual and ethereal retirement? How is Benedict to be honored and remembered after he dies?
Ferzoco, the Canadian theologian, believes there is a precedent—and that we can find it in the late 13th century, when the last pope to voluntarily abdicate stepped down.
“Celestine V died in 1296,” Ferzoco explains. “Not long after, in 1305, the Pope initiated an inquest into the sanctity of Peter of the Morrone. (Celestine’s given name.) And the Pope began the canonization process,” which involved interviewing over 300 people about the essence of Peter’s holiness.
Eventually, the Pope declared “Peter of the Morrone” to be a saint, and encouraged people to revere him. He was known as Saint Peter, instead of Saint Celestine, to signify that his abdication had been legal and binding.
Benedict XVI, says Ferzoco, can expect the same treatment. He too will be canonized—as Saint Joseph Ratzinger—though, according to the rules, that process can only begin fifty years after his death.
This speaks to a larger trend: “Over the last half century or so, there has been a marked increase in the consideration of popes as holy people. Several have been declared saints or blessed. And there are active dossiers, as people work to canonize others.”
Thus, abdication or not, people will find a way to venerate Benedict. “This is the modern spirituality,” says Ferzoco. “There is a longing to see popes as saints.” The kind that can’t retire.