TEHRAN, YJC. The Pope has pledged his "unconditional obedience" to his successor, in his final meeting with cardinals, hours before he formally resigns.
Benedict XVI is preparing for his historic departure from the Vatican as he becomes the first Pope in nearly 600 years to step down as head of the Catholic Church.
The 85-year-old pontiff’s final day in office has been overshadowed by unusually outspoken criticism of his decision to abdicate by a senior cardinal, as well as claims of a covert operation of bugging and surveillance in the heart of the Holy See.
"People who, for example, might disagree with a future Pope, will mount a campaign to get him to resign," said Cardinal Pell, 71, the Archbishop of Sydney, who will take part in the conclave to elect a new Pope.
He said Benedict had been "well aware" that his resignation would be "slightly destabilising".
Meanwhile an Italian current affairs magazine, Panorama, claimed on Thursday that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who as Secretary of State is equivalent to the Vatican’s prime minister, authorised police to intercept phone calls and emails within the Curia, the powerful governing body of the Holy See.
In what is likely to be an embarrassment for the last few hours of Benedict’s papacy, the latest edition of the magazine carries a front page headline – "Exclusive – everyone was spied on in the Vatican”.
The weekly claimed that the covert, internal surveillance was coordinated by Domenico Giani, the head of the Vatican Gendarmerie and a former officer in the Italian intelligence services.
The wide-ranging internal surveillance was launched last year to try to find out whether any Vatican insiders had helped the Pope’s butler to steal and leak to the press confidential papal documents, according to Panorama’s Vatican correspondent.
"For more than a year, emails, telephone conversations, meetings and discussions were meticulously placed under observation by the Vatican Gendarmerie,” the magazine claimed, in "a sort of Vatican Big Brother” operation.
Benedict had a final meeting with cardinals on Thursday morning, promising that he would pay "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor.
He said he would pray for the cardinals in coming days and weeks as they choose his successor.
Around 5pm local time, Benedict will leave the Vatican for the last time as pontiff and fly by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, the papacy’s summer retreat south of Rome.
His eight-year papacy will formally end at 8pm local time, when the Swiss Guards who protect the pontiff will march away from the doors of the 17th century palazzo, leaving the task to the Vatican Gendarmerie.
That will usher in a phase known in Italian as the "sede vacante” – the empty seat of St Peter.