VATICAN CITY — New questions arose about how much influence Pope Benedict XVI will exert over his successor Thursday after the Vatican confirmed that Benedict’s closest adviser would continue to serve him as a private secretary while running the new pope’s household.
For a second day of his emotional farewell tour, Benedict sent a pointed message to his successor and to the cardinals who will elect him about the direction the Catholic Church must take once he is no longer pope.
While these remarks have been clearly labeled as Benedict’s swansong before retiring, his influence after retirement remains the subject of intense debate.
Benedict’s resignation Feb. 28 will create an awkward situation — the first in 600 years — in which the Catholic Church will have a reigning pope and a ret-ired one. The Vatican has insisted that Benedict will cease to be pope at exactly 8 p.m. on that historic day, devoting himself entirely to a life of prayer.
Benedict confirmed that Thursday during a farewell audience with a few thousand priests who live and work in the diocese of Rome, saying that he would remain “hidden” to the world in retirement.
“Even as I retire now in prayer, I will always be close to all you and I am sure that you will be close to me, even if to the world I remain hidden,” he told the priests.
But the Vatican confirmed that Benedict’s trusted private secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, 56, would remain in that post and live with Benedict in a converted monastery in the Vatican gardens. He will also go to work every day in the Apostolic Palace, where he is prefect of the papal household, a job he has had for just over two months.
That dual role would seem to bolster concerns expressed privately by some cardinals that Benedict, by staying inside the Vatican and having his confidant working for the new pope, would continue to exert at least some influence on the new papacy and the governance of the church.
Asked about this potential conflict, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Thursday that the job of prefect is very technical, organizing the pope’s audiences, and has no real governmental or doctrinal role to it.