VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI spoke from his window on Sunday for the last time, telling the faithful packed into St. Peter's Square that the first papal abdication in centuries was God's will and insisting he was not "abandoning" the church.
Four days before the 85-year-old's often troubled eight-year rule ends, new talk of scandal hit the cardinals who will choose his successor; one, a Scottish archbishop, had to deny a media allegation of misconduct with young priests in the 1980s.
With an American cardinal urged not to go to the electoral conclave due to his role in handling sexual abuse cases in the United States, and the Vatican accusing media of running smears to influence the vote, the church faces a stormy succession.
Benedict, however, defended his shock decision to resign as dictated by his failing health; his address to tens of thousands of well-wishers was met with calls of "Viva il Papa!"
"The Lord is calling me to climb the mountain, to dedicate myself even more to prayer and meditation," the German-born pontiff said in Italian, his voice strong and carrying clearly.
"But this does not mean abandoning the church. Actually, if God asks this of me, it is precisely because I can continue to serve her with the same dedication and the same love I have shown so far," he said.
As he spoke, two of the 117 cardinals who are due to enter the conclave to choose his successor as leader of the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics next month were mired in controversy.
Britain's top Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O'Brien of Edinburgh, rejected allegations published in the Observer newspaper that he had been involved in unspecified inappropriate behavior with other priests in the past.
On Saturday, Catholic activists petitioned Cardinal Roger Mahony to recuse himself from the conclave so as not to insult survivors of sexual abuse by priests committed while he was archbishop of Los Angeles.
Benedict's papacy was rocked by scandals over the sexual abuse of children by priests in Europe and the United States, most of which preceded his time in office but came to light during it.