Vatican begins navigating uncharted territory

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VATICAN CITY -- The papal ring will be destroyed, along with other powerful emblems of authority, just as they are after a pope's death. The retiring Pope Benedict XVI will live in a monastery on the edge of the Vatican gardens and is likely even to give up his beloved theological writing.

The Vatican went out of its way Tuesday to declare that for Benedict, retirement means just that: Retirement.

With speculation swirling about his future role, the Vatican's chief spokesman explicitly stated that Benedict will not influence the election of his successor.

And the Rev. Federico Lombardi deepened the sense of finality by saying that, after his Feb. 28 abdication, "objects strictly connected" with the papal ministry will be "terminated." Among those is the papal ring, used as a seal for documents, which is smashed upon a pope's death.

Still, the first papal resignation in 600 years has left behind a vast uncharted territory to navigate -- for example, how does one address or even dress a retired pope?

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The Vatican has already picked out the pope's future home: A four-story building attached to a monastery on the northern edge of the Vatican gardens where cloistered nuns used to live. It has been under renovation for several months, although only a handful of Vatican officials knew that it would one day be Benedict's retirement home.

Construction materials littered the front lawn of the house Tuesday and plastic tubing snaked down from the top floor to a cargo container.

From a new name to this new home to the awkward reality of having a reigning pope and a retired one, the 85-year-old Benedict has plenty of decisions to make.

Benedict said Monday he was stepping down because he no longer had the strength in mind or body to carry on. Lombardi revealed Tuesday for the first time that the pope has had a pacemaker for years and just had its battery replaced a few months ago.

Although no date for a conclave to choose the next pope has been announced, it must begin within 20 days of his Feb. 28 retirement. That means a new pope will probably be elected by the College of Cardinals by Easter -- March 31 this year.

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