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Benedict's influence after retirement up for debate

VATICAN CITY -- New questions arose Thursday about how much influence Pope Benedict XVI will exert over his successor 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. His remarks were clearly labeled as Benedict's swan song, but his influence after retirement remains the subject of intense debate.

Benedict's resignation Feb. 28 creates an awkward situation, the first in 600 years, in which the church will have both a reigning pope and a retired one. The Vatican has insisted that Benedict will cease to be pope at exactly 8 p.m. that day, devoting himself entirely to a life of prayer.

Benedict held a farewell audience Thursday with a few thousand priests who live and work in the diocese of Rome, saying he will "remain hidden" in retirement.

But the Vatican confirmed that his trusted private secretary for the past decade, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, 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 took just over two months ago.

That dual role would seem to bolster concerns expressed privately by some cardinals that Benedict would continue to exert some influence.

Asked about a potential conflict, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the prefect's job is technical, organizing the pope's audiences, and has no governmental or doctrinal role.

After the pope, Ganswein is the most visible figure at the Vatican. Dubbed "Gorgeous Georg" for his looks, he was on the cover of the Italian edition of Vanity Fair last month under the headline "It isn't a sin to be beautiful."

The new pope can replace Ganswein as soon as he is elected, and it has long been rumored that Ganswein at some point would be appointed archbishop in his native Germany.

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