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Garth Bray: Can a Pope stop being Pope?

opinion Garth Bray

By Garth Bray

Published: 10:09AM Thursday February 28, 2013 Source: ONE News

Pope Benedict XVI now measures a job for life in just hours and plans a retirement in prayerful seclusion inside the Vatican.

Two and a half weeks ago he surprised and even shocked Catholics and the wider world by tendering his resignation, so there really was no rulebook, no script for these days in the Eternal City.

It has drawn the curious and the curia, the faithful and the watchful.

Sprinkled among the cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns and pilgrims heading to St Peter's Square for Benedict's final general audience were tourists lucky enough to have found themselves craning their necks for a glimpse at history.

Plenty though had come to say farewell - many Germans, one a teary Bavarian seizing the last chance to see "his" pope.

So does it matter where the next pope comes from? In my trips to Rome covering this upheaval, I've run into a few Vatican insiders, including one high-ranked cardinal-elector. Nearly all say country or colour matter less than the man inside that skin.

There are many agendas working behind those words though. Some Europeans and Italians especially are pushing for one of their own back on the throne.

Others suspect a pope from Africa or Latin America might be a doctrinal hard-liner, taking an unflinching position against condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS for example.

Given the incumbent has appointed more than half the college of cardinals who'll vote next month, a conservative Pope is a sure bet.

His Holiness Benedict XVI, as he'll continue to be titled in church circles, may continue to influence the next papacy even in retirement.

His trusted secretary Georg Gaenswein looks like he will remain as prefect of the new papal household, a position of some courtly influence to field gossip back to his old boss, with whom he will still share a roof at the monastery being renovated for Benedict.

Benedict will still wear papal white instead of the de rigeur Vatican black of every other clergyman.

He'll trade his red Prada shoes for brown loafers he was given on his last trip to the Americas.

But some here wonder if he'll really be putting his feet up for long, at his new home within the Holy See.

Follow ONE News Europe Correspondent Garth Bray on Twitter.