What Does It Mean To Be Pope Emeritus ?

Retirement comes with the notion that someone has fully worked to their extent and has made the decision to leave the workforce permanently. Every job in the world has retirees, and that can include tenured jobs — like that of a Supreme Court Justice, and even the job of the pope. Those two jobs in particular are usually expected to be held for life. And as we know, death is the end of employment for most of those who hold those positions. But in rare cases a resignation changes all of that.

Sandra Day O’Connor did it in 2006. And Pope Benedict XVI did just that in February of 2013, becoming the first pope in modern times and the first in over 600 years to choose retirement. It meant that while he’d still be around and referred to as His Holiness, he was not the acting pope.

Instead, he was Pope Emeritus, a title that acknowledges his tenure and existence as a living and former head of the Church. The term emeritus is derived from Latin and is usually used to refer to male retirees who have retained the respective title of their last held role (via Merriam Webster). Former professors, editors, and company directors can be referred to as such, and the honorific always follows the job title. So what does it mean, in a religious sense, to be a Pope Emeritus ?

The role of a pope emeritus

The Pope Emeritus doesn’t have a job description, since he’s retired, and he agreed to rescind any authority he had when he passed the office to his successor, Pope Francis. Since he is also the first Pope Emeritus the Catholic Church has had in centuries, what is expected from the title and Benedict XVI is still evolving.

What we do know is that a Pope Emeritus does not go back to being a cardinal, and maintains his chosen papal name (or His Holiness) when being addressed, says BBC News. He also obviously has no job, and nothing is required of Benedict XVI from the Vatican. Since there is no definitive role an ex-pope plays, apparently the current Pope can change that, says historian and biographer Father Roberto Regoli (via Rome Reports). And perhaps, Benedict XVI could go back to Germany and be a cardinal if he wanted to.

He also still lives in the Vatican City, in a monastery, and can still wear white publicly. All of this means is that a Pope Emeritus remains a very important figure in the Catholic Church, despite no longer serving in an official capacity. That is evidently demonstrated when hopeful Cardinals come to the Vatican and visit the former pope, says Rome Reports.

The Pope Emeritus did promise to stay “hidden” when he resigned, but in recent years it hasn’t seem as such; he’s co-authored a book, and wrote a now controversial essay that divided Catholics.

Discovery+ will stream a documentary on Pope Francis, titled Francesco, beginning March 28.

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