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Pope Benedict XVI Will Have To Give Up Red Shoes, Shoulder Cape


Tomorrow at 8 p.m. in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI will become pope emeritus. His retirement is unprecedented in modern times, and there are some intriguing details emerging from the Vatican about his life post-papacy. Vatican observer Rocco Palmo joins us to talk about that. He's editor of the website Whispers in the Loggia, which covers Vatican news and politics. Rocco, welcome to the program.

ROCCO PALMO: Anytime, Melissa.

BLOCK: Now, Pope Benedict told parish priests and clergy this month that when he leaves the papacy, he will remain hidden to the world. As a first question, where exactly will he live?

PALMO: First off, tomorrow night, the pope will be taken to the Vatican helipad, and then he'll be choppered off to Castel Gandolfo, which is, you know, for Americans, it's like the pope's Camp David, the retreat outside the city, you know, a 20-minute chopper ride or like a 45-minute car ride outside of Rome in the open hills. So that's where it begins. And then come May, once his new quarters behind the Vatican walls are complete, I hope he'll come back into the city very quietly.

BLOCK: And what are those new quarters like?

PALMO: They're actually very simple. You know, people think, oh, the Vatican, you know, there must be gold coming out of the walls. But it's actually a former cloistered monastery that's basically being refitted for him, so it's not going to be anything terribly deluxe. But, you know, the big thing to move in that he brought over with him when he moved into the Vatican after his election were 20,000 books, roughly, and he's called the books his old friends. So his old friends will be coming with him.

BLOCK: You know, I have to say I'm fascinated by the details coming from the Vatican about Benedict's garments once he leaves the papacy. For one thing, no more red shoes.

PALMO: It's interesting, you know, the red shoes have attracted a great amount of fascination since he was elected. It's actually a myth that those shoes were made by Prada. They're not. They're made by a small Italian company. But, yes, there will be no more red shoes. A pair was made for him last year on his trip to Mexico, a brown pair, and those are the ones he's going to use in retirement.

BLOCK: And the other garments?

PALMO: You know, the world knows when you think pope, you think the full-length white cassock with the shoulder cape around it. Well, he'll keep the white cassock. He'll keep the white zucchetto, the skullcap, but the cassock won't have a shoulder cape on it. And the other question was going into this was what would he be called, would he go back to being Cardinal Ratzinger, would he go back to being, you know, Bishop Joseph Ratzinger. And he's going to now be, you know, his Holiness Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus.

BLOCK: When you picture Benedict in these last years of his life, in this new Spartan home that you're describing, how - what do use him doing? How will he spend his time?

PALMO: I think there's going to be a lot of reading, a lot of prayer. And even as he said this morning in his final public speech as pope, it's not like I'm going back to private life. Once you're elected pope, there's no such thing as privacy anymore. I'm leaving the governing part of the job, but I remain in my responsibility of prayer and of love and of attention toward the whole church.

BLOCK: And apart from reading and prayer, do we know of any papal pastimes, anything he especially likes?

PALMO: He loves the piano. People who have been around the papal villa, Castel Gandolfo, if the windows are open, they can sometimes hear the pope playing the piano, and the sound will loft out. So maybe if people on the Vatican garden tour and they go by Benedict's home, his new home, maybe they'll hear the piano lofting out in some days.

BLOCK: You know, when Benedict says he'll remain hidden to the world, is that completely hidden? I mean, will he be seen at the Vatican? Will he go to Mass? Will he meet the next pope?

PALMO: Well, as a priest, of course, he can say Mass. He'll have the, you know, the chapel in his new home. The expectation is, again, because, I mean, obviously, we're in uncharted waters, and we're all working by the seat of our pants here, including officials of the Vatican. If (unintelligible) within the first 24 hours after his election, whoever he is, the new pope will go out to Castel Gandolfo and to see Benedict. And we're going to have something - the world has never seen, this church, which has seen everything at least once, has never seen the picture of two popes, both of them in white, and that's going to be a really incredible moment.

BLOCK: Rocco Palmo edits the website Whispers in the Loggia. Mr. Palmo, thanks so much.

PALMO: Anytime, Melissa. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.