Does an Ex-Pope Keep His Health Care? ... and Other Papal Resignation Quandaries

Alexander Abad-Santos

Infallibility. Immunity. Health care. Pope Benedict XVI is expected to only have two of these things upon his retirement next week. If you had any questions about the pope, like if we can still call him a pope or about where his infallibility goes now, we have got you covered.

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So the pope is retiring.

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Yep. You got it. Come Friday morning on March 1, Pope Benedict XVI he will no longer be a pope.

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Right. So what do we call him after he retired? Ex-Pope? Former Pope? Mr. Joseph Ratzinger? The Pontiff Formerly Known As—

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OK, we get it. Usually, popes remain pope until they die so we have (almost) never had to deal with this problem. And in the United States, we are used to a no-take-backs when it comes to honorifics based on attaining an office or position. Ex-presidents and Senators and ambassadors all get to keep their titles after they finish their terms, as do military officers long after they retire. 

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But, as Slate's L.V. Anderson points out, we won't know what to call Benedict until he and others in the Church decide what to do. "He won’t automatically revert to being cardinal—he would have to be reappointed cardinal by his successor. There is some precedent for this to happen; Pope Gregory XII was appointed cardinal upon his abdication," Anderson writes. But Anderson points out that at the very least, Benedict will keep his title as a bishop since it's a sacrament and bishops who resign or even fired get to keep their bishop title. 

Got it. So Pope Benedict for now, title TBD. So what sort of powers is he going to have left? 

Well, for starters let's focus on infallibility, which everyone seems to be talking about.

Yeah. Infallibility. Where does that go? Do they take that away? Does it negate everything infallible Pope Benedict has ever said?

First off, you have to remember that the pope isn't infallible 24/7. 

Wait, what? I always wondered what would happen if he and his friends got into a disagreement.

Yeah, infallibility doesn't even work like that. You see, infallibility works only if the pope uses a privilege and makes an ex cathedra proclamation or statement about the faith and morals of the Catholic Church. 

So he can be wrong on stuff like pizza choices in Rome, but if he uses "ex cathedra" in an instance like ...?

The clearest example of ex cathedra statements are the assumption of Mary into heaven and the Immaculate Conception. The Assumption of Mary, as Anderson points out, is the only ex cathedra statement made since the first Vatican Council which happened over 140 years ago.

So basically...

... Basically Pope Benedict is only infallible when he says he is, but he never has and since he's not going to be pope in a week or so, he won't be able to in the future. "If after March 1, Benedict XVI loses his head and writes that he declares in an infallible way that the Virgin Mary died before being assumed into heaven, this won’t be an infallible decision, because he’s no longer doing it as pastor of the universal church," Philip Goyret, a professor of ecclesiology at the Rome’s Catholic Santa Croce University told The New York Times. "It will be his personal opinion."

OK, got it. Have they figured out why he retired yet?

Not really. We have what Benedict says—that he's too old to be pope. But no one wants to believe that since popes are popes until they die, hence the conspiracy theories. Since the announcement of his retirement, we've found out Benedict has a pacemaker and had a head injury last year which sort of gives us a clearer picture of his health—which is usually kept secret. But so far, all we have officially is that Benedict has cited his age. 

Does he get healthcare when he reitres? 

We think so. The Vatican has a pretty awesome healthcare plan, and it's available to retirees. The Catholic News Service wrote in 2008: 

[A]bout 15,000 people have a right to Vatican health care: employees, their children until they are 18 or have finished college, spouses who are not employed outside the home and Vatican retirees.

So what about the stuff he's dealing with now does it roll over to the next pope?  Does—

Stuff?

Well, the sex abuse cases and all that money stuff that I'm not quite so sure about? 

Well, those are two different things. We've known for a while that Ratzinger's papacy has been peppered by the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal. And in 2010, Ratzinger was directly implicated when a German "archdiocese said that a priest accused of molesting boys was given therapy in 1980 and later allowed to resume pastoral duties, before committing further abuses and being prosecuted. Pope Benedict, who at the time headed the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, approved the priest’s transfer for therapy," reported The New York Times's Nicholas Kulish and Rachel DonadioThat lawsuit was dismissed, but Reuters says that the Vatican has not ruled out any future lawsuits

The money stuff has to do with the leaked documents from Pope Benedict's butler, which included just how much the Church was spending. Since the leak, we found out the Vatican did things like spend $717,000 on a nativity scene—which could be seen as a waste of money, and is the reason why they opted for a donated one last year

Right. So, can he still be sued? 

Well, it'd be kind of pointless.

Huh? He's not pope anymore, does he still have protections?

He would if he stays within the sovereign Vatican City State. 

And he's doing that? 

Wouldn't you?  "His continued presence in the Vatican is necessary, otherwise he might be defenseless. He wouldn't have his immunity, his prerogatives, his security, if he is anywhere else," one Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. They go on to explain:

After he resigns, Benedict will no longer be the sovereign monarch of the State of Vatican City, which is surrounded by Rome, but will retain Vatican citizenship and residency.

That would continue to provide him immunity under the provisions of the Lateran Pacts while he is in the Vatican and even if he makes jaunts into Italy as a Vatican citizen.

The 1929 Lateran Pacts between Italy and the Holy See, which established Vatican City as a sovereign state, said Vatican City would be "invariably and in every event considered as neutral and inviolable territory".

And what about his security? 

He'll have the protection of Vatican police too. That's also one of the big reasons he's not going anywhere else—officials believe that should Benedict move to say, Florida, people will want to visit him, basically turning his residence into a pilgrimage destination and causing a security nightmare. 

Well, that sort of makes sense. So how do I keep up with all of the pope stuff now that I'm interested? Can I still follow him on Twitter?

Well, his Twitter account seems to have gone quiet and there's some debate of what happens to it and if that the Vatican will keep @Pontifex. But this guy isn't going anywhere. Lots of stuff is often revealed when a pope no longer is pope—like the extent of Pope John Paul II's Parkinson's Disease, which isn't unlike the pacemaker/head injury stuff we're starting to hear about Benedict. Immunity, infallibility, and whatnot—you should have no problem staying tuned.