Thursday 28 Feb 2013, 12:24pm
As we close down the blog now, here is a summary of developments today:
• Benedict XVI has became the first pope in 600 years to resign, ending an eight-year pontificate after flying from the Vatican to the pontiff's traditional Summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.
• In his final public address as pope, he pledged to continue working for the good of the church in his retirement. He told a packed piazza from the palace balcony that as of his retirement, "I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth."
• As bells tolled, the Swiss Guards standing at attention in Castel Gandolfo shut the doors of the palazzo shortly after 8pm (local time), symbolically closing out the papacy.
• The shadow cast over the Catholic church by abuse scandals continued to be felt as a victim support group held a press conference metres from the walls of the Vatican City to ask the UN to censure the Vatican for failing to protect children from sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy.
• In an apparent attempt to defuse growing concerns that his abdication, Benedict pledged earlier his "unconditional reverence and obedience"to whoever succeeds him as head of the Roman Catholic church.
It seems to me that there are three interlocking difficulties for the church. There is crisis in the curia, the Vatican itself. There is a crisis in the clergy. And in the developed world, there is a crisis in the laity.
There is also a strategic problem in that the church must deal with the increasing militancy of Islam in the Middle East, and, beyond that, the rise of China and India. But that doesn't require new thinking, just the application of well-practised principles.
The problems of the laity and clergy are intertwined, and in the developed world their symptom is obvious: there are not enough of either, and both are ageing rapidly and sustained only by immigration from the south.
There is little that a pope can do directly about the problem of the shrinking laity, even in an age of global travel. Wherever he goes, he can draw vast crowds, but the interest and excitement subside when he has gone. The congregations continue to drain away.
With the departure of Benedict, Vatican tradition holds that his official papal ring should also be destroyed using a hammer.
Responsibility for smashing the ring, which shows St Peter fishing, is given to ‘camerlengo’ or chamberlain. On this occasion, that is Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State.
In case you're wondering though, the Pope's @Pontifex Twitter Account Is not shutting down... or at least, not yet.
Despite numerous reports that it would shut down upon his retirement today, Forbes reports that the account will live on for the time being, albeit in an inactive state.
Monsignor Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, told the magazine that the account will hibernate, not close, until the new pope is chosen.
“During the period between today and the election of new pope the account will be inactive,” he wrote in an email, “not shut down.”
The account, which has more than 1m followers, is tonight "Sede Vacante", an expression referring to the "vacant seat".