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February 12, 2013

Retiring Pope Benedict XVI in uncharted territory

VATICAN CITY —  

For months, construction crews have been renovating a four-story building attached to a monastery on the northern edge of the Vatican gardens where nuns would live for a few years at a time in cloister.

Only a handful of Vatican officials knew it would one day be Pope Benedict XVI's retirement home.

On Tuesday, construction materials littered the front lawn of the house and plastic tubing snaked down from the top floor to a cargo container. The restoration has become even more critical following Benedict's announcement that he will resign Feb. 28 and live his remaining days here in prayer.

From a new name to this new home to the awkward reality of having a reigning pope and a retired one, Benedict is facing uncharted territory as he becomes the first pontiff in six centuries to retire.

The Vatican on Tuesday tried to quash any notion that Benedict aimed to pull strings behind the scenes. The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a top spokesman, said Benedict will have no influence on the election of his successor.

"The pope will surely say absolutely nothing about the process of election," he told reporters.

The 85-year-old Benedict said Monday he was stepping down simply because he simply no longer had the strength in mind or body to carry on. Lombardi on Tuesday also revealed for the first time that Benedict has had a pacemaker for years and had its battery replaced just a few months ago.

Although no date for a conclave to choose the next pope has been announced, it must begin within 20 days of his Feb. 28 retirement. That means a new pope will likely be elected by the College of Cardinals by Easter — March 31 this year.

The decision immediately raised questions about what Benedict would be called, where he would live — and how that might affect his successor.

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