VATICAN CITY – He slipped it in at the end of his speech, and he said it so quickly and softly, it almost sounded like an afterthought.
But in pledging his unconditional reverence and obedience to the next pope, Benedict XVI took a critical step toward ensuring that his decision to break with 600 years of tradition and retire as pope doesnt create a schism within the church.
It was also a very personal expression of one of the tenets of Christian tradition that dates back to Jesus crucifixion: obedience to a higher authority.
In the two weeks since Benedict announced he would resign, questions have mounted about how much influence he would still wield and exert over the new pope.
Benedict will continue to live inside the Vatican, wear the white cassock of the papacy, call himself emeritus pope and Your Holiness and even have his trusted aide continue living with him while keeping his day job as head of the new popes household.
The Vatican has insisted there should be no problem with a reigning and a retired pope living side by side; that Benedict has no plans to interfere; and that as of 8 p.m. Thursday, Benedict was no longer pope.
But the real concern isnt so much about Benedicts intentions as it is about how others might use him to undermine the new popes agenda or authority.
There is the risk that Benedict is aware of that some people could claim in the future that they want allegiance to Benedict and not the next pope, said the Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at Romes Pontifical Holy Cross University. He wants to preclude any division in the church.
Today, the Catholic Church has fringe groups not in full communion with Rome, such as the ultra-traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, with whom Benedict took extraordinary measures to reconcile during his eight years as pope.
If the next pope were to roll back some of Benedicts overtures toward the group, which included allowing greater use of the pre-Vatican II Mass in Latin, some of its members could try to pressure the new pope by saying We want to be in full communion, but only if Benedict accepts us, noted Gahl.
By pledging his own obedience to the new pope, Benedict has undercut any such scenario.
Benedict also took measures to ensure that his successor is viewed as the only legitimate pope. He issued a final legal document requiring the cardinals who elected him to make a public pledge of obedience to the new pope during one of his first Masses as pope.
Under previous rules, the cardinals only make that pledge in the privacy of the Sistine Chapel immediately after the election.
They represent the whole church, the universal church, Gahl said of the cardinals, adding that such a public show of deference to the new popes authority was a powerful message to all believers.