Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Benedict XVI's encyclical on faith is not yet ready and therefore will not be published before his resignation on 28 February, this according to Fr Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office, who spoke to reporters at a media briefing this morning.
"Evidently, the pope chose the date for his announcement taking into consideration the liturgical calendar and the duties of the Church," Fr Lombardi explained. "Easter is a time when bishops ought to be in their dioceses for it is a central moment in the liturgical year. It is reasonable to assume, looking at the calendar, that this was a good time to make the announcement with the conclave held during Lent so that we would reach Easter with the election of a new pope."
As for the still unfinished encyclical, Fr Lombardi said he could say nothing, except that he hoped the he might read the thoughts of the current pope on faith even if they were not in the form of an encyclical.
For now, the pope's scheduled activities have been confirmed. Tomorrow, there will be a general audience in the morning. In the afternoon, the Ash Wednesday ceremony will be held in Saint Peter's Basilica rather than in its traditional location of the Basilica of Saint Sabina. This way, a larger than expected crowd might be accommodated for Benedict XVI's last public Mass.
On Thursday, the pontiff will hold the traditional Lent meeting with the clergy of Rome, followed on Sunday by the Angelus, and next week by spiritual exercises. On 27 February, the last general audience will be held in St Peter's. Contrary to what has been said, there will be no special farewell ceremony.
After taking a "clear and well thought-out decision", the pope is "serene", Fr Lombardi said. Responding to speculation that Benedict's decision might be related to a medical procedure he underwent three months ago, the Vatican spokesman said the pope had a "routine battery change" for his pacemaker.
Speaking about yesterday's editorial in the Osservatore Romano, he explained that whilst decision was finalised after his trip last year to Mexico and Cuba, it had matured over time.
"Too much attention should not be placed on any one moment," he said. "It was clear for some time" that the pope might want to or have to resign. The following events and his growing sense of frailty in the past few months led him to his decision.
As a result of his last trip, with its different time zones, travels and commitments, the pontiff came to realise that he would not be able to do the same in the future. "This does not mean that after that trip he made his decision and informed us about it. It was a step in the decision."
It would also be "misleading," Fr Lombardi insisted, to pay any attention to statements that the pope's decision was due to disputes with the Curia.
"I believe he sees the world with great clarity, and thinks about it. Of course, there might be questions about the adequacy of the means one can use in reaching one's goal, but that is a problem we all have, namely how to do things better."
On a practical level, "issues relating to protocol have not yet been defined, how he will be called, what clothes he will wear and such. Decisions to this effect will be made with him."
No decision has been made yet about his transfer to the former Vatican monastery because the latter is undergoing repair. In any event, this should not represent a problem for his successor.
"We know that Benedict XVI values discretion and extreme rigour. We can expect no interference or intervention that might cause difficulties for his successor. In fact, his successor will probably feel supported by the one person in the world who understands the concerns of the individual who governs the Church."