Ex-Pope Benedict XVI may cause difficult decisions for the Vatican as the event of his death would raise a question for the Catholic Church about how to honor him. Born Joseph Ratzinger, the former Pope (now known as Emeritus) stepped down from the role in 2013 citing old age. There have been two living Popes in the Vatican ever since.
Having the current Pope Francis bury a former Pope would be a first for the Church, with the last papal resignation occurring in 1415.
Even this historical event 600 years ago offers no precedent, as Gregory XII resigned in the 15th century to end years of division over rival candidates for the papacy.
Catholic historian John McGreevy said: “We’ve never had this before where a living pope will help bury a dead pope.”
Benedict has stayed in the Vatican Gardens at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery since stepping down, even occasionally being seen alongside his successor.
Generally in the event of a Pope’s death, the news is confirmed and foreign heads of state are informally notified before Vatican radio breaks the story.
The person who runs the Vatican from the death of one Pope to the election of another is called a “camerlengo”, currently Cardinal Kevin Farrell.
However it is unclear exactly what role the camerlengo would play in this instance given that Pope Francis is still alive.
The camerlengo normally has the role of officially confirming the Pope’s death, traditionally by tapping his head three times with a small silver hammer and calling out his name.
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Now aged 95 and in poor health, the Catholic Church is currently in unchartered waters over what to do when Benedict passes away.
Vatican affairs writer Massimo Franco told the BBC that all the procedures would have to be “written from scratch”, adding: “For some within the Catholic Church, the resignation of Benedict represents a unique circumstance that will never have to be repeated.
“For others it may represent a precedent and therefore could be repeated. But this remains a big question mark, just like everything surrounding the death and funeral of Benedict XVI.”