Benedict departs the Vatican stage
Pope Benedict XVI left the Catholic Church in unprecedented limbo as he became the first pope in 600 years to resign, capping a tearful day of farewells that included an extraordinary pledge of obedience to his successor.
As bells tolled, two Swiss Guards standing at attention at the papal palace in Castel Gandolfo shut the thick wooden doors shortly after 8pm local time, symbolically closing out a papacy whose legacy will be most marked by the way it ended - a resignation instead of a death.
Benedict, who will spend his first two months of retirement inside the palace walls, leaves behind an eight-year term shaped by struggles to move the church beyond clerical sex abuse scandals and to reawaken Christianity in an indifferent world - efforts his successor will now have to take up.
For the time being, the governance of the Catholic Church shifts to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the camerlengo, or chamberlain, who along with the College of Cardinals will guide the church and make plans for the conclave to elect the 266th leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
One of Cardinal Bertone's first acts was to lock the papal apartment inside the Vatican. In another task steeped in symbolism, he will ensure that Benedict's fisherman's ring and seal are destroyed.
His successor is likely to follow in his footsteps given that the vast majority of the 115 cardinals who will elect the next pope were appointed by Benedict himself and share his conservative bent.
Benedict's decision to live at the Vatican in retirement, be called "emeritus pope" and "Your Holiness" rather than revert back to "Joseph Ratzinger" and wear the white cassock associated with the papacy has deepened concerns about the shadow he might cast over the next papacy.
Benedict has tried to address those worries over the past two weeks, saying that once retired he would be "hidden from the world" and living a life of prayer.
On Thursday he took a step further with his own public pledge to place himself entirely under the authority of the new pope.
Benedict also gave a final set of instructions to the "princes" of the church who will elect his successor, urging them to be united as they huddle to choose the next pope.