What will happen when Pope Benedict dies?

Pope Francis asks for prayers for 'very sick' predecessor Pope Benedict XVI

The Vatican has been updating Catholics across the world about the health of Pope Benedict XVI, who is “very sick”.

Pope Francis has asked people to pray for the former pope as the 95-year-old during an address at the Vatican.

Francis said on Wednesday: “I would like to ask all of you for a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict, who, in silence, is sustaining the Church. Let us remember him.

“He is very sick, asking the Lord to console and sustain him in this witness of love for the Church, until the end.”

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Benedict XVI was 85 when he stepped down from the role after less than eight years in the position.

But what will happen when the former pope dies?

Pope Benedict XVI retired in 2013Tiziana FABI / AFP via Getty

As to what will happen, no-one can say for sure – and that’s because the Catholic church is in a unique position.

The Vatican finds itself in the usual situation of having ‘two popes’, given that Benedict XVI has been residing in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican since his retirement in 2013.

Usually, there’s a set process that follows the death of a pope. One of the main elements sees a new head of the Catholic church elected by the cardinals in the conclave, with their choice signalled via smoke which emerges from the roof of the Sistine Chapel.

However, it will be different this time given that Benedict XVI is no longer the sitting pope. In fact, the absence of the vote and the smoke to signal the new incumbent is the only thing we can be sure definitely won’t be taking place after the death of Benedict XVI.

“The funeral for a pope emeritus is the funeral for the bishop emeritus of Rome,” church historian Alberto Melloni said about the possible next steps after Benedict XVI dies [via AP].

According to the publication, it’s assumed that the rituals that follow his death will likely resemble those for retired bishops of Rome.

That would mean that Pope Francis would oversee a funeral in either St. Peter’s Basilica or the piazza before a burial underneath the basilica.

Just like thousands paid homage to St. John Paul II after he died in 2005, it is also assumed that the body of Benedict XVI would lie in state in the basilica before the funeral.

Unlike a sitting pope, he will not receive the “novemdiales”, which are the nine days of funeral rites.

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