Benedict, who announced his resignation four days ago — the first pope to step down willingly in nearly 600 years — also indicated that he would not hold a public role once his resignation becomes official on Feb. 28.
“Though I am now retiring to a life of prayer, I will always be close to all of you and I am sure all of you will be close to me, even though I remain hidden to the world,” he told the assembly of hundreds of priests, who had greeted him with a long, standing ovation and some tears.
The pope will live in a convent inside Vatican City.
At a news briefing Thursday, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said Benedict’s longtime personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who was also named prefect of the papal household two months ago, would continue to work for him.
Father Lombardi said he saw no conflict of interest if Archbishop Gänswein served the current pope and his successor.
The prefect is responsible for logistical duties, and “in this sense it is not a profound problem, I think,” Father Lombardi said.
The nuns who currently tend to the pope will also live with the pontiff once he is no longer pope.
Father Lombardi also confirmed news reports that the pope had had an accident during a trip to Mexico last March, hitting his head in the middle of the night, but he denied that the episode had influenced the pontiff’s decision to retire.
Since his surprise announcement on Monday, which stunned the Roman Catholic world, there has been much closer public scrutiny of the pope’s health.
The 85-year-old pope — who has appeared increasingly frail in recent public appearances — said he felt he did not have the strength to continue in his ministry.
On Tuesday, the Vatican confirmed for the first time that the pope had had a pacemaker since his time as a cardinal and had its batteries changed three months ago.
“It didn’t impact on the trip or on his decision,” Father Lombardi said, pointing out that the pope had kept his appointments as scheduled.
The priests from the Rome diocese who attended Benedict’s audience said they felt they had witnessed a powerful moment in church history, one that also humanized a pope who has often seemed remote. “It moved me to see the pope smile,” said Don Mario Filippa, a priest in Rome. “He has found peace within himself.”
“It was a part of history,” said Father Martin Astudillo, 37, an Argentine priest who is studying in Rome. “This is a man of God who at the end of his public role transmits his vision of the church and relationship with the church,” he added. “We saw in a few words a real synthesis of his vision of the church and what he expects from whomever takes over.”
In his remarks, which touched on some of the thorniest issues of his papacy, Benedict also spoke about how the Second Vatican Council had explored ideas of “continuity” between Old and New Testaments, and of the relationship between the Catholic and Jewish faiths.
“Even if it’s clear that the church isn’t responsible for the Shoah, it’s for the most part Christians who did this crime,” Benedict said of the Holocaust, adding that this called for a need to “deepen and renovate the Christian conscience,” even if it’s true that “real believers only fought against” Nazi barbarism.
During the 45-minute reflection — or “chat” in his words — on the council, he also recalled the “incredible” expectations of bishops going into the gathering.
“We were full of hope, enthusiasm and also of good will,” he said.
But while the council made landmark decisions that would propel the church into the future, much got lost in the media’s interpretation of what transpired, he said, which led to the “calamities” that have marred recent church history.
The media reduced the proceedings “into a political power struggle between different currents of the church,” and they chose sides that suited their individual vision of the world, the pope said.
These messages, not that of the council, entered into the public sphere and that led in the years to “so many calamities, so many problems, seminaries closed, convents that closed, the liturgy trivialized,” the pope said.