NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Pope Benedict XVI presided over St. Peter’s Square for the last time Sunday, and Roman Catholics in New York and around the world are waiting to find out who will take his place.
As CBS 2’s Alice Gainer reported, the pontiff blessed thousands of people in Vatican City Sunday morning, and thanked them for their support before his historic resignation.
It will be his last Sunday blessing as pope.
“He thanked the people for their affection; for their prayers during this time. The Holy Father just got off of a retreat, but also he’s acknowledging they’re coming out because this is his last Sunday blessing,” said the Rev. Luke Sweeney of the Archdiocese of New York.
At St. Patrick’s Cathedral Sunday, parishioners such as James from Brazil were praying for the pope.
“He was a good pope,” James told WCBS 880’s Monica Miller. “He did his job.”
New Yorker Rene said he is focusing on the season of Lent, not the scandals that have erupted recently.
“And the world is always evil, it doesn’t matter where you go, so you just have to be focused, positive and be a believer,” Rene said.
And Michael from Georgia said he respects Pope Benedict, and said the troubles the Catholic Church faces will only make the church stronger.
“Whenever there’s a tragedy of any sort, people get stronger as a result if they stick with it and they come together, and people will do that for the Catholic Church,” he said.
Pope Benedict XVI began the weekend by thanking the Vatican’s central administration, expressing his gratitude and love for the eight years they have worked with him. And as he winds down his papacy, speculation over who will replace him as grown.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York is among the 116 cardinals who will vote on his successor.
“All this speculation about the why of the pope’s resignation — let’s just take him at his word,” Dolan said. “It was a great act of humility and fortitude where he said: ‘It is not about me, it is about Jesus and his church. I’m not quite up to it anymore.’”
Meanwhile, the Vatican is on the defensive, accusing Italian newspapers of spreading false rumors about why the pope is resigning.
The latest claim is that there is a secret 300-page report by 300 cardinals looking into the Vatileaks scandal that resulted in the conviction of the pope’s butler for stealing secret documents.
CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey reported that the lurid reports spoke of a gay lobby of priests whose activities have not only gone against church teaching but have left them, and by extension the Vatican, open to blackmail.
The reports, first broken by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica, also claimed the cardinals who prepared the dossier learned of an underground gay priests’ network that meets for sexual encounters in various locations in Rome and Vatican City.
The three cardinals who investigated the leaked documents are expected to meet with Benedict Monday – in a sign of just how seriously he takes the issue, Pizzey reported. It is not clear whether the dossier will be given to the rest of the cardinals before they enter the conclave to select the next pope, or kept in a safe for the next pope’s consideration.
Vatican analyst John Sniffs emphasized that all the allegations are mere speculation.
“To date, none of us have actually seen this secret report delivered by the three cardinals to Benedict the 16th so it’s impossible to say precisely what it contains,” Sniffs said.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Tom Rosica castigated the news organizations that published the reports.
“It is deplorable that as we draw closer to the time of the beginning of the conclave, that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified and unverifiable or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions,” Rosica said.
Experts said all of these things – even if untrue – could influence the selection of the next pope.
But despite the scandal, it will be a week of celebration and reflection at the Vatican, as Benedict XVI prepares for the first retirement of a pope in 600 years.
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