The emotional, historic farewell delivered Wednesday by Pope Benedict XVI before an admiring crowd in St. Peter’s Square may have been the last public appearance by the pontiff.
“I think we’ll probably catch some glimpses of him walking in the garden. That’s my guess. When he says he’s wants to retire, he wants to retire,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told TODAY. “He’s not the kind of person who’s going on a book tour — he may continue writing, but he won’t be doing book tours.”
Earlier in the day, the pope arrived for his sendoff in the open-sided “popemobile,” passing through tens of thousands that had crowded into a Roman piazza. He stopped several times to bless and kiss babies and children before making his way to the platform where he made his address.
Benedict recalled moments of joy, but also acknowledged the turbulent moments of his papacy, where “it seemed like the Lord was sleeping.”
The church has dealt with allegations of sex abuse by priests, money laundering at the Vatican Bank, and document theft by the pope’s own butler. Reports of political infighting also have dogged the papacy.
Alessandra Borghese, an author and friend of the pope who first knew him as Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, said Benedict is not much of a manager or facilitator.
“John Paul II was much more vigorous. When he wanted something, he really was, 'Now!' I mean, Joseph Ratzinger is not 'now,'” said Borghese, who has written various fiction and non-fiction books about Vatican intrigue.
But Burke told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie he doubted the scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church influenced Benedict’s decision to retire.
“I take the pope at his word, and I think we should as well,” he said, noting “there will be all those conspiracies there.”
Burke did acknowledge that dealing with the turmoil took a toll physically on Benedict.
“There’s no doubt about that. There’s no doubt the job has a lot of weight and it’s not just precisely that you have to travel and you have to do this and that. It also has a moral responsibility," he said.
The pope shocked the world earlier this month when he announced he would be the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to abdicate his position. At 85, he attributed his decision to his failing health, saying he lacked the strength to continue.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, said the decision set a positive precedent.
“We now have a model. It’s possible for a pope simply to say, not just intellectually, but now practically, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” said Wuerl in Vatican City. He will be one of 115 Cardinals who will be voting in the conclave for the next pope. “So I think the Holy Father has opened up a whole new chapter of the church.”
Burke said Benedict’s decision has provided the pope with a sense of peace.
“He’s always been a very serene person,” Burke said, but “I see him now calmer than ever.”
Benedict was scheduled to meet privately Thursday with cardinals for a final time. He will then be taken by helicopter to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo, which currently serves as the pope’s summer residence. Once he arrives at the property, the Swiss guards normally assigned to protecting him will be replaced by regular Vatican police.
"Castel Gandolfo has a local population, and they love the pope, in fact, as it turns out, they're going to be the last people to see him before he resigns,” said John Thavis, author of “The Vatican Diaries." “He is going to greet them from his window at his villa."
Benedict will stay there for about two months until renovations are complete on his permanent home, Mater Ecclesiae.
Construction on the former Vatican convent began last fall, mostly to make space for Benedict’s large personal library.
“I think retire for him means really retire,” Burke said. “If he wanted to hold onto power, he would have stayed as pope there's nothing he likes more than prayer, reading, reflection, study. And I think that's the first thing he's going to do.”