Former pope Benedict XVI remains in a serious but stable condition, Italian media reported on December 29, the day after the Vatican revealed the 95-year-old’s health had deteriorated. (Photo by Florian CAZERES / AFP)



The death of a pope usually sets in motion time-honoured traditions, but with ex-pontiff Benedict XVI in failing health the Vatican is on unfamiliar ground.

The 95-year-old Joseph Ratzinger, who was revealed this week to be seriously ill, in 2013 became the first pontiff to quit in six centuries.

Unlike when previous popes have died, there would be no need to call a conclave to elect a new pontiff, as Pope Francis — chosen to succeed Benedict in 2013 — remains very much in post.

But the Vatican has refused to give details in advance on what else will happen when Benedict dies.

Most commentators expect Benedict to have a funeral at the Vatican, either in St Peter’s Basilica or the huge square that sits in front of it.

“From a liturgical point of view, I think that when the funeral takes place, essentially it will be the ritual envisaged for papal funerals,” liturgical expert Claudio Magnoli told AFP.

“The substantial difference is that it could be presided over by the reigning pope (Francis), while up to now it was the dean of cardinals or a designated cardinal.