Pontiff to meet Monti before Italian election as final schedule is revealed


In one of his final formal acts before retirement, Pope Benedict XVI will meet the outgoing Italian prime minister, Mario Monti, tomorrow.

The audience will take place a little over a week before the Italian election in which Silvio Berlusconi is seeking a political comeback at Mr Monti’s possible expense.

At his daily briefing yesterday, senior Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi outlined the calendar of Pope Benedict’s appointments between now and the end of his pontificate at 8pm on the night of February 28th.

Given the obvious intimate links between Italy and the Holy See, there is nothing unusual about a formal leave-taking of Mr Monti (and also of state president Giorgio Napolitano).

Italian election

The outcome of the Italian election may have serious implications for the EU and with Mr Monti a candidate for premiership with his centrist Lista Per Monti party, the meeting is unlikely to please the voluble Mr Berlusconi who is expected to cry foul. Any suggestion of favouritism was rejected yesterday by the Vatican spokesman.

At the press briefing, much attention was focused on the actual moment of the “resignation” or “abdication” (the terminology depends on your theological position). The world’s media, of course, would like a little ceremony, a symbolic gesture or a pontifical photo-op to encapsulate the moment.

In this, as in much else, the world’s media is destined for disappointment.

Fr Lombardi reported yesterday that at 5pm on February 28th, Pope Benedict will take a helicopter ride out to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.

Then he will probably have his supper, say his prayers and go to bed.

There will be no cameras, microphones or fireworks.