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Asked to provide a job description for the next pope, Koch paused for few seconds and said: “I think each pope has to have four qualities: First of all, deep faith, then, sound doctrine, charisma and a capacity to govern.”
The next pope, whatever his age, could rule for life if he wanted to, like most of his predecessors, or resign for health reasons, Koch said.
Still, he acknowledged that the cardinals were navigating in uncharted waters.
The last pope to leave office willingly was Celestine V, a saintly hermit whose served only a few months before abdicating in 1294 and was imprisoned by his successor in a castle south of Rome. Another pope, Gregory XII, reluctantly abdicated in 1415 to end a dispute to a rival claimant to the papacy.
“It is clear that this is a situation that is totally new. The cardinals must choose the new pope with the presence of the living pope. We still don’t know what effect it will have. It makes a great difference if the pope is dead or alive,” Koch said.
Benedict has said he would be “hidden to the world” after his resignation on Feb. 28 and the Vatican has said he will not try to influence the choice of his successor. He will move to the papal summer residence south of Rome and then in April, after the conclave, into a convent inside the Vatican.
Koch cautioned against making predictions on who the next pope could be.
“The election is very secret, even in the conclave, no one knows who the other person is voting for as we put our ballots in the chalice,” he said.
Koch, who was in the room when Benedict announced his resignation to a small group of cardinals in Latin on Monday, said he was surprised only by the timing.
“I always said if any pope would resign it would be Benedict … this move was very characteristic of his personality. He never wanted to put himself at the centre of things,” Koch said.
“We now see that behind the ministry (of any pope) there is a human person … these are decisions of individual conscience. John Paul decided not to come down from the cross, as he put it, and retained the ministry to his death,” Koch said.
“John Paul reflected long and hard on that and came to his decision. Benedict is another person and he came to another decision and I think we have to accept this decision of conscience and not think about all the consequences that it could bring about.”