Pope Benedict XVI to make final public address

4:58 AM, Feb 27, 2013   |    comments
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Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithful during the Angelus noon prayer, St. Peter's square, the Vatican



VATICAN CITY (CBSNews.com) - Tens of thousands of people have flooded St. Peter's Square to bid farewell to Pope Benedict XVI at his final general audience, the weekly appointment he kept to teach the world about the Catholic faith.

Hours before Benedict was to arrive, St. Peter's was overflowing and pilgrims and curiosity-seekers were picking spots along the main boulevard nearby to watch the event on giant TV screens. Some 50,000 tickets were requested for Benedict's final Wednesday master class, but Italian media estimated the number of people actually attending could be double that.

With chants of "Benedetto" erupting every so often, the mood was far more buoyant than during Benedict's final Sunday blessing and recalled the jubilant turnouts that often accompanied Benedict at World Youth Days and events involving Pope John Paul II.

On Thursday, Benedict is to become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign his position at the top of the Roman Catholic Church. He has chosen to be known in his retirement as Pope Emeritus, and he will move into a custom-fitted apartment on the Vatican compound where he's said he'll spend the rest of his life in prayer and contemplation -- out of the limelight.

As CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey has reported, Benedict has seemed increasingly at ease with his transition into retirement, but he will leave in his wake a Vatican beset by scandal. His successor will have to figure out how to deal with deeply-rooted management problems at the top of the Church, infighting between various factions in its governing body, and the lingering effects of the child sex abuse scandal.

Given the challenges facing the Church, Pizzey says the world's cardinals want to begin the job of choosing a new pope as soon as possible, according to a well-placed Vatican source, and the newest guessing game in Vatican City is how soon the conclave will begin. By both law and tradition, the cardinals can't talk openly about it until one day after Benedict officially leaves office.

Faced with questions about overcoming the scandal and improving the church's image, U.S. Cardinal James Stafford told CBS News, "We build the image by accepting the reality that we're living in, and not being angry, and not being defensive."

How the scandals may affect the choice of a new pope will never be known, notes Pizzey. The penalty for anyone involved in the conclave who breaks the oath of secrecy, including technicians and even housekeepers, used to be decided by the new pope. But in one of his final acts, Benedict changed the penalty to excommunication.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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