Pope Francis to lead funeral for Benedict XVI, a first in modern history

© Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters

For the first time in modern history, a sitting pope will preside over his predecessor's funeral next week, with Pope Francis leading a "simple" ceremony for Benedict XVI, who died Saturday.

Benedict, the first pontiff to resign since the Middle Ages, had renounced the papal throne -- but lived within the Vatican and still wore white.

The 95-year-old would have a "solemn but simple" funeral on Thursday, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told journalists at a briefing following his death.

The sudden deterioration of the ex-pope's health earlier this week had sparked questions over what would happen next.

The death of a Roman Catholic pope usually sets in motion time-honoured traditions, but would someone who had given up the papacy get papal treatment?

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

Under rules set out in 1996, a pope must be buried between four and six days after his death.

How and when he is buried is usually decided by cardinals who gather from around the world, and who also organise the Vatican's nine days of mourning, known as novemdiales.

They decide because the death of a pope traditionally creates a power vacuum at the top of the church.

However, no such vacuum exists in this case, as Francis is in charge.

Last rites

The ex-pope's funeral will take place in St Peter's Square, the vast square in front of the basilica, on Thursday at 9:30am (0830 GMT).


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