In the coming days there will be plenty of comments about Pope Benedict XVI's stunning announcement. Some of those comments will appear in the Catholic Answers Blog. For now, let me make a few points:
1. Yes, popes can renounce the Petrine office. A few popes have done so, the most famous being St. Celestine V in 1296. (More on him another time.)
2. Benedict XVI hasn't "resigned," as that word commonly is used. A resignation implies informing one's superior about one's decision. A pope has no superior. In the Latin text available at the Vatican's website, the word Benedict XVI uses is "renuntiare," which means "renounce."
3. The Pope said he will cease to be Bishop of Rome, and therefore pope, at 8:00 p.m. local time in Rome on February 28. (The Latin text has a typo, giving the time as "hora 29" rather than "hora 20.")
4. There is no protocol regarding titling for former popes. It isn't known yet what the proper way to refer to Benedict XVI will be.
5. Some people already are bringing up the so-called Prophecy of St. Malachy, according to which (depending on one's interpretation) there remains only one pope after Benedict XVI, a pope who will be known as Peter the Roman. Please keep in mind that the Church never has accepted this purported prophecy as true. It undoubtedly is a forgery. Supposedly the prophecy was made around 1139 by St. Malachy, but the prophecy was unknown until 1595 and seems to have been concocted to influence a papal election of that era. In other words, give no weight to it and derive no anxiety from it.
6. Just like you, the staff of Catholic Answers has no idea who might by elected by the upcoming conclave. Please don't ask us to predict.
7. One thing we do know is that the selection of the next pope, like the selection of all previous popes, will be under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, to whom we should give thanks for having provided us such a fine pope and from whom we should ask a worthy successor.