The fisherman's ring -- the pope's signet -- is seen on the right hand of Pope Benedict XVI as he celebrates Mass in Havana, Cuba, March 28, 2012. When a pope dies or resigns the ring is destroyed in a special ceremony, usually carried out in private. CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo

Ring of retired Pope Benedict no longer can be used as seal

By  Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service
  • March 7, 2013

VATICAN CITY - When Pope Benedict XVI officially stepped down from office Feb. 28, his wardrobe changed -- right down to the ring on his finger.

He simply stopped wearing the familiar red shoes and the traditional white cassock with a white cape on his shoulder. He also stopped wearing the fisherman's ring, one of the main symbols of the papal office, and went back to wearing an episcopal ring he wore as a cardinal.

But it was not enough to simply leave the papal ring behind.

According to the rules governing the interregnum and election of a pope, the College of Cardinals must "arrange for the destruction of the fisherman's ring and of the lead seal with which apostolic letters are dispatched."

On March 6, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters that this "destruction" had been completed, although he explained that the ring is not smashed or destroyed completely; rather, two deep cuts are made in its face so that it can no longer be used as a seal.

Retired Pope Benedict received the ring at his inauguration Mass along with his pallium, the woolen stole symbolizing a bishop's authority. Both were based on ancient designs.

The gold ring, similar to the old rings that popes used also as seals, was designed by the Rome Association of Goldsmiths. It had Pope Benedict's name etched on it and a scene of St. Peter casting out his net, symbolizing how popes are successors of the apostle Peter.

Many Catholics pay their respects to the pope by kneeling and kissing his ring.

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that the earliest mention of the fisherman's ring worn by popes is in a letter to Pope Clement IV wrote in 1265 to his nephew, stating that popes were to seal their private letters with "the seal of the fisherman."

During the 15th century, the papal ring also was used to seal official papal documents known as briefs.

A Catholic Register Special Feature - Pope Benedict XVI steps down

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