VATICAN CITY Sharing lunch is rarely historic, except perhaps when the two people dining are a living pope and his predecessor.
On Saturday, the pope emeritus, Benedict XVI who broke church tradition by resigning rather than dying in office ate with Pope Francis at Castel Gandolfo, the hilltop villa where Benedict is living, while reporters waited for scraps of news about the meeting.
Vatican officials gave no word about what the past and present leaders of the Roman Catholic Church discussed, and even rebuffed questions about what they ate. The Vatican did say, however, that Benedict offered his successor the "place of honor" during shared prayers. Francis demurred, suggesting they kneel side by side as "brothers." Their first embrace, a spokesman said, was "wonderful." Both wore white, the traditional color of the pope's vestments.
But the reality of a pope and an emeritus pope will probably be more complicated, a fact driven home recently with the publication in one of Italy's racier gossip magazines of paparazzi-style photos of Benedict, 85, strolling with his personal secretary through the Castel Gandolfo private garden.
The photographs were a vivid reminder of the uncharted territory the Vatican has entered, and the potential trouble it could bring.
Virtually every day highlights the strangeness of the circumstances and raises new questions about what the relationship between the two men will be, especially when Benedict moves back to a residence at the Vatican that is being renovated.
During this transition, the new pope, the cardinals and the Vatican have gone out of their way to express affection and gratitude toward Benedict. But each time they do, it does more to deepen the complexity of the relationship than to clarify it.
Francis telephoned Benedict immediately after his election on March 13, before appearing on the balcony at St. Peter's Square, where the new pope publicly asked the crowd to join him in praying for "our bishop emeritus." On Tuesday, the feast day of St. Joseph, Francis called Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, to wish him a happy name day.
It has been an unexpected amount of attention lavished on a man who had pledged to live out his days "hidden from the world." As Francis' papacy lengthens, the reasons for Benedict's eventual seclusion inside the Vatican become clearer.
Vatican experts said the arrangement not only provides a secure environment for Benedict but also effectively avoids setting up a power center rivaling the Vatican. And it discourages any following that could coalesce around the pope emeritus in a church mindful of the painful schisms of its history.
The Vatican has rejected any prospect of meddling by Benedict. But concern remains among some cardinals, Vatican officials and church experts.
"There is a duality, and even if the old pope says he will retire from the world, he will be an awkward presence," said Roberto Rusconi, a church historian.