Discuss as:

Cardinal Dolan: Pope Benedict 'fragile' on last day of papacy

Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan talks about Pope Benedict XVI's final meeting with the cardinals, calling it "a very tender moment" and "mixed feelings" among the cardinals about the upcoming conclave to select a new pope.

Recounting a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in the final hours of his papacy on Thursday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan described a melancholy mood and a tender moment with the “fragile’’ pope.

“I don’t mind telling you it was kind of somber for me,’’ Dolan told Savannah Guthrie in Rome on TODAY Thursday. “I love him very much. He means the world. He’s like the daddy of the family, and to see this gentle, learned, loving, holy man, to see him very fragile, to see him having made what I consider a remarkably humble and courageous decision, it was very moving. It was a very tender moment.”

With Benedict’s tenure coming to an end after his surprise abdication on Feb. 11, the focus turns to who will be the next pope. There is no set date for when the conclave of cardinals to choose the next pope will begin, but Dolan said that on Monday, the general congregation of cardinals will begin to determine when the conclave will be held.

“There’s kind of a mixed feeling, if I’m detecting it right,’’ Dolan said. “I’m a rookie. I’ve never participated in a conclave before, so you hear the cardinals say there’s a strong desire to have a new pope as soon as possible. For that to happen in the most prudent, enlightened way, we need some time of prayer, reflection and getting to know each other.’’

Under old church law, the conclave couldn’t start until March 15, but an amendment this week will allow the cardinals to push up the date as long as all 115 electors are in place.

“I’m finding myself on two levels,’’ Dolan said. “First of all is mourning the departure of Pope Benedict and celebrating what’s already I would claim is his great legacy. Only now am I beginning to concentrate on the ‘who’ (of Benedict’s successor).  There are some people that come to my mind. You would not be surprised that I don’t feel comfortable sharing them with you.

“I’m not afraid to say that all the cardinals are praying for guidance, beginning to look more closely at other cardinals, and are looking forward to some days of prayer (and) reflection, so that the decision we make will be a good one.”

Dolan, who is the archbishop of New York, did not believe he was a candidate to succeed Pope Benedict, saying his chances were “about the same as me taking A-Rod’s place on third base for the New York Yankees.’’

Pope Benedict’s final day comes three days after Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric resigned amid allegations of inappropriate behavior made by priests. However, Dolan did not feel Pope Benedict’s abdication was a mistake amid negative headlines for the church.

“I would have such high regard for the Holy Father’s sense of discernment, prayer and decision-making that I would not think it was a mistake,’’ Dolan said. “Look, there’s always been sin, there’s always been scandal, there’s always been some corruption in the members of the church. At a time like this when the church is under such intense scrutiny, those are obviously going to come through. We refer to the church as the mystical body of Christ. There are warts on the mystical body, there are scars, and as St. Augustine says, often the mystical body of Christ limps because the church is in pain. The church is sometimes wounded, and we see that now.”

At exactly 8 p.m. today, Pope Benedict XVI will become the second pope in history to leave the position, ending an eight-year reign sometimes rocked by scandal. NBC's Keir Simmons reports.

Read more:

'I will continue to be close to you': Benedict XVI bids quiet farewell to cardinals

Pope to wear white, but no red shoes after abdication

'Amateur hour': Vatican conclave drama is one for the history books, experts say

Inside the Vatican: The $8 billion global institution where nuns answer the phones