Pope Benedict XVI's Vatican Farewell Dominates European Media Headlines

Stefan Dal Pozzolo/Vatican Pool for Getty Images

Before a visit by Pope Benedict XVI to the U.S in 2008, Maher called the church "a child-abusing religious cult" whose leader "has a compound," "operates outside the bounds of the law," "used to be a Nazi and wears funny hats."

Meanwhile, France's "Le Monde" newspaper bumps the Catholic leader to make Steven Spielberg its top story.

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI was dominating Europe’s media for the last time Thursday, on his last day as the leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics.

Late Thursday, Benedict was scheduled to fly to Castel Gandolfo, just south of Rome, where he will live until April, when a house being refurbished for him in the Vatican will be completed. Benedict's departure from the Vatican was shown on cinema-sized television screens in St. Peter's Square, where crowds gathered to see him off. Benedict was scheduled to make a brief appearance before crowds outside the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo before fading into the background for a life Vatican press officials say will be filled with prayer, reflection and scholarship for the rest of his days.

Benedict will be the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years; the Vatican said he will be known as pontiff emeritus starting at 8:01 p.m. local time, after his abdication is official.

Now that he is retired, attention in the Vatican is expected to turn to assessing Benedict's legacy and the complex process of picking his successor.

STORY: Sinead O'Connor: 'Pope Benedict's Greatest Achievement Is This Act of Retiring'

On Wednesday, Benedict gave his last public address, warning his successor that when he becomes pope, he will completely lose his privacy. That has certainly been Benedict’s experience. The 85-year-old has been in the headlines in Europe almost every day since he stunned the world by announcing on Feb. 11 that he would resign, effective Thursday.

And Thursday was no different: Most Italian newspapers dedicated several pages of coverage to Benedict’s final day, including nearly minute-by-minute coverage of his planned activities along with quotes from Vatican experts, critics and the Catholic faithful.

Across Europe, the coverage was significant: Spain’s El Pais reported on its front page that Benedict pledged to be “unconditionally obedient” to the next pope, whoever he is, while the German tabloid Bild ran a headline that said, “The Last Day of Work for the German Pope,” with a second story reading “We were pope for 2,872 days.” In Paris’ Le Monde, where news that Steven Spielberg will head the next Cannes jury was the top story, the second story was about Benedict’s calling on Cardinals to meet in “harmony” to select their next leader.