VATICAN CITY — As the sun set on Rome and on his turbulent eight-year papacy, Pope Benedict XVI, a shy theologian who never seemed entirely at home in the limelight, was whisked by helicopter into retirement Thursday.
But while Benedict, 85, retires to a life of prayer, study, walks in the garden and piano practice, he leaves in his wake a Vatican hierarchy facing scandals and intrigue that are casting a shadow over the cardinals entrusted with electing his successor in a conclave this month.
Even as he met with the cardinals on his final day as pope, pledging "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor and urging the cardinals to "work like an orchestra" harmonizing for the good of the church, the discord was apparent.
On Thursday, the Vatican confirmed reports that it had ordered wiretaps on the phones of some Vatican officials as part of a leaks investigation. Other cardinals were increasingly outspoken about the crisis of governance during Benedict's papacy.
That failing is expected to be much in the cardinals' minds as they begin meeting informally Monday to discuss the state of the papacy and determine when to start the conclave, which could be as soon as next week.
In his final blessing to the faithful gathered outside the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo where he will live for several months, Benedict appeared tired, and even relieved, saying that from now on "I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth."
His predecessor, John Paul II, wasted away with Parkinson's disease; Benedict, whose life's work was aimed at reconciling faith and reason, opted for a short farewell.
Earlier, thousands of people stood in a hushed St. Peter's Square, forming half-moon crowds around giant video screens showing the pope's departure. Many looked up and waved as his helicopter circled the square.
"Viva il Papa!" several shouted. One banner read simply, in German, "Danke!!!"
Katie Martin, 29, an aspiring firefighter from Manhattan Beach, Calif., said she delayed her visit to Rome by a week to witness the historic event.
"I love my faith," she said. "I love my church. I have a great love for the Holy Father."
Martin said she was sad to see Benedict's papacy end.
His critics say that on his watch, the Vatican suffered a profound crisis of governance. On Thursday, Panorama magazine reported that the Vatican Secretariat of State had ordered wiretaps on the phones of several Vatican prelates as part of an investigation into the scandal in which confidential documents were leaked to the news media and the author of a tell-all book.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Thursday that magistrates of the Vatican "might have authorized some wiretaps or some checks," but nothing on a significant scale.
The idea of "an investigation that creates an atmosphere of fear of mistrust that will now affect the conclave has no foundation in reality," he said.
Earlier this week, he said that the pope decided that a dossier on the leaks affair compiled by three cardinals would be shown only to the cardinals entering the conclave.
Although Benedict has said that he is retiring "freely and for the good of the church," leaving its guidance to someone younger and stronger than he, the scandals have weighed on the cardinals. Vatican experts also say that the very notion that a pope can retire is bound to condition the voting.
In one of his concluding acts Thursday, Benedict addressed more than 100 cardinals who will elect his successor.
He told them: "Among you is also the future pope, whom I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience."