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Vatican takes 1st steps running a pope-less church

Published: Saturday, March 2, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican took the first steps of governing a Catholic Church without a pope on Friday, making some ceremonial and practical moves to formalize the end of one pontificate and prepare for the conclave to start the next.

Benedict XVI’s resignation Thursday opened what is known as the “sede vacante” or “vacant seat” – the transition period between papacies when a few key Vatican officials take charge of running the church.

The dean of the College of Cardinals formally summoned his fellow “princes” of the church to Rome for an initial pre-conclave meeting Monday – something of a formality given that many of them are already here. But in a letter Friday, Cardinal Angelo Sodano also made clear that the conclave date won’t be set until they have all arrived, meaning it may still be some time before a date is settled on.

Separately, the deputy to the camerlengo – who administers the Vatican during the transition – took symbolic possession of one of the papal basilicas in Rome.

Here are the top figures who will run the church in the coming days:

THE CAMERLENGO: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The camerlengo, or chamberlain, takes over the day-to-day running the Holy See as soon as the papacy ends. He places the seal on the pope’s study and bedroom, and takes possession of the Apostolic Palace, “safeguarding and administering the goods and temporal rights of the Holy See” until a new pope is elected. On Thursday night, Bertone sealed the papal apartment, which will not be reopened until a new pope is elected. Benedict in 2007 gave the camerlengo job to Bertone, 78, a natural choice, given that Bertone is currently the Vatican No. 2 as secretary of state and runs the Vatican bureaucracy anyway.

THE DEAN OF THE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS: Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

The dean is the senior member of the College of Cardinals, the so-called “princes” of the church whose main task is to elect a pope. The dean oversees the pre-conclave meetings, at which the problems of the church are discussed, and has duties inside the conclave itself, including asking the newly elected pontiff if he accepts the job. But Sodano is 85 and cannot vote, so some of those duties will shift to the sub-dean. Burly and sociable, the Italian Sodano was Pope John Paul II’s longtime secretary of state. As dean, he spoke on behalf of all the cardinals in giving a final farewell to Benedict on Thursday, thanking him for his “selfless service.”

THE MASTER OF LITURGICAL CEREMONIES: Monsignor Guido Marini.

The master of liturgical ceremonies runs the religious side of the conclave and the installation Mass for the new pope, all of them carefully choreographed rituals. He is by the side of the dean when the newly elected pope is asked if he accepts the election. And as the main witness and notary, he draws up the formal document certifying the new pope’s name and that he has accepted the job. Benedict appointed Marini to the job in 2007, replacing Monsignor Piero Marini who for two decades was Pope John Paul II’s right-hand man for all things liturgical.

THE PROTO-DEACON: Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.

The proto-deacon’s main task is to announce to the world that a pope has been elected. He shouts “Habemus Papam!” (“We have a pope!”) from the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square after the white smoke has snaked up from the Sistine Chapel chimney. He then introduces the new pope along with the name the pope has chosen. The French-born Tauran is a veteran Vatican diplomat who served in the Dominican Republic and Lebanon.

He currently heads the Vatican’s office for interreligious dialogue – in other words the Vatican’s primary point man for Catholic-Muslim relations. Benedict appointed him proto-deacon in 2011.

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