With the end of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, the time of the Sede Vacante starts next Thursday, February 28, at 8:00 pm. This is how the period is called, in which the office of the Pope is not occupied.
Typically, this period extends from the death of the head of church until his successor is elected. The term comes from Latin and literally means “empty chair”. During the papal transition, the College of Cardinals, eventually all 209 currently living Cardinals, are in charge of the church. Their powers are limited to tasks and decisions that can not be postponed. Laws issued by the Pope cannot be corrected or modified during this period.
Administrated by Cardinal Chamberlain
The interim government of the Church is taken over by the Cardinal Chamberlain (Camerlengo). The current Camerlengo is Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Together with three Cardinal assistants, that are chosen by lot and replaced every three days, he forms a so-called special congregation, wich decides, among other things, when the entire College of Cardinals shall meet for the first General Congregation, to prepare the Pope election.
The General Congregation meets daily at the Apostolic Palace, and is headed by the Dean of Cardinals Angelo Sodano. The College of Cardinals prepares in particular the election of the new Pope. The Pope election traditionally takes place in the Sistine Chapel under strictest security and confidentiality measures. However, during their stay in Rome, the Cardinals live – also during the time of the conclave – reasonably comfortable in the Vatican Guest House Santa Marta.
All Cardinals participating in the General Congregation, must swear an oath on the Gospel, to respect the rules and to absolute secrecy. The same applies to participants who are older than 80 years and may therefore not participate in the election of the new Pope. The cardinals swear, among other things, that they “will keep everything secret, which relates in any way to the election of the Pope.
The faithful are encouraged to pray
Even every single Catholic worldwide has a duty during the “Sede Vacante”. They are encouraged to pray for a swift, consentaneous and blessed election of the new Pope. The Vatican believes that this will be limited to March.
By no later than March 20, but likely much sooner, the Conclave of maximum 117 Cardinals under 80 years should meet for the papal elections. Probably, it will be only 116 Cardinals, as the Indonesian Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja (78) canceled his participation in the forthcoming papal election for health reasons.