The Camerlengo of the holy Roman Church

The Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church (“Chamberlain”) is the administrator of the property and the revenues of the Holy See, and is always a Cardinal.

Tarcisio Pietro Evasio Bertone, S.D.B. (born 2 December 1934) currently serves as Cardinal Secretary of State and Camerlengo.

Until a successor Pope can be elected, the Camerlengo serves as acting head of State of the Vatican City. He is not, however, currently responsible for the government of the Catholic Church during a sede vacante. Universi Dominici Gregis placed that task in the hands of the College of Cardinals.

The Camerlengo, though, does keep his office during the sede vacante, as opposed to the rest of the Roman Curia, and functions as the executive director of Vatican operations answerable to the College of Cardinals during an interregnum, primarily to carry out the College’s decisions with regard to arranging the funeral of the late pope and the events leading up to the conclave. The only other person who keeps his office is the Major Penitentiary.

Up until recent times, upon the death of a Pope, it was the duty of the Cardinal Chamberlain to perform a ceremony officially identifying the body of the deceased. Accompanied by the officials of the Apostolic Camera, the Camerlengo approaches the death-bed of the pope. The face of the pope, which had been covered with a white cloth, is revealed. The Camerlengo and all those present kneel in meditation. They rise and the Camerlengo performs the ritual of absolution. The Dean of the College of Notaries reads a document called the ‘Rogito’, the papal equivalent of a death certificate and record of the proccedings of that day. The Fisherman’s Ring is handed over to the Camerlengo by the Papal Maestro di Camera, who is its usual custodian. The ring is shown to the Cardinals present at the First Consistory after the death of the pope, and is defaced in their presence, along with the official papal seal.

When the Apostolic See falls vacant, it is the right and the duty of the Cardinal Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, personally or through his delegate, to request reports from all the administrations dependent on the Holy See on their patrimonial and economic status as well as information on any extraordinary business that may at that time be under way, and, from the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See he shall request a financial statement on income and expenditures of the previous year and the budgetary estimates for the following year. He is obliged to submit these reports and estimates to the College of Cardinals.

The Particular Congregation is made up of the Cardinal Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church and three Cardinals, one from each Order, chosen by lot from among the Cardinal electors already present in Rome. The office of these Cardinals, called Assistants, ceases at the conclusion of the third full day, and their place is taken by others, also chosen by lot and having the same term of office, also after the election has begun.

The Particular Congregations are to deal only with questions of lesser importance which arise on a daily basis or from time to time. But should there arise more serious questions deserving fuller examination, these must be submitted to the General Congregation. Moreover, anything decided, resolved or refused in one Particular Congregation cannot be revoked, altered or granted in another; the right to do this belongs solely to the General Congregation, and by a majority vote.

According to the provisions of Article 6 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, at the death of the Pope all the heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia — the Cardinal Secretary of State and the Cardinal Prefects, the Archbishop Presidents, together with the members of those Dicasteries — cease to exercise their office. An exception is made for the Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church and the Major Penitentiary, who continue to exercise their ordinary functions, submitting to the College of Cardinals matters that would have had to be referred to the Supreme Pontiff.

As soon as he is informed of the death of the Supreme Pontiff, the Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church must officially ascertain the Pope’s death, in the presence of the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, of the Cleric Prelates of the Apostolic Camera and of the Secretary and Chancellor of the same; the latter shall draw up the official death certificate. The Camerlengo must also place seals on the Pope’s study and bedroom, making provision that the personnel who ordinarily reside in the private apartment can remain there until after the burial of the Pope, at which time the entire papal apartment will be sealed; he must notify the Cardinal Vicar for Rome of the Pope’s death, whereupon the latter shall inform the People of Rome by a special announcement; he shall notify the Cardinal Archpriest of the Vatican Basilica; he shall take possession of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican and, either in person or through a delegate, of the Palaces of the Lateran and of Castel Gandolfo, and exercise custody and administration of the same; he shall determine, after consulting the heads of the three Orders of Cardinals, all matters concerning the Pope’s burial, unless during his lifetime the latter had made known his wishes in this regard; and he shall deal, in the name of and with the consent of the College of Cardinals, with all matters that circumstances suggest for safeguarding the rights of the Apostolic See and for its proper administration. During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, the Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church has the duty of safeguarding and administering the goods and temporal rights of the Holy See, with the help of the three Cardinal Assistants, having sought the views of the College of Cardinals, once only for less important matters, and on each occasion when more serious matters arise.

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