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Rome Reports

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Keys: Camerlengo and Cardinal Dean


Following the death of Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran in early July, the Vatican Camerlengo position currently sits vacant. In addition, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, is now 90 years old. With both of these offices to be filled in the future, their significance cannot be understated. 

WHAT IS A CAMERLENGO?

Camerlengo comes from a Latin word meaning “chamber officer.” Thus, it's the cardinal responsible for safeguarding and administering the temporal goods and rights of the Holy See at a specific time – in the event of a papal death or resignation. 

JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Editor of Crux

“Historically, the camerlengo was the person who kind of ran the Catholic Church during a 'sede vacante' - which is the period after one pope dies, or resigns, and another is elected - specifically to administer the financial affairs of the Vatican and the Holy See during that period.”

HOW IS HE APPOINTED?

The camerlengo is traditionally appointed by the Holy Father. However, if the position sits vacant at the time of a pontiff's death, the College of Cardinals holds a secret vote for interim camerlengo. 

WHAT ARE THE RESPONSIBILITIES?

The camerlengo's most important role is during a Vacant See, usually the period after a pontiff has died. In this case, he is one of only two officials who retain their positions in the Curia.

JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Editor of Crux

“There are a few very basic responsibilities left for the camerlengo, but most of that has been parceled out. Really, the only ceremonial role of significance left to the camerlengo is that he still is the official who formally certifies the pope's death, removes his ring and shatters it, so that no one can falsify documents using the pope's seal.”

In addition, he must notify the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, who will inform the people of Rome of the Holy Father's death. 

During the vacancy, the camerlengo acts as the Vatican City head of state, notifying the College of Cardinals of information normally relayed to the pope. 

JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Editor of Crux

“This office has now been vacant for several months, since the death of French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran. I honestly don't think Pope Francis or anyone in the Vatican perceives any particular urgency about appointing a successor.”

WHAT IS A CARDINAL DEAN?

The Cardinal Dean presides over the College of Cardinals, which is responsible for electing the pope. Although the dean has no power over the other cardinals, he is viewed as a first among equals.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF CARDINAL DEAN?

During the death of a pope, he is the person who administers the oath of secrecy and presides over a conclave to elect the next pope. The dean will also be the person to accept the election and ask the newest pope what name he will take. 

JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Editor of Crux

“The most important role the dean performs is that he presides over what are known as the General Congregation meetings, which are meetings that all of the cardinals who have already made their way to Rome, have everyday before they actually go into the consistory. Those general congregation meetings are extraordinarily important because that's where the cardinals kind of talk out what they see as the issues facing the Church right now and the kind of man they need to face those issues.”

HOW IS THE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS COMPOSED?

As its name implies, the College of Cardinals is composed of cardinals, who collaborate with the pope and assist him by holding offices that ensure “the daily care of the universal Church.”

Within the College, there are three orders of cardinals. The episcopal order, the presbyteral, and the diaconal. The Dean is from the episcopal order, which is technically the highest level, but each role is assigned to all the bishops according to his parish in Rome