VATICAN CITY — The Catholic Church awoke Friday with no leader following the resignation of Benedict XVI, who pledged obedience to his successor and described himself as “simply a pilgrim” starting the final journey of his life.
Now begins a period known as the “sede vacante” or “vacant see” — the transition between the end of one papacy and the start of another.
During this limited time, several key players take charge of running the Holy See, guiding the College of Cardinals in their deliberations and organizing the conclave of cardinals whose votes elect Benedict’s successor.
With the 8 p.m. Thursday end of Benedict’s papacy, every department head in the Vatican lost his job — except for those whose offices are considered crucial for the smooth running of the transition period.
On Monday, the cardinals begin meetings to set the conclave date and discuss problems facing the Catholic church.
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 of 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. A priest of the Salesian order, Bertone was trained as a canon lawyer and taught in various Roman universities for several years before coming to work for the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Vatican’s doctrine office in 1995.
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. In one of his first official acts as dean, Sodano on Friday officially summoned cardinals to Rome to participate in the pre-conclave meetings, a formality given that most were already here. The first starts Monday at 9:30 a.m.
The dean oversees these 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 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.”
Still, Sodano and Benedict were known to have clashed when Benedict was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, particularly over the scandal-plagued Legion of Christ religious order. Sodano was a chief backer and protector of the Legion’s late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, even though the Vatican had known for years of solid allegations that he was sexually molesting his seminarians. Within Benedict’s first year in office, Maciel was sentenced by the Vatican to a lifetime of penance and prayers for his crimes. That same year Benedict named Bertone to replace the retiring Sodano as secretary of state.
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 shift was intentional. Under Guido Marini, papal Masses became far more reverent, with more Latin, Gregorian chants and the use of heavy silk-brocaded vestments of the pre-Vatican II church.
In changes introduced just before he resigned, Benedict made clear he wanted this more traditional vision of his papacy carried forward for the installation of a new pope. He called for the rites of installation to be separate from the liturgy itself and for the cardinals to make a public pledge of obedience to the new pope during the Mass.
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 — in Latin — 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 as the Vatican’s primary point man for Catholic-Muslim relations.