Saturday, 23 February 2013



The Camerlengo H.E. Card. Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B.

H.E. Card. Saraiva Martins, C.M.F. with Frank Zammit

What is the role of the Cardinal ‘Camerlengo’?

The role of the Cardinal ‘Camerlengo’ is to keep under his responsibility the Holy See during the period known as ‘Sede Vacante’
. (H.E. Card. Jose Saraiva Martins, C.M.F.)

The Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church  is the administrator of the property and revenues of the Holy See; his responsibilities formerly included the fiscal administration of the Patrimony of St Peter. As regulated in the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, the Camerlengo is always a cardinal, though this was not the case prior to the 15th Century.

Extract from Apostolic Letter Pastor Bonus
Administrative Services
Apostolic Camera

Art. 171 — § 1. The Apostolic Camera, presided over by the cardinal camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, assisted by the vice-camerlengo and the other prelates of the Camera, chiefly exercises the functions assigned to it by the special law on the vacancy of the Apostolic See.

§ 2. 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.

A Cardinal Camerlengo certifying a papal death

Chief among the present responsibilities of the Camerlengo is the formal determination of the death of the reigning Pope; the traditional procedure for this was to strike gently the Pope's head three times with a silver hammer and to call his baptismal name.  After the Pope is declared dead, the Camerlengo takes possession of the Ring of the Fisherman and cuts it with shears in the presence of the Cardinals. This act symbolizes the end of the late Pope's authority, and prevents forging of documents which would appear to have the Pope's signature. The Camerlengo then notifies the appropriate officers of the Roman Curia and the Dean of the College of Cardinals. He is then involved with the preparations concerning the conclave and the Pope's funeral.

Until a successor Pope can be elected, the Camerlengo serves as acting head of State of  Vatican City. He is not, however, currently responsible for the government of the Cathilic Church during a sede vacante. Universi Dominici Gregis placed that task in the hands of the College of Cardinals (although this power of government is extremely limited, being merely enough to allow Church institutions to continue to operate and perform some basic functions without making any definitive decisions or appointments that are normally reserved to other powers delegated by the Pope). 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 persons who keeps their office durind a ‘Sede Vacante’ are the Camerlengo, the Vicar General of Rome and the Major Penitentiary.

Extract from Apostolic Letter Universi Dominici Gregis


1. During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, the College of Cardinals has no power or jurisdiction in matters which pertain to the Supreme Pontiff during his lifetime or in the exercise of his office; such matters are to be reserved completely and exclusively to the future Pope. I therefore declare null and void any act of power or jurisdiction pertaining to the Roman Pontiff during his lifetime or in the exercise of his office which the College of Cardinals might see fit to exercise, beyond the limits expressly permitted in this Constitution.

2. During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, the government of the Church is entrusted to the College of Cardinals solely for the dispatch of ordinary business and of matters which cannot be postponed (cf. No. 6), and for the preparation of everything necessary for the election of the new Pope. This task must be carried out in the ways and within the limits set down by this Constitution: consequently, those matters are to be absolutely excluded which, whether by law or by practice, come under the power of the Roman Pontiff alone or concern the norms for the election of the new Pope laid down in the present Constitution.

3. I further establish that the College of Cardinals may make no dispositions whatsoever concerning the rights of the Apostolic See and of the Roman Church, much less allow any of these rights to lapse, either directly or indirectly, even though it be to resolve disputes or to prosecute actions perpetrated against these same rights after the death or valid resignation of the Pope.12 All the Cardinals are obliged to defend these rights.

4. During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, laws issued by the Roman Pontiffs can in no way be corrected or modified, nor can anything be added or subtracted, nor a dispensation be given even from a part of them, especially with regard to the procedures governing the election of the Supreme Pontiff. Indeed, should anything be done or even attempted against this prescription, by my supreme authority I declare it null and void.

5. Should doubts arise concerning the prescriptions contained in this Constitution, or concerning the manner of putting them into effect, I decree that all power of issuing a judgment in this regard belongs to the College of Cardinals, to which I grant the faculty of interpreting doubtful or controverted points. I also establish that should it be necessary to discuss these or other similar questions, except the act of election, it suffices that the majority of the Cardinals present should concur in the same opinion.

6. In the same way, should there be a problem which, in the view of the majority of the assembled Cardinals, cannot be postponed until another time, the College of Cardinals may act according to the majority opinion.


Luigi Oreglia di Santo Stefano (1885–1913)

Francesco Salesio Della Volpe (1914–1916)

Pietro Gasparri (1916–1934)

Eugenio Pacelli (1935–1939), elected Pope Pius XII

Lorenzo Lauri (1939–1941)

Benedetto Aloisi Masella (1958–1970)

Jean-Marie Villot (1970–1979)

Paolo Bertoli (1979–1985)

Sebastiano Baggio (1985–1993)

Eduardo Martinez Somalo (1993–2007)

Tarcisio Bertone (since 4 April 2007)

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