VATICAN CITY — The Vatican took the first steps of governing a Catholic Church without a pope on Friday, making some ceremonial and practical moves to formalize the end of one pontificate and prepare for the conclave to start the next.
Benedict XVI’s resignation Thursday opened what is known as the “sede vacante” or “vacant see” — the transition period between papacies when a few key Vatican officials take charge of running the church.
The dean of the College of Cardinals formally summoned his fellow “princes” of the church to Rome for an initial pre-conclave meeting on Monday — something of a formality given that many of them are already there. But in a letter Friday, Cardinal Angelo Sodano also made clear that the conclave date won’t be set until they have all arrived, meaning it might still be some time before a date is settled on.
Separately, the deputy to the camerlengo — who administers the Vatican during the transition — took symbolic possession of one of the papal basilicas in Rome. For obvious reasons, the camerlengo will not take possession of the main papal residence outside Rome — Castel Gandolfo — since that is Benedict’s current retirement home.
In one of his last acts as pope, Benedict loosened the rules on the timeframe for the camerlengo to take possession of papal holdings, precisely to allow him to live out his first few months in retirement in what is an official papal residence.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the chamberlain, took over the day-to-day running the Holy See as soon as the papacy ended.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, oversees pre-conclave meetings, at which the problems of the church are discussed.