Who's in Charge?
Since the executive,
legislative, and judicial power of the Holy See resides entirely
with the Successor of Peter, all but the most ordinary work of the
Roman Curia ceases with his death. The Prefects, Presidents and
other heads of Roman dicasteries immediately find themselves out
of office. Their subordinates continue the ordinary workings of
the departments, submitting all matters to the College of
There are two exceptions, 1) the Camerlengo, who heads the Apostolic
Camera, the department with duties are directly connected with the
Vacancy of the Holy See, and 2) the Major Penitentiary, whose
important work for the good of souls continues.
It is the College
of Cardinals, therefore, which remains in charge during the
Interregnum. The Camerlengo and the other officials of the Apostolic
Camera oversee the dicasteries and report daily to the
College, which makes any decisions. The scope of such decisions,
however, is carefully delineated in the Apostolic Constitution
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
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
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. All the Cardinals are obliged to defend these
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.
The College may, however, interpret the norms when there is
a question of their meaning,
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.
Finally, this faculty of governing during the
Interregnum is exercised by the College in two kinds of gatherings,
the General Congregation and the Particular Congregation. The
General Congregations handle the more serious business of the
College, while the Particular Congregations handle the more mundane.