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Vatican takes first steps running pope-less church

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 1 2013 11:58 a.m. MST

Workers sets up a stage for the media next to St Peter's Square ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's last public audience Wednesday, at the Vatican, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. Pope Benedict XVI has changed the rules of the conclave that will elect his successor, allowing cardinals to move up the start date if all of them arrive in Rome before the usual 15-day transition between pontificates. Benedict signed a legal document, issued Monday, with some line-by-line changes to the 1996 Vatican law governing the election of a new pope. It is one of his last acts as pope before resigning Thursday.

Oded Balilty, Associated Press

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 8 p.m. 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 here. 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 may 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.

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 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.

As secretary of state, Bertone has had Benedict's unwavering trust, but his legacy has been mixed. He had no diplomatic training coming into the Holy See's most important diplomatic and administrative post, and critics blame the gaffes of Benedict's papacy and the current state of the Vatican's dysfunction on Bertone's managerial shortcomings. The 2012 leaks of papal documents appeared aimed at undermining his authority further, by exposing the power struggles and turf battles that festered under his watch. In his last speech as pope, however, Benedict singled Bertone out for thanks.

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. The dean oversees the pre-conclave 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 will 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."

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