For Catholics, leaderless transition period begins

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 1 2013 9:05 p.m. MST

Nuns wait for Pope Benedict XVI to greet the crowd from the window of the Pope's summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, the scenic town where he will spend his first post-Vatican days and make his last public blessing as pope,Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — The Catholic Church has awoken with no leader following Benedict XVI's resignation, in which he pledged obedience to his successor and described himself as "simply a pilgrim" starting the final part 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 election of a new pope.

During these few days — no more than 20 — a few key players take charge running the Holy See, guiding the College of Cardinals in their deliberations and organizing the conclave to elect Benedict's successor.

In one of his first official acts as dean, Cardinal Angelo Sodano on Friday officially summons cardinals to Rome to participate in the conclave, a formality given that most are already here.

And in one of his first official acts as camerlengo, or the chamberlain who actually runs the Holy See in the transition, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone sealed Benedict's apartment in the Apostolic Palace on Thursday night. It will not be reopened until a new pope is elected.

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 crucial for the smooth running of the transition period itself.

Cardinals on Monday will begin formal meetings to set the date for the conclave and discuss problems facing the church; major topics of discussion are expected to be the report Benedict commissioned into the leaks of sensitive Vatican documents and the dysfunction currently reigning in the Vatican bureaucracy.

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