Who's in Charge During the Interregnum

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 Cardinals.

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 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. 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. 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.