Work begins in view of the upcoming Conclave
“I hereby communicate officially to Your Eminence the news of the vacancy of the Apostolic See, through the abdication presented by Pope Benedict XVI, effective last evening, February 28, at 8:00 PM Rome time.
“In communicating this news to you, I hereby fulfill my duty to summon Your Eminence to the first of the General Congregations of the College of Cardinals, to be held on Monday, 4 March at 9:30 AM in the Hall of the Synod of Bishops, in Paul VI Hall.”
This excerpt is from a letter that all the members of the College of Cardinals – 207 in all between electors and non-electors – received Friday from the Dean of the College, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
According to the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis (No. 2), during the period in which the Apostolic See is vacant, the government of the Church is entrusted to the College of Cardinals solely for the carrying out of ordinary business and of matters, which cannot be postponed. The College is also responsible for “the preparation of everything necessary for the election of the new Pope”.
For this reason, the cardinals gather in the General Congregations, also termed “preparatory”. The first meeting has been set for Monday, March 4th. The time of the second meeting was not indicated in the Dean’s Letter, but has already been scheduled for 5:00 PM the same day.
Once gathered, the cardinals will set a pace for their work in the days to follow. It will principally be dedicated to examining questions concerning the Church and getting to know one another better through a time of mutual exchange, and all leads up to their decision on a date for the conclave, in which only the cardinal electors (115 at present) will participate.
On Saturday, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told journalists that a technical meeting to make arrangements for the Congregations has already taken place. In attendance, among others, were the Cardinal Dean Angelo Sodano, the Vice-Camerlengo Archishop Pierluigi Celata and the Secretary of the College of Cardinals, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri. They began “to discuss some of the topics to be covered, by taking up the Apostolic Constitution itself, which indicates how the Congregations are to be conducted and the first topics that are to be discussed.” Lombardi also stated, on the basis of information received from the Cardinal Dean, that “we should not expect to have the start-date of the conclave on Monday,” since the days will be dedicated fulfilling protocol requirements. It will also be necessary to await the cardinals who still may not have arrived in Rome.
“The College of Cardinals,” Lombardi explained, “needs a minimum amount of time for the cardinals to meet and establish a good working relationship together, without rushing a decision that would be binding and that would place undue time constraints on [the cardinals’] period of reflection”.
Meanwhile, on Thursday evening at 8:00 PM, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, sealed the papal apartments in the Vatican Apostolic Palace. He was accompanied by officials of the Apostolic Camera (among others, the Vice-Camerlengo Archbishop Celata and the Auditor General Bishop Sciacca), as well the “Substitute” for the Secretary of State, Archbishop Giovanni Becciu. On Friday, the Vice-Camerlengo, Archbishop Pierluigi Celata, sealed the papal apartments at St. John Lateran.
Images from Vatican Television Center showed Bertone carrying a “ferula”, a staff of authority given him when he ceased functioning as Secretary of State and assumed his duties as Camerlengo. In addition to the red silk ribbon and wax seal ensuring that the papal apartments remain closed, adhesive strips were also affixed to the elevator, which from the second floor (Secretary of State) ascends to the third, where the Pope resides. At 8:01 PM on Thursday evening, the Secretary of State sent word to all the diplomatic representatives to the Holy See informing them that the Chair of Peter was vacant and that, during the Sede vacante, all matters will be dealt with by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, and the Substitute for the Secretary of State, Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, in accord with their respective competency and powers.