With the July 5 death of Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the office of camerlengo is now vacant. A sensitive position, above all in the period between the death of a pope and the election of his successor, the Church awaits Pope Francis’ nomination of a new camerlengo.
The camerlengo is one of two head officials of the Roman Curia who do not lose their office while the papacy is vacant. The camerlengo administers Church finances and property during the interregnum.
However, Francis could choose to do as did Ven. Pius XII in 1941 and not nominate a new camerlengo. At the death of Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri, Ven. Pius XII did not nominate a successor, and at his death in 1958, the cardinals elected, at the beginning of the sede vacante, Cardinal Benedetto Aloisi Masella.
The position of the camerlengo is regulated by the apostolic constitutions Pastor bonus and Universi dominici gregis.
Paragraph 17 of Universi dominici gregis establishes that “the Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church must officially ascertain the Pope’s death and “must also place seals on the Pope’s study and bedroom”, and later “the entire papal apartment.”
The camerlengo is also responsible for notifying the cardinal vicar for Rome of the pope’s death, who then notifies the people of Rome by special announcement. He takes possession of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican and Palaces of the Lateran and of Castel Gandolfo and manages their administration.
“During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, the Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church has the duty of safeguarding and administering the goods and temporal rights of the Holy See, with the help of the three Cardinal Assistants, having sought the views of the College of Cardinals, once only for less important matters, and on each occasion when more serious matters arise,” the constitution states.
After being appointed, the new camerlengo will swear before the pope, who will give him a scepter, a symbol of the authority of the camerlengo. The current scepter, covered in red velvet, dates to the papacy of Benedict XV.