The Vatican announced today that Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo has resigned from the office of camerlengo. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, has been appointed in his place.
As I wrote in my long blog entry on papal election and succession, the camerlengo (or “chamberlain”) has no official duties until the death of the pope.
The day-to-day business of the Vatican will become the responsibility of the Camerlengo, or chamberlain … . He becomes the administrative leader, and all the decisions that belong to the Pope alone—such as appointment of bishops, major new documents, canonizations, and so on—are suspended to wait for the new pope. There are other restrictions as well as [Universi Dominici Gregis] says: “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.”
His first job is to verify that the pope is dead and then to call all cardinal-electors to Rome. He then oversees the funeral for the pontiff and carries out other ceremonial duties, such as breaking the Fisherman’s Ring, the official papal seal. During the conclave, the camerlengo and three cardinals—one from each of the three ranks (cardinal-bishops, -priests, and -deacons)—run the affairs of the Holy See. The three cardinal-assistants change every three days.
The conclave and the papal election itself are the responsibility of the cardinal-dean, the senior cardinal-bishop who leads the college of cardinals.