(by Nina Fabrizio). Vatican City, March 1 - With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday, cardinals from around the world are descending on Rome to begin the process of electing a new pope. But in the meantime, the Catholic Church will not be without government. To make up for the guidance of the Pope, members of the College of Cardinals will continue the work of running the ordinary administration of the Holy See and the Vatican. And, according to canon law and the apostolic constitution "Universi Dominici Gregis" issued by John Paul II in 1996, some of the figures assume tasks of special importance in managing the transition from one pontificate to the next. One of the most important positions is held by the Camerlengo, who is currently Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Bertone was appointed to this position by Pope Benedict XVI in April 2007. His tasks would normally include confirming the death of the pope, which isn't necessary in this situation where the pope has merely retired. The Camerlengo also is responsible for administering the Church’s property and finances during the sede vacante (vacant papal seat), and destroying the pope's fisherman’s ring. That ritual was at one time very important for security, as the ring once served as the official seal of the papacy. Another key position is that of the Dean of the College of Cardinals. At present, this is held by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 85, a senior cardinal elected by the cardinal bishops and who presides over the general congregations of cardinals during the sede vacante. Part of his job is to notify international leaders and the diplomatic corps of the pope's death, when he also must summon cardinals from around the world to Rome for conclave. When the Dean is under 80, he also chairs the conclave inside the Sistine Chapel; however, because of Sodano's age, his tasks within the conclave will be taken by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re. Another important job is that of the Senior Cardinal Deacon, who is currently French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, 69, who was created cardinal by Pope John Paul II in October 2003. He will proclaims the name of the newly elected pope to the public and give a "spiritual exhortation" to cardinals in conclave if a pope hasn’t been elected after three days of voting. These positions are becoming increasingly important as cardinals begin their discussions to create a road map leading to the conclave electing the next pope. Meetings set for March 4 are expected to determine the date when conclave will begin, with some speculating that the target date will be one week later, on March 11. Normally, conclaves cannot begin until at least 15 days after a papacy's end, a rule developed because popes almost always die in office. However, because Benedict announced his retirement plans on February 11, he recently ruled that such notice has given cardinals from around the world enough time reach Rome for the crucial vote to begin early. "The cardinals will be permitted to bring forward the start of the conclave, if they are all present," says the papal decree, called 'motu proprio' in Latin. Some reports have suggested the Church may want to accelerate proceedings in order to have a new pope installed before Palm Sunday on March 24, so he can preside at the Holy Week services leading up to Easter.
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