From the Vatican Radio – The Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, held a briefing for Journalists on Friday, during which an explanation was given of the law governing the period sede vacante and the process of election of the new Bishop of Rome. The Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, Bishop Juan Arrieta, presented the law, contained in the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici gregis and the June, 2007 motu proprio of Benedict XVI, which made modifications to the electoral process. Essentially, as of 8 PM Rome Time on Thursday, February 28, the See of Rome will be vacant.

A Professor of Canon Law at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, Fr. James Conn SJ, explained to Vatican Radio that, from that moment, the governance of the Church through the organs of the Roman Curia goes into an administrative holding pattern, which lasts until the election of a new Bishop of Rome, who, by virtue of his office, shall be the Church’s Universal Pastor. “There is an important canonical principle with regard to any sede vacante, [which is]: sede vacante nihil innovetur – ‘There is to be no innovation during a vacancy’ of any see. That principle [holds], and the College of Cardinals, all of them, would be the administrator of the Apostolic See in its vacancy.”

The process of electing a new Pope requires a two-thirds majority of voting Cardinals. If, however, after thirty-three ballots, there is no such qualified majority, the College must choose between the two candidates with the most votes. Regarding the question how soon the Conclave could begin, Bishop Arietta of Legislative texts explained that Pope Benedict could establish a date, though he would have to do so before his resignation takes effect. Fr. Lombardi confirmed once again that there is a motu proprio being studied at present that could introduce some modifications that might affect the date on which the Conclave could begin, though the document has yet to be signed and promulgated.

Pope Benedict XVI Coat of arms

Pope Benedict XVI Coat of armsThe coat of arms of the Holy See also changes during this period. Instead of the papal tiara over the keys (see left), the tiara is replaced with the umbraculum or ombrellino in Italian (see top). Papal Tiara or Triregnum has 3 crowns to indicate “the triple power of the Pope: father of kings, governor of the world and Vicar of Christ”. The Umbraculum symbolizes both the lack of a Pope and also the governance of the Camerlengo over the temporalities of the Holy See [Official name of a country for the Vatican]. Umbraculum was basically a umbrella used by the pope to provide shade when outdoor.