Sede vacante: the See of Rome is Vacant

2013-02-28 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) As of 8 PM Rome Time (19:00 GMT) Thursday, February 28th, 2013, the See of Rome is vacant. The Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, is temporarily residing at Castel Gandolfo, in the palace used by Popes as a summer retreat. When renovations on the monastery inside the walls of Vatican City are complete, Benedict XVI will take up residence there. Though he has renounced the office of Bishop of Rome, along with all its powers and responsibilities, the Pope emeritus keeps the name he took at the beginning of his reign: Benedict XVI. He also continues to be styled, His Holiness. Listen to our report:

Fr. James J. Conn, SJ, who is Professor of Canon Law at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, spoke with Vatican Radio about a series of issues relating to the laws governing the transition, including what happens when the See of Peter becomes vacant: the so-called period sede vacante:

This Latin ablative absolute, which is exactly equivalent in Italian, means, literally, “the chair being empty”. In the Church and its canon law, it describes the vacancy of an episcopal chair or “see” occasioned by a bishop’s death, transfer, or accepted resignation. The law makes provision for the ordinary administration of a vacant local church or diocese through the appointment by the Holy See of an apostolic administrator or the election by the diocesan consultors of a diocesan administrator. There is an age-old principle that governs the sede vacante. It says: sede vacante nihil innovetur, which means, “when the see is vacant, let no innovations be made." In other words, nothing extraordinary should be done that would prejudice the next incumbent’s freedom.

What is special about a vacancy of the See of Peter?

First of all, as in the case of Pope Benedict, a Pope’s resignation from office must be accepted by no other authority. Second, the administration of the Apostolic See is entrusted not to a single administrator, but to the College of Cardinals. Nevertheless, the same principle of “no innovations” holds.

Fr. James Conn SJ, Professor of Canon Law at Rome’s Gregorian University, is the featured guest in a special Vatican Radio podcast series in which we discuss questions relating to the laws governing the Papal transition. Fr. Conn, SJ’s remarks reported here are part of the first interview segment to air in that series. In subsequent episodes, we also discuss the whys and wherefores of the official secrecy under which the Papal election takes place. We shall be bringing you all this in short features, each dealing with one or two specific questions. The next episode will deal with questions of Church governance during the sede vacante.