Pope Benedict no more: What you need to know about the ‘sede vacante’

The Catholic Church entered a period called the sede vacante, the empty chair, a period between two papacies.

Benedict is pope no more. He is now His Holiness Benedict XVI, pope-emeritus.

At 8 p.m. Roman time, 2 p.m. Eastern, the Catholic Church entered a period called the sede vacante, (the empty chair). It is an interregnum, a period between two papacies. The church’s spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ noted last week that the church goes into a “holding pattern” until the conclave and election. The Swiss Guards standing at attention by Benedict have left their post, “their service protecting the head of the Catholic Church over — for now,” notes the Associated Press. Church watcher Rocco Palmo also adds that at the same time, “in keeping with centuries of tradition, the papal apartment will [have been] sealed until the next pontiff takes possession of it.”

So what do cardinals do when their leader has left the building? As a matter of policy, very little: Don’t expect pronouncements on female priests or a changed teaching on contraception—even without a pope, it won’t be cardinals gone wild. Lomabrdi explained “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.’”

Benedict’s resignation was innovative enough. His abdication, the first in nearly 600 years, seems to have thrown even in-the-know Catholic leaders. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Matt Lauer on the day of the announcement that he was ‘startled’ by the decision. The AP reports that “Sydney Cardinal George Pell has caused a stir by openly saying the resignation has been ‘slightly destabilizing’ for the church.”

Benedict attempted to calm those waters Thursday by telling a gathering of cardinals that he promised the future pope among them his “unconditional reverence and obedience.” Although he will no longer wear his famous red shoes, Benedict will wear the papacy’s white cassock.

The pope-emeritus, who referred to himself as “simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth,” is heading off into a near-unprecedented papal retirement. Thursday evening he arrived by helicopter at his new home 15 miles outside Rome.
Castel Gandolfo will serve as his residence until renovations are finished at Mater Ecclesiae monastery, inside Vatican City’s walls, which was until recently occupied by a group of cloistered nuns.

Benedict’s future seems stable enough, if not the “papal version of Boca,” as the Post’s Jason Horowitz wrote.

But what’s next for the Catholic Church? And when is that secret conclave taking place?

Although he’s being asked constantly, the church’s spokesman is so far staying mum. “I’m asked when it will be 10 times a day, at least,” Lombardi said.

Want to know more about the conclave and the politics of the papacy? Read the latest:

After pope’s farewell, attention shifts to conclave

Image courtesy of Sergey Gabdurakhmanov.

About

Elizabeth Tenety Elizabeth Tenety is the former editor of On Faith, where she produced "Divine Impulses," On Faith’s video interview series. She studied Theology and Government at Georgetown University and received her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New York native, Elizabeth grew up in the home of Catholic news junkies where, somewhere in between watching the nightly news and participating in parish life, she learned to ponder both the superficial and the sacred.
  • Captains2012

    Pope goes the weasel…….

  • wilhelmogle

    So, now he is Pontifex-Emeritus. I admire him for not sticking it out to the bitter end. John Paul II was incomprehensibe in his last years.
    I just hope the next Pope restores the coronation with the Triple Tiara, even if most people (catholics included) have no idea what it means. And that he intends to enforce strict discipline among the clergy. Canon Law is not a list of suggestions.

  • citizenw

    Can we get Clint Eastwood to have chat with the “sede vacante” again?

  • haveaheart

    It’s revealing that the ex-pope will continue to live on diplomatically protected lands. That will surely frustrate any attempts to involve him in legal investigations of the rampant scandals throughout the church.

  • lookahead

    The Church most certainly does not go into a “holding pattern” between popes. All the great works of mercy continue, as does the sinning. The speaker is talking about the top level hierarchy who are actually far from “holding.” They are now engaged in the fun process of election of a Pope, the most democratic thing they ever do. (Thay have faith in democracy only when it comes to selecting their supreme leader; oh, the irony.)

    The Church is quite used to the “interregnum.” Happens every pope. The hierarchy have conniptions; the secular press goes into papal overdrive; ordinary Catholics attend Mass and behave as usual while awaiting with interest to see whether any new ground will be broken up in the stratosphere.

  • Watcher1

    That’s the plan.

  • lookahead

    Nonsense.

  • lookahead

    Hey, that’s funny.

  • lookahead

    Actually, Canon Law is a list of suggestions, quite different from dogma.

  • HELLO

    Why do you think the Vatican is a nation? To be untouchable.

  • tidelandermdva

    Now we know the true meaning of “ex cathedra”
    “Ratzinger has left the building.”

    I’m disappointed in this analysis, which says nothing more than there is no pope. I was expecting an analysis of the future of the Church without Ratzinger.

    Actually, what I was really expecting was an asymptotic curve.

  • reformthesystem

    That was the idea in the 1860s when the monarchy known as the papal states had to turn its substantial territory over to the newly formed Republic of Italy. That’s when the whole idea of infallibility was brought to the fore.

  • boredbybaseball

    To answer your question: Who’s running the church?

    Jesus Christ is the head the Church. For me that question was answered in the first book I read, the Baltimore Catechism in 1935.

  • jeanfransg

    It must be tough to have to “resign” a position of enormous power, at least that is what they make 1 billion fools believe!
    However, it must be doubly galling to have your worst enemy (and former colleague), Hans Kueng, pronounce you a total failure as leader of this corrupt (mentally, physically as well as financially) organization.

  • reformthesystem

    The office of Pontifex Maximus is a lot older than Christianity. During the Roman Republic, the Comitia Tributa (assembly of soldier citizens) elected the pontifexes, who served for life. The Pontifex Maximus was their chief. During the Empire, the office of pontifex maximus was generally taken over by the Emperor. Originally, the Pontifex Maximus oversaw the state religious cult as a whole and didn’t really oversee particular ones of the various polytheistic cults. They were also responsible for the 18 Vestal Virgins.

    However, their main duty was to provide ‘peace with the gods’ by interpreting omens, sometimes through official augures performing auguries, by controlling and keeping the official calendar, and by overseeing funerals. That made them responsible for an enormous collection of omens (annales maximi) that were constantly recorded and collected. These heavenly signs would be written down along with the accompanying events and used to ascertain the favor of the gods. Doing so allowed succeeding generations of priests and magistrates to understand the historic will of the gods and interpret future events in the light of past patterns. So bishop Ratzinger could record the recent lightening strike among the annales maximi for use by his successors. The US Supreme Court these days could very well be more efficient if they turned to auguries instead of some of the 5 to 4 rulings by which they turn USA law into senseless shambles.

  • jeanfransg

    Of course the Baltimore Catechism (whatever that may represent), is lying!
    There is no record whatsoever, of the man from nazareth having any idea of the church as we know it today. His was just another sect among the many sects existing at that time in judaism.

  • fluxgirl

    Now just disband the whole institution and sell the property and the tons of artworks they possess. The world would be a better place.

  • sealogic

    Where are the Mother Teresas of the Catholic Church? Surely a pure example of the Catholic ethic that Jesus taught, and if He’s the Real Deal, what He would surely want His legacy to be….. Instead we watch the pomp and glory of the Higharchy that that we endured today…..

  • tmw-online

    Amen “boredbybaseball” – the haters and non-believers such as “jeanfransg” are alive and doing the evil one’s bidding as usual. God Bless Benedict and his successor.

  • lookahead

    There are thousands of Mother Teresas in the Catholic Church. For just one, check out Sr. Mary Scullion of Philadelphia, PA.

  • Watcher1

    If there is an “evil one” it seems much more likely the Catholic church is doing his bidding. I’m not sure God (if there is one) would be all that happy with pedophiles using the Church as a hunting ground. That fact alone may be proof in itself that there is no God.

  • Watcher1

    Obviously all the great works of buggery continue as well as the merciless beatings by Nuns.

  • wmadden1

    So at this moment, there is no infallible person on the face of the earth.

    Wait… I forgot about Bob Woodward.

  • eddiejc1

    @reformthesystem

    Wasn’t it the Kingdom of Italy in the 19th Century? I don’t think Italy became a republic until after World War II.

  • jdpetric

    Actually Watcher1, on the contrary, Jesus when speaking for his God and Father, spoke of “false Christs and false prophets despite using the name of Christ. Matthew 7:15-23

    So your statement, “If there is an “evil one” it seems much more likely the Catholic church is doing his bidding” is on point according to the Scriptures.

  • tatooyou

    “Benedict is pope no more.”

    I guess the ah, holy see, didn’t see that one comming.

  • ImNotaWitch

    Oprah for pope!

  • ImNotaWitch

    Replace the pope with a Facebook account … and the rest of the Vatican royalty. Divest all the Vatican riches to the poorest of the poor (India, Africa, etc.).

    What a revolution! Where is the second coming now that we need it?

    I’m just sayin’ …

  • LeatherneckJack

    No the world would be a better place without FLUX GIRLS. Perfect name!

  • LeatherneckJack

    I have read all the comments regarding the Pope and I am amazed with the language and adament feelings vented towards the Pope. I doubt anyone in the group was abused by a priest. These people are simply being lemming and have rarely experienced or have knowledge of what they talk about!

    I have written a book “Hell is Waiting” that describes the kind of people that attack people just to appear clever. All of them share one human attribute, they are cowards. We never run out of cowards they are all around us.

  • NeilAllen1

    Satan runs the Catholic church, and he has a billion people convinced that anally raping children in God’s name is OK with God, and that being filthy rich in a world when people die of starvation is OK with God.

    Only Satan could do that.

  • Watcher1

    Hey, moron, we don’t have to have been abused by a priest to be outraged that thousands of others have. Obviously you aren’t the least bit upset about it. Talk about a “lemming”, once you’ve been a brainwashed Catholic you can’t see anything wrong with a Cardinal that put out edicts telling the other Cardinals everywhere to obstruct investigations into pedophiel priests, to intimidate the victims, to hide pedophiles in the Vatican in order to put them out of the reach of conviction. You are the coward.

  • Watcher1

    Than why is it “on the contrary”?

  • Watcher1

    Neil, totally agree. When are Catholics going to get it?

  • plattitudes

    No offense @Watcher1, but imo, your comment really only served to strengthen the points LeatherneckJack wrote, as your comment appears to be a more verbose version of the schoolyard “no I’m not, you are.”

  • plattitudes

    Because he used the same data points you did to reach the opposite conclusion.

    Oh, and sophistry.

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