Church affairs continue even without a pope

VATICAN CITY (CNS)—When Pope Benedict XVI officially left office at 8 p.m. Feb. 28, most of the top-level Vatican officials lost their jobs, but that does not mean the majority of Vatican employees get a vacation.

Although Catholics inside and outside the Vatican love to complain about its unwieldy bureaucracy, coordinating the universal ministry of the church involves a steady flow of paperwork, correspondence and meeting planning. All of that continues even when there is no pope.

However, the publication of documents, the nomination of new bishops and anything that must be issued in the name of the Vatican or in the name of the pope must be approved by Pope Benedict’s successor.

“The general rule is that all ordinary business continues” during the “interregnum”—the period between popes. “Like in most bureaucracies, most of our business is ordinary business,” said the secretary of one Vatican congregation.

Commissions and subcommittees continue to meet, reports continue to be prepared, letters are answered and Vatican officials try to tidy their desks enough to be able to inform the new pope about exactly where their various projects stand.

Under long-standing church rules, updated by Blessed John Paul II in 1996, the Vatican secretary of state, the prefects of Vatican congregations and the presidents of pontifical councils lose their jobs the minute the papacy is vacant; the offices are run by the congregation and council secretaries during the interregnum.

Generally, immediately after the election of a new pope, the prefects and presidents are asked to take up their old jobs again, at least temporarily.

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