Who leads The Church when The Pope is unable to?


A coma is a medical injury which can render someone unresponsive for long periods of time. It is not unknown for some to wake up after being in a coma for years or even decades! If the Pope ends up in a coma, and there is reasonable chance of him waking up at some later point, who would run the church while he’s comatose?

On a similar note, if a Pope dies, who runs The Church while The Papal Conclave is electing a new one? In the middle ages, there was one Papal Election that lasted three years! During this time the Cardinal-Electors were locked in a room without a roof, given only bread and water, and three of them died. Was The Church really without even a temporary leader during these three years?


Until a successor Pope can be elected, the Camerlengo serves as Vatican City’s acting head of state. He is not, however, currently responsible for the government of the Catholic Church during a sede vacante (vacant Seat of St Peter); that task was placed in the hands of the College of Cardinals by Universi Dominici gregis.

As his power is extremely limited, being merely enough to allow Church institutions to continue to operate and perform some basic functions without making any definitive decisions or appointments that are normally reserved to other powers delegated by the Pope.

Unlike the rest of Roman Curia, the Camerlengo retains his office during the sede vacante and functions as the executive director of the Vatican’s operations, answerable to the College of Cardinals. This is primarily to carry out the College’s decisions with regard to the funeral of the late Pope and the events leading up to the conclave.

The Camerlengo is responsible for the formal determination of the death of the reigning Pope; the traditional procedure–abandoned centuries ago–was to call his baptismal name (e.g. “Albine, dormisne?”, meaning “[name], are you sleeping?”). After the Pope is declared dead, the Camerlengo takes possession of the Ring of the Fisherman and cuts it with shears in the presence of the Cardinals. This act symbolizes the end of the late Pope’s authority and prevents its use in forging documents.

The Camerlengo then notifies the appropriate officers of the Roman Curia and the Dean of the College of Cardinals. He then participates in the preparations for the conclave and the Pope’s funeral.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran is the current Camerlengo.



To sum it up, there is no such thing as a “Vice Pope.”

closed #4

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