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Vatican's popeless interim - the 'Sede Vacante'

Published on Feb 22, 2013 10:28 AM

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - After the pope's resignation on Thursday the Catholic Church will enter a period known as "Sede Vacante" ("Vacant Seat") in which a cardinal takes over interim powers before a new pope is elected.

The cardinal, referred to as the "Camerlengo" ("Chamberlain"), in this case will be Italy's Tarcisio Bertone - a powerful prelate whose handling of Church affairs in recent years has been hugely divisive within the Vatican hierarchy.

The Camerlengo has traditionally had the role of officially certifying the death of a pope - he used to do so by striking the pontiff's forehead on his deathbed with a special silver hammer and calling out the words "Holy Father".

He is also the Vatican official charged with destroying the pontiff's "Fisherman's Ring" - a gold signet ring - in order to prevent the use of the official seal on any counterfeit documents issued in the pope's name.

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