Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State and effectively the city state’s prime minister, is running the administrative side of Vatican affairs: earlier this week, he met Condoleezza Rice, the new American secretary of state, who had been due to meet the Pope.
However, Pope John Paul is apparently well enough to oversee the appointment of bishops from his hospital bed.
Has the Pope signed a resignation letter that takes effect if he becomes mentally incapacitated?
The existence of such a letter has often been reported but never confirmed. High-ranking Vatican officials, from the Secretary of State down, deny that John Paul II has ever written or signed such an agreement. Pope Paul VI, John Paul II’s predecessor, did sign an agreement, but the document was never invoked because he was lucid up until his death from a heart attack.
Is there a process in Church law for the removal of an incapacitated Pope?
No. Some canon lawyers regard the absence of a clause to remove a mentally incapable Pontiff as a disaster waiting to happen. If the Pope goes into a long-term coma, the Church would be leaderless and there would be no agreed procedure for replacing him.
Who was the last Pope to step down?
Celestine V resigned in 1294 after a disastrous reign of only five months, and retired to live as a hermit. He was canonised in 1313, but was nonetheless condemned to hell in Dante’s Inferno.
The generally accepted view is that Popes do not resign.
What happens when the Pope dies?
Power in the Vatican is handed over to the Cardinal Camerlengo, who assumes charge of the papal household. There used to be a custom that the camerlengo strikes the pope’s head with a silver mallet to certify that he is dead, but this has been discontinued. The papal seal and the fisherman’s ring are broken and the nine-day papal obsequies begin. The conclave must be held within 20 days of the Pope’s death.
The current Camerlengo is Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, a Spanish-born curial cardinal.