Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The title Camerlengo (Italian for "Chamberlain") refers to an official of the Papal court, referring either to the Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church, to the Chamberlain of the Sacred College of Cardinals, or to various lesser dignitaries.
Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church
The Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church is the administrator of the property and revenues of the Holy See; his responsibilities formerly included the fiscal administration of the Patrimony of St. Peter. The Camerlengo is always a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church (and therefore also always a man of episcopal dignity), and is therefore also called the "Cardinal Chamberlain". His heraldic arms are ornamented with two gold and silver keys in saltire surmounted by an ombrellino, a canopy or umbrella of alternating red and yellow stripes, which are also the arms of a Sede Vacante (i.e., a Papal interregnum).
Until the XI Century, the Archdeacon of the Holy Roman Church was responsible for the administration of the property of the Roman Church (i.e., the Diocese of Rome), but its numerous ancient privileges and rights had come to make it a frequent hindrance to independent action on the part of the Pope; as a result, when the last Archdeacon, Cardinal Hildebrand (St. Gregorius PP. VII), was elected to the Pontificate in 1073, he suppressed the Archdiaconate and the cardinal entrusted with the supervision of the Apostolic Camera (Camera Apostolica), i.e., the temporalities of the Holy See, became known as the Camerarius, or Chamberlain.
Chief among the present responsibilities of the Camerlengo is the formal determination of the death of the reigning Pope; the traditional procedure for this was to strike gently the Pope's head three times with a silver hammer and to call his name. After the Pope is declared to be dead, the Camerlengo removes the Ring of the Fisherman from his finger and cuts it with shears in the presence of the Cardinals, and also destroys the face of the Pope's seal with the silver hammer. These acts symbolize the end of the late Pope's authority. The Camerlengo then notifies the appropriate officers of the Roman Curia and the Dean of the College of Cardinals. He is then involved with the preparations concerning the conclave and the Pope's funeral.
Until a successor Pope can be elected, the Camerlengo serves as acting head of State of the Vatican City. He is not, however, currently responsible for the government of the Roman Catholic Church during a sede vacante. Universi Dominici Gregis placed that task in the hands of the College of Cardinals—although this power of government 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 or are powers delegated by the pope. The Camerlengo, though, does keep his office during the sede vacante, as opposed to the rest of the Roman Curia.
Chamberlain of the Sacred College of Cardinals
The Chamberlain of the Sacred College of Cardinals is the secretary-treasurer of that body, and has responsibility for its financial matters. He administers all fees and revenues belonging to the College, celebrates the requiem Mass for a deceased cardinal, and is charged with the registry of the Acta Consistoralia.
Other chamberlains of the Papal court have duties about the Papal quarters, although this title is usually given as an honorary award. These camerlengos may be clergymen or laymen.
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