This is the Vatican insignia respresenting the sede vacante.
(CNS illustration/Tim Meko)

Sede Vacante & Papal Transition

The Diocese of Palm Beach wishes to keep its Catholic family informed of the latest information on Benedict XVI’s resignation, the upcoming Conclave, Papal transition and the selection a new Pope. Below is information of interest, prayers and special links.


The Sede Vacante

The Vatican announced on March 8 that the Conclave to select the new Pope of the Catholic Church will begin on Tuesday, March 12. The Cardinals will celebrate a Mass for the Election of a New Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica in the morning and in the afternoon the Cardinals will enter into the Conclave (please see information further about how the Conclave process works).

On Thursday, February 28, at 8 p.m. Vatican time (2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time), the See of Peter officially became vacant. The Vatican and Catholic Church entered into a Sede Vacante which is Latin and translates to “vacant see,” meaning that the see (or the diocese) of Rome is without a bishop. The Pope is considered the Bishop of Rome. There is another term for this transition period which is the Interregnum, a reference to the days when popes were also temporal monarchs who reigned over vast territories. This situation has almost always been created by the death of a pope, but it may also be created by resignation. The symbol at the top of this page is the emblem used by the Vatican to represent a sede vacante.


Who is in Charge of the Church?

At the beginning of the sede vacante, the College of Cardinals assumes governance of the Church. They will meet regularly during the transition. The Roman Curia which is the administrative and governing body of the Church along with the Pontiff, loses most cardinal supervisors and cannot act on new matters. The College of Cardinals begins daily meetings at the Vatican to deal with limited Church business and conclave arrangements. Decisions which only the Pope can make, such as the appointment of bishops or the convening of the Synod of Bishops, must await the election of a new pontiff.


What Will Happen Next?

  • On March 1, the Vatican through the Dean of the College of Cardinals, will send the official letter to each of the world’s 207 Cardinals – including those over the age of 80 and ineligible to vote in a conclave -- to let them know that there is a sede vacante and that they are to come to Rome for a Conclave. 
  • On Monday, March 4, the College of Cardinals will begin the pre-conclave meetings, known as the General Conclaves. The start of the Conclave is not expected to be set until most of the Cardinals are present and have had time to talk and meet formally.
  • On Tuesday, March 12, the College of Cardinals will begin the day with Mass for the Election of a New Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica in th morning and in the afternoon the 115 Cardinal electors will enter into the Conclave.

The Conclave

A date for the Conclave cannot be set until a Pope has left or is deceased and the sede vacante begins. At first, it was thought the Conclave would start March 15 and 19, according to the director of the Holy See's Press Office. However, shortly before Benedict XVI stepped down as Pope, he issued new rules for Conclaves, including a clause that allows the College of Cardinals to move up the date for the beginning of the Conclave to elect his successor. When that action was announced, it was believed the Conclave could start around March 9 -11. Announced by the Vatican on Friday, March 8, the Conclave will begin on March 12. 

Step inside the Conclave - take a look at the Sistine Chapel by clicking here


Understanding the Conclave Process & Announcing the New Pope

In the past, 15 to 20 days after a papal vacancy, the Cardinals gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica for a Mass invoking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in electing a new Pope. Only Cardinals under the age of 80 are eligible to vote in a Conclave. They are known as the Cardinal Electors, and their number is limited to 120. For the Conclave itself, the Cardinal Electors process to the Sistine Chapel and take an oath of absolute secrecy before sealing the doors.

The Cardinals vote by secret ballot until a candidate receives two-thirds of the vote. Four ballots are taken every day. Inconclusive ballots (that is, those less than the two-thirds vote) are burned in a stove near the chapel with a mixture of chemicals to produce black smoke. When a Cardinal receives the necessary two-thirds vote, the College of Cardinals ask him if he accepts his election. If he accepts, he chooses a name and is dressed in papal vestments before processing out to the balcony of St. Peter’s. The ballots of the final round are burned with chemicals producing white smoke to signal to the world the election of a new Pope.

The Senior Cardinal Deacon, currently French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, will announce from the balcony of St. Peter's "Habemus Papam" ("We have a pope") before the new Pope processes out and imparts his blessing on the city of Rome and the entire world.

To understand a conclave and the election of a new Pope, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has developed this one-page document that can also be used as a bulletin insert. To read the document, please click here for the English version and click here for the Spanish version.



The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has released related prayers. Catholic dioceses, parishes and schools have permission to download and reproduce these materials for free distribution. Printed copies of all of these resources may also be purchased from USCCB. For more information, click here to visit the USCCB’s Papal Transition web page


Prayers for the Election of a New Pope

Prayer for the Election of a New Pope

O God,

eternal shepherd,

who govern your flock with unfailing care,

grant in your boundless fatherly love

a pastor for your Church

who will please you by his holiness

and to us show watchful care.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ,

your Son,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God,

forever and ever.



Copyright © 2013, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved.

Oración para la Elección del Papa

Dios nuestro, tú que como

pastor eterno

conduces a tu grey con solicitud


concede a tu Iglesia un pontífice

que te agrade con su santidad de vida

y se consagre enteramente al servicio

de tu pueblo.

Por nuestro Señor Jesucristo, tu Hijo,

que vive y reina contigo en la

unidad del Espíritu Santo

y es Dios por los siglos de los siglos.



Copyright © 2013, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved.

What is the title now for Pope Benedict XVI?

Once he officially resigned, Pope Benedict XVI added title "emeritus" in one of two acceptable forms, either Pope Emeritus or Roman Pontiff Emeritus." He is now known as Benedict XVI and can be addressed as "His Holiness."


Keep Informed

With the launch of its newly designed website late last year, the diocese provides live news feeds from Catholic News Service and Vatican News. You can find the latest news on Pope Benedict XVI and the election of a new Pope by following  Catholic News Service, Vatican News, Vatican Today and the USCCB.


Other Related News Items and Links:

Bishop Barbarito’s Statement on the Start of the Conclave

USCCB’s sede vacante/Interrgnum web page

(The USCCB page also has many additional resources found on the right side of the page)

 Inside the Conclave

Cardinal Electors from the United States
To read more about Pope Benedict's final public audience, please click here.

To read the full text of Pope Bendict's final remarks at the final public audience, please click here.

To read the Diocese of Palm Beach’s Pope Benedict XVI & Papal Transition informational webpage, please click here

Bishop Barbarito’s Feb. 11 statement upon the announcement of Benedict XVI’s resignation

                           Frequently Asked Questions about Pope Benedict’s Resignation and the Upcoming Conclave

Read the Full Text of Pope Benedict XVI's Regination Statement 

USCCB President Cardinal Timothy Dolan's statement on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

                                                       For Parishes: Liturgical Resources for Papal Transition