Pope Benedict’s resignation goes into effect today. So, until the cardinals get together to elect a new one, there is no pope in office. Canon law used to require a conclave to meet within 20 days of a pope’s resignation, but the outgoing pope changed that so that the cardinals can set the date whenever they want, and no date has been set yet. So if the church of Rome can exist without a pope for 20 days and even longer, with the bishops and priests still doing what they do, I’m curious in what sense the office of the papacy is considered to be necessary.
The official Vatican statement, giving the effective date:
“I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” starts off the message of Bendict XVI to his cardinals on Monday morning.
His brief speech, issued in Latin, the Pope explains that in today’s fast-paced world, strength of mind and body are necessary to lead over one billion Catholics worldwide, and that his age has taken a toll on both.
Benedict XVI went on to say that his resignation will go into effect as of February 28, 2013 at 8 p.m. European Central Time.
“A Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is,” the Pope stated.
The current number of cardinals eligible to choose the next Pope stands at 118. By canon law, the consistory must be scheduled within 20 days of the resignation of Benedict XVI.
Go here for details about the conclave of cardinals, how no date has yet been set, and how the whole election will be conducted.