When the pope dies — or in the case of Pope Benedict XVI, resigns — a whole lot of people lose their jobs: the cardinal secretary of state, the cardinal prefects of the congregations, the archbishop presidents of the pontifical councils, and the heads of the departments of the Roman Curia (although the secretaries stay on the job.)
The whole machinery of the church doesn’t come to a screeching halt, however. Until the cardinals elect a new pope, someone has to steer the car.
A few major officials retain their jobs to keep the church on the road during the time (called the interregnum) between the old pope and the new pope:
• Vicar general of the diocese of Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini
• Major penitentiary, Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro
• Auditor general of the Apostolic Chamber, Archbishop Giuseppe Sciacca.
• Camerlengo, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (who will lose his job as the Holy See’s secretary of state.) He will administer the property and money of the Holy See with the help of three cardinal assistants.
The College of Cardinals is in charge of the government of the church until a new pope is elected, although its powers are limited. The dean of the College of Cardinals presides at the daily meetings of the cardinals. However, the current dean Cardinal Angelo Sodano is age 85 and can’t vote, so his place will be taken over by senior college member Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, age 79.