Who's In Charge?

Bureaucracy, key officials ensure continuity at the Vatican

If a pope becomes incapacitated or he dies, the Vatican is able to conduct business without missing a step. Several key officials ensure there is continuity at the Vatican.

Those include Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who would be described as a prime minister in a parliamentary democracy. He has taken on an increasingly visible role since John Paul was hospitalized with the flu and breathing problems in February.

The Vatican's centuries-old bureaucracy handles the Vatican's day-to-day operations. But the pope remains the ultimate authority on important decisions, such as the appointment of bishops or questions of church policy. The Holy See announced today that John Paul had appointed a large number of bishops and other church officials.