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Pope names new 'camerlengo' to run Vatican in papal transition period

FILE PHOTO: New cardinal Kevin Joseph Farrell of the U.S. is seen as he receives guests in Paul VI's Hall at the Vatican following a consistory ceremony led by Pope Francis to install 17 new cardinals November 19, 2016. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini/File Photo

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Thursday named the Irish-American cardinal Kevin Farrell as the new “camerlengo”, the prelate who runs the Vatican between the death or resignation of a pontiff and the election of a new one.

Farrell, 71, who was in born in Ireland and is the highest-ranking American in the Vatican, succeeds the French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who died in July.

The camerlengo, or chamberlain, runs the ordinary affairs of the Vatican city-state during the period known as the “sede vacante” (empty seat).

While the position is steeped in tradition and rituals, he cannot make any major decisions and cannot change Church teachings.

In the case of a papal death, the camerlengo is the person who officially confirms it, traditionally by tapping the pontiff’s head three times with a silver hammer and calling out his name. He then seals the papal residence and office.

In 2013, Benedict XVI became the first pope in six centuries to resign; Tauran began his duties the day the resignation took effect. Francis, aged 81, appears to be in good health.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Kevin Liffey