Camerlengo (Lat. camerarius), the title of certain papal officials. The Low Latin word camera (chamber) means the treasure of the prince, monastery, etc.; also in general the royal treasury (fiscus), the temporal administration of a monastery. The term camerarius was, therefore, very frequently equivalent to civil treasurer, and in the case of monasteries meant the monk charged with the administration of the monastic property. This is also the sense of the Italian term camerlengo, still borne at Rome by three ecclesiastics, (I) the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, (2) the Camerlengo of the Sacred College (of Cardinals), and (3) the Camerlengo of the Roman Clergy. The Roman confraternities have also an officer similarly entitled. (I) The Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church is the administrator of the property and the revenues of the Holy See, and as such is successor both of the Archdeacon of Rome and of the Vicedominus, the former of whom administered the property of the entire Roman Church, i.e. the Diocese of Rome, while the latter was especially charged with the administration of the mensa of the pope and the entire personnel of the patriarchium Lateranense (St. John Lateran).
This latter official was the same as the syncellus at Constantinople. The office of Archdeacon of Rome was suppressed by Gregory VII, himself its last incumbent under Alexander II; owing to its numerous ancient privileges and rights it had come to be a frequent hindrance to independent papal action. When these were lopped off, the (Roman) office of archdeacon shrank to its original proportions. There-after the cardinal to whom was committed the super-vision of the Camera Apostolica (a term even then customary for the administration of the temporalities of the Holy See) was known as Camerarius or, in popular language, Camerlengo. The subordinates of this official are known as clerks (chierici) of the Camera; chief among them are the treasurer and the auditor di . Camera. Their body is known as Reverenda Camera Apostolica (see Apostolic Camera). When the cardinal-camerlengo happened to be absent on some pontifical business, a vice-camerlengo was chosen in his place. The office of camerlengo included not only the supervision of the immediate properties of the Holy See, but also the fiscal administration of the Pontifical States, the Patrimonium Petri.
The following were its chief attributions: (a) the collection of the taxce, or dues paid for the delivery of the Bulls of appointment to dioceses and abbeys (see Apostolic Chancery); (b) the registry of the oblations or gifts of the faithful; (c) charge of the papal coinage (Moneta); (d) jurisdiction; civil and criminal, over officials of the Camera (chierici di Camera).
Under the Avignon popes and their successors the office of camerlengo received more definite organization; at the same time its rights and jurisdiction were increased. When Boniface VIII founded the Roman University (Sapienza) he decreed that the cardinal-camerlengo should be always its archchancellor. Briefly the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church was, for the Papal States, Minister of Finance, Public Works, and Commerce. From the sixteenth century the office was purchasable from the Papal Government. Cardinal Cibo bought it in 1521 for 35,000 scudi; Cardinal Vitellozzo, under Pius IV, for 70,000 scudi, and under Pius V Cardinal Cornaro paid as much for the place; the revenue thus gained served to keep up the wars against the Turks, etc. By the Constitution “Post Diuturnos” Pius VII restricted greatly the authority of the camerlengo, in keeping with the thorough reorganization of the Papal Government undertaken by him. Between the death of the pope and the election of his successor (cede vacante) the cardinal-camerlengo is the head of the Sacred College. It is his duty to verify the death of the pope (see Pope), to direct the preparations for the Conclave, and to take charge of the same.
(2) The Camerlengo of the Sacred College (of Cardinals) does not antedate Leo X (1513-21). He administers all fees and revenues belonging to the College of Cardinals, pontificates at the requiem Mass for a deceased cardinal, and is charged with the registry of the “Acta Consistoralia” (see Papal Consistory). (3) The Camerlengo of the Roman Clergy is elected by the canons and parish priests of Rome; he has an honorary place in the great processions, presides over the ecclesiastical conferences of the parochial clergy, acts as arbiter in all questions of precedence, and administers the oath of free estate” (juramentum de statu libero), obligatory on persons desirous of marrying.