The Pope on December 21, 2019, accepted the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Sodano as Dean of the College of Cardinals, who has stepped down because of his advanced age. At the same time, with a special Motu proprio, he established that from now on the post will be for five years, that it can be renewed if necessary, and that at the end of the mandate the outgoing cardinal will receive the title of “Dean Emeritus”, according to a Vatican statement.
The decision was made public after the Pope’s traditional meeting before Christmas with members of the Roman Curia, which opened with an address from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, reported Vatican News. The 92-year-old Italian cardinal has been a Bishop and Apostolic Nuncio since 1978, Secretary of State from 1990 to 2005, and successor of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Dean of the College of Cardinals, as provided for in the norms of the Cardinals of the Order of Bishops.
On June 26, 2018, Pope Francis decided to expand the number of members of the Cardinal Bishops – which until then had consisted of the titular cardinals of the suburbicarian dioceses (dioceses on the outskirts of Rome) and the Eastern Patriarchs who were cardinals – to include the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Leonardo Sandri, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Marc Ouellet, and the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Fernando Filoni, who was recently appointed Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Dean of Cardinals presides over the College but has no power of government over the other cardinals, being a “primus inter pares”. Up to now, the post had no time limit. The Dean convokes the conclave in the case of Sede vacante (a period when there is no Pope) and presides over it if he is less than eighty years of age and therefore is included among the electorate. In the last conclave, in March 2013, Cardinal Sodano, already over eighty, presided over the General Congregations of the cardinals but was not part of the conclave in the Sistine Chapel. Instead, the task was assigned to the Vice-Dean, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re.
Apostolic Letter in the form of a “Motu Proprio”
regarding the Office of Dean of the College of Cardinals
Throughout the centuries the Roman Pontiffs have adapted to the needs of their times the composition of the College of Cardinal Fathers, specially called to undertake the election of the Supreme Pastor of the Church and to assist him in treating issues of the greatest relevance in the daily care of the universal Church.
The Holy Father Paul VI, of eternal memory, with the Motu Proprio of 11 February 1965, expanded the composition of the aforementioned College of Cardinal Fathers, calling to be part of the Order of Bishops, in addition to the Titulars of the suburbicarian Sees of Rome, also those Oriental Patriarchs who had been elevated to the dignity of cardinal (cf. Ad Purpuratorum Patrum Collegium, AAS, 57 , 295-296).
With the Rescript ex Audientia of 26 June 2018, I too took steps to broaden the composition of the members of the aforementioned Order of Bishops, including within it a number of Cardinals who are heads of Roman Dicasteries and equating them in every respect with Cardinals who are assigned a suburbicarian Church and with the Oriental Patriarchs ascribed to the same Order.
In this regard, the regulations of the Church, with clear and precise prescriptions, have for some time now also wisely provided for the singular place, within the College of Cardinals, that belongs to the Cardinal Dean, and in his place, to the Sub-Dean, called to exercise among the brother Cardinals a fraternal and fruitful presidency of primacy inter pares (cf. can. 352 § 1). These norms also prescribe the manner of their election by the Brothers who are members of the Episcopal Order (cf. can. 350 § 1 and 352 § 2-3).
Now, however, having accepted the resignation from the office of Dean of the College of Cardinals presented by His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Sodano, whom I thank most sincerely for the high service he has rendered to the College of Cardinals during the almost fifteen years of his mandate, and also having regard to the fact that with the increase in the number of Cardinals, ever greater commitments are being placed on the person of the Cardinal Dean, it seemed opportune to me that from now on the Cardinal Dean, who will continue to be elected from among the members of the Order of Bishops in the manner established by can. 352 § 2 of the Code of Canon Law, remain in office for a five-year period, renewable if necessary, and at the end of his service, he may assume the title of Dean Emeritus of the College of Cardinals.
To all the members of the College of Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church I wish, finally, to express my deep gratitude for their generous service to the Church and to my ministry as Successor of Peter, with my Apostolic Blessing.
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 29 November of the Year of the Lord 2019, the seventh of our Pontificate.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican