By Vatican News
The Pope on Saturday 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".
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. 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 26 June 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.
"Now, however," writes Pope Francis in the new Motu Proprio, "having accepted the resignation" of Cardinal Sodano, "whom I thank warmly for the high service rendered to the College of Cardinals in the nearly fifteen years of his mandate, and also having considered the fact that the increase in the number of cardinals would weigh with greater commitments on the person of the Dean of Cardinals, it seemed appropriate to me that from now on the Dean of Cardinals, who will continue to be elected from among the members of the Order of Bishops in the manner established by the can. 352 § 2 of the Code of Canon Law, will remain in office for a period of five years, which can be renewed if necessary, and that at the end of his service, he may assume the title of Dean Emeritus of the College of Cardinals".
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.