Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Sodano as dean of the College of Cardinals and declared that the position will now have a five-year term limit with the possibility of renewal.
Previously, cardinal dean, considered “first among equals,” was a life position.
Pope Francis created the five-year limit in an apostolic letter issued motu proprio on December 21, the same day he accepted Sodano’s resignation.
The 92-year-old Sodano was elected dean of the College of Cardinals in 2005. According to Francis’ letter, he will now be referred to as “dean emeritus.”
The dean of the College of Cardinals presides at the conclave for the election of the pope and represents the Holy See during the sede vacante.
If the dean is over the age of 80 and therefore ineligible to take part in a conclave, it is presided over by the most senior cardinal of the rank of cardinal bishop.
The College of Cardinals is structured in three orders, or ranks: the order of “cardinal deacons,” the order of “cardinal priests,” and the order of “cardinal bishops.”
The dean is elected by and from among the highest of these ranks, the cardinal bishops. He has the responsibility to communicate the pope’s death to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See and to the heads of nations, and he is the one who asks the pope-elect if he accepts the election, and what name he will take.
If the new pope is not a bishop, the dean has the right to ordain him.
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