Another overdue resignation
Yesterday a minor detail in a CWN news story caught my eye. During his visit to Benin this weekend, the story reported, Pope Benedict XVI will visit the tomb of Cardinal Bernardin Gantin. The African cardinal had been Dean of the College of Cardinals, the CWN story reminded us, until he “resigned that post after reaching the age of 80.”
As Dean, Cardinal Gantin had been preceded by Cardinal Agnelo Rossi, who celebrated his 80th birthday in May 1992 and resigned as Dean that same month.
There’s a strong logic to these resignations. Under the terms of Ingravescentem Aetatem, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1971, when a cardinal reaches the age of 80 he becomes ineligible to participate in a papal conclave, or to sit on a Roman congregation. Cardinals Rossi and Gantin took the hint, and retired from Vatican affairs completely.
Cardinal Gantin was succeeded as Dean by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, whose tenure was interrupted by his election as Roman Pontiff. He in turn was followed by Cardinal Angelo Sodano. Who remains Dean of the College of Cardinals to this day, even as he nears his 84th birthday.
If this were a purely ceremonial post, it might not matter which prelate held it. But when a Pope dies, the Dean of the College of Cardinals becomes the most prominent Catholic prelate in the world. At a time when the world’s attention is focused on Rome, would the Church really be best served by putting a spotlight on an aging cardinal who is often viewed-- not without good reason --as a symbol of the “old way” of handling sex-abuse problems?
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