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Cardinal Sodano elected dean of College of Cardinals May 02, 2005

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, has been elected the dean of the College of Cardinals. That post became vacant when the previous dean, Cardinal Ratzinger, was elected Pope Benedict XVI.

During the ceremonies surrounding the inauguration of the new papacy, Cardinal Sodano had filled the ceremonial role of the dean, since he was the vice-dean. Cardinal Roger Etchegaray will now fill that role.

The dean and vice-dean of the College of Cardinals are elected by the six cardinals who hold the title of "cardinal-bishop." The election of Cardinals Sodano and Etchegaray to the mostly ceremonial posts of dean and vice-dean was formally ratified by Pope Benedict on April 30.

On April 25, the Pope had named Cardinal Francis Arinze, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, to fill the vacancy that his election had created among the cardinal-bishops. The cardinal-bishops then met-- on April 26, according to an informed Vatican source-- to elect the dean and vice-dean from among their ranks.

In addition to Cardinals Sodano, Etchegaray, and Arinze, the other cardinal-bishops are Cardinals Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family; Giovanni Battista Re, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops; and Bernardin Gantin, the retired prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and himself a former dean of the College of Cardinals.

The title of "cardinal-bishop" today carries little more than ceremonial significance. The title refers to the origin of the College of Cardinals, who were selected to represent the clergy of Rome and the six surrounding dioceses; the "cardinal-bishops" were the bishops of those dioceses.

The dean of the College of Cardinals also plays a mostly ceremonial role. He is charged with speaking on behalf of the cardinals during meetings with the Pope-- as, for instance, at the traditional exchanges of Christmas greetings. Upon the death of the Pontiff, the dean chairs the daily "general congregation" meetings at which the cardinals prepare for the conclave. And when a new Pope is elected, it is the dean's responsibility to ask whether he accepts the election.

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