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Cardinal Sodano: trouble letting go?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Dec 04, 2012

A belated “Happy Birthday” to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who turned 85 on November 23.

Despite his advanced age—10 years beyond ordinary retirement age, 5 years beyond the age at which prelates typically surrender even honorary titles in the Roman Curia—Cardinal Sodano remains the Dean of the College of Cardinals.

Since the new Code of Canon Law took effect in 1983, there have been 4 deans of the College:

  • The late Cardinal Angelo Rossi resigned as dean in 1993, a month after his 80th birthday.
  • The late Cardinal Bernardin Gantin resigned as dean in 2005, 6 months after his 80th birthday.
  • Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—well, you know what happened to him.
  • And Cardinal Sodano soldiers on.

Under ordinary circumstances, the Dean of the College has only ceremonial duties. But upon the death of a Roman Pontiff, his duties take on special significance. He becomes the public face of the universal Church, the chief celebrant at the Pope’s funeral, the man who sets the tone for the conclave—even if he cannot participate in it. He is, in short, a powerful figure.

Cardinal Sodano is evidently reluctant to cede that power. This is a man with a track record. He remained Secretary of State until he was nearly 79, and retained that title for three months after his replacement was announced. He remained lodged in the apartment reserved for the Secretary of State for months after his successor took office. To this day he remains a powerful figure at the Vatican. And he isn't letting go.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Dec. 07, 2012 3:23 PM ET USA

    Fortunately for us, Angelo Cardinal Sodano does not have the final say on this, even if the Holy Father indulges him.