In an apostolic letter in the form of a Motu proprio published on December 21, 2019, Pope Francis has set the terms of office of the Cardinal Dean: formerly for life, the charge will become for five-years and can no longer be held concurrently with another position within the Curia.
A page of the history of the Roman Curia turned on December 21, 2019: Secretary of State for Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI and Dean of the Sacred College since 2013, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 92 years old, left his duties that day. The same day, Pope Francis decided to limit the duration of the cardinal dean’s position.
In an apostolic letter in the form of a Motu proprio, he writes: “[I]t seemed opportune to me that from now on the Cardinal Dean, who will continue to be elected from among the members of the Order of Bishops in the manner established by Canon 352 §2 of the Code of Canon Law, remain in office for a five-year period, renewable if necessary, and at the end of his service, he may assume the title of Dean Emeritus of the College of Cardinals.”
In addition, Pope Francis said he wanted the dean’s position to be “full-time” now, and no longer concurrent with another position at the Curia, “having regard to the fact that with the increase in the number of Cardinals, ever greater commitments are being placed on the person of the Cardinal Dean.”
The Dean of Sacred College plays the role of “peer primus” within the venerable college of porporati. It is up to him to announce the death of a pope, to organize and eventually preside over the conclave, if he has not exceeded the age limit of 80 years. Finally, it is the Cardinal Dean, who holds the title suburbicaire of Ostia, who solemnly asks the elected one if he wants to accept the position as Peter’s successor.