TIMES Online (UK) Is WRONG About Cardinal Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals

In the Times Online May 10, 2010 article, ‘Archbishop of Vienna accuses one of Pope’s closest aides of abuse cover-up,‘ chronicling papabile Cardinal Schönborn’s charges against Cardinal Sodano over the weekend, it states:
“Cardinal Sodano is now Dean of the College of Cardinals and as such due to convene and chair the conclave to elect the next Pope. The row thus pitches the man in charge of the next papal election against one of the leading contenders.”


I am kind of amused that the Times is no longer checking its facts.

For a start Cardinal Sodano, despite being the Dean of the College, will not be participating in the sequestered conclave!

He, now 82, is beyond the 80 year cut-off to be a cardinal elector. ONLY cardinal electors can participate in the sequestered conclave and vote for the next pope.

That the Dean will not be at the conclave is NOT a problem. The then Dean, the French Cardinal Confalonieri, was excluded from both 1978 conclaves. His Vice-Dean, Cardinal Marella, was also over 80. So he couldn’t attend either. So ‘poor’ over-worked Cardinal Jean-Marie Villot, also of France, had to do double duty as both Camerlengo and Dean at the conclave.

There is also no concept of the Dean ‘chairing’ the conclave per se. At the very start, after the (second) homily, the Dean, if present, inquires, verbally, whether the election can begin. This is basically the only overt action taken by the Dean UNTIL there is a pope-elect. The Dean’s functions in the conclave are purely ceremonial. If the Dean is not present at the conclave, the Vice-Dean or the senior most Cardinal Bishop present will seamlessly deputize for the Dean without there being any loss of status, gravitas or pomp. [Seniority in the case of the Cardinal Bishops being contingent on when they were consecrated as bishops, rather than when they were created cardinals. This came to be in 1731 and force still in force in 1917. A number of us are checking to see if this got changed post-1917. We can’t find anything yet.] This is always the case with all functions within the College — given that most members are bona fide bishops to begin with.

The precedence within the College is essentially ceremonial, with precedence being, in descending order, per the three ‘ranks:’ cardinal bishops, cardinal priests and cardinal deacons. Within the ranks of cardinal priests and cardinal deacons precedence is determined per seniority in terms of when the cardinal was created. The senior most cardinal deacon also has specific functions to perform during a conclave. If the senior most cardinal deacon is over 80 or is unable to attend, the senior most present at the conclave steps into the breach without any incident or drama. Such is the workings of the College.

While all the Cardinal Bishops, including the Dean, will sit in one of the two, face-to-face, front rows (separated by a wide aisle) there is no special ‘chair’ for the Dean. Conclave protocol is NOT based on having a presiding ‘chair.’

The duties of the Dean (or his deputy) at a conclave are:
* lead the electors from the Pauline Chapel to the Sistine Chapel on the first day to begin the proceedings of the conclave. [This is basically per precedence, he being the most senior.]
* lead the electors in the group oath.
* inquire, after the homily, whether the electors are ready to start voting or whether there are still outstanding issues related to process that need to be clarified.
[[ The Dean is the first to cast the ballot, but, again, this is
basically per precedence, he being the most senior.]]
* obtain the consent of the pope-elect that his election was ‘legal’ and that he, the pope-elect, intends to be the new pope.
* if the pope-elect is not already a bishop, to immediately consecrate the pope-elect as a bishop so that he can be the Bishop of Rome [i.e., the pope].
* inquire as to the name by which the new pope wishes to be known.
[[ The Dean will be the first to pay homage to the new pope, though this again is per
precedence, he being the most senior.]]

So those are the duties of the Dean. Please note that at NO TIME is the Dean instructing the other cardinals. That is the key.  The College is meant to be a body of amenable peers.

The Camerlengo, the senior most cardinal deacon and the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations (who is never a cardinal) handle the ongoing  logistics and processes — though the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations (and his two assistants) must always leave the Sistine Chapel before the electors start voting.

So Cardinal Sodano is not going to be at the next conclave to stare down Cardinal Schönborn.

It is also misleading to say the the Dean convenes the conclave (though there is a clause, #38, that does say ‘convoked for the election’). The conclave is pre-convened by the standing Apostolic Constitution. A General Congregation (of Cardinals), meeting shortly after the start of the sede vacante, will determine when the conclave will start. The Dean does not decide this.

All of this is discussed in detail in my ‘The Next Pope’ — the Handbook for the next papal election. The Times writers and copy editors really should get access to a few copies so that they don’t propagate fallacies.

It did amuse me though, especially since the byline said ‘Rome.’

All the best. Cheers.

Anura Guruge
Author of ‘The Next Pope

P.S. Cardinal Schönborn has never been a LEADING contender.

3 thoughts on “TIMES Online (UK) Is WRONG About Cardinal Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals”

  1. I truly enjoy all that your blog. Do you think that the bearded should be jailed?It could solve a lot of problems.The flaw in some of the arguments as I see it is that there is no allowance for Roma.I lived in Rome for many years and had contact with many prelates and can tell you that the whole college of cardinals is transformed when they enter the Eternal city.What rules them is fear.And rightly so.Fear for the Church,fear of the job,fear of other cardinals.They look for the biggest heavyweight and stick with him.Intellectual and personal prowess count more than anything.Wojtyla had published many books prior to his concalves as had Ratzinger.Ratzinger put the cardinals at ease.He was Rome.No lightweights need apply.O Malley is a featherweight.Scola,Bergoglio,Schoenborn will be like magnets to the other cardinals.

    1. No, NO, NO. Jailing bearded prelates sounds very medieval — and reminds me of the stuff the Church used to do to the Jews. I am much more tolerant. I live in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state. Just being able to tease the bearded is all I ask … and in my youth, which was many decades ago, I did have a goatee.
      Your statement about cardinals being ruled by fear got me thinking. Isn’t it fair to say that most devout Catholics are ruled by fear and GUILT … and as such you would hope that the cardinals, at the pinnacle of the Church, were more afraid than most because they know what they are presiding over.
      Along those same lines as fear. Celibacy. To me, dear Cardinal Schönborn is barking up the wrong tree (again) when he says that celibacy MAYBE an issue. No, No, No. It is not the celibacy per se.
      What I worry about is … what is the basic mentality of a young man … who is willing to pledge that he will be celibate! It is not natural.
      So to me … there is something FLAWED to begin with. A normal male teenager is UNLIKELY to contemplate celibacy for the rest of his life … unless … he knows that he doesn’t have to live up to it or has some major issues.
      Food for thought.
      As for O’Malley being a featherweight … I thought … he looked well fed. <>
      All the best. Cheers.
      Yes, I have a rather sick, British (Monty Python type) sense of humor

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