Pope Francis has set a time limit on how long a College of Cardinals dean can serve after accepting the resignation of its present head Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
The dean of the College of Cardinals presides over the conclave that elects a new pope and the regency that represents the Holy See while it awaits a new pontiff.
If the dean happens to be over 80 years old, which bars him from taking part in a conclave, these tasks are carried out by the next senior cardinal who holds the rank of cardinal bishop.
In the future, a dean will serve a five-year term which could possibly be renewed for another five years, the Catholic Herald reported.
Previously, no limit was set on the term of office.
The limit was announced on Dec. 21 in an apostolic letter issued moto proprio — an edict declared by the pope personally — the same day Cardinal Sodano’s resignation was accepted.
The pope said he had decided to set a limit because of the significant amount of work which the post involves.
“The fact that with the increase in the number of cardinals, ever greater commitments come to weigh on the person of the cardinal dean,” the letter said.
Cardinal Sodano, 92, was elected dean of the College of Cardinals in 2005, succeeding Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who vacated the post to become Pope Benedict XVI.
According to Pope Francis’ letter, he will now be referred to as “dean emeritus.”
The way in which the dean is elected will not change, according to the letter.
The College of Cardinals is made up of three ranks — cardinal deacons, cardinal priests, and cardinal bishops — with the dean coming from and being elected by the cardinal bishops.
It is the dean who announces a pope’s death and formally offers the papacy to whoever is elected by the conclave and asks what name he will take.
In accepting Cardinal Sodano’s resignation, the pope thanked him for his many years of service and expressed his gratitude to the college as a whole.
Some of those in line to succeed the cardinal, include Cardinals Francis Arinze, Tarcisio Bertone and Pietro Parolin, who has served as the Vatican’s Secretary of State since October 2013.