Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re has been elected the new dean of the College of Cardinals with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri as vice-dean.
Re, 85, will serve a five-year term under the new term limits created by Pope Francis in a motu proprio issued on December 21. Previously, cardinal dean, considered “first among equals,” was a position held for the duration of one’s life.
The dean of the College of Cardinals presides at the conclave for the election of the pope and represents the Holy See during the sede vacante.
Because Cardinal Re is over the age of 80, he is ineligible to take part in a conclave. The responsibility of presiding over the conclave will therefore fall to 76-year-old vice-dean, Cardinal Sandri.
Both Re and Sandri’s elections were approved by Pope Francis on January 18 and January 24 respectively.
The College of Cardinals is structured in three orders, or ranks: the order of “cardinal deacons,” the order of “cardinal priests,” and the order of “cardinal bishops.”
The dean is elected by and from among the highest of these ranks, the cardinal bishops. He has the responsibility to communicate the pope’s death to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See and to the heads of nations, and he is the one who asks the pope-elect if he accepts the election, and what name he will take.
Re’s election follows the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 92, who was elected dean of the College of Cardinals in 2005. Since 2017, Re held the position of vice-dean under Sodano, who can now assume the title of dean emeritus.
In his motu proprio on December 21, Pope Francis said he made the decision to set a five-year, renewable mandate “with regard to 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 dean and assistant dean, elected from among the cardinal bishops, are “called to exercise among the cardinal confreres a fraternal and fruitful presidency of primacy inter pares,” the pope said.
Re retired as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops in 2010 after leading the Vatican congregation for ten years. He worked closely with St. John Paul II as sostituto, or deputy, at the Secretariat of State from 1989 – 2000 before his appointment as prefect of the Congregation of Bishops.
A native of Lombardy, Italy, Re was ordained to the priesthood in 1957, and entered into the diplomatic service of the Holy See. John Paul II appointed him to be an archbishop and secretary of the Congregation for Bishops in 1987 and a cardinal in 2000. Re has served as vice-dean of the College of Cardinals since 2017.
Sandri is the current prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Eastern Churches, a position he has held since 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1943, Sandri was ordained to the priesthood in 1967. He shortly after studied to be a papal diplomat, and went on to serve in the nunciature in Madagascar and Mauritius. St. John Paul II appointed him regent of the Prefecture of the Papal Household in 1991, and the following year he was promoted to be an assessor for the Section for General Affairs in the Secretariat of State.
Sandri went on to be appointed as an archbishop and apostolic nuncio to Venezuela in 1997, and apostolic nuncio to Mexico in 2000. After only a few months, he was called back to the Vatican to assume the position of sostituto for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State following Re.