Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Robert Sarah from the position of Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on Saturday, several months after His Eminence reached the age limit and submitted his letter to the Holy Father.
A single line from the Press Office of the Holy See announced the news on Saturday morning. “I am in God’s hands,” Cardinal Sarah tweeted. “The only rock is Christ.”
“We will meet again very soon,” he went on to say, “in Rome and elsewhere.”
Long viewed as a solid member of the “conservative” wing in the Roman Curia, Cardinal Sarah was embroiled over Christmas 2019 in a major kerfuffle over a book he wrote with the help of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, the set purpose of which was to defend the Latin discipline of priestly celibacy in the face of challenges and calls for its relaxation.
Some early press narratives tired to paint the book as a sabotage or an end run around Pope Francis, but the line Sarah and Benedict espoused was – broadly and generally – the one Francis himself had drawn and to which he eventually stuck in the wake of the Extraordinary Synod for the Amazon in which the issue of celibacy was a major focus.
At issue in the publishing controversy was the billing on the cover of the book, rather than the contents — and straight answers were in short supply.
“The Vatican’s great survivor” was how the Catholic Herald described Cardinal Sarah in early 2018, noting that “carefully outspoken” was a good way to describe his style. “He is willing to toe the line,” wrote Chris Altieri of Cardinal Sarah, “even if he dances a little on one side of it.”
Cardinal Sarah stayed on, and took it in stride, when Pope Francis replaced the membership of his dicastery in 2016, stacking it with figures not generally well disposed to the “reform of the reform” that Cardinal Sarah understood it was his task to advance. Whatever else it did, the pope’s move essentially isolated Sarah within his own department.
Pope Francis has not announced the appointment of a successor.
Officials in the Roman Curia both high and low have been on tenterhooks for some time now, waiting for the major reform law overhauling the departments of the Church’s central governing apparatus. “I think noteworthy steps forward have been taken,” the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, said in a recent interview with France’s KTO television, “and the reform – de facto – has already been accomplished.” Cardinal Parolin also said the reform law, tentatively titled Praedicate Evangelium, could be published before 2021 is out, but was not more specific.