ROME— Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Robert Sarah as head of the Vatican’s office for liturgy, removing an outspoken conservative and possible future pope from the ranks of Vatican leadership.
The Holy See Press Office announced Saturday that Cardinal Sarah had stepped down. No successor has been named.
The cardinal submitted his resignation as required by church law when he turned 75 on June 15 of last year. But the pope frequently lets cardinals serve two or three years past that age, though not past 80. Last June, the cardinal wrote on Twitter: “For my part, I am happy to continue my work” at the Vatican.
In accepting Cardinal Sarah’s resignation, the pope has removed a subordinate out of step with his approach to liturgy, homosexuality and relations with the Muslim world. The cardinal is a hero to many conservative Catholics, some of whom see him as a future pontiff. He will still be able to vote in a conclave to elect a pope until he turns 80.
Last year, the cardinal raised controversy with a book widely interpreted as an attempt to influence Pope Francis’ decision on whether to allow the ordination of married men as priests. The episode led to embarrassment for the cardinal when retired Pope Benedict XVI asked to have his name removed as the book’s co-author.
The Guinean cardinal’s retirement leaves only one African as the head of a Vatican department: Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which focuses on issues of social justice.
Cardinal Sarah didn’t reply to a request for comment on Saturday. Shortly after the announcement, he tweeted: “I am in God’s hands. The only rock is Christ. We will meet again very soon in Rome and elsewhere.”
The cardinal was born in the small village of Ourous, Guinea, in West Africa, where his father was a farmer and a convert to Catholicism. At the age of 11 he was sent to a seminary in Ivory Coast. Pope John Paul II made him archbishop of the Guinean capital of Conakry at the age of 34, and he was the youngest archbishop in the world at the time.
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