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Rome Reports

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Cardinal Sarah retires after 20 years in the Vatican

Cardinal Robert Sarah has been an influential figure in the Vatican since 2001, having worked under three different popes. 

In November 2014 Pope Francis appointed him prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the dicastery responsible for the liturgy of the Church. 

As prefect, Sarah worked to include St. Joseph in the order of Mass, added new litanies to the rosary, and established an adapted Mass in response to the pandemic. 

But some incidents reflect some differing opinions between him and the pope.

In 2017, Pope Francis publicly corrected Cardinal Sarah’s interpretation of a new provision granting episcopal conferences greater autonomy in translating the missal. 

While the cardinal interpreted the rule in a general sense, the pope stated that the change was substantial, and that episcopal conferences would be given greater responsibility.

In January 2020, Cardinal Sarah published a book on celibacy together with Benedict XVI when it seemed Pope Francis was preparing to address the issue himself. 

This came after the Amazon synod, in which 72% of its participants asked the pope to create exceptions allowing for the priestly ordination of married deacons in inaccessible territories.

The pope emeritus decided to remove his name from the book so as to not interfere with Pope Francis’ decision. Yet the pope still chose not to grant the dispensation from celibacy.  

Cardinal Sarah has often said he disapproves of those who consider him an opponent of the pope.

“I'm calm because I'm loyal to the pope.” “They cannot quote a word, a phrase, a gesture with which I oppose the pope. It is ridiculous, it is ridiculous. I am at the service of the Church, the Holy Father and God. This is enough.” “There people write this kind of stuff to create opposition, against the Holy Father, between bishops or cardinals. It is ridiculous. We must not fall into this trap. We must continue to teach. I don't care what they say.”

Cardinal Sarah turned 75 last June, at which age members of the Curia are required to offer their resignation to the pope. 

Pope Francis has since chosen to accept his resignation.

Yet his retirement does not mean he will remain on the sidelines. 

In a tweet, he promises his followers, “We will meet again soon in Rome and elsewhere.”