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College of Cardinals

Dean of the College of Cardinals

The Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals is the president of the College of Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church, and as such always holds the rank of Cardinal Bishop. The Dean is not necessarily the longest-serving member of the whole College (who might never become a Cardinal Bishop). For example, the longest-serving cardinal at present is Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan, who is a Cardinal Priest. It was customary for centuries for the longest-serving of the six Cardinal Bishops of suburbicarian sees to be Dean, and this was in fact required by canon law from 1917 until Pope Paul VI empowered the six to elect him from among their number in 1965. This election, a formality until the time of Pope John Paul II, must be confirmed by the pope. While the Dean (or in his absence or inability, the Subdean) presides over the College of Cardinals, he has no power of governance over the other cardinals. Instead he functions as primus inter pares in the college. There is no mandatory age of retirement for the position.

It is the Dean's responsibility to summon the conclave to elect a new pope when the previous one dies or resigns, and to preside over the conclave unless he is too old to vote in it. Additionally, the dean has the responsibility of communicating the "news of the Pope's death to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See and to the Heads of the respective Nations." According to Canon 355 (from the Latin Code of Canon Law 1983), if the newly-elected Supreme Pontiff is not already a bishop, it is the right of the Dean to ordain him as such. If the Dean is unable, then the right falls to the Sub-Dean, and then to the senior Cardinal Bishop.

According to section 4 of Canon 350, the Cardinal Dean has "the title of the diocese of Ostia, together with that of any other church to which he already has a title." The Cardinal Dean, then, continues to hold the title of his former suburbicarian diocese as well as being titular bishop of Ostia. This has been the case since 1914, by decree of St. Pius X—previous deans had given up their prior suburbicarian see for the joint titles of Ostia and Velletri.

Deans of the Sacred College of Cardinals

Each name is followed by years of birth and death, then comma-separated years of cardinalate and deanship. Two recent deans have chosen to retire before dying, while seven were elected Pope, Lucius III, Gregory IX, Alexander IV Alexander VI, Paul III, Paul IV and most recently Benedict XVI (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, elected Pope in 2005, the first Dean to be so elevated since Pope Paul IV in 1555).

Before the Great Western Schism

Great Western Schism

The obedience of Rome (1378-1415)

The obedience of Avignon (1378-1429)

The obedience of Pisa (1409-1415)

After the Council of Constance


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