Dean of the College of Cardinals

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Giovanni Battista Re, the incumbent dean

The dean of the College of Cardinals (Latin: Decanus Collegii Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalium) presides over the College of Cardinals in the Catholic Church, serving as primus inter pares (first among equals). The position was established in the 12th century.[citation needed] He always holds the rank of a cardinal bishop, and is assisted by a vice-dean. Both are elected by and from the cardinal bishops who are not Eastern Catholic patriarchs, with their election subject to papal confirmation. Except for presiding over the college, the dean and vice-dean have no power over the other cardinals. In the order of precedence in the Catholic Church, the dean and vice-dean, as the two most senior cardinals, are placed second and third, respectively, after the pope.

For centuries, the cardinal bishop who had been a bishop of a suburbicarian see the longest was the dean. This custom became a requirement with the canon law of 1917.[1][2][a] On 26 February 1965, Pope Paul VI empowered the cardinal bishops to elect the dean from among their number.[3][b] Both the dean and subdean must reside in Rome.[1]

Until December 2019, the dean held the position until death or resignation; there was no mandatory age of retirement.[4] Then, upon accepting Cardinal Angelo Sodano's resignation as dean of the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis established that the dean would henceforth serve a five-year term that may be renewed once.[5][6] In anticipation of the election of a new dean, Francis said: "I am hoping they will elect someone who can carry this important responsibility full time."[7]


The dean summons the conclave for the purposes of electing a new pope following a death or resignation. The Dean presides over the daily meetings of the College of Cardinals in advance of the conclave and then presides over the conclave if his age does not prohibit his participation. The dean also 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".[8] He is the public face of the Holy See until a new pope is elected. If he participates in the conclave, the dean asks the pope-elect if he accepts the election, and then asks the new pope what name he wishes to use. If the dean himself is elected pope, the aforementioned tasks are assumed by the sub-dean of the College of Cardinals. If the newly elected pope is not already a bishop, the dean ordains him a bishop.[9]

The dean has "the title of the diocese of Ostia, together with that of any other church to which he already has a title,"[10] such as his suburbicarian diocese. This has been the case since 1914, by decree of Pope Pius X—previous deans had given up their suburbicarian see and taken the joint title of Ostia and Velletri, which were separated in that same 1914 decree.[11]

Deans elected pope[edit]

Nine Deans have been elected pope:[12]

  1. Corrado Demitri, elected in 1153 as Pope Anastasius IV
  2. Ubaldo Allucingoli, elected Pope Lucius III in 1181
  3. Ugolino di Conti was elected Pope Gregory IX in 1227
  4. Rinaldo di Jenne was elected Pope Alexander IV in 1254
  5. Pedro Julião was elected Pope John XXI in September 1276
  6. Rodrigo Borgia was elected Pope Alexander VI in 1492
  7. Alessandro Farnese was elected Pope Paul III in 1534
  8. Gian Pietro Carafa was elected Pope Paul IV in May 1555
  9. Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005

List of deans[edit]

The following is the list of deans of the Sacred College of Cardinals, separated into three groups to account for the Western Schism, which ended after the Council of Constance. The earliest attested reference to the "College of Cardinals" is at the Council of Reims in 1148.[13]

Each name in the following list includes years of birth and death, then comma-separated years of cardinalate and deanship.

Before the Western Schism[edit]

12th century[edit]

13th Century[edit]

14th Century[edit]

During the Western Schism[edit]

After the Council of Constance[edit]

15th Century[edit]

16th Century[edit]

17th Century[edit]

18th Century[edit]

19th Century[edit]

20th Century[edit]

21st Century[edit]

Name of Incumbent Life dates Cardinalate Deanship Notes
Birth Death and age
Joseph Ratzinger 16 April 1927 31 December 2022(2022-12-31) (aged 95) 27 June 1977
by Pope Paul VI
30 November 2002–16 April 2005
(2 years, 147 days)
Elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, Resigned on 28 February 2013
Angelo Sodano 23 November 1927 27 May 2022(2022-05-27) (aged 94) 28 June 1991
by Pope John Paul II
30 April 2005–21 December 2019
(14 years, 235 days)
retired in 2019
Giovanni Battista Re (1934-01-30) 30 January 1934 (age 90) 21 February 2001
by Pope John Paul II
18 January 2020–present (4 years, 41 days) elected to a five-year term, renewable once


  1. ^ Quote: "Sacro Cardinalium Collegio praeest Decanus, idest antiquior promotione ad aliquam Sedem suburbicariam, cui tamen nulla est in ceteros Cardinales iurisdictio, sed ipse primus habetur inter aequales."[2] Translation: "The Sacred College of Cardinals is presided over by a Dean, that one who is senior by promotion to any suburbicarian See, who, however, has no jurisdiction over the other Cardinals, but he is held first among equals."
  2. ^ For the remainder of Paul VI's papacy, the cardinal bishops followed tradition and elected as dean the cardinal who had been a cardinal bishop the longest.[citation needed] When Agnelo Rossi was elected dean in 1984, he had been a cardinal bishop for just two and a half years, less than three other cardinal bishops: Sebastiano Baggio, Paolo Bertoli, Francesco Carpino.


  1. ^ a b Coriden, James A.; Beal, John P.; Green, Thomas Joseph, eds. (2000). New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law. Paulist Press. p. 470. ISBN 978-0-8091-4066-4. Retrieved 2 January 2024. Paul VI changed the former provision whereby the dean was automatically the cardinal who had been cardinal bishop the longest.
  2. ^ a b Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF) (in Latin). Vol. IX, part II. 1917. p. 50, Canon 237. Retrieved 22 December 2019.
  3. ^ "Sacro Cardinalium Consilio: Elezione del Decano e del Subdecano del Collegio Cardinalizio" (in Italian). Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 26 February 1965. Retrieved 2 January 2024.
  4. ^ Wooden, Cindy (22 December 2019). "Pope sets term of office for dean of College of Cardinals". The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company. Retrieved 20 September 2020.
  5. ^ "A Letter in the form of a "Motu Proprio" regarding the Office of Dean of the College of Cardinals, 21.12.2019". 29 November 2019. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  6. ^ Senèze, Nicolas (21 December 2019). "Démission d'Angelo Sodano, doyen des cardinaux". La Croix (in French). Retrieved 22 December 2019.
  7. ^ "Audience of the Holy Father to the Roman Curia on the occasion of the presentation of Christmas wishes, 21.12.2019". Holy See Press Office. 21 December 2019. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  8. ^ Pope John Paul II (22 February 1996). "Universi Dominici Gregis, art. 19". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Archived from the original on 2007-05-06. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
  9. ^ "Canon 355, section 1". Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  10. ^ "Canon 350, section 4". Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  11. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF) (in Latin). Vol. VI. 1914. pp. 219–20. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  12. ^ For the first half of 12th century the source is Rudolf Hüls, Kardinäle, Klerus und Kirchen Roms: 1049–1130, Tübingen 1977, p. 84, for the rest the respective biographical entries by S. Miranda, with corrections appearing from J.M. Brixius, Die Mitglieder des Kardinalkollegiums von 1130–1181, Berlin 1912; Werner Maleczek, Papst und Kardinalskolleg von 1191 bis 1216, Vienna 1984; Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, Cardinali di curia e "familiae" cardinalizie dal 1227 al 1254, Padova 1972; and Richard Sternfeld, Der Kardinal Johann Gaetan Orsini (Papst Nikolaus III.) 1244–1277, Berlin 1905, for 12–13th centuries.
  13. ^ John F. Broderick, S.J., "The Sacred College of Cardinals: Size and Geographical Composition (1099–1986)," Archivum Historiae Pontificiae, Vol. 25 (1987), pp. 7-71, at p. 9 note 6. And see: Edith Pasztor, "Riforma della chiesa nel secolo XI e l'origine del Collegio dei Cardinali: Problemi e ricerche," in: Studio sul Medioevo cristiano offerti a Raffaello Morghen, II, (Roma 1974), pp. 609-625, arguing that the College of Cardinals did not yet exist at the end of the 11th century. Without the existence of the College, of course, a Dean of the College of Cardinals would be impossible.
  14. ^ According to Pandulphus Pisanus, "Vita Gelasii II", in: J. Watterich, Pontificum Romanorum Vitae Tomus II (Lipsiae 1862) p. 94: "Interim autem, Paschali papa defuncto, venerabilis pater dominus Petrus Portuensis episcopus, qui primatum post papam per longa jam diutius tempora detinuerat, cumque eo omnes presbyteri ac diaconi cardinales de eligendo Pontifice, et in commune communiter, et singulariter singuli pertractare coeperunt pro domino cancellario in monasterio Cassinensi commanente." Cardinal Pietro led the electoral meeting in 1118. He joined the obedience of Antipope Anacletus II in 1130.
  15. ^ He joined the obedience of Antipope Victor IV in 1159 [1].
  16. ^ He was the only cardinal-bishop in the Roman obedience after 1397.
  17. ^ Former Pope Gregory XII of the Roman obedience
  18. ^ Former Pisan Antipope John XXIII
  19. ^ Although Pierre de Foix, bishop of Albano, was the most senior Cardinal-Bishop 1445–64, he was omitted in filling the post of Dean of the Sacred College, because he resided outside the Roman Curia
  20. ^ Cardinal-bishop of Sabina. Former Antipope Felix V
  21. ^ This cardinal is not referred to as dean by S. Miranda but his occupation of that post appears from the order of seniority
  22. ^ He opted for the see of Ostia e Velletri in November 1503. From that time deans of the College of Cardinals usually opted for that see immediately after assuming that post, although few exceptions to this rule had occurred.
  23. ^ Cardinal-bishop of Porto e Santa Rufina. According to L. Pastor "History of the Popes vol. XXXIV", London 1941 p. 303 and Valérie Pirie "The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves" he was Dean of the Sacred College in the Papal conclave, 1730. Also G. Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica da S. Pietro sino ai nostri giorni, vol. X, p. 15, affirms that he was dean of the Sacred College but never opted for the see of Ostia e Velletri.
  24. ^ Salvador Miranda indicates that Fabrizio Serbelloni was dean of the Sacred College 1774–1775 [2], but according to G. Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica da S. Pietro sino ai nostri giorn vol. LXIV, p. 173, Serbelloni was named bishop of Ostia e Velletri on 18 April 1774 only for that reason, that Albani, who became dean at the death of Cavalchini, refused to resign the bishopric of Porto e Santa Rufina. However, Cardinal Albani eventually opted for the see of Ostia e Velletri after the death of Serbelloni in the following year