For several months, and even before the onset of the pandemic, he made no secret of his desire to be relieved of his duties. A few weeks after his 75th birthday, reached last June, Cardinal Robert Sarah presented his resignation to Pope Francis, who accepted it on Saturday February 20.
The Guinean archbishop did not wish to be prolonged beyond this canonical age at the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, occupied since 2014. It is this desire that seems to have pushed the Pope to accept the departure of the cardinal, even before announcing the name of his successor.
“He had put himself in an attitude of obedient dissent”
Sometimes presented as a virulent opponent from within Francis, Cardinal Robert Sarah has in fact nurtured, in recent years, a checkered relationship with the Argentine Pope, alternating periods of proximity with more or less strong tensions.
Curator in terms of doctrine and liturgy, “He had put himself in an attitude of obedient dissent”, sums up a good observer of the Curia.
But the cardinal did not always have this image in Rome, where he exercised responsibilities for 20 years. When he arrived at the Vatican in 2001 as number 2 of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which has authority over 1,100 dioceses “Mission” in the countries of the South, Robert Sarah is first seen as the heroic resistance fighter that he was in Guinea, facing the dictatorship of the Marxist regime of Sékou Touré in his native country.
→ INVESTIGATION. What is the image of Cardinal Sarah in Africa?
Appointed, in 1979, bishop at the age of 34, thus becoming the youngest bishop in the world, Mgr Sarah was indeed for years in the sights of the Marxist regime, which reproached him for his positions, regularly criticizing the government of the time for to be responsible for the great poverty of the country, and not to let go of power. “ Power wears out those who lack the wisdom to share it », He had launched in particular to the dictator Touré, who registered the young archbishop of Conakry at the top of a list of opponents to be eliminated, without however managing to put his plans into execution before his death in 1984.
During these nine years at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, he was then perceived as “A man who worked a lot, very spiritual”, remembers an observer. But over the years, the multiplication of his visits to Africa pushes him to take particularly firm positions against a clergy, even bishops, who do not always respect the rule of celibacy.
At the head of Cor Unum, an organization that coordinates the pope’s charity actions, from 2010, Robert Sarah continued his journey in the Curia, in years when he was also one of the very close friends of Benedict XVI, who then raises him to the dignity of cardinal.
Appointed by Pope Francis as head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2014, the cardinal has since been regularly presented as one of Francis’s opponents. In fact, if the situation has become particularly tense in recent years, it is on the occasion of the publication of a book, then co-signed with Benedict XVI, and whose name of the Pope Emeritus on the cover triggered a very intense controversy.
While Pope Francis is preparing to publish, in early 2020, an apostolic exhortation after the Synod on the Amazon, during which the possibility of ordaining married men was discussed, Cardinal Sarah thus exposes in From the depths of our hearts (1), a very firm defense of the celibacy of priests. ” There is an ontologico-sacramental link between the priesthood and celibacy, indicates the prefect of the congregation for divine worship and the discipline of the sacraments. Any weakening of this link would call into question the magisterium of the council and of the popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I humbly beg Pope Francis to protect us definitively from such an eventuality by vetoing any weakening of the law of priestly celibacy, even limited to one or the other region. “
“Morbid and villainous temptation to align the Church with the values of Western societies”
Believing that the Church is going through “A great crisis”, he criticizes in particular, in an interview published in Current values in 2019, the ” small number ” priests who give in “To the morbid and villainous temptation to align the Church with the values of current Western societies. Above all, they want people to say that the Church is open, welcoming, attentive, modern. But the Church is not made to listen, she is made to teach: she is Mater et magistra, mother and educator. “
→ READ. Cardinal Sarah: “Who is against the Pope is outside the Church”
He has always denied being an opponent of Pope Francis. In October 2019, at the release of his book, Evening is approaching and already the day is fading (2), he sternly warns those who oppose him to Pope Francis. ” Those who oppose me to the Pope cannot present one of my words, one of my sentences or one of my attitudes in support of their absurd and, I will say, devilish claims. »He assured. Before adding: ” Who is against the Pope is outside the Church. “