Cardinal Sarah Named Prefect of Congregation for Divine Worship

The African cardinal is known as a fearless defender of Church teachings against attempts to impose anti-Catholic values on issues like contraception, abortion and homosexuality.

Cardinal Robert Sarah
Cardinal Robert Sarah (photo: CNA/Alan Holdren)

VATICAN CITY — On a day when Pope Francis held a three-hour meeting with Curial heads to discuss reform of the Roman Curia, the Vatican announced on Nov. 24 that the Holy Father had appointed Cardinal Robert Sarah as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Since 2010, the 69-year-old archbishop from Guinea has served as president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum (One Heart), the humanitarian aid and development arm of the Roman Curia.

Regarded as a man of integrity and serenity, with orthodox principles, Cardinal Sarah is said to hold a “neutral” line on the liturgy, endorsing both the Novus Ordo and the traditional Latin Mass. In October, he notably addressed pilgrims on an annual pilgrimage to Rome to celebrate Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum that liberalized celebration of the Mass in Latin according to the 1962 Roman Missal.

“We are very pleased and welcome the appointment,” said James Bogle, president of the International Federation Una Voce that promotes liturgical tradition. He told the Register while on a visit to Rome Nov. 25 that he was “particularly pleased” not only because of the cardinal’s “interest in the liturgical, cultural and historical traditions” of the Church but because he has shown “a welcoming approach to the members of the Church who have a preference for the liturgical traditions of the Roman rite.”


Rejects Anti-Catholic Values

Straightforward and unafraid to speak his mind, Cardinal Sarah has frequently defended Church teaching in the face of opposition, most notably on the issue of Western governments imposing anti-Catholic values on African nations as a condition for humanitarian aid and development.

In comments to the Register in 2012, he called on bishops to respond more forcefully to efforts by the United Nations to change African cultural attitudes towards homosexuality, where such relations remain taboo.

“African bishops must react, [as] this is not our culture; it’s against our faith,” he said. He described calls by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on African countries to change their approach to homosexual relationships as “stupid” and added that the “Catholic bishops of America must help us in Africa by reacting themselves.” The cardinal insisted, “It’s not possible to impose on the poor this kind of European mentality.”

During the Synod of Bishops on Africa in 2009, Cardinal Sarah strongly condemned the push to impose contraception, abortion and homosexuality on Africa. Such attempts are “contrary to African culture and to the human truths illuminated by the divine Revelation in Jesus Christ,” he said, adding that the continent “must protect itself from the contamination of intellectual cynicism in the West.” And during the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family in October, he joined a number of other African bishops in their condemnation of the imposition of such attitudes and practices on Africa by the West.

Born in 1945, Robert Sarah studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and spent a short time at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem.

In 1979, at the age of just 34, Pope St. John Paul II appointed him archbishop of Conakry, the Guinean capital, making him the youngest ordinary in the world — a fact that earned him the nickname “the baby bishop” from John Paul II. In 1985, he was elected president of the bishops’ conference of Guinea, during which he became a fearless critic of authoritarian and corrupt regimes.

In October 2001, John Paul II appointed him secretary at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (also known as “Propaganda Fidei”), where he became the point man for bishops from the developing world. Nine years later, he took over from German Cardinal Paul Cordes as president of Cor Unum.

In 2012, he played a leading role in drawing up and implementing new Vatican rules aimed at reinforcing the Catholic identity of Caritas Internationalis, the federation of Catholic Charities, and making their humanitarian work more accountable to Cor Unum.


The CDW’s Personnel Overhaul

Cardinal Sarah’s appointment is just the latest in a personnel overhaul at the Congregation for Divine Worship. In November, Pope Francis surprisingly removed two undersecretaries from the dicastery: Father Anthony Ward, who had served more than 15 years in the department, and Msgr. Miguel Anguel Ferrer, a personal choice of the previous prefect, Spanish Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, who shared a particular devotion to the traditional Latin Mass.

They were replaced by Father Corrado Maggioni, a disciple of Archbishop Piero Marini, a former papal master of ceremonies, who is known to favor innovative forms of the liturgy. The appointment was significant, given that many consider the role of undersecretary in a department to be highly influential.

Bogle, however, remains confident that liturgical concerns will be fairly treated.

“We in the International Una Voce Federation very much hope and expect that the broad vision and the charitable and intellectually rich legacy of Pope Benedict XVI, expressed in Summorum Pontificum, will be continued in the congregation,” he said. “We also hope and expect that the tolerant and charitable spirit that has been part of the approach of Pope Francis towards the traditional Roman rite will also continue under the new appointments at the congregation.”

Cardinal Sarah is expected to take up his role in January. Before doing so, he will continue his work for Cor Unum. On Nov. 25, the Pope sent him on a four-day pastoral visit to Haiti, which is about to commemorate the fifth anniversary of a catastrophic earthquake that cost 230,000 lives.  

On Nov. 24, the heads of the Roman Curia met with Pope Francis to discuss Curial reform. Their discussions will form part of a meeting of the so-called C9 council of cardinals that is charged with preparing the reform. That group was scheduled to meet Dec. 9-11 at the Vatican.


Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

In Advent, we await the coming of Jesus at Christmastime.

What Is Advent Anyway?

EXPLAINER: Advent is a season in the Church’s life intended to renew the experience of waiting and longing for the Messiah.