POPE Francis has accepted the resignation from a top Vatican post of Cardinal Robert Sarah, a hero to many conservatives who often clashed with the pontiff on theological matters.
The African cardinal, who is from Guinea, held various Vatican positions in the last 20 years, the latest as head of the department that oversees matters of worship and sacraments.
Sarah had submitted his resignation in June last year when he turned 75, as Church law requires of all bishops, but the pope often allows Vatican officials to remain in their posts longer. The Vatican announced on Saturday that he was stepping down.
In his latest position, which he held since 2014, Sarah dragged his feet in implementing changes wanted by Francis, such as allowing women to be among those taking part in Holy Thursday services.
Conservatives in the Church often put Sarah on their wish list to one day succeed Francis as pontiff. But most observers saw that possibility as extremely remote because Sarah was seen as highly divisive and would not have wide support among fellow cardinals.
Apart from openly disagreeing with Francis on a number of theological issues, Sarah was involved in an embarrassing episode last year over a book in defence of priestly celibacy that he said was jointly written with former Pope Benedict.
Just days before its publication, Benedict said he wanted his name removed from the cover because he had made only a minor contribution.
Sarah publicly contested Benedict’s version but agreed that in future editions, Benedict would be named as a contributor and not co-author.