Robert Sarah

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His Eminence
Robert Sarah
Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
Cardinal Robert Sarah (cropped).JPG
Sarah in 2015
Appointed 23 November 2014
Predecessor Antonio Cañizares Llovera
Other posts Cardinal-Deacon of San Giovanni Bosco in via Tuscolana
Ordination 20 July 1969
by Raymond-Maria Tchidimbo
Consecration 8 December 1979
by Giovanni Benelli
Created Cardinal 20 November 2010
by Benedict XVI
Rank Cardinal deacon
Personal details
Born (1945-06-15) 15 June 1945 (age 72)
Ourous, Guinea
Nationality Guinea
Denomination Catholic
Previous post
Motto Sufficit tibi gratia mea
"My grace is sufficient for thee"[1]
Coat of arms
Styles of
Robert Sarah
Coat of arms of Robert Sarah.svg
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal

Robert Sarah (born 15 June 1945) is a Guinean Cardinal prelate of the Catholic Church. A Cardinal since November 2010, he was appointed as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Pope Francis on 23 November 2014. He previously served as secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

In 2016, Sarah called for priests to face the altar ad orientem (in the same direction as the congregation) while celebrating Mass, despite the fact that versus populum (facing the congregation) had become the prevailing practice following recommended changes to the liturgy made by the Second Vatican Council. The move was seen by some media commentators as a direct challenge to Pope Francis.[2][3][4][5]

A strong opponent of same-sex marriage, he has denounced the "Western homosexual and abortion ideologies", personally suggesting that both are of "demonic origin" and comparing them to Nazism and Islamic terrorism. He has also been outspoken on the persecution of Christians under radical Islam.[6][7][8]

Sarah speaks French, English and Italian fluently.[9]

Early life and education[edit]

Sarah was born in a one room hut in rural French Guinea in 1945, the son of converts to Christianity.[10] He studied at Ourous. In 1957, at age 12, he entered the Seminary of Bingerville in Ivory Coast. On 2 October 1958, Guinea became independent after the referendum of 28 September. The Guinean seminarians who were studying in Bingerville returned to the new country and entered the Seminary of Dixinn in 1960 for one year. On 15 August 1961, the Democratic Party of Guinea nationalized all private Catholic schools, including the seminary.[citation needed]

After staying in their respective parishes, the seminarians, including Sarah, gathered at the locals of the parish of Sainte Croix, Kindia, waiting for the opening of Seminary Jean XXIII, situated 135 kilometers from Conakry. After obtaining a baccalaureate in 1964, Sarah was sent to France to study at the Grand Seminary at Nancy. Because of the political relations between France and Guinea, he completed his theological studies in Sébikotane, Senegal. Later that year he studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he obtained a licentiate in theology; and at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Jerusalem, where he obtained a licentiate in Sacred Scriptures. Sarah returned to Guinea in 1974.[citation needed]

Clerical career[edit]

Sarah was ordained to the priesthood on 20 July 1969, and incardinated in the Diocese of Conakry. On 13 August 1979, Pope John Paul II appointed him Metropolitan Archbishop of Conakry. He was consecrated bishop on 8 December 1979 by Cardinal Giovanni Benelli. He served as Conakry's bishop for more than twenty years and during that tenure filled terms as president of the Guinean bishops' conference and of the Episcopal Conference of West Africa.[9]

On 1 October 2001, John Paul II named him secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, a post he held for ten years. In October 2010 he was appointed president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which carries responsibility for organising Catholic relief efforts worldwide. He was the second African appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to lead a Vatican dicastery. The first was Peter Cardinal Turkson of Ghana who was appointed president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2009.[11]

On 20 November 2010, Pope Benedict XVI made him Cardinal-Deacon of San Giovanni Bosco in via Tuscolana.[12] He has the right to vote in papal conclaves until his 80th birthday. He was a cardinal elector in the 2013 papal conclave that elected Pope Francis.

Congregation for Divine Worship[edit]

On 23 November 2014, Pope Francis appointed Sarah as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.[13]

On 21 January 2016, Sarah announced that participation in the Holy Thursday foot-washing rite (the mandatum) was no longer limited to men, following instructions from Pope Francis who had included women since the beginning of his papacy.[14] However, in March Sarah said that there was no obligation to include women in the ceremony.[15]

Late in May 2016, Cardinal Sarah told an interviewer that the Second Vatican Council did not require priests to celebrate Mass versus populum, that is, facing the congregation. This way of celebrating Mass, he said, was "a possibility, but not an obligation". Readers and listeners should face each other during the Liturgy of the Word, he said. "But as soon as we reach the moment when one addresses God – from the Offertory onwards – it is essential that the priest and faithful look together towards the east. This corresponds exactly to what the Council Fathers wanted." Cardinal Sarah rejected the argument that priests celebrating Mass facing east, or ad orientem, are turning their backs on the faithful or "against them”.[16][17]

Speaking at a London conference on 5 July 2016, Cardinal Sarah asked all bishops and priests to begin celebrating the Mass ad orientem "wherever possible", "perhaps" by 27 November 2016, the start of Advent. He encouraged all Catholics to receive Communion kneeling and said that Pope Francis had asked him to "continue the liturgical work Pope Benedict began".[18][19][20] Sarah then met privately with Pope Francis and on 11 July the Holy See Press Office issued a statement that said that Sarah's London remarks had been "incorrectly interpreted, as if they were intended to announce new indications different to those given so far in the liturgical rules and in the words of the Pope regarding celebration facing the people and the ordinary rite of the Mass", that celebrating Mass facing the congregation (versus populum) was "desirable wherever possible" and not to be superseded by ad orientem. It reported that the Pope and the Cardinal were in complete agreement on these points.[21][22][23]

Other appointments[edit]

On 29 December 2010, Sarah was appointed a member of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.[citation needed] On 10 March 2015, Pope Francis appointed Sarah to serve as a member of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses.[24]

Opposition to LGBT rights[edit]

On 28 January 2012, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, called on African nations to repeal laws that place sanctions on homosexual conduct. Sarah called the speech "stupid". When a journalist asked if Ban Ki-moon was "overstepping his responsibilities", Sarah replied: "Sure, you cannot impose something stupid like that. Poor countries like Africa just accept it because it's imposed upon them through money, through being tied to aid." He said that "It's not possible to impose on the poor this kind of European mentality” and added that African bishops must react to this move against African culture.[25]

Following the first session of the Synod on the Family in October 2014, Sarah objected to press coverage of the synod's discussion: "what has been published by the media about homosexual unions is an attempt to push the Church [to change] her doctrine". He said the synod's interim report or relatio appropriately objected to international agencies and governments that condition foreign aid on "the introduction of regulations based on gender ideology", but needed to underscore objections to same-sex marriage. He suggested that advocacy on behalf of same-sex unions formed "part of a new ideology of evil".[26]

In an interview in September 2015, Sarah called same-sex unions "retrogressive for culture and civilisation" and a threat to all humanity. He said that despite the fact that such unions were increasingly recognized in Europe, they were not approved of in Africa. He blamed "Western ideological colonialism" for promoting the idea of gay marriage, which he warned would "destroy Catholic doctrine".[27][28] According to the Daily Telegraph, Sarah's "outspoken remarks underlined deep rifts within the Church over the Pope's softer, more compassionate attitude towards homosexuality".[29]

In 2015, addressing the Synod on the Family on perceived threats to marriage and the family, he advocated the need to be "inclusive and welcoming to all that is human" but warned: "What comes from the Enemy cannot and must not be assimilated. You cannot join Christ and Belial!".[8][30][31][32][6][33] He played a leading role in rejecting attempts to ensure more welcoming language toward people who are gay or divorced and remarried.[34] He said that "Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism" could be seen as "almost like two apocalyptic beasts" with demonic origins, drew parallels between them and Nazism and Communism, and noted that terrorist attacks in France and Tunisia had taken place on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that made same-sex civil marriage legal nationwide.[8][6]

Sarah's comments were immediately criticized by Polish laicized priest and theologian Krzysztof Charamsa as defamatory and disrespectful.[35] Johan Bonny, Bishop of Antwerp complained that Sarah had tried to silence any discussion of the pastoral care of gay Catholics in the discussion group he led at the Synod: "There was no way of discussing it in a peaceful way." Bonny noted that European bishops generally agreed that the issue had to be debated, but that they faced resistance from the African bishops.[36]

Addressing the U.S. National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on 17 May 2016, Sarah said that "God is being eroded, eclipsed, liquidated" in the United States because of legal changes being adopted "in the name of 'tolerance'". He cited "the legalization of same sex marriage, the obligation to accept contraception within health care programs, and even 'bathroom bills' that allow men to use the women's restrooms and locker rooms." He asked: "Should not a biological man use the men's restroom?"[37]


  • Sarah, Robert; Diat, Nicolas (1 September 2015). God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith (Sew ed.). Ignatius Press. ISBN 978-1621640509. 
  • Sarah, Robert; Diat, Nicolas (5 October 2016). La force du silence (in French). Fayard. 



  1. ^ 2 Corinthians 12:9
  2. ^ San Martín, Inés (July 6, 2016). "Cardinal's call for eastward stance at Mass stirs debate". Crux. Retrieved August 17, 2016. 
  3. ^ "Hearts, minds and souls". The Economist. 30 July 2016. Retrieved 5 November 2016. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c Pentin, Edward (12 October 2015). "Cardinal Sarah: ISIS and Gender Ideology Are Like 'Apocalyptic Beasts'". National Catholic Register. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  7. ^ Gettleman, Jeffrey; Goodstein, Laurie (25 November 2015). "A More Conservative Catholic Church Awaits Pope Francis in Africa". New York Times. 
  8. ^ a b c "Top African Cardinal: 'LGBTI rights and Islamic extremism are Communism and Nazism for the 21st Century'". Gay Star News. 16 October 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  9. ^ a b McElwee, Joshua J (24 November 2014). "Francis appoints Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah to lead Vatican liturgical congregation". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 16 May 2016. 
  10. ^ Catholic Herald UK: "The unstoppable rise of Cardinal Sarah" March 11, 2016
  11. ^ Allen Jr., John L. (7 October 2010). "In two key appointments, Benedict opts for insiders". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 19 July 2016. 
  12. ^ "Concistoro Ordinario Pubblico del 20 Novembre 2010, Assegnazione dei Titoli e delle Daiconie ai Nuovi Cardinali" (in Italian). 20 November 2010. Retrieved 20 July 2016. 
  13. ^ "Card Sarah named Prefect for Congregation for Divine Worship". 25 November 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  14. ^ "Pope Francis opens Holy Thursday foot-washing rite to women". Catholic Herald. 21 January 2016. Retrieved 8 November 2016. 
  15. ^ Montagna, Diane (15 March 2016). "Cardinal Sarah: Priests Don’t Have to Wash Women’s Feet on Holy Thursday". Aleteia. Retrieved 8 November 2016. 
  16. ^ Pourbaix, Aymeric (23 May 2016). "Cardinal Sarah: comment remettre Dieu au cœur de la liturgie". Famille Chrétienne (in French). Retrieved 19 July 2016. 
  17. ^ "Vatican liturgy chief urges priests to celebrate Mass facing east". Catholic Herald. 26 May 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  18. ^ Sarah, Robert (12 July 2016). "Full text: Cardinal Sarah at Sacra Liturgia conference". The Catholic Herald. 
  19. ^ Westen, John-Henry (5 July 2016). "Vatican Liturgy Chief asks all priests and bishops to face east for Mass, faithful to kneel for Communion". Life Site News. And so, dear Fathers, I ask you to implement this practice wherever possible, with prudence and with the necessary catechesis, certainly, but also with a pastor’s confidence that this is something good for the Church, something good for our people. Your own pastoral judgement will determine how and when this is possible, but perhaps beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year… may be a very good time to do this. 
  20. ^ Hitchens, Dan (5 July 2016). "Cardinal Sarah asks priests to start celebrating Mass facing east this Advent". The Catholic Herald. 
  21. ^ "Holy See Press Office Communiqué: Some clarifications on the celebration of Mass" (Press release). Holy See Press Office. 11 July 2016. Retrieved 8 November 2016. All the above was unanimously expressed during a recent audience granted by the Pope to the same Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. 
  22. ^ San Martín, Inés (11 July 2016). "Vatican squelches rumors of new rules on Mass facing east". Crux. 
  23. ^ Dulle, Colleen (12 July 2016). "Vatican says no changes foreseen in direction priests face during Mass". National Catholic Reporter. Catholic News Service. Retrieved 8 November 2016. 
  24. ^ "Rinunce e nomine" (Press release) (in Italian). Holy See Press Office. 10 March 2015. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. 
  25. ^ "Cardinal responds to UN's criticism of Africa's Social Policies". National Catholic Register. 21 February 2013. 
  26. ^ "African cardinal: Pressure groups behind push to change Church teaching". Catholic News Agency. 16 October 2014. Retrieved 19 July 2016. 
  27. ^ Rodari, Paolo (20 September 2015). "Robert Sarah: 'L'ostia ai divorzati tradisce il Vangelo, la Chiesa non può ribellarsi a Dio'". La Repubblica (in Italian). Retrieved 18 July 2016. 
  28. ^ Agnew, Paddy (30 September 2015). "'Homosexual unions' a problem for humanity, says cardinal". Irish Times. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  29. ^ Squires, Nick (3 October 2015). "Francis: the modest but radical Pope who is conscience of his era". Telegraph. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  30. ^ "Cardinal Sarah urges Synod to reject liberal agenda pushed by organizers in blistering speech, interview". 14 October 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  31. ^ "Cardinal Sarah says the Christian family counters both Islamic, Western extremism". Catholic News Agency. 14 October 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  32. ^ "Synod Interventions . . . Concerns About Threats To The Families, Hopes For True Renewal". The Wanderer Newspaper. 21 October 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  33. ^ "Cardinal Sarah: efforts to 'soften' Christ's teaching ignore the Good News of mercy". Catholic News Agency. 23 September 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  34. ^ "Catholic bishops at Vatican summit seek elusive common ground". Religion News Service. 14 October 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  35. ^ Pianigiani, Gaia (28 October 2015). "Gay Priest Who Lost Vatican Job Assails the Church in Letter to Pope Francis". New York Times. 
  36. ^ "Cardinal Sarah blocked discussion of gays, says bishop". The Tablet. 24 October 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  37. ^ Dicker, Rachel (18 May 2016). "'God is Being Eroded, Eclipsed, Liquidated' in the United States, Cardinal Says". US News & World Report. Retrieved 20 July 2016. 
  38. ^ "Cardinal Sarah admitted to Order of Malta with the rank of Bailiff Grand Cross of Honour and Devotion" (Press release). 20 June 2016. Retrieved 13 September 2016. 
  39. ^,_le_cardinal_sarah_re%C3%A7oit_le_titre_de_grand-croix/1168164
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Raymond-Maria Tchidimbo CSSp
Archbishop of Conakry
13 August 1979 – 1 October 2001
Succeeded by
Vincent Coulibaly
Preceded by
Marcello Zago OMI
Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
1 October 2001 – 7 October 2010
Succeeded by
Savio Hon Tai-Fai SDB
Preceded by
Paul Cordes
President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum
7 October 2010 – 23 November 2014
Preceded by
Antonio Cañizares Llovera
Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
23 November 2014 – present