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A cardinal (Latin: sanctae romanae ecclesiae cardinalis) is a senior ecclesiastical official, an ecclesiastical prince, and usually an ordained bishop. Cardinals are collectively known as the College of Cardinals, which as a body elects a new pope. The duties of the cardinals include attending the meetings of the College and making themselves available individually or in groups to the pope if he requests their counsel. Most cardinals have additional duties, such as leading a diocese or archdiocese or running a department of the Roman Curia.

A cardinal's other main function is electing the pope whenever, by death or resignation, the see becomes vacant. In 1059, the right of electing the pope was reserved to the principal clergy of Rome and the bishops of the seven suburbicarian sees. During the sede vacante, the period between a pope's death or resignation and the election of his successor, the day-to-day governance of the Church as a whole is in the hands of the College of Cardinals. The right to enter the conclave of cardinals who elect the pope is now limited to those who have not reached the age of 80 years by the day of the pope's death or resignation.

The term cardinal at one time applied to any priest permanently assigned or incardinated to a church,[1] or specifically to the senior priest of an important church, based on the Latin cardo (hinge), meaning "principal" or "chief". The term was applied in this sense as early as the ninth century to the priests of the tituli (parishes) of the diocese of Rome.[1] A remnant of these earlier cardinals is retained by the Church of England, where the title of "cardinal" is still held by the two senior members of the College of Minor Canons of St Paul's Cathedral.

In the 12th century the practice of appointing ecclesiastics from outside Rome as cardinals began, with each of them being assigned a church in Rome as his titular church, or being linked with one of the suburbicarian dioceses, while still being incardinated in a diocese other than that of Rome.


The election of the pope was not always reserved to the cardinals; the pope was originally elected by the clergy and the people of the diocese of Rome. In medieval times, Roman nobility gained influence. The Holy Roman Emperors had a hand in choosing the pontiff. As the pope gained greater political independence, however, the right of election was, as stated in the bull In nomine Domini, reserved to cardinals in 1059, leaving the emperor only with a vague right of approbation.

The influence of temporal rulers, however, notably the French kings, largely reemerged via cardinals of certain nationalities or politically significant movements. Traditions have even developed entitling certain monarchs (e.g., of Austria, Spain, and Portugal) to nominate one of their trusted clerical subjects to be created cardinal, a so-called crown-cardinal.

In theory, the pope could substitute another body of electors for the College of Cardinals. Some proposed that the Synod of Bishops should perform this function, a proposal that was not accepted, because, among other reasons, the Synod of Bishops can only meet when called by the pope.[2]

In early modern times, cardinals often had important roles in secular affairs. In some cases, they took on powerful positions in government. An example of this was found in Henry VIII's England where his chief minister was Cardinal Wolsey. An even more prominent example is that of Cardinal Richelieu, whose power was so great that he was for many years the real ruler of France.[3] Richelieu was so successful that his successor, Jules Mazarin, was also a cardinal. Guillaume Dubois and André-Hercule de Fleury complete the list of the "four great" cardinals to have ruled France. In Portugal, due to a succession crisis, one cardinal, Henry, King of Portugal, was crowned, thus becoming the only cardinal-king in the world.

As of 2012, the youngest cardinal was Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal (born 1959, elevated 2012), the Major Archbishop of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. The oldest living cardinal, following the death of Ersilio Tonini in 2013, is Fiorenzo Angelini, the former president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers (born 1916, elevated 1991).

The next consistory for the creation of new cardinals is to be held on 22 February 2014. News of this was made public on 31 October 2013, after Pope Francis had already earlier that month given the information to the Council of Cardinal Advisers and the governing council of the Synod of Bishops, both of which groups are to meet again in February. The consistory will, as usual, be the occasion also for a general meeting of the College of Cardinals.[4]

College and orders of cardinalate

Pope Sixtus V limited the number of cardinals to 70, composed of six cardinal bishops, 50 cardinal priests, and 14 cardinal deacons; however, Pope John XXIII began to exceed the overall limit of 70, and this continued under his successors. At the start of 1971, Pope Paul VI set an age limit of eighty years for electors, who were to number no more than 120, but set no limit to the number of cardinals as a whole, including those over eighty. (As a result of the setting of the age limit at the start of 1971, twenty-five living cardinals, including the last three surviving cardinals elevated by Pope Pius XI, lost the right to participate in a conclave.) Since Popes can dispense from church laws,[5] they have sometimes brought the number of cardinals under the age of 80 to more than 120, perhaps calculating that the number would be sufficiently reduced by the time the need for a conclave would arise.[6][7][8] And in fact, since the 120 limit was enacted, no conclave has been held with even a full 120 entitled to participate. Pope Paul VI also increased the number of cardinal bishops by giving that rank to patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches who are made cardinals.

Titular church

Each cardinal takes on a titular church, either a church in the city of Rome or one of the suburbicarian sees. The only exception is for patriarchs of Eastern Catholic Churches.[9] Nevertheless, cardinals possess no power of governance nor are they to intervene in any way in matters which pertain to the administration of goods, discipline, or the service of their titular churches.[10]

The Dean of the College of Cardinals in addition to such a titular church also receives the titular bishopric of Ostia, the primary suburbicarian see. Cardinals governing a particular Church retain that church.[11]

Title and reference style

Since 1630, cardinals have taken the style Eminence. In accordance with tradition, they sign by placing the title "Cardinal" (abbreviated Card.) after their personal name and before their surname as, for instance, "John Card(inal) Doe" or, in Latin, "Ioannes Card(inalis) Cognomen". Similarly, the traditional official signature of popes inserts the Latin title Papa (abbreviated PP.[12]) immediately after the personal name, as "Benedictus PP. XVI" for "Pope Benedict XVI" - Pope Francis has refused to use the indication for "Pope", signing himself plain "Franciscus". Some writers, such as James-Charles Noonan,[13] hold that, in the case of cardinals, the form used for signatures should be used also when referring to them, even in English; and this is the usual but not the only way of referring to cardinals in Latin.[14] Several influential stylebooks, both secular[15] and religious,[16] however, indicate that the correct form for referring to a cardinal in English is as "Cardinal ". This style is also generally followed on the websites of the Holy See and episcopal conferences.[17] Oriental Patriarchs who are created Cardinals customarily use "Sanctae Ecclesiae Cardinalis" as their full title,[18] probably because they do not belong to the Roman clergy.[9]

A well-known instance of the "John Cardinal Doe" style is that in the proclamation, in Latin, of the election of a new pope by the cardinal protodeacon: "Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum; habemus Papam: Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum, Dominum (first name) Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem (last name), ..."[19] (Meaning: "I announce to you a great joy; we have a Pope: The Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord, Lord (first name) Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church (last name), ...")


Cardinal bishop

Cardinal bishops (cardinals of the episcopal order) are among the most senior prelates of the Catholic Church. Though in modern times most cardinals are also bishops, the term "cardinal bishop" only refers to the cardinals who are titular bishops of one of the "suburbicarian" sees.

In early times, the privilege of papal election was not reserved to the cardinals, and for centuries the person elected was customarily a Roman priest and never a bishop from elsewhere. To preserve apostolic succession the rite of consecrating him a bishop had to be performed by someone who was already a bishop. The rule remains that, if the person elected Pope is not yet a bishop, he is consecrated by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia.

The Dean of the College of Cardinals, the primus inter pares of the College of Cardinals, is elected by the cardinal bishops holding suburbicarian sees from among their own number, an election, however, that must be approved by the Pope. Formerly the position of dean belonged to the longest-serving of the cardinal bishops.

The suburbicarian sees are seven: Ostia, Albano, Porto and Santa Rufina, Palestrina, Sabina and Mentana, Frascati, and Velletri.[20] Velletri was united with Ostia from 1150 until 1914, when Pope Pius X separated them again, but decreed that whatever cardinal bishop became Dean of the College of Cardinals would keep the suburbicarian see he already held, adding to it that of Ostia, with the result that there continued to be only six cardinal bishops.[21][22][23]

Since 1962, the cardinal bishops have only a titular relationship with the suburbicarian sees, with no powers of governance over them.[24] Each see has its own bishop, with the exception of Ostia, in which the Cardinal Vicar of the see of Rome is apostolic administrator.

The current cardinal bishops of the suburbicarian dioceses are:

For a period ending in the mid-20th century, long-serving cardinal priests were entitled to fill vacancies that arose among the cardinal bishops, just as cardinal deacons of ten years' standing are still entitled to become cardinal priests. Since then, cardinals have been advanced to cardinal bishop exclusively by papal appointment.

In 1965, Pope Paul VI decreed in his motu proprio Ad Purpuratorum Patrum that patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches who were named cardinals would also be part of the episcopal order, ranked after the six cardinal bishops of the suburbicarian sees (who had been relieved of direct responsibilities for those sees by Pope John XXIII three years earlier). Not holding a suburbicarian see, they cannot elect the dean or become dean. There are currently four Eastern Patriarchs who are cardinal bishops:

The Latin Rite Patriarchs of Lisbon and Venice, while in practice always made cardinals at the consistory after they take possession of their sees, are made cardinal priests, not cardinal bishops. Although the incumbents of such sees are consistently created cardinal, no see carries an actual right to the cardinalate.

Cardinal priest

Cardinal priests are the most numerous of the three orders of cardinals in the Catholic Church, ranking above the cardinal deacons and below the cardinal bishops.[25] Those who are named cardinal priests today are generally bishops of important dioceses throughout the world, though some hold Curial positions.

In modern times, the name "cardinal priest" is interpreted as meaning a cardinal who is of the order of priests. Originally, however, this referred to certain key priests of important churches of the Diocese of Rome, who were recognized as the cardinal priests, the important priests chosen by the pope to advise him in his duties as Bishop of Rome (the Latin cardo means "hinge"). Certain clerics in many dioceses at the time, not just that of Rome, were said to be the key personnel — the term gradually became exclusive to Rome to indicate those entrusted with electing the bishop of Rome, the pope.

While the cardinalate has long been expanded beyond the Roman pastoral clergy and Roman Curia, every cardinal priest has a titular church in Rome, though they may be bishops or archbishops elsewhere, just as cardinal bishops are given one of the suburbicarian dioceses around Rome. Pope Paul VI abolished all administrative rights cardinals had with regard to their titular churches, though the cardinal's name and coat of arms are still posted in the church, and they are expected to preach there if convenient when they are in Rome.

While the number of cardinals was small from the times of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, and frequently smaller than the number of recognized churches entitled to a cardinal priest, in the 16th century the College expanded markedly. In 1587, Pope Sixtus V sought to arrest this growth by fixing the maximum size of the College at 70, including 50 cardinal priests, about twice the historical number. This limit was respected until 1958, and the list of titular churches modified only on rare occasions, generally when a building fell into disrepair. When Pope John XXIII abolished the limit, he began to add new churches to the list, which Popes Paul VI and John Paul II continued to do. Today there are close to 150 titular churches, out of over 300 churches in Rome.

The cardinal who is the longest-serving member of the order of cardinal priests is titled cardinal protopriest. He had certain ceremonial duties in the conclave that have effectively ceased because he would generally have already reached age 80, at which cardinals are barred from the conclave. The current cardinal protopriest is Paulo Evaristo Arns of Brazil.

Cardinal deacon

The cardinal deacons are the lowest-ranking cardinals. Cardinals elevated to the diaconal order are either officials of the Roman Curia or priests elevated after their 80th birthday. Bishops with diocesan responsibilities, however, are created cardinal priests.

Cardinal deacons derive originally from the seven deacons in the Papal Household and the seven deacons who supervised the Church's works in the districts of Rome during the early Middle Ages, when church administration was effectively the government of Rome and provided all social services. Cardinal deacons are given title to one of these deaconries.

Cardinals elevated to the diaconal order are mainly officials of the Roman Curia holding various posts in the church administration. Their number and influence has varied through the years. While historically predominantly Italian the group has become much more internationally diverse in later years. While in 1939 about half were Italian by 1994 the number was reduced to one third. Their influence in the election of the Pope has been considered important, they are better informed and connected than the dislocated cardinals but their level of unity has been varied.[26] Under the 1587 decree of Pope Sixtus V, which fixed the maximum size of the College of Cardinals, there were 14 cardinal deacons. Later the number increased. As late as 1939 almost half of the cardinals were members of the curia. Pius XII reduced this percentage to 24 percent. John XXIII brought it back up to 37 percent but Paul VI brought it down to 27 percent where John Paul II has maintained this ratio.[26]

As of 2005, there were over 50 churches recognized as cardinalatial deaconries, though there were only 30 cardinals of the order of deacons. Cardinal deacons have long enjoyed the right to "opt for the order of cardinal priests" (optazione) after they have been cardinal deacons for 10 years. They may on such elevation take a vacant "title" (a church allotted to a cardinal priest as the church in Rome with which he is associated) or their diaconal church may be temporarily elevated to a cardinal priest's "title" for that occasion. When elevated to cardinal priests, they take their precedence according to the day they were first made cardinal deacons (thus ranking above cardinal priests who were elevated to the college after them, regardless of order).

When not celebrating Mass but still serving a liturgical function, such as the semiannual Urbi et Orbi papal blessing, some Papal Masses and some events at Ecumenical Councils, cardinal deacons can be recognized by the dalmatics they would don with the simple white mitre (so called mitra simplex).

Cardinal protodeacon

The Cardinal protodeacon, the senior cardinal deacon in order of appointment to the College of Cardinals, has the privilege of announcing a new pope's election and name (once he has been ordained to the Episcopate[27]) from the central balcony at the Basilica of Saint Peter in Vatican City State. In the past, during papal coronations, the Proto-Deacon also had the honor of bestowing the pallium on the new pope and crowning him with the papal tiara. However, in 1978 Pope John Paul I chose not to be crowned and opted for a simpler papal inauguration ceremony, and his three successors followed that example. As a result, the Cardinal protodeacon's privilege of crowning a new pope has effectively ceased although it could be revived if a future Pope were to restore a coronation ceremony. However, the Proto-Deacon still has the privilege of bestowing the pallium on a new pope at his papal inauguration. “Acting in the place of the Roman Pontiff, he also confers the pallium upon metropolitan bishops or gives the pallium to their proxies.”[28] The current Cardinal Proto-Deacon is Jean-Louis Tauran.

Cardinal Protodeacons since 1911

*Ceased to be protodeacon upon being raised to the order of cardinal-priest
†Was protodeacon at time of death

Special types of cardinals


The Cardinal Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, assisted by the Vice-Camerlengo and the other prelates of the office known as the Apostolic Camera, has functions that in essence are limited to a period of sede vacante of the papacy. He is to collate information about the financial situation of all administrations dependent on the Holy See and present the results to the College of Cardinals, as they gather for the papal conclave.[29]

Cardinals who are not bishops

Until 1917, it was possible for someone who was not a priest, but only in minor orders, to become a cardinal (see "lay cardinals", below), but they were enrolled only in the order of cardinal deacons. For example, in the 16th century, Reginald Pole was a cardinal for 18 years before he was ordained a priest. In 1917 it was established that all cardinals, even cardinal deacons, had to be priests,[30] and, in 1962, Pope John XXIII set the norm that all cardinals be ordained as bishops, even if they are only priests at the time of appointment.[31] As a consequence of these two changes, canon 351 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law requires that a cardinal be at least in the order of priesthood at his appointment, and that those who are not already bishops must receive episcopal consecration. Several cardinals aged over 80 or close to it when appointed have obtained dispensation from the rule of having to be a bishop.[32] These were all appointed cardinal-deacons, but one of them, Roberto Tucci, lived long enough to exercise the right of option and be promoted to the rank of cardinal-priest.

A cardinal who is not a bishop is still entitled to wear and use the episcopal vestments and other pontificalia (episcopal regalia: mitre, crozier, zucchetto, pectoral cross and ring). All cardinals traditionally rank above bishops in order of precedence, but those who are not bishops cannot perform the functions reserved solely to bishops, such as ordination. The prominent priests who since 1962 were not ordained bishops on their elevation to the cardinalate were over the age of 80 or near to it, and so no cardinal who was not a bishop has participated in recent papal conclaves.

"Lay cardinals"

Main article: Lay cardinal

At various times, there have been cardinals who had only received first tonsure and minor orders but not yet been ordained as deacons or priests. Though clerics, they were inaccurately called "lay cardinals" and were permitted to marry. Teodolfo Mertel was among the last of the lay cardinals. When he died in 1899 he was the last surviving cardinal who was not at least ordained a priest. With the revision of the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917 by Pope Benedict XV, only those who are already priests or bishops may be appointed cardinals.[33] Since the time of Pope John XXIII a priest who is appointed a cardinal must be consecrated a bishop, unless he obtains a dispensation.[34]

Cardinals in pectore or secret cardinals

Main article: In pectore

In addition to the named cardinals, the pope may name secret cardinals or cardinals in pectore (Latin for in the breast).

During the Western Schism, many cardinals were created by the contending popes. Beginning with the reign of Pope Martin V,[1] cardinals were created without publishing their names until later, termed creati et reservati in pectore.[35]

A cardinal named in pectore is known only to the pope; not even the cardinal so named is necessarily aware of his elevation, and in any event cannot function as a cardinal while his appointment is in pectore. Today, cardinals are named in pectore to protect them or their congregations from reprisals if their identities were known.

If conditions change, so that the pope judges it safe to make the appointment public, he may do so at any time. The cardinal in question then ranks in precedence with those raised to the cardinalate at the time of his in pectore appointment. If a pope dies before revealing the identity of an in pectore cardinal, the cardinalate expires.

Of the 232 cardinals that Pope John Paul II elevated, four were named in pectore.[36][37] The identities of three of these were subsequently revealed:

  • Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei, Bishop of Shanghai, People's Republic of China - made cardinal 1979, revealed 1991, died 2000.
  • Marian Jaworski, Archbishop of Lviv, Ukraine - made cardinal 1998, revealed 2001.
  • Jānis Pujāts, Archbishop of Riga, Latvia - made cardinal 1998, revealed 2001.
  • The fourth cardinal was created in 2003. John Paul II did not reveal this cardinal's identity prior to his death, or in the 15-page testament he wrote during his papacy and which was released after his death. Consequently, this cardinalate expired. Some suspect that this "secret Cardinal" was Archbishop Stanisław Dziwisz, a close, longtime friend of John Paul II. However, he was made a cardinal at the March 2006 Consistory anyway, as was announced by Pope Benedict XVI on 22 February 2006.

Vesture and privileges

Main article: Pontifical vestments

When in choir dress, a Latin-rite cardinal wears scarlet garments — the blood-like red symbolizes a cardinal's willingness to die for his faith.[38][39] Excluding the rochet — which is always white — the scarlet garments include the cassock, mozzetta, and biretta (over the usual scarlet zucchetto). The biretta of a cardinal is distinctive not merely for its scarlet color, but also for the fact that it does not have a pompon or tassel on the top as do the birettas of other prelates. Until the 1460s, it was customary for cardinals to wear a violet or blue cape unless granted the privilege of wearing red when acting on papal business. His normal-wear cassock is black but has scarlet piping and a scarlet fascia (sash). Occasionally, a cardinal wears a scarlet ferraiolo which is a cape worn over the shoulders, tied at the neck in a bow by narrow strips of cloth in the front, without any 'trim' or piping on it.[40] It is because of the scarlet color of cardinals' vesture that the bird of the same name has become known as such.

Eastern Catholic cardinals continue to wear the normal dress appropriate to their liturgical tradition, though some may line their cassocks with scarlet and wear scarlet fascias, or in some cases, wear Eastern-style cassocks entirely of scarlet.[41]

In previous times, at the consistory at which the pope named a new cardinal, he would bestow upon him a distinctive wide-brimmed hat called a galero. This custom has been discontinued, and the investiture now takes place with the scarlet biretta. In ecclesiastical heraldry, however, the scarlet galero is still displayed on the cardinal's coat of arms. Cardinals had the right to display the galero in their cathedral, and when a cardinal died, it would be suspended from the ceiling above his tomb. Some cardinals will still have a galero made, even though it is not officially part of their apparel.

To symbolize their bond with the papacy, the pope gives each newly appointed cardinal a gold ring,[42] which is traditionally kissed by Catholics when greeting a cardinal (as with a bishop's episcopal ring). The pope chooses the image on the outside: under Pope Benedict XVI it was a modern depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus, with Mary and John to each side. The ring includes the pope's coat of arms on the inside.

Cardinals have in canon law a "privilege of forum" (i.e., exemption from being judged by ecclesiastical tribunals of ordinary rank): only the pope is competent to judge them in matters subject to ecclesiastical jurisdiction (cases that refer to matters that are spiritual or linked with the spiritual, or with regard to infringement of ecclesiastical laws and whatever contains an element of sin, where culpability must be determined and the appropriate ecclesiastical penalty imposed). This does not exempt them from being judged for alleged violations of civil law. The pope either decides the case himself or delegates the decision to another tribunal, usually one of the tribunals or congregations of the Roman Curia. Absent such delegation, other ecclesiastical courts, even the Roman Rota, are incompetent to judge a case against a cardinal.[43]

See also

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External links

  • Salvador Miranda. The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. A digital resource consisting of the biographical entries of the cardinals from 900 to 2009 and of the events and documents concerning the origin of the Roman cardinalate and its historical evolution
  • Next Cardinal Creating Consistory by Pope Benedict XVI -- The Required Background Data (including statistical data and links). Popes and the Papcy website (Anura Guruge). Retrieved 2010-09-08.
  • Giga-Catholic Information on all Cardinals
    • List of All Cardinals By Precedence by Giga-Catholic Information
    • List of all Cardinal Titular Churches by Giga-Catholic Information
    • List of all Cardinal Deaconries by Giga-Catholic Information
  • Catholic-pages List of Cardinals
  • Thomas J. Reese, Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church, Harvard University Press, 1996 [1]

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