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A Cardinal is a senior ecclesiastical official, usually a bishop, of the Roman Catholic Church, a member of the College of Cardinals which as a body elects a new Pope. Cardinals are appointed by the pope during a consistory of the College. The full canonical name of the rank is Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. Cardinals are collectively referred to as the College of Cardinals. The duties of the cardinals include attending the meetings of the aforementioned Sacred College and making themselves available individually or collectively if the Pope 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 to elect the Pope, whenever by death or resignation the see of Rome becomes vacant. During the sede vacante, the period between a Pope's death 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 not over 80 on the day of the Pope's death. In 1059 the right of electing the Pope was reserved to the principal clergy of Rome and the bishops of the seven "suburbicarian" sees. This gave these an importance that led to the term "cardinal", from Latin "cardo" (hinge), meaning "principal", "chief", being applied to them. In the twelfth century the practice of appointing ecclesiastics from outside Rome as cardinals (members of the principal clergy of the see of Rome) began, with each of them being assigned a church in Rome as his "titular church" or being linked with one of the suburbicarian dioceses. This practice continues today.



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 Roman Church. In medieval times, Roman nobility gained influence. The Holy Roman Emperors had a hand in choosing the pontiff. But as the Pope gained greater political independence, the right of election was given to the cardinals in 1059. However the influence of temporal rulers, notably the French kings, largely reemerged via cardinals of certain nationalities or politically significant movements; there even developed traditions 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.

In early modern times, English]] and French monarchs had cardinals as their chief ministers— Wolsey in England, Richelieu, Mazarin and Fleury in France.

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. In 1975, Pope Paul VI set an age limit of eighty years for electors, who were to be no more than 120, but set no limit to the number of cardinals as a whole, including those over eighty. On one occasion, October 21, 2003, Pope John Paul II brought the number of cardinals with the right to enter the conclave to over 120, perhaps calculating that, though his death was approaching, the number would be sufficiently reduced when his successor was elected. And in fact, at John Paul II's death, only 117 of the then-current 183 cardinals were young enough to be electors.[1] 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.


The coat of arms of Gaetano Cardinal Bedini

Each cardinal takes on a [[titular church|"title" to a certain church in Rome or one of the suburbicarian sees. The only exception is for patriarchs of Eastern Catholic Churches. The Dean of the College of Cardinals always adds the title Bishop of Ostia to the title of the suburbicarian see that he already holds. Not only Eastern patriarchs, but also Western bishops and archbishops retain the governance of the particular Church that is in their charge at the time of their appointment to the cardinalate.

Cardinal Bishop

Cardinal Bishops, or Cardinals of the Episcopal Order, are among the most senior prelates of the Catholic Church. Since, normally, all cardinals are also bishops, the title of Cardinal Bishop only means that the cardinal in question holds the title of one of the "suburbicarian" sees — they include the Dean of the College of Cardinals — or is a patriarch of an Eastern Catholic church.

The Cardinal Bishops are the only order of Cardinals who have always been required to be bishops, and in former times when a Cardinal of one of the lower orders became a Cardinal Bishop, and so the head of a diocese, he was consecrated a bishop. Since 1962 all cardinals have been bishops with rare exceptions, and those cardinals exceptionally allowed to decline episcopal consecration obviously cannot head a suburbicarian see as a Cardinal Bishop.

The Dean, the head (as 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, all six of whom then headed a suburbicarian see. Though these sees are seven, there were only six Cardinal Bishops, since the Dean always adds the title of Ostia to his original suburbicarian diocese.

In early times the privilege of papal election was not reserved to the cardinals, and for centuries the Pope was customarily a Roman priest and never a bishop from elsewhere; to preserve apostolic succession the rite of consecrating the Pope as a bishop (Catholic) 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.

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 (except for the Eastern Rite Patriarchs, no one ever joins the College of Cardinals as a Cardinal Bishop) exclusively by Papal appointment. Only leading figures close to the Pope can expect to be appointed.

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 nor become dean.

Cardinal Priest

Cardinal-Priests O'Brien of Scotland and Murphy-O'Connor of England walking in Vatican City.

Cardinal Priests are the most numerous of the three orders of Cardinals in the Catholic Church. They formally rank above the Cardinal Deacons and below the Cardinal Bishops though this is not a matter of exercise of authority. Those who are named Cardinal Priests today are generally archbishops 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, the understanding of which word modified the other was the opposite: of the priests of the Diocese of Rome, certain key priests of important churches 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," and the term was used in the same way that "key" is used in English today: certain clerics in many dioceses at the time, not just that of Rome, were said to be the "key" personnel, or, in Latin, the "hinges," cardinals — the term gradually became exclusive to Rome to indicate those entrusted with electing the Bishop of Rome, the Pope).

All cardinals are given "titles", though they may be bishops or archbishops elsewhere. While the cardinalate has long been expanded beyond the Roman pastoral clergy and Roman Curia, to this day every Cardinal Priest has nominal title to a parish church in Rome, just as Cardinal Bishops are given the honorary title of one of the suburban dioceses around Rome. A cardinal priest has no functional relationship to the parish's operations, though his name and coat of arms are still posted in the church. Pope Paul VI abolished all administrative rights cardinals had with regard to their titular churches. Some of the titular churches have been the seats of Cardinals since the 2nd century.

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 due to a building falling 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 be over the age of 80, past which cardinals are barred from the conclave. Since the death of Franz König, the Cardinal Protopriest has been Stephen Kim Sou-hwan of South Korea.

Cardinal Deacon

The Cardinal Deacons are the lowest-ranked of the three orders of Cardinals of the Catholic Church. Cardinals elevated to the diaconal order are either officials of the Roman Curia or priests elevated after their eightieth birthday. Bishops with pastoral responsibilities on the other hand are created Cardinal Priests.

Cardinal deacons derive originally from the seven deacons in the Pope's household and the seven deacons who supervised the Church's works in the districts of Rome during the early Middle Ages, when the Church administration was effectively the government of Rome and provided all social services. Cardinal Deacons are given title to one of these deaconries. There were traditionally 14 Cardinal Deacons, but this number has been expanded in recent years.

Under the 1587 decree of Pope Sixtus V that fixed the maximum size of the College of Cardinals until 1958, there were fourteen diaconates, but the number has increased. As of 2005 there were over fifty recognized titular diaconates, though only thirty cardinals were 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 ten years, and after this they rank in precedence as if they had been Cardinal Priests from when they first became Cardinals. They may on such elevation take a vacant title (church allotted as the titular dignity of a Cardinal Priest) or their existing diaconate may be elevated to title for that occasion.

When not in Mass but still serving a liturgical function, such as the bi-annual Urbi et Orbi Papal Blessing and some events at Ecumenical Councils, Cardinal Deacons can be recognized by the Dalmatics they would don with the simple white mitre.

Secret cardinal

In addition to the named cardinals, the Pope may name cardinals in pectore, Latin for in the breast. 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. 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. Some speculate that the Pope could leave instructions in writing, perhaps in his will, for the appointment to be made known after his death; but it is difficult to imagine a case in which the Pope would consider that his own death would remove the obstacle in the way of publishing the name.

Pope John Paul II named four cardinals in pectore during his pontificate. Three of the names were published later.

Lay cardinals

Main|Lay cardinal

At various times there have been lay cardinals, i.e. cardinals who were not ordained clergymen. Giacomo Antonelli and Teodolfo Merkel were among the last of those.

Attributes and other privileges

Choir dress of a cardinal

Excluding the rochet, which is always white, a Latin-rite cardinal wears scarlet garments (the blood-like red symbolizes a cardinal's willingness to die for his faith) when in choir, including the cassock, mozzetta, zucchetto, and biretta. His normal-wear simar is black but has scarlet piping and a scarlet fascia. Occasionally, a cardinal wears a scarlet ferraiolo which is a cape worn over the shoulders, tied in a bow by narrow strips of cloth in the front, without any 'trim' or piping on it. (It is because of the scarlet color of cardinals' vestments that the bird of the same name has become known as such.) Eastern-rite Cardinals will continue to wear the normal dress appropriate to their rite, though some may line their cassocks with scarlet and wear scarlet fascias, or in some cases, wear Eastern-style cassocks entirely of scarlet.

If the cardinal is not already a bishop, he is usually ordained as bishop upon appointment. The designated cardinal however can petition the Pope to dispense him from this requirement.

In ecclesiastical heraldry, cardinals surmount their coat of arms with a scarlet galero with thirty tassels, an ancient symbol of their office.

Since 1630, cardinals have taken the style Eminence. In accordance with Latin tradition, they, like the Pope, sign by placing the title (Papa, abbreviated Pp., or Cardinalis abbreviated Card.) after their first name, as, for instance, "Benedictus Pp. XVI" or "John Card. Doe". This order is also found when referring to cardinals in English, and is the form that James-Charles Noonan, in The Church Visible, p. 205, cites as the correct form. (It is also common, though not universal, for archdioceses led, or traditionally led, by cardinals to use this form: Boston, St Andrews and Edinburgh,Toronto, and Washington.) However, the form that places the title before the first name, e.g., "Cardinal John Doe", in line with usages concerning other figures, both lay and religious (such as "Pope Benedict XVI", "President George W. Bush", "Archbishop John Smith"), is the usual form on the Vatican website and in the media; some dioceses, such as the Diocese of Westminster and the Archdiocese of Wellington, opt for this style. Some archdioceses, such as the Archdiocese of Sydney, use the two forms interchangeably. Accordingly, the full style of Cardinal McCarrick is either "His Eminence, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington," or "His Eminence, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington." Ultimately, it is a matter of personal preference which form one chooses to use, as both forms are now generally recognized.

To symbolize their bond with the papacy, the Pope gives the cardinals he appoints a gold ring, which is traditionally hand-kissed by Catholics when a cardinal is greeted. The Pope chooses the image on the outside: under Pope Benedict XVI it is a modern depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus, with Mary and John at his sides. The ring also includes the pope's coat of arms on the inside.

Cardinals have a privilege of forum in matters arising directly under canon law. Only the Pope is competent to judge them in 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. All other ecclesiastical courts, even the Roman Rota, are not considered to have authority. This privilege, however, still leaves cardinals subject to normal civil authority.

Other Cardinals

Cardinal Theodor Innitzer

In the Church of England, the term cardinal is applied to two members of the College of Minor Canons of St Paul's Cathedral, London. The use of the term predates the Protestant Reformation, but is still in use. A papal grant of Urban VI (1378) referred to "duo deputati ab antiquo, qui cardinales vocantur", the two who took a leading role in the affairs of the college. The two cardinals of the choir enjoyed fees from funerals and anniversary Masses sung in the cathedral; they were consulted on liturgical matters, as on the suitability of the office hymn Verbum supernum at the time of the introduction of the Sarum rite at St Paul's in the mid-fifteenth century. Their duty to celebrate at the high altar in place of the dean and canons was unique to St Paul's. Moreover the junior cardinal had special responsibility for visiting the sick and ministering the sacrament to them: a dangerous duty in a city infected by plague and disease. In reward the cardinals enjoyed a double allowance of money, bread and ale from the college common funds.

Cardinals in popular culture

See also



  1. His Holiness John Paul II Short Biography. Holy See Press Office (30 June 2005). Retrieved on 2007-04-20.
  2. His Holiness John Paul II Biography. Holy See Press Office (30 June 2005). Retrieved on 2007-04-20.
  3. *Instruction on the dress, titles and coat-of-arms of cardinals, bishops and lesser prelates. vol.4. L'Osservatore Romano, English ed. (17 Apr. 1969). Retrieved on 2006-09-01.
  15. Canon 1405 §1 and canon 1406 §2

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