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Cardinal (Catholic Church)

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Cardinal (Catholic Church)

A cardinal (Latin: Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae cardinalis, literally Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church) is a senior ecclesiastical leader, considered a Prince of the Church, and usually (now always for those created when still within the voting age-range) an ordained bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. The cardinals of the Church are collectively known as the College of Cardinals. The duties of the cardinals include attending the meetings of the College and making themselves available individually or in groups to the Pope as requested. Most have additional duties, such as leading a diocese or archdiocese or managing a department of the Roman Curia. A cardinal's primary duty is electing the pope when the see becomes vacant. 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 Holy See is in the hands of the College of Cardinals. The right to enter the conclave of cardinals where the pope is elected is limited to those who have not reached the age of 80 years by the day the vacancy occurs.


In 1059, the right of electing the pope was reserved to the principal clergy of Rome and the bishops of the seven suburbicarian sees. In the 12th century the practice of appointing ecclesiastics from outside Rome as cardinals began, with each of them assigned a church in Rome as his titular church or linked with one of the suburbicarian dioceses, while still being incardinated in a diocese other than that of Rome.

The term cardinal at one time applied to any priest permanently assigned or incardinated to a church, 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. The Church of England retains an instance of this origin of the title, which is held by the two senior members of the College of Minor Canons of St Paul's Cathedral.


There is disagreement about the origin of the term, but general consensus that "cardinalis" from the word cardo (meaning 'pivot' or 'hinge') was first used in late antiquity to designate a bishop or priest who was incorporated into a church for which he had not originally been ordained. In Rome the first persons to be called cardinals were the deacons of the seven regions of the city at the beginning of the 6th century, when the word began to mean "principal," "eminent," or "superior." The name was also given to the senior priest in each of the "title" churches (the parish churches) of Rome and to the bishops of the seven sees surrounding the city. By the 8th century the Roman cardinals constituted a privileged class among the Roman clergy. They took part in the administration of the church of Rome and in the papal liturgy. By decree of a synod of 769, only a cardinal was eligible to become pope. In 1059, during the pontificate of Nicholas II, cardinals were given the right to elect the pope under the Papal Bull In nomine Domini. For a time this power was assigned exclusively to the cardinal bishops, but the Third Lateran Council in 1179 gave back the right to the whole body of cardinals. Cardinals were granted the privilege of wearing the red hat by Pope Innocent IV in 1244.

In cities other than Rome, the name cardinal began to be applied to certain church men as a mark of honour. The earliest example of this occurs in a letter sent by Pope Zacharias in 747 to Pippin III (the Short), ruler of the Franks, in which Zacharias applied the title to the priests of Paris to distinguish them from country clergy. This meaning of the word spread rapidly, and from the 9th century various episcopal cities had a special class among the clergy known as cardinals. The use of the title was reserved for the cardinals of Rome in 1567 by Pius V.

In the year 1563 the influential Ecumenical Council of Trent, headed by Pope Pius IV, wrote about the importance of selecting good Cardinals. According to this historic council "nothing is more necessary to the Church of God than that the holy Roman pontiff apply that solicitude which by the duty of his office he owes the universal Church in a very special way by associating with himself as cardinals the most select persons only, and appoint to each church most eminently upright and competent shepherds; and this the more so, because our Lord Jesus Christ will require at his hands the blood of the sheep of Christ that perish through the evil government of shepherds who are negligent and forgetful of their office."

The earlier influence of temporal rulers, notably the French kings, reasserted itself through the influence of cardinals of certain nationalities or politically significant movements. Traditions even developed entitling certain monarchs, including those of Austria, Spain, and Portugal, to nominate one of their trusted clerical subjects to be created cardinal, a so-called crown-cardinal.

In early modern times, cardinals often had important roles in secular affairs. In some cases, they took on powerful positions in government. In Henry VIII's England, his chief minister was Cardinal Wolsey. Cardinal Richelieu's power was so great that he was for many years effectively the ruler of France. Richelieu's successor was also a cardinal, Jules Mazarin. 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 king, the only example of a cardinal-king.

College and orders of cardinalate

Pope Sixtus V limited the number of cardinals to 70, comprising six cardinal bishops, 50 cardinal priests, and 14 cardinal deacons. Starting in the pontificate of Pope John XXIII, that limit has been exceeded. At the start of 1971, Pope Paul VI set the number of cardinal electors at a maximum of 120, but set no limit on the number of cardinals generally. He also established a maximum age of eighty years for electors. His action deprived twenty-five living cardinals, including the three living cardinals elevated by Pope Pius XI, of the right to participate in a conclave. Popes can dispense from church laws and have sometimes brought the number of cardinals under the age of 80 to more than 120. Pope Paul VI also increased the number of cardinal bishops by giving that rank to patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

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. 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. They are allowed to celebrate Mass and hear confessions and lead visits and pilgrimages to their titular churches, in coordination with the staff of the church. They often support their churches monetarily, and many Cardinals do keep in contact with the pastoral staffs of their titular churches.

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.

Cardinal bishops

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.

There are seven suburbicarian sees: Ostia, Albano, Porto and Santa Rufina, Palestrina, Sabina and Mentana, Frascati and Velletri. Velletri was united with Ostia from 1150 until 1914, when Pope Pius X separated them again, but decreed that whichever 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.

Since 1962, the cardinal bishops have only a titular relationship with the suburbicarian sees, with no powers of governance over them. 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:

  • Angelo Sodano, Cardinal Bishop of Ostia and Albano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, former Cardinal Secretary of State
  • Roger Etchegaray, Cardinal Bishop of Porto-Santa Rufina, Vice-Dean, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
  • Giovanni Battista Re, Cardinal Bishop of Sabina-Poggio Mirteto, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Bishops
  • Francis Arinze, Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
  • Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal Bishop of Frascati, former Cardinal Secretary of State and former Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church.
  • José Saraiva Martins, Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
  • 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.

    Cardinal Dean

    The Dean of the College of Cardinals, or Cardinal-dean, is the primus inter pares of the College of Cardinals, 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 by right to the longest-serving of the cardinal bishops.

    Cardinal patriarchs

    In 1965, Pope Paul VI decreed in his motu proprio Ad Purpuratorum Patrum that patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches who were named cardinals (i.e., patriarch cardinals) would also be part of the episcopal order, ranking 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). Patriarch cardinals do not receive title of a suburbicarian see, and as such they cannot elect the dean or become dean. There are currently three Eastern Patriarchs who are cardinal bishops:

  • Nasrallah Sfeir, Patriarch Emeritus of Antioch of the Maronites
  • Antonios Naguib, Patriarch Emeritus of Alexandria of the Copts
  • Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites
  • If a Latin Rite titular patriarch (notably of Venice or Lisbon) is made a cardinal, he ranks as a cardinal priest, not as a cardinal bishop.

    Cardinal priests

    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. 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 celebrate mass and 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 Michael Michai Kitbunchu of Thailand.

    Cardinal deacons

    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. 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 maintained this ratio.

    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) from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. 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." The current cardinal proto-deacon is Renato Raffaele Martino.

    Cardinal protodeacons since 1911
  • Francesco Salesio Della Volpe (4 January 1911 – 5 November 1916†); announced election of Pope Benedict XV (1914)
  • Gaetano Bisleti (5 November 1916 – 17 December 1928*); announced election of Pope Pius XI (1922)
  • Camillo Laurenti (17 December 1928 – 16 December 1935*)
  • Camillo Caccia-Dominioni (16 December 1935 – 12 November 1946†); announced election of Pope Pius XII (1939)
  • Nicola Canali (12 November 1946 – 3 August 1961†); announced election of Pope John XXIII (1958)
  • Alfredo Ottaviani (3 August 1961 – 26 June 1967*); announced election of Pope Paul VI (1963)
  • Arcadio Larraona Saralegui, CMF (26 June 1967 – 28 April 1969*)
  • William Theodore Heard (28 April 1969 – 18 May 1970*)
  • Antonio Bacci (18 May 1970 – 20 January 1971†)
  • Michael Browne, OP (20 January 1971 – 31 March 1971†)
  • Federico Callori di Vignale (31 March 1971 – 8 August 1971†)
  • Charles Journet (8 August 1971 – 5 March 1973*)
  • Pericle Felici (5 March 1973 – 30 June 1979*); announced elections of Pope John Paul I (1978) and Pope John Paul II (1978)
  • Sergio Pignedoli (30 June 1979 – 15 June 1980†)
  • Umberto Mozzoni (15 June 1980 – 2 February 1983*)
  • Opilio Rossi (2 February 1983 – 22 June 1987*)
  • Giuseppe Caprio (22 June 1987 – 26 November 1990*)
  • Aurelio Sabattani (26 November 1990 – 5 April 1993*)
  • Duraisamy Simon Lourdusamy (5 April 1993 – 29 January 1996*)
  • Eduardo Martínez Somalo (29 January 1996 – 9 January 1999*)
  • Pio Laghi (9 January 1999 – 26 February 2002*)
  • Luigi Poggi (26 February 2002 – 24 February 2005*)
  • Jorge Medina Estévez (24 February 2005 – 23 February 2007*); announced election of Pope Benedict XVI (2005)
  • Darío Castrillón Hoyos (23 February 2007 – 1 March 2008*)
  • Agostino Cacciavillan (1 March 2008 – 21 February 2011*)
  • Jean-Louis Tauran (21 February 2011 – 12 June 2014*); announced election of Pope Francis (2013)
  • Renato Raffaele Martino (12 June 2014 – present)
  • *Ceased to be protodeacon upon being raised to the order of cardinal-priest
    †Was protodeacon at time of death


    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.

    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, 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. 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. These were all appointed cardinal-deacons, but Roberto Tucci and Albert Vanhoye 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). Even if not a bishop, any cardinal has both actual and honorary precedence over non-cardinal patriarchs, as well as the archbishops and bishops who are not cardinals, but he 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"

    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". 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. Since the time of Pope John XXIII a priest who is appointed a cardinal must be consecrated a bishop, unless he obtains a dispensation.

    Cardinals in pectore or secret cardinals

    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, cardinals were created without publishing their names until later, termed creati et reservati in pectore.

    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. 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 posthumously. Consequently, this cardinalate expired. Some suspect that this "secret Cardinal" was Archbishop Stanisław Dziwisz, a close, longtime friend of John Paul II. He was made a cardinal at the March 2006 Consistory by Pope Benedict XVI.
  • Vesture and privileges

  • 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. 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. 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.

    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 was discontinued in 1969 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, which is traditionally kissed by Catholics when greeting a cardinal (as with a bishop's episcopal ring). Before the new uniformity imposed by John Paul II, each cardinal was given a ring, the central piece of which was a gem, usually a sapphire, with the pope's stemma engraved on the inside. There is now no gemstone, and 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). The pope either decides the case himself or delegates the decision to a tribunal, usually one of the tribunals or congregations of the Roman Curia. Without such delegation, no ecclesiastical court, even the Roman Rota, is competent to judge a canon law case against a cardinal. Cardinals are, however, subject to the civil and criminal law like everybody else.


    Cardinal (Catholic Church) Wikipedia