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 bishop of Rome 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 the 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 bishop of Rome. In 1059, during the pontificate of Nicholas II , cardinals were given the right to elect the bishop of Rome 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.


In 1586 Pope Sixtus V limited the number of cardinals to 70: [77] six cardinal bishops, 50 cardinal priests, and 14 cardinal deacons. Pope John XXIII exceeded that limit citing the need to staff Church offices. [78] In November 1970 in Ingravescentem aetatem , Pope Paul VI established a maximum age of eighty years for electors. This immediately deprived twenty-five cardinals of the right to participate in a conclave. [79] In October 1975 in Romano Pontifici eligendo , he set the maximum number of electors at 120, while establishing no limit on the overall size of the College. [80]

Popes can set aside church laws [81] [82] and they have sometimes brought the number of cardinals under the age of 80 to more than 120, reaching as high as 135 with Pope John Paul II's consistory of 21 February 2001. [83] No more than 120 electors have ever participated in a conclave , but most canon lawyers believe that if their number exceeded 120 they would all participate. [84]

Pope Paul VI also increased the number of cardinal bishops by assigning that rank to patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches when named cardinals. [85] [2]

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.

Title and reference style

In 1630, Pope Urban VIII decreed their title to be Eminence (previously, it had been "illustrissimo" and "reverendissimo") and decreed that their secular rank would equate to Prince, making them secondary only to the Pope and crowned monarchs.

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". Some writers, such as James-Charles Noonan, hold that, in the case of cardinals, the form used for signatures should be used also when referring to them in English. Official sources such as the Catholic News Service [3] say that the correct form for referring to a cardinal in English is normally as "Cardinal [First name] [Surname]". This is the rule given also in stylebooks not associated with the Catholic Church. [4] [5] [6] [12] This style is also generally followed on the websites of the Holy See and episcopal conferences . [35] Oriental Patriarchs who are created Cardinals customarily use "Sanctae Ecclesiae Cardinalis" as their full title, probably because they do not belong to the Roman clergy.

In Latin, the [First name] Cardinal [Surname] order is used in the proclamation of the election of a new pope by the cardinal protodeacon, if the new pope is a cardinal, as he has been since 1378.

While the incumbents of some sees are regularly made cardinals, and some countries are entitled to at least one cardinal by concordate (usually earning its primate the cardinal's hat), no see carries an actual right to the cardinalate, not even if its bishop is a Patriarch.

Orders and their chief offices

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 seven 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. [38] [99] [40]

Since 1962, the cardinal bishops have only a titular relationship with the suburbicarian sees, with no powers of governance over them. [100] Each see has its own bishop, with the exception of Ostia, of which the Cardinal Vicar of the see of Rome serves as apostolic administrator .

The current cardinal bishops of the suburbicarian dioceses are given in the table below. Those highlighted in red (which, as of 10 June 2017, is all of them) are ineligible to participate in a Papal conclave.

Name Country Birthday
Suburbicarian See Seniority Date Curial Office
Sodano, Angelo Angelo Sodano ,
Choir dress of a cardinal.
23 November 1927
90 Ostia (as Dean)
Albano 10 January 1994 Cardinal Secretary of State emeritus Re, Giovanni Battista Giovanni Battista Re ,
Vice-Dean Italy 30 January 1934
83 Sabina-Poggio Mirteto 1 October 2002 Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Bishops Etchegaray, Roger Roger Etchegaray ,
Vice-Dean emeritus
Cardinal Sodano , current Dean of the College
25 September 1922
95 Porto-Santa Rufina 24 June 1998 President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace Arinze, Francis Francis Arinze Nigeria 1 November 1932
85 Velletri-Segni 25 April 2005 Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments Bertone, Tarcisio Tarcisio Bertone Italy 2 December 1934
83 Frascati 10 May 2008 Cardinal Secretary of State emeritus and Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church emeritus Saraiva Martins, José José Saraiva Martins Portugal 6 January 1932
85 Palestrina 24 February 2009 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. Those appointed to be cardinal-bishops are usually already cardinals, but their seniority within the order of cardinal bishops is determined by the date of their elevation to the order of cardinal bishop, rather than by the date they originally became cardinals of a lesser order.

Dean and Vice-Dean of the College of Cardinals

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. The position of Dean formerly belonged by right to the longest-serving of the cardinal bishops. The Vice-Dean is similarly elected by the six suburbicarian cardinal bishops from among their own number with the Pope's approval and also formerly belonged by right to the second-longest-serving of the cardinal bishops.

Cardinal patriarchs

In 1965, Pope Paul VI decreed in his motu proprio Ad Purpuratorum Patrum Collegium that patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches who were named cardinals (i.e., patriarch cardinals) would also be cardinal bishops, ranking after the six cardinal bishops of the suburbicarian sees. [101] Unlike all other cardinals, these patriarch cardinals do not receive any title associated with the Diocese of Rome . Unlike the other cardinal bishops, they do not participate in electing the dean nor can they be chosen dean.

There are currently three Eastern Patriarchs who are cardinal bishops:

If a Latin Rite prelate who carries the title patriarch, such as that of Venice or Lisbon ), becomes 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. [42] 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 is the senior cardinal deacon in order of appointment to the College of Cardinals. If he is a cardinal elector and participates in a conclave, he announces a new pope's election and name from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City . The proto-deacon also bestows the pallium on the new pope and crowns him with the papal tiara , though coronations have been discontinued since Pope John Paul I opted for a simpler papal inauguration ceremony in 1978. [3] The current cardinal proto-deacon is Renato Raffaele Martino .

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 . [102]

Cardinals who are not bishops

Cardinal-priest Thomas Wolsey

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. [103] 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. [3] Since the time of Pope John XXIII a priest who is appointed a cardinal must be consecrated a bishop, unless he obtains a dispensation. [48]

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 . [49] A cardinal named in pectore is known only to the pope. In the modern era popes have named cardinals in pectore to protect them or their congregations from political reprisals. If conditions change, the pope make the appointment public. The cardinal in question then ranks in precedence with those made cardinals at the time of his in pectore appointment. If a pope dies before revealing the identity of an in pectore cardinal, the person's status as cardinal expires.

Of the 232 cardinals that Pope John Paul II created, four were named in pectore . [77] Three were later identified as:

Vesture and privileges

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. [77] [77] 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. [2] 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. [77]

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 [2] 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, [77] 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. [57] 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. [77]

See also


  1. The rule set out in Universi Dominici gregis is that "No Cardinal elector can be excluded from active or passive voice in the election of the Supreme Pontiff, for any reason or pretext."
  2. They were formerly called illustrissimi and reverendissimi; but Pope Urban VIII (of the Barberini family), in 1630, established the above as their title of honour. Edward Wigglesworth, Thomas Gamaliel Bradford: Encyclopædia Americana: a popular dictionary of arts, sciences. Volume 4. Page 493.
  3. As the exclusive electors of the pope (at least since 1179), cardinals were deemed to be the ecclesiastical equivalents of the Holy Roman Empire's 'Prince-Electors,' an extremely elite group with precedence over all other nobility (including archdukes, dukes and counts), who were tasked with the responsibility of electing Holy Roman Emperors.... A decree of 10 June 1630, by Urban VII bestowed the title "His Eminence", historically reserved for high nobility, upon the cardinals, thus elevating them above the 'His Excellency,' then being used to refer to Italian princes." Guruge, Anura. The Next Pope. Alton, New Hampshire. 2010. Page 81.
  4. Authoritarian, keenly conscious of his position, Urban kept business in his own hands and rarely discussed it with his cardinals: to compensate them he gave them the rank of princes of the church and a right to the title of 'eminence' (June 1630). Oxford Dictionary of Popes: Urban VIII
  5. " Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum; habemus Papam: Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum, Dominum (first name) Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem (last name), ... " [16] (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), ...")
  6. once he has been ordained to the episcopate [2]
  7. Examples include Domenico Bartolucci , Karl Josef Becker , Yves Congar , Aloys Grillmeier , Henri de Lubac , Julien Ries , Leo Scheffczyk , Roberto Tucci and Albert Vanhoye .