College of Cardinals


The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church constitute a special College, whose prerogative it is to elect the Roman Pontiff in accordance with the norms of a special law. The Cardinals are also available to the Roman Pontiff, either acting collegially, when they are summoned together to deal with questions of major importance, or acting individually, that is, in the offices which they hold in assisting the Roman Pontiff especially in the daily care of the universal Church.

 The College of Cardinals is divided into three orders: the episcopal order, to which belong those Cardinals to whom the Roman Pontiff assigns the title of a suburbicarian Church, and eastern-rite Patriarchs who are made members of the College of Cardinals; the presbyteral order, and the diaconal order.

Cardinal priests and Cardinal deacons are each assigned a title or a deaconry in Rome by the Roman Pontiff.

 Eastern Patriarchs within the College of Cardinals have their patriarchal see as a title.

 The Cardinal Dean has the title of the diocese of Ostia, together with that of any other church to which he already has a title.

 By a choice made in Consistory and approved by the Supreme Pontiff, Cardinal priests may transfer to another title; Cardinal deacons may transfer to another deaconry and, if they have been a full ten years in the diaconal order, to the presbyteral order: priority of order and of promotion is to be observed.

 A Cardinal who by choice transfers from the diaconal to the presbyteral order, takes precedence over all Cardinal priests who were promoted to the Cardinalate after him.

 Those to be promoted Cardinals are men freely selected by the Roman Pontiff, who are at least in the order of the priesthood and are truly outstanding for doctrine, virtue, piety and prudence in practical matters; those who are not already Bishops must receive episcopal consecration.

Cardinals are created by a decree of the Roman Pontiff, which in fact is published in the presence of the College of Cardinals. From the moment of publication, they are bound by the obligations and they enjoy these rights defined in the law.

 A person promoted to the dignity of Cardinal, whose creation the Roman Pontiff announces, but whose name he reserves in pectore, is not at that time bound by the obligations nor does he enjoy the rights of a Cardinal. When his name is published by the Roman Pontiff, however, he is bound by these obligations and enjoys these rights, but his right of precedence dates from the day of the reservation in pectore.

The Dean presides over the College of Cardinals. When he is unable to do so, the sub-Dean takes his place. The Dean, or the sub-Dean, has no power of governance over the other Cardinals, but is considered as first among equals.

When the office of Dean is vacant, those Cardinals who have a suburbicarian title, and only those, under the presidency of the sub-Dean if he is present, or of the oldest member, elect one of their number to act as Dean of the College. They are to submit his name to the Roman Pontiff, to whom it belongs to approve the person elected.

In the same way as set out in §2, the sub-Dean is elected, with the Dean presiding. It belongs to the Roman Pontiff to approve also the election of the sub-Dean.

If the Dean and sub-Dean do not already have a domicile in Rome, they acquire it there.

Cardinals assist the Supreme Pastor of the Church in collegial fashion particularly in Consistories, in which they are gathered by order of the Roman Pontiff and under his presidency. Consistories are either ordinary or extraordinary.

In an ordinary Consistory all Cardinals, or at least those who are in Rome, are summoned for consultation on certain grave matters of more frequent occurrence, or for the performance of especially solemn acts.

All Cardinals are summoned to an extraordinary Consistory, which takes place when the special needs of the Church and more serious matters suggest it.

Only an ordinary Consistory in which certain solemnities are celebrated, can be public, that is when, in addition to the Cardinals, Prelates, representatives of civil states and other invited persons are admitted.

Cardinals who head the departments and other permanent sections of the Roman Curia and of Vatican City, who have completed their seventy-fifth year, are requested to offer their resignation from office to the Roman Pontiff, who will consider all the circumstances and make provision accordingly.

It belongs to the Cardinal Dean to ordain the elected Roman Pontiff a Bishop, if he is not already ordained. If the Dean is prevented from doing so, the same right belongs to the sub-Dean or, if he is prevented, to the senior Cardinal of the episcopal order.

The senior Cardinal Deacon announces the name of the newly elected Supreme Pontiff to the people. Acting in place of the Roman Pontiff, he also confers the pallium on metropolitan Bishops or gives the pallium to their proxies.

Cardinals have the obligation of cooperating closely with the Roman Pontiff. For this reason, Cardinals who have any office in the Curia and are not diocesan Bishops, are obliged to reside in Rome. Cardinals who are in charge of a diocese as diocesan Bishops, are to come to Rome whenever summoned by the Roman Pontiff.

When a Cardinal has taken possession of a suburbicarian Church or of a titular Church in Rome, he is to further the good of the diocese or church by counsel and patronage. However, he has no power of governance over it, and he should not for any reason interfere in matters concerning the administration of its good, or its discipline, or the service of the church.

Cardinals living outside Rome and outside their own diocese, are exempt in what concerns their person from the power of governance of the Bishop of the diocese in which they are residing.

A Cardinal may be deputed by the Roman Pontiff to represent him in some solemn celebration or assembly of persons as a Legatus a latere, that is, as his alter ego; or he may, as a special emissary, be entrusted with a particular pastoral task. A Cardinal thus nominated is entitled to deal only with those affairs which have been entrusted to him by the Roman Pontiff himself.

When the Apostolic See is vacant, the College of Cardinals has only that power in the Church which is granted to it by special law.

The College of Cardinals

The Cardinals, who oversee the presbyterates of 25 titular and quasi parish churches of Rome, of which 7 are regional deaconries and 6 Palatine deaconries, and 7 (7th century: 6) Suburban Sees, are the advisers and collaborators of the Pope.

The College of Cardinals was formed in 1150, with a Cardinal Dean, who is the Bishop of Ostia and the Camerlengo who on the death of the Pontiff has the Administration of the affairs of the Holy See.

From 1059 they are the exclusive electors of the Pope.

In the 12th century Cardinals began to be named who were prelates in residence outside of Rome.

From the 12th century this pertained to Bishops and Archbishops, from the 15th century also to Patriarchs (Papal Bull Non mediocri of Eugenio IV, 1439); if simple priests, they also have a vote in the councils.

The number of Cardinals, in the 13th to the 15th centuries usually not over 30, was fixed by Sixtus V to 70: 6 Cardinal bishops, 50 Cardinal priests, 14 Cardinal deacons (Constitution Postquam verus, 3 December 1586).

In the private Consistory of 15 December 1958 (A.A.S., 1958), Vol. XXV, p. 987), John XXIII departed from the number of Cardinals already established by Sixtus V and confirmed by the 1917 Code of Canon Law (Can. 231). Again John XXIII, with the Motu Proprio Cum gravissima of 15 April 1962, established that henceforth all Cardinals were to be bishops.

Paul VI, with the Motu Proprio Ad Purpuratorum Patrum of 11 February 1965, determined the place of the Oriental Patriarch within the College of Cardinals.

The same Roman Pontiff, with the Motu Proprio Ingravescentem aetatem, of 21 November 1970, established that when Cardinals reached the age of 80: a) they ceased to be members of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia and of all the Permanent Organisms of the Holy See and of the Vatican City State; b) they become ineligible to elect the Roman Pontiff and to enter the Conclave.

In the Secret Consistory of 5 November 1973 Paul VI established that the maximum number of Cardinals that have the right to elect the Roman Pontiff be set at 120 (A.A.S., 1973, Vol. LXV, p. 163).  John Paul II, in the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici gregis of 22 February 1996 reconfirms this directive.

The Cardinals belong to various Roman Congregations: they are considered Princes of the Church, with the title of Eminence; those resident in Rome, also outside Vatican City, enjoy the rights and privileges of citizenship to the same (Trattato Lateranense, art. 21).


Ordinary Public Consistory
for the creation of new Cardinals

The Consistory for the creation of new Cardinals, according to the new rite introduced during the Consistory of June 28, 1991 contains the following points:

  • Following a liturgical greeting, the Pope reads the formula of creation , and solemnly proclaims the names of the new cardinals.

  • The first of the new cardinals then addresses the Holy Father, on behalf of everyone.

  • This is followed by the Liturgy of the Word, the Pope’s homily, the Profession of Faith and the taking of the oath by each cardinal.

  • Each new cardinal then approaches the Holy Father and kneels before him to receive the cardinal's berretta and to be assigned a title or deaconry :
    - The Pope places the berretta on his head and says, in part: "(This is) red as a sign of the dignity of the office of a cardinal, signifying that you are ready to act with fortitude, even to the point of spilling your blood for the increase of the Christian faith, for peace and harmony among the people of God, for freedom and the spread of the Holy Roman Catholic Church".
    - The new cardinals are assigned a church of Rome ( "Title " or " Deaconry "), as a sign of their participation in the pastoral care of the Pope for the City.
    - The Holy Father hands over the Bull of the Creation of Cardinals , assigns the Title or Deaconry and exchanges a kiss of peace with the new members of the College of Cardinals.
    - The cardinals also exchange such a sign among themselves.

  • The rite is concluded with the Prayer of the Faithful, the recitation of the Our Father and the final blessing.

During the Cappella Papale the Holy Father will preside at the concelebration of Mass with the new Cardinals, and after the homily will give each of them the Cardinal's ring "the sign of dignity, pastoral care and the most solid communion with the See of Peter".