Cardinals are chosen by the Holy Father to serve as his principal assistants and advisers in the central administration of church affairs. Collectively, they form the College of Cardinals. Provisions regarding their selection, rank, roles, and prerogatives are detailed in Canons 349 to 359 of the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church.
Following that of the Pope, the title of cardinal is the highest dignity in the Catholic Church which was recognized as early as the pontificate of Sylvester I (314-335). Rooted in the Latin word cardo, meaning “hinge,” cardinals are created by a decree of the Roman Pontiff and chosen to serve as his principal collaborators and assistants. Cardinals are considered “princes of the Church” and are addressed by the title of "Eminence."
In early years, "cardinal" was a title attributed generically to ecclesiastics in the service of a church or diaconate, particularly to ecclesiastics in
The College of Cardinals was constituted in its current form in 1150: it has a Dean, who is the bishop of
Because the Cardinals are called to help the Pope in his leadership of the Church, they are also linked in a special way to the Diocese of Rome. With the exception of a small number of Cardinals who are made the titular bishops (ie, in name only) of the sees surrounding Rome, each of the remaining Cardinals is given the honorary "governance" of one of the most traditional Parish Churches of Rome. Whenever they visit
Cardinals under the age of 80 elect the Pope when the Holy See becomes vacant; and are major administrators of church affairs, serving in one or more departments of the Roman Curia. Cardinals in charge of agencies of the Roman Curia and
There are three degrees within the College of Cardinals:
* Cardinal Bishops
* Cardinal Priests
* Cardinal Deacons
This does not correspond to their actual degree of orders (ie, whether they are a bishop, priest or deacon) but to their position within the College of Cardinals. Cardinals appointed from dioceses around the world are made Cardinal Priests. Cardinals appointed from within the Roman Curia are made Cardinal Deacons. However, after having been a Cardinal Deacon for 10 years, the Cardinal can petition the Pope to be promoted to Cardinal Priest. The distinction between the three degrees of Cardinals has little practical significance except in determining the order and rank for ceremonial processions. Also, during the period after a Pope dies and before a new one is elected, it is one's position within the College of Cardinals that determines one's power to exercise certain roles if the Dean of the College of Cardinals or Camerlengo are unable to do so.
Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution "Romano Pontifici Eligendo," promulgated on October 1, 1975, established numerical limits for the College of Cardinals. It stated that cardinals who had reached the age of 80 could not enter into conclave, and that the number of electors could not go beyond 120. Pope John Paul II continued this limitation when he revoked "Romano Pontifici Eligendo" and introduced a new revised set of rules for papal elections in "Universi Dominici Gregis" in 1996. These new set of rules however, were changed back to Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.