Cardinal (Catholic Church)

Cardinals (Latin: Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae cardinalis, literally "cardinal of the Holy Roman Church") are the most senior members of the clergy of the Catholic Church, being second in precedence only to the Pope. They are appointed to the rank of cardinal in addition to their existing position within the Church. Collectively, they constitute the College of Cardinals, and are appointed for life.

The coat of arms of a cardinal is indicated by a red galero (wide-brimmed hat) with 15 tassels on each side (the motto and escutcheon are proper to the individual cardinal).

Their most solemn responsibility is to participate in a conclave to elect a new pope, almost always from among themselves (with a few exceptions), when the Holy See is vacant. During the period between a pope's death or resignation and the election of his successor, the sede vacante, the day-to-day governance of the Holy See is in the hands of the College of Cardinals. The right to enter the conclave 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 addition, cardinals collectively participate in papal consistories (which generally take place annually), in which matters of importance to the Church are considered and new cardinals may be created. Cardinals of working age are also appointed to roles overseeing dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the central administration of the Catholic Church.

Cardinals are drawn from a variety of backgrounds, being appointed as cardinals in addition to their existing roles within the Church. Most cardinals are current or retired bishops or archbishops leading dioceses around the world - often the most prominent diocese in their country. Others are titular bishops who are current or former officials within the Roman Curia (generally the leaders of dicasteries and other bodies linked with the Curia). A very small number are priests recognised by the pope for their service to the Church; as canon law requires they are generally consecrated as bishops before they are made cardinals,[1] but some are granted a papal dispensation.[lower-alpha 1] There are no strict criteria for elevation to the College of Cardinals. Since 1917, a potential cardinal must already be at least a priest, but laymen have been cardinals in the past. The selection is entirely up to the pope and with tradition his only guide.