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Cardinal (Catholicism)

A cardinal is an official of the Roman Catholic church. The cardinals serve a number of functions: they advise the Pope, they run the Vatican administration, and they elect the Pope. They collectively form the College of Cardinals. New cardinals are appointed by the pope. Cardinals are distinguished by their bright red vestments.

The cardinals did not always elect the Pope: the Pope was originally elected by the people of Rome, but during the medieval times the right of election was gradually restricted until only cardinals possessed it. But the current Pope or any future Pope could substitute another body of electors for the College of Cardinals at any time; in fact there have been proposals in the past to have the Synod of Bishops perform this function (the proposals have not been adopted because, among other reasons, the Synod of Bishops can only meet when called by the Pope).

The word 'cardinal' comes from Latin for door-hinge, for the cardinals are supposed to be the 'hinges' of the church.

Cardinals are divided into three divisions: cardinal bishops, cardinal priests and cardinal deacons. The cardinal bishops receive a titular see, the cardinal priests a titular parish church in Rome, and the cardinal deacons a titular deanery (deaneries were originally charitable organizations in Rome, headed by deacons). Note that cardinal priests and cardinal deacons are actually bishops.

Anyone originally could be appointed a cardinal: bishops, priests or laymen; but today only bishops can be appointed as cardinals. In modern practice only priests and bishops are eligible to be appointed cardinals; priests are consecrated as bishops and given a titular see before being installed as cardinals. Laymen are ineligible to be appointed as cardinals.

Pope Sixtus V limited the number of cardinals to 60; but more recent Popes have disregarded this limitation in order to make the college of cardinals a more representative body. Only those cardinals under age eighty participate in the election of the pope. The cardinals elect a dean to be their head (the dean is primus inter pares, "first among equals"); the election must be approved by the Pope.

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