What Is the College of Cardinals?

27 Feb

cardinalsThe college of cardinals refers collectively to the cardinals of the Catholic Church. “College” comes from the Latin word collegium, meaning “society,” from which we derive English words such as “collection” and “colleague.”

Cardinals themselves are the highest ranking Catholic prelates under the Pope himself. Therefore, it is fitting that the cardinals, coming together as a body or “society,” are given the important task of selecting a new Pope in the event of a vacancy in the See of Peter.

According to Church law, the Pope freely selects those who are to serve the Church as cardinals. They are usually bishops or archbishops, though priests are also eligible for this office. In recent times, Cardinal Avery Dulles (1918-2008), a distinguished Jesuit theologian and priest, is an example. Those selected as cardinals are “especially outstanding for their doctrine, morals, piety, and prudence in action” (Code of Canon Law, canon 351).

Since cardinals are created by a decree of the Roman Pontiff, no new cardinals may be added to the college during a vacancy in the papacy.

For more on the demographic background of the current college of cardinals, click here. For reliable responses to some common misconceptions about the upcoming conclave, click here or here.

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