December 2, 2016

What makes a cardinal different from a bishop?

By Brandon A. Evans

While being named a cardinal does not make a bishop or archbishop fundamentally different than he was before—namely, he is not ordained to a new level of Holy Orders—it still comes with a number of responsibilities and privileges.

Here are some of the things that set cardinals apart from their brother bishops around the world:

Papal electors: The most noted responsibility of a cardinal of the Catholic Church is to convene in a conclave in the weeks following the death or resignation of a pope. After a series of initial discussions, all the cardinals less than 80 years old seal themselves into part of the Vatican, gathering daily in the Sistine Chapel to cast a morning and afternoon vote. They vote in ordinary cases until a candidate receives a two-thirds majority of the votes. At that point, given the candidate accepts, he ceases to be a cardinal and becomes the pope.

Part of the clergy of Rome: Cardinals are considered to be part of the clergy of the Rome. This dates back to the days, more than a thousand years ago, when it was the priests of the Diocese of Rome who elected their bishop (the pope).

Possession of a titular church: As part of the clergy of Rome, every cardinal is given a scroll during the consistory at which they are named cardinal. The scroll contains the title of a church in Rome. While that church still has a pastor and its own administration, the cardinal keeps a special bond with the parish, offering Mass there, visiting and giving financial support.

Representative of the pope: A cardinal can be called upon to represent the pope at certain important, official events, such as those particular to a nation or a religious order.

A voice of influence: In ways official and not, a cardinal not only serves as an advisor to the pope himself, but also as a voice for the Church in the region where he lives. People in the Church and outside it look to a cardinal for opinions on various matters of the day. †

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