Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cardinals and Deacons: Just for Fun

Given the news from the Vatican today about the latest crop of soon-to-be red hats, I thought I'd post a little item on cardinals that often goes missed.

1) "Cardinals" were originally the diocesan clergy of the diocese of Rome; as such, there were bishops, deacons and presbyters.  So, even today, with Cardinals coming from all over the world and not just from Rome, we still have three ranks of Cardinals: Cardinal-Bishops, Cardinal-Priests, and Cardinal-Deacons.

2) This is true, even though the vast majority of Cardinals are actually bishops; their cardinal-rank is different.  For example, most Cardinals who serve at the Vatican are bishops by ordination and Cardinal-Bishops by appointment.  Most Cardinals who serve as diocesan bishops (like newly-minted Cardinal-designate Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC) are bishops by ordination but Cardinal-Priest by cardinatial rank.  And yes, a cardinal can be "promoted" from Cardinal-Deacon to Cardinal-Priest to Cardinal-Bishop (and still remain a bishop by ordination); confused yet?  Finally, there are usually seven cardinal-Deacons: bishops who are assigned to the seven diaconal churches of Rome.  It is always the senior of these Cardinal-Deacons who has the task of announcing to the world the election and name of the new pope.

So, in recognition of this unbelievably complex arrangement, I'm posting the above photograph taken during the Second Vatican Council.  If you look carefully, you can see the three ranks of Cardinals.  In this photo, all of the Cardinals shown are ordained bishops.  At the bottom, you'll notice some of the Cardinals are wearing copes (the "capes" that they're wearing); these are Cardinal Bishops.  Then in the middle we see Cardinals wearing chasubles; these are the Cardinal Priests.  Finally, at the very top you can spy a couple of Cardinals wearing dalmatics: the Cardinal Deacons.

Now that we have that out of our system, we can get back to more important matters!


  1. Seems that Cardinal Deacon is a misnomer of sorts. From what I have read, one need not be clergy to have this title bestowed. One can be a highly esteemed theologian and have this honor given to him by the Pope. Is my assertion correct?

  2. David, you are correct. Ordination is not required. Current canon law states that bishops can be named cardinals; still, the pope can name anyone he chooses. Frequently, the pope will include non-bishops in the mix: FATHER Avery Dulles, for example, or FATHER Yves Congar.

    Theoretically, a lay person could be named cardinal as well, and that would include lay women as well as men. Interesting idea, that: it is often been speculated that a contemporary pope might name a woman as cardinal, but so far, this hasn't happened.

  3. When my daughter was 10, she came upon an article about churches in Rome that mentioned the cardinal-deacons. Knowing that I teach in the diaconal formation program, she was thrilled--and wondered if I might have helped to train any of these important clerics. I explained to her that no matter what their title says, all cardinals nowadays are deacons, as all of our bishops and priests are. Unfortunately, too many of them seem to lose sight of it.