Cardinal class

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The College of Cardinals of the Catholic Church is divided (according to can. 350 §1 CIC ) into three cardinals classes ( Latin ordines ). This ranking differentiates cardinals into cardinal bishops , cardinal priests and cardinal deacons and is purely an honorary ranking ; it has no influence on the right to vote in the conclave . Only the head of the papal election ( cardinal dean or the highest ranking cardinal bishop with voting rights) and the herald of the new pope ( cardinal protodiacon , the longest-serving cardinal deacon) are determined.


Originally, the bishops were elected by the clergy and the people and consecrated by the bishops of the surrounding ecclesiastical province , as was the case in Rome . Over the centuries it was determined that only those clergy were eligible to vote for the papal election who were either bishops of the surrounding dioceses, pastors of a titular church or heads of a diaconal station. These electoral clerics were called cardinals and were once bishops, priests or deacons, depending on their duties. Before the liturgical reform in the 1960s , the cardinals wore different liturgical clothing at papal masses , depending on their hierarchy : cardinal deacons wore dalmatic , cardinal priest chasubles and cardinal bishops pluvialia .

Today, according to Catholic canon law, all cardinal holders must be priests. Anyone who is not a bishop must in principle receive episcopal ordination ( can. 351 §1 CIC ). The Pope can dispense from this . Although such dispensations are only granted to cardinal deacons without exception, they can nevertheless be promoted to the class of cardinal priests after ten years. There are currently two cardinals without episcopal ordination:

Cardinal Bishops

This class includes the six bishops , to whom the suburbicarian dioceses are assigned as titles , and since 1965 the oriental patriarchs united with Rome with their own patriarchal seat ( can. 350 §1 CIC ). By rescript of June 26, 2018, Pope Francis expanded the class of cardinal bishops with effect from June 28, 2018 by four new members with their own title and put them on an equal footing with the cardinal bishops with suburbicarian dioceses, as the number of cardinal priests and cardinal deacons in the last decades strongly increased, but that of the Cardinal Bishops remained unchanged. Pope Francis added a fifth cardinal bishop without a suburbicarian title to the class on May 1, 2020. The chairman of the college of cardinals and highest-ranking cardinal bishop is the cardinal dean, followed by the sub dean ( can. 352 §1 CIC ).

The cardinal bishops with suburbicarian titles are:

The cardinal bishops who are equal to those with a suburbicarian title are:

The cardinal bishops with their own title are:

Cardinal priest

This class is assigned to those cardinals who are assigned a titular church in Rome. Currently (as of December 2019) there are around 170 cardinal priests. Examples from the German-speaking area are Christoph Cardinal Schönborn ( Archbishop of Vienna and former Chairman of the Austrian Bishops 'Conference ), Friedrich Cardinal Wetter ( Archbishop emeritus of Munich and Freising ), Reinhard Cardinal Marx (Archbishop of Munich and Freising and former Chairman of the German Bishops' Conference), Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki (Archbishop of Cologne) and Walter Cardinal Kasper ( Cardinal Emeritus ). The most senior (i.e. senior) cardinal priest is also known as the protoprete . The senior cardinal priest and thus cardinal proto priest is currently the retired Archbishop of Bangkok , Michael Michai Kitbunchu .

Cardinal deacons

This class includes the cardinals to whom the title of Roman diakonia is assigned. Currently (as of December 2019) there are around 40 cardinal deacons. After 10 years at the earliest, cardinal deacons have the right ( can. 350 §5 CIC ) to ask the pope to elevate them to the status of cardinal priest and to opt for a titular church ( Latin optatio ). In order not to have to change her title, her title diakonia can also be raised to the rank of title church by the Pope pro hac vice . Cardinal deacons from German-speaking countries are Walter Brandmüller , Kurt Koch , Gerhard Ludwig Müller and Karl-Josef Rauber . The highest ranking (i.e. the longest serving) cardinal deacon is called cardinal protodiacon (formerly also cardinal archdeacon) and is primus inter pares among the cardinals of this class. He proclaims the name of the newly elected Pope to the public from the Benediction Loggia . The current cardinal protodeacon is Renato Raffaele Martino .

Honor ranking

The priority of honor (precedence) among the cardinals, which also determines the order of voting in the conclave, is basically cardinal bishops - cardinal priests - cardinal deacons. The following ranking applies within the cardinal ranks:

Cardinal Bishops
  • Cardinal Dean
  • Cardinal Sub-Dean
  • Cardinal Bishops with a suburbicarian title and their equivalent Cardinal Bishops (within this group according to the date of their appointment as Cardinal Bishop)
  • Cardinal bishops with their own title (including the oriental patriarchs united with Rome; within this group according to the date of creation as cardinal)
Cardinal priest
  • Cardinal Protopriester (the most senior cardinal priest)
  • Cardinal priest (according to the date of creation)
Cardinal deacons
  • Cardinal protodeacon (the most senior cardinal deacon)
  • Cardinal Deacons (according to the date of creation)


Web links

Wiktionary: Cardinal class  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. RESCRIPTUM EX AUDIENTIA SS.MI: Rescritto del Santo Padre Francesco con cui ha deciso di cooptare nell'Ordine dei Vescovi, equiparandoli in tutto ai Cardinali insigniti del titolo di una Chiesa suburbicaria, i Cardinali Parolin, Sandri, Ouellet e Filoni. In: Daily Bulletin. Holy See Press Office, June 26, 2018, accessed June 26, 2018 (Italian).