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College of Cardinals: an Overview

Dates to the 12th Century

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 24, 2006 (Zenit) - Cardinals, those special advisers to and collaborators with the popes, have a long history and varied duties.

They oversee the presbyterates of 25 titular and quasi parish churches of Rome, of which seven are regional deaconries and six Palatine deaconries, and seven suburban sees.

The Pontifical Yearbook explains that the College of Cardinals was formed in 1150, with a cardinal dean, who is the bishop of Ostia, and the chamberlain, who on the death of a pope is in charge of the administration of the affairs of the Holy See.

Since 1059 the cardinals are the exclusive electors of the pope.

In the 12th century, cardinals began to be named who were prelates in residence outside of Rome.

From the 12th century this pertained to bishops and archbishops, from the 15th century, it also pertained to patriarchs.

The number of cardinals in the 13th to the 15th centuries was usually not over 30; Pope Sixtus V fixed the number at 70. There were six cardinal bishops, 50 cardinal priests and 14 cardinal deacons.

In a consistory of Dec. 15, 1958, Pope John XXIII departed from the number of cardinals established by Sixtus V and confirmed by the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Also, John XXIII, with his letter "Cum Gravissima" of April 1962, established that henceforth all cardinals were to be bishops.

Pope Paul VI, with the letter "Ad Purpuratorum Patrum" of February 1965, determined the place of the Oriental Patriarch within the College of Cardinals.

120 electors

The same Roman Pontiff, with the letter "Ingravescentem Aetatem," of November 1970, established that when cardinals reached the age of 80: one, they ceased to be members of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia and of all the permanent agencies of the Holy See and of Vatican City State; and two, they become ineligible to elect the Roman Pontiff and to enter the conclave.

In a consistory of November 1973 Paul VI established at 120 the maximum number of cardinals that have the right to elect the Roman Pontiff.

Pope John Paul II, in the apostolic constitution "Universi Dominici Gregis" of February 1996, reconfirmed this directive.

The cardinals belong to various Roman congregations: they are considered princes of the Church, with the title of "Eminence." Those residing in Rome, even outside Vatican City, enjoy the rights and privileges of citizenship of the Vatican.

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