Cardinal Priest

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Cardinal Priests are the most numerous of the three orders of Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church. They formally rank above the Cardinal Deacons and below the Cardinal Bishops though this is not a matter of exercise of authority.

Historical derivation

In modern times the name "Cardinal Priest" is interpreted as meaning a Cardinal who is of the order of priests. Originally, however, the understanding of which word modified the other was the opposite: of the priests of the Diocese of Rome, certain key priests of important churches were recognized as the cardinal priests, the important priests chosen by the Pope to advise him in his duties as Bishop of Rome. It was through the combination of these important Roman priests with the bishops of the neighboring suburbicarian dioceses (the Cardinal Bishops) and the deacons who administered Church work in various sectors of Rome (the Cardinal Deacons) that the College of Cardinals was created.

In early times the privilege of papal election was not reserved to the cardinals, and for centuries the Pope was customarily a Roman priest and never a bishop from elsewhere; to preserve apostolic succession the rite of consecrating the Pope as a bishop had to be performed by someone who was already a bishop, and this was entrusted to the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, an office long united with that of Dean of the College of Cardinals. While the cardinalate has long been expanded beyond the Roman pastoral clergy and Roman Curia, to this day every Cardinal Priest has nominal title to a parish church in Rome, though Pope Paul VI abolished all administrative rights they had with regard to their titular churches. Some of the titular churches have been the seats of Cardinals since the 2nd century.

Modern expansion

While the number of Cardinals was small from the times of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, and frequently smaller than the number of recognized churches entitled to a Cardinal Priest, in the 16th century the College expanded markedly. In 1587 Pope Sixtus V sought to arrest this growth by fixing the maximum size of the College at 70, including 50 Cardinal Priests, about twice the historical number. This limit was respected until 1958, and the list of titular churches modified only on rare occasions, generally due to a building falling into disrepair. When Pope John XXIII abolished the limit, he began to add new churches to the list, which Popes Paul VI and John Paul II have continued to do. Today there are close to 150 titular churches, out of over 300 churches in Rome.

The Cardinal who is the longest-serving member of the order of Cardinal Priests is titled archpriest of the College of Cardinals. He had certain ceremonial duties in the conclave that have effectively ceased because the Archpriest is now generally someone over the age of 80, past which cardinals are barred from the conclave. Since the death of Franz Cardinal König, the archpriest has been Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan of South Korea.

Those who are named Cardinal Priests today are generally archbishops of important dioceses throughout the world, though some hold Curial positions. Cardinal Deacons of ten years' standing are permitted to become Cardinal Priests at their option. One has always had to be a ordained priest to be a Cardinal Priest, but since 1918 this requirement has extended to the entire College.

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