EWTN Catholic Q&A
Cardinal Designations
Question from Gerard Powell on 04-20-2005:

What is the difference between cardinal priest and cardinal deacon designate?

Answer by Matthew Bunson on 04-21-2005:

This question has been answered in various ways over the last years, so my apologies for covering ground that might seem familiar. The name cardinal is derived from the Latin cardo (hinge) and was probably first used as a colloquial term to describe certain advisers considered essential to the governing of the Church, “hinge” men. The College of Cardinals did not exist in the early Church, but it came into existence over time; for example, it is likely that cardinal priests and deacons existed before the cardinal bishops, as they are mentioned in surviving documents from the sixth century; the term cardinal bishop is found in the eighth century. The college itself began taking definite shape in the 1100s, receiving formal recognition in 1150. In 1179, Pope Alexander III (r. 1159-1181) decreed that only a pope could select the cardinals.By custom, the college is divided into three categories, bishops, priests, and deacons. Each of the cardinals has always possessed a connection to the see of Rome, that is the cardinal bishops are titular bishops of the suburbicarian sees (or suffragan sees) surrounding Rome, cardinal priests are titular heads of the presbyterial churches in Rome, and cardinal deacons are titulars of the diaconal churches of Rome. In this way, despite coming from a host of different countries (today, over 60), the cardinals are still clergy from the see of Rome. When they gather, they are choosing the next bishop of Rome, in the same way that clergy did in the early Church. There is, as a consequence, a genuine continuity in papal elections.

The Cardinal Bishops are holders of the titles of the six titular bishops of the suburbicarian sees neighboring Rome. These are: Ostia, Palestrina, Porto-Santa Rufina, Albano, Velletri-Segni, Frascati, Sabina-Poggio Mirteto; the dean of the college (currently Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) holds the title of the See of Ostia as well as his other suburbicarian see. The cardinal bishops are engaged in full-time service in the central administration of church affairs in departments of the Roman Curia and thus hold the suburbicarian sees in a titular sense. In 1962, Pope John XXIII declared that the cardinal bishops should bear the title only in an honorary capacity. The suburbicarian sees would be administered by noncardinal bishops and the titular cardinal bishops would devote their efforts to the assistance of the Holy See. The actual sees are administered by titular bishops or archbishops.

Cardinal priests are titular heads of the presbyterial churches in the diocese of Rome and are bishops whose dioceses are outside Rome. The cardinal deacons similarly hold key offices in the congregations of the Curia Romana. Their personal titles are derived not from the surrounding diocese of Rome but from the diaconia, or way stations, of the Eternal City. In early Church history, the deacons had the task of providing assistance and care to the people in different parts of the city – in emulation of the first deacons appointed in Jerusalem. Today, the diaconal churches belonging to cardinal deacons are derived from these original stations.

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