Can there be lay cardinals?


Dear Taylor, a miscellaneous question that popped into my head:

Is it possible for the Pope to select a lay person to be a cardinal? Could a deacon be a cardinal?

- abu daoud

The term “lay cardinal” is not accurate, because prior to Vatican II, many men were in tonsured and minor orders but were not deacons, priests, or bishops. These men were canonically “clerics” and not layman. So there is some confusion on this matter since today we are not familiar with “clerics” that are not deacons, priests, or bishops.

In years past there were both lay cardinals and true cardinal deacons (men who were deacons and not priests or bishops). Giacomo Antonelli, Pope Pius IX’s Secretary of State, was not truly a “lay cardinal” because he was a deacon at the time of his elevation. The last true lay cardinal that I know of was Teodolfo Cardinal Mertel. He was appointed and elevated as a cardinal on March 15, 1858. He was ordained deacon the very next day on March 16, 1858. So he was only a “lay cardinal” for less than one day. Yet, he was likely a cleric (tonsured) even before this. And so we bump into the problem of defining “lay” in this context.

The current Code of Canon Law stipulates that all cardinals also be bishops (canon 351§1).

Pope John Paul II of blessed memory dispensed Cardinal Dulles from being elevated to the episcopate. He is still a priest and not a bishop, i.e a Cardinal priest. Nevertheless, I believe he is allowed to pontificate like a bishop even though he is not a bishop. Moreover, I believe he is a member of the magisterium, even though he is not a bishop.

Can any canon lawyers answer these questions more precisely?

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Can there be lay cardinals?


Dear Taylor, a miscellaneous question that popped into my head:

Is it possible for the Pope to select a lay person to be a cardinal? Could a deacon be a cardinal?

- abu daoud

The term “lay cardinal” is not accurate, because prior to Vatican II, many men were in tonsured and minor orders but were not deacons, priests, or bishops. These men were canonically “clerics” and not layman. So there is some confusion on this matter since today we are not familiar with “clerics” that are not deacons, priests, or bishops.

In years past there were both lay cardinals and true cardinal deacons (men who were deacons and not priests or bishops). Giacomo Antonelli, Pope Pius IX’s Secretary of State, was not truly a “lay cardinal” because he was a deacon at the time of his elevation. The last true lay cardinal that I know of was Teodolfo Cardinal Mertel. He was appointed and elevated as a cardinal on March 15, 1858. He was ordained deacon the very next day on March 16, 1858. So he was only a “lay cardinal” for less than one day. Yet, he was likely a cleric (tonsured) even before this. And so we bump into the problem of defining “lay” in this context.

The current Code of Canon Law stipulates that all cardinals also be bishops (canon 351§1).

Pope John Paul II of blessed memory dispensed Cardinal Dulles from being elevated to the episcopate. He is still a priest and not a bishop, i.e a Cardinal priest. Nevertheless, I believe he is allowed to pontificate like a bishop even though he is not a bishop. Moreover, I believe he is a member of the magisterium, even though he is not a bishop.

Can any canon lawyers answer these questions more precisely?

Download My Book for Free
Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages
Over 15,000 copies downloaded! This is a quick and easy way to learn the basic philosophy and theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas. The Popes of the last 300 years have endorsed St Thomas Aquinas. Learn more through this accessible resources. Download it for free.