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(Lat. cardo, “hinge”). One of the ecclesiastical princes who form the Sacred College of Cardinals in Rome and choose the pope. This title was first applied to the priesthood generally, especially to those with permanent church attachments, but eventually it came to denote specific priests and deacons in Rome who formed a council to advise the bishop of Rome. From the eighth century the consistory included neighboring “cardinal” bishops. The action of Leo IX (1002-54) enhanced the position of the Roman cardinals. The cardinalate was formed into a collegiate body, and its members ranked as Roman princes, who when in consistory became the immediate papal advisers and assumed the government of the Roman Catholic Church during the vacancy of the Holy See. The present function of cardinals is chiefly administrative, and they are appointed by papal nomination. In 1568 the number was fixed at seventy-six bishops, fifty priests, fourteen deacons-but modern appointments generally are made from the ranks of the episcopate. Popeincreased the number, and there are now over one hundred.
Among their duties they are to reside in Rome, unless excused or bishops of foreign dioceses; to act as heads of curial offices and Roman congregations; to preside over ecclesiastical commissions. Their title is “Eminence,” and they are afforded rights in all dioceses, such as the use of a portable altar everywhere. Their insignia include the “red hat”-a flat-crowned, broad-brimmed hat with two clusters of fifteen tassels (which is not worn again after a cardinal's first consistory)-a biretta and skullcap, the sacred purple, a sapphire ring, and a pectoral cross. They meet in conclave for the election of a new pontiff, a privilege they have held since the Third Lateran Council (1179).