What language do the Cardinals speak in their meetings and the conclave?

During the conclave itself, there is likely not much conversation going on since it is mainly for prayer and election. The official prayers are said in Latin, as are all of the statements and questions prescribed in the rules governing the conclave, including the oath that the cardinals swear at the beginning of the conclave, and the declaration each cardinal makes when casting his vote.

The cardinals may talk among themselves in their native languages back at the residence. Because Latin is the universal language of the Church, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they could talk among themselves using Latin.  Additionally, many of the cardinals know Italian, since it is the language of the Curia.

In their General Congregation meetings before the conclave, the cardinals had at their disposal simultaneous translation in five languages: Italian, English, Spanish, French and German, so it seems that each cardinal spoke in a language most comfortable to him.

Who is the Cardinal Dean and what is his role in the papal transition?

The Cardinal Dean is a member of the College of Cardinals who is elected by his fellow cardinals.  He plays a number of key roles during the time that the church is without a pope.  As the “Papal Transitions” document of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explains:

The Dean of the College of Cardinals is a senior cardinal elected to his permanent position by the full College and approved by the pope.  During the sede vacante, he presides over the General Congregations and serves as the first among equals within the College.  He is responsible for notifying international leaders and the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See of the pope’s death.  The Dean is also responsible for notifying the other members of the College and calling them to Rome.  The current Dean, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, was born in 1927, elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1991, and confirmed as Dean in April 2005.
Since Cardinal Sodano is over 80, he will not participate in the conclave to elector a successor to Benedict XVI. The Sub-Dean, French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, is also over 80, leaving the Dean’s duties within the conclave (such as asking the newly elected pope if he accepts his election and what name he chooses) to the senior cardinal present, Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re.

How many cardinals are veterans of previous conclaves?

Nearly half of the cardinals who were sworn in as electors in the Sistine Chapel have been there before.

Of the 115 cardinal electors voting in the 2013 conclave, 50 took part in the last conclave.  By contrast, in 2005 only two cardinals had conclave experience, because of the unusually long tenure of Pope John Paul II.  The high percentage of conclave veterans should mean that the cardinals will not have to spend as much time learning the procedures and rules of the conclave.

All of the cardinals in the conclave were appointed in the last two papacies.   67 were appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, with 24 appointed in 2012.  That means one-fifth of the voting cardinals received their red robes in the past year.

Who runs the Catholic Church when the See is vacant?

According to Universi Dominici Gregis, the government of the Holy See sede vacante (and therefore of the Catholic Church) falls to the College of Cardinals, but in a very limited capacity. At the same time, all of the heads of the Roman Curia resign their offices. The exceptions are the Cardinal Camerlengo, who is charged with managing the property of the Holy See, and the Major Penitentiary, who continues to exercise his normal role. If either has to do something which normally requires the assent of the Pope, he has to submit it to the College of Cardinals. Papal legates continue to exercise their diplomatic roles overseas, and both the Vicar General of Rome and the Vicar General for the Vatican City State continue to exercise their pastoral role during this period. The postal administration of the Vatican City State prepares and issues special postage stamps for use during this particular period, known as “sede vacante stamps“.


Where do the Cardinals stay during the conclave?

Domus Sanctae Marthae

This is the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse, where the cardinals will stay during the conclave.

When they are not gathered in the Sistine Chapel to vote, the cardinal electors will stay in Domus Sanctae Marthae, a hospitality residence built in 1996 that lies on the edge of Vatican City. It is a modern guesthouse that offers both privacy and space, with 106 suites, 22 single rooms and one apartment. It is run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, which is the most numerous female religious congregation in the world today with some 22,000 religious.

Though the building will be “off limits” to outsiders during the conclave, it will require staff to cook and clean, thus requiring an oath of silence, promising “absolute and perpetual secrecy.” In addition to the staff, two doctors for emergencies and some religious priests of different languages ​​for confession will be involved.

Previously, the cardinals slept on cots in small, stuffy rooms next door to the Sistine Chapel. While the Domus is comfortable, it is by no means a luxury hotel. Each suite has a sitting room with a desk, three chairs, a cabinet and large closet; a bedroom with dresser, night table and clothes stand; and a private bathroom with a shower. All rooms have telephones but the cardinals are prohibited from using them during the conclave. Additionally, international satellite television system will be disconnected for the duration of the conclave.

The rooms are allocated by lottery, as mandated by the electoral law.

Related Question:

Can the cardinals leave the Sistine Chapel between voting sessions? Where do they eat and sleep?

Which Latin American countries have cardinals in the conclave?


Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri



Cardinal Julio Terrazas Sandoval



Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo

Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis

Cardinal João Braz de Aviz

Cardinal Cláudio Hummes

Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer



Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa



Cardinale Rubén Salazar Gómez



Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino


Dominican Republic:

Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez



Cardinal Raúl Eduardo Vela Chiriboga



Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga



Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera

Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega

Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iñiguez



Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne



Cardinal Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino

What is a cardinal? What’s the difference between a cardinal and a bishop?

Cardinals are often referred to as the “Princes of the Church.”  They serve as the advisers to the Pope and usually participate in different “committees” or formal discussions (aka synods) regarding the faith.  Most importantly, they have the responsibility to elect the Pope in the event of the death or resignation of the current Pope.  Only those Cardinals under the age of 80 are permitted to vote in the Conclave to elect the next Pope.

There are three types of Cardinals:  Cardinal-Bishop, Cardinal-Priest, and Cardinal-Deacon.

From OSV.com

Cardinal-Bishops originated out of the actual bishops of the suffragan dioceses surrounding Rome, the so-called suburbicarian sees (i.e., the sees neighboring Rome). Today, they are senior members of the College who are engaged in full‑time service in the Roman Curia. The patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches are also assigned this rank.

Cardinal-Priests today are officials of the Roman Curia or bishops whose dioceses are outside Rome, such as the Archbishops of Chicago, Paris, New York, and Mexico City. They hold title to a particular church in Rome, a historical reminder of the earlier custom of the clergy of Rome participating in the election of the pope.

Cardinal-Deacons are titular bishops assigned to full‑time service in the Roman Curia or are theologians honored by the pope for their contribution to the Church. Cardinal Deacons are reminiscent of the seven deacons who once administered the districts of Rome and the deacons who assisted in the papal household. They hold title to assignment to one of the deaconries of Rome.

Most of the Cardinals are Cardinal-Priests, meaning they are a Bishop (or Archbishop) of a diocese (or archdiocese).  (Arch)bishops who are also Cardinals continue to serve as the shepherd of their diocese.  Bishops who have not been elevated to be a cardinal continue to serve their (arch)diocese as they normally do (and as a Cardinal does).

When a man is ordained a Bishop, he receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders for the ordination.  When a man is elevated to the role of Cardinal, he attends a consistory where he receives the zuchetta (red hat).  While this is a solemn and reverent occasion, it is not one of the seven sacraments.

Cardinals wear red.


Bishops wear purple.












Why is each cardinal assigned to a parish – or titular – church in Rome?

Originally (prior to the mid-5th C, including during the periods of persecution), the term cardinalis referred to every priest either incardinated (lt: from cardus, a hinge turned on a fixed axis) to a See, or intitulated (lt: titus, entitled to, adj: titular) to one.

An incardinated priest would be physically resident at a given See, and a titular priest is one to whom a title is granted, but may or may not be resident.

After the mid-5th C, the term cardinal would be applied to the Archpriest (head priest) of many of the Major Sees, which included the quasi-Dioceses (titulus) of Rome itself.

TItular Sees of Rome

Titular Sees of Rome

By the mid-9th C, seeing the relatively closeness of the Cardinals to the Holy See, Pope St. Stephen III ordered that a Cardinal-Bishop would say the Mass at the Altar of St. Peter in the Lateran Basilica.

After the late middle ages, seeing the importance of many of the metropolitan Dioceses (that is, Diocese who had suffrigan Diocese ‘beneath’ them), many of the Metropolitan Archbishops, Patriarchs of historical Sees would be given a titular parish in Rome to affirm their closeness to the Pope. Also, various Dicasteries of the Roman Curia would be headed by a Cardinal with a titular Church. While these are often associated with various Sees and Curial offices, they are by no means invariable: the Pope can grant or withhold a Cardinalatial See from a given individual by his own authority.




Can a cardinal be prohibited from participating in the conclave?

A question about current events – ought all Cardinals participate in the conclave?

Several news outlets, particularly in the United States, have been asking whether the papal election should exclude a cardinal who has evidently participated in serious offenses.   In the U.K., Cardinal Keith O’Brien recently announced that, Pope Benedict having just accepted his resignation from Edinburgh’s archbishopric, he would skip the conclave. The current controversy in the U. S. centers over Cardinal-elector Roger Mahony, former archbishop of Los Angeles.

Mahony, who led the nation’s largest archdiocese from 1985 to 2011…was recently sidelined by current Archbishop Jose Gomez.

Gomez announced that Mahony would no longer have any “administrative or public duties” after a court-ordered release of 14,000 pages of internal church records showed Mahony and others actively tried to shield abusive priests from prosecution. Gomez called the records “brutal and painful reading.”

Nonetheless, the 76-year-old cardinal remains a bishop “in good standing” and retains the right to vote for the future pope until he reaches age 80. Gomez has since said he supports Mahony’s vote in the conclave.

A number of people are understandably upset about the prospect of an official, seemingly disciplined by superiors because of grave misbehavior, retaining the right to cast a vote for the next pope.

Staying faithful to canon law

Catholics’ rights and responsibilities in the Church are spelled out in canon law — which is analogous in many ways to the civil laws which define the rights and responsibilities of citizens in nations and states.

Like any legitimate legal process, a papal election is supposed to proceed according to rules that were set down before the election.  It would indeed be hypocritical if the Church failed to follow her own rules!   Public opinion — however deeply-felt, however widespread, and however understandable — is no reason to depart from the procedure that’s been duly pre-established according to law.

From time to time, the rules do get changed.  For example, Pope John Paul II made several changes to the rite of papal election when he promulgated the document Universi Dominici Gregisand those modifications were followed in the 2005 conclave after his death.  The 2013 conclave will incorporate a few rule-adjustments that were introduced by the outgoing Pope Benedict XVI.

But though the rules for the next election may be changed, the rules cannot be changed during the papal election.

What canon law says about the cardinals’ power to exclude any cardinal from voting

All the cardinals who are not yet eighty years old by February 28th may vote, unless they have been “canonically deposed or who with the consent of the Roman Pontiff have renounced the cardinalate.” (Universi Dominici Gregis, paragraph 36) Disciplinary judgements and other actions against a cardinal in Church law are solely the responsibility of the Pope, according to Canon 1405.

This seems to mean that, legally, the only person who possesses the power to remove the cardinal’s right to vote in the election — or even to permit him to voluntarily renounce that right — is Pope Benedict XVI himself, and then only if he acts before 8 P.M. on February 28, 2013.  At that point Pope Benedict’s papacy will end, the see will be vacant, and the rules governing the vacancy of the apostolic see will go into effect.  These are set out in Universi Dominici Gregis, part 1, “The Vacancy of the Apostolic See.”

Paragraphs 1 and 4 of that document specifically answer the question, “is there nothing that the other cardinals can do?”:

During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, the College of Cardinals has no power or jurisdiction in matters which pertain to the Supreme Pontiff during his lifetime or in the exercise of his office; such matters are to be reserved completely and exclusively to the future Pope. I therefore declare null and void any act of power or jurisdiction pertaining to the Roman Pontiff during his lifetime or in the exercise of his office which the College of Cardinals might see fit to exercise, beyond the limits expressly permitted in this Constitution….

During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, laws issued by the Roman Pontiffs can in no way be corrected or modified, nor can anything be added or subtracted, nor a dispensation be given even from a part of them, especially with regard to the procedures governing the election of the Supreme Pontiff [emphasis added].

This seems to mean that the Cardinals don’t generally possess any of the powers that are reserved to a sitting Pope — which includes the power to judge and discipline a cardinal under canon law.   And they especially don’t have the power to modify the papal election rules.

So:  no.  There is nothing that the cardinals can do to legitimately remove any cardinal’s right to vote in the papal election.

What the rules say about a cardinal who voluntarily refuses to vote

Some people have asked whether a “disgraced” cardinal should not recuse himself voluntarily from the papal election.    May a cardinal voluntarily decline to participate in the papal election under church law?

Universi Dominici Gregis seems to say no (paragraph 38):

 All the Cardinal electors, convoked for the election of the new Pope by the Cardinal Dean, or by another Cardinal in his name, are required, in virtue of holy obedience, to obey the announcement of convocation and to proceed to the place designated for this purpose, unless they are hindered by sickness or by some other grave impediment, which however must be recognized as such by the College of Cardinals.

If the cardinal is able to come to the conclave, he is required to come.  The exception would be if, with the permission of the Pope, he renounced the cardinalate entirely  (Universi Dominici Gregis, paragraph 36).  It’s still unclear whether this is what is happening in the case of Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who only four days before the vacancy was to begin resigned his archbishopric and announced that he would not attend the conclave, or whether he has received some kind of dispensation from Pope Benedict excusing him from the duty to travel there on account of his ecclesiastical and legal troubles.

Suppose a cardinal refuses to come anyway?  Paragraph 40 covers this possibility:

If a Cardinal with the right to vote should refuse to enter Vatican City in order to take part in the election, or subsequently, once the election has begun, should refuse to remain in order to discharge his office, without manifest reason of illness attested to under oath by doctors and confirmed by the majority of the electors, the other Cardinals shall proceed freely with the election, without waiting for him or readmitting him. If on the other hand a Cardinal elector is constrained to leave Vatican City because of illness, the election can proceed without asking for his vote; if however he desires to return to the place of the election, once his health is restored or even before, he must be readmitted.

In other words, if a cardinal refuses to come — even though he is bound to come “in virtue of holy obedience” — or if he leaves, the election goes on without him.

People who call for a cardinal to voluntarily recuse himself from the election are calling for him to do something that is, objectively, a sin against the obedience that he owes by virtue of his office; but it isn’t something that could prevent the election from taking place.

What the rules say about a cardinal who is prevented from attending the conclave

One could imagine a situation where a cardinal might be prevented from traveling to the conclave, perhaps by the civil authorities in his country of residence.   This would seem to be a “grave impediment” that the cardinals would recognize as excusing the detained cardinal from his duty by virtue of obedience. (paragraph 38 of Universi Dominici Gregis)

What the rules say about the election if a cardinal-elector is absent

After the see becomes vacant, if any cardinals are absent — apparently for any reason — the cardinal-electors are required to wait for them, giving them at least fifteen days to show up:

[F]rom the moment when the Apostolic See is lawfully vacant, the Cardinal electors who are present must wait fifteen full days for those who are absent; the College of Cardinals is also granted the faculty to defer, for serious reasons, the beginning of the election for a few days more. But when a maximum of twenty days have elapsed from the beginning of the vacancy of the See, all the Cardinal electors present are obliged to proceed to the election. (Universi Dominici Gregis, paragraph 37)

So the persistent absence of a cardinal-elector, even out of disobedience, would not prevent the election from taking place.  The election must begin by March 20, 2013.

The virtue of obedience

Canon Law, as well as the careful attention of the two most recent popes, has laid out a specific set of procedures by which the next pope shall be elected.  Since the Church on earth is governed by rule of law, those procedures will be followed with care.

Does this guarantee that all the men who elect the next pope will all be men of holy  integrity?  No — there’s never a guarantee of that.  But the best safeguard of the process, besides the invisible action of the Holy Spirit, is visible obedience to the structures that exist at the start of the conclave, not willful disobedience — even when well-meaning people call for it.

How many cardinal electors are there?

Short Answer:

Cardinal electors are the Cardinals of the Catholic Church who are eligible to enter the conclave and will cast ballots to elect a new pope.  Of the 207 total cardinals in the Church 117 cardinals qualify as “Cardinal Electors.”*


According to the Vatican Information Service blog:

John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis”, which will regulate the conclave, establishes in no. 33 that cardinals who have reached their eightieth birthday before the day when the Apostolic See becomes vacant will not be cardinal electors.  For that reason, for example, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who turns 80 on 5 March will be an elector, as is also the case for Cardinal Severino Poletto, who turns 80 on 18 March. 

On the other hand Cardinal Husar of the Ukraine will turn 80 on February 26, 2013, and will thus become ineligible (by two days) to be a Cardinal Elector for the upcoming conclave.
While cardinals who are over the age of 80 cannot be electors they can still participate in the pre-conclave meetings and discussions.  They can also be selected to be the next pope.
*Although 117 cardinals are qualified to be electors, it appears that there may be 115 cardinal electors in attendance for the 2013 conclave. Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja, Archbishop Emeritus of Jakarta has announced that he will not be attending the conclave due to severe health problems with his eyes.  And in the UK, Cardinal Keith O’Brien will not travel to Rome for the conclave following Vatican acceptance his resignation as Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh.  O’Brien, who is embroiled in allegations of inappropriate conduct, stated he would not attend the upcoming conclave at the Vatican as he did not “wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me.”