Princes of the Church

Cardinal is the second highest office in the Catholic Church, second only to the pope himself. Generally speaking, cardinals have two main tasks in addition to being regular bishops – every cardinal is a bishop but not every bishop is a cardinal – they the pope and then advise him. 

At any given time there are roughly 200 cardinals around the world. However, only those cardinals who on the day of the conclave are below 80 can vote to elect the new pope. It is an informal practice to maintain the number of eligible cardinals below 120.

Cardinals wear red hats to signify their oath to protect the Catholic faith until the shedding of blood. Their prestige is so high that they are often referred to as princes of the Church. Moreover, Cardinals belong to an assembly known as the Sacred College of Cardinals. Although the assembly and the office of cardinal were not very powerful in the middle ages, these days their power and influence are considerable. In theory, anyone can be elected as the next pope, in practice, that role is reserved to one of the roughly 120 cardinals present in the Sistine Chapel during a conclave.

Cardinal Wyszyński and Wojtyła are the two most well known Polish prelates, while three Cardinals represent contemporary Church in Poland: Dziwisz (age 79 years), Gulbinowicz (age 94 years), and Nycz (age 68 years). This means that if a conclave were happening today both Cardinal Dziwisz and Cardinal Nycz would be eligible to participate in it. However, since Catholic bishops retire from their administrative duties at the age of 75, only Cardinal Nycz is considered to be still active.

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