FAQ’s on Archbishop Wuerl’s appointment to cardinal

By Michelle Boorstein, Melissa Bell and Elizabeth TenetyWhat is a cardinal? Called “princes of the church,” cardinals sit atop Catholicism’s … Continued

By Michelle Boorstein, Melissa Bell and Elizabeth Tenety

What is a cardinal?

Called “princes of the church,” cardinals sit atop Catholicism’s hierarchy, just below the pope. Cardinals are tasked with electing the next pontiff, and each is also assigned to be the symbolic head of a church of Rome. Pope Benedict XVI was cardinal of Munich and Freising, Germany before his April 2005 election to the pontificate.

How many cardinals are there?

Once the newly-appointed cardinals are elevated, there will be 203. However, cardinals lose their vote in the College of Cardinals upon reaching their 80th birthday. With the new appointments, 121 are now eligible to vote for the next pontiff.

When does Archbishop Wuerl formally become a cardinal?

Wuerl will officially become a cardinal on November 20 at a meeting of the cardinals, called a consistory. The consistory will include an elevation ceremony and a Mass with the pope the following day.

Why was Archbishop Wuerl chosen?

Experts say Wuerl is seen as a typical example of an engaged conservative leader who shares Pope Benedict’s mission to re-propose the faith to people who have heard it and drifted away.

Cardinals typically come from either prime leadership posts at the Vatican or prominent dioceses. The Washington archdiocese, which is made up of the District and the Maryland suburbs, is not one of the country’s largest in numbers, but it has stature because it includes the U.S. capital and the international diplomatic community.

(Newly appointed Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl answers questions from the media in Our Lady’s chapel following mass in St. Matthew’s Cathedral on October 20, 2010 in Washington, DC.)

How do cardinals dress?

According to the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, once installed, cardinals receive a scarlet biretta, or square hat with three ridges, from the pope. This is popularly known as “getting a red hat.” The day after the formal ceremony, the new cardinals celebrate Mass with and receive a ring from the pope.

Read Michelle Boorstein’s story for more on Wuerl’s elevation.

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Elizabeth Tenety Elizabeth Tenety is the former editor of On Faith, where she produced "Divine Impulses," On Faith’s video interview series. She studied Theology and Government at Georgetown University and received her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New York native, Elizabeth grew up in the home of Catholic news junkies where, somewhere in between watching the nightly news and participating in parish life, she learned to ponder both the superficial and the sacred.
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