A week ago, I awoke to news that my Archbishop had been named to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis. It has been a very exciting week in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis as we have celebrated the confidence that our Holy Father has placed in Cardinal-designate Joseph Tobin, C.Ss.R. Along the way, there have been many questions – because this is the first time that a sitting Archbishop of Indianapolis has been named a Cardinal! So I have gathered some of the many questions that I have heard over the past week here in this post. If you have other questions that I have not addressed here, feel free to ask them in the comments.


Coat of Arms of Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.

Why are they called Cardinals?

Traditionally, the word cardinal has been translated in English as hinge. The College of Cardinals acts as something of a hinge connecting the Pope – the Bishop of Rome – with the rest of the world. There is also a connection to other uses of the word cardinal, at least in English. The members of the College of Cardinals come from all corners of the world – like the cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west), they symbolically link Rome to the entire world. And like the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude), the hinges on which the moral life rests, the College of Cardinals call us from the four corners of the world to turn towards the foundation of our faith, Jesus Christ.

Why do Cardinals wear red?

The official color that Cardinals wear is scarlet, a bright and recognizable shade of red. When new cardinals are given their scarlet biretta (a square hat with three horns on the top), they are reminded that the color scarlet signifies “your readiness to act with courage, even to the shedding of your blood, for the increase of the Christian faith, for the peace and tranquility of the people of God and for the freedom and growth of Holy Roman Church.”

How does the Pope select Cardinals?

The selection of new members of the College of Cardinals is left solely to the current Pope. Traditionally, he has chosen Cardinals from two groups: 1) the heads of the major offices of the Vatican; and 2) diocesan bishops from around the world. Over the last 100 years, as the Church has grown more and more throughout the world, popes have made a concerted effort to name Cardinals from all parts of the world. Often, this was done by identifying the largest and most influential cities in various countries and naming the Archbishops of those cities to be Cardinals (in the United States, that has traditionally meant that there have been Cardinals as Archbishops in places like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, etc.). Pope Francis, however, has named Cardinals from smaller cities and countries around the world as part of his mission to reach out to those on the peripheries -in 2015, he named a bishop from Tonga (a series of islands in the Pacific Ocean with only 15,000 Catholic) as a cardinal, and the newest group of Cardinals includes bishops from Bangladesh, Mauritius, and the Central African Republic. And, of course, Indianapolis. The Holy Father also selects Cardinals based on the individual person – those he thinks would be the best possible advisors, who would be able to be a voice for various groups and cultures within the Church, and who have the right gifts and perspective to vote in a potential conclave to elect a new pope. Bishops named to particular cities or offices do not automatically become Cardinals.

Do you have to be a bishop to be a Cardinal?

Yes – or at least able to be ordained a bishop. Technically, any priest – or even a layman who is free to be ordained a priest – can be named a Cardinal. But before being able to be elevated to the College of Cardinals, anyone who is not already a bishop would need to be ordained a bishop. In reality, virtually all Cardinals named these days is already a bishop.

What are the responsibilities of the College of Cardinals?

Cardinals have one primary responsibility and one secondary responsibility. Their primary responsibility is to elect a new pope following the death or resignation of a pope. Their secondary responsibility is to serve as a body of advisors for the pope – and each pope can determine how and to what extent he uses the College of Cardinals as advisors. Pope Francis has regularly called all the members of the College of Cardinals to Rome to have dialogue and advise him on significant issues facing the Church and the world. Outside of these two responsibilities, the Holy Father often appoints Cardinals as members of Vatican committees and sometimes designates them to serve as his official representative for an event or initiative that he cannot personally be present for.

Is being a Cardinal a full-time position, or is it addition to another role?

Being a Cardinal is not a full-time position in and of itself – it is an additional responsibility given most often to bishops who are either heads of offices at the Vatican or diocesan bishops around the world. Those named to the College of Cardinals continue the responsibilities that they held prior to their elevation.

How many Cardinals are there?

After the upcoming consistory, there will be 228 Cardinals. However, only 121 are under the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote in a potential papal conclave. Church law sets the limit of Cardinal Electors – those under the age of 80 – at 120, although the Holy Father, as the supreme legislator of the Church, can change that number if he so desires. Often, new cardinals are named in order to bring the voting number back up to around 120 after several have passed the age of 80.

What is the ceremony like for creating Cardinals?

The ceremony for elevating bishops to the College of Cardinals is called a Consistory – which is also the name given to any meeting of the College of Cardinals. During a Consistory to create new cardinals, those who have been selected are called forth by the Holy Father, they make a profession of faith, and the Holy Father gives each of them a scarlet biretta and a ring as symbols of their new office. It is not an ordination – those to be created cardinals are already bishops – and it is not a Mass, but rather a ceremony held in the context of a Liturgy of the Word. The following day, the entire College of Cardinals concelebrates at a Mass with the Holy Father. The Consistory for creating the cardinals nominated last week will be held on November 19, 2016, in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

What is the proper form of address for a Cardinal?

In formal correspondence and conversation, cardinals are referred to as Your Eminence. After being elevated to the College of Cardinals, the proper way of referring to a cardinal by name is to place the title Cardinal in between their first and last names. This form of address comes from the tradition in the early Church of referring to people by the name of their town or church, since last names were not common. So, for example, a Cardinal named Matthew who was assigned to the church of St. Paul would be referred to as Matthew Cardinal of St. Paul. Now, when last names are common, the practice continues of putting the title Cardinal immediately after the first name. So, after November 19, we in Indianapolis will refer to Joseph Cardinal Tobin. Or, most formally … His Eminence, Joseph Cardinal Tobin, Archbishop of Indianapolis. Or, informally … Cardinal Tobin.

Why are Cardinals given a titular church in Rome? What responsibilities do they have for this church?

The earliest Cardinals were priests of Rome who were given the responsibility of electing the Bishop of Rome – the Pope. As the Church grew and expanded, it became clear that the College of Cardinals needed to be more representative of the entire Church, not just the churches in Rome, but there always remained a sense that the College of Cardinals have a strong connection to Rome. In the oath of obedience to the Holy Father that new Cardinals make at their elevation, they acknowledge that they now “become members of the Roman clergy.” So the practice arose of assigning each Cardinal to a particular church in the city of Rome – their titular church – of which they are something of a symbolic pastor. This practice goes back at least to the year 499, when 25 Cardinal titular churches were identified in Rome. The Cardinals are not involved in the daily administration or sacramental duties of their titular church, but when in Rome, that is often where they will celebrate Mass, and they often also provide for financial support to maintain their titular churches. We don’t yet know what Cardinal-designate Tobin’s titular church will be – it will be announced at the Consistory on November 19.

Has there ever been a Cardinal in Indianapolis?

There has never been a residential Cardinal in Indianapolis. To put it another way, no one has been named a Cardinal while serving as Archbishop of Indianapolis. However, there was one former Archbishop of Indianapolis who became a Cardinal – Joseph Cardinal Ritter – but he was only elevated to the College of Cardinals after he had been named and served for several years as Archbishop of St. Louis.

What will people in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis notice that will be different now that they have a Cardinal as Archbishop?

Cardinal-designate Tobin remains the Archbishop of Indianapolis – and in terms of his leadership and shepherding of the Church in central and southern Indiana, not much will change. The most visible change will be that he will now wear a scarlet zucchetto (skull-cap) and a scarlet cassock, rather than the fuchsia worn by bishops. His coat of arms has also changed to reflect his new title (see the top of this post). He will also have to travel to Rome more frequently for meetings of the College of Cardinals and other commissions to which he will be assigned. And if there is a papal conclave any time in the next 16 years (before he turns 80), then-Cardinal Tobin will participate as a voting member. It would probably be safe to say that Cardinal-designate Tobin will have a busier schedule moving forward – although it was busy to begin with – and that we in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis will have to share him more with the larger Church. But he is still our Archbishop, and outside of Papal Conclaves and meetings of the College of Cardinals, being our Archbishop is his primary task and ministry.