The cardinals are originally, and still ceremonially, the clergy of the Church of Rome: the bishops of the suffragan dioceses, the parish priests, and the deacons attendant upon the Roman Pontiff. Most cardinals are cardinal priests. The word “priest” means “elder”, like the Latin word “senator”, and the cardinals have often been compared to, and even treated as, the spiritual Roman senate. The word “deacon” means minister”, and departments of the Roman Curia are called “dicasteries” — which means “ministries”, even though, in theory, they are the most junior members of the College.
The primary function of the Sacred College is to advise the Bishop of Rome. Accordingly, a cardinal residing in Rome is supplied with an apartment to allow him to be attendant upon the pope and to give him counsel when desired or needed. Many have said, however, that counsel in the current pontificate has been more often needed than desired. Since a fateful meeting in 2015 when, it is said, significant opposition was freely expressed to the plan to extend Communion to the divorced and remarried, Pope Francis has refused to allow the conventional open plenary sessions in which the cardinals can freely advise him in private.
Controversy arose recently after reports emerged that Pope Francis had decided to deprive US Cardinal Raymond Burke, 75, of his subsidised Vatican apartment and stipend because he sees him as working “against the Church”. The story originally broke from a quarter favourable to the cardinal but was then corroborated by a source close to Pope Francis, papal biographer and pillar of the liberal establishment, Austen Ivereigh, who claims to have spoken to Francis personally – while Cardinal Burke had not been informed. The Catholic Herald contacted Cardinal Burke’s office and was told he has not received any formal communication and is not making a statement at this time.
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