Can a cardinal hear confessions in this case?

In case that the pope exempts someone from this section of the canon:
–The Roman Pontiff freely selects men to be promoted as cardinals, who have been ordained at least into the order of the presbyterate and are especially outstanding in doctrine, morals, piety, and prudence in action; those who are not yet bishops must receive episcopal consecration.
Code of Canon Law, c. 351 §1.

can a cardinal who is not a priest (for example, a layman or a deacon) hear confessions, taking this canon into account?:

–In addition to the Roman Pontiff, cardinals have the faculty of hearing the confessions of the Christian faithful everywhere in the world by the law itself. Bishops likewise have this faculty and use it licitly everywhere unless the diocesan bishop has denied it in a particular case.
Code of Canon Law, c. 967 §1.

In the second canon you listed, it is implied that the cardinal has been ordained to the priestly order.

The first quote would seem to make the question moot. “–The Roman Pontiff freely selects men to be promoted as cardinals, who have been ordained at least into the order of the presbyterate …” A cardinal must be at least an ordained priest. One who is not an ordained priest cannot administer the sacrament of confession. This would apply even to a Cardinal who had never been ordained to the priesthood.

It would seem, yet the Roman Pontiff is free to derogate from purely ecclesiastical law in any way he sees fit, including elevating lay men or women to the Cardinalate. Therefore it is a better question, but of course the faculty to hear confessions presupposes the sacramental ability to do so and the canon doesn’t confer any special powers on Cardinals that they don’t have by virtue of ordination.


The pope can dispense himself from the requirement that a Cardinal be a priest (he can create a deacon or layman as Cardinal) because this is a matter of discipline. But only a priest (sacerdos) can absolve a penitent; and that’s by Divine Law.

There are “levels” of Cardinals - Cardinal Deacon, Cardinal Pries, and (if I recall correctly) Cardinal bishop. That has to do with their “pecking order” (for lack of a better term), not what they were ordained to.

Currently, it is very rare for a priest to be made Cardinal - Dulles was, and I don’t recall the other. All the rest were bishops when they were given the title and office of Cardinal.

As noted, Canon law (at least currently) requires them to be a priest first, so the issue of a deacon or a lay person being made Cardinal is moot.

After a bit of research (?!), according to Wikipedia fwiw, the last non-priest to be made Cardinal was in 1899; in 1917 the Code of Canon law officially changed that. The new Code indicates that if not a bishop, they are to be ordained; Dulles, and Tucci, SJ were made Cardinals and both requested, and were granted, to not be ordained a bishop. Perhaps that is a Jesuit thing in particular.

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