Lay cardinal

Lay Cardinal Teodolfo Mertel

A lay cardinal was a cardinal in the College of Cardinals of the Catholic Church who was a lay person, that is, who had never have been given major orders through ordination as a deacon, priest, or bishop.

Properly speaking these cardinals were not laymen, since they were all given what was called first tonsure, which at that time made them clerics and no longer laymen.[1] They were also given minor orders, which were no obstacle to marrying or to living in a marriage previously contracted. The freedom to marry and to live in marriage is likely the reason that cardinals who were not in major orders were popularly, though inaccurately, referred to as lay cardinals.[citation needed]


Ferdinando I de' Medici was a lay cardinal for twenty-six years. Even after he succeeded his brother Francesco I de' Medici as Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1587, he nevertheless remained a cardinal until he married Christina of Lorraine two years later.

Francisco Gómez de Sandoval, 1st Duke of Lerma was created cardinal by Pope Paul V on March 26, 1618,[2] a title that protected him from prosecution, after he was banished from power on October 4, 1618.

Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Austria was a lay cardinal for about 20 years from 1620 (about age 10) to his death in 1641.

Marino Carafa di Belvedere was created a cardinal in the consistory of 1801 by Pope Pius VII on the condition that he take major orders. In 1807 he resigned the cardinalate without receiving major orders to marry to produce an heir and maintain the line of descent for his family. He married Marianna Gaetani dell'Aquila d'Aragona and he became prince of Acquaviva.[3]

Teodolfo Mertel, a lawyer and layman, was named cardinal by Pope Pius IX in 1858. He was not a lay cardinal for long, as he received ordination to the diaconate the same year. When he died in 1899 he was the last non-priest cardinal.[4] (Giacomo Antonelli, who died in 1876 as Pius IX's Cardinal Secretary of State, remained a deacon when named cardinal in 1847.)

In 1968 Pope Paul VI seriously considered appointing the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain a lay cardinal.[citation needed]