Cardinal is a title bestowed upon a Roman Catholic clergyman (usually but not always a bishop). The title is usually bestowed to recognize the importance of the man receiving it and/or of the office that man holds. (Most cardinals are metropolitans of large archdioceses or heads of departments of the Roman Curia.) The title of cardinal is such a high honor that cardinals are often referred to as "Princes of the Church."

Beyond the responsibilities of his office, and of the priestly vows he took at his ordination, a cardinal also has the duty of electing a new Pope whenever that office becomes vacant. At such times, any baptized, unmarried male Catholic is eligible for election to the papacy, but in modern times, the cardinals invariably choose one of their own number. A pope is elected by two-thirds vote of the cardinals after a series of secret ballots.

While a cardinal may use that title throughout his natural lifetime, his right to take part in papal elections expires when he reaches the age of 80.

In all likelihood, Harry Turtledove's fictional Popes, such as Marcellus IX and Pius XIV, were cardinals prior to their elections. Unless this is specifically stated in the story, it should not be presumed.

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