A cardinal attending a public ceremony.
A cardinal attending a public ceremony.

Second only to the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, cardinals serve in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in roles that date back to first few hundred years after the life of Jesus. Originally, all priests with permanent attachment to a church, as well as other clerics, held the title of cardinal. In the Middle Ages, after senior bishops beyond the borders of Italy received the title, the current understanding of cardinal came into usage. Today, primarily archbishops of the world's largest dioceses and dignitaries of the Roman Curia attain the the title of cardinal. Although cardinals have no power over priests and bishops, the path to cardinal represents a long process of advancing from a position as a parish priest.

Study for and receive all necessary degrees and entry-level training to qualify for priesthood. Train in theology, which include canon law, biblical studies, moral theology, Latin, and modern language studies, at one of 39 priesthood formation programs in seminaries or universities in the United States. Earn a Master of Divinity or Master of Arts. After ordination, work as an assistant pastor.

Rise through the levels of the Catholic hierarchy. Continue your religious studies, perhaps even obtaining a doctorate in theology. Broaden your experience in the Church, including, if possible, by working or studying at the Vatican. Catch the eye of senior Church officials through hard work and devotion. Advance from the position of a priest who serves in a parish, to bishop or archbishop, depending on how much or what kind of territory a bishop governs. Request or otherwise earn appointments to govern larger archdioceses.

Receive papal appointment as a Cardinal Priest to the College of Cardinals as a bishop of an archdiocese. Obtain confirmation as a Cardinal Deacon by appointment from within the Roman Curia. Cardinal Bishops serve the Pope in the sees that border Rome. Attend the consistory, the ceremony in which newly appointed cardinals kneel before the Pope and receive their traditional red hats and gold rings signifying their office.