His greatest (and deserved) claim to fame, faithful, ever present private secretary to Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) from 1958 to the pope’s death in 1963 (and he was at the bedside).
Here seen walking behind the pope, in 1958, at the Vatican, early into the papacy. His appointment as secretary was one of the new pope’s first acts.
Cardinal Capovilla has a commanding lead as the oldest living cardinal as clearly illustrated in my new Excel spreadsheet for the College. Click to ENLARGE.
As far as we know, based on current documentation, the OLDEST cardinal was Portuguese Dom Jorge da Costa [1406 to Sept. 18, 1508]. He is said to have been 102 when he died though this exact birthdate is not known! He, once the Archbishop of Lisbon (and then of Braga), was created in 1476 — when he would have been 70.
We have had a cardinal who lived to be 101 in recent times. He was Italian, Corrado Bafile (4 July 1903 – 3 February 2005). Unlike with da Costa we know his exact birthdate.
So he was 101 years, 6 months and 4 weeks old when he died. So Cardinal Capovilla needs to live for another 1.5 years to catch up with him.
This is now covered in Canon 351 § 1 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. This Canon says: “The Roman Pontiff freely selects men to be promoted as cardinals, who have been ordained at least into the order of the presbyterate [i.e., priest] and are especially outstanding in doctrine, morals, piety, and prudence in action; those who are not yet bishops must receive episcopal consecration [i.e., consecrated as a bishop].”
So it is now pretty straightforward. You have to be at least a priest. Since you need to be at least 25 years old to be a priest, this requirement, also, adds an implicit age requirement, i.e., 25. So the days of early-teen cardinals is now definitely history.
Canon 351 tightens the cardinalate requirements from the 1917 Code. That required priestly ordination, along the lines that the 1983 Code now requires episcopal consecration. In theory, this meant that if a cardinal was not a priest, he needed to be ordained. The 1983 Code on the other hand appears to stress that already being a priest is a prerequisite.
[I would think that a pope, if he really so wished, could override this as well as any of the other requirements — though I do not see this happening. However, it is worth noting that the need for episcopal consecration is sometimes waived by a pope, particularly in the case of those created cardinals late in life. Check this post about ‘non-bishop cardinals.]
Hope this helps. I had seen a number of searches of late with people looking for data on this topic.
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.