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This article is about hierarchy in the Catholic Church. For hierarchy in other communions with a "catholic" character, please see articles on the churches in question. For other uses, see Hierarchy (disambiguation).

In the Catholic Church, the term hierarchy has a variety of related usages. Literally, "holy government", the term is employed in different instances. There is a Hierarchy of Truths,[1] which refers to the levels of solemnity of the official teaching of the faith. There is a hierarchical nature of the church, which is a structural feature considered to be of divine institution.[2]

In its earliest and most broad usage, this ecclesial hierarchy refers to the ordering of the entire People of God into three 'states': the laity, the religious, and the clergy. Most commonly, it refers to the ordering of ministry in the church into the threefold order of Episcopate, Presbyterate, and Diaconate, which is considered to be divinely instituted and therefore essential to the Church itself. In some cases, the term hierarchy is used to refer only to the Magisterium, the official teaching body of the church, the bishops, in which case deacons and presbyters (priests) are excluded.

There is, in addition, an order of precedence of the various offices and ministries,which indicates the precedence or 'rank' of various ministers and offices in the Church for use during liturgies or other ceremonies where such protocol is helpful.


A cardinal and bishops

In general

The bishops, who possess the fullness of the priesthood, are as a body (the College of Bishops) considered the successors of the Apostles[3] and are "constituted Pastors in the Church, to be the teachers of doctrine, the priests of sacred worship and the ministers of governance."[4] The Pope himself is a bishop (the bishop of Rome) and traditionally uses the title "Venerable Brother" when writing formally to another bishop.

The typical role of a bishop is to provide pastoral governance for a diocese. Bishops who fulfill this function are known as diocesan ordinaries, because they have what canon law calls ordinary (i.e. not delegated) authority for a diocese. These bishops may be known as hierarchs in the Eastern Catholic Churches. Other bishops may be appointed to assist ordinaries (auxiliary bishops and coadjutor bishops) or to carry out a function in a broader field of service to the Church, such as appointments as papal nuncios or as officials in the Roman Curia.

Bishops of a country or region may form an episcopal conference and meet periodically to discuss current problems. Decisions in certain fields, notably liturgy, fall within the exclusive competence of these conferences. The decisions of the conferences are binding on the individual bishops only if agreed to by at least two-thirds of the membership and confirmed by the Holy See.

Bishops are normally ordained to the episcopate by at least three other bishops,[4] though for validity only one is needed[5] and a mandatum from the Holy See is required.[6] Ordination to the episcopate is considered the completion of the sacrament of Holy Orders; even when a bishop retires from his active service, he remains a bishop, since the ontological effect of Holy Orders is permanent. On the other hand, titles such as archbishop or patriarch imply no ontological alteration, and existing bishops who rise to those offices do not require further ordination.

Among bishops, various ranks are distinguished. The Pope, as the successor of Saint Peter, is the head of the universal Catholic Church and of the Latin Church. Some of the Eastern Catholic churches are headed by a patriarch, a major archbishop, or a metropolitan. Within the Latin Church too, dioceses are normally grouped together as ecclesiastical provinces, in which the bishop of a particular see has the title of metropolitan archbishop, with some very limited authority for the other dioceses, which are known as suffragan sees.


Main article: Pope

Pope Benedict XVI, like his predecessors, is considered by Catholics as the Vicar of Christ and therefore leader of all Christians.

What most obviously distinguishes the Catholic Church from other Christian bodies is the link between its members and the Pope. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting the Second Vatican Council's document Lumen Gentium, states: "The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, ‘is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.’"[7]

The Pope is referred to as the Vicar of Christ and the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. He may sometimes also use the less formal title of "Servant of the Servants of God". Applying to him the term "absolute" would, however, give a false impression: he is not free to issue decrees at whim. Instead, his charge forces on him awareness that he, even more than other bishops, is "tied", bound, by an obligation of strictest fidelity to the teaching transmitted down the centuries in increasingly developed form within the Church (though he himself is the final arbiter of what constitutes fidelity to those teachings.)

In Catholic theology, the bishop who is the successor of Saint Peter in the episcopal see of Rome is viewed as the head of the College of Bishops,[8] as Saint Peter was the chief of the Apostles;[9] and communion with him is considered essential for the existence of the College of Bishops.[10] He has direct authority, not an authority mediated through other bishops, over the whole Church.[8][11]

The title of Pope (derived from a word, known in Greek as far back as Homer's Odyssey 6:57, for "Father") is the most common title for the Bishop of Rome, and, in the traditional Latin abbreviation PP (sometimes lower-case), is used in his official signature, e.g. "Benedictus PP XVI". The honorary title prefixed to his name is "His Holiness".

In certain limited and extraordinary circumstances, this papal primacy, which is referred to also as the Petrine authority or function, involves papal infallibility, i.e. the definitive character of the teaching on matters of faith and morals that he propounds solemnly as visible head of the Church. In any normal circumstances, exercise of this authority will involve previous consultation of all Catholic bishops (usually taking place in holy synods or an ecumenical council).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful – who confirms his brethren in the faith – he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals... The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,’ above all in an Ecumenical Council."[12] These are two ways in which the pastors of the Church exercise the charism of infallibility with which Catholics believe Christ has endowed them for the purpose of guarding from deviation and decay the authentic faith of the definitive covenant that God has established in Christ with his people.[13]

The Pope resides in the Vatican City, an independent state within the city of Rome, set up by the 1929 Lateran Pacts between the Holy See and Italy. Ambassadors are accredited not to Vatican City State but to the Holy See, which was a subject of international law even before the state was instituted. The body of officials that assist the Pope in governance of the Church as a whole is known as the Roman curia. The term "Holy See" (i.e. of Rome) is generally used only of Pope and curia, because the Code of Canon Law, which concerns governance of the Latin Church as a whole and not internal affairs of the see (diocese) of Rome itself, necessarily uses the term in this technical sense.

The present rules governing the election of a pope are found in the apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis.[14] This deals with the powers, from the death of a pope to the announcement of his successor's election, of the cardinals and the departments of the Roman curia; with the funeral arrangements for the dead pope; and with the place, time and manner of voting of the meeting of the cardinal electors, a meeting known as a conclave. This word is derived from Latin com- (together) and clavis (key) and refers to the locking away of the participants from outside influences, a measure that was introduced first as a means instead of forcing them to reach a decision.

A pope has the option of resigning. The two best known cases are those of Pope Celestine V in 1294 (who, though the poet Dante Alighieri pictured him condemned to hell for this action, was canonized in 1313) and Pope Gregory XII, who resigned in 1415 to help end the Great Western Schism.


The head of some autonomous (in Latin, sui iuris) particular Churches consisting of several local Churches (dioceses) have the title of Patriarch.[15] The Pope himself was also called the Patriarch of the West, as head of the Latin Rite or Western particular Church, but this title is no longer in use. Eastern patriarchs are elected by the synod of bishops of their particular Church.[16]

The Patriarchs who head autonomous particular Churches are:

These have authority not only over the bishops of their particular Church, including metropolitans, but also directly over all the faithful.[23] Eastern Catholic patriarchs have precedence over all other bishops, with the exceptions laid down by the Pope.[24] The honorary title prefixed to their names is "His Beatitude".

There are also additional patriarchs in the Latin Rite Church. They include the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Patriarch of Venice, the Patriarch of Lisbon, and the Patriarch of the East Indies. All of these offices are honorary, and the patriarchs are not the heads of autonomous particular Churches.[25] The Patriarch of the East Indies is the archbishop of Goa, while the other patriarchs are the archbishops of the named cities. The title of Patriarch of the West Indies was in the past granted to some Spanish bishops (not always of the same see), but is long in abeyance.

Major archbishops

Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, the Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halych

Other autonomous particular Churches are headed by a Major Archbishop.[26] The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church uses the title Catholicos for their major archbishop.[27] With few exceptions, the authority of a major archbishop in his sui iuris Church is equivalent to that of a patriarch in his Church.[28] This less prestigious office[29] was established in 1963 for those Eastern Catholic Churches which have developed in size and stability to allow full self-governance if historical, ecumenical, or political conditions do not allow their elevation to a patriarchate.

At present, there are four Major Archbishops:


Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone in summer dress

Cardinals are appointed by the Pope, who generally chooses bishops that head departments of the Roman Curia or important episcopal sees throughout the world. As a whole, the cardinals make up the College of Cardinals which advises the pope, and those cardinals under the age of 80 at the death of a pope elect his successor.

The cardinalate is not an integral part of the theological structure of the Catholic Church, but largely an honorific distinction that has its origins in the 1059 assignation of the right of electing the Pope exclusively to the principal clergy of Rome and the bishops of the seven suburbicarian dioceses. Because of their resulting importance, the term "cardinal" (from Latin "cardo," meaning "hinge") was applied to them. In the twelfth century the practice of appointing ecclesiastics from outside Rome as cardinals began. Each cardinal is still assigned a church in Rome as his "titular church" or is linked with one of the suburbicarian dioceses. Of these sees, the Dean of the College of Cardinals holds that of Ostia, while keeping his preceding link with one of the other six sees. Traditionally, only six cardinals held the rank of Cardinal Bishop, but when Eastern patriarchs are made cardinals, they too hold the rank of Cardinal Bishop, without being assigned a suburbicarian see, still less a church in Rome. The other cardinals have the rank either of Cardinal Priest or Cardinal Deacon, the former rank being normally assigned to bishops in charge of dioceses, and the latter to officials of the Curia and to priests raised to the cardinalate.

Since a change by Pope John XXIII in 1962, a man who has been nominated a cardinal is required to be consecrated a bishop, if not one already.[34] (In previous centuries there were cases of cardinals who only had minor orders.) Very few such priests have asked for and obtained dispensation from this recent requirement; Avery Dulles, SJ, and Albert Vanhoye, SJ, are recent examples.


The Latin-Rite title of Primate has in some countries been granted to the bishop of a particular (usually metropolitan) see. It once involved authority over all the other sees in the country or region, but now involves no more than a "prerogative of honor", except in special cases.[35] Today, Primates are usually designated to an archbishop or bishop who serves with the first diocese created within the country, or an archbishop/bishop who serves with the oldest diocese within the country. Exceptions exist, such as in Poland, where the Primate is the archbishop of the oldest archdiocese (Gniezno, founded in 1000), and not the oldest diocese (Poznań, founded in 968).


Cardinal Roger Mahony is the Metropolitan Archbishop of Los Angeles.

A Latin-Rite Metropolitan is the bishop of the principal (the "metropolitan") see of an ecclesiastical province composed of several dioceses. The metropolitan receives a pallium from the pope as a symbol of his office. The metropolitan bishop has limited oversight authority over the suffragan dioceses in their province, including ensuring that the faith and ecclesiastical discipline are properly observed.[36] He also has the power to name a diocesan administrator for a vacant suffragan see if the diocesan council of consultors fails to properly elect one.[37] His diocesan tribunal additionally serves by default as the ecclesiastical court of appeal for suffragans (court of second instance),[38] and the metropolitan has the option of judging those appeals personally.[39]

Eastern-Rite Metropolitans in patriarchal or major archiepiscopal churches have a similar level of authority as Latin-Rite metropolitans, subject to the specific laws and customs of their sui iuris church.[40] Eastern Rite Metropolitans who head a metropolitan sui iuris church have much greater authority within their church, although it is less than that of a major archbishop or patriarch.[41]

All Metropolitans have the title of Archbishop, and the metropolitan see is referred to as an archdiocese or archeparchy, a title held not only by the 525 metropolitan sees but also by 76 other sees.


The title of archbishop is held not only by bishops who head metropolitan sees, but also by those who head archdioceses that are not metropolitan sees (most of these are in Europe and the Levant[42]). In addition, it is held by certain other bishops, referred to as "Titular Archbishops" (see "Other Bishops" below) who have been given no longer extant archdioceses as their titular sees – many of these serve in administrative or diplomatic posts, for instance as papal nuncios or secretaries of curial congregations. The bishop of a non-archiepiscopal see may be given the personal title of archbishop without also elevating his see (such a bishop is known as an archbishop ad personam), though this practice has seen significantly reduced usage since the Second Vatican Council.

Diocesan bishops

The Bishop or Eparch of any see, even if he does not also hold a title such as Archbishop, Metropolitan, Major Archbishop, Patriarch or Pope, is the centre of unity for his diocese or eparchy, and, as a member of the College of Bishops, shares in responsibility for governance of the whole Church (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 886). As each local particular Church is an embodiment of the whole Catholic Church, not just an administrative subdivision of something larger, the bishop who is its head is not a delegate of the Pope. Instead, he has of himself primary teaching, governance and sanctifying responsibility for the see for which he has been ordained bishop.

Within each diocese, even if the Eucharist is celebrated by another bishop, the necessary communion with the Bishop of the diocese is signified by the mention of his name. In Eastern-Rite eparchies the name of the patriarch, major archbishop or metropolitan is also mentioned, because these also have direct responsibility within all the eparchies of the particular Church in question. For the same reason, every Catholic celebration of the Eucharist has a mention of the Pope by name.

Ordination to the episcopate is the fullness of the priesthood and the completion of the sacrament of Holy Orders. Bishops are considered the successors of the apostles.

Other bishops

A Diocesan Bishop may have bishops who assist in his ministry. The Coadjutor Bishop of a see has the right of succession on the death or resignation of the Diocesan Bishop, and, if the see is an archdiocese, holds the title of Archbishop. Similarly, a retired Diocesan Bishop keeps his connection with the see to which he was appointed, and is known as Bishop (or Archbishop) Emeritus of that see. On the other hand, an Auxiliary Bishop, who may also hold posts such as vicar general or episcopal vicar, is appointed bishop of a titular see, a see that in the course of history has ceased to exist as an actual jurisdictional unit.

The titular sees - which may be archiepiscopal or simply episcopal - assigned to such bishops were once known as sees in partibus infidelium, because they were situated in areas lost to Christianity as a result of Muslim conquests. Now former sees even in Christian countries are assigned as titular sees. These sees are also assigned to bishops who serve in the Roman Curia, as Papal Nuncios, or as equivalents of Diocesan Bishops in law (see below), such as Vicars Apostolic and Apostolic Exarchs.

The term "Titular Bishop" is frequently used for such bishops, but is, strictly speaking, inaccurate, since they are indeed bishops, even if they do not serve the see to which they are appointed, and are not merely holders of an honorary title of bishop. They are members of the College of Bishops as much as the Diocesan Bishops.

In most English-speaking countries, the honorary title prefixed to the name of a bishop is "The Most Reverend". However, in Great Britain and in those countries most strongly influenced by English (not Irish) practice, "The Most Reverend" is reserved for archbishops, and other bishops are called "The Right Reverend".

Positions analogous to that of bishop

Within the Catholic Church the following posts have similarities to that of a diocesan bishop, but are not necessarily held by a bishop.

Equivalents of diocesan bishops in law

Canon 368 of the Code of Canon Law lists five Latin-Rite jurisdictional areas that are considered as equivalent to a diocese. These are headed by:

  • A Territorial Prelate, formerly called a Prelate nullius dioceseos (of no diocese), in charge of a geographical area that has not yet been raised to the level of diocese
  • A Territorial Abbot, in charge of an area, which in mission countries can be quite vast, associated with an abbey
  • A Vicar Apostolic (normally a bishop of a titular see), in charge of an apostolic vicariate, usually in a mission country, not yet ready to be made a diocese
  • A Prefect Apostolic (usually not a bishop), in charge of an apostolic prefecture, not yet ready to be made an apostolic vicariate
  • A Permanent Apostolic Administrator, in charge of a geographical area that for serious reasons cannot be made a diocese.

To these may be added:

  • An Apostolic Exarch or Ordinary for Eastern-Rite Faithful
  • A Military Ordinary
  • A Personal Prelate, in charge of a group of persons without regard to geography: the only personal prelature existing is that of Opus Dei.
  • An Apostolic Administrator of a Personal Apostolic Administration: only one exists, the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney
  • A Superior of an autonomous mission
  • An ordinary of a personal ordinariate for former Anglicans who have entered full communion with the Catholic Church

Of somewhat similar standing is the Diocesan Administrator (formerly called a Vicar Capitular) elected to govern a diocese during a vacancy. Apart from certain limitations of nature and law, he has, on a caretaker basis, the same obligations and powers as a Diocesan Bishop (canons 427-429 of the Code of Canon Law). Occasionally an Apostolic Administrator is appointed by the Holy See to run a vacant diocese, or even a diocese whose bishop is incapacitated or otherwise impeded.

Other important titles or functions usually, but not necessarily, held by (arch)bishops include those of Apostolic Delegate, Apostolic Nuncio, Papal Legate, Patriarchal Vicar, Pontifical Delegate.

Ordinaries and local ordinaries


All "local ordinaries" (listed below, under "Local ordinaries") are ordinaries. The following clerics are also ordinaries (Latin Church) or hierarchs (Eastern Churches), but are not local ordinaries (Latin Church) or local hierarchs (Eastern Churches):

Local ordinaries

Local ordinaries exercise ordinary power and are ordinaries in particular churches.[44]


In general

Bishops are assisted by priests and deacons. All priests and deacons are incardinated in a diocese or religious order. Parishes, whether territorial or person-based, within a diocese are normally in the charge of a priest, known as the parish priest or the pastor.

In the Latin Rite or particular Church, only celibate men, as a rule, are ordained as priests, while the Eastern Rites, again as a rule, ordain both celibate and married men. Among the Eastern particular Churches, the Ethiopic Catholic Church ordains only celibate clergy, while also having married priests who were ordained in the Orthodox Church, while other Eastern Catholic Churches, which do ordain married men, do not have married priests in certain countries. The Western or Latin Rite does sometimes, but very rarely, ordain married men, usually Protestant clergy who have become Catholics. All Rites of the Catholic Church maintain the ancient tradition that, after ordination, marriage is not allowed. Even a married priest whose wife dies may not then marry again.

The Catholic Church and the ancient Christian Churches see priestly ordination as a sacrament dedicating the person ordained to a permanent relationship of service, and, like Baptism and Confirmation, having an ontological effect on the person. It is for this reason that a person may be ordained to each of the three orders only once. They also consider that priestly ordination can be conferred only on males.

Priests in service outside their diocese

Although priests are incardinated into a diocese or order, they may obtain the permission of their diocesan ordinary or religious superior to serve outside the normal jurisdiction of the diocese or order. These assignments may be temporary or more permanent in nature.

Temporary assignments may include studying for an advanced degree at a Pontifical University in Rome. They may also include short-term assignments to the faculty of a seminary located outside the diocese's territory.

Long-term assignments include serving the universal church on the staff of a dicastery or tribunal of the Roman Curia or in the diplomatic corps of the Holy See. They may also be appointed the rector or to long-term teaching assignments to the faculty of a seminary or Catholic university. Priests may also serve on the staff of their episcopal conference, as military chaplains in the military ordinariates, or as missionaries.

Positions within a diocese at diocesan level

The diocesan bishop appoints a vicar general to assist him in the governance of the diocese. Usually, only one vicar general is appointed; particularly large dioceses may have more than one vicar general.[46] A Diocesan Bishop can also appoint one or more episcopal vicars for the diocese. They have the same ordinary power as a vicar general, however, it is limited to a specified division of the diocese, to a specific type of activity, to the faithful of a particular rite, or to certain groups of people.[47] Vicars General and Episcopal Vicars may be priests or bishops. In the Eastern Catholic Churches, they are called Protosyncelli and Syncelli (canon 191 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches).

Diocesan bishops are required to appoint a judicial vicar to whom is delegated the bishop's ordinary power to judge cases (canon 1420 of the Code of Canon Law, canon 191 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches). In the Latin church, the judicial vicar is also called officialis. The person holding this post must be a priest, have earned a doctorate in canon law (or at least a license), be at least thirty years old, and, unless the smallness of the diocese or the limited number of cases suggests otherwise, must not be the vicar general. As one of the jobs of the judicial vicar is to preside over collegiate tribunals, many dioceses have adjutant judicial vicars who can preside over collegiate tribunals in place of the judicial vicar and must have the same qualifications.

The diocesan bishop appoints a chancellor, possibly a vice-chancellor, and notaries to the diocesan chancery. These officials maintain the records and archives of the diocese. They also serve as the secretaries of the diocesan curia. The bishop also appoints a finance officer and a finance council to oversee the budget, temporal goods, income, and expenses of the diocese.

The bishop appoints priests and other members of the faithful to various advisory bodies. These include the college of consultors (who elect the diocesan administrator in the event of the vacancy of the see), the presbyteral council, the diocesan synod, and the pastoral council.

The Catholic Church recently created personal ordinariates -- separate units within a Catholic diocese headed by former Anglican clergymen. Although married Anglican priests are permitted to head the ordinariates, married bishops, who are not in keeping with Catholic tradition, are not be permitted.[48][49] These personal ordinariates allow Anglicans to join to the Catholic Church whilst retaining their Anglican liturgy and identity, including married priests.[48][49]

Vicars Forane or Deans

"The Vicar Forane known also as the Dean or the Archpriest or by some other title, is the priests who is placed in charge of a vicariate forane" (canon 553 of the Code of Canon Law), namely of a group of parishes within a diocese. Unlike a regional Episcopal Vicar, a Vicar Forane acts as a help for the Parish Priests and other priests in the vicariate forane, rather than as an intermediate authority between them and the Diocesan Bishop.


"The parish priest or pastor is the proper pastor of the parish entrusted to him. He exercises the pastoral care of the community entrusted to him under the authority of the Diocesan Bishop, whose ministry of Christ he is called to share, so that for this community he may carry out the offices of teaching, sanctifying and ruling with the cooperation of other priests or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of the Christian faithful, in accordance with the law" (canon 519 of the Code of Canon Law).

For lack of priests, sometimes a parish may be entrusted for a time, short or long, to a priest who is not its Parish Priest or Pastor, or to a deacon or a religious, male or female, or even to a lay person. These do not thereby become the Pastor of the parish.

Parochial Vicars

"Whenever it is necessary or opportune for the due pastoral care of the parish, one or more Assistant Priests can be joined with the Parish Priest. As cooperators with the Parish Priest and sharers in his concern, they are, by common counsel and effort with the Parish Priest and under his authority, to labour in the pastoral ministry" (canon 545 of the Code of Canon Law). In some English-speaking countries, Parochial Vicars are called Associate Pastors or Assistant Priests.

Honorary titles

The honorary title of Monsignor may be conferred by the Pope upon a diocesan priest (not a member of a religious institute) at the request of the priest's bishop. The priest so honored is considered to be a member of the papal household. The title goes with any of the following three awards:

  • Chaplain of His Holiness (called Papal Chamberlain until a 1969 reform),[50] the lowest level, distinguished by purple buttons and trim on the black cassock, with a purple sash.
  • Honorary Prelate (until 1969 called Domestic Prelate), the middle level, distinguished by red buttons and trim on the black cassock, with a purple sash, and by choir dress that includes a purple cassock.
  • Protonotary Apostolic, the highest level, with the same dress as that of an Honorary Prelate, except that the non-obligatory purple silk cape known as a ferraiuolo may be worn also.

In some dioceses, priests serving as vicars general are also given the honorary title of Monsignor. This is true even if they have not been appointed to the papal household.

Some of the Eastern Catholic Churches of Syriac tradition use the title Chorbishop, roughly equivalent to the Western title of Monsignor. Other Eastern Catholic Churches bestow the honorific title of Archimandrite upon unmarried priests as a mark of respect or gratitude for their services. Married presbyters may be honored with the position of Archpriest, which permits the priest to wear a mitre.


Deacons are ordained ministers of the Church who are co-workers with the bishop alongside presbyters, but are intended to focus on the ministries of direct service and outreach rather than pastoral leadership. They are usually related to a parish, where they have a liturgical function as the ordinary minister of the Gospel and the Prayers of the Faithful, They may preach homilies, and in the Roman rite, may preside at non-Eucharistic liturgies such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals. In the Eastern Catholic Churches, in the absence of a priest, deacons do not vest and may only lead services as a reader, never presiding at weddings or funerals.

They may be seminarians preparing for ordination to the priesthood, "transitional deacons"; or they may be "permanent deacons", not intending to be ordained as priests. To be ordained deacons, the latter must be at least 25 years old, if unmarried; if married, a prospective deacon must be at least 35 years old and have the consent of his wife. In the Latin rites, married deacons are permanent deacons.


The office of vicar general, currently held by bishops or priests, was originally the role of the chief deacon of a diocese, known as the archdeacon.


One of the 'minor orders' suppressed in the Roman Catholic Church, the order of subdeacon is still used in some of the Eastern Catholic Churches and in traditionalist Catholic groups.

The Laity

Most of the people of God are the laity, those Christians whose primary vocation is to bring the gospel message "into the world". The origin of the term "laity" comes from the Greek "Laos theon" meaning "people of God". While the role of the laity is primarily focused extrinsic to the structure of the church, they do have a responsibility to cooperate in the governance of the church through various means.

Lay ministry/lay apostolate

Lay ministry refers to all the work of the laity whose primary vocation is not in the ecclesial structure of the church but who may serve in a single ministry to build up the life of the church. This can include Catechists, acolytes, lectors, initiation sponsors, pastoral care ministers, and members of parish and diocesean consultative bodies.

The consultative leadership of the church, in both the diocese and the parish, usually comprises a Pastoral Council and a Finance Council, as well as several Commissions usually focusing on major aspects of the church's life and mission, such as Faith Formation or Christian Education, Liturgy, Social Justice, Ecumenism, or Stewardship.


Also belonging to the laity are the "religious", persons that dedicate themselves to God in the Consecrated life (commonly referred to as the "religious life", or "monastic life"), whether living in community or as a consecrated hermit, consecrated virgin or consecrated widow/widower (see main article Consecrated life).

See also

  • Roman Catholic (term)
  • List of Roman Catholic dioceses (alphabetical)
  • List of Roman Catholic dioceses (structured view)
  • List of Roman Catholic archdioceses
  • List of Roman Catholic military dioceses
  • List of Roman Catholic apostolic administrations
  • List of Roman Catholic apostolic vicariates
  • List of Eastern Catholic exarchates
  • List of Roman Catholic apostolic prefectures
  • List of Roman Catholic territorial prelatures
  • List of Roman Catholic missions sui juris
  • Anglican ministry
  • Global organisation of the Catholic Church


  1. Vatican II: Unitatis Redintegratio, 11
  2. Pope Paul VI (November 21, 1964). "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium". Second Vatican Council. Retrieved 2007-04-20.  Chapter III
  3. "Canon 42". Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. 1990. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Canon 375". Code of Canon Law. 1983. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  5. "Canon 1014". Code of Canon Law. 1983. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  6. "Canon 1013". Code of Canon Law. 1983. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  7. "#882". Catechism of the Catholic Church. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Canon 331". Code of Canon Law. 1983. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  9. "Canon 330". Code of Canon Law. 1983. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  10. "Canon 336". Code of Canon Law. 1983. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  11. "Canon 43". Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. 1990. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  12. "#891". Catechism of the Catholic Church. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  13. "#890". Catechism of the Catholic Church. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  14. Pope John Paul II (February 22, 1996). "Apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis". Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  15. "Canon 55". Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches. 1990. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  16. "Canon 63". Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches. 1990. Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  17. Ronald Roberson, CSP (2006). "The Coptic Catholic Church", The Eastern Christian Churches – A Brief Survey (6th edition).
  18. "The Syrian Catholic Church", Ibid
  19. "The Melkite Catholic Church", Ibid
  20. "The Maronite Catholic Church", Ibid
  21. "The Chaldean Catholic Church", Ibid
  22. "The Armenian Catholic Church", Ibid
  23. Canon 53, 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches
  24. Canon 58, Ibid
  25. Canon 438, 1983 Code of Canon Law
  26. Canon 151, 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches
  27. "Syro Malankara Church says it can use Catholicos title", Indian Catholic News Service, July 21, 2005
  28. Canon 152, 1990 Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches
  29. Canon 154, 1990 Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches
  30. Archeparchy of Kyiv-Halych,
  31. Ronald Roberson, CSP, (2006) "The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church", The Eastern Christian Churches - A Brief Survey (6th Edition)
  32. "The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church", Ibid
  33. "The Romanian Catholic Church", Ibid
  34. Pope John XXIII (15 April 1962). "Cum gravissima".
  35. Canon 438, Code of Canon Law
  36. Canons 435-437, Ibid.
  37. Canon 421 §2, Ibid.
  38. Canon 1438, Ibid.
  39. Canon 1419 §1, Ibid.
  40. Canons 133-139, Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches
  41. Canons 155-173, Ibid
  42. According to, as of 2007, non-metropolitan archdioceses include 37 in Europe (10 immediately subject to the Holy See, 1 immediately subject to an Eastern Catholic major archbishop, 25 suffragan archdioceses, and 1 military archdiocese), 37 in Southwest Asia (3 immediately subject to the Holy See, 21 immediately subject to Eastern Catholic patriarchs, 4 suffragan archdioceses), 4 in Africa (2 immediately subject to the Holy See, 2 immediately subject to Eastern Catholic patriarchs), 2 in North America (1 immediately subject to the Holy See, 1 military archdiocese), 2 in South America (1 immediately subject to the Holy See, 1 military archdiocese), 2 in Australia (both immediately subject to the Holy See), 1 in Southeast Asia (immediately subject to the Holy See), and 1 in South Asia (immediately subject to an Eastern Catholic major archbishop)
  43. "Canon 134, §2". 1983 Code of Canon Law. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 21 August 2009. 
  44. Id.c.134 §§1–2
  45. "Canon 134, §1 and §2". 1983 Code of Canon Law. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 21 August 2009. 
  46. "Canon 475", 1983 Code of Canon Law, The Holy See, 1983-01-28, ISBN 0-943616-79-4,, retrieved 2009-08-20 
  47. "Canon 476", 1983 Code of Canon Law, The Holy See, 1983-01-28, ISBN 0-943616-79-4,, retrieved 2009-08-20 
  48. 48.0 48.1 "Vatican seeks to lure disaffected Anglicans". The Associated Press. Retrieved 2007–10–25. 
  49. 49.0 49.1 "Pope Approves Plan to Bring Anglicans Into the Fold". New York Times. Retrieved 2007–10–25. 
  50. The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church - Guide

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