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Hierarchy Of The Roman Catholic Church

Pope, Archbishop, Bishop, Cardinal, Priest. There are so many names thrown around when talking about the Catholic Church. It is easy to get confused about who belongs where.
There are six main levels of the clergy and individuals work their way up the order, however very few will ever reach the top of the hierarchy. In fact, the majority of clergy members do not move past the second level, the Priesthood.

A Deacon

There are two types of Deacons within the Catholic Church, but we’re going to focus on transitional deacons. They are the Permanent Deacons and the Transitional Deacons. Permanent deacons remain deacons for their lifetime and usually assist bishops, especially in missionary areas where a shortage of clergy existed. Transitional deacons, on the other hand, remain deacons for a period of time (normally 6 months – 1 year), after which they are ordained priests. They are generally in their last phase of training for priesthood. Deacons can practice in many similar ways to priests. They can baptize, witness marriages, and perform funerals. However their duties are limited. Unlike priests, deacons can not preside over the Holy Mass.

The Priest

After graduating from being a Deacon, individuals become priests. To become a priest, one must undertake the Rite of Priestly Ordination. This rite ordains them into the priesthood. During the ceremony, they promise to uphold the duties of priesthood and to obey his Superiors and the Archbishops or Bishops and his successors.

Once they are ordained, priests are able to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, listen to confessions, anoint the sick and many other functions. Priests are also able to perform Holy Matrimony.

There are two types of priests within the Catholic Church, The Religious and The Diocesan. Diocesan priests lead individual parishes. They serve the people within their own parish and are not required to take the same vows as religious priests. Additionally, they may wear whatever clothes they choose outside of liturgical functions. This type of priest is more common in secular countries without a strong traditional Catholic population.

Religious priests, however, vow themselves to a religious order, such as the Jesuits, Franciscans, Spiritans, etc. They wear particular religious garments and take additional vows of poverty and obedience. Priests are unable to hold personal possessions and they own very little other than their clothes. They typically live in a group house alongside other members of the order.

The Bishop

Bishops are ministers who hold the full sacrament of holy orders. Catholics trace their origins to the time of the apostles, who were endowed with a spiritual gift by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Bishops are required to be 35 years old, ordained at least five years prior and hold a doctorate in theology. They are believed to truly hold expertise in canon law and sacred scripture. They typically govern over local regions known as dioceses.

Becoming a bishop is an important moment in most clergy life, as all senior rankings hold the title bishop. Bishops reach their retirement age at 75 years old. At this time, they are to submit their resignation to the Pope who will then work with him to determine a suitable replacement.

Bishops are the third, and fullest level of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

The Archbishop

Archbishops are particularly important bishops. They oversee large areas of churches called archdiocese. The title comes from a Greek word meaning “chief”. Bishops report directly to them when in need of assistance or guidance. The archbishop is best thought of as a manager of bishops for a certain geographical region.

The Cardinal

Cardinals are leading bishops and members of the College of Cardinals. Their biggest duty is participating in the  Papal Conclave, that is, voting for the new Pope. Most have additional duties including missions within the Roman Curia, governmental body of the Holy See. To be eligible to attend these votes, however, Cardinals must be below the age of 80.

The current pope, Pope Francis, is known for his particularly diverse group of cardinals- if you can call a group of old, male, Catholic diverse. There are currently 218 serving cardinals. Of those, Pope Francis created 93 Cardinals, from 7 Continents, 87 countries.

The Pope

The highest honour a member of the clergy can receive is to be elected as the leader of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. The Pope is elected by cardinals under the age of 80 following the death or resignation of a Pope. There is no limit to how many years a Pope may hold his office.

The office of the Pope is referred to as the PAPACY. The Pope rules the Catholic Church in a very similar way to a king would rule a country, and he is the head of state for the Vatican City. The Roma Curia (you might remember them to be Cardinals) help the Pope to complete his duties.

Newly elected popes much choose a regnal name, many choose to honour the names of previous popes. Each pope chooses his name in reflection of a saint he feels a strong connection to. Catholics believe their pope is infallible, and that God will not allow his followers to be misled by having him make a wrong statement.

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