Organizational Structure of the Roman Catholic Church


The hierarchy or organizational structure of the Roman Catholic Church can be defined in two distinct ways-in terms of structures and in the perspective of individuals who head these structures. The principal religious organization or church of Roman Catholicism or Roman Catholics (as distinct from Eastern Orthodoxy or Protestantism) is the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome which lies at the pinnacle or top of the all the institutions around the world. Next in the hierarchical order are the dioceses where every diocese controls all churches or parishes lying within its jurisdiction. The local church, therefore lies at the bottom of this hierarchical order and is often referred to as a parish.

As of now, there are a total of 2946 dioceses or mother churches, and 2, 19, 583 parishes or local churches throughout the world. The religious head of the local church is known as the priest, and is variously referred to as Reverend, father or pastor. The territorial jurisdiction of a church is clearly defined and the priest heading this church reports directly to the bishop of the diocese under which the parish belongs. He is answerable only to the bishop of his church’s diocese and of course to the Pope. Just above the priest is the bishop or the archbishop who’s in charge of a diocese. So, there is only bishop for each of the 2946 dioceses in the world.

Technically speaking, there’s no difference between an archbishop and a bishop as far as wielding authority is concerned. An archbishop has command over a larger geographical territory compared to a bishop and his home church (called cathedral) where he officially presides and resides is usually located in a large city usually the capital of a state or nation. The bishop reports only to the Pope who appointed him and also has the authority to fire him. The St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is technically a church and the priest heading this religious establishment also functions as a bishop (bishop of Rome Diocese) and as a Pope. The Pope, therefore, is the religious head of not only the Roman Catholics but also of all the institutions under Roman Catholicism.

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