Ranks in the Catholic clergy

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People who have received holy orders or who have been ordained (see Seven Sacraments) are part of a union known as the clergy, a formal religious leadership within a denomination or a religion. The Catholic Clergy, the head with the Pope - being Pope Francis.


The Catholic Church, being one of the oldest organisations in the world, has a very complicated hierarchy.

  • Laity: People baptised as Catholics (the faithful) are counted as members of the Catholic Church - the Lay people.
  • Deacon: Attaining the 'rank' above the Laity is only possible after receiving the Sacrament of Ordination, where after 4 to 6 years of training a seminarian can be ordained a deacon - becoming part of the Diaconate. A man who is destined to remain a deacon may be married at the time of his ordination. If a man is not married at the time of his ordination to the diaconate he must take a vow of celibacy. If a married deacon's wife should die, the deacon must remain celibate afterwards.
  • Priest: Usually after an additional one year of study a deacon can be ordained a priest and part of the Presbyterate, (a brother in service to approximately 400,000 other priests in the world). A priest assigned to a parish under a pastor is called a parochial vicar, a curate, or an associate pastor.
  • Pastor: The priest who is in charge of a parish.
  • Monsignor: If a priest is noticed as being a notable individual in service to the Catholic Church, he can attain the title of Monsignor. (Note: monsignori are not the 'bosses' of other priests)
  • Bishop: If a priest is noticed by bishops around him they can send a suggestive report to the Apostolic Nuncio of the country (who is the Vatican's representative to a country), who will then conduct his own investigation into the person and if proven positive again, he will send his findings to the Vatican; where independent bishops will look into the person. If the priest concerned is pleasing to these Bishops, they will present a report to the Pope, who has the power to veto the decision if he so wishes. If the Pope doesn't veto the priest becoming a bishop - the priest is then elevated to the episcopate(more commonly referred nowadays as Episcopal Ordination), therefore becoming a bishop. Larger diocese may have a "head bishop" called the "Ordinary" and several "auxiliary" bishops. All become part of the episcopate, and one of 5000 bishops. (Note: The Ordinary bishop is only the 'boss' of the priests in his diocese)
  • Archbishop: An archbishop is not a specific 'rank' in the clergy and archbishops are not the bosses of other bishops. Archbishops are merely the diocesan bishop of a larger diocese - an archdiocese, which will usually be in a city area.
  • Cardinal: The Pope has the responsibility of choosing the men who will decide his successor, these chosen clergymen are called the College of Cardinals. The reigning pope (currently Pope Francis) can also give these cardinals responsibilities in helping him run the Church in the Roman Curia in Rome, or elsewhere. Cardinals historically are the pastors of each parish in the ancient Diocese of Rome, so each Cardinal is made the titular pastor of some major church in the diocese of Rome. (Note: bishops are not subordinate to cardinals.). There are three branches of cardinal: cardinal deacon, priest, and bishop, relating to the type of ancient parish that Cardinal is the titular pastor of. Cardinal is an honorary position that is used as a reward for some of the best clergymen. According to Papal Law (or more commonly known as Canon Law), any man who is a member of any of the 24 Catholic Churches can become a cardinal. Canon 351 specifically requires that a cardinal be at least in the order of priesthood at his appointment, and those who are not already bishops must receive Episcopal consecration, save by dispensation from the Pope.
  • Pope: The final rank and the highest rank is the Pope, who Catholics believe to be the successor of Peter and the Vicar of Christ. The Pope is the Bishop of the ancient Diocese of Rome. He is elected by the College of Cardinals at the conclusion of the previous papacy - resignation or death. To be elected pope, one must have a 66.6% majority of the votes. The current pope is Pope Francis.

See also