Hierarchy of the Catholic Church

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church consists of its bishops, priests, and deacons.[1][2] In the ecclesiological sense of the term, "hierarchy" strictly means the "holy ordering" of the Church, the Body of Christ, so to respect the diversity of gifts and ministries necessary for genuine unity (1 Cor 12).

In canonical and general usage, it refers to those who exercise authority within a Christian church.[3] In the Catholic Church, authority rests chiefly with the bishops,[4] while priests and deacons serve as their assistants, co-workers or helpers.[5] Accordingly, "hierarchy of the Catholic Church" is also used to refer to the bishops alone.[6] The term "pope" was still used loosely until the sixth century, being at times assumed by other bishops.[7] The term "hierarchy" became popular only in the sixth century, due to the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius.[8]

As of 30 December 2014, the Catholic Church consisted of 2,998 dioceses or equivalent jurisdictions,[9] each overseen by a bishop. Dioceses are divided into individual communities called parishes, each staffed by one or more priests, deacons, or lay ecclesial ministers.[10] Ordinarily, care of a parish is entrusted to a priest, though there are exceptions. Approximately 22% of all parishes do not have a resident pastor, and 3,485 parishes worldwide are entrusted to a deacon or lay ecclesial minister.[11]

All clergy, including deacons, priests, and bishops, may preach, teach, baptize, witness marriages, and conduct funeral liturgies.[12] Only priests and bishops can celebrate the sacraments of the Eucharist (though others may be ministers of Holy Communion),[13] Penance (Reconciliation, Confession), Confirmation (priests may administer this sacrament with prior ecclesiastical approval), and Anointing of the Sick.[14][15] Only bishops can administer the sacrament of Holy Orders, by which men are ordained as bishops, priests or deacons.[16] Women are excluded from the hierarchy of clergy.[17]