View Full Version : How do catholic and Islamic religious heirarchy work

Wesley Clark
03-07-2004, 07:36 PM
I dont know if the muslim subdivisions have different heirarchies, If they do then i will just ask about the Shi'ite as that is the group whose ayatollahs and grand ayatollahs i keep hearing about.

What about catholics? what are bishops, grand bishops, cardinals, priests, popes, etc and what are their roles to each other?

03-07-2004, 08:19 PM
Can’t tell you very much about Islam; as far as I know it has no priesthood and no clearly-defined hierarchy, and the relationship between ordinary muslims and imams is probably similar to the relationship between jews and rabbis. The imam is appointed by the congregation to lead their worship and other congregational activities. Appointment to a large and well-established congregation may give an imam extra status.

As for Catholicism, the hierarchy is built around bishops. The local church in any place is conceived of as the baptised Christians of the place who are in communion with (and under the leadership of) the bishop of that place. All the other priests in that place are assistants to the bishop in ministering to the people. A place with a bishop is called a “diocese”.

Often (but not always) a number of neighbouring dioceses will be grouped together as a “province”, and the bishop of one of the dioceses will be the “metropolitan” of the province with the title of archbishop. He is the bishop of his own diocese, but (though I’m open to correction on this point) he has no special authority within the other dioceses. Each diocese is under the leadership of its own bishop. At most, the metropolitan archbishop wil have some say in the selection of a bishop for the other dioceses in his province.

The most important bishop is the bishop of Rome, a.k.a. the pope. Membership of the Catholic church is denoted by being in communion with the Bishop of Rome. In general the relationship for an ordinary Catholic is a two-step one; I am in communion with my bishop; he is in communion with the bishop of Rome (and, to take the matter two steps further, with all the other bishops who are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, and so with all the people who are in communion with <i>them</i>).

There are bishops who have no diocese. (No real diocese, that is; they always have a nominal diocese, often a place which once had a bishop and flock, but which no longer does.) Sometimes they are ordained as bishops to assist the bishop of a large diocese; sometimes to take a bureaucratic or administrative job in the church.

Cardinals, conceptually, are not that important. They are appointed to take part in the election of the bishop of Rome. Between elections, they have nothing to do. (Nothing to do as cardinals, that is; they usually have other jobs as the bishops of large dioceses, or as senior figures in the Roman bureacracy.) The popes don’t have to be elected by cardinals; that’s the way it is now, but it wasn’t always that way and it doesn’t have to be that way for ever. The position of cardinal is not essential to the church in the way that the position of bishop is.

Cardinals don’t have to be bishops, but most are already bishops by the time they are appointed as cardinals, and those who aren’t are offered ordination as bishops.

03-07-2004, 08:22 PM
In the Roman Catholic church, the world is divided into areas called dioceses, or sees. Each diocese is under the control of a bishop.

All the dioceses in the world come under the authority of the Pope, who is himself always the Bishop of Rome, or "the Holy See."

That's the basic structure of the hierarchy.

For administrative convenience, groups of dioceses are associated together loosely under one bishop, who is an archbishop in his own diocese. His diocese is known as the archdiocese, and the subordinate dioceses known as suffragan dioceses. An archbishop, then, is simply a bishop in charge of a diocese that has suffragan dioceses attached to it.

A cardinal is not part of the "chain of command" listed above. The Pope names men to the position of cardinal, a title which basically adds extra duties to their plate, but does not give them executive control of any additional areas. The College of Cardinals is vested with the responsibility of choosing the next Pope when the Holy See is vacant.

There is no "grand bishop" in the Roman Catholic tradition.

Every bishop is a priest. Every cardinal is a priest. Becoming a priest is the bedrock of the Roman Catholic clergy. Priests alone may celebrate Mass, and confer the sacraments of reconciliation, penance, and anointing of the sick.

The sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred by a bishop to ordain a man a priest and to ordain a priest a bishop.

- Rick

03-07-2004, 08:28 PM
...but (though I’m open to correction on this point) he has no special authority within the other dioceses.

Very little authority, it's true, but not "no ... authority."

Ceremonially, the archbishop may celebrate Mass in any church within any of his suffragan dioceses as though he were in his own diocese.

Practically speaking, when any of his suffragan sees are vacant, and the college of consultors in that see has failed to act in accord with Can. 421 §1, the Metropolitan bishop appoints a diocesan administrator. (See Can. 421 §2.)

- Rick

03-07-2004, 08:54 PM
The Roman Catholic hierarchy:

The People of God are divided into two groups: Laity and Clergy. All have equal dignity before God.

When it comes to exercising authority in the institution of the church, the clergy have the ordinary power to do so by Scripture and Tradition (Jesus' commission of the Peter and the Apostles, and the following development of that authority over time). That authority is spelled out in the the Canon Law of the Church.

Clergy are made clergy through receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders. There are three Orders of Holy Orders: Bishop, Priest, and Deacon.

The whole world is divided into regions called 'Dioceses' (from the Roman Empire's political subdivisions of the same name). The Bishop is the head of the diocese. The Bishop has the fullness of Holy Orders. All Bishops are technically peers of each other, though the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, is the first among peers and in the past three centuries has received a codified legal authority to basically be the boss of all the other bishops.

Dioceses are grouped into regions called Provinces. The 'head diocese' of a province is an Archdiocese and the bishop of an archdiocese is an Archbishop. An archbishop has no real authority over his 'suffragan bishops,' but he convenes and presides over provincial meetings.

A Cardinal is anyone so named by the Pope to be part of the conclave that elects the next Pope. They have no real authority over non-cardinals. A cardinal can be a non-Bishop but rarely so. They are usually archbishops.

And that's it for bishops. On to priests: They work for the bishops. Unless they're the brothers in Religious Order who've been ordained to be a priest. In that case, they work for their Order and answer to the superior of the order who answers to a bishop or the Pope.

If the priest is in charge of a parish (local church congregation) he also has the title of 'pastor.' If he's the helper priest in a parish, he's called a parochial vicar. A priest may be given an honorary title of 'monsignor.' A monsignor has no real authority over other priests simply because he's a monsignor. Monsignors usually make the short list when considerations are made as to who to ordain to be a bishop.

Deacons are minor clerics. They have almost no real authority except that delegated to them by a pastor or bishop.

So basically you have the world and Rome led by the Pope. A diocese led by a bishop. And a local parish led by a priest who's the pastor.


03-07-2004, 09:19 PM
There are no formal religious hiearchies in Sunni Islam, by and large. Where such have existed ( i.e. the office of Grand Mufti in the Ottoman state or some government sanctioned positions in modern Saudi Arabia ) they are generally political in motivation - i.e. a way to establish control over the religious establishment by mandating central positions which can then by appointed, dismissed, and otherwise manipulated. But by and large, there is no formal clerical organization. Recognition as a religious personage is peer and worshipper sanctioned, often in a very rough way ( for example you're supposed to be literate so as to be able to read and interpret the Qur'an, but it is not unknown for someone of dubious literacy, but who talks a good line, to get himself set up as a local cleric ). Now certain individuals DO have greater significance - either because they simply have a lot of followers or they are the head or members of a historically prestigious religious institution ( i.e. the al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo ).

By contrast, in Shi'ism at least ( Ithna'ashari Shi'ism ), there is a very loose hiearchy of sorts. Again it is basically peer and worshipper-vetted. A mujtahid is one who can interpret scripture to render jurisprudential rulings. A Hojatoislam is a respected mujtahid of some learning and erudition. A Ayatollah is a senior, particularly learned and respected mujtahid. A Ayatollah 'Uzma or 'Grand Ayatollah' is usually a marja e-taqlid, a brilliant theologian considered a source of emulation, his words somewhat canonical to at least those Shi'ites who recognize him. But this is again a rough process. Not all Shi'ites recognize every Grand Ayatollah and they can disagree. Grand Ayatollah Khomeini created the current conception of religious rule in Iran, but most Grand Ayatollahs then extant disagreed with the idea. Ali Khamane'i, the current supreme leader of Iran, accorded the rank of Grand Ayatollah by Khomeini before his death, is regarded by most as not meriting the title on the basis of his theological strengths ( i.e. he got the title through nepotism ) - to most he is a mere Hojatoislam with political skills. The seminary-line from Najaf has tended to be the most senior and respected, but there are "rival" schools in places like Qom and Karbala. So as in Sunnism, there is no real undivided "party line".

Another complication in Ithna'ashari Shi'ism are the Sayyids, the bloodline of Muhammed, who have a certain special status and who often tend to gravitate towards a theological career ( not really a hereditary priestly caste, but sort of half-way there ). A lot of senior clerics ( but not all ) are Sayyids.

- Tamerlane

03-07-2004, 09:31 PM
I meant in Itns'ashari Shi'ism at least - I'm not sure what, if any, parallel there is in Zaydi or Isma'ili practice ( probably not that much - the current Ithna'ashari view is in some ways relatively modern in conception, the result of one particular school of philosophy winning out over it's rival in the 17th-19th centuries ).

- Tamerlane

03-08-2004, 05:20 PM
Practically speaking, when any of his suffragan sees are vacant, and the college of consultors in that see has failed to act in accord with Can. 421 §1, the Metropolitan bishop appoints a diocesan administrator. (See Can. 421 §2.)This is the current situation in the Diocese of Helena, which basically encompasses the state of Montana (a major city usually constitutes a diocese, but there ain't none such in Montana). In addition to having an adminstrative role in choosing a new bishop for the diocese and managing the place during the interregnum, the Metropolitan (in our case, I think it's the archbishop of Seattle) also play a role in the spiritual duties of the diocese during the interregnum. For instance, only a bishop can ordain new priests, and usually that's the bishop of the priest's diocese, but currently, that isn't possible for us, so the Metropolitan takes care of new ordinations in the meanwhile.

In religious orders, you can also have abbots, who are in charge of a monestary, and archabbots, who have loose jurisdiction over the monestaries of that order in a large geographical area. They're roughly analogous to bishops and archbishops, but in a separate branch of the heirachy (they still ultimately answer to the Pope). An abbot is head of a monastery (specifically, of an abbey), and has many of the powers which are generally described as being restricted to bishops. For example, an abbot can perform the sacrament of confirmation, and I think (though I'm not sure on this) that he can also ordain priests. Not all monestaries have an abbot; soome just have an administrator called a prior.

Oh, and everyone in the Catholic heirarchy also wears a different color hat, so they know how to line up in parades. The only colors I remember are that an abbot wears blue, a cardinal red, and the Pope white.

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