Catholic Church Hierarchy

I need to know about the hierarchy and organization of the Catholic Church (all the way up to the Pope) for a screenplay I’m writing. I want to know about Bishops, Cardinals, Monks, Jesuits, Dioceses, etc. (I realize that’s probably a lot of information; pointers to websites and/or books would be greatly appreciated.)


You might want to look at this site:

Thanks, delphica, that looks like some good info, though a lot of it is completely incomprehensible to me. I will have to spend some time reading it when I am more awake.

The Catholic Encylopedia has a article on the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. It can get pretty complicated depending on the setting (both time and place). Sometime a bishop will report to an archbishop; sometimes not. Once you start introducing various religious orders (Jesuits, Augustinians, Benedictines, etc.), it can really get complicated.

In other words, the answer to your question is, it depends. If your screenplay is set in 2001 New York versus 17th century France versus 4th century Greece, you’ll get different answers. Also, it depends how in depth you’re getting and how important this aspect is to the overall screenplay.

In an attempt to make things simple: the order goes (from lowest to highest) priest, bishop, archbishop, cardinal, pope. Local parishes are grouped into regional units called dioceses. A diocese is headed by a bishop, Dioceses are further grouped into ecclesiastical provinces. One diocese in the provence, usually the largest and/or most populous, is call the archdiocese, and it’s bishop is the archbishop for that area. An archbishop runs his own archdiocese, and has some authority over the other bishops in the province.

Cardinal is an honorary title. Cardials are bishops who get to sit in the College of Cardinals. They advise the pope and, when the pope dies, they elect a new one from among their ranks. Most cardinals also run a diocese or archdiocese.

The pope is, of course, the head honcho. He is the bishop of the diocese of Rome (which is called the Holy See) and is the overall uber-boss of everyone else. He is elected for life by the College of Cardinals.

Monsignors are priests who have been given a special honorary title. Usually, they’ve rendered some special service, like founding a parish, or they’ve been a priest for a really long time. Monsignors are nominated by their bishop or archbishop, and are declared such by the pope.

Religous orders, such as the Fransiscans, Benedictines, Jesuits, etc, are a bit more complicated. These priests, nuns, and brothers usually follow the orders of a local bishop, but their real boss the the head of their order. The head of the order reports directly to the pope.

And, remember that that edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia dates from 1915…so any changes in the structure since then, wouldn’t be there.

Religious orders don’t necessarily fall under the sway of a local diocese. St. Andrew’s Abbey, for instance, in Cleveland, is completely independent of the Diocese of Cleveland, and Abbot Roger, the head of that abbey, answers only to the Archabbot of Latrobe (who’s over all of the Benedictine monks in North America), possibly some other worldwide Benedictine authority, and the Pope himself. An abbey is a monastery headed by an abbot or abbess, who is almost equivalent to a bishop. A monestary without an abbot is a priory, headed by a prior, who is just an ordinary priest who happens to run a monestary.

There’s also more layers under the priests. Deacons have most of the powers of priests, but cannot perform the consecration of the bread and wine, nor the Sacrament of Reconciliation (pennance), and usually act as assistants to the priests. In religious orders, a monk (Brother or Sister) who has not been ordained may or may not be a deacon, and may or may not have taken permanent vows. Strictly speaking, I think that even the servers (altar boys or girls) are considered to be a part of the same church hierarchy as deacons and priests.

Of course, then there’s always God, but let’s not go there.

Thanks for the information, now I See …

Thanks Jeff. The screenplay is indeed set in the present, but this info is not extremely important. I just need it for a few minutes of dialog and so I know what to call certain characters.

Umm, friedo- also note that in dialog, the titles of folks are not usually how they are addressed. You address the Pope as “your Holiness”, etc… Why not simply ask exactly what you want to knwo, then we can give you exact answers?

Frankly, because I don’t know exactly what I need to know yet. I’m still developing the story. The Catholic Encyclopedia looks like an interesting resource. I’m going to spend some time perusing that.

Excellent answers, Diceman. Since you were deliberately keeping things simple, it’s almost unfair of me to nitpick.

But what the heck. :slight_smile:

Not really. His authority is strictly based on permission from the Holy See. Within suffragan dioceses, the Archbishop may “…see that faith and ecclesiastical discipline are carefully observed and to notify the Roman Pontiff if there be any abuses…” (Can 436 §1(1)); for a pre-approved reason, conduct a canonical visitation if the suffragan Bishop has neglected it (Can 436 §1(2)); if a suffragan see becomes vacant and its college of consultors does not elect an administrator, appoint one (Can 436 §1(3)).

He has no other power of governance over suffragan dioceses. He can, however, celebrate sacred functions in all churches as if he were a Bishop in his own diocese, provided, if it is the cathedral church, the diocesan Bishop has been previously notified.

  • Rick

In that case, Diceman is right about the simple version of the hiearchy: priest, bishop, archbishop, cardinal, pope. Doing a quick search, I found this site with forms of address for various government, military, and religious positions. The religious start about halfway down. While no means complete, it should give you a basic starting point for how these people would be addressed.