Catholic theology states that the Catholic Church originated during the time of Jesus Christ, who appointed a man to head the organization. The Church, in more modern times, is a complex hierarchical organization that can best be visualized as a pyramid, with the Pope at the top and beneath him, varying levels of bishops, priests and deacons. This system helps the Church communicate orders through its ranks and promote individuals through the proper channels.
The Pope, also referred to as the Bishop of Rome, resides in the Vatican and is the highest earthly authority in the Catholic hierarchy. In summary, he holds full control over matters of morality, faith, discipline and government in the Catholic Church. The Pope maintains total control of the Church, except that which he has expressly relinquished to others. He is the only one that can prescribe Church services and canonize saints. He also oversees appointments at various levels of the Church. Additionally, he holds a vital position on the College of Bishops, which exercises decision-making power over the global Church. The College of Bishops is composed of a select group of bishops and includes the Pope, who serves as the head of the organization.
Bishops are ordained ministers who oversee established jurisdictions. The individual bishops, according to the Vatican, are "the visible source and foundation of unity" in the communities in which they live. Some bishops maintain jurisdiction over a large region called a diocese; they are thusly labeled diocesan bishops. Similarly, an archbishop oversees a larger area, called an archdiocese, and that individual holds authority over the other bishops within the same region.
Priests are the heads of individual parishes, and they exercise ministry with the instruction of their bishop. As ordained priests, they are given the right to perform the seven Catholic sacraments, which include baptism, confirmation, holy communion, confession, marriage, holy orders and the anointing of the sick.
Deacons are ministers, or servants within the church, and they work to assist both priests and the parishioners in the church. Typically, deacons are fully subservient to their priest, helping to administer baptisms and to prepare the parish for worship among other tasks. As it is common for them to come to the post later in life, many deacons are married and are thus looked upon within the church as a living example of the sacrament of marriage. Married men exist elsewhere in the clergy, as well. Priests in certain sects of the Catholic Church can be married, and the Church will occasionally ordain married men, including as deacons. But if the man is single at the time of ordination, or if he becomes single later, he must remain celibate. Some deacons serve permanently, while others use the role as a transition on the ultimate road to priesthood.
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