The Catholic Church consists of approximately 1.2 billion members worldwide. To maintain stability and unity among the various Catholic communities, the church has established a hierarchy in delegating leadership responsibilities. Officials in the Catholic hierarchy often preside over certain territories, serve as representatives for the Catholic Church and fulfill many duties to ensure that standards are being met.
The pope is the most prominent and powerful official in the Catholic Church ranking system. Catholics believe that Jesus appointed Peter -- one of the 12 apostles -- to become the spiritual and organizational leader of the church after his death, and thus St. Peter was the first official pope. Popes serve until they die or resign, and new popes have been selected by the College of Cardinals since 1179. Popes live and conduct sermons in Vatican City, which is in Rome and which was established as an independent state by Italy in 1929. As the leader of the Catholic Church, a pope must fulfill a diverse range of obligations. A pope must deliver ceremonial sermons and lectures, appoint bishops and cardinals, name new saints, travel to various locations to support the Catholic Church, articulate the official positions of the church regarding significant moral issues, and ensure that the operations of the church are functioning properly.
Cardinals are highly ranked Catholic Church officials who are appointed by the Pope and who often reside in Vatican City after receiving the appointment. One of the most important responsibilities of cardinals is that they must help select new popes. When a previous pope has died or resigned, all members of the College of Cardinals who are younger than 80 participate in a papal conclave, a series of meetings in the Sistine Chapel. During these conclaves, cardinals discuss the papacy, determine which candidates are most qualified to become pope and vote to select the next pope. Cardinals also assist the pope by managing diocese bishops and by helping settle disputes and solve problems confronting the church.
The Catholic Church considers bishops as successors to the 12 Apostles of Jesus. Each bishop is selected by the pope and assigned to preside over a specific diocese, or geographical territory, and the bishop must then ensure that church operations are functioning effectively in that territory. As leader for all the churches and priests in his area, a bishop must help solve any conflicts challenging the diocese and submit reports to the Vatican about the condition of churches in the diocese. Archbishops preside over large or politically significant dioceses such as a big cities or capitals.
Catholics believe that priests serve as mediators capable of connecting worshippers in a church to God or the Holy Spirit. After a priest is ordained, he is assigned to a specific church by a bishop. Responsibilities of a priest include delivering sermons and lectures during Mass, administering Communion, teaching the Catholic doctrine, performing baptisms, counseling church members, hearing confessions, performing wedding ceremonies and officiating at funerals.
- BBC News World: How Many Roman Catholics Are There In The World?
- History World: History of the Papacy
- New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia, The Pope
- Catholic Education Resource Center: Who Are the Cardinals?
- Catholic-Pages.com: Bishops
- StateUniversity.com: Roman Catholic Priest Job Description, Career as a Roman Catholic Priest, Salary, Employment
- Infoplease: Roman Catholic Church Hierarchy
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