This excellent question What are the positions relative to each other in the Catholic church's clerical hierarchy? | @Reluctant_Linux_User and its answers have revived some questions on my part which I am hoping to get some understanding and clarity to.

In the wake of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal, a lawsuit was filed against the Holy See to my understanding, on the grounds that the Pope was the boss of the bishops who by their actions and omissions, allowed for the abusing priests to continue abusing.

Restricting the answer to the following: Pope, Bishops, Priests, how do these relate to one another in the Church's hierarchy? What is the reporting structure like and how does that differ from a Corporate company structure headed by a CEO?

Please note that in my answer, even though the priest ranks higher than the deacon, they both seems to be responsible to the Bishop.

Please note:

The other referenced question and its answers do not fully answer:

  1. Where in those answers does it address the comparisons with a Corporate company structure headed by a CEO?
  2. Where do those answers explain the priests and deacons both being responsible to the Bishop yet the deacon is of a lower rank?
  3. Where do those answers clarify that the Pope is NOT the "boss" of Bishops as understood by the secular world?
  4. The question what are is very different from how do.
  • The linked duplicate says "how do they relate to one another in the church's governing structure?". Your question here says: "how do these relate to one another in the Church's hierarchy?". That you are also asking an answer to compare and contrast this with a typical CEO business structure is irrelevant because that is off-topic anyway by itself. This is not a business site. There is the workplace. Perhaps you can learn more there about business structures.
    – user3961
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 21:28
  • In the future, it is better if you post why you think it is not a duplicate on the meta site, then you may link to the meta post. Putting meta content on the main site is not a good idea. It clutters things and makes it difficult to see what the question is on its own. So you should post on meta, roll this back to an edit without the meta stuff in it, then link to the meta post.
    – user3961
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 21:30
  • @fredsbend The relevance: people coming to learn about Christianity come from their perception one of which is the understanding from the secular world and shown in the link regarding the lawsuit. You are very much mistaken.
    – user13992
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 21:33
  • @FMS What I am saying is that if the question were not a duplicate (but it is) then it would be fine if you included it, but it would be an afterthought to any answer. To thoroughly compare these things you need a great answer on workplace structure too, which is off-topic here. What I am pointing out is that if you expect a lot of in depth analysis about workplaces here then you're going to be disappointed.
    – user3961
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 21:36
  • 2) From the answer here it is clear those answers did not answer this question here and its particulars.
    – user13992
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 21:36

1 Answer 1


The hierarchy of the Church

The Church has a very “shallow” hierarchy that consists of the three ranks of ordained ministers: bishops, priests, and deacons. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 1554.)

Relationships of priests and deacons to their ordinaries

Priests and deacons are always members either of a diocese or of a society such as a religious order or congregation. (In technical terms, they are incardinated in that diocese or society; see Can. 265 of the Code of Canon Law [CIC].) Thus, priests and deacons always answer directly to their “ordinary,” who is the bishop, in the case of a diocese, or their major superior, in the other cases. (See CIC Can. 134.) Note that the ordinary of most societies of consecrated life is a presbyter (a priest), not a bishop. (There is a similar situation in the “ordinariates” that have been set up for persons with an Anglican background.)

Relationships of dioceses among themselves

In the Western (Latin) Church, there is very little vertical organization of dioceses. Dioceses are grouped into ecclesiastical provinces. One of these dioceses is called the “archdiocese,” and it exercises a primacy of honor over the other dioceses, which are called “suffragans.” The bishop of an archdiocese has the title of “archbishop” and “metropolitan,” but he exercises no authority outside his own diocese, except in certain very limited cases. (See CIC Can. 435-436.)

The Eastern Churches have an autonomous hierarchy headed by either a patriarch or a major archbishop. (See the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches 56 and 151.) Unlike in the Western Church, the patriarch or major archbishop enjoys ordinary (not delegated) authority over his entire church.

Relationships of dioceses to the Diocese of Rome

All bishops in the Western Church, and all patriarchs and major archbishops, in turn, answer directly to the Bishop of Rome (the pope). All bishops, whatever their rank, form a kind of “college” or assembly, which, however, has no authority except when it is in union with its head the Bishop of Rome. (See CCC 881-882.)

(The same holds true for the ordinaries of the Anglican-use ordinariates; even though they are presbyters, they answer only to the Bishop of Rome. For societies of consecrated life, the situation is more complex: some answer directly to the pope; others, to a local bishop.)

The pope is not, therefore, a “super bishop,” but simply the Bishop of Rome; however, the Bishop of Rome enjoys “full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered” (CCC 882).

It should be noted that the college of cardinals does not enter into the hierarchy as such. The title of “cardinal” technically makes the cardinals members of the clergy of the Diocese of Rome and hence gives them an advisory role to the pope. They are also responsible for electing the Bishop of Rome when the Apostolic See is vacant. (See CIC Can. 349.) Although by law, cardinals must be bishops, or must be ordained bishops (Can. 315), the rank of cardinal as such is strictly honorific.

Conferences of bishops are also of an advisory and cooperative nature, and do not enter strictly speaking into the hierarchy. (See CIC Can. 447.)

Is the Pope a CEO?

Decentralized nature of the Church

So, more à propos to the original poster’s question, if one must make a comparison of the Catholic Church to political realities, it should be thought of as a loose confederation of local churches (dioceses and patriarchates), which, however, find their unity in the Church of Rome.

Hence, although the Bishop of Rome does have both doctrinal and disciplinary authority over the entire Catholic Church, it is not his function to run the day-to-day affairs of any diocese but the Diocese of Rome (and, in fact, even the day-to-day affairs of the Diocese of Rome are managed by a vicar, or delegate). Each diocese is expected to manage its own affairs, and only cases that require some kind of special intervention are dealt with in the Holy See.

Scale of the Church

If anyone is imagining the pope as a sort of CEO of the Catholic Church, he is perhaps not aware of the sheer size of the Church: there are currently no less than 3,126 dioceses (including Eastern Rite dioceses, as well as personal and military ordinariates) and 5,309 living bishops (including coadjutor, auxiliary, and retired bishops). Worldwide, as of 2014, there are 414,313 active priests. All of these serve a Catholic population of 1,228,621,000 (according to the 2014 Annuario Pontificio).

Both the scale and the decentralized nature of the Church make it impossible for the pope to be aware of what is happening in a local diocese, unless someone informs him. (It would be similar to asking the President of the United States to oversee the affairs of the city of San Francisco; the sheer number of cities in the United States makes that level of centralization impossible.)

Delegated vs. ordinary authority

Moreover, most companies have a specific goal or objective (some product or service to provide, or perhaps many of them), and so they require a centralized and multi-tiered structure. The Church’s mission, on the other hand, is pastoral and spiritual, and so it is better for it to be run by persons who are “on the ground.” In addition, for most companies the authority structure is delegated by the owner or the board of directors; in the Catholic Church, the authority of bishops over their dioceses is “ordinary,” not delegated.

  • Any chance to talk about disciplining? Is some discipline reserved to the Holy See or can the ordinary do it all? One example is laicization. And is it different in the Western Church as compared with other particular Churches?
    – user13992
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 20:03
  • 1
    Done. The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches has a penal code that is similar to that in the in Code of Canon Law, so the procedures are very similar. In any case, crimes like pedophilia are now reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, regardless of the particular Church one comes from. Commented Dec 7, 2014 at 21:45
  • Sorry to do this to you Father, any chance to move your answer here: Who disciplines who within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church??
    – user13992
    Commented Dec 7, 2014 at 21:51
  • Is there any better way to do that, other than cutting and pasting? Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 10:05
  • If there is, I do not know of it.
    – user13992
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 17:11