What is the hierarchy in the Roman Catholic Church?
The hierarchy in the Roman Catholic Church is structured. The Pope heads the College of Bishops and leads the whole Church of Christ. He stands in Christ's place, on Christ's behalf, to shepherd Christ's flock.
As successors of the Apostles, Bishops of Catholic Churches throughout the world form the College of Bishops. The bishops may exercise power over the Universal Church by coming together in an ecumenical council. If the Bishops are not united with the Pope, they have no authority at all.
The lay faithful are those who have been baptized, but not called by God to ordained ministry. Referred to as the laity, they are called in a special way to bring Christ to the world.
The College of Cardinals do not form part of the official hierarchy of the Church. However, certain bishops are granted special status within the Church by being elevated to the College of Cardinals. The Cardinals act as special advisors to the pope, and come together on the death of the pope to vote for his successor.
Episcopal Conferences (National Conferences of Bishops)
Every country or region has an Episcopal Conference. Disciplinary decisions are referred to them. For example, the general law in the code of Canon Law is that Catholics must do penance on Friday by abstaining from red meat. The Episcopal Conference of each region may substitute a different penance if they choose.
The Synods of Bishops are an advisory body to the Pope that meets in Rome on certain occasions. The Bishops consider important issues and develop church teachings. Even though the Pope makes the final decision on all matters, he did not often go against the recommendation of the Synod.
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