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Roman Catholic Church

Organization of the Church

There are within the church a number of rites, i.e., ancient, independent traditions of discipline and worship, differentiated through isolation (see also liturgy). Besides the Roman rite, to which the vast majority belong, there are among Catholics five Eastern rites, used by a number of communities (Eastern Catholics or Uniates; see patriarch). They are: the Byzantine (the rite also of the Orthodox Eastern Church, which is not in communion with Rome), to which belong many groups, including Melchites, Ruthenians, Romanians, and the Italo-Albanians of S Italy; the Antiochene (also the rite of the autonomous Jacobite Church), to which belong the Maronites, the Syrian Catholics, and the Malankarese of Malabar; the Alexandrian, to which belong the Catholic Copts and Ethiopians (see Copts); the Chaldaean (also the rite of the autonomous Nestorian Church), to which belong Chaldaean Catholics and Syro-Malabarese; and the Armenian (also the rite of the autonomous Armenian Church). These rites and communities have their own organizations under the pope and are protected from attempts to "Latinize" them. Best known, perhaps, of the non-Roman Western rites are the Ambrosian, the Dominican, and the Mozarabic.

Apart from the rites and foreign missions, the organization of the church is by diocese, the territory of a bishop. Important sees have archbishops, who often supervise neighboring, suffragan bishops. With certain restrictions, the pope names the bishops. Dioceses are made up of parishes, each of which has a church and a priest (the pastor). The pope controls bishops mainly by general legislation. His government, which is run by the cardinals living at Rome, is concerned with matters of wide significance, such as missions and relations with states (see also cardinal; papal election; Vatican City).

Cutting across territorial lines are the religious orders of men and women; their field is monastic life, nonparish activities, and schools; they frequently run missions, hospitals, and colleges (see monasticism). Their members generally receive subsistence only. The parish clergy support themselves, often with salaries fixed by the bishop. Most of the clergy are priests (see orders, holy); they are trained (usually from four to six years) in seminaries maintained by the bishops, the orders, or the Vatican. Members of the clergy do not marry, unless they are parish priests of Eastern rites.

There is no churchwide census, and there are various criteria for determining membership. However, the Roman Catholics in the world are estimated to be about half the total number of Christians and make the church one of the largest religions in the world, with more than 1 billion adherents. Roughly half of all Catholics live in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2003, there were 63.4 million Roman Catholics in the United States.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

More on Roman Catholic Church Organization of the Church from Infoplease:

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches: Branches, Schisms, and Heresies


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