Here is a brief glossary of terms often used in the Catholic
Church that may not be completely familiar to journalists
who have not had a great deal of experience in covering
apostolic nuncio – a papal ambassador representing
the Roman Pontiff (Pope) to the Catholic Church of a nation,
as well as before the civil authorities of a nation. Also
called papal nuncio. See also pontifical representative.
archbishop – title given to a diocesan bishop who is
the chief shepherd of an archdiocese. An archbishop may
also preside over an ecclesiastical province, or may be a
chief shepherd of an archdiocese but hold another, highranking
Church office, such as an apostolic nuncio.
archdiocese – The archdiocese, headed by an
archbishop, is typically the largest or oldest diocese in
an ecclesiastical province and takes on an additional
administrative role for the whole province.
archeparchy – the equivalent of an archdiocese in
the Eastern Catholic Churches that is entrusted to an
archeparch (equivalent of an archbishop) of an Eastern
Catholic ecclesiastical province. There are two Catholic
archeparchies in the United States: the Byzantine Catholic
Archdiocese of Pittsburgh and the Ukrainian Catholic
Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
bishop – a cleric who through episcopal ordination
is a successor to the apostles and who shares in the
threefold ministry of Jesus Christ (sanctifying, teaching,
and governing). A bishop exercises these in hierarchical
communion with the Roman Pontiff (Pope) and the College
of Bishops. Most bishops are diocesan bishops, the chief
priests in their dioceses. The Eastern Catholic equivalent
to a diocesan bishop is an eparchial bishop. In addition to
diocesan bishops, there are auxiliary bishops, coadjutor
bishops, and archbishops.
bishops’ conference – see episcopal conference.
brother – a non-ordained man who is a member of
an institute of consecrated life or a society of apostolic
life, and who seeks to live a life consecrated through the
profession of poverty, chastity, and obedience by vow or
some other bond.
canon law – ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic
Church. In the Latin Church, the governing code is the 1983
Code of Canon Law (CIC). A separate but parallel Code of
Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO) governs the Eastern
cardinal – the highest-ranking Catholic clergy below the
pope. According to Church law, cardinals are regarded as
the pope’s closest advisors. Most cardinals are archbishops
or prefects of major departments at the Vatican. Those
cardinals (79 years of age or below) are tasked with the
responsibility of electing a new pope by gathering at a
conclave in Rome.
celibacy – the condition of living chastely in the
unmarried state. At ordination, a diocesan priest or
unmarried deacon in the Latin Catholic Church makes a
promise of celibacy.
chastity – is the virtue of correctly ordering one’s own
sexual conduct and desires.
Church – The local or particular church normally refers
to a diocese or an eparchy. The universal Church refers to
the entire Catholic communion of the Latin Church and the
Eastern Catholic Churches.
clergy – a collective term referring to ordained bishops,
priests, and deacons.
congregation – a term used for some Vatican
departments responsible for important areas of church life,
such as worship and sacraments, the clergy, and saints’
curia – the offices through which a bishop administers
a diocese. The Bishop of Rome (the pope) administers the
universal Church through the Roman Curia while a bishop
administers a diocese through a diocesan curia.
deacon – The first of three ranks in the ordained
ministry. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are called
transitional deacons. Those not planning to be ordained
priests are called permanent deacons. Married men may be
ordained as permanent deacons. Single men are ordained
with a commitment to celibacy either as transitional or
delict – an act which is a crime under canon law, the
governing law of the Catholic Church. Acts considered to
be a crime are articulated in the Code of Canon Law (for
the Latin Church) and in the Code of Canons of the Eastern
Churches (for Eastern Catholic Churches).
diocesan bishop – A bishop who heads a diocese. He
may be assisted by auxiliary bishops or a coadjutor bishop.
See also auxiliary bishop and coadjutor bishop.
dicastery – an administrative unit in the Holy See’s
Roman Curia, which includes secretariats, congregations,
dicasteries, tribunals, pontifical councils, and other offices.
In the context of the Apostolic Letter motu proprio Vos
estis lux mundi, the competent dicastery refers to one of
several congregations of the Roman Curia. The competent
dicastery is the particular office with authority and
responsibility to review and respond to the case at hand.
diocese – usually a geographic territory. It is governed
by a bishop. A list of the 178 Latin Church (arch)dioceses
of the United States is available on the USCCB website
Eastern Catholic Churches – Catholic Churches
with origins in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa that have
their own distinctive liturgical, legal, and organizational
systems and are identified by the national or ethnic
character of their region of origin. Each is considered fully
equal to the Latin tradition within the Church. In the United
States there are 16 Eastern Catholic Church eparchies and
two Eastern Catholic Church archeparchies. In addition,
there is one non-territorial Eastern Catholic Church
apostolate in the United States. See also eparchy and
eparchy – an Eastern Catholic Church equivalent of a
diocese in the Latin Church. An eparchy is governed by
an eparchial bishop who is the local hierarch (ordinary) of
the Church in that territory. There are 18 eparchies and
archeparchies in the United States (www.usccb.org/about/
episcopal – referring to a bishop, a group of bishops, or
to the form of Church governance by which bishops have
episcopal conference (bishops’ conference) – a
national or regional body of bishops that meets periodically
to collaborate on matters of common concern in their
country or region. The United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is the bishops’ conference in the
Holy See – refers often to the pope and the offices of
the Roman Curia, the governing and administrative offices
for the universal Church. In general use, the term Vatican is
synonymous with Holy See.
laicization – A word used historically to refer to the
current process by which a priest is dismissed from the
clerical state. Sometimes used as a penalty for a serious
crime, but more often it comes at the request of the priest.
A priest who was dismissed from the clerical state is
barred from priestly ministry with some exceptions when
someone is in immediate danger of death. The pope must
approve all requests for dismissal from the clerical state.
laity/lay – in canon law, anyone not ordained a deacon,
priest, or bishop is a layperson. In this legal canonical
sense, women religious (sisters) and nonordained men
religious (brothers) are essentially lay. In the documents of
the Second Vatican Council, however, the laity are those
who are neither ordained nor members of a religious order.
The Vatican II sense of the term laity—whereby the faithful
are composed of laity, religious brothers and sisters, and
ordained clergy—is usually intended in most discussions of
laypeople and their role in the Church.
Latin Church (Latin Catholic Church) –
commonly, but imprecisely, called the Roman Catholic
Church or the Western Church, the Latin Church is the
largest of the 24 Churches that have their own laws and
liturgical rites recognized by the supreme authority of the
Catholic Church. These 24 Churches are in full communion
with the Holy Father and form the Catholic Church.
local ordinary (local hierarch) – an office-holder
with ordinary executive power in a particular territory.
For example, the diocesan bishop is the local ordinary of
a diocese, as are any vicars general or episcopal vicars in
metropolitan – the archbishop of a metropolitan see.
This archbishop is, by virtue of his office, the metropolitan.
The metropolitan archbishop has limited responsibilities
with regard to the suffragan dioceses that make up an
ecclesiastical province. The archbishop is usually only
referred to as the metropolitan in contexts that reference
his capacity as head of the province.
metropolitan see – the archdiocese or archeparchy
under the authority of the metropolitan archbishop. It is
the chief diocese/eparchy of an ecclesiastical province.
Metropolitan see refers to the archdiocese/archeparchy
itself and to the seat of authority that the metropolitan
holds. The bishop ordinary of the metropolitan see is
known as the metropolitan.
motu proprio – literally, “on his own initiative.” A papal
document that expounds upon existing—or creates new—
Church law or procedures.
nun – strictly speaking, a member of a religious
community of women in the enclosure of a monastery.
Colloquially it has been use to refer to all women religious,
who are more properly called sisters. Whether a woman
religious is a nun or sister, it is appropriate to use the term
Sister as the religious title before her name.
ordinary (hierarch) – refers generally to a diocesan
or eparchial bishop, or others who are placed over a
particular church or community that is equivalent to a
diocese/eparchy, as well as those persons who possess
ordinary executive power.
papal nuncio – see apostolic nuncio.
priest (religious priest / diocesan or
eparchial priest) – a baptized man who has been
ordained a priest by a bishop. Also called a presbyter.
Religious priests are professed members of a religious
order or institute. Religious priests live according to the rule of their respective orders. In pastoral ministry, they
are under the jurisdiction of the local bishop, as well as of
the superiors of their order. Diocesan or eparchial priests
(sometimes called secular priests) are under the direction
and jurisdiction of their local bishop. Most serve in the
parishes of the diocese or eparchy, but they may also be
assigned to other diocesan/eparchial posts and ministries
or be released for service outside the diocese or eparchy.
pontifical representative – the representative
(appointed by the pope) who is sent to foreign nations or
to a national Church. In countries with diplomatic relations
with the Holy See, this representation is held by the papal
nuncio. In the United States, the pontifical representative
is the papal nuncio (or apostolic nuncio). The term may also
include the pope’s representatives in other offices as well,
such as offices within the Holy See or those appointed as
superior general of a religious order.
province (ecclesiastical province) – an
ecclesiastical province is a territory consisting of
several dioceses or eparchies (the suffragan sees),
including at least one archdiocese or archeparchy (the
metropolitan see), headed by a metropolitan archbishop.
The metropolitan has certain responsibilities within the
province in canon law.
province (of a religious order) – a grouping of
communities of a religious order under the jurisdiction of a
region (or episcopal region) – a territory of
ecclesiastical provinces and their dioceses in the United
States, covering one or more U.S. states. The USCCB has
15 defined episcopal regions (Region I through Region XV).
The episcopal regions in the United States are as follows:
Region I: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut
Region II: New York
Region III: New Jersey and Pennsylvania
Region IV: Delaware, District of Columbia,
Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Military
Archdiocese, and U.S. Virgin Islands
Region V: Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana,
Mississippi, and Tennessee
Region VI: Michigan and Ohio
Region VII: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin
Region VIII: Minnesota, North Dakota, and South
Region IX: Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska
Region X: Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas
Region XI: California, Hawaii, and Nevada
Region XII: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and
Region XIII: Utah, Arizona, New Mexico,
Colorado, and Wyoming
Region XIV: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and
Region XV: Eastern Catholic Churches sui juris
Roman Curia – the administrative offices of the Holy
See, composed of various dicasteries, which assist the
pope in governing the Church.
see – another name for a diocese or archdiocese.
It appears in such phrases as Holy See, titular see,
metropolitan see, suffragan see, and see city. An
archdiocese is the metropolitan see of a province, while
the dioceses under it are suffragan sees. A see city is that
city after which the diocese or archdiocese is named.
sister – in popular speech, any woman religious. Strictly,
the title applies to women religious of those institutes,
mostly formed during or since the 19th century, whose
members do not profess solemn vows.
superior – The head of an institute of consecrated life or
a society of apostolic life who exercises internal authority
suspension – a Church penalty under which a cleric,
while retaining his clerical status, is no longer permitted
to perform either all or some acts of the power of orders,
the power of governance, or rights or functions attached to
suffragan diocese (or suffragan eparchy) –
one of the dioceses/eparchies in an ecclesiastical province
other than the archdiocese/archeparchy.
suffragan bishop – one of the diocesan/eparchial
bishops of an ecclesiastical province other than the
United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops (USCCB) – the national membership
organization of the Catholic bishops of the United States
through which they act collegially on pastoral, liturgical,
and public policy matters affecting the Catholic Church
in the United States. The USCCB traces its origins to the
1917 establishment of the National Catholic War Council.
In 1966, the conference was reorganized as the canonical
entity known as the National Conference of Catholic
Bishops and its twin civil corporation known as the U.S.
Catholic Conference. Another reorganization in 2001
resulted in the USCCB.
vow – a deliberate and free promise that is made to God
and its fulfillment involves a serious religious obligation.
Men and women entering religious life take vows, typically
of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
votum – an authoritative written opinion, which the
metropolitan archbishop submits to the competent
dicastery in Rome.
vulnerable person – “any person in a state of
infirmity, physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of
personal liberty which, in fact, even occasionally, limits
their ability to understand or to want or otherwise resist
the offense” (Vos estis lux mundi).