The Catholic clergy refers to the ordained roles within the Church, which are divided into three main orders: bishops, priests, and deacons, each carrying unique responsibilities and roles in administering religious services and leading the faith community.
At the apex of the Catholic hierarchy sits the bishop. The bishop is an ordained minister who has received the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Pope, who is the Bishop of Rome and the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church, is the highest-ranking bishop.
Bishops are responsible for teaching doctrine, governing Catholics in their jurisdiction, sanctifying the faithful, and representing the Church. They oversee the governance of the Church in their particular dioceses or geographical jurisdictions and ordain other bishops, priests, and deacons.
Priests are usually the most visible clergy to Catholic laypeople because they directly engage with the congregations in the parishes. Priests celebrate Mass, hear confessions, give absolutions, anoint the sick, and administer other sacraments. They are ordained by bishops and typically serve under their authority.
There are two types of priests: diocesan priests and religious priests. Diocesan priests serve in a specific diocese, whereas religious priests belong to religious orders, like the Jesuits, Franciscans, or Dominicans, and serve wherever their order has a presence.
Deacons, the third tier in the hierarchy, are ministers ordained for tasks of service of the Church. There are two types: permanent deacons, who can be married and choose to remain deacons, and transitional deacons, who are intending to be ordained as priests. Deacons can proclaim the Gospel, preach, baptize, and conduct wake and funeral services. They can also assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the Eucharist.
In addition to these three orders, there are other non-ordained roles within the Church, such as the laity and religious brothers and sisters (nuns). They are not part of the clergy but are essential to the life and operation of the Church.
In essence, the Catholic clergy provides the structure and organization needed for the Church's spiritual and administrative functioning. Through the distinct roles of bishops, priests, and deacons, the Church aims to maintain continuity with the apostolic teachings, serve the spiritual needs of the faithful, and reach out to the world with its message of faith, hope, and charity.