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Covering the

Local Church

The Second Vatican Council described the local or particular church as a

“community existing around an altar, under the sacred ministry of the bishop”


Lumen Gentium

, no. 26). The universal (catholic) church is a communion of

all those particular churches. In other words, the archdiocese or diocese, as

a local community of Christ’s followers led and served by a bishop with the

assistance of his priests, is one of the core realities in the Catholic understand-

ing of what it means to be a church.

For those not familiar with the intricacies of how the Catholic Church

operates at the diocesan or parish level, this chapter is intended to be a brief

roadmap to the most salient parts of that structure. See the Glossary in this book

for a definition or description of many of the terms you may run across here.


In their internal operation, dioceses and archdioceses are virtually alike. But

an archbishop, head of an archdiocese, has additional responsibilities because

he is also head of an ecclesiastical province. The province comprises the arch-

diocese and the dioceses under it. In a province, the archdiocese is referred to

as the

metropolitan see

and the dioceses are

suffragan sees


The diocese is headed by a bishop or, when one bishop has died or retired

and his successor has not yet been installed, by an administrator. Theologically,

for Catholics the bishop is a successor of the first apostles, the chief teacher and

guardian of faith and morals for the people entrusted to him. He has the duty

of ministering to his people, leading them to holiness by his own example, by

teaching and preaching, and by administering the sacraments.

Central Offices

The central offices of a diocese—called by a variety of names such as




Catholic center


pastoral center

—are usually located in the

see city

, the

city after which the diocese is named. But there are exceptions. For example,