What is an archbishop?

Where do they fit on the heirarchy and what are their responsibilities? Are they over a bunch of ordinary bishops? Thank you.

An archbishop is head of an archdiocese, which is like a diocese but with more people. Other than that, they fit in the same slot in the Hierarchy as bishops do. It’s like being the mayor of New York City versus being the mayor of Yonkers, except we call the mayor of New York City something different.

In archbishop is head of an episcopal province, which is a group of nearby diocese. The archbishop has a mostly symbolic authority other the other bishops in the province. Connecticut for instance, has three dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Hartford, the Diocese of Bridgeport, and the Diocese of Norwich.

The archbishop coordinates some activities between the diocese. In Connecticut, they’ve mostly worked together to petition the state legislature for various moral causes. The archbishop has little to no authority to intervene in the the affairs of one of the suffragan diocese though.

If there is an unresolved complaint, like Liturgy or Church Music in One Diocese, the problem is next reffered to the Archdiocese to see if he can find Answer, often by negotiating with the Bishop involved. The next line is to thde Cardinal, then to the appropriate USCCB venue imo

The short answer is, no. In the army you have the ranks general, colonel, major, captain, etc., in which each officer takes orders from the ranks above him. Many people assume that the Catholic Church operates the same way, such that the Pope gives orders to cardinals, cardinals give orders to archbishops, archbishops to bishops, and so on. But that is not how it works.

The basic unit of church leadership is the bishop. One bishop, the Bishop of Rome, is special, and we call him the Pope and the Vicar of Christ, and he is in charge of the whole church. Other bishops “report” directly to the pope. Now, some bishops hold especially important jobs, either because they are in charge of an important diocese (New York, Chicago, London, etc.), or because they have been appointed to some high-level job in the Curia (the administration of the Church) at the Vatican. They may receive the title “archbishop,” which is purely an honorary distinction. Any ability they might have to “issue orders” to other bishops comes from their particular office, not their title.

An archdiocese is not a collection of dioceses with the archbishop running everything, in the same way you might think of a state as a collection of towns and counties with the governor overseeing it all. It is just an important diocese. Most, but not all, archdioceses do have what are called suffragan dioceses attached to them (e.g., the Diocese of Brooklyn is a suffragan of the Archdiocese of New York). The archbishop is then called a metropolitan, and the group of dioceses he presides over is called an ecclesiastical province. But the bishops of the suffragan dioceses are totally in charge of their own dioceses and answer to the Pope. The powers of a metropolitan archbishop over a suffragan diocese are extremely limited, and mostly come into play when a suffragan bishop dies or retires. You can read them all here. The archbishop cannot make his suffragan bishops do anything; their relationship is collegial, not like an officer and his subordinates.

And, for what it’s worth, cardinals are a different case. Cardinal is a special office with certain limited responsibilities relating to the Pope, such as advising him and voting for his successor. They are not in charge of geographical areas, like groups or archdioceses or ecclesiastical provinces. They do not have any power whatsoever to issue orders to other archbishops or bishops. Nor is cardinal a “promotion” from the rank of bishop or archbishop, unless they hold some particular Church office (head of a Vatican department) that allows them to do so. Although the great majority of cardinals are bishops (because you would generally appoint trusted, top men to such an important office), there are also some cardinals who are simple priests – and historically there have even been cardinals who were not priests at all.

Unfortunately, this is completely wrong. An archbishop can resolve complaints in his own archdiocese (because he is the bishop in charge of it), but he has no power to order anything in neighboring dioceses. Theoretically, with the approval of the Vatican, he can appoint a commission to investigate something, but that’s about it – and I have never heard of this even happening. Likewise, there is no cardinal “above” the archdiocese (although the archbishop himself might be a cardinal). And the USCCB’s powers do not include resolving individual complaints about liturgy or church governance.

The “chain of command” starts with the priest, and then goes to the priest’s boss, the bishop. It then goes to the bishop’s boss – the Pope. In reality, the Pope does not handle little disciplinary matters in dioceses all over the world, so he has delegated his powers to do so to the various dicasteries (departments) of the Vatican. Thus the Congregation for Clergy can resolve complaints and issue orders to bishops on questions relating to the rights of clergy, and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments does the same on questions relating to the liturgy.

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