( Letter to B. Racrasy, continued)
Well then, what are auxiliary bishops? Just what the name implies: They help the ordinary bishop in large dioceses. They obey him, because they are not they ordinary bishop of the diocese but they are fully ordained bishops in that they can ordain other clergy. They would only do this at the request of the main or “ordinary bishop.”
What, pray tell are cardinals? That will take a little more history.
The bishop of Rome, better known as the pope, used to be elected by a consensus of the clergy and people of the diocese of Rome. The Church in Rome went through a very dark period from 867 to 1049 during which the powerful aristocratic political families of Rome treated the papacy as their own private football. They made sure that the people would vote the way they were told. In addition, the Holy Roman Emperor did his best to influence the papal election. Finally, Leo the Ninth was elected in 1049 and he begin a comprehensive reform of the Church. A few years later, in 1059, Pope Nicholas the Second and a synod of bishops decided that the election of popes would be limited to the clergy of the dioceses of Rome in order to keep the papacy independent of both Roman civil politics and imperial politics. Most people think of popular elections as a good thing, but most people don’t live in Chicago. (City Mottos: “Vote early, vote often,” and “Ubi est meum”) From that time on, the auxiliary bishops, priests and deacons of the major (or cardinal) churches would elect the pope in a conclave, (conclave is the Latin word for “lock-down.”)
You may have noticed the word “cardinal” snuck into our discussion. The word “cardo” is the Latin word for “hinge.” For instance, the main north-south street in a Roman city was called the “cardo.” The ancient and most important churches of the diocese of Rome were called the cardinal, or “hinge” churches. Their priests and deacons were called cardinal priests and deacons, and the bishops of neighboring (suburbicarian) dioceses were called cardinal bishops. These cardinals of the diocese of Rome elect the pope, the bishop of Rome. They also serve as advisers to the pope.
As things developed, the international mission of the Church was recognized by naming important bishops from other countries, and some priests, and even laymen, as honorary members of the clergy of Rome. For instance, Cardinal George of Chicago is the official (or “titular”) pastor of San Bartolomeo all'Isola, a beautiful old church on a little island in the Tiber river in the heart of Rome. He is the Archbishop of Chicago, but he is also has the honorary title of a pastor of a church in Rome, and has the right to participate in the election of the pope. There are cardinal bishops, cardinal priests and cardinal deacons, who are known as cardinals and have different functions and different rank, but their principal tasks are the election and assisting of the pope. They are almost always bishops, but they derive their titles as cardinal from the diocese of Rome.
You just mentioned “archbishop.” What’s an archbishop? The prefix “arch” is a Greek word that means principal, or beginning. An archbishop is the ranking bishop in a province or area. He is responsible to report any abuses or critical situations to the pope and may then be requested by the pope to look into the situation. He doesn’t have direct control over other bishops, but does have a pastoral oversight for his whole district. He is often called a metropolitan. Metropolis is more than home to Superman. It is a Greek word, of course, meaning the area around the big city. For instance, Chicago and its suburbs is a Metropolis. The bishop of the largest or most important city in a district is usually an archbishop. The pope gives an Archbishop a stole called the pallium as a symbol of his office.
What then are monsignors? That’s easy. Monsignor is just an honorific title, like “Sir.” The word literally means “M’ Lord.” A monsignor is an official member of the papal household (we would probably say “staff” at present) and is named by the pope at the request of a local bishop. The title is conferred to honor a priest who has rendered exceptional service, or who has a significant responsibility in the Church.
So it’s pretty simple: Pope, bishop (some of whom are archbishops and/or cardinals) and priests (some of whom are monsignors) deacons, and the faithful. It’s still the basic structure of bishop, priest and deacon.
(Next week monks, nuns and Jesuits)