The Catholic Church is the world’s largest Christian church, representing over half the Christians in the world. It comprises 23 autonomous ritual churches (Roman/Latin Rite, Coptic Rite, Chaldean Rite, etc) in communion with the Bishop of Rome.
The Bishop of Rome, or Pope, is the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church and head of its college of bishops. He is also the head of Vatican City State, a sovereign state within the city of Rome.
In England and Wales, the senior Catholic prelate is the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, a post usually held by the Archbishop of Westminster.
The Catholic Church in England and Wales consists of 22 dioceses, the Bishopric of the Forces (Military Ordinariate), the Apostolic Eparchy of the Ukrainian Church in Great Britain, the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and the Apostolic Prefecture of the Falkland Islands.
England and Wales is also divided into five provinces or metropolitan archdioceses: Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool, Southwark and Westminster.
The five metropolitan archdioceses of the Catholic Church of England and Wales have a total of 17 suffragan dioceses, each overseen by a bishop. These are:
- Westminster: Brentwood, East Anglia, Northampton, Nottingham
- Southwark: Arundel and Brighton, Plymouth, Portsmouth
- Birmingham: Clifton, Shrewsbury
- Liverpool: Hallam, Hexham and Newcastle, Lancaster, Leeds,
- Cardiff: Menevia, Wrexham
In Scotland there are two metropolitan archdioceses with a total of six suffragan dioceses:
- St Andrews and Edinburgh: Aberdeen, Argyll and The Isles, Dunkeld, Galloway
- Glasgow: Motherwell, Paisley
Men are ordained into the Catholic Church through the sacrament of holy orders. Ordained clergy form a three- part hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons. Only priests and bishops may celebrate the eucharist and administer the sacraments of penance and anointing the sick. In the Roman/Latin rite, only celibate men are ordinarily ordained as priests, whereas in the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, married men may be ordained as priests. Married men may become deacons. Marriage is not allowed, however, after ordination as a deacon or priest has taken place. Only celibate men may be ordained as bishops.
Married Anglican vicars, however, may be reordained as Roman Catholic priests.