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Benedictine Archabbot Schober in prelate dress and cappa magna Erzabt Ildefons Schober OSB.JPG
Benedictine Archabbot Schober in prelate dress and cappa magna
A cardinal and three bishops in Belgium. Belgische Bisschoppen.jpg
A cardinal and three bishops in Belgium.

A prelate ( /ˈprɛlət/ ) [1] is a high-ranking member of the Christian clergy who is an ordinary or who ranks in precedence with ordinaries. The word derives from the Latin praelatus, the past participle of praeferre, which means 'carry before', 'be set above or over' or 'prefer'; hence, a prelate is one set over others.


The archetypal prelate is a bishop, whose prelature is his particular church. All other prelates, including the regular prelates such as abbots and major superiors, are based upon this original model of prelacy.

In a general sense, a "prelate" in the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian churches is a bishop or other ecclesiastical person who possesses ordinary authority of a jurisdiction, i.e., of a diocese or similar jurisdiction, e.g., ordinariates, apostolic vicariates/exarchates, or territorial abbacies. It equally applies to cardinals, who enjoy a kind of "co-governance" of the church as the most senior ecclesiastical advisers and moral representatives of the Supreme Pontiff, and certain "superior prelates of the offices of the Roman Curia" who are not bishops, e.g., the auditors (judges) of the Roman Rota and protonotaries apostolic. By extension, it refers to "inferior" or "lesser prelates", that is priests who have the title and dress of prelates as a personal honorific, i.e., Papal chaplains, prelates of honor (formerly "domestic prelates"), and honorary protonotaries apostolic. All these enjoy the title of " monsignor ", which also is used in some nations for bishops and archbishops. The seven de numero protonotaries apostolic in Rome, who are special Papal notaries, are true prelates like bishops; others are "supernumerary" protonotaries apostolic who enjoy this as an honorific, like Papal chaplains and prelates of honor.

In the strict canonical sense, "prelate" denominates a priest or bishop who is ordinary of a personal prelature (see below), which is a functional equivalent of a diocese that has a "particular pastoral or missionary work for various regions or for different social groups" (cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 294) yet no territorial jurisdiction.

In the Armenian Apostolic Church, "prelate" (in English) denominates a diocesan bishop, whose jurisdiction of his diocese is denominated a "prelacy".

Territorial prelatures

In the Catholic Church, a territorial prelate is a prelate whose geographic jurisdiction, denominated a "territorial prelature", is outside of and therefore not subject to any diocese. A territorial prelate is sometimes denominated a "prelate nullius", from the Latin "nullius diœceseos" (prelate of no diocese), denoting that his territory is directly subject to the Holy See (the Supreme Pontiff) and is not a diocese. [2] As of 2013, there were 44 territorial prelatures, all of which were in the Latin Church.

The term also is used generically, in which case it may equally refer to an apostolic prefecture, an apostolic vicariate, or a territorial abbacy.

Personal prelatures

In the Catholic Church, the personal prelature was conceived during the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) in no. 10 of the decree Presbyterorum ordinis and Pope Paul VI later enacted it into law in the motu proprio Ecclesiae sanctae. The institution was later reaffirmed in the Code of Canon Law of 1983. [3] Such a prelature is an institution having clergy and, possibly, lay members which would execute specific pastoral activities. The adjective "personal" refers to the fact that, in contrast with previous canonical use for ecclesiastical institutions, the jurisdiction of the prelate is not territorial and instead is of specific persons wherever they are located. The establishment of personal prelatures is an exercise of the theologically inherent power of self-organization which the Church has in order to pursue its mission, though a personal prelature is not a particular church, as are dioceses and military ordinariates.

Personal prelatures are fundamentally secular organizations operating in the world (members do not take vows and live normal, everyday lives), whereas religious institutes are religious organizations operating out of the world (members take vows and live in accordance with the proper law of their institute).

The first, and presently only, personal prelature is Opus Dei, which Pope John Paul II erected as such in 1982 by the Apostolic constitution Ut sit. In the case of Opus Dei, the Prelate is elected by members of the Prelature and confirmed by the Supreme Pontiff; the laity and clergy of the Prelature remain subject to the government of the particular churches in whose territory they live, and the laity associated with the Prelature, both men and women, are organically united under the jurisdiction of the Prelate.


On 15 February 2018, a motu proprio issued by Pope Francis ordered prelates and bishops to live simply and renounce any desire for power after they retire from senior offices of the Roman Curia. A number of such officials and bishops had been criticized in the preceding years for luxurious living, such as having large apartments and police escorts after they retired. One notable incident involved Tarcisio Bertone, an Italian prelate and former Cardinal Secretary of State removed from office in 2013, who used an apartment that had been renovated at the cost of nearly half a million dollars in funds, which were diverted from a Vatican-owned hospital by the former president of the hospital. Even after he retired, Tarcisio Bertone used escorts of Vatican City and Italian police to move around Rome. [4]

See also

Related Research Articles

Personal prelature Canonical structure of the Catholic Church

Personal prelature is a canonical structure of the Catholic Church which comprises a prelate, clergy and laity who undertake specific pastoral activities. The first personal prelature is Opus Dei. Personal prelatures, similar to dioceses and military ordinariates, are under the governance of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops. These three types of ecclesiastical structures are composed of lay people served by their own secular clergy and prelate. Unlike dioceses, which cover territories, personal prelatures—like military ordinariates—take charge of persons as regards some objectives regardless of where they live.

An Apostolic administration in the Catholic Church is administrated by a prelate appointed by the pope to serve as the ordinary for a specific area. Either the area is not yet a diocese, or is a diocese, eparchy or similar permanent ordinariate that either has no bishop or, in very rare cases, has an incapacitated bishop.

Ordinary (church officer) Catholic ecclesiastical title

An ordinary is an officer of a church or civic authority who by reason of office has ordinary power to execute laws.

Hierarchy of the Catholic Church Organization of the Catholic Church

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Apostolic prefecture Missionary area not yet developed enough to become a diocese

An apostolic prefect or prefect apostolic is a priest who heads what is known as an apostolic prefecture, a 'pre-diocesan' missionary jurisdiction where the Catholic Church is not yet sufficiently developed to have it made a diocese. Although it usually has an (embryonal) see, it is often not called after such city but rather after a natural or administrative geographical area.

The Pastoral Provision is a set of practices and norms in the Catholic Church in the United States, by which bishops are authorized to provide spiritual care for Catholics converting from the Anglican tradition, by establishing parishes for them and ordaining priests from among them. The provision provides a way for individuals to become priests in territorial dioceses, even after Pope Benedict XVI's Anglicanorum Coetibus proclamation established the Personal Ordinariates, a non-diocesan mechanism for former Anglicans to join the Church.

Protonotary apostolic Title in the Roman Curia

In the Roman Catholic Church, protonotary apostolic is the title for a member of the highest non-episcopal college of prelates in the Roman Curia or, outside Rome, an honorary prelate on whom the pope has conferred this title and its special privileges. An example is Prince Georg of Bavaria (1880–1943), who became in 1926 Protonotary by papal decree.

Territorial abbey Particular church of the Catholic Church whose abbot performs the same function as a diocesan bishop

A territorial abbey is a particular church of the Catholic Church comprising defined territory which is not part of a diocese but surrounds an abbey or monastery whose abbot or superior functions as ordinary for all Catholics and parishes in the territory. Such an abbot is called a territorial abbot or abbot nullius diœceseos. A territorial abbot thus differs from an ordinary abbot, who exercises authority only within the monastery's walls or to monks or canons who have taken their vows there. A territorial abbot is equivalent to a diocesan bishop in Catholic canon law.

Territorial prelate A Catholic prelate outside of a diocese

A territorial prelate is, in Catholic usage, a prelate whose geographic jurisdiction, called territorial prelature, does not belong to any diocese and is considered a particular church.

A mantelletta, Italian diminutive of Latin mantellum 'mantle', is a sleeveless, knee-length, vest-like garment, open in front, with slits instead of sleeves on the sides, fastened at the neck, once even more common than the mozzetta.

Military Ordinariate of the Philippines Catholic jurisdiction in the Philippines

The Military Ordinariate of the Philippines or MOP is a Latin Church ecclesiastical jurisdiction or military ordinariate of the Catholic Church in the Philippines serving the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, and Philippine Coast Guard. It has jurisdiction over all military, police and coast guard personnel, their dependents, and civilian human resources of all branches of the armed forces. Its titular patron is the Immaculate Conception, with Ignatius of Loyola and John of Capistrano as secondary patrons. The Philippine military ordinary is Oscar Jaime L. Florencio, a former auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Cebu.

Bishops in the Catholic Church Ordained ministers of the Catholic Church

In the Catholic Church, a bishop is an ordained minister who holds the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders and is responsible for teaching doctrine, governing Catholics in his jurisdiction, sanctifying the world and representing the Church. Catholics trace the origins of the office of bishop to the apostles, who it is believed were endowed with a special charism by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Catholics believe this special charism has been transmitted through an unbroken succession of bishops by the laying on of hands in the sacrament of holy orders.

Diocese of Rome Diocese of the Catholic Church in Rome, Italy

The Diocese of Rome is the ecclesiastical district under the direct jurisdiction of the Pope, who is Bishop of Rome and hence the supreme pontiff and head of the worldwide Catholic Church. As the Holy See, the papacy is a sovereign entity with diplomatic relations, and civil jurisdiction over the Vatican City State located geographically within Rome. The Diocese of Rome is the metropolitan diocese of the Province of Rome, an ecclesiastical province in Italy. The first bishop of Rome was Saint Peter in the first century. The incumbent since 13 March 2013 is Pope Francis.

Order of precedence in the Catholic Church Precedence of persons

Precedence signifies the right to enjoy a prerogative of honor before other persons; for example, to have the most distinguished place in a procession, a ceremony, or an assembly, to have the right to express an opinion, cast a vote, or append a signature before others, to perform the most honorable offices.

A personal ordinariate for former Anglicans, shortened as personal ordinariate or Anglican ordinariate, is a canonical structure within the Catholic Church established in order to enable "groups of Anglicans" to join the Catholic Church while preserving elements of their liturgical and spiritual patrimony.

Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru is a Spanish prelate of the Catholic Church who has been secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts since 15 February 2007. A bishop since 2008, he has held several other appointments in the Roman Curia.

Glossary of the Catholic Church Wikipedia glossary

This is a glossary of terms used within the Catholic Church.

A particular church is an ecclesiastical community of faithful headed by a bishop, as defined by Catholic canon law and ecclesiology. A liturgical rite depends on the particular church the bishop belongs to. Thus "particular church" refers to an institution, and "liturgical rite" to its ritual practices.

Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter Diocese-like institution of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States

The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter is a personal ordinariate in the Latin Church of the Catholic Church for priests and laypeople from an Anglican background, that enables them to retain elements of their Anglican patrimony after entering the Catholic Church. Its territory extends over the United States and Canada. The personal ordinariate is immediately exempt to the Holy See. Former Methodists and former members of communions of "Anglican heritage" such as the United Church of Canada are also included. The liturgy of the ordinariates, known as the Anglican Use, is a form of the Roman Rite with the introduction of traditional Anglican elements.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the canon law of the Catholic Church:


  1. American Heritage Dictionary entry "prelate"
  2. Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Prelate"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. "Code of Canon Law – IntraText". Archived from the original on 2014-03-09.
  4. Philip Pullella (February 15, 2018). "Pope orders retired prelates to live austerely, shun power". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2018-02-15. Retrieved 2018-02-15. positions