God 'determined to call together in the holy Church those who believe in Christ'

Lumen Gentium


What is a Diocese?

The particular Church

Already by the time that the New Testament was completed (about 120AD), Christian communities – “particular churches” – had been well established at Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Ephesus, to name only a few centres. Today, the “particular” churches around the world are usually ‘dioceses’.

There are various types of diocese. Generally speaking, the Church is made up of a series of Ecclesiastical Provinces, or “Metropolises”. Each Ecclesiastical Province contains a Metropolitan Diocese (served by an Archbishop), and a number of Suffragan Dioceses.

Shrewsbury lies in the Ecclesiastical Province of Birmingham, whose Archbishop is therefore the local Metropolitan. In the Eastern Church, the equivalent term is “Archeparchy” for Metropolis and “Eparchy” for Diocese.

Bishops in such jurisdictions serve the faithful of a particular rite. In some cases, a Latin-rite diocese (or dioceses) might overlap, geographically, with an Eastern-rite diocese, yet the two jurisdictions would remain independent of one another.

For example, the Apostolic Exarchate for Ukrainians covers all of England and Wales, yet its own jurisdiction and that of the 22 Latin-rite dioceses of England and Wales are mutually exclusive.

The Bishopric of the Forces, also called the  “Military Ordinariate”, has jurisdiction over all military personnel and their families. The jurisdiction is personal, which is to say that even while outside the country, military personnel are subject to the jurisdiction of their bishop.

There are also certain jurisdictions of lower rank. These may be used in places where there are not many Catholics, or where the political situation prevents the normalisation of the Church’s jurisdiction in the region. These are “Apostolic Vicariates”, “Apostolic Prefectures”,  “Apostolic Administrations” and “Missions sui juris”. Often, the bishops in charge of these jurisdictions report directly to Rome.

In addition to these normal jurisdictions there are also  “Patriarchates”, usually found in Eastern Churches. In the Latin rite, Jerusalem, Lisbon, Venice and the East Indies are patriarchates because of historical reasons.

These honorary titles show how important such centres have been in the history of the Church. Finally, “Territorial Abbeys” are abbeys which have their own territorial jurisdiction. The Abbot is given episcopal jurisdiction over the territory.