Catholic bishops have captured the imagination of novelists, who have fashioned them into unforgettable, larger-than-life characters. These include the saintly Bishop Myriel of Les Misérables, the treacherous Cardinal Richelieu of The Three Musketeers, the quietly perseverant Bishop Latour of Death Comes for the Archbishop, and the scheming Bishop Angri of the popular The Da Vinci Code. These portrayals are caricatures, but they probably reflect a real historical tendency for people, lay Catholics included, to view the bishops on a simplistic spectrum that ranges from haloed hero to biretta’d bad guy. This introductory book chapter provides an overview of Roman Catholic bishops and their responsibilities. The chapter discusses the three primary roles of bishops, defined by Church documents as “sanctifying, governing, and teaching.” Types of bishops are distinguished (auxiliaries, ordinaries, and cardinals) as well as their differing positions within the Church hierarchy. The chapter summarizes the secretive process by which priests are chosen by the pope to become bishops. It also explains the symbols of their ministry (e.g., mitre, crozier, and cathedra).
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