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The true church of Jesus Christ "subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him" (CC, 816). This is because:

"it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God" (CC, 816).

What is the relationship of other professing Christians to the Roman Church?

"Those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church" (CC, 838).

What of the fate of those who've never heard the gospel?

"Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or His church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do His will s it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does divine Providence deny the help necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, but who strive to live a good life, thanks to His grace. Whatever goodness or truth is found among them is looked upon by the church as a preparation for the gospel" ('Dogmatic Constitution on the Church'). See also CC, 839-848.

As for the hierarchical structure of the church, see CC, 874-892.

The Bishop of Rome (Pope)

The College of Bishops


Diaconate (deacons)



However, many Catholics insist that the Pope exercises his authority only in communion with the Bishops:

The Bishop of Rome (Pope) → ←The College of Bishops





What is the authority of the bishop?

"By the imposition of hands and through the words of consecration, the grace of the Holy Spirit is given and the sacred character is impressed in such wise that bishops in a resplendent and visible manner take the place of Christ himself, teacher, shepherd and priest, and act as his representative" (Lumen Gentium, 21).

Whereas individual bishops may certainly err, infallibility will obtain when the whole college of bishops formally defines a doctrine of faith or morals:

"Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter's successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith." (Lumen Gentium, 25).