In hierarchical Christian churches, the rank of metropolitan bishop, or simply metropolitan, pertains to the diocesan bishop or archbishop (then more precisely called metropolitan archbishop) of a metropolis; that is, the chief city of an old Roman province, ecclesiastical province, or regional capital. His jurisdiction is called a metropolia.
In the Roman Catholic Church, a metropolitan has supervisory authority over the bishops in the dioceses that make up his ecclesiastical province, who are therefore called his suffragan bishops. Each bishop has direct and full jurisdiction over his own diocese, and retains a direct link to the Pope in his role as universal bishop, but a metropolitan is empowered within his province and over his suffragans to exercise a limited degree of intermediate supervision. Examples include extremely rare instances of serious breaches of Church law. The metropolitan may preside over liturgies in any of the suffragan dioceses as if he were the local diocesan bishop without prior permission, though again this is rare, and presides over the provincial synod when it is convened. The metropolitan's serves as the first court of appeal under canon law from local diocesan courts. Metropolitans also intervene in the selection of a diocesan administrator when there is a vacancy caused by the death or resignation of the suffragan bishop and the local church fails to properly elect an administrator. They also generally preside at the installation and consecrations of new bishops in the province. The metropolitan's insignia is the pallium, which he can wear in his diocese and the other suffragan dioceses in the province.
All Latin rite metropolitans are archbishops; however, some archbishops are not metropolitans as there are a few instances where an archdiocese has no suffragans. Titular archbishops (i.e. ordained bishops who are given an honorary title to a now-defunct archdiocese; e.g. many Vatican officials and papal nuncios and apostolic delegates are titular archbishops) are never metropolitans. As of April 2006, 508 archdioceses were headed by metropolitan-archbishops, 27 archbishops were not metropolitans, and there were 89 titular archbishops. See also Catholic Church hierarchy for the distinctions.
In the Eastern Rite Catholic churches, the term metropolitan is used in a similar way to the Eastern Orthodox churches. In some of the sui iuris Eastern churches, the head of the church is a metropolitan. These sui iuris metropolitan churches are generally less populous than patriarchal or major archepiscopal churches, and are subject to greater oversight by the pope and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
In the Anglican Communion, the metropolitan is generally the head of an ecclesiastical province (or cluster of dioceses) and ranks immediately under the primate of the national church (who is often also a metropolitan). Most metropolitans, but not all, are styled archbishop.
In the Eastern Orthodox churches, the title is used variously. In the Hellenic Churches metropolitans are ranked below archbishops in precedence, and primates of local Churches below Patriarchal rank are generally designated archbishops. The reverse is true for the Slavic Churches, where metropolitans rank above archbishops and the title can be used for Primatial sees as well as important cities. In neither case do metropolitans have any special authority over other ruling bishops within their provinces. However, metropolitans (archbishops in the Greek Orthodox Church) are the chairmen of their respective synods of bishops.
Sources and references
- List of Catholic Metropolitan Archdioceses in the world by Giga-Catholic Information
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