Your thoughts on the difference between ‘church’ and ‘hierarchy’

National Catholic Reporter

December 27, 2018

Reader responses were in support of making a clear distinction between the word “church” and the word “hierarchy.” First read the original argument from Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese. The following letters to the editor have been edited for length and clarity.


Thank you, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, for a somewhat clarifying article about the use of the word church. It has to be used carefully.

The same is true of the word father. No priest is officially a father in the Catholic Church unless he came into the Roman Catholic Church from the Episcopalian church. Let us do it like some other countries and use the word Reverend or just Mr. or by first name.

It is time to change.

Madison, Wisconsin


I write to support Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese acknowledging that he and too many others too often use the word “church” when they ought to be using the word “hierarchy.” For a long time, I have been preaching and teaching that the major problems in our church are problems of the hierarchy and not of the “People of God,” including all the baptized.

The recent highlighting of the coverup of the sex abuse in the church reaffirmed my conviction about this. A bishop was proposing that the church needs to ask forgiveness for our failings. I said “No, it is not the church, it is the hierarchy of our church that needs to ask forgiveness. Do not lump the failings and sins of bishops and priests with the rest of the church.”

Another example is the “church’s teaching on birth control.” No, it is the hierarchy’s teaching on birth control. A long time ago the vast majority of lay members of the church came to a different understanding of the place of birth control.

I hope that NCR and your writers will be careful to make that distinction. It may even help to encourage some lay people to see their rightful place in the church.

New Orleans, Louisiana


Thank you. This is immensely important not just for writers but for lay people. I will do my best to follow his advice. Old habits die hard. Blessings to all

Portland Oregon


Note: This is an Abuse Tracker excerpt. Click the title to view the full text of the original article. If the original article is no longer available, see our News Archive.