Understanding the Catholic Church hierarchy in Uganda

The interior of Rubaga Cathedral in Kampala. According to government data, over 38% Ugandans are Catholics by religion. PHOTO/FILE/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Meanwhile, a cardinal is the most senior Catholic clergy rank, only next to the pontiff. Each is appointed by the Pope.

The Catholic Church globally is headed by the Pope, the current one being Francis who succeeded Pope Benedict who unexpectedly resigned in 2013.

Alternately called the Pontiff, the Pope is the spiritual head for Catholics and doubles as a head of the Vatican State or Holy See.

However, the in-country bureaucracies or hierarchies of the Catholic Church may vary.

In Uganda, the de facto head of the Catholic Church is the chairperson of the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC).

The current holder of the four-year rotational chair is Rt Rev Joseph Antony Zziwa, the bishop of Kiyinda-Mityana Diocese, and he succeeded Gulu Archbishop John Baptist Odama.

UEC is the apex assembly of the “Catholic hierarchy in Uganda constituted with the approval of the Holy See, through which bishops express their collegial responsibility through collective action, to assure the progress of the Church and coordination of its social and pastoral ministry,” according to information on its website.

Msgr John Baptists Kauta, the UEC secretary-general, says the forum comprises archbishops and bishops who have come together in collegiality and solidarity. They democratically elect their chairperson. It could be an archbishop, as was the case with His Grace Odama, or a bishop, as incumbent Rt Rev Zziwa is.

Bishop Joseph Antony Zziwa, chairperson of Uganda Episcopal Conference.  PHOTO/COURTESY

A bishop, also called ordinary, heads a diocese while an archbishop superintends ecclesiastical provinces made up of dioceses. There are four of these provinces or archdioceses in Uganda; Kampala, Mbarara and Tororo and Gulu.

Powers of bishops
Both a bishop and archbishop are both papal appointees, although the latter administratively is higher in rank. Archbishops exercise residual power, mostly with the approval or at the direction of the Vatican, according to Msgr Kauta.

Below the bishops are priests, nuns, deacons and catechists.
The Uganda Episcopal Conference chairperson is pivotal because all Catholic Church communications/correspondences or messages to, or from, the Vatican are channelled through him. The UEC chairperson also heads the Ugandan delegation of Catholic bishops, as is their de facto spokesperson, for papal audiences.

Meanwhile, a cardinal is the most senior Catholic clergy rank, only next to the pontiff. Each is appointed by the Pope. Cardinals under 80 years constitute the Conclave that elects a pope from among themselves, meaning a Cardinal is a potential papacy candidate.

Uganda’s only surviving Cardinal is Emmanuel Wamala, a retiree, who is also the Patron of the Catholic Church in Uganda.


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