- See also: Catholic Church hierarchy and Diocesan bishop
In the Latin Church, an ecclesiastical province, composed of several neighbouring dioceses, is headed by a metropolitan, the archbishop of the diocese designated by the Pope. The other bishops are known as suffragan bishops.
The metropolitan's powers over dioceses other than his own are normally limited to
- supervising observance of faith and ecclesiastical discipline and notifying the Supreme Pontiff of any abuses;
- carrying out, for reasons approved beforehand by the Holy See, a canonical inspection that the suffragan bishop has neglected to perform;
- appointing a diocesan administrator if the college of consultors fails to elect an at least 35-year-old priest within eight days after the vacancy of the see becomes known; and
- serving as the default ecclesiastical court for appeals from decisions of the tribunals of the suffragan bishops.
The metropolitan also has the liturgical privilege of celebrating sacred functions throughout the province, as if he were a bishop in his own diocese, provided only that, if he celebrates in a cathedral church, the diocesan bishop has been informed beforehand.
The metropolitan is obliged to request the pallium, a symbol of the power that, in communion with the Church of Rome, he possesses over his ecclesiastical province. This holds even if he had the pallium in another metropolitan see.
Coat of arms of a Catholic Metropolitan Archbishop
It is the responsibility of the metropolitan, with the consent of the majority of the suffragan bishops, to call a provincial council, decide where to convene it, and determine the agenda. It is his prerogative to preside over the provincial council. No provincial council can be called if the metropolitan see is vacant.
All Latin Rite metropolitans are archbishops; however, some archbishops are not metropolitans, as there are a few instances where an archdiocese has no suffragans or is itself suffragan to another archdiocese. 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 lead an extant archdiocese, but were not metropolitans, and there were 89 titular archbishops. See also Catholic Church hierarchy for the distinctions.
Within Patriarchal or Major Archiepiscopal Churches
In those Eastern Catholic Churches that are headed by a patriarch, metropolitans in charge of ecclesiastical provinces hold a position similar to that of metropolitans in the Latin Church. Among the differences is that Eastern Catholic metropolitans within the territory of the patriarchate are to be ordained and enthroned by the patriarch, who may also ordain and enthrone metropolitans of sees outside that territory that are part of his Church. Similarly, a metropolitan has the right to ordain and enthrone the bishops of his province. The metropolitan is to be commemorated in the liturgies celebrated within his province.
A major archbishop is defined as the metropolitan of a certain see who heads an autonomous Eastern Church not of patriarchal rank. The canon law of such a Church differs only slightly from that regarding a patriarchal Church. Within major archiepiscopal churches, there may be ecclesiastical provinces headed by metropolitan bishops.
As Heads of their own Particular Churches
There are also autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches consisting of a single province and headed by a metropolitan. Metropolitans of this kind are to obtain the pallium from the Pope as a sign of his metropolitan authority and of his Church's full communion with the Pope, and only after his investment with it can he convoke the Council of Hierarchs and ordain the bishops of his autonomous Church. In his autonomous Church it is for him to ordain and enthrone bishops and his name is to be mentioned immediately after that of the Pope in the liturgy.