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A prelate is a high-ranking member of the
The archetypal prelate is a
In a general sense, a prelate in the Catholic Church and other Christian churches is a bishop or another ecclesiastical person having ordinary authority over a jurisdiction equivalent to a diocese or a similar jurisdiction (e.g. ordinariates, apostolic vicariates/exarchates, territorial abbacies). It equally applies to cardinals (who enjoy a kind of "co-governance" of the Universal Church as the Pope's most senior ecclesiastical advisors and moral representatives) and certain "Superior Prelates of the Offices of the Roman Curia" who are not bishops, such as the auditors (judges) of the Holy Roman Rota and Protonotaries Apostolic. By extension, it refers to "inferior" or "lesser prelates", that is priests having the title and dress of prelates as a personal honorific, i.e. Papal Chaplains, Prelates of Honor (formerly “domestic prelates”) and honorary Protonotaries Apostolic. All these enjoy the title of monsignor (used also in some countries for bishops and archbishops). The seven de numero Protonotaries Apostolic in Rome, who are special papal notaries, are true prelates, like bishops; others, "supernumerary," Protonotaries Apostolic enjoy this as an honorific, like Papal Chaplains and Prelates of Honor.
Prelate, in the strict canonical sense, refers to a priest or bishop who is Ordinary of a Personal Prelature, a functional equivalent of a diocese having a “particular pastoral or missionary work for various regions or for different social groups.” (Cf. c. 294, Code of Canon Law.). At present, the only Personal Prelature in the Catholic Church is that of Opus Dei, founded by St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer in 1928 and raised to the status of a personal prelature in 1982. It has no territorial boundaries.
In the Armenian Apostolic (Orthodox) Church, prelate (in English) refers to a diocesan bishop, who has jurisdiction over a diocese, also called a "prelacy."