Q — I have a question about the terms “vicariate” and “deanery.” The Archdiocese of Portland uses “vicariate” and “vicar” while the Diocese of Baker uses “Deanery” and “Dean.” My sources seem to show these words as synonyms. If so, is it just tradition which terms are used or is there actually a difference in meaning or use?

A — In our day and age in the United States there really is no significant difference between the “vicariate” and “deanery” in the structural organization of the local church. Both terms stand for particular regions of the diocese usually in close proximity that come together and act together on a regular basis for particular local and diocesan purposes. The church has always had from the beginning some sense of structuring itself. To take but one example, in the pre-Constantinian church in Rome there were only seven deacons to serve the seven basic regions of the city. Gradually in the history of the church the term “vicar” or “dean” came to be used for a priest who was given a leadership position in the local church.

In the light of recent remarks of Pope Francis about titles in the church, we may see these terms as emphasizing service in the communion of the church, and not promotion in a careerist understanding.