Two kinds of priests
What's the difference between "religious" priests and "diocesan" priests?
First, all priests are men called by God to serve the people of God. Their ministerial service includes preaching, administering the Sacraments and pastoral leadership.
With regard to your specific question, diocesan priests are men who are incorporated into a geographic area called a diocese under the leadership of a bishop. They are ordained to serve the people of the diocese, usually in a specific area called a parish. In collaboration with the bishop they take care of the spiritual needs of the people and evangelize in that part of the Church.
Religious priests, who belong to a religious community, exercise their priesthood according to the spirit and mission of their religious community. An example of a religious community would be the Redemptorists or the Passionists. They are bound to the religious group by the vows they take. Their ministry is as wide as the mission of the religious community. While they may serve in this or that given area, they are also available to serve wherever the superior assigns them. They are not restricted to any given area.
Wherever they work, religious priests exercise their priesthood according to the spiritual mission of their religious community. For example, the Passionists were founded by St. Paul of the Cross and approved by the Church to keep alive the memory of our Lord's Passion and Death. And we do it in a variety of ways and in many countries of the world.
Columkille Regan, C.P. contributed this "Ask a Catholic!" response.
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