Bishop, Diocesan (Canon Law)

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Existing ecclesiastical law that delineates the office, duties and rights of bishops in general incorporates the teaching and directives of the Second Vatican Council found in Christus Dominus, the "Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office in the Church." The norms and obligations governing the life and ministry of diocesan bishops, coadjutors and auxiliary bishops appears in Book II, Chapter II, canons 375411 of the Code of Canon Law. The Eastern code treats eparchies (dioceses) and bishops in Title VII, canons 177218 of the Code of Canon Law.

Bishops in General. The office of bishop originates from divine institution and confers power to teach, govern, and sanctify, powers that are to be exercised only in hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college of bishops. Bishops are successors to the apostles and pastors in the Church. As such, they are teachers of doctrine, priests of worship and ministers of governance. Bishops become members of the episcopal college through episcopal ordination and hierarchical communion with the head and other members of the college. Episcopal ordination confers an ontological share in the sacred functions of Christ (teach, govern, sanctify). By canonical mission the bishop is appointed to a particular church or assigned to certain persons for whom he exercises these functions.

Under the primacy of the Supreme Pontiff there exists a true and basic equality among bishops. Bishops act in communion with the whole of the episcopal body, not in an independent or autonomous manner.

All bishops belong to one of two categories, diocesan or titular. The care of a diocese is entrusted to the diocesan bishop.

The supreme pontiff appoints bishops or confirms those legitimately elected. Papal appointment or confirmation of a candidate legitimately proposed safeguards the communion which must exist between the universal Church and the particular church. The Apostolic See, therefore, makes the definitive judgment on a candidate's suitability for the office of bishop. Before being ordained the bishop-elect must take an oath of fidelity to the Apostolic See.

Every three years bishops of a province propose a confidential (secret) list of priests suitable for the office of bishop. This list is sent to the Apostolic See through the pontifical legate. Also, each diocesan bishop may propose to the Apostolic See the names of priests he judges worthy to become bishops.

A candidate for bishop must be at least 35 years of age and ordained to the priesthood for at least five years. He must enjoy a good reputation; that is, the candidate must be outstanding in faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, prudence, wisdom and virtue. Lastly, he must possess a doctorate or licentiate in scripture, theology or canon law or be expert in these same disciplines.

Powers of a Diocesan Bishop. The diocesan bishop has the ordinary, proper, and immediate power to exercise his office. His jurisdiction is called ordinary because it is vested in him by reason of his office and not by delegation. It is proper in that it is exercised in his own name, not vicariously in the name of another. It is immediate because the power is directed toward all in the diocese without mediation of another.

Lumen Gentium and Christus Dominus explain that the diocesan bishop exercises this power personally in the name of Christ. In addition to his ordinary power, the bishop possesses further power that is delegated to him by the Apostolic See.

The diocesan bishop may exercise his role only after he has taken canonical possession of his office. A priest named a bishop is obligated to receive episcopal ordination within three months of the apostolic letter of appointment. The episcopal ordination must precede his taking canonical possession of the diocese. A bishop takes canonical possession of a diocese when he shows the apostolic letter to the college of consultors in the presence of the chancellor of the curia of the diocese who then records the event. If the bishop is appointed to a newly erected diocese, the bishop shows the apostolic letter to the clergy and people in the cathedral church and the senior priest present records the event.

Bound by the law of personal residence, a diocesan bishop is not to be absent from his diocese beyond a month without reasonable cause and his making provision that the diocese suffers no detriment from his absence. Moreover, except for grave and urgent reason, he is not to be absent from the diocese on Christmas, during Holy Week, on Easter, Pentecost and the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Bishop as Pastor, Teacher and High Priest. A diocesan bishop is to show himself concerned for all the Christian faithful, as well as for the non-baptized, entrusted to his care. He is charged with fostering ecumenism in accordance with the mind of the Church (Lumen Gentium and Christus Dominus ). The bishop is to proclaim the Gospel to non-believers since they, too, are subjects of his pastoral care.

The bishop is to show special solicitude for his priests and deacons and listen to them as counselors, not only as individuals but in groups such as the presbyteral council and the college of consultors. The college of consultors assists the bishop in specific areas identified in canon law, most of which concern temporal administration. The presbyteral council exists to help promote the pastoral good of the diocese.

Every diocesan bishop is the principal teacher of Catholic doctrine. He is obligated to explain truths of faith and morals and take care that the ministry of the word, especially homilies and catechetical instruction, is provided for all the faithful throughout the diocese. The diocesan bishop issues norms for catechetics and fosters catechetical formation.

It is incumbent upon bishops to foster vocations to ordained ministry as well as vocations to consecrated life and the missions. All bishops have the right to preach the Gospel everywhere unless the local bishop in a particular case has forbidden this.

The bishop is held to be watchful over writings and communications that could be harmful to the faith and morals of the Christian faithful. Writings pertaining to faith and morals should be submitted for approval before publication, and the bishop must himself be prepared to disapprove writings harmful to faith and morals.

It is the obligation of the bishops to promote the holiness of the faithful not only through teaching but by the charitable and simple humility of their personal lives. Since bishops are the high priests and the principal dispensers of the mysteries of God, bishops must encourage their people to grow in grace through the sacraments, especially through the Eucharist. Bishops, indeed, are the directors, promoters and guardians of liturgical life in the diocese entrusted to their care. Within the scope of their competence, then, bishops issue liturgical regulations to keep the worship life of the diocese within the norms of the church.

Each diocesan bishop is obliged personally to offer a Mass for the people of his diocese (particular church) each Sunday and holy day of obligation.

A diocesan bishop must preside frequently at celebrations of the Eucharist in the cathedral and other churches of his diocese. However, outside of his own diocese, a bishop may perform pontifical functions only with the expressed or reasonably presumed consent of the local diocesan bishop.

The diocesan bishop governs with legislative, executive, and judicial powers according to the norms of law. He himself exercises legislative power. However, he exercises executive power either personally or through vicars general or episcopal vicars. Also, he exercises judicial power either personally or through the judicial vicar and appointed judges. As the diocesan legislator, he is competent to interpret the diocesan laws he promulgates. He can abrogate or derogate from diocesan laws. He also can issue penal laws and penalties.

A bishop is held to promote the discipline of the whole Church and, therefore, must urge observance of all ecclesiastical laws by guarding against abuses, especially as they relate to the ministry of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God, and administration of ecclesiastical goods. The diocesan bishop is the agent who represents the diocese in all its juridic affairs.

Episcopal Vitations and Reports. Because the faithful should see the bishop as their teacher, shepherd, and high priest, the bishop is obliged by law to visit his diocese annually in whole or in part, in such manner that he visits the entire diocese at least every five years. While a bishop may visit members of religious institutes of pontifical right and their houses only in cases allowed by law, he is encouraged to visit all churches and oratories, schools, and other places and works of religion or charity where the faithful habitually attend.

Every five years each diocesan bishop is bound to make a report to the supreme pontiff on the state of the diocese entrusted to his care. This quinquennial report is to be sent six months before the time set for the ad limina visit. The bishop also forwards an annual statistical report to the Offices of the Secretariat of State.

During the year the diocesan bishop is obligated to submit the quinquennial report to the supreme pontiff, the bishop is to go to Rome personally to venerate the tombs of Peter and Paul and to present himself to the Holy Father. If legitimately impeded, he may satisfy the obligation through another, e.g. his coadjutor, auxiliary, or suitable priest.

In these ad limina visits the Holy Father confirms and supports his brother bishops in faith and love. Bonds of hierarchical communion are strengthened and the catholicity of the church and unity of the episcopal college are manifested. These visits also engage bishops in dialogue with the dicasteries of the Roman Curia wherein information can be exchanged and mutual understanding deepened.

A diocesan bishop who has completed his 75th year is requested by canon law to tender his resignation from office to the supreme pontiff. Moreover, if a bishop becomes less able or unable to fulfill his office because of ill health or other grave cause, he is requested to offer his resignation from office. Canon law requests voluntary resignation. The resignation, then, must be accepted by the supreme pontiff. A diocese does not become vacant when a diocesan bishop tenders his resignation, but only when the supreme pontiff accepts the resignation.

A diocesan bishop whose resignation from office has been accepted retains the title of bishop emeritus of his diocese and can maintain a place of residence in that diocese. While recognizing that primary obligations fall upon the diocese the retiree has served, the conferences of bishops are obligated to issue guidelines for the suitable and decent support of retired bishops.

Retired bishops continue to be members of the college of bishops. They are pastors and teachers, priests of sacred worship, and ministers of governance. They may take part in an ecumenical council with a deliberative vote. Retired diocesan bishops can be elected by a conference of bishops as members of the synod of bishops.

Bibliography: j. beal, j. coriden, t. green, eds., New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (New York 2000). e. caparros, m. theriault, j. thorn, eds., Code of Canon Law Annotated (English) (Montreal 1993). g. sheehy et al., eds. The Canon Law: Letter and Spirit Collegeville, Minn. 1995). v. j. pospishil, Eastern Catholic Church Law (2d rev. ed., Staten Island 1996). A Manual for Bishops: Rights and Responsibilities of Diocesan Bishops in the Revised Code of Canon Law (Washington, D.C. 1992).

[a. j. quinn]

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Bishop, Diocesan (Canon Law)

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