Judicial Vicar (Officialis)

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In the canonical system the highest judicial power is vested in the Supreme Pontiff, who has the right to reserve to himself certain particular cases (Codex iuris canonici c. 1405 §1; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalium c. 1060 §1). In a diocese, the natural judge is the diocesan bishop (Codex iuris canonici c. 1419 §1; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalium c. 1066 §1), who constitutes one tribunal with the judicial vicar, or chief judge, of his court (Codex iuris canonici c. 1420 §2; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalium c. 1086 §2).

History. The idea of the judicial vicar or officialis has deep historical roots. In the very early days of the Church it was common for the bishop to use priests for the spiritual ministry and deacons for the direction of temporalities. From the middle of the 4th century the archdeacon occupied a very important position in church administration. His was the duty of finding clerics, educating them, approving them, and presenting them to the bishop for ordination. Moreover, he took care of the treasures and income of the Church. At times he was commissioned to make visitations of the diocese for the bishop. From the 6th century on we find he even had jurisdiction in criminal cases. In the 11th century most of

the larger dioceses were divided into districts with an archdeacon in charge of each. The most important of these was the archdeacon of Rome. Gradually the jurisdictional power of archdeacons was recognized as ordinary and not too dependent upon the authority or jurisdiction of the bishop. They held synods, conducted courts, named and invested pastors, and established penalties against clerics. Appeals were made from their tribunals to the tribunal of the bishop.

In the 12th century bishops had to curb the power of the archdeacons; they did so by establishing the institution of rural deans or vicars. In Rome a vicar general or officialis was named. He had voluntary and noncriminal jurisdiction along with the jurisdiction of the archdeacon. In many regions of Germany, Spain, and France only voluntary jurisdiction would be given to this new office of vicar general. Jurisdiction in noncriminal cases was given to another who was named the officialis. The power and juridical figure of the archdeacon gradually fell into desuetude. The Council of Trent reduced the office to practically nothing (session 24, cap. 3, 20; session 25, cap.14).

What grew up from particular law in certain places was made universal and an obligation of common law in the Latin Church by the 1917 Code of Canon Law, namely, that jurisdiction in judicial matters, separate and apart from that of the vicar general, would be committed to a new office, that of officialis.

Appointment, Qualifications, and Jurisdiction. Canon Law directs the diocesan bishop to select a judicial vicar who will enjoy ordinary authority for making judgments. He is to be an individual other than the vicar general, unless the smallness of the diocese or the lack of cases persuades the bishop that this office can be assigned to the vicar general (Codex iuris canonici c. 1420 §1; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalium c. 1086 §1).

The judicial vicar constitutes one tribunal with the bishop of the place; he cannot judge cases that the bishop reserves to himself (Codex iuris canonici c. 1420 §2; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalium c. 1086 §2). He must be a priest no younger than 30 years of age, of good character, and if he is not a doctor of canon law he must at least hold a licentiate in that science (Codex iuris canonici c. 1420 §4; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalium c. 1086 §4). He is appointed for a definite time (Codex iuris canonici c. 1422; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalium c. 1088 §1). His office does not cease but perdures during the vacancy of a see (Codex iuris canonici c. 1420 §5; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalium c. 1088 §2). The jurisdiction of the judicial vicar is ordinary (Codex iuris canonici c. 1420 §1; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalium c. 1086 §1). Since he constitutes one and the same tribunal with the bishop of the place, there is no appeal from his sentence or decision to the bishop; the appeal must be made to the authority to which a decision of the bishop himself would be appealed.

Functions. Since practically all the cases before a diocesan tribunal today are marriage cases, the work of the judicial vicar is to prepare, study, and judge pleas for nullity brought before the court on any of the grounds described in church law for such a nullity plea. The formal cases, or those involving people who have been married in what appears to be a valid marriage, are heard and tried before a panel of three judges. The judicial vicar or his associate, the adjutant judicial vicar, usually presides at such a panel.

Bibliography: r. naz, Dictionnaire de droit canonique, ed. r. naz (Paris 193565) 6:110511. j. abbo and j. hannan, The Sacred Canons (2d ed. St. Louis 1960) 2:759760. e. fournier, L'origine du vicaire-général et des autres membres de la curie diocésaine (Paris 1940). m. lega and v. bartocetti, Commentarius in iudicia ecclesiastica iuxta Codicem iuris canonici, 3 v. (Rome 1950) 1:112. a. coussa, Epitome praelectionum de iure ecclesiastico orientali, 2 v. (Grottaferrata 1948) 1:320327.

[j. s. quinn]

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Judicial Vicar (Officialis)

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