Formerly called episcopus in partibus infidelium, is a prelate invested with the episcopal character who has been given title to a see that no longer exists. After the 12th century when entire regions fell under the rule of the Turks, the Holy See continued to nominate bishops to Latin sees in which the bishops were unable to govern or to reside. Many of these bishops undertook to assist other prelates in the government of large dioceses or in the exercise of pontifical functions and also to substitute for the bishops when these were absent from their dioceses. The assisting bishops were known as vicarii in pontificalibus. They also came to be known as bishops in partibus infidelium.
Since the 16th century bishops have been assigned also to sees that had long been suppressed. The reason given for this is that the abuse of appointing bishops without any determined title or see had to be corrected.
An encyclical letter of the Congregation of Propaganda, March 3, 1882, abolished the expression in partibus infidelium and substituted "titular see" and "titular bishop."
Many of the prelates of the Roman Curia—e.g., nuncios and apostolic delegates—are titular archbishops and bishops.
Titular bishops may be appointed by the pope as auxiliaries and coadjutors to diocesan archbishops and bishops or as an honor for distinguished service.
Since a titular bishop has received episcopal consecration, he validly exercises all the functions that by divine or ecclesiastical law belong to the episcopal order. He cannot exercise any jurisdiction in the diocese of his title.
Bibliography: f. j. mcelroy, The Privileges of Bishops (Washington 1951). j. abbo and j. hannan, The Sacred Canons, 2 v. 2d ed. (St. Louis 1960) 1:348–349.
[f. j. winslow]