A priest appointed by the bishop to supervise a section or district of the diocese (Corpus iuris canonici, 553–555). The office of vicar forane was introduced by St. Charles Borromeo in the first Provincial Council of Milan in 1565; it spread rapidly to other provinces of Italy and finally throughout the world. The regulations governing this office became general law in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, and were revised in the 1983 Code.
In the U.S. and some English-speaking countries, the vicar forane, formerly referred to as "rural dean," is designated as regional vicar (dean). He is a priest, usually a pastor, who is appointed by the bishop after consultation with the priests who exercise their ministry in a designated area. Appointed for a determined period of time, he has the duty and office of vigilance and coordination over the apostolic and pastoral ministry of the clergy in his vicariate.
The vicar forane also has the duty of encouraging presbyters in his area to take part in educational opportunities offered to them, and may even be called upon to organize such gatherings. He is to further the spiritual development of the priests by encouraging them to attend days of recollection and retreats. He is to be vigilant and solicitous for their physical and material well-being, and in the defense of their rights. At the death of any priest in his vicariate, he is to take steps to safeguard the property and records of the parish.
The vicar forane makes sure that sacred functions are carried out according to established liturgical directives, and that the Blessed Sacrament is properly reserved in the churches of the vicariate. In many dioceses, where the vicar forane is an ex officio member of the Board of Diocesan Consultors, he is to be called to a diocesan synod (c. 463, §1, 7). The diocesan bishop is to hear his opinion when a new pastor is assigned (c. 524), or when a pastor is reassigned. Many vicars forane also serve as ex officio members of the Diocesan Presbyteral Council. In some circumstances, he may receive the faculty from his bishop to grant dispensations, such as those for mixed marriages and from disparity of cult.
The 1990 Code of Canon Law of the Eastern Churches (cc. 276–278) covers the office of the vicar forane under the title of protopresbyter.
Bibliography: m. conte, a coronata, Institutiones iuris canonici, 5 v. (4th ed. Turin-Rome 1950–56) 1:463–465. j. l. zaplontnik, De vicariis foraneis (Catholic University of America Canon Law Studies 47; Washington 1927).
[p. w. rice/