Education Capsule

Presented by Mary Lou Burke

October 14, 2002




We Catholics experience church at different levels. Our own parish is base community. Church in our city or county are part of a diocese, headed by a bishop. In canon law, the term "particular church" refers to the diocesan church.

"Diocese" comes from Greek, dioikesis, administrative jurisdictions, local church headed by a bishop. The cannons define a diocese as a portion of the People of God. People are entrusted to a bishop for their pastoral care. Three forces gather the people, their bishop, and priests into a church.

Gathered in this manner they are the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Christ. A diocese had clear territorial boundaries.



In church order the Roman Catholic Church is an episcopal church. The bishops is the chief pastoral leader and

key authority figure in the church.

Bishop comes from Greek, episkopos, which means overseer or superintendent. Bishops are successor of the apostles by divine institution. A candidate for office of bishop should be

Bishops are called "diocesan" when a diocese has been entrusted to them. All other bishops ei. Auxiliaries, retired etc, are called "titular" that is, they have been given a nominal see, one which no longer exists as a symbol of their relationship to a "portion of the People of God". (376)

John Carroll, the first bishop in the US was elected by his follow presbyters in 1789. In some parts of the world bishops are still elected.

When a diocesan bishop dies or retires. The papal legate gathers suggestions from neighboring bishops and of the head of the bishop's conference for a likely successor. Three names are submitted to the Holy See. This procedure is secret. If a bishop of a diocese desires an auxiliary (assistant) bishop he sends a list of three suitable names to the Holy See. (c 377.4)

Bishops, as agents of communion of the churches, participate in activities of the state, regional, national conference levels and in universal College of Bishops.



There are three categories of titular bishops

  1. auxiliary (auxiliaris, giving help, assisting) bishops are appointed upon the request of the diocesan bishop to help him when pastoral needs of diocese calls for it (c403.1)
  2. auxiliary bishop with special faculties are imposed on a diocesan bishop in response to some difficulty, financial crisis, ill health, abuses of discipline (c 403.2)
  3. coadjutor (adjutor, helper, deputy) they have right to succeed the diocesan bishop when he dies or is incapacitated (c 403.4) succession (c409.1)



The pope as the highest authority of the church has the right to send permanent representatives to the particular churches in various nations and to governments of those nations as well (c362 & 363). They are recognized in international law as the official representative of the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Today the Holy See has diplomatic relations with about 120 countries. The Holy See sends delegates to such organizations as the UN, European Common Market and OAS.

If papal legate has official relations with both church and government of a country he is called a "nuncio" (nuntius, messenger). One who relates only to the church is called a delegate.




A priest once named a diocesan bishop, must be ordained a bishop and then publicly "takes possession" of the diocese by presenting his letter of appointment from the Holy See to the college of consultors ( a group of priests responsible for diocese between bishops).

A diocesan bishop has all the authority he needs to get the job done. The bishop exercises his authority in his own name, not as the vicar of the pope.

The canons delineate the facets of the bishop's office by listing those whom he must have pastoral care and is major responsibilities as teacher sanctifier and ruler.

Three additional duties are he must be present to his diocese. He must reside within the diocese for at least 11 months of the year and be actively involved. (c 395)

  1. He must visit parishes and other institutions of the diocese at least every 5 yrs. (cc 396-398.
  2. He must report the status of his diocese to the pope every 5 years.
  3. When he reaches the age of 75 or when he can no longer fulfill his duties he submits his resignation to the pope. As bishop emeritus he has a right to a residence in the diocese and decent support.



Neighboring dioceses are gathered into groupings called ecclesiastical provinces to promote common pastoral activity.. There are usually 3-10 dioceses in a province. They are grouped around a larger or older city where the diocese is called an archdiocese..(Gr. "arch" chief, principal) and the archbishop is called the metropolitan (miter, mother and poles, city)of the province.(c 435). The other dioceses are called suffragans from Latin

Suffragium, a vote because bishops used to be electors of the metropolitan. He has very little authority over the other churches or their bishops.



These are assemblies of bishops of individual countries. They exercise certain pastoral functions on behalf of the faithful of the nation.

Bishops' conferences are new since Second Vatican Council. The juridical rule-making of conferences is quite limited. They can make regulations binding on the churches of the nation only in specifically designated matters by a vote of 2/3 of the members and those decisions must be reviewed by the Holy See. The most important activity is the exercise of the teaching office.