From a reader:
When Canon Law speaks of diocesan Ordinaries, or those equivalent to them in law – are they speaking of Apostolic Administrators or Vicar Generals or both? I know that pragmatically, an Apostolic Administrator has Ordinary powers but is a vicar general considered the equivalent of an Ordinary?
I believe we refer to “vicars general” rather than “vicar generals”.
First, it’s time for a little Vicar General Humor! Many years ago I learned some Latin acrostics for various figures in the Church, including the vicarius, who we learn is
It doesn’t have to be great Latin, it just has to be funny. Parochus and Episcopus are also a hoot! But I digress.
Vicars general are an important group of men for our Holy Church. They, as a group, are rather like how St. Augustine describes Holy Church herself: “corpus permixtum malis et bonis … a body mixed through with good and bad people.” God sorts them out in the like, like wheat and chaff. I have known a couple vicars general who were diligent and prayerful men, classy and kind to boot. I have known a couple vicars general who might have sub’d for the Prince of Darkness. They are rather like, therefore, the proverbial box of chocolates. But they are important.
Let’s get some terms straight.
“Vicar” is from the Latin vicarius, “a substitute, deputy, proxy, a locum tenens”, one who fills in for another. This is in turn from Latin defective noun vicis concerning “change, interchange, alternation, alternate or reciprocal succession, vicissitude” and “the position, place, room, stead, post, office, duty of one person or thing as assumed by another”. Think of the “Vicar of Christ” (the one who stands in the place of Christ) or a Parochial Vicar (the one who stands in the place of the parochus, the parish priest or, as said in America, the parish’s “pastor”. It has adverbial applications as well. Think of vice versa.
So, a vicarius generalis is one who stands in for the bishop generally, or in all things (“generalis”).
The 1983 Code of Canon Law does not speak of “diocesan Ordinaries”. The terms used are “local Ordinary” or “personal Ordinary”. Canon 134, defines (and it’s rare for the 1983 Code to give a definition) these ecclesiastical critters:
“In law, the term Ordinary means, apart from the Roman Pontiff, diocesan bishops and all who, even for a time only, are set over a particular Church or a community equivalent to it in accordance with canon 368, and those who in these have general ordinary executive power, that is, Vicars general and episcopal Vicars; likewise, for their own members, it means to major Superiors of clerical religious institutes of pontifical right and of clerical societies of apostolic life of pontifical right, who have at least ordinary executive power.”
Paragraph §2 explains that the term “local ordinary” only refers to the Pope, diocesan bishops and those equivalent to them (e.g., a temporary Diocesan Administrator, an Abbott Nullius, a Vicar Apostolic, an Apostolic Prefect, or an Apostolic Administrator). You will sometimes read my suggestions here on this blog that people write to their “local ordinary”.
Superiors of religious institutes and societies of apostolic life are “personal ordinaries”. The prelates of a personal prelature are probably in this category, since their jurisdiction is personal, rather than territorial. The relatively new concept of a personal ordinariate – such as the Anglican Ordinariates – would likely put their Ordinaries into the category of personal, not local.
Hence, ad rem, a Vicar General is not the equivalent to an Ordinary, since he IS an Ordinary.
When the Code say that something is entrusted to the Ordinary, the Vicar General can do it. If the Code restricts something to the diocesan bishop, the Code explicitly states the restriction (e.g., can. 515 §2 – “The diocesan bishop alone can establish, suppress, or alter parishes.”). Even in many of these cases, those equivalent to the diocesan bishop (the temporary Administrator, Abbott Nullius, Vicar Apostolic, Apostolic Prefect, Apostolic Administrator) are presumed to have the same authority, “unless the contrary is clear from the nature of things or from a provision of the law” (can. 381 §2).
As you can see the choice of a diocesan Vicar General is important. And since, contrary to the claims of some, vicars general really are also human beings, one should pray that the diocesan bishop chooses not only a capable man, but a good and a prayerful man. Sadly, that is not always how things work out.
A savage vicar general can – and usually does – hurt people. That is too well known by priests, I’m afraid, from personal experience. Of course the contrary is also true. Vice versa they can help a lot of people even while they are helping the local ordinary.
Vicars general lug around a tremendous burden of work and responsibility. We often pray for bishops. We should not forget also to pray for vicars general, who are unseen and unsung – which is also only right. They are, after all, the Umbra Superioris.
Pray for both the “malis et bonis“.
A bishop-reader of the blog has some interesting observations in a comment, below.