QUAERITUR: What is a diocesan “Chancellor”?

From a reader:

My question is about the requirements for the Chancellor of a diocese. Some people have told me that the Chancellor is supposed to always be a priest. Is this correct? (Our diocese has had a woman Chancellor for decades.)

The chancellor is the chief notary of a diocese. The law requires that a chancellor (and any notary) must be of unimpaired reputation and above all suspicion” (can. 483).

That is it!

I am pretty sure that if the matter being notarized involves the reputation of a priest, the notary must be a priest.

Many diocesan bishops have added other responsibilities (in addition to that of being the chief notary) on the shoulders of the chancellor. These responsibilities (e.g., processing requests for dispensation, advising the bishop, drawing up statutes or other decrees) are technically not essential to the role of a chancellor.  The default duty of a chancellor is to provide proof that the bishop did sign something.  Of course if a bishop asks the chancellor to do X, the chancellor is probably going to salute and do X.

It’s not unbecoming for a layperson to be a chancellor. However, depending on the diocese, some lay chancellors have been given certain responsibilities that probably should be in the hands of a cleric.


I should make it clear that my response to this question is not a tacit invitation for people to write about strange or bad situations where they are.

My “Ask Father Question Box” is not “The Wailing Wall”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Fr AJ says:

    As Fr. Z says, the role of the Chancellor is varied depending on what the Bishop may ask for. In my Diocese the Chancellor is just one of the secretaries. In another Diocese, one of my classmates is the Chancellor and he has a large role in advising the Bishop, etc., a full time job.

  2. I’ve heard that several dioceses have nuns as chancellors and at least one archdiocese, Denver, has a young layman now serving that role.

  3. James Joseph says:

    I never knew that they were notaries. You learn something new everyday! I have just come to learn a Diocesan Chancellor is a priest. He is often called monsignor. He often gets fired for having his name in the papers. He often opposes the selling to homosexual advocacy groups those properties entrusted to the Church. He often has the speakers (such as Dr. Kreeft and Rev. Dcn. Spencer) he invited to the Diocesan Men’s Conference told in the words of Smeagle, “Leave now. And, never come back!” I am also under the impression that Diocesan Chancellors oppose Shariah Law, but that might just be hearsay. They definitely read Chesterton and Knox.

  4. wolfeken says:

    I would add that it is also a very impressive title. To that end, seeing “Ms. Rose Felt-Banner, chancellor of the Archdiocese of…” referenced in a news story gives yet another democratic impression to the masses that lay-ladies can and should be given high-level jobs in a chancery to provide balance to those pesky male priests and bishops running the Church.

    With few exceptions, at least in the U.S., the liberal and moderate dioceses have lay chancellors and the conservative dioceses have priest chancellors.

  5. thefeds says:

    Fr. Z, how about a little wine with that wail?

  6. gjp says:

    Here in Saginaw, our chancellor is Sister Mary Judith O’Brien, RSM. For those who don’t know, RSM is Religious Sisters of Mercy, and in our diocese they are located in Alma, MI. The sisters were once featured on an episode of EWTN’s Life on the Rock and they seem like very devout habit wearing sisters, although I only see them from time to time.

    Before Sister Mary Judith, the chancellor was Nancy Werner, who came to Saginaw from Sioux Falls along with the previous bishop, H.E. Robert Carlson. When Carlson was appointed to be Archbishop of St. Louis, she left with him and is now chancellor there.

    The interesting thing is that both H.E. Joseph Cistone, our current bishop, and Carlson, our previous bishop, are both seen as more conservative than the Ordinary of Saginaw before them, the late Kenneth Untener, who was about as liberal a bishop as there ever has been, but never had a female in the role during his entire time in Saginaw.

  7. APX says:

    Just out of curiousity, what kind of education is required to be appointed a diocesan chancellor? I know our chancellor is a sister, who is getting up there in age.

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