ASK FATHER: Do Popes need permission to consecrate bishops?

From a reader…


When the pope personally ordains a new bishop, does the ordination liturgy still contain the question about a mandate from the Apostolic See? This would seem redundant if the pope is present and/or the celebrant and principal consecrator.

You are right that a Pope would not need the mandate from anyone to consecrate a bishop.  He gives the mandate for bishops to be consecrated.  Any bishop who consecrates a man is automatically excommunicated if he lacks the papal mandate.

There is a different situation, however, in which the Pope does need a mandate!

In the case that the Pope is going to ordain priests for dioceses other than his own Diocese of Rome, he “needs” a mandate from the ordinand’s bishop or superior.   For example, when I was ordained by John Paul II my bishop had to send a “dimissorial letter”, indicating that the ordaining bishop (the Pope) could go ahead.  In my case, my bishop sent the letter to the Pope’s Vicar for Rome, since all the Pope’s ordinations were handled through the Diocese of Rome.

Of course, in the case of a dimissorial letter to the Pope’s vicar, it’s more of a case of “This guy’s in good order, don’t worry!”, rather than, “I give you, Vicar of Christ, my permission.”  It amounts to the same thing in the end, but there are proprieties to be followed.

Similarly, if, in Rome, a bishop from the outside is to ordain to the diaconate or priesthood, he will need the mandate to ordain from the Pope’s Vicar and also from the bishops of the men who will be ordained.  For example, the other day, the Bishop of Portland ordained deacons in St. Peter’s Basilica.  He had to have permission to ordain within the Diocese of Rome and in the Basilica, and each bishop of the men to be ordained had to send dimissorial letters.

However, a bishop in good standing in his own diocese doesn’t need permission from anyone to ordain, unless, of course, some guy from outside the diocese needs ordaining.  For example, in the Diocese of Black Duck, Bp. Noble is going to ordain priests.  However, over in the Diocese of Libville, Bp. Faty McButterpants was scheduled to ordain, but, unfortunately (or not), the bishop’s somewhat deformed dog Chester had an accident in the kitchen, Fatty slipped and threw out his back.   So as to not disappoint everyone, from his hospital bed Fatty asked Bp. Noble to lend a hand (to the unending delight of the ordinand and family).

I think you get how it works now.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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