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(Latin diœcesis)

A Diocese is the territory or churches subject to the jurisdiction of a bishop.

Origin of term

Originally the term diocese (Gr. dioikesis) signified management of a household, thence administration or government in general. This term was soon used in Roman law to designate the territory dependent for its administration upon a city (civitas). What in Latin was called ager, or territorium, namely a district subject to a city, was habitually known in the Roman East as a diœcesis. But as the Christian bishop generally resided in a civitas, the territory administered by him, being usually conterminous with the juridical territory of the city, came to be known ecclesiastically by its usual civil term, diocese. This name was also given to the administrative subdivision of some provinces ruled by legates (legati) under the authority of the governor of the province. Finally, Diocletian designated by this name the twelve great divisions which he established in the empire, and over each of which he placed a vicarius (Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, Stuttgart, 1903, V, 1, 716 sqq.). The original term for local groups of the faithful subject to a bishop was ekklesia (church), and at a later date, paroikia, i.e. the neighbourhood (Lat. porœcia, parochia). The Apostolic Canons (xiv, xv), and the Council of Nicæa in 325 (can. xvi) applied this latter term to the territory subject to a bishop. This term was retained in the East, where the Council of Constantinople (381) reserved the word diocese for the territory subject to a patriarch (can. ii). In the West also parochia was long used to designate an episcopal see. About 850 Leo IV, and about 1095 Urban II, still employed parochia to denote the territory subject to the jurisdiction of a bishop. Alexander III (1159-1181) designated under the name of parochiani the subjects of a bishop (c. 4, C. X, qu. 1; c. 10, C. IX, qu. 2; c. 9, X, De testibus, II, 20). On the other hand, the present meaning of the word diocese is met with in Africa at the end of the fourth century (cc. 50, 51, C. XVI, qu. 1), and afterwards in Spain, where the term parochia, occurring in the ninth canon of the Council of Antioch, held in 341, was translated by "diocese" (c. 2, C. IX, qu. 3). See also the ninth canon of the Synod of Toledo, in 589 (Hefele, ad h. an. and c. 6, C. X, qu. 3). This usage finally became general in the West, though diocese was sometimes used to indicate parishes in the present sense of the word (see PARISH). In Gaul, the words terminus, territorium, civitas, pagus, are also met with.

Historical origin

It is impossible to determine what rules were followed at the origin of the Church in limiting the territory over which each bishop exercised his authority. Universality of ecclesiastical jurisdiction was a personal prerogative of the Apostles; their successors, the bishops, enjoyed only a jurisdiction limited to a certain territory: thus Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch, and Polycarp, of Smyrna. The first Christian communities, quite like the Jewish, were established in towns. The converts who lived in the neighbourhood naturally joined with the community of the town for the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries. Exact limitations of episcopal territory could not have engrossed much attention at the beginning of Christianity; it would have been quite impracticable. As a matter of fact, the extent of the diocese was determined by the domain itself over which the bishop exercised his influence. It seems certain on the other hand, that, in the East at any rate, by the middle of the third century each Christian community of any importance had become the residence of a bishop and constituted a diocese. There were bishops in the country districts as well as in the towns. The chorepiscopi (en chora episkopoi), or rural bishops, were bishops, it is generally thought, as well as those of the towns; though from about the second half of the third century their powers were little by little curtailed, and they were made dependent on the bishops of the towns. To this rule Egypt was an exception; Alexandria was for a long time the only see in Egypt. The number of Egyptian dioceses, however, multiplied rapidly during the third century, so that in 320 there were about a hundred bishops present at the Council of Alexandria. The number of dioceses was also quite large in some parts of the Western Church, i.e. in Southern Italy and in Africa. In other regions of Europe, either Christianity had as yet a small number of adherents, or the bishops reserved to themselves supreme authority over extensive districts. Thus, in this early period but few dioceses existed in Northern Italy, Gaul, Germany, Britain, and Spain. In the last, however, their number increased rapidly during the third century. The increase of the faithful in small towns and country districts soon made it necessary to determine exactly the limits of the territory of each church. The cities of the empire, with their clearly defined suburban districts, offered limits that were easily acceptable. From the fourth century on it was generally admitted that every city ought to have its bishop, and that his territory was bounded by that of the neighbouring city. This rule was stringently applied in the East. Although Innocent I declared in 415 that the Church was not bound to conform itself to all the civil divisions which the imperial government chose to introduce, the Council of Chalcedon ordered (451) that if a civitas were dismembered by imperial authority, the ecclesiastical organization ought also to be modified (can. xvii). In the West, the Council of Sardica (344) forbade in its sixth canon the establishment of dioceses in towns not populous enough to render desirable their elevation to the dignity of episcopal residences. At the same time many Western sees included the territories of several civitates.

From the fourth century we have documentary evidence of the manner in which the dioceses were created. According to the Council of Sardica (can. vi), this belonged to the provincial synod; the Council of Carthage, in 407, demanded moreover the consent of the primate and of the bishop of the diocese to be divided (canons iv and v). The consent of the pope or the emperor was not called for. In 446, however, Pope Leo I ruled that dioceses should not be established except in large towns and populous centres (c. 4, Dist. lxxx). In the same period the Apostolic See was active in the creation of dioceses in the Burgundian kingdom and in Italy. In the latter country many of the sees had no other metropolitan than the pope, and were thus more closely related to him. Even clearer is his rôle in the formation of the diocesan system in the northern countries newly converted to Christianity. After the first successes of St. Augustine in England, Gregory the Great provided for the establishment of two metropolitan sees, each of which included two dioceses. In Ireland, the diocesan system was introduced by St. Patrick, though the diocesan territory was usually coextensive with the tribal lands, and the system itself was soon peculiarly modified by the general extension of monasticism (see IRELAND). In Scotland, however, the diocesan organization dates only from the twelfth century. To the Apostolic See also was due the establishment of dioceses in that part of Germany which had been evangelized by St. Boniface. In the Frankish Empire the boundaries of the dioceses followed the earlier Gallo-Roman municipal system, though the Merovingian kings never hesitated to change them by royal authority and without pontifical intervention. In the creation of new dioceses no mention is made of papal authority. The Carlovingian kings and their successors, the Western emperors, notably the Ottos (936-1002), sought papal authority for the creation of new dioceses. Since the eleventh century it has been the rule that the establishment of new dioceses is peculiarly a right of the Apostolic See. St. Peter Damian proclaimed (1059-60) this as a general principle (c. 1, Dist. xxii), and the same is affirmed in the well-known "Dictatus" of Gregory VII (1073-1085). The papal decretals (see PAPAL DECRETALS) consider the creation of a new diocese as one of the causœ majores, i.e. matters of special importance, reserved to the pope alone (c. 1, X, De translatione episcopi, I, 7; c. 1, X, De officio legati, I, 30) and of which he is the sole judge (c. 5, Extrav. communes, De præbendis et dignitatibus, III, 2). A word of mention is here due to the missionary or regionary bishops, episcopi gentium, episcopi (archiepiscopi) in gentibus, still found in the eleventh century. They had no fixed territory or diocese, but were sent into a country or district for the purpose of evangelizing it. Such were St. Boniface in Germany, St. Augustine in England, and St. Willibrord in the Netherlands. They were themselves the organizers of the diocese, after their apostolic labours had produced happy results. The bishops met with in some monasteries of Gaul in the earlier Middle Ages, probably in imitation of Irish conditions, had no administrative functions (see Bellesheim, Gesch. d. kath. Kirche in Irland, I, 226-30, and Lôning, below).

Creation and modification of dioceses

We have noticed above that after the eleventh century the sovereign pontiff reserved to himself the creation of dioceses. In the actual discipline, as already stated, all that touches the diocese is a causa major, i.e. one of those important matters in which the bishop possesses no authority whatever and which the pope reserves exclusively to himself. Since the episcopate is of Divine institution, the pope is obliged to establish dioceses in the Catholic Church, but he remains sole judge of the time and manner, and alone determines what flock shall be entrusted to each bishop. Generally speaking, the diocese is a territorial circumscription, but sometimes the bishop possesses authority only over certain classes of persons residing in the territory; this is principally the case in districts where both the Western and the Eastern Rite are followed. Whatever, therefore, pertains to the creation or suppression of dioceses, changes in their boundaries, and the like is within the pope's exclusive province. As a general rule, the preparatory work is done by the Congregation of the Consistory, by Propaganda when the question relates to territories subject to this congregation, and by the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs when the establishment of a diocese is governed by concordats, or when the civil power of the country has the right to intervene in their creation. We shall take up successively (1) the creation of new dioceses (2) the various modifications to which they are subject, included by canonists under the term Innovatio.

Creation of dioceses

Strictly speaking, it is only in missionary countries that there can be question of the creation of a diocese, either because the country was never converted to Christianity or because its ancient hierarchy was suppressed, owing to conquest by infidels or the progress of heresy. Regularly, before becoming a diocese, the territory is successively a mission, a prefecture Apostolic, and finally a vicariate Apostolic. The Congregation of Propaganda makes a preliminary study of the question and passes judgment on the opportuneness of the creation of the diocese in question. It considers principally whether the number of Catholics, priests, and religious establishments, i.e. churches, chapels, schools, is sufficiently large to justify the establishment of the proposed diocese. These matters form the subject of a report to Propaganda, to which must be added the number of towns or settlements included in the territory. If there is a city suitable for the episcopal see, the fact is stated, also the financial resources at the disposal of the bishop for the works of religion. There is added, finally, a sketch, if possible accompanied by a map, indicating the territory of the future diocese. As a general rule, a diocese should not include districts whose inhabitants speak different languages or are subject to distinct civil powers (see Instructions of Propaganda, 1798, in Collectanea S. C. de P. F., Rome, 1907, no. 645). Moreover, the general conditions for, the creation of a diocese are the same as those required for dividing or "dismembering" a diocese. Of this we shall speak below.

Modification (innovatio) of dioceses

Under this head come the division (dismembratio) of dioceses, their union, suppression, and changes of their respective limits.

Division or dismemberment of a diocese

This is reserved to the Holy See. Since the pope is the supreme power in the Church, he is not bound to act in conformity with the canonical enactments which regulate the dismemberment of ecclesiastical benefices. The following rules, however, are those which he generally observes, though he is free to deviate from them. — First, to divide a diocese, a sufficient reason must exist (causa justa). The necessity, or at least the utility, of the division must be demonstrated. There is sufficient reason for the subdivision of a diocese if it be too extensive, or the number of the faithful too great, or the means of communication too difficult, to permit the bishop to administer the diocese properly. The benefit which would result to religion (incrementum cultus divini) may also be brought forward as a reason for the change. In the main, these reasons are summed up in the one: the hope of forwarding the interests of Catholicism. Dissensions between inhabitants of the same diocese, or the fact that they belong to different nations, may also be considered a sufficient reason. Formerly, the mere fact that the endowment of a diocese was very large — a case somewhat rare at the present day — formed a legitimate reason for its division.

The second condition is suitability of place (locucongruus). There should exist in the diocese to be created a city or town suitable for the episcopal residence; the ancient discipline which rules that sees should be established only in important localities is still observed.

Third, a proper endowment (dos congrua) is requisite. The bishop should have at his disposal the resources necessary for his own maintenance and that of the ecclesiastics engaged in the general administration of the diocese, and for the establishment of a cathedral church, the expenses of Divine worship, and the general administration of the diocese. Formerly it was necessary that in part, at least, this endowment should consist in lands; at present this is not always possible. It suffices if there is a prospect that the new bishop will be able to meet the necessary expenses. In some cases, the civil government grants a subsidy to the bishop; in other cases, he must depend on the liberality of the faithful and on a contribution from the parishes of the diocese, known as the cathedraticum.

Fourth, generally for the division of a diocese the consent of the actual incumbent of the benefice is requisite; but the pope is not bound to observe this condition. John XXII ruled that the pope had the right to proceed to the division of a diocese in spite of the opposition of the bishop (c. 5, Extrav. common., De præbendis, III, 2). As a matter of fact, the pope asks the advice of the archbishop and of all the bishops of the ecclesiastical province in which the diocese to be divided is situated. Often, indeed, the division takes place at the request of the bishop himself.

Fifth, theoretically the consent of the civil power is not required; this would be contrary to the principles of the distinction and mutual independence of the ecclesiastical and civil authority. In many countries, however, the consent of the civil authority is indispensable, either because the Government has pledged itself to endow the occupants of the episcopal sees, or because concordats have regulated this matter, or because a suspicious government would not permit a bishop to administer the new diocese if it were created without civil intervention (see Nussi, Conventiones de rebus ecclesiasticis, Rome, 1869, pp. 19 sqq.). At present, the creation or division of a diocese is done by a pontifical Brief, forwarded by the Secretary of Briefs. As an example, we may mention the Brief of 11 March, 1904, which divided the Diocese of Providence and established the new Diocese of Fall River. The motive prompting this division was the incrementum religionis and the majus bonum animarum; the Bishop of Providence himself requested the division, and this request was approved by the Archbishop of Boston and by all the bishops of that ecclesiastical province. The examination of the question was submitted to Propaganda and to the Apostolic Delegate at Washington. The pope then created, motu proprio, the new diocese, indicated its official title in Latin and in English, and determined its boundaries, which correspond to political divisions, and, finally, fixed the revenues of the bishop. In the case before us these consist in a moderate cathedraticum to be determined by the bishop (discreto arbitrio episcopi imponendum). According to the practice of Propaganda, all the priests who at the time of the division exercised the ministry in the dismembered territory belong to the clergy of the new diocese (Rescript of 13 April, 1891, in Collectanea S. C. de P. F., new ed., no. 1751).

Union of dioceses

As in the case of the division of a diocese, the union of several dioceses ought to be justified by motives of public utility, e.g. the small number of the faithful, the loss of resources. As in the case of division, the pope is influenced by the advice of persons familiar with the situation; sometimes he asks the advice of the Government, etc. It is a generally recognized principle in the union of benefices, that such union takes effect only after the death of the actual occupant of the see which is to be united to another; at least when he has not given his consent to this union. Though the pope is not bound by this rule, in practice it must be taken into account. The union of dioceses takes place in several ways. There is, first, the unio œque principalis or œqualis when the two dioceses are entrusted for the purpose of administration to a single bishop, though they remain in all other respects distinct; each of them has its own cathedral chapter, revenues, rights, and privileges, but the bishop of one see becomes the bishop of the other by the mere fact of appointment to one of the two. He cannot resign one without ipso facto resigning the other. This situation differs from that in which a bishop administers for a time, or even perpetually, another diocese; in this case there is no union between the two sees. It is in reality a case of plurality of ecclesiastical benefices; the bishop holds two distinct sees, and his nomination must take place according to the rules established for each of the two dioceses. On the contrary, in the case of two or more united dioceses, the election or designation of the candidate must take place by the agreement of those persons in both dioceses who possess the right of election or of designation. Moreover, in the case of united dioceses, the pope sometimes makes special rules for the residence of the bishop, e.g. that he shall reside in each diocese for a part of the year. If the pope makes no decision in this matter, the bishop may reside in the more important diocese, or in that which seems more convenient for the purposes of administration, or even in the diocese which he prefers as a residence. If the bishop resides in one of his dioceses he is considered as present in each of them for those juridical acts which demand his presence. He may also convoke at his discretion two separate diocesan synods for each of the two dioceses or only one for both of them. In other respects the administration of each diocese remains distinct. There are two classes of unequal unions of dioceses (uniones inœquales): the unio subjectiva or per accessorium, seldom put into practice, and the unio per confusionem. In the former case, the one diocese retains all its rights and the other loses its rights, obtains those of the principal diocese, and thus becomes a dependency. When a diocese is thus united to another there can be no question of right of election or designation, because such a dependent diocese is conferred by the very fact that the principal diocese possesses a titular. But the administration of the property of each diocese remains distinct and the titular of the principal diocese must assume all the obligations of the united diocese. The second kind of union (per confusionem) suppresses the two pre-existing dioceses in order to create a new one; the former dioceses simply cease to exist. To perpetuate the names of the former sees the new bishop sometimes assumes the titles of both, but in administration no account is taken of the fact that they were formerly separate sees. Such a union is equivalent to the suppression of the dioceses.

Suppression of dioceses

Suppression of dioceses, properly so called, in a manner other than by union, takes place only in countries where the faithful and the clergy have been dispersed by persecution, the ancient dioceses becoming missions, prefectures, or vicariates Apostolic. This has occurred in the Orient, in England, the Netherlands, etc. Changes of this nature are not regulated by canon law.

Change of boundaries

This last mode of innovatio is made by the Holy See, generally at the request of the bishops of the two neighbouring dioceses. Among the sufficient reasons for this measure are the difficulty of communication, the existence of a high mountain or of a large river, disputes between the inhabitants of one part of the diocese, also the fact that they belong to different countries. Sometimes a resettlement of the boundaries of two dioceses is necessary because the limits of each are not clearly defined. Such a settlement is made by a Brief, sometimes also by a simple decretum or decision of the Congregation of the Consistory approved by the pope, without the formality of a Bull or Brief.

Different classes of dioceses

There are several kinds of dioceses. There are dioceses properly so called and archdioceses. The diocese is the territorial circumscription administered by a bishop; the archdiocese is placed under the jurisdiction of an archbishop. Considered as a territorial circumscription, no difference exists between them; the power of their pastors alone is different. Generally, several dioceses are grouped in an ecclesiastical province and are subject to the authority of the metropolitan archbishop. Some, however, are said to be exempt, i.e. from any archiepiscopal jurisdiction, and are placed directly under the authority of the Holy See. Such are the dioceses of the ecclesiastical province of Rome, and several other dioceses or archdioceses, especially in Italy, also in other countries. The exempt archbishops are called titular archbishops, i.e. they possess only the title of archbishop, have no suffragan bishops, and administer a diocese. The term "titular archbishop", it is to be noted, is also applied to bishops who do not administer a diocese, but who have received with the episcopal consecration a titular archbishopric. For the better understanding of this it must be remembered that archdioceses and dioceses are divided into titular and residential. The bishop of a residential see administers his diocese personally and is bound to reside in it, whereas the titular bishops have only an episcopal title; they are not bound by any obligations to the faithful of the dioceses whose titles they bear. These were formerly called bishops or archbishops in partibus infidelium, i.e. of a diocese or archdiocese fallen into the power of infidels; but since 1882 they are called titular bishops or archbishops. Such are the vicars Apostolic, auxiliary bishops, administrators Apostolic, nuncios, Apostolic delegates, etc. (see TITULAR BISHOP). Mention must also be made of the suburbicarian dioceses (diœceses suburbicariœ), i.e. the six dioceses situated in the immediate neighbourhood of Rome and each of which is administered by one of the six cardinal-bishops. These form a special class of dioceses, the titulars or occupants of which possess certain special rights and obligations (see SUBURBICARIAN DIOCESES).

Nomination, translation, renunciation, and deposition of a bishop

The general rules relating to the nomination of a residential bishop will be found in the article BISHOP. They are applicable whatever may have been the cause of the vacancy of the diocese, except in the case of a contrary order of the Holy See. The Church admits the principle of the perpetuity of ecclesiastical benefices. Once invested with a see the bishop continues to hold it until his death. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. The bishop may be allowed by the pope to resign his see when actuated by motives which do not spring from personal convenience, but from concern for the public good. Some of these reasons are expressed in the canon law; for instance, if a bishop has been guilty of a grave crime (conscientia criminis), if he is in failing health (debilitas corporis), if he has not the requisite knowledge (defectus scientiœ), if he meets with serious opposition from the faithful (malitia plebis), if he has been a cause of public scandal (scandalum populi), if he is irregular (irregularitas) — c. 10, X, De renuntiatione, I, 9; c. 18, X, De regularibus, III, 32. The pope alone can accept this renunciation and judge of the sufficiency of the alleged reasons. Pontifical authorization is also necessary for an exchange of dioceses between two bishops, which is not allowed except for grave reasons. The same principles apply to the transfer (translatio) of a bishop from one diocese to another. Canonical legislation compares with the indissoluble marriage tie the bond which binds the bishop to his diocese. This comparison, however, must not be understood literally. The pope has the power to sever the mystical bond which unites the bishop to his church, in order to grant him another diocese or to promote him to an archiepiscopal see. A bishop may also be deposed from his functions for a grave crime. In such a case the pope generally invites the bishop to resign of his own accord, and deposes him only upon refusal. As the Holy See alone is competent to try the crime of a bishop, it follows that the pope alone, or the congregation to which he has committed the bishop's trial (Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, the Propaganda, sometimes the Inquisition), can inflict this penalty or pronounce the declaratory sentence required when the law inflicts deposition as the sanction of a specified delinquency. Finally, the pope has always the right, strictly speaking, to deprive a bishop of his diocese, even if the latter is not guilty of crime; but for this act there must be grave cause. After the conclusion of the Concordat of 1801 with France, Pius VII removed from their dioceses all the bishops of France. It was, of course, a very extraordinary measure, but was justified by the gravity of the situation.

Administration of the diocese

The bishop is the general ruler of the diocese, but in his administration he must conform to the general laws of the Church (see BISHOP). According to the Council of Trent he is bound to divide the territory of his diocese into parishes, with ordinary jurisdiction for their titulars (Sess. XXIV, c. xiii, De ref.), unless circumstances render impossible the creation of parishes or unless the Holy See has arranged the matter otherwise (Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, nos. 31-33). The bishop needs also some auxiliary service in the administration of a diocese. It is customary for each diocese to possess a chapter of canons in the cathedral church; they are the counsellors of the bishop. The cathedral itself is the church where the bishop has his seat (kathedra). The pope reserves to himself the right of authorizing its establishment as well as that of a chapter of canons. In many dioceses, principally outside of Europe, the pope does not establish canons, but gives as auxiliaries to the bishop other officials known as consultores cleri diœcesani, i.e. the most distinguished members of the diocesan clergy, chosen by the bishop, often in concert with his clergy or some members of it. The bishop is bound to ask the advice of those counsellors, canons or consultors, in the most important matters. The canons possess, in some cases, the right to nullify episcopal action taken without their consent. The consultores cleri diœcesani, however, possess but a consultative voice (Third Plen. Council of Baltimore, nos. 17-22; Plen. Cone. Americæ Latinæ, no. 246. — See DIOCESAN CONSULTORS). After the bishop, the principal authority in a diocese is the vicar-general (vicarius generalis in spiritualibus); he is the bishop's substitute in the administration of the diocese. The office dates from the thirteenth century. Originally the vicar-general was called the "official" (officialis); even yet officialis and vicarius generalis in spiritualibus are synonymous. Strictly speaking, there should be in each diocese only one vicar-general. In some countries, however, local custom has authorized the appointment of several vicars-general. The one specially charged with the canonical lawsuits (jurisdictio contentiosa), e.g. with criminal actions against ecclesiastics or with matrimonial cases, is still known as the "official" it must be noted that he is none the less free to exercise the functions of vicar-general in other departments of diocesan administration. A contrary custom prevails in certain dioceses of Germany, where the "official" possesses only the jurisdictio contentiosa, but this is a derogation from the common law. For the temporal administration of the church the bishop may appoint an œconomus, i.e. an administrator. As such functions do not require ecclesiastical jurisdiction, this administrator may be a layman. The choice of a layman fully acquainted with the civil law of the country may sometimes offer many advantages (Second Plenary Council of Baltimore, no. 75). In certain very extensive dioceses the pope appoints a vicarius generalis in pontificalibus, or auxiliary bishop, whose duty is to supply the place of the diocesan bishop in the exercise of those functions of the sacred ministry which demand episcopal order. In the appointment of this bishop the pope is not bound to observe the special rules for the appointment of a residential bishop. These titular bishops possess no jurisdiction by right of their office; the diocesan bishop, however, can grant them, e.g., the powers of a vicar-general.

The common ecclesiastical law contains no enactments relating to the rights and powers of the chancellor, an official met with in many dioceses (see DIOCESAN CHANCERY). The Second Plenary Council of Baltimore (no. 71) advises the establishment of a chancery in every diocese of the United States. The chancellor is specially charged with the affixing of the episcopal seal to all acts issued in the name of the bishop, in order to prove their authenticity. He appears also in the conduct of ecclesiastical lawsuits, e.g. in matrimonial cases, to prove the authenticity of the alleged documents, to vouch for the depositions of witnesses, etc. Because of the importance of his functions, the chancellor sometimes holds the office of vicar-general in spiritualibus. By episcopal chancery is sometimes understood the office where are written the documents issued in the name of the bishop and to which is addressed the correspondence relating to the administration of the diocese sometimes also the term signifies the persons employed in the exercise of these functions. The taxes or dues which the episcopal chancery may claim for the issuing of documents were fixed by the Council of Trent (Sess. XXI, c. i, De ref.); afterwards by Innocent XI (hence their name Taxa Innocentiana), 8 Oct., 1678; finally by Leo XIII, 10 June, 1896. The fiscal of the bishop, also known as promotor or procurator fiscalis, is the ecclesiastic charged with attending to the interests of the diocese in all trials and especially with endeavouring to secure the punishment of all offences cognizable in the ecclesiastical tribunals. An assistant, who is called fiscal advocate (advocatus fiscalis), may be appointed to aid this officer.

Formerly the diocese was divided into a number of archdeaconries, each administered by an archdeacon, who possessed considerable authority in that part of the diocese placed under his jurisdiction. The Council of Trent restricted very much their authority, and since then the office of the archdeacon has gradually disappeared. It exists at the present day only as an honorary title, given to a canon of the cathedral chapter (see ARCHDEACON). On the other hand, the ancient office of vicarii foranei, decani rurales, or archipresbyteri still exists in the Church (see ARCHPRIEST; DEAN). The division of the diocese into deaneries is not obligatory, but in large dioceses the bishop usually entrusts to certain priests known as deans or vicars forane the oversight of the clergy of a portion of his diocese, and generally delegates to them special jurisdictional powers (Third Plen. Council of Baltimore, nos. 27-30). Finally, by means of the diocesan synod all the clergy participates in the general administration of the diocese. According to the common law, the bishop is bound to assemble a synod every year, to which he must convoke the vicar-general, the deans, the canons of the cathedral, and at least a certain number of parish priests. Here, however, custom and pontifical privileges have departed in some points from the general legislation. At this meeting, all questions relating to the moral and the ecclesiastical discipline of the diocese are publicly discussed and settled. In the synod the bishop is the sole legislator; the members may, at the request of the bishop, give their advice, but they have only a deliberative voice in the choice of the examinatores cleri diœcesani, i.e. the ecclesiastics charged with the examination of candidates for the parishes (Third Plen. Council of Baltimore, nos. 23-26). It is because the diocesan statutes are generally elaborated and promulgated in a synod that they are sometimes known as statuta synodalia. In addition to the general laws of the Church and the enactments of national or plenary and provincial synods, the bishop may regulate by statutes, that are often real ecclesiastical laws, the particular discipline of each diocese, or apply the general laws of the Church to the special needs of the diocese. Since the bishop alone possesses all the legislative power, and is not bound to propose in a synod these diocesan statutes, he may modify them or add to them on his own authority.

Vacancy of the diocese

We have already explained how a diocese becomes vacant (see V above); here it will suffice to add a few words touching the administration of the diocese during such vacancy. In dioceses where there is a coadjutor bishop with right of succession, the latter, by the fact of the decease of the diocesan bishop, becomes the residential bishop or ordinary (q.v.) of the diocese. Otherwise the government of the diocese during the vacancy belongs regularly to the chapter of the cathedral church. The chapter must choose within eight days a vicar capitular, whose powers, although less extensive, are in kind like those of a bishop. If the chapter does not fulfil this obligation, the archbishop appoints ex officio a vicar capitular. In dioceses where a chapter does not exist, an administrator is appointed, designated either by the bishop himself before his death, or, in case of his neglect, by the metropolitan or by the senior bishop of the province (see ADMINISTRATOR).

Conspectus of the diocesan system of the Catholic Church

The accompanying table of the diocesan system of the Church shows that there are at present throughout the world: 9 patriarchates of the Latin, 6 of the Oriental Rites; 6 suburbicarian dioceses; 163 (or 166 with the Patriarchates of Venice, Lisbon, and Goa, in reality archdioceses) archdioceses of the Latin, and 20 of the Oriental Rites; 675 dioceses of the Latin, and 52 of the Oriental Rites; 137 vicariates Apostolic of the Latin, and 5 of the Oriental Rites; 58 prefectures Apostolic of the Latin Rite; 12 Apostolic delegations; 21 abbeys or prelatures nullius diœcesis, i.e. exempt from the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop. There are also 89 titular archdioceses and 432 titular dioceses.

Exempt Dioceses=D
Apostolic Delagations=E
Vicariates Apostolic=F
Prefectures Apostolic=G
Prelatures and Abbeys Nullius=H
Latin Rite - EUROPE
Austria-Hungary - 11 40 1 - - - 2
Belgium - 1 5 - - - - -
Bosnia-Herzegovina - 1 3 - - - - -
Bulgaria - - - 1 - 1 - -
Denmark - - - - - 1 - -
England - 1 15 - - - - -
France - 17 67 - - - - -
Germany - 5 14 6 - 3 2 -
Greece - 2 6 1 1 - - -
Ireland - 4 25 - - - - -
Italy 2* 37 156† 75 - - - 11
Luxemburg - - - 1 - - - -
Malta - - - 2 - - - -
Monaco - - - 1 - - - -
Montenegro - - - 1 - - - -
Netherlands - 1 4 - - - - -
Norway - - - - - 1 - -
Portugal 1 2 9 - - - - -
Rumania - 1 - 1 - - - -
Russia - 2 14‡ - - - - -
Scotland - 1 4 1 - - - -
Servia - - 1 - - - - -
Spain 9 47 - - 1 - 1
Sweden - - - - - 1 - -
Switzerland - - - 5 - - 2 2
Turkey - 1 4 2 1 1 - 1
Total 4 96 414 98 2 9 4 17
* Also three titular patriarchs of the Latin Rite reside in Rome.
† The six suburbicarian dioceses must be added to these.
‡ The Russian Government has suppressed three of these.
§ Titular Patriarchate of the West Indies.
Latin Rite - AMERICA
Argentine Republic - 1 7 - - 1 1 -
Bolivia - 1 3 - - - - -
Brazil - 4 20 - - - - 2
Canada - 8 20 - 1 4 - -
Lesser Antilles - 1 3 - - 1 - -
Chile - 1 3 - - 1 1 -
Columbia - 4 10 - - 2 3 -
Greater Antilles - 2 7 2 1 1 - -
Ecuador - 1 6 - - 4 - -
Central America - 1 4 - - 1 - -
Guianas - - - - - 2 1 -
Mexico - 8 22 - 1 1 - -
Newfoundland - 1 2 - - - - -
Paraguay - - 1 - - - - -
Peru - 1 8 - - 1* 3 -
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon Islands - - - - - - 1 -
United States - 14 76 - 1 2 1 -
Uruguay - 1 2† - - - - -
Venezuela - 1 5 - - - - -
Total - 50 199 2 4 21 11 2
* Includes also some Chilean territory.
Bulls have been issued but these dioceses have not been erected.
Latin Rite - ASIA
China - - 1 - - 36 4 -
Corea - - - - - 1 - -
India and Indo-China 1 7 22 1 1 15 4 -
Japan - 1 3 - - - 1 -
Persia - - - 1 1 - - -
Turkey 1 1 1 1 3* 3 1 -
Total 2 9 27 3 5 55 10 -
* The Apostolic Delegation of Arabia also includes Egypt.
Latin Rite - OCEANICA
Australia - 4 14 1 - 3 - 1
Malay Archipelago - - - - - 1 3 -
New Zealand - 1 3 - - - - -
Philippine Islands and Hawaii - 1 8* - 1 1 1 -
Polynesia - - - - - 11 5 -
Total - 6 25 1 1 16 9 1
* Though Bulls have been issued four of these dioceses have not been erected.
Latin Rite - AFRICA
Africa - 2 10* 2 1† 36 24 1
* The Diocese of Ceuta is not enumerated, as it belongs to Cadiz, Spain.
Delegation of Arabia and Egypt. See above, foot-note to Asia.
Oriental Rite - ARMENIAN
Austria - 1 - - - - - -
Russia - - 1 - - - - -
Asia 1 3 13 - - - - -
Africa - - 1 - - - - -
Oriental Rite - COPTIC
Africa 1 - 2 - - - - -
Macedonia - - - - - 1 - -
Thrace - - - - - 1 - -
Oriental Rite - GREEK MELCHITE
Asia 1 3 9 - - - - -
Oriental Rite - GREEK RUMANIAN
Austria - 1 3 - - - - -
Austria - 1 6 - - - - -
Russia - - 1 2† - - - -
Oriental Rite - SYRIAN
Asia 1 3 5 - - - - -
Oriental Rite - SYRO-CHALDEAN
Asia 1 2 9 - - - - -
Oriental Rite - SYRO-MALABAR
Asia - - - - - 3 - -
Oriental Rite - SYRO-MARONITE
Asia 1 6 2 - - - - -
Total 6 20 52 2 - 5 - -
* The Ruthenian bishop for the United States has neither a
diocese, properly so called, nor ordinary jurisdiction.
† One of these dioceses has been suppressed by the Russian Government.


THOMASSIN, Vetus et nova disciplina ecclesiæ, etc. (Paris, 1691), Part. I, Bk. I, nos. 54-59; LÖNING, Gesch. des deutschen Kirchenrechts (Strasburg, 1878), i, 410; II, 129 sqq.; HANNACK, Die Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten (Leipzig, 1907). 319 sqq.; DUCHESNE, Origines du culte chrétien (Paris, 1902), 11 sqq.; IDEM, Hist. ancienne de l'Église (Paris, 1906), I, 524; IDEM, Fastes épiscopaux de l'ancienne Gaule (Paris, 1907); SAVIO, Gli antichi vescovi d'Italia (Turin, 1899), I; WERMINGHOFF, Gesch. der Kirchenverfassung Deutschl. im M. A. (leipzig, 1906); HAUCK, Kirchengesch. Deutschl. (Leipzig, 1896-1903); LINGARD, Hist. and Anyiq. of the Anglo-Saxon Church (reprint. London, 1899); LANIGAN, Eccl. History of Ireland (Dublin, 1829); BELLESHEIM, Gesch. der kathol. Kirche in Irland (Mainz, 1890-91); IDEM, Gesch. der kathol. Kirche in Schottland (Mainz, 1883); tr. HUNTER-BLAIR, History of the Catholic Church in Scotland (London. 1889); HINSCHIUS, System des kathol. Kirchenrechts (Berlin, 1878), II, 378 sqq.; VON SCHERER, Handbuch des Kirchenrechts (Graz, 1886), I, 553 sqq.; WERNZ, Jus Decretalium (Rome, 1899), II, 348 sqq.; SÄGMÜLLER, Lehrbuch des kathol. Kirchenrechts (Freiburg, 1900-1904), 231, 346, and bibliography under Bischof; BATTANDIER, Ann. pont. cath. (Paris, 1908); La Gerarchia Cattolica (Rome, 1908); Missiones Catholicæ (Rome, 1907): BAUMGARTEN AND SWOBODA, Die kathol. Kirche auf dem Erdenrund (Munich 1907). For a catalogue of all known Catholic dioceses to 1198, with names and regular dates of occupants, see GAMS, Series episc. eccl. Cath. (Ratisbon, 1873-86), and his continuator EUBEL, Hierarchia Catholica Medii Ævi, 1198-1431 (Münster, 1899). Cf. also the alphabetical list of all known dioceses, ancient and modern, in MAS-LATRIE, Trésor de chronol. d'hist. et de géog. (Paris, 1889), and the descriptive text of WERNER, Orbis terrar. Catholicus (Freiburg, 1890). For the dioceses, etc. in the missionary territories of the Catholic Church see STREIT, Katholischer Missionsatlas (Steyl, 1906). For details of dioceses in English-speaking countries see Catholic Directories for United States, England, Ireland, Australia, Canada, India.

About this page

APA citation. Van Hove, A. (1909). Diocese. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Van Hove, Alphonse. "Diocese." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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