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Ecclesiastical Residence

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A remaining or abiding where one's duties lie or where one's occupation is properly carried on, as the presence of a bishop in his diocese, a rector or incumbent in his benefice, a canon in his cathedral or collegiate church; opposed to non-residence or absence. Residence is intended to guarantee service or fulfillment of duty. In the canonical import of the term a merely material abiding in a place is not sufficient; vigilance and solicitude must accompany it; a laborious residence alone satisfies the requirements. Residence for this reason differs from domicile, and secondly because the intention of remaining is involved in the definition of domicile. It may be noted that by a fiction of law one who is lawfully absent fulfils the law of residence; while, on the contrary, one unlawfully absent is considered to be present; thus one who leaves his own diocese under censure or precept, or purposely and solely (in fraudem legis) to obtain absolution in a reserved case, is considered present. Residence is binding on clerics holding benefices. Originally this obligation was attached to all benefices, but through universal custom simple benefices or those without the cure of souls do not require personal residence. A canon's presence does not necessarily extend to all hours of the day, while that of a pastor, on the contrary, is continuous, owing to the numerous, and oft-times sudden, demands for his ministrations. A canon is not obliged ordinarily to dwell in close proximity to his benefice. It suffices that he be able conveniently to be present at the prescribed hours.

Residence, in connexion with the pastoral office, is inculcated in various canons. The Council of Trent (Sess. XXIII, c. 1, de ref.) says: "Since by Divine precept it is enjoined on all to whom the cure of souls is entrusted to know their own sheep, to offer sacrifice for them, to feed them by preaching the Divine word, by the administration of the sacraments, and by the example of all good works, likewise to have a fatherly care of the poor and other distressed persons, and to apply themselves to all other pastoral duties; all which offices can not be rendered and fulfilled by those who neither watch over nor are with their own flock, but abandon it after the manner of hirelings, the sacred synod admonishes and exhorts such that, mindful of the Divine precept and made a pattern of the flock, they feed and rule in judgment and truth". A pastor then is obliged to dwell in his parish; and, generally speaking, by reason of local statutes, in the parochial residence or rectory. Because of greater responsibilities resting upon them, the Church insists that patriarchs, primates, metropolitans, bishops, or others in charge of dioceses or quasi-dioceses, even though they be cardinals, live within their own territory, though not of necessity in the episcopal city. Bishops, moreover, are admonished by the Council of Trent not to be absent from their cathedrals, unless their episcopal duties call them elsewhere in the diocese, during Advent and Lent, on Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi, on which days especially the sheep ought to be refreshed and rejoice in the Lord at the presence of the shepherd. The chancery office, the official centre of diocesan business, will be found more properly at the cathedral, even though the bishop reside elsewhere. The six cardinal bishops (see CARDINAL) whose sees are in proximity to Rome are permitted to dwell in the Eternal City, while suffragan bishops administer their dioceses (const. Clem. XVI, "Pastorale officium"; const. Pius X, "Apostolicæ Romanorum Pontificum", 15 Apr., 1910).

Some maintain that the duty of residence is incumbent on parish priests and bishops by virtue of Divine as well as ecclesiastical law. The Council of Trent did not see fit to settle this controversy (cf. Bened. XIV, "De syn.", L. 7, c. 1). It would seem that while the canons demand a personal fulfillment of their duties on the part of pastors, the Divine precept is satisfied if the work be done even by others, though this is less fitting. The law of residence is not to be applied so strictly as not to admit of absence at times. In some cases a reasonable or just cause of absence, e.g. necessary rest, legitimate recreation, a pilgrimage, a visit to relatives or friends, business matters, suffices; in others, a grave reason is required. Grave reasons for absence may be reduced to two. The first is urgent necessity, e.g. when one is persecuted, obliged by ill health to seek change of climate, called away in obedience to a lawful superior, attendance at an œcumenical council, making the prescribed ad limina visit. The second reason is charity in a marked degree, e.g. the prosecution of the rights of the diocese or of the Church, the promotion of peace among nations. For no cause should a pastor desert his people in time of war, pestilence, or on other occasions when their welfare is seriously menaced. The period of absence allowed may be continuous or interrupted. While the chapter may never be absent, individual members may annually have three months' vacation, if the constitutions of the chapter permit. A sufficient number for the office required must be present. Bishops are counselled not to allow parish priests or rectors of missions more than two months' leave of absence yearly, unless the reason be urgent. Permission should be given in writing, except for short absences, and a substitute approved by the ordinary, with competent recompense, left in charge of the parish. Usually diocesan statutes permit an absence of a few days without consulting the ordinary. The law allows a bishop for just cause, when it is possible without detriment to his charge, to absent himself three months annually, though not during Advent or Lent or on the feasts enumerated above. For a longer absence, though advantage may not have been taken for years of the period annually allowed, a grave reason is required as well as express permission of the Consistorial Congregation. Clerics other than those mentioned are subject to local regulations, both as regards residence and absence.

Non-residence or unlawful absence is punishable in law. Canons lose all share in the daily distributions unless actually present in choir. Where it is permitted they may use with moderation the privilege of appointing substitutes. Besides being guilty of mortal sin, bishops and rectors who violate the law of residence forfeit the fruits, i.e. salary or income, of their benefices in proportion to the time of their absence. A certain amount may be retained in recompense for other duties discharged, such as the application of Mass etc. The money forfeited is used in repairing churches or in works of piety. Bishops also lose whatever rights and privileges they possess as assistants to the papal throne. Continued infringement of the law may be more severely punished, even by deposition. If a bishop is absent more than a year, he must be denounced to the pope by his metropolitan. If the metropolitan be thus absent, the duty of reporting the matter devolves on the senior suffragan bishop. A parochial residence of one month suffers for the licit contracting of marriage in the parish (Ne temere, art. 5): the mere fact of thirty days stay, even though by chance, if morally continuous, is sufficient. By such residence one becomes a parishioner as far as marriage is concerned, and although retaining a domicile or quasi-domicile elsewhere, may obtain matrimonial dispensations from the ordinary of the place of residence. Canonists are not agreed whether this is true in the case of one who, though living in a diocese for some time, e.g. a week, only in various parishes, has not acquired a parochial residence of a month. It is certain that the previous legislation contemplated a parochial, not a diocesan, domicile or quasi-domicile.


Council of Trent, Sess. VI, c. 1; Sess. XXIII, c. 1, de ref.; URBAN VIII, Const. Sancta synodus (12 Dec., 1634); BENED. XIV, Const. Ad universæ (3 Sept., 1746); Decr. Greg. IX, L. III, tit. 4, De clericis non residentibus.

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APA citation. Meehan, A. (1911). Ecclesiastical Residence. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Meehan, Andrew. "Ecclesiastical Residence." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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