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Question 14: A coadjutor bishop becoming bishop of the diocese.

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by December 6, 2019 Canonical Teaching

Question 14: What are the procedures for the Coadjutor Bishop to become the bishop of the diocese when the Holy Father accepts the letter of resignation of the bishop he intends to succeed?

Answer 14: To begin, it is important to state the position of the law on the Coadjutor Bishop.

Can. 403 §3 states that A coadjutor bishop possesses the right of succession. Whenever a coadjutor bishop is appointed by the Roman Pontiff, he is expected to take the canonical possession of his office. According to Can. 404 §1, A coadjutor bishop takes possession of his office when he, either personally or through a proxy, has shown the apostolic letter of appointment to the diocesan bishop and college of consultors in the presence of the chancellor of the curia, who records the event.

In accordance to Can. 409 §1, the coadjutor bishop immediately becomes the bishop of the diocese for which he had been appointed provided that he has legitimately taken possession of it, which means taking possession of his office in the manner explained in Can. 404 §1 (see Coriden, et al: New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, p. 542; Code of Canon Law Annotated, p. 349). The reference to legitimate possession of office by the coadjutor in can 409 is intended in regard to his office as coadjutor, as previously regulated in can 403. Otherwise, canon 409 would have further specified that legitimate possession applied to the new office of diocesan bishop, rather than simply referring to legitimate possession, thereby implying an already defined act. This is also understandable because the coadjutor, as the name implies, governs the diocese together with the diocesan bishop. For this reason, he is not assigned any titular See like an ordinary auxiliary bishop. By right, not as a special faculty, he assists the substantive bishop in governance of the diocese and automatically takes his place when he is absent or impeded (can. 405 par. 2).

Note that the coadjutor bishop becomes the bishop only when the episcopal see is vacant. When does the episcopal see become vacant?

According to Can. 416, an episcopal see becomes vacant in one of four ways:  the death of a diocesan bishop, his resignation accepted by the Roman Pontiff, his transfer, or privation made known to the bishop.

From the moment of the Roman Pontiff’s acceptance of the bishop’s resignation letter, the coadjutor becomes the bishop of the diocese. And  also, from the time of the publication of the Roman Pontiff’s acceptance of the resignation, the diocesan Bishop assumes, ipso iure, the title of Bishop Emeritus of the said diocese (Apostolorum Successores 225). And he is to possess his rights as the Bishop Emeritus of the said diocese. Apostolorum Successores chapter 6, nos. 225 to 230 explains the position of the Bishop Emeritus in his fraternal relationship with the diocesan bishop, his rights in relation to the episcopal munera, his rights in relation to the particular Church and his rights in relation to the Universal Church and his relation to the supra-diocesan organisations.

There is no further installation or canonical possession required, unless it has not taken place. The new bishop may have the “ceremony of his solemn inauguration”, or as the Papal Nuncio, Most Revd. Antonio Filipazzi called it, the “beginning of his new ministry”.

Furthermore, in the case of the Auxiliary Bishop being appointed by the Roman Pontiff as a diocesan bishop, he is to take canonical possession to the office of diocesan bishop in accordance with canon 382. Whereas, in the case of a priest being promoted to the episcopacy, he is to receive episcopal consecration within three months from the receipt of the apostolic letter and before he takes possession of his office, unless he is prevented by a legitimate impediment, (see canon 379). And together with the canonical possession of his diocese, it should be within four months of receipt of the apostolic letter, (see canon 382 §2).

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