I AM the Judicial Vicar in my diocese. Yesterday, I attended a meeting of the Board of Consultors of our diocese. The bishop invited me to attend the meeting, because he wanted me to shed light on some cases. After I presented my opinion, I courteously left the room for them to continue with another item in the agenda. My question is: Is the judicial vicar automatically an ex officio member of the Board of Consultors? Or is the judicial vicar only just on call, at the discretion of the Bishop? I would appreciate any enlightenment on this.
THIS question really touches on a larger issue of the Presbyteral Council (or Council of Priests) of the Diocese. Leaving this larger matter for the next issues of CBCP Monitor, we can briefly tackle the question presented to us, regarding the Board of Consultors and the Judicial Vicar’s membership in it.
The College of Consultors of the Diocese
This matter is regulated in can.502 of the Code of Canon Law in the following terms:
§1. From among the members of the council of priests, the diocesan bishop freely appoints not fewer than six and not more than twelve priests, who are for five years to constitute the college of consultors. To it belong the functions determined by law; on the expiry of the five year period, however, it continues to exercise its functions until the new college is constituted.
§2. The diocesan bishop presides over the college of consultors. If, however, the see is impeded or vacant, that person presides who in the interim takes the bishop’s place, or, if he has not yet bee appointed, then the priest in the college of consultors who is senior by ordination.
§3. The Bishops’ Conference can determine that the functions of the college of consultors be entrusted to the cathedral chapter.
§4. Unless the law provides otherwise, in a vicariate or prefecture apostolic the functions of the college of consultors belong to the council of mission mentioned in c.495, §2.
The College of Consultors can be considered as an innovation of the Code, which prescribes its constitution as a permanent college of priests, freely chosen by the bishop from among the members of the council of priests, in a number not less than six but not greater than twelve. The rationale behind it was the difficulty of convoking the council of priests in all cases, especially in the most urgent matters; a smaller group would facilitate greater agility in consultation.
It’s purpose is to assist the bishop in cases established by Law, and to appoint an administrator of the diocese during an impeded or vacant see.
Specific Functions of the College of Consultors
The specific functions of the College of Consultors provided for by the Code are the following:
1) The diocesan administrator needs its consent to be able to proceed (after the see has been vacant a year) to the incardination or excardination of clergy to or from the diocese, and to grant permission to transfer to another diocese (c.272).
2) In the special case of c.377, §3, it can be consulted for the appointment of the diocesan bishop or the coadjutor bishop.
3) It receives the apostolic letters coadjutor upon the diocesan bishop taking of his office, and likewise in the case of the bishop when the diocesan bishop is impeded (c.382, §3 and c.44, §§1 & 3).
4) When the see is impeded, and when that which is prescribed in c.413, §1 is not possible, it is the duty of the College of Consultors to elect a priest who will govern the diocese (c.413, §2).
5) When the see is vacant and if there are no auxiliary bishops, and if the Holy See has not provided otherwise, it assumes the governance of the diocese (c.419), and it must choose a diocesan Administrator within eight days from the notice of the vacancy of the see (c.421, §1).
6) It informs the Holy See of the death of the diocesan bishop when there is no auxiliary bishop (c.422).
7) It receives the possible renunciation from office of the diocesan administrator. In this case (and in the case of the death of the administrator) it must select another, pursuant to c.421 (cf. also c.430).
8) The diocesan administrator (not the bishop) must obtain its consent for the removal of the chancellor and the notaries of the curia (c.485).
9) It must be heard for the appointment of the diocesan financial officer (c.494, §1) and for his removal (c.494, §2).
10) It receives the profession of faith of the diocesan administrator (c.833, 4º).
11) The diocesan administrator must obtain its consent to issue dimissorial letters to secular clerics who must receive Holy Orders (c.1018, §1,2º).
12) It must be heard by the bishop for financial administrative acts of a certain value. The bishop has to obtain its consent for extraordinary administrative acts, besides those specially indicated by the universal law or the founding statutes (c.1277).
13) The diocesan bishop must obtain its consent to alienate goods (whose value is between the minimum and maximum amounts as established by the Bishops’ Conference) of juridical persons not subject to their own ordinary, when the statutes do not indicate a competent authority. Its consent is also required for the alienation of the goods of the diocese (c.1292,§1; cf. c.1295)
No Ex-Officio Members of the College of Consultors
The Code of Canon Law does not provide for any ex-officio member of the college of consultors. It is not difficult to understand the reason behind this: to give the diocesan bishop maximum leeway and freedom to choose from among his presbyterium those who would constitute his own senate, to give a consultative vote on those matters he chooses to refer to them.
That having been said, it nevertheless seems prudent to assure that such a close-knit consultative body count on experts for all the areas of pastoral work and governance of the diocese. Thus, considering the importance of their respective areas of competence in the diocese, the following would be useful and effective in that body: the different vicars (for their respective areas of responsibility), the chancellor (for archival matters), the economic officer, the judicial vicar. Nevertheless, since the purpose of this body is precisely to be readily available for consultation by the diocesan bishop and to avoid possible conflicts of interests and time constraints, it would also seem wise to include in this consultative body other priests also competent on the materials corresponding to the above diocesan officers─e.g., another expert in Canon Law, other than the Judicial Vicar; and another person knowledgeable in finances, other than the Finance Officer of the diocese.
In the end, what is important is that the body is competent to give the bishop the necessary counsel for the different acts of governance he may need to consult them with.