February 25, 2011

Our New Auxiliary Bishop

Auxiliary bishops are like associate pastors, says canon lawyer

By Sean Gallagher

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis hasn’t had an auxiliary bishop for 77 years. So virtually no Catholic alive today who grew up in central and southern Indiana has any memory of the ministry of an auxiliary bishop.

As Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein said at the Jan. 14 press conference at which Bishop-designate Christopher J. Coyne was introduced, Catholics across the archdiocese, including himself, will have some learning to do.

The Church’s Code of Canon Law might be helpful in that regard, said Father James Bonke, the defender of the bond in the archdiocese’s canon law court, known as the Metropolitan Tribunal.

In an interview with The Criterion, Father Bonke said that an auxiliary bishop in a diocese is much like an associate pastor in a parish.

An associate pastor has no duties except those that are given to him by the parish’s pastor. In the same way, the only authority that an auxiliary bishop has in a diocese is that which is given to him by the diocese’s bishop.

“The auxiliary is strictly a helper,” said Father Bonke. “He’s an assistant bishop, but without any ordinary jurisdiction of any kind. The [diocesan bishop] maintains full and total jurisdiction, and authority and administrative competence.”

The canons that deal primarily with auxiliary bishops are #403 to #411.

Canon 403 states that an auxiliary bishop can be appointed if “the pastoral needs of a diocese suggest it.”

Father Bonke said that Archbishop Buechlein’s loss of energy due to his health difficulties over the past few years would be such a pastoral need.

In other dioceses, the high number of Catholics to be ministered to necessitates the appointing of one or more auxiliary bishop—much like the fact that it is usually only parishes with a large number of households that have an associate pastor.

Canon 406 states that a diocesan bishop should appoint an auxiliary bishop as the vicar general of the diocese, although this is ultimately “dependent only upon his authority.”

Father Bonke said this condition reflects the fact that an auxiliary bishop has no authority except what is granted to him by the diocesan bishop.

Archbishop Buechlein chose to follow Canon 406’s recommendation, and has appointed Bishop-designate Coyne as the vicar general.

Canon 407 notes that a diocesan bishop is to consult his auxiliary bishop before others about “cases of major importance, especially of a pastoral character.”

“The auxiliary bishop, in effect, becomes a member of the presbyterate of the diocese,” said Father Bonke, regarding Canon 407. “But, because of his episcopal rank, he is considered at a higher level than anybody else. It’s a recognition of his episcopal status.”

Canon 408 states that an auxiliary bishop ordinarily is to carry out episcopal duties “whenever the diocesan bishop requires it,” and that the diocesan bishop is not to assign such duties “habitually” to anyone else.

Such tasks include those which only a bishop can perform, such as ordinations or the dedication of a church. But they can also involve presiding at other diocesan and important parish events that the diocesan bishop would ordinarily attend, including confirmations. †

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