| Year 2002 Canonical Studies pp. 102-141
(Prof. Augustine Mendonca)
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Part II

3 – Bishop’s Vicars

The vicar general and Episcopal vicar are the direct collaborators of the diocesan bishop in the pastoral governance of the diocese. They are his “alter ego.”1 The figure of the vicar general has a long history, and there is evidence of its beginnings in the 13th century. Whereas, the figure of the Episcopal vicar has post-Vatican II origin.

3.1 – Vicar General

There are at least three mainline theories on the historical origin of the juridical figure of vicar general. The first theory maintains that the office of vicar general was instituted in order to counter-balance the excessive power of the Archdeacon in disciplinary and administrative affairs of the diocese. The second theory proposes that the vicar general’s office was instituted primarily to offset the negligence of the Archdeacon in the fulfillment of his obligations in the diocese. The third theory rejects both opinions and contends that the vicar general was not the successor of the Archdeacon in consequence of the latter’s neglect or because of his conflict with the bishop. Rather, according to this theory, the office emerged from the need of the bishop to have someone take his place in his absence as well as to represent him in the diocese. In other words, the office of vicar general was first established in order that the diocese may be properly cared for in the bishop’s absence.2

It seems, by the end of the thirteenth century, the position of the vicar general was clearly established. The available documents delineated the full extent of his jurisdiction whenever his office had to be employed in order that the diocese might function properly and the care of souls be provided adequately in the absence of the bishop. Other functionaries of the diocese were subordinate to his jurisdiction.3

1. See Communicationes, 5 (1973), p. 226.

2. For these and other historical details concerning the office of vicar general, see L. MATHIAS, The Diocesan Curia: Its Organization According to History and Canon Law, Madras, The Good Shepherd Press, 1947, pp. 16-17; T.D. DOUGHERTY, The Vicar General of the Episcopal Ordinary, Canon Law Studies, No. 447, Washington, DC, The Catholic overview of the America Press, 1966, pp. 1-2. In presenting his historical overview of the institute of vicar general, Dougherty depends largely on E. FOURNIER, L’Origine du vicare général et des autres members de la curia diocésaine, Paris, Séminaire des Missions Épiscopal Vicar,” in Philippiniana sacra, 20 (1985). Pp. 192-193.

3. For further historical information on the development of the office of vicar general, see DOUGHERTY, The Vicar General, pp. 11-27.

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