Council Discusses Pros and Cons of Personal Dioceses for Rite, Languages

68th General Congregation
November 15, 1963

Council Fathers focused chiefly on the idea of a “personal diocese” at their Nov. 15 meeting.

The idea appeared to be designed for those circumstances where Catholics of a particular rite or language, scattered throughout a nation or territory, would be administered by a roving bishop who, in a manner of speaking, would carry his diocese in his hat.

At the meeting, debate on the schema on bishops and diocesan government was finished with completion of discussion on the schema’s fourth chapter on the revision of diocesan boundaries. The scheduled speakers, in fact, finished a full half hour before the normal time of adjournment. This fact in itself was styled by one bishop as one of the great marvels of the Second Vatican Council. “We simply ran out of gas,” he said.

In the preliminary business, before the speakers of the day were heard, a revised copy of the liturgy schema was distributed in which are incorporated the suggestions of the bishops who had voted “favorable with reservations” when the schema was last submitted to a vote.

The council secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici, explained that the revised text would be submitted again to a vote, but said the purpose of the vote would be merely to learn the pleasure of the council Fathers on the insertions. The previous vote, he said, had already approved the text by a majority well exceeding the required two-thirds. The vote was to be taken on Nov. 18 before the schema on ecumenism is introduced for study.

The speakers of the day included four Fathers making use of the rule permitting them to return to the previous chapter — on bishops’ conferences — and 12 final speakers on Chapter IV.

Returning to Chapter III, Joseph Cardinal Lefebvre of Bourges, France, said that discussions in the council had indicated a degree of confusion on the concept of episcopal collegiality as applied to national episcopal conferences. He said:

“We must distinguish between the collegiality of the bishops under the pope for the entire world and the collegiality which is proper to bishops assembled in national conferences. In the two cases the term cannot be used in the same sense.

“In one sense the term ‘collegiality’ refers to the pope with the bishops assembled in ecumenical council. The pope does not depend on the college of bishops and this college has no solidity except in and through the Vicar of Christ. Any mission or power of the episcopal college is dependent on the head. This is collegiality of divine origin. The term can be used only in an analogical sense when applied to national episcopal conferences. We cannot use strictly juridical terms in this connection.”

Father Joao Ferreira, OFM, Apostolic Prefect of Portuguese Guinea, speaking in the name of 31 bishops, complained that the text deals only with bishops and says nothing about those local Ordinaries who do not have episcopal character.

Archbishop Elie Zoghbi, Melkite Rite patriarchal vicar for Egypt, noted that the government of the Oriental churches has always been along synodal lines and that, for the 10 centuries up to the time of the Eastern schism, synodal government was recognized by Rome. He said:

“If we expect any rapprochement with the Oriental Orthodox, we cannot propose any form of government which is not synodal. Suggesting national conferences with only consultative powers will close the door to any agreement.”

On a different matter he suggested that “it would be more practical to replace the Congregation of the Oriental Church with a collective organ composed of members designated by the competent Oriental synods.”

National episcopal conferences, said Bishop Michel Ntuyahaga of Usumbura, Burundi, would be an effective contribution to the decentralization of Church authority. He urged that bishops be given broader powers to meet special problems in their own localities.

The first of the day’s speakers on Chapter IV was Bishop Stefan Laszlo of Eisenstadt, Austria, who said the redrawing of diocesan boundaries should not center solely on large territories and populations. He said attention should be given also to dioceses where small numbers of priests prevent the bishops from doing their work properly.

The question of “personal dioceses” was raised by Bishop John Velasco, OP, of Amoy, China. There is an article in the text about special dioceses for differences in rite, he complained, but none based on language or race.

Other speakers of the day were opposed to the idea of a “personal diocese.”

Archbishop Dominic Athaide, OFM Cap., of Agra, India, said:

“In principle there should be one Ordinary in each diocese over all the faithful in the territory, without distinction of rite. … The principle should be that in a Latin diocese all the faithful of whatever rite are subject to that Ordinary, and in an Oriental diocese all the Latins should be subject to the local Ordinary. Such an arrangement avoids the problems of overlapping jurisdiction and the dissipation of energy. On the other hand, it demonstrates the real equality of rites and the real unity of the Church.”

Several dioceses in one territory for small numbers of the faithful can only cause trouble, said Coptic Rite Bishop Alexandros Scandar of Assuit, Egypt. He held that unification is much more desirable, in which a single Ordinary cares for all, even those of different rites.

Maronite Rite Bishop Antoine Khoreiche of Saida, Lebanon, added:

“Within one territorial jurisdiction special provision can be made for different rites without erecting personal dioceses. The principle should be that no group should be able to dominate another.”

The remaining speakers made minor observations on the chapter.

Auxiliary Bishop Bernhard Stein of Trier, Germany, said that only large dioceses should be divided and even then only when the appointment of auxiliaries would not solve the problem.

Archbishop Joseph Urtasun of Avignon, France, said the small diocese should disappear. He gave his own diocese, which combines the territory of six former small dioceses, as an example.

Retired Archbishop Antonio Vuccino, AA, of Corfu, Zante and Cefalonia, Greece, said the text should express the government of the Church in terms “of a deep understanding of the Gospel.”

Bishop Roberto Massimiliani of Civita Castellana Orte and Gallese, Italy, objected that “it is not true that small dioceses always suffer from the scarcity of clergy and faithful. Many small dioceses function even better than some big ones.”

According to Bishop Fernando Romo Gutierrez of Torreon, Mexico, the division of dioceses should be according to the requirements of modern life and not merely on a territorial basis.

Bishop Raul Zambrano Camader of Facatativa, Colombia, defended the existence of the cathedral chapter, an institution unknown in the Catholic Church in the United States. These chapters, made up of clerics, are set up to carry out the liturgy in a cathedral, to act as a bishop’s council, and to take his place when the diocese is vacant.

Division of dioceses is sometimes a “frightening cross” for a bishop, said Bishop Marcello Gonzalez Martin of Astorga, Spain, noting in particular the situation where a poor territory is cut off from a wealthier mother diocese.

Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC News Rome bureau chief

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