Explanation of "Titular Bishop"

One of the priests of my dioceses (Harrisburg), Bishop-Elect Waltersheid, will be ordained as an Auxiliary Bishop for the Dioceses of Pittsburgh today. One thing that caught my eye was from a communications message from that dioceses that also lists him as the Titular Bishop of California. Could someone please explain to me what that means as well as what additional responsibilities are given to him outside of being the Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh? California and Pittsburgh are on opposite sides of the country…so I’m confused here. :confused:

Here is a link to the message…


An auxiliary bishop has no responsibilities in his titular diocese because that diocese no longer exists. Auxiliary bishops are given a titular diocese because a bishop needs to be a bishop of a diocese.

Hello, Mr. Martin. Every bishop must be the ordinary of a see. Auxiliary bishops cannot technically be attached to the diocese that they serve (other than by holding non-episcopal appointment like vicar-general), since it already has an ordinary. Thus, they are given dioceses that, for all practical purposes, no longer exist (therefore, explaining the term “titular bishop,” since he has a titular diocese). The only exception would if he were appointed as a coadjutor bishop, meaning that if the current ordinary (of an active diocese, that is) were to die or retire, he would automatically succeed him as ordinary; so such a bishop has no need of a titular see, since he is already a “crown prince.”

Bishops who aren’t appointed to head a diocese are given the title of “Titular Bishop” of a former diocese. At some point California was once diocese, I’m guessing. As it was carved up for new dioceses, the See of California ceased to exist.

There aren’t any special duties or responsibilities that come along with the title. A similar example can be found with the College of Cardinals. Cardinals are given a titular church in and around Rome at the consistory. Though they take possession similar to an Ordinary of a diocese, they exercise no pastoral authority over the church.

I’m sure others will post more detailed info, but I hope this helps.

In the early years of the Church, it was unthinkable that a bishop would not be the ruler of a diocese. When, in later years, some priests were made bishops without the intention of their ruling over dioceses, the system of titular sees was devised.

Now, an auxiliary bishop of Diocese X is not a bishop of Diocese X. Rather, he is a junior bishop who happens to work for the actual bishop of Diocese X.

Therefore, the auxiliary bishop is assigned his own titular see, i.e. a diocese that no longer exists. The same is done for bishops who work in Rome.


*]In recent times, diocesan bishops who retire or who are transferred to work in Rome have not been given titular sees, but have instead been considered “Bishop emeritus” of their former diocese, e.g. Raymond Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Emeritus of St. Louis.
*]There are six dioceses in Italy that have two bishops each: a Cardinal-Bishop (the highest rank of Cardinal) who despite his high rank has no authority over his diocese, and an ordinary diocesan bishop who has all the power.
*]EDIT: Coadjutor bishops are not assigned titular sees, as explained by Young Thinker above, they are considered as “having a share in” the diocese in which they work.

Thanks, everyone, for the insightful posts. Very helpful! :thumbsup: I guess I only have one other question related to this quote…

Now, an auxiliary bishop of Diocese X is not a bishop of Diocese X. Rather, he is a junior bishop who happens to work for the actual bishop of Diocese X.

I always looked at an auxiliary bishop as a helping bishop…this auxiliary bishop helps the actual bishop as needed. If this is true, does the auxiliary bishop have any authority of his own within the dioceses that he is a part of, or does he always have to go back to the actual bishop for approval? I’m referring to anything that normally requires a bishop’s authority/approval…

Yes, that’s pretty much what an auxiliary bishop is: an assistant. An auxiliary bishop has no jurisdiction in his own right. He has only as much “authority” in the diocese as may be granted to him by the Ordinary for the normal and efficient functioning of the diocese. For example, Holy Chrism must be consecrated by a bishop, but an auxiliary bishop may not do it on his own authority. The task may, however, be delegated to him by the Ordinary.

Any such authority granted is often ad-hoc, but may also be recurring. In the latter case, the delegation of authority remains at the discretion of the Ordinary, and may be revoked at any time.

I’m not so sure about that. Normally, a coadjutor is not a “rookie bishop” ordained specifically for that purpose but, rather, one who was previously ordained bishop and then assigned as coadjutor. I believe he carries his Titular See until such time as he becomes Ordinary in his own right.

A diocese may have only one Ordinary at a time, and a coadjutor, despite his presumed right of succession, is not the Ordinary. Yes he will (unless moved by Rome beforehand), become the Ordinary, but until the actual succession, he is not Bishop of that See.

(emphasis added)

Nope. I checked my own bishop, who (whom?) I knew had been a coadjutor. Look at the dates.

Although the site could be wrong… one wonders where they get all this information.

Can. 406 §1. The diocesan bishop is to appoint a coadjutor bishop and the auxiliary bishop as vicar general.

§2. a diocesan bishop is to appoint his auxiliary or auxiliaries as vicars general or at least as episcopal vicars, dependent only on his authority or that of the vicar general.

Can. 475 §1. In each diocese the diocesan bishop must appoint a vicar general who is provided with ordinary power according to the norm of the following canons.

Can. 479 §1. By virtue of office, the vicar general has the executive power over the whole diocese which belongs to the diocesan bishop by law, namely, the power to place all administrative acts except those, however, which the bishop has reserved to himself or which require a special mandate of the bishop by law.

§2. By the law itself an episcopal vicar has the same power mentioned in §1 but only over the specific part of the territory or the type of affairs or the faithful of a specific rite or group for which he was appointed, except those cases which the bishop has reserved to himself or to a vicar general or which require a special mandate of the bishop by law.

Can. 480 A vicar general and an episcopal vicar must report to the diocesan bishop concerning the more important affairs which are to be handled or have been handled, and they are never to act contrary to the intention and mind of the diocesan bishop.

Can. 883 The following possess the faculty of administering confirmation by the law itself:

1/ within the boundaries of their jurisdiction, those who are equivalent in law to a diocesan bishop

So, according to these canons, a coadjutor bishop is to be made vicar general, and an auxiliary bishop is to be at least episcopal vicar. Both the vicar general and the episcopal vicar have ordinary power in the diocese (although, over what? I’m not precisely sure), but they must report to the Ordinary bishop in important matters. It is not clear to me whether an auxiliary bishop, by virtue of his office of episcopal vicar and his episcopal dignity has the authority to make confirmations without (but not against) the permission of the Ordinary.

As malphono stated, he has no authority except that which is delegated to him. However, Canon Law states that the diocesan bishop must appoint any auxiliary bishop to the rank of vicar general (bishop’s right-hand man) or at least to the rank of episcopal vicar (a high-level administrative post). (CIC can. 406 §2)

Auxiliary bishops derive their authority from the offices they hold and not from the fact that they are bishops.

Not all coadjutor bishops have the right of succession. They have to be designated as “having the right of succession.”

That was formerly the case, but the CIC of 1983 says it is now otherwise:

Can. 403 §1. When the pastoral needs of a diocese suggest it, one or more auxiliary bishops are to be appointed at the request of the diocesan bishop. An auxiliary bishop does not possess the right of succession.

§2. In more serious circumstances, even of a personal nature, an auxiliary bishop provided with special faculties can be given to a diocesan bishop.

§3. If it appears more opportune to the Holy See, it can appoint ex officio a coadjutor bishop who also has special faculties. A coadjutor bishop possesses the right of succession.

Perhaps that applies to those with “right of succession” which, in former times, was not given to all coadjutors. Notice the title atop this listing for a now-deceased coadjutor who retired prior to the CIC of 1983. Abp Maguire was named coadjutor under Francis Cardinal Spellman and never had right of succession.

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