An Arch-Ordinary?

In my ponderings regarding the future of our fledgling Ordinariates: could we ever see an Arch-Ordinary? This does not come out of how different an Ordinariate is from a normal diocese, but how similar it is to one, and playing it fast and loose with the concept of an Archbishop (which is not necessarily what I am talking about).

This line of thinking came out of looking at Military Ordinariates, who can have their own dedicated Ordinary or Bishop; but some are headed by Diocesan Bishops who hold dual office. This raises the question if the head of a Personal Ordinariate could be the head of a Military Ordinariate, and having it run past a canon lawyer: the answer is yes.

Can an individual be a bishop of a Personal Ordinariate and a diocese? Read on….

Of course looking after one large non-geographic Ordinariate is already more than a challenge for a real, but in this case theoretical episcopal, Ordinary- so lets give him an assistant bishop. Normal dioceses can have Auxiliary and Coadjutor Bishops, so why not Ordinariates? Auxiliary Bishops are assistant bishops, who of course assist the bishop of the diocese, and Coadjutor Bishops are the same but are automatically made Vicar General and have the right to succeed. As a bishop has to be the bishop of somewhere, both types of bishops are given “Titular Sees” which are defunct historic dioceses which are suppressed but not destroyed (think of them as in stasis). Considering the entire hierarchy of England was once suppressed, with all new dioceses raised after 1850, there are a lot of symbolic historic English dioceses that an Ordinariate assistant bishop (and Ordinary for that matter) could be made titular bishops of: containing locations like old Sarum, Walshingham, Oxford etc. If a titular see was an Archdiocese, it confers the title of Archbishop, so you could in theory make an Ordinary of a Personal Ordinariate the titular Archbishop of Canterbury….

Interestingly the earliest Ordinariate, pre-dating the military ones, was the “Ordinariate for Foreign Students in Belgium” which existed between 1965-1980 and only had one Ordinary: Albert Louis Descamps who besides being its Ordinary, was an auxiliary bishop of a Belgium diocese (with a titular see)- looks like we have precedent.

But could an individual be head of a Personal Ordinariate and a standard Roman Rite diocese? Yes, in theory. But we must remember normal Roman Rite dioceses and Military Ordinariates share the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, were the Personal Ordinariates exist as an ark for Anglo-Catholicism: its Patrimony and its liturgy.

In the future we could see episcopal Ordinary’s and/or their assistant bishops being an Auxiliary Bishop of the geographic diocese they reside in, or an Ordinariate assistant bishop possibly also being head of a Military Ordinariate.  The Ordinariates are fledgling now, but in the future anything could happen (including a member of the Ordinariate clergy being made a Papal Nuncio: but lets not go nuts… for now….).

Now if one of the Ordinarys got made a Cardinal…….

                   Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for the Ordinariates.

8 thoughts on “An Arch-Ordinary?

  1. In the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, most archdioceses are also metropolitan sees of a provincial organization, composed of the archdiocese and one or more suffragan dioceses. Two of the sui juris ritual churches have similar organizations here in the States, composed of an archieparchy and two or three suffragan eparchies, organized geographically. An archbishop or archieparch is simply the diocesan bishop of a diocese or an archieparchy. There is nothing that would bar the establishment of a similar structure of ordinariates, in due course, but the present ordinariates are not large enough to warrant the establishment of such a structure. Realistically, the present ordinariates probably will be elevated to full dioceses, governed by actual bishops with their own tribunals and all of the other resources that one expects a diocese to have, before such a structure comes into being.

    I should also point out that the organization of military jurisdictions varies considerably from country to country, depending upon . Here in the United States, the Archdiocese for the Military Services – USA, with its own archbishop and several auxiliary bishops, is one of the largest archdioceses in our country and the only archdiocese here in the States that is not also a metropolitan see. And you have to love the British title of “Bishopric of the Forces,” which has its own cathedral, though it may be canonically constituted as an ordinariate.



    • Norm, also the Military Ordinariate of the Archdiocese for the Military Services – USA has jurisdiction over U.S. members of the military, their families, veterans hospitals, military academies, wherever they are in the world, and also Catholic members of the diplomatic corps around the world. Naturally, the AMS has only a very small fraction of chaplains necessary to staff all installations, so in many places, it contracts with dioceses and religious orders to provide some chaplains and in other places they simply have to do without.


      • JR,

        Yes, I’m well aware of this.

        Except that the words “Military Ordinariate of the” do NOT appear in its title, which is simply “Archdiocese for the Military Services — USA.” You can see this in both the web site of the Archdiocese (linked above) and in the list of dioceses on the web site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).



      • Doing some further checking, I found that the Wikipedia article on the Archdiocese for the Military Services — USA states that its formal title is “Military Ordinariate of the Archdiocese for the Military Services — USA” but I have never encountered this usage on any official Catholic document or web site. I also have not found any indications that any Archbishop for the Military Services — USA has concurrently held title to a titular see, which would be necessary if his jurisdiction were not canonically constituted as an actual archdiocese.



  2. JR raises a good point: usually the Military Ordinariates struggle to get dedicated personal, and if the Ordinary is also a diocesan bishop their focus is far more on the diocese rather than the far flung MilitaryOrdinariate (that is why I like dedicated Military Ordinary’s)


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