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How to Cover the Catholic Church

If there are several auxiliaries, as there typically are in very large dio-

ceses or archdioceses like Chicago, New York or Los Angeles, those auxiliaries

not designated as vicars general are to be made

episcopal vicars

. Priests may

also be named episcopal vicars. Within the geographic area or type of affairs

entrusted to him, an episcopal vicar has the same executive powers that a

vicar general has over the whole diocese. Often episcopal vicars are respon-

sible for a particular geographic region of the diocese.


The chancellor is the official keeper of the diocesan records and archives and

is the diocesan notary. He or she is responsible for recording all official dioc-

esan actions and overseeing parish record keeping. Once only priests could be

chancellors, but under the new

Code of Canon Law

adopted in 1983, ordina-

tion is no longer a prerequisite. Since then a number of women have become

chancellors in U.S. dioceses; it is the highest-ranking diocesan position open

to women.

Judicial Vicar and Tribunal Officials

Although the diocesan bishop is the chief local ecclesiastical judge in church

law, he can and ordinarily does delegate that responsibility to a

judicial vicar

and to judges who sit on the diocesan


, or court. The judicial vicar

oversees the activities of the court and is one of its judges. Most court cases in

a diocese concern petitions by civilly divorced Catholics to have their former

marriage declared null—commonly called an



Sometimes the diocesan courts are referred to as

marriage tribunals

. This

term is technically inaccurate since they do have jurisdiction over other cases

as well, but it is fairly accurate as an empirical description of what most of

these courts actually do most of the time.

The judicial vicar must be a priest. Although some other judges on the tri-

bunal need not be ordained, on any three-judge panel (the normal number to

hear any case) at least two must be priests. Apart from judges, other key tribu-

nal officials include the

defender of the bond

—in essence the church attorney

charged with advocating for the validity of a marriage against any claim that it

was not valid—and the advocate for the person claiming a previous marriage

was null. Judges must have graduate degrees in canon law.