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Cardinal Vicar

The vicar-general of the pope, as Bishop of Rome, for the spiritual administration of the city and its surrounding district

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Cardinal Vicar, the vicar-general of the pope, as Bishop of Rome, for the spiritual administration of the city, and its surrounding district, properly known as Vicarius Urbis.

LIST OF VICARII.—A complete but uncritical list of the vicarii in spiritualibus in urbe generates, was published by Ponzetti (Rome, 1797); it was added to and improved by Moroni (Dizionario, XCIX). From the manuscripts of Cancellieri in the Vatican Library new names were added by Crostarosa (Dei titoli della Chiesa romana, Rome, 1893). Eubel, by his own studies for the first volume of his “Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi”, and with the aid of the manuscript notes of Garampi in the Vatican Archives, was enabled to present a new list substantially enlarged and improved (1200-1552) Many new discoveries of the undersigned have enabled him to draw up a critical list of the vicars and their representatives from 1100 to 1600. For the period before 1100 a fresh examination of all the original sources is necessary; for the present all names previous to that date must be held as uncertain. The first vicarius in spiritualibus clearly vouched for is Bovo (Bobo) episcopus Tusculanus (Lavicanus) about 1106 (Duchesne, Lib. Pont., II, 299 and 307, note 20; cf. also (Jaffe, RR. PP. 12, 6069, 6106). Until 1260 the vicars were chosen from among the cardinals; the first vicar taken from among the bishops in the vicinity of Rome was the Dominican Thomas Fusconi de Berta, episcopus Senensis (Moroni, Eubel). This custom continued until the secret consistory of November 29, 1558, when Paul IV decreed that in the future the vicars should be chosen from among the cardinals of episcopal dignity; it was then that arose the popular title of “cardinal-vicar”, never used officially; the formal title is, and has always been, Vicarius Urbis.”

NOMINATION AND OATH.—It seems certain that in the twelfth century vicars were named only when the pope absented himself for a long time from Rome or its neighborhood. When he returned, the vicar’s duties ceased. This may have lasted to the pontificate of Innocent IV (1243-54); on the other hand it is certain that in the latter half of this century the vicar continued to exercise the duties of his office even during the presence of the pope at Rome. Thus the nomination of a vicar on April 28, 1299, is dated from the Lateran. The office owes its full development to the removal of the Curia to Southern France and its final settlement at Avignon. Since then the list of vicars is continuous. The oldest commissions do not specify any period of duration; in the Bull of June 16, 1307, it is said for the first time that the office is held “at our good will”. It is only in the sixteenth century that we meet with life-tenures; the exact year of this important modification remains yet to be fixed. Formerly the nomination was by Bull; when began the custom of nominating by Brief is difficult to determine. The oldest Bull of nomination known bears the date of February 13, 1264 [Reg. Vat., tom. 28, fol. X.0 r, cap. XXXVIII (356); Guiraud, Les registres d’Urbain IV, II, 359]. An immemorial custom of the Curia demands that all its officials shall be duly sworn in, and this was the case with the vicars. In all probability during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries such oaths were taken at the hands of the pope himself. Later the duty fell to the Apostolic Camera (q.v.). The oath, whose text (though very much older) first appears in a document of May 21, 1427 (Armar., 29, tom. 3, fol. 194 v, Vatican Archives), greatly resembles, in its first part, the usual episcopal oath (Corp. Jur. Can., ed. Friedbe, II, 360; Tangl, Die papstlichen Kanzleiordnungen von 1200-1500, p. 51); while the latter part applies to the office in question. The oath is conceived in very general terms and lays but slight stress on the special duties of the vicar. The official named on October 18, 1412, as representative of the vicar was also sworn in, and before entering on his office was admonished to take, in presence of a specified cardinal, the usual oath of fidelity to the pope and of a faithful exercise of the office.

AUTHORITY.—According to the oldest known decree of nomination, February 13, 1264, both Romans and foreigners were subject to the jurisdiction of the vicar. In this document, however, neither the special rights of the vicar nor the local extent of his authority are made known, but it is understood that the territory in question is the city of Rome. On June 27, 1288, the vicar received the rights of “visitation, correction and reformation in spiritual matters of dedicating churches and reconciling cemeteries, consecrating altars, blessing, confirming, and ordaining suitable persons from the city” [Reg. Vat., tom. 44, fol. XCIIv, cap. XXVIIII (389); Langlois, Les registres de Nicolas V, 595]. On July 21, 1296 [Red. Vat., tom. 48, fol. CLXXVIIr, cap. 85 (750); Theiner, Monumenta Slavonise Meridionalis, I, 112; Potthast, Regesta, 24367; Faucon-Thomas, Les registres de Boniface VIII, 1640)] Boniface VIII added the authority to hear confessions and impose salutary penances. On July 6, 1303 [Reg. Vat., tom. 50, fol. CCCLXXXVIr, cap. XLVII (250)] the following variant is met with: “to reform the churches, clergy, and people of Rome itself”, and the additional right to do other things pertaining to the office of vicar. His jurisdiction over all monasteries is first vouched for June 16, 1307 (Reg. Clementis papae V, ed. Bened. cap. 1645). The inclusion among these of monasteries, exempt and non-exempt and their inmates, without the walls of Rome, was the first step in the local extension of the vicar’s jurisdiction. He was also empowered to confer vacant benefices in the city. For a considerable length of time the above-mentioned rights exhibit the fulness of the vicar’s authority. Special commissions, however, multiply in this period, bearing with them in each case a special extension or new application of authority. Under Clement VI (1342-52) the territory of the vicar-general’s jurisdiction was notably increased by the inclusion of the suburbs and the rural district about Rome (Reg. Vat., tom. 142, fol. 152r, cap. VII, XXXI). Until the time of Benedict XIV (1740-58) this was the extent of the vicar’s jurisdiction. By the “district of the city of Rome” was understood a distance of forty Italian miles from the city walls. Since, however, the territory of the suburbicarian sees lay partially within these limits, the vicar came to exercise a jurisdiction concurrent with that of the local bishop and cumulatively. This was a source of frequent conflicts, until December 21, 1744, when the local jurisdiction of the suburbicarian bishops was abolished by Benedict XIV, in so far as their territory fell within the above-mentioned limits (Bangen, Die romische Curie, Munster, 1854, 287).

In the course of time the vicar acquired not only the position and authority of a vicar-general, but also that of a real Ordinary (q.v.), including all the authority of the latter office. This is quite evident from his acquired right of subdelegation whereby he was allowed to name a vicesgerens, his representative not alone in pontifical ceremonies (as many maintain), but also in jurisdiction. For the rest, being already delegatus a principe he can canonically subdelegate (Bangen, op. cit., 288, note 2). By a Constitution of Clement VIII, June 8, 1592, the vicar’s right to hold a visitation ordinary and extraordinary of churches, monasteries, clergy, and the people (dating from June 16, 1307) was withdrawn in favor of the Congregatio Visitationis Apostolicae, newly founded, for the current affairs of the ordinary visitation. Henceforth this duty pertains to the vicarius urbis only in so far as he may be named president or member of this congregation, the prefect of which is the pope himself. The great “extraordinary” visitations, held generally at the beginning of each pontificate, are executed by a specially-appointed commission of cardinals and prelates, the presidency of which falls by custom to the vicar. The Congregation of the Visitation is quite independent of the vicar, being constituted by Apostolic authority. The authority of the vicar does not cease with the pope who appointed him. But should he die during a vacancy of the Holy See, his successor cannot be appointed by the College of Cardinals; all current affairs are transacted by the vicesgerens who thus becomes a quasi vicar-capitular (q.v.). Theoretically at least, the vicar may hold diocesan synods; he could also formerly grant a number of choir-benefices. Leo XIII reserved this right in perpetuity to the pope.

THE VICESGERENS.—The first episcopal assistant of the vicar known is Angelus de Tineosis, Episcopus Viterbiensis, named October 2, 1321, as assistant to the Vicar Andreas, Episcopus Terracinensis. His position is not so well outlined in the documents that we can form a clear idea of his duties. It is significant that Angelus officiated as assistant even when the Vicar Andreas was in the city. On the other hand, the Vicar Franciscus Scaccani, Episcopus Nolanus, was allowed to choose an assistant for the business of the vicariate only in the case of his own absence from Rome (Reg. Lateranense, tom. 68, fol. 83v, August 19, 1399). According to this document it was not the pope but the vicar himself, though authorized thereto by the pope, who chose his own assistant and gave over to him all his authority or faculties, in so far as they were based on law or custom. This shows that the vicarius urbis was firmly established in the fulness of his office and externally recognized as such; certain consuetudinary rights had even at this date grown up and become accepted. We see from the Bullarium Magnum (II, 75) that on October 18, 1412, John XXII nominated Petrus Saccus, a canon of St. Peter’s, as locum tenens of the Vicar Franciscus, abbas monasterii S. Martini in Monte Cimino O.S.B., and himself conferred on this official all the faculties of the vicar. The new locum tenens was bidden to take the usual oath before the Apostolic Camera (see above). A similar case is that (1430) of Lucas de Ilperinis, another canon of St. Peter’s. When Petrus Accolti, Bishop-elect of Ancona, was named vicarius urbis (1505) he took over the jurisdiction, but the pontificalia or ceremonial rights were given to Franciscus Berthleay, Bishop of Mylopotamos, until the consecration of Accolti. A similar case is that of Andreas Jacobazzi, a canon of St. Peter’s, named vicar in 1519, but not consecrated as Bishop of Lucera until 1520; the pontificalia were committed to Vincentius, Bishop of Ottochaz-Zengg.

The series of assistants to the vicar, now known as vices-gerentes, begins with 1560. Until the time of Clement XI (1700) they were named by the vicar; since then the pope has appointed them by a special Brief. The vicesgerens is therefore not a representative (locum tenens) of the vicar, but a subordinate auxiliary bishop appointed for life, though removable at any time. His authority (faculties) relative to jurisdiction and orders is identical with that of the vicar; for its exercise, however, he depends on the latter, as is expressly stated in the Brief of his nomination. In particular, the vicar has committed to him the administration of the treasury of relics known as the Lipsanotheca or relic-treasury of the vicariate, the censorship of books, and the permission to print. The censorship of books was entrusted to the vicar by a Bull of May 4, 1515 (in the Magnum Bullarium); this right, however, is now exercised by the vicesgerens subject to the Magister sacri palatii, to whose imprimatur he adds his own name without further examination of the book in question. The really responsible censor is therefore the Magister sacri palatii, not the vicesgerens. Occasionally there have been two assistants of the vicar, to one of whom were committed all matters of jurisdiction, to the other the pontificalia and ordinations; the latter was known as suffragan of the vicar.

ORGANIZATION OF THE VICARIATE.—Ordinations.—In this respect the duties of the vicar are of primary importance, since a multitude of ecclesiastics from all parts of the world pursue their studies at Rome and receive orders there on presentation of the required authorization of their respective bishops. For every order conferred at Rome there is a special examination conducted by a body of twenty-five learned ecclesiastics from the secular and the regular clergy, which operates in sections of three. Orders are regularly conferred on the days prescribed by ecclesiastical law and in the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, i.e. in the Lateran Church; they may, however, be conferred on other days and in other churches or chapels. They are usually conferred either by the vicar himself or by the vicesgerens; by special delegation from the vicar, however, another bishop may occasionally ordain candidates. For the rights of the cardinals to ordain in their own churches (tituli, diaconue) see Cardinal. By a general pontifical indult any bishop resident in Rome may administer the Sacrament of Confirmation, it being still customary at Rome to confirm all children who seem in danger of death.

Religious Orders. All matters concerning the monasteries of Rome and their inmates pertain to a special commission in the vicariate composed of about eight members and under the direction of the vicar.

Preaching.—Strict regulations of Pius X permit only those to preach in Rome who have been found worthy after a thorough examination, scientific and practical, before a special commission which issues to each successful candidate the proper authorization. A similar regulation exists for priests desirous of hearing confessions in the city.

Parochial Clergy.—The parochial clergy of Rome form a special corporation, under a Camerlengo (q.v.) chosen annually by themselves. Apart from the rights secured them by their statutes, in so far as approved by the pope, they are entirely subject to the vicar.

Treasury of Relics (Lipsanotheca).—The administration of the large collection of relics preserved in that part of the vicariato (palace of the vicar) known as the Lipsanotheca, and whence relics are regularly distributed to corporations, churches, or private persons, is confided by the vicar to his vicesgerens. On the other hand the vicar himself is at all times the president of the pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology (see The Commission of Sacred Archaeology) which has charge of the catacombs (q.v.); he cannot confide this duty to another.

Court.—Since the vicar is the ordinary judge of the Curia Romans (see Roman Curia) and its territory, it follows that he has always had and now has his own court or tribunal. Formerly it took cognizance of both civil and criminal matters, either alone or concurrently with other tribunals, whether the case pertained to voluntary or to contentious Jurisdiction (q.v.). This court no longer deals with criminal cases, though it still exists for certain matters provided for in the ecclesiastical law, the details of which may be seen in any of the larger manuals of canon law. The principal officials of the court of the vicariate are the above-mentioned vicesgerens, the locum tenens civilis, the promotor fiscalis for cases of beatification and canonization (q.v.), the promotor fiscalis for other ecclesiastical matters, chiefly monastic vows. In former times the auditor of the vicariate was a very busy person, being called on to formulate or to decide the various processes brought before the vicar; today the office is mostly an honorary one. Matrimonial cases are dealt with by two officials who form a special section of the vicariate.

Secretariate.—Among the minor officials of the vicar the most important are those who have charge of the secretariate, i.e. the secretary, his representative, two minutanti or clerks, and the aforesaid auditor of the vicar. The secretary is daily at his post and is authorized by subdelegation to decide or settle a number of minor matters of a regularly recurring nature; he also makes known the decisions of the vicar in more important matters; and is accessible to every one daily during a period of two hours. In view of a speedier administration corresponding to modern demands Pius X has very much simplified the workings of the vicariate; some of its departments he suppressed, others he combined, so that now of its former fifteen sections and sub-sections only seven remain.


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