Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, Explanatory Note on the Obligation of a Bishop to Reside in the Diocese (concerning c. 395) La obbliga, 12 September 1996.

A Congregation had proposed three questions on the obligation of the bishop to reside in the diocese: “on the precise meaning of the canonical disposition and, in particular, on the importance of the exceptions envisioned in canon 395 §2: ‘Praeterquam causa ... Episcoporum conferentiae, quibus interesse debet, aliusve officii sibi legitime commissi.’ In addition, it is asked whether or not in the computation of one month one should calculate the time for vacation.”

The text of the response:

Prot. N. 5125/96

1. The norm which obliges the bishop to reside personally in the diocese is very ancient in ecclesiastical discipline. It is already contained in the Decree of Gratian (C. 19–21, 25–26, C. VII, q. 1) and is also found in the Decretals of Gregory IX (X, III, 4, 9).

Numerous, moreover, have been the interventions of authority to recall bishops to the observation of this obligation. [...]

The Council of Trent marks a fundamental milestone in the history of the norm regarding the obligation of residence. The council Fathers, after full and lively discussions which touched also the nature of such an obligation, issued two successive decrees (Session VI, 13 June 1547: De residentia episcoporum et aliorum inferiorum; Session XXIII, 15 July 1563: De reformatione, ch. 1).

The 1917 Code, embracing the conciliar norm and the traditions which were formed concerning it, confirmed this discipline in canon 338.

2. The 1983 Code produced some modifications which reaffirmed the norm of residence, adapting it to the changed needs of ecclesiastical organization.

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The norm of canon 395 does not seem to pose problems whose solution needs an authentic interpretation. It appears clear enough in its formulation, and the questions raised by this Congregation concern above all the right application of the law.

Three questions are put forth. The first two concern the exact meaning of the terminology of the canon on the exceptions which justify the absence of the bishop from the diocese.

a) The first exception concerns the obligation of the bishop to attend meetings of the conference of bishops. In this regard, one notes that the statutes and rules of the conference determine when the participation is necessary or greatly useful. Every individual bishop knows the obliging force of the norm which requires his presence at the individual meetings. Therefore, the absence from the diocese because of participation in the various possible meetings of the conference of bishops will be justified only if, according to the norm of the statutes, the individual bishop must take part in such a meeting.

b) Nor should the other exception to which the conference refers — “or other offices legitimately entrusted to him” — raise doubts in interpretation. In fact, it does not concern any office or ministry but only that which has been legitimately entrusted to the bishop. The bishop, in addition to meetings of the conference, can be absent also to perform duties associated to that office which has been conferred upon him by an authority superior to him.

In this context it seems necessary to highlight that certain ministerial or academic activities, surely good in themselves but not immediately directed to the pastoral care of the diocese, cannot be included among those other offices legitimately entrusted to him concerning which mention is made. The time used for such extra-diocesan activities which have not been requested by a superior authority must, therefore, be counted in the month of vacation. Only by way of illustration, and not intended to be an exhaustive listing, the following seem to be included in these activities: spiritual exercises preached outside the diocese and directed to persons who are not of the diocese or who do not have a particular tie with the diocese; courses of lectures or conferences; regional

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or national “meetings” with various categories of persons (associations, movements, etc.); missions to people outside his own diocese; guiding non-diocesan pilgrimages organized for a religious or cultural purpose, etc. It is known, in fact, that the modern ease of communication makes these activities easy and frequent, with possible bias to the necessary stability of the diocese.

3. In all the cases listed in canon 395 §2, the absence of the bishop is legitimate and, therefore, justified. Not ignored, however, is the realization that the development of these new structures of ecclesiastical organization at the supra-diocesan level — in addition in many nations to the conferences or gatherings of the bishops of the same ecclesiastical province or region — would render problematic the obligation of the residence of the bishop in the diocese, unless there is prudence to limit to a strictly necessary minimum these convocations of diocesan bishops outside their own dioceses.

4. One could note, furthermore, the problem regarding the conferral on diocesan bishops of extra-diocesan or supra-diocesan tasks, which must always be proportionate to the primary diocesan duties, particularly when it concerns a diocese with particular pastoral problems: the lack of priestly vocations, disciplinary crises in the clergy, lack of catechetical formation of the faithful, penetration of sects and proselytism by adherents of other religions, etc. This, however, is a problem of governance which seems to invoke rather a courageous sense of responsibility, also through the example which the bishops are called to give to diocesan presbyters, particularly to those who are also bound to a duty of residence for similar reasons (see c. 533 §§2-3).

5. Other useful information and considerations for the right application of the codal discipline can be drawn if canon 395 is interpreted and applied in the context of the pastoral responsibility which is proper and personal to the bishop toward the diocese. Vatican Council II had identified the episcopal functions in three dimensions — in relation to the common good of the universal Church, with the other particular Churches, and with supra-diocesan organizations — but also had affirmed the distinct level of responsibility and commitment with which such functions must be developed.

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The “solicitude for all the Churches” cannot become the motive to justify excessive extra-diocesan commitments of the bishop. This, in fact, does not indicate a call for the bishop to depart his own diocese to provide elsewhere for the good of the entire Church. By the divine law the bishop is placed at the head of a portion of the People of God “in which and from which [in quibus et ex quibus]” the universal Church lives and is manifested. It is above all in governing his particular Church, in communion with the college of bishops, that the diocesan bishop participates in the solicitude for all the Churches. The Council, in fact, affirms that, “sharing solicitude for all the Churches, bishops exercise this episcopal function of theirs, which they have received through episcopal consecration, in communion with and under the authority of the Supreme Pontiff” (Christus Dominus, 3).In relation to such ministry, however, the text continues thus: “They exercise this individually concerning the parts of the Lord’s flock assigned to them, each one caring for the particular Church entrusted to him, or sometimes some of them jointly providing for certain common needs of the various Churches” (ibidem).

Therefore, if, on the one hand, one is to safeguard a form of exercise of episcopal power which is directed to the entire People of God, this cannot take precedence over the primary task of the diocesan bishop which is to attend to the needs of his own diocese where he has been placed to fulfill his duty as teacher of doctrine, priest of sacred worship, and minister of governance (see c. 375 §1). For this purpose the bishop receives the fullness of powers necessary for the exercise in his diocese of the “three functions [tria munera] (see c. 381). The individual diocesan bishops “are the visible principle and foundation of unity in their particular Church” and “they exercise their pastoral governance over the portion of the people of God which has been entrusted to them, not over the other Churches nor over the universal Church” (Lumen gentium, 23).

6. The third question posed by the Congregation is “whether or not one must count vacation time in the computation of the month.” It seems, in fact, that this requests a correct application of the canon, because:

a) from a study of the acts on the development of the revision of CIC/17 canon 338 one concludes that, the period of absence, although it has been reduced to one month, was discussed in a context which

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concerned above all vacation (preventing the accumulation of the absence with the vacation of the next year)

The new Code, as also the rest of the CIC/17, other than the previously mentioned specific causes, indicates as a motive which justifies absence (“non ultra mensem, sive continuum sive intermissum”) a generic “aequa de causa.” The expression, which had been taken from the preceding legislation, had already been considered by commentators on the CIC/17 as summarizing all possible just motivations for absence, among them, vacation. Cappello, for example, wrote: “by a just cause is understood anything just and reasonable, even light, such as mental recreation, bodily comfort, etc.” (F. CAPPELLO,Summa iuris canonici, Rome, 1932, vol. 1, p. 462). Regatillo wrote: “”they can be absent ... d) for another just cause, for example, vacation” (E. REGATILLO, Institutiones iuris canonici, Santander, 7th ed., 1963, vol. 1, p. 347).

b) vacations are certainly a “just cause”and, considering that for the diocesan bishop they are not mentioned in another part of the Code, one must conclude that the Legislator had provided for them appropriately with this norm, as he did in the previous law (see the interpretative criterion established in canon 6 §2). To think instead that the diocesan bishop has a right to a supplement of days of absence from the diocese for vacation is a thesis which lacks foundation. In fact, besides not finding a basis in a norm of the Code or in the disciplinary tradition of the Church, this would be contrary to the spirit of the law which imposes on the bishop the grave pastoral obligation to reside in his own diocese.

c) finally, the analogy with what is established for parochi in canon 553 requires, in order to avoid a gross disparity, that the period of vacation for the bishop not exceed one month.

Vatican City, 12 September 1996

+Julian Herranz

Titular Archbishop of Vertara


+Bruno Bertagna

Titular Bishop of Drivasto


Comm 28 (1996): 182-186; Unofficial translation.