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By: Rev. Fr. Emmanuel K. Dolphyne

On 18th August, 2020, the Holy Father, Pope Francis in a decree issued on 31st July, 2020 appointed Rev. Fr. John Baptist Attakruh as Apostolic Administrator sede vacante of the Catholic Diocese of Sekondi-Takoradi.

In this piece, we shall look at who is an Apostolic Administrator in terms of definition, characteristics and role


An apostolic administrator in the Roman Catholic Church is a prelate appointed by the Pope to serve as the ordinary for an apostolic administration. An apostolic administration can either be an area that is not yet a diocese (a stable apostolic administration) or for a diocese that either has no bishop (an apostolic administrator “sede vacante”) or, in very rare cases, has an incapacitated bishop (apostolic administrator “sede plena”).

The Apostolic Administrator is appointed “to see to the good order and administration of a diocese that is awaiting the appointment of a permanent bishop”


Apostolic administrators of stable administrations are equivalent in canon law with diocesan bishops, meaning they have essentially the same authority as a diocesan bishop.

Administrators “sede vacante” or “sede plena” only serve in their role until a newly chosen diocesan bishop takes possession of the diocese.

Normally when a diocese falls vacant a vicar capitular/diocesan administrator is chosen locally, but the Pope, having full governmental power, can preempt this choice and name an apostolic administrator instead.


The apostolic administrator has the authority to make the necessary decisions for the daily operations of the diocese.

Major decisions and initiatives are deferred to the new bishop unless an urgent situation requires action.

Let me add that ,the Apostolic administrator cannot enact laws for the Diocese or call for a Diocesan Synod
(CIC c. 462  §1).

But as apostolic administrator he is charged with deciding what issues need to be addressed during this interim period and what issues need to wait for the attention of the new bishop.

He also has the power to write dimissorial letters. Dimissorial letters are the authorization a bishop or other competent ordinary gives to another bishop to confer Orders on his subject. (CIC c. 1018 §1 ,2 ).

The role of the apostolic administrator ends when the new bishop is installed.

In general, the apostolic administrator is subject to the same obligations and possesses the same powers as a diocesan bishop. However, there are certain limitations on the power of the administrator that hinge upon his status.


An apostolic administrator is bound by the obligations and possesses the power of a diocesan bishop, excluding those matters that are excepted by their nature or by the law itself.
One of the powers excluded by the law is the power to make diocesan law.

An example of a power that the apostolic administrator may exercise is the calling of candidates for ordination to the diaconate and the presbyterate, but only after the college of consultors has given its consent. This is possible because the calling of candidates to holy orders and their subsequent ordination are part of the ordinary operations of a diocese.

The apostolic administrator may appoint pastors, but only if the see has been vacant for a year.

The office of pastor is understood to be a stable office. Since the administrator is not to make any innovations, the conferral of a stable office should not happen except in the situation noted here.
If a pastorate becomes vacant before that year time frame has occurred, the apostolic administrator may appoint a priest as the parochial administrator since this is not a stable office. Similarly, he may appoint priests as parochial vicars because that is not a stable office.

Finally, unlike the Diocesan Bishop whose jurisdiction is called ordinary because it is vested in him by reason of his office, the power of the Apostolic Administrator is vicarious, because he exercises it in the name of another and in this case the Supreme Pontiff
(CIC c. 371 §2).

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