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Cardinal Vicar (organization of the Roman vicariate)



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, diaconia) see . 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.


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 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 vicegerens. On the other hand the vicar himself is at all times the president of the pontifical Commission of Sacred Archæology (see ) which has charge of the catacombs; he cannot confide this duty to another.


Since the vicar is the ordinary judge of the Curia Romana (see ) 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. 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 vicegerens, the locum tenens civilia, the promotor fiscalis for cases of beatification and canonization, 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; to-day the office is mostly an honorary one. Matrimonial cases are dealt with by two officials who form a special section of the vicariate.


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.


Editor's note: The following section appeared in a later supplement to the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The organization of the Roman vicariate, as described above, rested largely on usage; it was not constructed as a compact whole at one single time. The most important ordinances respecting it were issued at various times during the course of the last two centuries, showing that for a long time the inadequacy of its organization, especially as regards the great length of time necessary for the settlement of matters brought before it, had been severely felt, more, however, by the subordinates of the vicariate than by its higher officials. It could not be said that its methods of business were in any way compatible with modern ideas as to efficient management. The lack of harmony was doubly evident after the entire central administartion of the Church had been reformed by the Constitution "Sapienti Consilio", of 29 June, 1908. During the past various difficulties had stood in the way of a thorough reform of the Roman vicariate. Not the least of these was the lack of space in the former office of the vicariate. It was not until after the purchase of the Palazzo Mariscotti near San Francesco alle Stimmate, which was assigned to the cardinal vicar and his officials and arranged for their use, that Pius X was able to carry out his long cherished plan for a thorough reform of the Roman vicariate.

Pius X published his new ordinances respecting the administration of his Diocese of Rome in the Apostolic Constitution "Etsi nos in", of 1 Jan., 1912, and the law entered into force, as provided in it, on 15 Jan., 1912, the day it was promulgated in the "Acta Apostolicae Sedis". Of the regulations for the period of transition, which were naturally necessary in so thorough a reorganization, only one need be mentioned. This is that the former vicegerent (vicesgerens), whose office and title are in future to be suppressed, is permitted as a personal privilege to continue to bear the title as long as he is connected with any of the transactions of the vicariate.

The Curia Urbis or the Vicariate of the City of Rome is now divided into four departments (officia), of which the second is again divided into four sections. The first department (officium) has under its care all the church services and the Apostolic visitation of the diocese. The second department watches over the behaviour of the clergy and the Christian people. Judicial matters are settled in the third department, and the fourth department is devoted to the economic administration of the entire vicariate. The head of all these bureaus is the cardinal who is the vicar-general of the pope in Rome. His office and the extent of his power are always the same and are permanent, so that they do not cease even when the Papal See is vacant. This fact distinguishes the cardinal vicar as he is called, for the designation is not an official title, from all other vicars-general in the world, and gives him his peculiar legal position. In the same way it is a noticeable exception that the four departments can carry on their customary business, even when the vicar is not able to supervise what is done on account of the conclave or of some other impediment. Even should the vicar die the work of the departments goes quietly on. Formerly this was not the case to so large a degree, as is shown by the deputation of 17 Dec., 1876, on the death of Cardinal Vicar Patrizi (manuscript record of the vicariate, "Diverse deputazioni del vicario dall' anno 1759", p. 290).

The head of the first department is a commissary, of the second an assessor, of the third an auditor, and of the fourth a prefect. Their respective rank follows the order given above. Among the offices mentioned in the former article those of the vicegerent (vicesgerens), the locum tenens, the secretary, and the auditor in the earlier form were abolished. None of the four new presiding officers of the departments is permitted under any pretext whatever to interfere in the affairs of another, except in purely internal matters of administration.

First Department

At present the canonical visitation of the Diocese of Rome is in the hands of a commission of cardinals. The president of the commission is the vicar, and its members by virtue of their office are prefects of the Congregation of the Council and of Religious Orders. The secretary of this official board is the commissary just mentioned. The first appointee as secretary and commissary was the former vicegerent (vicesgerens). The archives and compendiums of abstracts of the former Congregation of the Apostolic Visitation, which has been suppressed since 1908, belong to the new commission. Every five years, the next falling in 1916, a canonical visitation of Rome is to be held without any express papal command being issued before the visitation. Six paragraphs (12-17) regulate the details of the procedure to be observed in the visitation.

The treasury of relics (lipsanotheca), the archaeological commission, and the committee on church music are included in this department and are under the supervision of the vicar. A commission on ecclesiastical art has been established; its competence includes the erection of churches, their maintenance, restoration, and adornment. The first department is obliged to keep an exact list of all the churches in Rome, in one of which is noted the object and peculiarities of each church.

Second Department

The second department has four sections, the head of each of which is a secretary: the first section has to do with the clergy; the second, with the convents of women; the third, with the schools, colleges, and other institutions for education in the city; the fourth, with the brotherhoods, unions, and social societies. All four sections are subordinate first to the vicar and next to the assessor. The powers of the first section are laid down in twelve ordinances, the details of which cannot here be entered into. Mention should, however, be made of the stringent rule that no clergyman, regardless of whether he belongs to the Roman clergy or to another diocese, can be called to an office or a benefice by anyone, even a cardinal, unless it has been previously established by a secret letter to the vicar that the vicariate has no objection to his appointment. This regulation puts an end finally to an old abuse of historic growth which in past times led to much that was disadvantageous.

This department has to keep a register of all members of the secular and regular clergy of the city, giving the name, age, residence, kind of employment, and other personal notes. The vicar is aided in the settlement of all matters regarding the clergy by the examiners of the clergy, in the settlement of questions as to the transfer or deposition of parish priests by the consultors, in all questions as to offices and benefices by the general supervisory council, the deputies for the seminaries, and the advisory council (commissio directiva). Detailed regulations are given as to the examiners of the clergy in paragraph 30, a to i. The second section of this department is charged with the supreme direction and supervision of the numerous convents for women; the details are regulated in seven paragraphs. Paragraphs 38-46 are concerned with the schools, colleges, and other educational institutions for the laity. The care of these is the duty of the third section. Its secretary must keep an exact list of all such institutions, of their teachers and principals, and exact statistics respecting the pupils. He must attend the meetings of the school board, keep its minutes, and must execute all the orders of the vicar or the supervisory council respecting these institutions. Paragraphs 47-57 regulate in detail the work of the fourth section, which has under its charge the brotherhoods, unions, and social societies. It consists of a council of six members with a secretary of its own.

Third Department

All previously existing judicial bodies are suppressed and the pope has made the vicar the ordinary and sole judge in the first instance for all suits brought in the court of the Roman diocese. The vicar passes judgement only in those cases which he has expressly reserved for himself; in other cases his auditor acts as judge, forming with the vicar one and the same court. The auditor is regarded as the official of the curia of the Roman Diocese and tries the suits according to common law. The office and jurisdiction of the camerlengo of the Roman clergy have been suppressed and his faculties and jurisdiction have been transferred completely to the auditor, who is provided with a substitute. When according to common law a suit is to be decided not by a single judge but by a full bench, the auditor is then held to be the presiding judge, in case the vicar does not reserve the position of presiding officer to himself. The appointment of the associate judges belongs to the pope; for the individual case the vicar has the right to select the associate judges from those appointed by the pope. This ordinance is especially worth noticing. The other ordinances cannot here be discussed in detail.

Fourth Department

The fourth department is directed by a prefect. It has charge of all the purely administrative affairs of the vicariate, its principal work being the care of finances; it has also charge of the purchase of supplies, as the formularies, supplies for the chancellery, etc. The organization effected offers nothing that requires any particular comment. The head of the department is called a prefect.

Order of Business of the Vicariate

The necessary changes being made, the essential ordinances of the Constitution "Sapienti consilio" and the enacting ordinances afterwards issued for the congregations and curial authorities in regard to the manner in which business should be transacted also apply to the vicariate. It should be observed that a secret and a public archive have been established for the vicariate. The vicar is to submit to the pope for approval the rules respecting office hours and holidays. Of much importance is the closing formula of the Constitution which was drawn up in accordance with the new formulary of the Apostolic Chancellery. After the formulary has been tested for a time by practice it is to be published. It says: "Decernentes praesentes litteras firmas, validas et efficaces semper esse et fore, suosque plenarios et integros effectus sortiri et obtinere a die promulgationis in Commentario de Apostolicae Sedis actis".

A comparison with the earlier article shows that the reconstruction of the vicariate is not an organic continuation of the former condition but that an entirely new organization has been created. There is in this change an evident effort to organize the official bodies as servants of the public and to do this on the basis of the modern method of carrying on business, as it is found everywhere in countries that lead in civilization and in well-organized central boards of authorities. Formerly the administration was a cumbrous one, impeded by traditional obstacles; it may perhaps be said to have regarded itself as the primary object and the public which it should serve as of subordinate consideration. This state of things is now past, thanks to the energy of the reigning pope, which overcame all obstacles. Now, anyone who has business with the vicariate knows exactly to which department, which official, he must go in order to have the matter in question speedily settled. It is to be expected that in the course of time the third department owing to the test of practical working may undergo slight changes, as it is not probable that all ordinances will prove capable of permanent execution. The characteristics of the new organization are division of work and rigid separation of the judiciary from the executive administration, together with an ample supply of officials for the different departments. In the reorganization customs that had become historical were taken into consideration only in so far as they could be combined without difficulty with modern methods of business.

To inspire greater confidence in the newly-created offices of the vicariate, the pope, in May, 1912, appointed a superior board of control, composed of three cardinals, whose duty it is to supervise the business affairs of the vicariate. Cardinals Lugari, Pompilj, and Van Rossum were the first to be named for this important and influential board. These nominations of the pope were received by the clergy of Rome with unanimous expressions of good will and gratification.

For the latest complete account of the Vicariate of Rome see Baumgarten, Die päpstliche Kirche unserer Zeit und ihre Diener (Munich, 1906), 483-510; note, however, that the above-mentioned reform of Pius X was published after the appearance of this work. See also Humphrey, Urbis et Orbis: or The Pope as Bishop and as Pontiff (London, 1899), 172-186.

P. M. Baumgarten.

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