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(Lat. devolutio from devolvere)
Devolution is the right of an ecclesiastical superior to provide for a benefice, when the ordinary patron or collator has failed to do so, either through negligence or by the nomination of an improper candidate. There is no permanent loss of right in such a case, but only for the time being and for that particular instance. The right of devolution passes to the bishop of the diocese when the chapter or private individuals who have the right of patronage do not present a new and acceptable beneficiary within six months of the vacancy. When the bishop himself is negligent, the right devolves upon the metropolitan. Where, however, the right of appointing belongs to both the bishop and the chapter, if only one of the parties has been found wanting in the exercise of the right, the law declares that the power of nomination remains to the other. When there is a vacancy in an episcopal see, the metropolitan appoints a vicar capitular to rule the vacant diocese, if the cathedral chapter has failed to elect such an official within eight days. In case of negligence on the part of metropolitans or exempt bishops, the right devolves upon the pope of providing for the benefices not conferred within the legal time or when the election was uncanonical. Chapters having power to elect an archbishop, bishop, or abbot must do so within three months, or the appointment devolves upon the Roman pontiff. The same holds for the case where an election was not celebrated according to canonical prescriptions. Custom, however, allows a second election by the chapter when the first has been declared void. In countries where a concordat exists between the Holy See and the civil government, the right of devolution is often either to be held in abeyance or certain restrictions are placed upon it. In France no right of devolution was recognized by the State. In some ecclesiastical provinces of Germany and of Holland and Belgium, it is expressly stipulated that in the event of an uncanonical election of an archbishop or bishop, the chapters are to be allowed to proceed to another election. In case the right of presentation to archiepiscopal and episcopal sees has been conceded to the civil government, the latter does not lose the right by the nomination of an unacceptable candidate, nor does the election devolve upon the pope when a bishopric has not been filled within the canonical term of three months, unless such has been expressly stipulated in the concordat. When the pope, himself, does not exercise the right of devolution within the canonical term of months, the power of conferring the benefice returns to the ordinary patron. Canonists deduce this conclusion not from any explicit law, but from the common regulations governing the provisions for filling benefices and dignities. In practice this custom is observed by the Holy See. Historically, the law of devolution does not seem to be more ancient than the Third Council of the Lateran (1179) for benefices, and the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215) for elective prelacies. The object of the law is both to provide through higher authority a remedy for the correction of abuses or negligences on the part of inferiors and also to punish them for the improper use of their powers.
KREMSKI, De Jure Devolutionis (Berlin, 1853); LAURENTIUS, Institutiones Jur. Eccl. (Freiburg, 1903); WERNZ, Jus Decretalium (Rome, 1899), II.
WILLIAM H. W. FANNING.