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An archdiocese in transition…

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

When Archbishop Joseph Harris submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Francis ahead of his 75th birthday on March 19, there was keen interest in what happens next and who will be his successor.

According to the Code of Canon Law 401 (1): “A diocesan bishop who has completed the seventy-fifth year of age is requested to present his resignation from office to the Supreme Pontiff, who will make provision after he has examined all the circumstances.”

The Vatican website reported on October 19: “The Holy Father has accepted the resignation from the pastoral care of the archdiocese of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, presented by HE Msgr Joseph Harris, CSSp. The Pope has appointed as archbishop of the same See HE Msgr Charles Jason Gordon, currently bishop of the diocese of Bridgetown, Barbados, who remains as apostolic administrator sede vacante et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis of the diocese of Bridgetown.”

Speaking on his last Archbishop Live on Facebook December 13, Archbishop Harris said, “When the new archbishop was appointed, I automatically became the apostolic administrator of this archdiocese so you have an archbishop-elect.”

Interviewed about the transition process on December 11, Fr John Persaud, General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC), who is trained in canon law said, when a letter of resignation is submitted, the Pope will not make any pronouncements “until he has made provision for the Archdiocese; a diocese cannot be left vacant”.

He explained, “From the moment that announcement is made, the archdiocese has an archbishop-elect, the former archbishop ceases to be archbishop of the archdiocese. He is no longer the Archbishop of Port of Spain because his resignation is accepted. Archbishop Joseph Harris became Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Harris, Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese.”

Can 402 (1) states, “A bishop whose resignation from office has been accepted acquires the title ‘emeritus’ of his diocese and can retain a place of residence in that diocese if he so desires, unless in certain cases the Apostolic See provides otherwise because of special circumstances.”

Power of the administrator limited

As Apostolic Administrator Archbishop Harris has jurisdiction over the archdiocese; his powers are however, limited because the position is not meant to be permanent.  He assumes the role of a caretaker of the archdiocese until such time that the newly appointed archbishop takes possession of the diocese.

Fr Persaud said that the administrator as ‘caretaker’ of the diocese for a few months is not expected to make major decisions with regard to the administration of the archdiocese, for example, personnel appointments and major financial transactions “with long-term effects”.

Although the position is provisional there are instances where an administrator of a diocese may serve for more than one year, and in such cases the law then allows for the administrator to make certain decisions having consulted the established consultative bodies.

When the See becomes vacant due to the bishop’s death, the law allows for a diocesan administrator to be appointed locally by the diocesan consultors. This was exemplified when Msgr Christian Pereira became diocesan administrator subsequent to the passing of Archbishop Anthony Pantin March 12, 2000, and Fr Clifton Harris OP following the death of Bishop Vincent Darius OP of the Diocese of St George’s-in-Grenada in April last year.

A diocesan administrator is different from an apostolic administrator in his appointment—the diocesan administrator is usually appointed by the Diocesan Consultors while the apostolic administrator, as the name suggests, is appointed by the Pope.

During his tenure as Archbishop of Port of Spain, Archbishop Harris devolved some of his authority to vicars—the vicar general, regional vicars and vicars with specific responsibilities eg. clergy, evangelisation.

“The bishop shares his authority and power with others…he basically gives them the authority to act in his name,” Fr Persaud said. The vicar general, by virtue of his office has the same executive power throughout the whole diocese as that which belongs by law to the diocesan bishop; the authority of regional vicars and other episcopal vicars is limited to a determined part of the diocese or to a specific type of activity.

Because the offices of the vicar general and other vicars are tied to the bishop, when the bishop ceases to be bishop of the diocese then the offices of the vicars also come to an end.  It will be the responsibility of the new archbishop to appoint his vicar general and other vicars.  The apostolic administrator can appoint a delegate to assist him in the governance of the archdiocese.

The archbishop-elect has no jurisdiction over the administration of the Archdiocese until he “has taken canonical possession of the diocese” (Can 382).

After the installation, when the new archbishop has taken possession of the archdiocese, he has the option of reappointing persons “for a short period to give himself time to review and assess the changes he may wish to make in respect to the administration of the archdiocese,” Fr Persaud said.