Apostolic Administration: quo vadis?

in Russian en Francais


For most people familiar with the Catholic Church it is hard to imagine that Catholics in Russia, as well as Orthodoxy, are ignorant or at least ambiguous about the way Catholicism is organized in the Russian Federation. Can it be, that most Catholics, and clergy included do not properly understand what the real nature of the Catholic structures in Russia consists of?

 In 1991 the Vatican established Apostolic Administrations, each one of which is overlooked by an apostolic administrator. However, and erroneously so, a lot of Catholics refer to these administrations as dioceses and to the administrators as diocesan bishops. Undoubtedly, this tendency can be attributed to weaknesses in the education of Catholic clergy who during and after their years of theological studies have never been told what an apostolic administration is.

Apostolic Administrations are, in fact, relatively new within the Catholic world. They are a creation of the Latin Church's 1983 Code of Canon Law. This 1983 concept was a development of the 'apostolic administrator' as presented by the 1917 codification of Catholic ecclesial law by Pope Benedict XV. Until 1983 an apostolic administrator was seen as one who administrates a diocese in the name of the Pope. In instances where the local diocesan bishop was not capable of governing his diocese for a long period of time, and the duties to be fulfilled were more demanding than the office of a vicar general (a Catholic bishop's second in charge) the Pope, as supreme Pastor could appoint an apostolic administrator who would govern the diocese, not as diocesan bishop but rather on behalf of the Pope. Although the 1983 code does not speak of apostolic administrators in this way, the Latin Church has continued to experience such appointments as was understood in the earlier code of canon law. However, the 1991 Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Catholic Churches (Cf. CCEO, 234) includes the concept of Apostolic Administrator in more or less the same way as the outdated 1917 Code did.

In 1983 the Latin Church developed the idea of an 'apostolic administrator' a step further, by allowing for the creation of, what were to be called 'apostolic administrations', by the Pope as Patriarch of the West, that is of the Latin Church. Accordingly, the Latin Church sometimes sees that there is a need for some type of ecclesial structure and order, in areas where there are Catholic communities, but where there are important reasons for not establishing dioceses. Such reasons can be political instability, lack of any internal structures and ecumenical concerns.

Until 1991, the few apostolic administrations that existed were to be found primarily in East Germany, Asia and Africa, the administrators being more than often priests. In 1991, three administrations were established in the former Soviet Union, by the Pope for the pastoral care of Latin rite Catholics. The administrators who govern in the name of the Pope, are all titular bishops, which means that do not have their own dioceses. Thus, it would be wrong to consider them to be bishops of local churches or of Catholic dioceses in Russia, or as a parallel hierarchy to the Orthodox episcopacy. Theologically speaking, it is the Pope who is really the Episcopus of the Catholics within the various apostolic administrations. The administrators are but his vicars.

As the idea of apostolic administration is still rather theologically undeveloped it is capable of evolving in different ways and into various possible forms. Within the Russian context there are many who see these administrations as a stepping stone to the establishment of Catholic diocesan structures throughout the country. Of course, such thinking is partially a result of the general equivocation of the apostolic administrations with dioceses and of administrators with bishops. Without any doubt, if Catholic structures were to develop in such a way the Russian Orthodox Church would have some reason in protesting the establishment of a parallel hierarchy. A serious crisis in Orthodox - Catholic relations would be very predictable.

At the same time, the very nature of the apostolic administrations and administrators can be seen in a very different light (Pro-Russia document). Their future development could take a direction which promotes a fuller communion and Christian accord with the Orthodox world. This ideal ought to be modeled on the oneness of the Church. Thus, the apostolic administrations ought not to be promoted as a competitor with the Orthodox Church but rather as a co-operation with the Moscow Patriarchate, in the pastoral and sacramental care of Latin rite Christians in Russia. Such a co-operation could occur through an integration of the administrations into the various Orthodox dioceses and under the local hierarchs. Consequently, the unity of the local Christian Church would be promoted and encouraged by the Catholic Church. In this way the local bishop could be the episcopal pastor of both his own Orthodox faithful as well as of the faithful of the Latin tradition living in his diocese. Hence, responsibility for the pastoral needs of the latter and all externals of the various Latin parishes or communities would be placed under the episcopal paternity of the local bishop.

However, it would be simultaneously necessary that the inner affairs unique to the Latin Tradition, to the Roman Rite, administration of the Sacraments and the application of Canon Law, would fall under the responsibility of an apostolic administrator, who acting in the name of the Pope, Patriarch of the Latin Church, would seek to nurture those aspects of ecclesial life that are proper to the Latin tradition.

The apostolic administrator in such a situation could be a titular bishop who himself would administer the sacraments of confirmation and ordination, as well as the consecrating of churches and so forth. A second and maybe more ecumenical possibility could consist in the applying of the Lefebvrist model (Celtic-monastic model) whereby a priest governs and is assisted by helper-bishops, responsible only for the administration of the Sacraments and sacramentals proper to the Latin episcopacy. In everything else these bishops would be subject to the apostolic administrator.

From a Catholic point of view, the proposal of such a direction for the Apostolic Administrations in Russia would be a logical development of the ecumenical principles and the theology of the Church which has grown out of the Second Vatican Council. A failure to set out on such or a similiar direction could be interpreted as pre-Vatican II and anti-ecumenical. On the practical level, the implementation of a pro-ecumenical and therefore, also philo-Orthodox conception of apostolic administrations would be a major step in resolving other problems. It could even mean that the dispersed and small catholic communities would be more easily and better cared for and more properly organized. On another level, it would help to overcome various mis-understandings of ecclesial (Catholic) power and jurisdiction, and in particular of papal jurisdiction.

In this way the apostolic administrations can, and possibly will be, a sign and an instrument of the unity of the Church and not lead to further division in and damage to the Mystical Body of Christ.

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