Vicar general

A vicar general (often abbreviated VG) is the principal deputy of the bishop of a diocese for the exercise of administrative authority. As vicar of the bishop, the vicar general exercises the bishop's ordinary executive power over the entire diocese. The title normally occurs only in Western Christian churches, such as the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. The title for the equivalent officer in the Eastern churches is protosyncellus.

Catholic dioceses

In the Catholic Church, a diocesan bishop must appoint at least one vicar general for his diocese, but may appoint more cite web | url= | title=Canon 475 | work=Code of Canon Law | date=1983 | publisher=The Holy See | accessdate=2007-06-21 ] —larger archdioceses routinely have two or even three. The vicar general by virtue of office is the bishop's agent in administrative matters, acting as a sort of second-in-command for diocesen executive matters (a priest in a separate office, the judicial vicar, serves a similar role with regard to the exercise of ordinary judicial power of governance in the diocese which is normally exercised in ecclesiastical courts.) Vicars general must be priests, auxiliary bishops, or coadjutor bishops cite web | url= | title=Canon 478 | work=Code of Canon Law | date=1983 | publisher=The Holy See | accessdate=2007-06-21 ] —if a coadjutor bishop exists for a diocese, the diocesan bishop is to appoint him vicar general.cite web | url= | title=Canon 406 | work=Code of Canon Law | date=1983 | accessdate=2007-06-21 | publisher=The Holy See ] Other auxiliary bishops are appointed vicars general or at least episcopal vicars. A vicar general is a local ordinary and, as such, acquires his powers by virtue of office and not by delegation. He is to possess a doctorate or at least a licentiate in canon law (JCD, JCL) or theology (STD, STL) or be truly expert in these fields.

The similarly titled episcopal vicar shares in the bishop's ordinary executive power like the vicar general, except for the fact that the episcopal vicars' authority normally extends over only a particular geographic section of a diocese or over certain specific matters.cite web | url= | title=Canon 476 | work=Code of Canon Law | date=1983 | publisher=The Holy See | accessdate=2007-06-21 ] These might include issues concerning religious orders or the faithful of a different rite. These too must be priests or auxiliary bishops. The equivalent officer in the Eastern Churches is called the syncellus.

Priests appointed as vicars general or episcopal vicars are freely appointed or removed by the diocesan bishop, and must be appointed for a fixed duration. They lose their office when the term expires, or when the episcopal see falls vacant.cite web | url= | title=Canon 481 | work=Code of Canon Law | date=1983 | publisher=The Holy See | accessdate=2007-06-21 ] Auxiliary bishops may also be removed from the office of vicar general, but must at least be appointed episcopal vicar. An auxiliary bishop who is an episcopal vicar, or a coadjutor bishop who is vicar general, may only be removed from office for a grave reason.cite web | url= | title=Canon 193 | work=Code of Canon Law | date=1983 | publisher=The Holy See | accessdate=2007-06-21 ] Likewise, while they lose their vicar general or episcopal vicar office "sede vacante", they retain the powers of the office until the succeeding bishop takes over the diocese.cite web | url= | title=Canon 409 | work=Code of Canon Law | date=1983 | publisher=The Holy See | accessdate=2007-06-21 ] A coadjutor bishop has right of succession as coadjutor, so if the see falls vacant he becomes the diocesan bishop immediately.

(These offices should not be confused with the vicar forane or "dean/archpriest", as such vicars do not have ordinary executive power.)

The appointment of a vicar general is also a useful tool for a diocesan bishop who has additional functions attached to his episcopate. The most notable example is what occurs in the diocese of Rome. The Pope is the diocesan bishop of Rome, but since he must spend most of his time governing the Latin Church and the global Catholic Church, his vicar general functions as the "de facto" bishop of the diocese.cite web | author=Pope John Paul II | date=1998 | title=Ecclesia in Urbe (in Italian) | url= ] The Vicar General of Rome also serves the same role for the suburbicarian diocese of Ostia, the traditional see of the Dean of the College of Cardinals, since it was merged with the diocese of Rome. The Vicar General of Rome, who is normally a cardinal, known as the Cardinal Vicar, is one of the few church officials in Rome to remain in office "sede vacante". The current Vicar General of Rome is Cardinal Camillo Ruini.

A similar example is found in the United States, where the archbishop of New York functioned also as ordinary of the military services from World War I until the 1980s: in addition to being responsible for the archdiocese of New York, that same archbishop was also responsible for the Military Ordinariate, which had the status of an apostolic vicariate, and functioned as the equivalent of a diocese defined by quality (that is, all Catholic members of the U.S. military and their dependents) rather than by geography. The archbishop had two separate administrations, therefore, and two sets of vicars general to manage each. This arrangement ended with the establishment of the wholly separate Archdiocese of the Military Services.


Vicars-General retain important administrative and judicial functions in the Church of England.

Following the Act of Supremacy of 1534, Henry VIII appointed Thomas Cromwell as his vicar general, a delegation of the powers with which Henry was invested by the Act as a result of becoming supreme head of the Church of England.Citation
last = Grell
first = Ole Peter
author-link =
last2 = O'Day
first2 = Rosemary
author2-link =
title = The European Reformation
place = Milton Keynes
publisher = The Open University
year = 2007
pages = 78
isbn = 978 0 7492 16832


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Vicar-General — • The highest official of a diocese after the ordinary Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Vicar General     Vicar General     † …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Vicar-general — Vicar Vic ar, n. [OE. vicar, viker, vicair, F. vicaire, fr. L. vicarius. See {Vicarious}.] 1. One deputed or authorized to perform the functions of another; a substitute in office; a deputy. [R.] [1913 Webster] 2. (Eng. Eccl. Law) The incumbent… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • vicar-general — [vik′ər jen′ər əl] n. pl. vicars general [ME vicare generale < ML vicarius generalis: see VICAR & GENERAL] 1. an administrative deputy, as of a bishop or of the general superior of a religious order, society, etc. 2. in English history, the… …   English World dictionary

  • vicar-general — vicar general; vicar general·ship; …   English syllables

  • vicar-general — vicar generalship, n. /vik euhr jen euhr euhl/, n., pl. vicars general. 1. Rom. Cath. Ch. a priest deputized by a bishop to assist him in the administration of a diocese. 2. Ch. of Eng. an ecclesiastical officer, usually a layperson, who assists… …   Universalium

  • vicar-general — noun (plural vicars general) Date: 15th century an administrative deputy of a Roman Catholic or Anglican bishop or of the head of a religious order …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • vicar general — noun (plural vicars general) an official serving as a deputy or representative of a bishop or archbishop …   English new terms dictionary

  • vicar-general — vic′ar gen′eral n. pl. vicars general 1) rel a Roman Catholic priest deputized by a bishop to assist in the administration of a diocese 2) rel an ecclesiastical officer in the Church of England, usu. lay, who assists a bishop or archbishop •… …   From formal English to slang

  • vicar-general — /vɪkə ˈdʒɛnrəl/ (say vikuh jenruhl) noun (plural vicars general) a priest appointed by a bishop to act as a deputy and to assist in the administration of a diocese …   Australian English dictionary

  • Vicar-General — ♦ The chief administrative deputy for the bishop, usually when the latter was absent from his diocese. (Heath, Peter. Church and Realm, 1272 1461, 369) …   Medieval glossary

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