Our bishop passed away last week unexpectedly, the only thing I've heard is that it may the Vatican 6-9 months to replace him.
What is the process and who is in charge of the diocese during this time?
Are confirmations and ordinations put on hold?
What about the other functions that the bishop delegates to priests (but the laity takes for granted)?


What happens to a diocese when a bishop dies unexpectedly?

Prior to the naming of Archbishop Exner in my archdiocese, we were without a bishop for 11 months. The diocesan administrator (later named the apostolic administrator just prior his visit ad limina as a priest) performed most of the normal functions of the archbishop.

The term "sede vacante" can be applied to other Catholic dioceses outside of Rome. In such cases, this means that the particular diocesan bishop has either died, resigned, transferred to a different diocese, or lost his office and a replacement has not yet been named. If there is a coadjutor bishop for the diocese, then this period does not take place, as the coadjutor bishop (or coadjutor archbishop, in the case of an archdiocese) immediately succeeds to the episcopal see.

Within eight days after the episcopal see is known to be vacant, the college of consultors (or the cathedral chapter in some countries) is obliged to elect a diocesan administrator. The administrator they choose must be a priest or bishop who is at least 35 years old.

If the college of consultors fails to elect a qualifying person within the time allotted, the choice of diocesan administrator passes to the metropolitan archbishop or, if the metropolitan see is vacant, to the senior-most by appointment of the suffragan bishops.

Before the election of the diocesan administrator of a vacant see, the governance of the see is entrusted, with the powers of a vicar general, to the auxiliary bishop, if there is one, or to the senior among them, if there are several, otherwise to the college of consultors as a whole. The diocesan administrator has greater powers, essentially those of a bishop except for matters excepted by the nature of the matter or expressly by law. Canon law subjects his activity to various legal restrictions and to special supervision by the college of consultors (as for example canons 272 and 485).

Vicars general and episcopal vicars lose their powers sede vacante if they are not bishops; the vicars that are themselves bishops retain the powers they had before the see fell vacant, which they are to exercise under the authority of the administrator. - Sede vacante

The diocesan administrator may perform the confirmations within the diocese even if he is a priest (Can. 427 §1).

The diocesan Administrator is bound by the obligations and enjoys the power of a diocesan Bishop, excluding those matters which are excepted by the nature of things or by the law itself.

Who's in charge of the Diocese When There's No Bishop is an excellent read.


For example, Bishop Robert Charles Morlino, S.J., of Madison, WI, passed away this past Saturday. The Madison diocese belongs to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, whose archbishop is Jerome Edward Listecki, so he would take care of any pressing issues in the archdiocese before a new bishop is appointed to the Madison diocese.

Confirmations †Morlino might have been scheduled to perform could be performed by the archbishop or an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese, or he could delegate his power to confirm to priest(s) if no bishop is unable.

Since only bishops can ordain, he or another bishop in the archdiocese could perform the ordinations †Morlino may have been scheduled to perform.

(Also, several sees in the U.S. are vacant.)

  • Could a diocesan or apostolic administrator perform the confirmation? Nov 26 '18 at 22:28
  • 1
    @MattGutting If the "diocesan or apostolic administrator" is a priest and a bishop has delegated to him the authority.
    – Geremia
    Nov 27 '18 at 0:09
  • Interestingly, I saw this question at the same time I happened to read this article: canonlawmadeeasy.com/2018/11/08/… Nov 27 '18 at 2:10

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