I've heard that the bishop of the Diocese of Orlando during 1969 claimed that because Apollo 11 was launched from Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, which were under his jurisdiction, he became "bishop of the moon" because they were the first to land on it. Is this true? If so, what is the justification?
Is there a Catholic bishop with jurisdiction over space?
The short answer is yes and no.
There is at least one bishop who claims jurisdiction over the moon and that is in space.
An obscure law from 1917 places the moon under the purview of the Diocese of Orlando, Florida.
The Diocese of Orlando, Florida, covers much of the greater central Florida area. It encompasses nine counties, hundreds of cities, nearly 401,000 Catholic residents, and, strangely enough, the moon. nearly 401,000 Catholic residents, and, stran UCatholic explains the unusual circumstances that led to the moon’s spiritual jurisdiction landing with the diocese that ministers to Disney, Universal, and Cape Canaveral:
The Apollo 11 space mission began with the launch from Cape Canaveral on July 16, 1969. The mission fulfilled the national goal proposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth, before this decade is out.” However, when Apollo 11 made its famous flight from Cape Canaveral to ultimately fulfill that goal, they inadvertently made Bishop Borders the first Bishop of the Moon thanks to an obscure rule from the 1917 Code of Canon Law in effect at the time.
In 1968, William Donald Borders was named the first bishop of Orlando. When Apollo 11 launched, one year later, there was still a law in the books that stated that any newly discovered territory would fall under the bishopric from whence the discovering expedition departed. Since Cape Canaveral was under the purview of the Diocese of Orlando, Bishop Borders was effectively the first bishop of the moon.
UCatholic notes that, if taken seriously, the Diocese of Orlando would become the largest, at fourteen and half million square miles, although it would be hard to call it the largest diocese in the world.
Father John Giel, chancellor for Canonical Affairs for the Diocese of Orlando, commented that being able to boast the moon is ultimately fruitless since it “means nothing if there is no one to have jurisdiction over.” Father Giel did, however, commend Bishop Borders for the gig:
“Since we have yet to find any life on the moon, the story only emphasizes Bishop Border’s good and humorous nature that allowed him to be such a good first bishop for central Florida.”
Under Canon Law at the time, there technically was a "bishop of the moon"
Bishop William D. Borders was the bishop of the Diocese of Orlando (which contains Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center where NASA launched Apollo 11) did make the tongue-in-cheek claim that he was now officially the bishop of the moon. During an interfaith banquet before the Apollo 11 launch (in which religious leaders reflected on the imminent moon landing and how that affected their faith and understanding of God's creation), he and other bishops jokingly stated that they would be "bishop of the moon".
At the prelaunch banquet honoring the interfaith leaders, there was some tongue-in-cheek banter about whose diocese included the lunar territory, with Bishop Borders contending that since the mission was being launched from his diocese, that was his responsibility. Cardinal Cooke, who was vicar of the Military Ordinariate (now the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA), which served the Air Force Base at Cape Kennedy, said he should be allowed to accompany Bishop Borders “in the spirit of collegiality.” Miami Archbishop Coleman Carroll claimed that tradition says the “moon is always over Miami,” so he called dibs.
Some time later, Bishop Borders went on his ad limina journey to Pope Paul VI to report on the state of his diocese. During the meeting, he told the Pope that he was "bishop of the Moon" and explained his rationale.
According to a remembrance written in 2016 by Renae Bennett, diocesan archivist, “During his visit, Bishop Borders mentioned to the pope that he was the ‘bishop of the moon.’ Responding to the pontiff’s perplexed reaction, Bishop Borders explained that according to the 1917 Code of Canon Law (in effect at that time), any newly discovered territory was placed under the jurisdiction of the diocese from which the expedition that discovered that territory originated.
I suspect that this part of Canon Law was a holdover from earlier eras in which territories were being newly colonized, such as the Americas, and the most expedient way to determine which bishop had jurisdiction over it was to assign the one in the originating diocese of the naval ship that discovered it.
The article notes that the pope's response was not recorded. However, the current bishop of Orlando does not consider himself the bishop of the moon, nor any other space station.
Jennifer Drow, secretary of communications for the Diocese of Orlando, said that she is sure Bishop John Noonan, the current bishop of Orlando, does not consider himself bishop of the moon and the International Space Station, also launched from Kennedy Space Center. “I’m sure he would say God is the bishop of the moon,” Drow said on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch.
So in the end, it's more of a tongue-in-cheek question, at least until there become permanent residents on the Moon.
- "Did Apollo 11 mission make Archbishop Borders bishop of the moon?" from the Archdiocese of Baltimore
- "Remembering the Bishop of the Moon" from the Dioceses of Orlando
Did the Apollo 11 mission result in a Catholic “bishop of the moon”?
The short answer is possibly no.
There yet may be another way of possibly looking at this question.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is King of the Entire Universe.
Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in his encyclical Quas primas of 1925, in response to growing secularism and nationalism, and in the context of the unresolved Roman Question.
The title of the feast was "Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Regis" (Our Lord Jesus Christ the King), and the date was established as "the last Sunday of the month of October – the Sunday, that is, which immediately precedes the Feast of All Saints". In Pope John XXIII's revision of the Calendar in 1960, the date and title were unchanged but, according to the simplification of the ranking of feasts, it was classified as a feast of the first class.
In his motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis of 1969, Pope Paul VI amended the title of the Feast to "D. N. Iesu Christi universorum Regis" (Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe). He also moved it to the new date of the final Sunday of the liturgical year, before the commencement of a new liturgical year on the First Sunday of Advent (the earliest date for which is 27 November). Through this choice of date "the eschatological importance of this Sunday is made clearer". He assigned to it the highest rank of "solemnity".
The liturgical vestments for the day are colored white or gold, in keeping with other joyous feasts honoring Christ. - Feast of Christ the King
The Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church is also know as the Vicar of Christ.
(Latin Vicarius Christi).
A title of the pope implying his supreme and universal primacy, both of honour and of jurisdiction, over the Church of Christ. It is founded on the words of the Divine Shepherd to St. Peter: "Feed my lambs. . . . Feed my sheep" (John 21:16-17), by which He constituted the Prince of the Apostles guardian of His entire flock in His own place, thus making him His Vicar and fulfilling the promise made in Matthew 16:18-19. - Vicar of Christ (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Thus if the pope is the Vicar of Christ and according to the Catholic Church, Jesus is the King of the Universe, the pope has total spiritual jurisdiction over space and is by default the Bishop of the Moon.
It gets more interesting when we see that the Roman Congregations (Roman Curia) operates in the name of the Holy Father:
The Roman Curia is the administrative apparatus of the Holy See and the central governing body of the entire Catholic Church, together with the Pope. It coordinates and provides the necessary central organization for the correct functioning of the Church and the achievement of its goals. "In exercising supreme, full, and immediate power in the universal Church, the Roman pontiff makes use of the departments of the Roman Curia which, therefore, perform their duties in his name and with his authority for the good of the churches and in the service of the sacred pastors" — Decree concerning the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, Christus Dominus Curia in medieval and later Latin usage means "court" in the sense of "royal court" rather than "court of law". - Roman Curia
Now if the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda or Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples as it is known today operates in the name of the pope, then the Cardinal Prefect is the Bishop of the Moon in the pope’s name!
The Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide, whose official title is "sacra congregatio christiano nomini propagando" is the department of the pontifical administration charged with the spread of Catholicism and with the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs in non-Catholic countries. The intrinsic importance of its duties and the extraordinary extent of its authority and of the territory under its jurisdiction have caused the cardinal prefect of Propaganda to be known as the "red pope". - Sacred Congregation of Propaganda
Now the moon is definitely mission territory since it it has little or no permanent Catholic population:
The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (Latin: Congregatio pro Gentium Evangelizatione) in Rome is the congregation of the Roman Curia responsible for missionary work and related activities. It is perhaps better known by its former title, the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Latin: Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide), or simply the Propaganda Fide.
In principle it is responsible for pre-diocesan missionary jurisdictions (of the Latin rite) : Mission sui iuris, Apostolic prefecture (neither entitled to a titular bishop) Apostolic vicariate; equivalents of other rites (e.g. Apostolic exarchate) are in the sway of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. However many former missionary jurisdictions -mainly in the Third World- remain, after promotion to diocese of (Metropolitan) Archdiocese, under the Propaganda Fide instead of the normally competent Congregation for the Bishops, notably in countries/regions where the Catholic church is too poor/ small (as in most African countries) to aspire self-sufficiency and/or local authorities hostile to Catholic/Christian/any (organized) faith. - Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
Thus the Red Pope in the name of the Pope, may actually be the Bishop of the Moon.