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It was announced today that His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, has accepted the resignation of Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein as archbishop of Indianapolis and that our auxiliary bishop, Bishop Christopher Coyne, is now the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese.
Under the code of canon law, an interim diocesan administrator must be appointed to oversee the affairs of the diocese when the diocese becomes vacant. A diocese becomes vacant whenever the diocesan bishop dies, resigns, or is transferred from or deprived of his see by the Roman Pontiff. Generally, a resignation of a diocesan bishop requires acceptance by the Pope. It becomes effective at the time that written notice of acceptance is received by the diocesan bishop who tendered the resignation unless either the bishop tendering the resignation or the Pope who accepts the resignation specifies some other time for the resignation to take effect.
There are two ways in which the interim diocesan administrator is appointed. He must be a priest or bishop. He can be elected by the body diocesan priests known as College of Consultors. The Pope also can appoint the diocesan administrator and in that case he is known as the Apostolic Administrator.
In general, the diocesan administrator, whether he is elected by the Consultors or appointed by the Holy Father, is subject to the same obligations and possesses the same powers as a diocesan bishop. However, there are certain limitations on the power of the administrator that hinge upon his status. Thus, an administrator who is not a bishop may not perform functions that by their nature are reserved to bishops such as ordaining priests and deacons for the diocese while an administrator who is a bishop has the authority to ordain.
The law itself denies the administrator the power to perform certain actions that are permitted to the diocesan bishop. For example, Church law allows the administrator to issue letters authorizing the ordination of diocesan priests or deacons (known as dimissorial letters) but states he can only do so with the consent of the college of consultors. The Code of Canon Law prohibits the administrator from removing from office either the judicial vicar or adjunct judicial vicars but allows him to remove the chancellor or other notaries from office as long as he has the consent of the college of consultors.
There are certain functions that the administrator may perform only after the diocesan see has been impeded or stood vacant for more than one year. For example, the administrator may grant incardination or excardination to priests and deacons only if the diocese has been vacant for a year. The administrator cannot name pastors for parishes unless the diocese has been without a diocesan bishop for at least one year.
Finally, Church law prohibits the administrator from taking actions which may prejudice the rights of the diocese or its bishop. This would include suppression of parishes and relegation of churches to profane use.
Apart from such limitations, the administrator enjoys powers and has obligations equivalent to those of a diocesan bishop in all respects. For example, he is required to reside in the diocese and to celebrate the Mass for the people of the diocese. Furthermore, with regard to selling of ecclesiastical property, the administrator needs to obtain the consent of both the college of consultors and the diocesan finance council when the value of the property to be alienated falls within the minimum and maximum amounts set by the episcopal conference.
In general, the diocesan administrator, whether elected by the college of consultors or appointed by the Holy Father, maintains the necessary day to day functioning of a diocese but does not make any structural changes that would truly be innovations in the particular diocese.