A vicar general (previously, archdeacon) is the principal deputy of
the bishop of a diocese for the exercise of administrative authority
and possesses the title of local ordinary. As vicar of the bishop, the
vicar general exercises the bishop's ordinary executive power over the
entire diocese and, thus, is the highest official in a diocese or
other particular church after the diocesan bishop or his equivalent in
canon law. The title normally occurs only in Western Christian
churches, such as the
Latin Church of the
Catholic Church and the
Anglican Communion. Among the Eastern churches, the Mar Thoma Syrian
Church of Kerala uses this title and remains an exception. The title
for the equivalent officer in the Eastern churches is syncellus and
The term is used by many religious orders of men in a similar manner,
designating the authority in the Order after its Superior General.
1 Catholic dioceses
3 See also
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Catholic Church hierarchy § Ordinaries and local
Catholic Church hierarchy § Positions within a
diocese at diocesan level, and
Archdeacon § Catholic Church
In the Catholic Church, a diocesan bishop must appoint at least one
vicar general for his diocese, but may appoint more—dioceses
whose territory is split into different states usually have one each.
The vicar general by virtue of office is the bishop's agent in
administration, acting as second-in-command for diocesan 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—if a coadjutor bishop exists for a
diocese, the diocesan bishop is to appoint him as a vicar general.
Other auxiliary bishops are usually 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 vicar's authority normally extends over only a particular
geographic section of a diocese or over certain specific matters.
These might include issues concerning religious institutes or the
faithful of a different rite. These too must be priests or auxiliary
bishops. The equivalent officer in the Eastern Churches is called
Priests appointed as vicars general or episcopal vicars are freely
appointed or removed by the diocesan bishop, and are appointed for a
fixed duration. They lose their office when the term expires, or when
the episcopal see falls vacant. 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. Likewise, while they lose their
vicar general or episcopal vicar office title sede vacante, they
retain the powers of the office--specifically, those powers that can
still be exercised while the see is vacant--until the succeeding
bishop takes over the diocese. A coadjutor bishop has the right of
succession, 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
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 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.
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.
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
Archbishop Angelo De Donatis.
A similar example is found in the United States. 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, the same archbishop was also responsible for
the Military Ordinariate. This 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 for the Military Services, USA.
Vicars-General retain important administrative and judicial functions
in the Church of England.
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.
A notable example of a contemporary vicar-general is Nick Mercer,
vicar-general of the
Church of England
Church of England
Diocese of London, called
Vicar General to the London College of Bishops".
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June
Appointment of Catholic bishops
^ "Canon 475". Code of Canon Law. The Holy See. 1983. Retrieved
^ a b "Canon 478". Code of Canon Law. The Holy See. 1983. Retrieved
^ a b "Canon 406". Code of Canon Law. The Holy See. 1983. Retrieved
^ "Canon 476". Code of Canon Law. The Holy See. 1983. Retrieved
^ "Canon 481". Code of Canon Law. The Holy See. 1983. Retrieved
^ "Canon 193". Code of Canon Law. The Holy See. 1983. Retrieved
^ "Canon 409". Code of Canon Law. The Holy See. 1983. Retrieved
^ a b
Pope John Paul II (1998). "Ecclesia in Urbe (in Italian)".
^ Grell, Ole Peter; O'Day, Rosemary (2007). The European Reformation.
Milton Keynes: The Open University. p. 78.
Diocese of London –
Vicar General to the London College of
Bishops, the Revd Preb
Nick Mercer (Archive accessed 10