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An explanation of the office of the bishop and the difference between an archbishop and an auxiliary bishop

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, thought it would be educational for the faithful of the Archdiocese of San Antonio to have this material concerning the roles of bishops.

Our Lord entrusted his sacred mission and authority to the Apostles. Filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out at Pentecost; the Apostles, the first bishops, fulfilled this mission and handed on their office and authority to their successors through the sacrament of holy orders. Therefore, when a priest is ordained a bishop, he receives the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, i.e. the fullness of the office and authority Christ entrusted to the Apostles. “In the person of the bishops … the Lord Jesus Christ, supreme High Priest, is present in the midst of the faithful” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, No. 21). The Catholic Church possesses an unbroken line of apostolic succession, meaning that the office and authority granted by Christ to the Apostles was transmitted to their successor bishops, and onto succeeding bishops through the ages to the present day.

When it is announced that a particular priest has been chosen by the Holy Father to become a bishop, episcopal consecration is required for him to receive “the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders” (CCC 1557), become a bishop, and receive additional sacramental powers that a priest does not have. Bishops may ordain men to the diaconate, to the priesthood and confer the sacrament of confirmation on the faithful. A bishop can also consecrate other bishops.

Pope Francis has urged bishops to fulfill their duty to make mercy pastoral for their flocks. “Mercy,” he said, “should form and inform the pastoral structures of our churches.” The pope gave the bishops three recommendations for how to make mercy pastoral, saying their ministry must be “accessible, tangible, and capable of encounter.” Addressing the U.S. bishops in 1983, Pope St. John Paul II said, “The final effectiveness of all our pastoral leadership depends to a great extent on the authenticity of our discipleship. Our own union with Jesus Christ determines the credibility of our witness. Precisely for this reason, we are called to exercise prophetically the role of holiness: to anticipate in our own lives that state of holiness to which we are striving to lead our people.”

The western portion of state of Texas has eight dioceses, which are grouped into one ecclesiastical province under the leadership of a bishop of one particular diocese, which most often covers a larger territory or has a larger Catholic population than the other dioceses. The bishop of that more substantial diocese is known as the metropolitan of that ecclesiastical province. The metropolitan is referred to as an archbishop, and the diocese which he heads is an archdiocese. In the western portion of Texas — San Antonio is the archdiocese, so the metropolitan appointed by the pope is Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS. That is why we refer, for example, to the Diocese of Laredo, and the Diocese of El Paso, but the Archdiocese of San Antonio. In the same way, we refer to Bishop James Tamayo of Laredo, and Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, but Archbishop Gustavo of San Antonio.

In a large archdiocese, an auxiliary bishop is often appointed by the Holy Father to assist the archbishop in the governance of the archdiocese and to step in for him if he is absent or impeded (Canon Law No. 403 and 405). The auxiliary bishop works in harmony with the archbishop (No. 407.3).

An auxiliary bishop enjoys all sacramental powers and is a successor of the Apostles like any bishop. Nevertheless, the archbishop alone has full responsibility for the entire archdiocese which the pope has entrusted to his care. An auxiliary bishop, therefore, is not the co-leader of the archdiocese since he does not have full authority; only the archbishop does. Auxiliary bishops can be given governing power, but is it generally limited to certain geographic sections of the archdiocese, or to certain aspects of it. But regardless of an auxiliaries’ duties, the archbishop retains ultimate authority.

Archbishop’s Column was published on April 14, 2017 in Today’s Catholic.

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