His primary role, as announced by Bishop Ricken, will be in external matters of the diocese “for pastoral reasons and for resourcing for pastors.” Working with the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department, Fr. Felton will assist pastoral leaders in implementing diocesan pastoral planning.
Fr. Felton will retain his position as pastor at St. Francis of Assisi.
Effective June 8, Deacon Timothy Reilly, who has served as diocesan director of Administration since 2004, has been appointed general director of the Curia. The position is, in many ways, similar to that known in Canon Law as “moderator of the curia,” a role that can only be assigned to a priest. Bishop Ricken, in making the appointment, noted that “it is no longer possible for a priest to serve in (the moderator of the curia) capacity.”
Therefore, Deacon Reilly will assume those administrative responsibilities specific to the moderator of the curia. He will continue to oversee administrative affairs of the diocese and the diocesan departments and staff. He will also oversee other members of the diocesan Curia.
The other two vicars general for the Diocese of Green Bay are Auxiliary Bishop Robert Morneau, pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez, and Fr. John Doerfler, who also serves as diocesan Chancellor.
An overview of church administrative structure
In understanding the idea of a diocesan Curia, it is helpful to view the structure of a diocese as resembling the government of ancient Rome. Since the basic administrative structure of the church formed in ancient Rome, during imperial times, it likewise developed many of the offices that Romans already knew.
One of these is the curia. Coming from a Latin word meaning “a gathering of men,” the first curia was developed by the ancient tribes of Etruscans and the early Romans that formed Rome. The primary tribes of Rome were divided into 10 groups, called curia. This structure later became the Roman Senate, and the curial structure was eventually established in all Roman cities.
This structure was later duplicated in courts of kings, after the fall of Rome. By the Middle Ages, the term “curia” was applied to courts of justice or the members of the royal court who served and advised kings.
Roman (Vatican) Curia
The Roman Curia originally developed as a form of advisors — usually cardinals — for the papal court. In the 16th century, the Roman curia became the main administrative court for the pope and has remained so to this day. Its decisions can carry the authority of the pope. Presently, there are nine congregations, 12 councils, three tribunals, the secretariat of state, the synod of bishops and seven pontifical commissions included in the even-larger structure of the Roman Curia. (It even includes the Swiss Guard.)
Each diocesan bishop is a member of the Roman Curia. Within his diocese, a bishop also has a curia, consisting of various groups that serve as his advisors.
The Code of Canon Law describes the diocesan curia as “composed of those institutes and persons who assist the bishop in governing the entire diocese, especially in directing pastoral action, in providing for the administration of the diocese, and in exercising judicial power” (can. 469).
In order to facilitate the smooth running of the curia, the bishop may appoint a “moderator of the curia” who ought to be a priest and who “coordinates activities concerning administrative matters” and “ensures that the others who belong to the curia properly fulfill the offices entrusted to them” (can. 473).
Most often, this moderator is also the vicar general for the diocese. The same canon (par. 3) says that “unless in the bishop’s judgment, local conditions suggest otherwise, the vicar general is to be appointed moderator of the curia” (par. 3). However, the decision remains with each bishop.
The vicar general is the highest diocesan official after the bishop and is appointed by the bishop. The term “vicar” comes from the Latin and means “substitute.” The role of vicar general has been called “the alter ego” of the bishop, since the priest in this position can act in the name of the bishop in running the diocese, if need arises or as powers are delegated to him by the bishop.
Of historical interest is the fact that the first vicars general, or episcopal assistants as they were then called, were archdeacons. Archdeacons no longer exist in the Latin rite of the church, but they were the senior members of a group of seven deacons. Today, by church law, vicars general must be priests.
When Fr. John Doerfler was appointed vicar general in 2004 by Bishop David Zubik — a post he was again named to by Bishop David Ricken — he described the role of “vicar” as “someone who stands in for, or acts in the place of, someone else. The vicar general stands in for, or acts in the name of, the bishop, in all matters except those specifically reserved to the diocesan bishop.”
Canon law states that a bishop “is to appoint a vicar general to assist him in the governance of the whole diocese.” The law further says that, “as a general rule, one vicar general is to be appointed, unless the size of the diocese, the number of inhabitants, or other pastoral reasons suggest otherwise” (can. 475).
The Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops in 2004 noted that the vicar general is the “pre-eminent official of the diocesan curia” and that “as a general rule” there should only be one vicar general. However, the congregation recognized that “if the Bishop considers it opportune, because of the size of the diocese or for some other pastoral reason, he may appoint more than one.”
The congregation added that, since all vicars general have equal power in a diocese, “clear coordination of their activity is necessary … and, in general, regarding the exercise of their respective competence.” This is because, in the event of the absence of a bishop, the vicar general is charged with the administration of the diocese and a clear chain of command might be compromised.
Episcopal Vicars, Auxiliary Bishops
Can. 406 says that an auxiliary bishop is to be appointed as vicar general, though an auxiliary bishop does not have any right of succession. Canon 407 states that the bishop and auxiliary bishop are to “consult one another on matters of major importance” for the good of the diocese.
Even the characteristics of the vicar general and episcopal vicars are listed in canon law: “… priests of not less than 30 years of age, with a doctorate or licentiate in canon law or theology, or at least well versed in these disciplines. They are to be known for their sound doctrine, integrity, prudence and practical experience” (can. 478).