Rorate Caeli

What is a Personal Prelature?

This is probably a good time for everyone following the Vatican-SSPX negotiations to read five paragraphs from the 1983 Code of Canon Law.  Art. 297 is the most important one relative to the SSPX situation. 

The proposed statutes (which none of us have seen) are what will decide whether or not an ordinary can simply block the SSPX from a diocese (like the FSSP has experienced since 1988) or if there will be explicit language guaranteeing a traditionalist version of religious freedom with respect to a hostile diocesan bishop.

Can. 294 After the conferences of bishops involved have been heard, the Apostolic See can erect personal prelatures, which consist of presbyters and deacons of the secular clergy, to promote a suitable distribution of presbyters or to accomplish particular pastoral or missionary works for various regions or for different social groups.
Can. 295 §1. The statutes established by the Apostolic See govern a personal prelature, and a prelate presides offer it as the proper ordinary; he has the right to erect a national or international seminary and even to incardinate students and promote them to orders under title of service to the prelature.
§2. The prelate must see to both the spiritual formation and decent support of those whom he has promoted under the above-mentioned title.
Can. 296 Lay persons can dedicate themselves to the apostolic works of a personal prelature by agreements entered into with the prelature. The statutes, however, are to determine suitably the manner of this organic cooperation and the principal duties and rights connected to it.
Can. 297 The statutes likewise are to define the relations of the personal prelature with the local ordinaries in whose particular churches the prelature itself exercises or desires to exercise its pastoral or missionary works, with the previous consent of the diocesan bishop.


  1. Thomas5:32 PM

    Cue P.K.T.P. ...

  2. John Gerardi5:46 PM


    Can. 294 — Ad aptam presbyterorum distributionem promovendam aut ad peculiaria opera pastoralia vel missionalia pro variis regionibus aut diversis coetibus socialibus perficienda, praelaturae personales quae presbyteris et diaconis cleri saecularis constent, ab Apostolica Sede, auditis quarum interest Episcoporum conferentiis, erigi possunt.

    Can. 295 — § 1. Praelatura personalis regitur statutis ab Apostolica Sede conditis eique praeficitur Praelatus ut Ordinarius proprius, ciu ius est nationale vel internationale seminarium erigere necnon alumnos incardinare, eosque titulo servitii praelaturae ad ordines promovere.

    § 2. Praelatus prospicere debet sive spirituali institutioni illorum, quos titulo praedicto promoverit, sive eorundem decorae sustentationi.

    Can. 296 — Conventionibus cum praelatura initis, laici operibus apostolicis praelaturae personalis sese dedicare possunt; modus vero huius organicae cooperationis atque praecipua officia et iura cum illa coniuncta in statutis apte determinentur.

    Can. 297 — Statuta pariter definiant rationes praelaturae personalis cum Ordinariis locorum, in quorum Ecclesiis particularibus ipsa praelatura sua opera pastoralia vel missionalia, praevio consensu Episcopi dioecesani, exercet vel exercere desiderat.

  3. John Gerardi5:50 PM

    A key phrase seems to be in can. 297: "in whose particular churches"/"in quorum Ecclesiis particularibus." Does a "particular church"/"Ecclesia particularis" refer to an individual local diocesan church, parish, oratory, or chapel, or is it just another way of referring to the diocese? I'm guessing the latter, but it would be nice if anyone with actual expertise in canon law could comment on it.

  4. I think a rather neat provision in the statutes would be that the new Personal Prelature would not be able to enter a new diocese without the permission of the local ordinary unless a) that diocese did not offer the extraordinary form on all Sundays and Holy Days of obligation at a convenient time and location and / or b) stable groups exist in the diocese which which had requested the extraordinary form but which had not received a positive reply from the local ordinary within a reasonable period (say six months) from the submission of the request.

    I realize that the issues at stake here go beyond the availability of the TLM, but this would certainly hasten the implmentation of Summorum Pontificum!

  5. "Particular Church" is a cannonical figure explained in the Code, can 368.

    If you see the "praevio consensu Episcopi dioecesani" limit the action of the Prelature in a diocese. It is necessary for the statutes to fullfill that condition.

    But nothing is said if a faithful or priest of the diocese wants to enter in the Prelature without the existance of pastoral or missionary presence of the Prelatura.

    Could the bishop block that person to enter and be admited? Sure not.

    Could the Prelatura admits someone from a diocese where is no permision to act as Prelature? Sure if it is the Prelate will.

    Could that kind of member, in case of be resident in the diocese, take the support for his spiritual life and piety of others members of the Prelatura personaly but not officialy of the Prelatura? Sure saving the Law.

    I think this is a legal gateway to be not afraid of hostile ordinaries.

  6. Savage,

    That actually wouldn't work. Words like convenient time and location are extremely ambiguous. A bishop could pick a location that is "only" an hours drive a 7am and say that's convenient (since you have the rest of the day to go to a "real" mass if you want). Or they can allow TLM at the "convenient" location and time near a noisy airport, near a brothel in the drug district.

    People who want to break the law will always find ways to obey the letter but completely violate the intent.

  7. Canon 296 is significant in that SSPX will have jurisdiction over their laity, unlike Opus Dei, like military ordinariates.

    Again I ask, why would the crisis in the Church be such that SSPX feels justified in ignoring suspensions, suppressions and even declaratory excommunication, incardinating priests into itself despite never having had a canonical mandate to do so, yet not be such to ignore an ordinary who denies them permission to enter his territory? If Rome has found itself willing to live with far more egregious (real or apparent) violations of Canon Law, why would it be too terribly concerned with this one? And what will the complaining ordinary say when asked, "Why did you feel it necessary to deny them permission despite the request of the Holy See to treat the Society generously?"?

    I realize why everyone's concerned about the apparent restriction imposed by Canon 297, but I invite everyone to consider whether this restriction is merely theoretical and very unlikely to come to any practical effect, considering the SSPX's long established view of "irregular actions justified by the gravity of the crisis in the Church."

    I think we should PAY ATTENTION to Bishop Fellay, when he says the greater problem that the Society will face will be responding to all the requests made by sympathetic ordinaries. There won't be the time or resources to move into the territories of unsympathetic ordinaries. All this hand-wringing over the restrictiveness of Canon 297 and the advantage of an international archdiocese, is much ado about nothing.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. This section of The New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law says:

    Prelature-Local Ordinary Relationships

    Canon 297 — The statues likewise are to define the relations of the personal prelature with the local ordinaries in whose particular churches the prelature itself exercises or desires to exercise its pastoral or missionary works, with the previous consent of the diocesan bishops.

    Normally all personal prelatures exercise their pastoral activities within the territorial limits of a particular church or a community of the faithful assimilated to a particular church (c. 368 ["Particular churches, in which and from which the one and only Catholic Church exists, are first of all dioceses, to which, unless it is otherwise evident, are likened a territorial prelature and territorial abbacy, an apostolic vicariate and an apostolic prefecture, and an apostolic administration erected in a stable manner."]). The pastoral tasks of the prelature must therefore be integrated within the larger pastoral objectives of the diocese in order to avoid potential conflicts. While the preceding canon considers the exercise of authority by the prelate over the lay faithful of the prelature, distinct from that of the local ordinary over these some lay persons, canon 297 deals explicitly with the relations between the personal prelature and the ordinaries of the places where it is to exercise its mission. Like Presbyterorum ordinis 10 and Ecclesiae sanctae I, 4, this canon gives particular attention to the nature of these relationships. Evidently harmonious relations will lead to an effective accomplishment of the prelature's mission.

    Here again, the statues are to determine the essentials of this relationship, i.e., the framework within which they will be established while keeping in mind the specific nature and purpose of the prelature. If this involves education, for instance, these relations will not be the same as in the case of hospital care or ministry to refugees or prisoners. Whatever the elements found in the particular laws of the prelature, universal law requires the consent of the diocesan bishop or his equivalent in law (c. 381, §2 ["Those who preside offer the other communities of the faithful mentioned in ⇒ can. 368 are equivalent in law to a diocesan bishop unless it is otherwise apparent from the nature of the matter or from a prescript of law."]) if a personal prelature is to exercise its pastoral or missionary activities with a particular church.


  10. continued…

    The legislator has been entirely coherent in establishing the provisions on the pastoral office of a bishop and clarifying the nature of the powers needed for a the accomplishment of that office. Canon 394, §1 ["A bishop is to foster various forms of the apostolate in the diocese and is to take care that in the entire diocese or in its particular districts, all the works of the apostolate are coordinated under his direction, with due regard for the proper character of each."] invites him to favor various forms of the apostolate with his diocese, but he is also responsible for coordinating these activities, with "due regard for the proper character of each." What is determined in canon 305, § 2 ["Associations of any kind are subject to the vigilance of the Holy See; diocesan associations and other associations to the extent that they work in the diocese are subject to the vigilance of the local ordinary."] for associations of Christian faithful and in canons 678 ["§1. Religious are subject to the power of bishops whom they are bound to follow with devoted submission and reverence in those matters which regard the care of souls, the public exercise of divine worship, and other works of the apostolate. §2. In exercising an external apostolate, religious are also subject to their proper superiors and must remain faithful to the discipline of the institute. The bishops themselves are not to fail to urge this obligation if the case warrants it. §3. In organizing the works of the apostolate of religious, diocesan bishops and religious superiors must proceed through mutual consultation."], 681 ["§1. Works which a diocesan bishop entrusts to religious are subject to the authority and direction of the same bishop, without prejudice to the right of religious superiors according to the norm of ⇒ can. 678, §§2 and 3. §2. In these cases, the diocesan bishop and the competent superior of the institute are to draw up a written agreement which, among other things, is to define expressly and accurately those things which pertain to the work to be accomplished, the members to be devoted to it, and economic matters."], and 682 ["§1. If it concerns conferring an ecclesiastical office in a diocese upon some religious, the diocesan bishop appoints the religious, with the competent superior making the presentation, or at least assenting to the appointment. §2. A religious can be removed from the of-Fie entrusted to him or her at the discretion either of the entrusting authority after having informed the religious superior or of the superior after having informed the one entrusting; neither requires the consent of the other."] regarding the apostolic work of religious in a diocese, canon 297 determines mutatis mutandis for personal prelatures.

  11. Carl --

    I disagree with your view that it is not important to worry about dealing with diocesan bishops.

    The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter and Institute of Christ the King have done a nice job getting into a good number of American dioceses. They have not done a nice job getting into a good number of American archdioceses.

    New York. Washington, DC. Philadelphia. Baltimore. Boston. Detroit. Miami. Los Angeles.

    These are important places for full-time traditional Latin Mass parishes. None of these archdioceses (and then some, to best of my knowledge) have personal parishes.

    Lincoln, Nebraska, and Saint Mary's, Kansas, I'm sure, are swell places. But for a movement to grow, it needs to have major presence in major cities. (The Institute of Christ the King accomplished a lot when it finally got clearance to headquarter in Chicago.)

    We can only pray this has been worked out in the negotiations concerning a personal prelature for the SSPX. The big archdioceses -- including the relations with those archbishops -- are important.

  12. Can. 294 says "the Apostolic See can erect personal prelatures," yet Paul VI's Ecclesiae sanctae I, 4 says: "Such prelatures are not erected unless the episcopal conferences of the territory in which they will render their services have been consulted. In rendering this service, diligent care is to be taken to safeguard the rights of local Ordinaries and close contacts with the same episcopal conferences are always to be maintained."

    Did the Opus Dei have to consult "the episcopal conferences of the territor[ies] in which they will render their services"? That could be a big sticking point for the SSPX.

  13. Prof. Basto8:00 PM

    With the Apostolic Constitution Ut Sit, Pope John Paul II erected as a Personal Prelature an organization that was international in character, namely, Opus Dei.

    When he did it, Pope John Paul II did not consult the Conferences of Bishops of the countries involved. Instead, the Congregation for Bishops was consulted.

    As the Supreme Authority of the Church, the Pope can dispense with this or that requirement of the law.

    Also, nothing prevents Bishop Fellay from asking for a Personal Ordinariate/Apostolic Administration/Diocese. The worse that can happen is getting no for an answer, in which case he should then proceed to accept the Prelature.

  14. Kenneth - Isn't the Society already established in all these territories? If so, the Society won't need to obtain the required permission to enter the territory. Again, the Society already exists in the most populated territories and therefore the permission required by canon 297 should not need to be obtained.

    But I think you are missing my point. If the Society wishes to enter a territory and the Ordinary denies permission, the Society's view of the crisis in the Church will cause the Society to ignore the refused permission. Unless the Society is planning to abandon its view of the crisis in the Church, Canon 297 will remain, at least in practical effect, a DEAD LETTER. I am not aware of any indication that the Society is planning to abandon its positions on the nature of the crisis in the Church.

    The movement will not be prevented from growing because the Holy See is giving the Society a INFINITELY MORE recognition than it ever has previously. This idea makes absolutely no sense to me. I think it proceeds from the habit of some traditionalists who like to see the worst in everything. Canonical recognition as a Personal Prelature would represent a magnificent apostolic blessing from the Holy Father.

  15. I want to see what modifications the sspx are offered, call me a loser but canon law fascinates me! For one thing we know the SSPX will have ordinary jurisdiction over their members, we will see what the other modifications are. Certainly +Fellay would not accept an unmodified PP and if such a thing, God forbid, were to happen I believe only a large minority of the SSPX would enter with most leaving and forming another group instead.

  16. Jack O'Malley2:47 AM

    A personal prelature by any other name would smell as sweet.

    Can the pope not modify the terms and conditions of a particular personal prelature to suit the circumstances? Is the Law of the Church not in the end the will of the Pontiff? Who may gainsay him?

    Should the Pontifex be constrained from building bridges because the codex hampers his creativity?

    Let us leave the details to Mgr Fellay and especially to Sua Santità Papa Benedetto XVI. He bears that historic title for a reason.

    If a codicil sine impedimento ordinarii loci be inserted into the Codex that Tradition flourish, let then the sterile Codex be amended. It takes but a stroke of the quill of Peter.

    There is no State (même en France) where L'état c'est moi was ever true except the Papacy. Vox Petri, vox Dei. Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven. Deo gratias.

  17. Peterman3:15 AM

    "with the previous consent of the diocesan bishop"
    Oh boy, there go my chances of getting a daily TLM here in this large central Florida diocese. My choices on Sunday morning are an hour drive (min) north, south. The fact is it's just all too easy for the bishop to say "there is no stable group requesting the TLM." Taking their jurisdiction away would multiply the TLM because they would be forced to set up regular TLM parishes or risk losing sheep.


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