Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

Re-Establishing Roman Authority in the Sydney Archdiocese: The Coadjutorship of Roger Bede Vaughan, 1873-77

Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

Re-Establishing Roman Authority in the Sydney Archdiocese: The Coadjutorship of Roger Bede Vaughan, 1873-77

Article excerpt

Roger Bede Vaughan's four-year term as coadjutor archbishop of Sydney has received little scholarly attention, and yet during this relatively brief period the Benedictine successor to Archbishop John Bede Polding implemented a number of policies through which he successfully re-established full episcopal control over both the archdiocese and its metropolitan jurisdiction. (1) Although several authors have previously noted the role that Vaughan played in reviving Roman authority in Sydney, little attention has been paid to exactly how he achieved these aims during his time as coadjutor archbishop under the aged Polding. (2) There is consequently much in the relationship between these two Benedictine archbishops which remains unexamined. As the acknowledged successor of Archbishop Polding, Vaughan was placed in a sometimes difficult relationship with the elderly patriarch, a relationship which we seldom have an opportunity to observe in the post-Vatican Council church of the early twenty-first century, for relatively few coadjutor bishops are appointed these days. They were once a familiar feature of church government, however, with numerous coadjutor bishops being appointed to Australian sees in the first half of the twentieth century. What, then, was a coadjutor bishop, what was his role under the incumbent ordinary of the diocese to which he was appointed, and why was Archbishop Vaughan's coadjutorship so successful?

In the modern church, bishops are required by canon law to tender their resignation at seventy-five years of age. (3) In the nineteenth century, bishops were expected to die in office, and retirement was extremely rare. This custom created practical difficulties in the administration of the church, for many bishops continued in office well beyond the age when they could effectively perform the onerous duties of the episcopate. Auxiliary bishops were sometimes appointed to assist ailing bishops, but it was more usual for a coadjutor bishop to be appointed, especially in what the canon law candidly described as cases of diocesans who were 'impeded from performance of their Episcopal duties by old age, or bodily infirmity, or sickness, protracted and incurable, such as loss of speech, blindness, paralysis, and insanity'. (4) In the most serious cases, when a see was said to be 'impeded' due to the insanity of its bishop, the coadjutor could exercise all episcopal duties within the diocese, with the sole exception of disposing of church property. (5) Normally, however, a coadjutor had no role in ecclesiastical administration except in so far as the ordinary allowed him, but by the second half of the nineteenth century it was becoming accepted practice for a coadjutor to be appointed as the diocesan bishop's vicar general in spirituals, or his administrator in temporal matters. Coadjutors could be either temporary or perpetual, but it was more usual for them to be appointed as perpetual coadjutors, in which case they had the right of succession (cum jure successionis), which meant that they immediately entered into possession of the see upon the death of the incumbent. (6)

Roger Bede Vaughan's appointment was as a perpetual coadjutor with the right of succession to the see of Sydney upon the death of Archbishop Polding. (7) This arrangement was to ensure a smooth transition from one bishop to the next and to prevent lengthy vacancies in missionary areas in an age when international communication was difficult and time-consuming. (8) The coadjutor bishop with right of succession was guaranteed to succeed to his nominated see unless he predeceased the incumbent. He also had a number of other rights and privileges which auxiliaries did not have. While auxiliary bishops were frequently nominated by the incumbent diocesan himself, a coadjutor had to be nominated via a terna submitted by a meeting of the provincial bishops; moreover, the candidate was required to be 'most worthy' (dignissimus) rather than just 'worthy' (dignus). …

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