View Full Version : Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and Suffregan Dioceses
06-29-2011, 10:32 PM
Basically, the way the structure of the Roman Catholic Church works is that you have what are called Metropolitan Provinces, headed by metropolitan archbishops, and the metropolitan has general power over his entire province. The province is then divided into dioceses (with its seat an archdiocese), each of which is run by a bishop. These are called suffragan dioceses, and the bishops are called suffragan bishops.
For instance, one of the ecclesiastical provinces the province of New York, which covers New York State. The Metropolitan Archbishop is the Archbishop of New York, (Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, and the lower Hudson river), and the other dioceses in the province are Brooklyn (Brooklyn and Queens), Rockville Centre (Long Island), Albany (Central Eastern NY), Ogdensburg (northern NY), Syracuse (Central NY), Rochester (West-Central NY), and Buffalo (Western NY).
Anyway, it's like this throughout the US and around the world. There are about 30 provinces in the US and they divide the country between them. Anyway, if you look at the province of Washington (Washington, DC), you'll see it only has one suffragan diocese, the Diocese of St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands. All the dioceses around it are part of the province of Baltimore. Does anyone know why?
06-29-2011, 11:04 PM
Elements probably influencing the answer:
1. Baltimore was the first diocese, and I believe first archdiocese, in the U.S. It's always had a place of honor among U.S. Catholic leaders due to this.
2. It's customary for a national capital of a country large enough to be its own ecclesiastical province to be the seat of an archbishop.
3. OpalCat used to live in the area. (Yeah, it's old, but so appropriate here! :))
4. There's no set number of dioceses per province.
Not directly related to your question, but useful information -- suffragan means any bishop serving as assistant/associate to another. The Cardinal Archbishop of Metropolis not only has suffragans serving as Bishops of Smallville, Centerville, and Westville, but also serving as his assistants right there in Metropolis, covering the confirmations and ordinations and such in St. Swithins, Buffalo Heights, reviewing reqauests for annulments, and all the other fun stuff bishops do. In the Episcopal Church "suffragan" means specifically the 2nd, 3rd, etc. bishop of a large dioceses (we don't have archdioceses). In the Church of England, the Catholic usage (diocesan bishop not an archbishop or assistant to a diocesan or archbishop) is standard. Orthodox archbishops are termed metropolitans. And FTR there's one other bit of useful vocabulary: when a bishop is chosen to assist a bishop who is either nearing retirement or headed for bigger things, with the explicit proviso that when the other bishop retires/takes the new job, he will succeed him, he is termed bishop coadjutor, not suffragan.
06-29-2011, 11:28 PM
In the Catholic Church, bishops assisting the bishop of a diocese like that are usually called "auxiliary bishops". And I know there's no set number of dioceses per province, but the province of Washington is the smallest one in the US, and the only one with a suffragan diocese not geographically contingent. It actually looks like the second smallest in North America, with the only one smaller being the Province of St. Boniface, in Manitoba.
The “power” of a metropolitan archbishop over suffragan dioceses is in fact very limited. Basically, as long as there is a Bishop of Rockville Centre, the persons/agencies with whom he deals are the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican. The Archbishop of New York doesn’t have a lot to do with the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
The metropolitan does play a role when the diocese is vacant; it’s his job to ensure that an administrator is appointed to run the show pending the selection of a new bishop, and he will expect to be consulted in relation to the appointment of the new bishop. But that’s about it.
Polycarp is correct. Baltimore is the premier Catholic diocese in the US. It was established as a diocese in 1789, covering the entirety of the then United States. and as an archdiocese in 1808, when Boston, New York and a couple of other dioceses were carved out of it, and Baltimore was made metropolitan of them all. Over the years further parts of the archdiocese were carved off to create new suffragan dioceses in Charleston, Richmond, etc.
The archdiocese of Baltimore included the District of Columbia until 1947, and in fact was known as the Archdiocese of Baltimore-Washington from 1939 to 1947. In 1947 DC plus a couple of Maryland counties were carved out as the brand-new Archdiocese of Washington. Washington only got the Archdiocese title in 1947 because it was the national capital; it didn’t become a metropolitan archdiocese until 1965, when it was given metropolitan jurisdiction over St. Thomas.
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