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Apostolic prefect

Apostolic prefect

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An apostolic prefect is a priest who heads what is known as an apostolic prefecture, a missionary area where the Catholic Church is not yet sufficiently developed to have it made a diocese
A diocese is the district or see under the supervision of a bishop. It is divided into parishes.An archdiocese is more significant than a diocese. An archdiocese is presided over by an archbishop whose see may have or had importance due to size or historical significance...


If a prefecture grows and flourishes, it is elevated to an apostolic vicariate
Apostolic vicariate
An apostolic vicariate is a form of territorial jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church established in missionary regions and countries that do not have a diocese. It is essentially provisional, though it may last for a century or more...

, headed by a titular bishop
Titular bishop
A titular bishop in various churches is a bishop who is not in charge of a diocese.By definition a bishop is an "overseer" of a community of the faithful, so when a priest is ordained a bishop the tradition of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches is that he be ordained for a specific place...

, in the hope that with time the region will generate enough Catholics and stability for its Catholic institutions, to warrant being established as a diocese.

The usual sequence of development is: mission, prefecture, vicariate, diocese.

The apostolic prefecture and the apostolic vicariate are to be distinguished from the territorial abbacy (formerly called an "abbey nullius").


During the last centuries of the second millennium it was the practice of the Holy See to govern either through prefects apostolic or apostolic vicariates, many territories where no dioceses with resident bishops existed and where local circumstances, such as the character and customs of the people or hostility of civil powers, made it doubtful whether an episcopal see could be permanently established. The establishing of a prefecture apostolic in a place supposes that the Church has attained only a small development in the area. Fuller growth leads to the foundation of an apostolic vicariate as an intermediate stage to becoming a diocese.

A prefect apostolic is of lower rank than a vicar apostolic. The prefect's powers are more limited and do not normally possess the episcopal character, as is ordinarily the case with a vicar apostolic. The duties of a prefect apostolic consist in directing the work of the mission entrusted to his care; his powers are in general those necessarily connected with the ordinary administration of such an office, for instance: the assigning of missionaries and the making of regulations for the good management of the affairs of the mission. Until the Second Vatican Council
Second Vatican Council
The Second Vatican Council addressed relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world. It was the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church and the second to be held at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. It opened under Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 and closed...

, the prefect apostolic had extraordinary faculties for several cases reserved otherwise to diocesan bishops, such as absolutions from censures, dispensations from matrimonial impediments and the faculty of consecrating chalices, patens, and portable altars, with some having the power to administer Confirmation.

Prefects apostolic govern independent territories and are subject only to the pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

. When a vicariate or a diocese extended over a very large territory in which the Catholic population was unequally distributed, the Holy See sometimes placed a portion of the territory in charge of a prefect apostolic; in which case the faculties of the prefect were more limited, and in the exercise of his office he was supervised by the vicar apostolic or the diocesan bishop. With a view to better protecting the authority of the local vicar apostolic or bishop, it was proposed in the First Vatican Council
First Vatican Council
The First Vatican Council was convoked by Pope Pius IX on 29 June 1868, after a period of planning and preparation that began on 6 December 1864. This twentieth ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church, held three centuries after the Council of Trent, opened on 8 December 1869 and adjourned...

 to abolish prefects apostolic having jurisdiction over districts within a vicariate or diocese of the Latin Rite, but the Council was interrupted and the practice continued until Pope Leo XIII
Pope Leo XIII
Pope Leo XIII , born Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci to an Italian comital family, was the 256th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, reigning from 1878 to 1903...

 abolished them within the Oriental Churches by a decree of Propaganda Fide on 12 September 1896, and established superiors with special dependence on the papal representatives of the areas concerned.

In 1911 there were 66 prefectures apostolic: 5 in Europe; 17 in Asia; 3 in North America (e.g., the Yukon); 11 in South America; 23 in Africa and 7 in Oceania.

At the end of 2007, the prefectures apostolic were only 45, of which 29 were in China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, where the development of the Catholic Church had been hampered by the actions of the government. There were 5 more in Asia, 8 in Africa, 2 in the Americas and 1 in Oceania.

In China

  • Ankang 安康 / Hinganfu 兴安
    Xing'an or Hsingan refers to a former province, which once occupied western Heilongjiang and part of northwest Liaoning provinces of China. The name is related to that of the Greater Khingan Mountains...

  • Baojing 保靖 / Paoking
  • Guilin 桂林 / Kweilin
  • Hainan 海南 / Hainan
  • Haizhou 海州 / Haichow
  • Jiamusi 佳木斯 / Kiamusze
  • Jian′ou 建甌 / Kienow
  • Lingling 零岭 / Yongzhou 永州 / Yungchow
  • Linqing 臨清 / Lintsing
  • Lintong 臨潼 / Lintung
  • Lixian 澧縣 / Lizhou 澧州 / Lichow
  • Qiqihar 齊齊哈爾 / Tsitsibar
  • Shaowu 邵武 /
  • Shashi 沙市 / Shasi
  • Shiqian 石阡 / Shihtsien
  • Suixian 隨縣 / Suihsien
  • Tongzhou 同州 / Tungchow
  • Tunxi 屯溪 / Tunki
  • Weihaiwei 威海衛 / Weihaiwei
  • Xiangtan 湘潭 / Siangtan
  • Xining 西寧 / Sining
  • Xinjiang 新絳 / Jiangzhou 絳州 / Kiangchow
  • Xinjiang-Urumqi 新疆-烏魯木齊  / Sinkiang
  • Xinxiang 新鄉 / Sinsiang
  • Yangzhou 揚州 / Yangchow
  • Yiduxian 益都縣 / Iduhsien
  • Yixian 易縣 / Yihsien
  • Yueyang 岳陽 / Yuezhou 岳州 / Yochow
  • Zhaotong 昭通 / Chaotung

Elsewhere in Asia

  • Bătdâmbâng / Battambang
    Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang
    The Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang is a territorial subdivision of the Roman Catholic Church in Cambodia.The prefecture covers an area of 80,430 km² of north-western Cambodia, covering the provinces Battambang, Pursat, Kompong Chhnang, Kompong Thom, Siem Reap, Preah Vihear, Oddar...

     in Cambodia
  • Kompong Cham
    Apostolic Prefecture of Kompong Cham
    The Apostolic Prefecture of Kompong Cham is a territorial subdivision of the Roman Catholic Church in Cambodia.The prefecture covers an area of 66,347 km² of eastern Cambodia, covering the provinces Kampong Cham, Kratié, Stung Treng, Ratanak Kiri, Mondul Kiri, Svay Rieng and Prey Veng. As of...

     in Cambodia
  • Ulaanbaatar
    Prefecture Apostolic of Ulaanbaatar
    The Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar is a Roman Catholic apostolic prefecture located in the city of Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.-History:* March 14, 1922: Established as Mission “sui iuris” of Outer Mongolia 外蒙 from the Apostolic Vicariate of Central Mongolia 中蒙古* 1924: Renamed as Mission “sui...

     in Mongolia
  • Quetta
    Apostolic Prefecture of Quetta
    The Apostolic Prefecture of Quetta was established on November 9, 2001 from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hyderabad and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Karachi...

     in Pakistan
  • Yuzhno Sakhalinsk in Russia


  • Marshall Islands
    Roman Catholic Apostolic Prefecture of the Marshall Islands
    The Roman Catholic Apostolic Prefecture of the Marshall Islands is an ecclesiastical territory below the rank of diocese, in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The prefecture is a suffragan of the Metropolitan Province of Agaña...

     in the ecclesiastical province
    Ecclesiastical Province
    An ecclesiastical province is a large jurisdiction of religious government, so named by analogy with a secular province, existing in certain hierarchical Christian churches, especially in the Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches and in the Anglican Communion...

     of Agana
    Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Agaña
    The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Agaña is an ecclesiastical territory or diocese of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. It comprises the overseas dependency of Guam. The prelate is an archbishop which pastors the mother church, Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica.-History:The...



  • Misurata in Libya
  • Western Sahara
  • Gambella
    Apostolic Prefecture of Gambella
    The Apostolic Vicariate of Gambella is a Roman Catholic missionary jurisdiction in the ecclesiastical province of the archbishopric of Addis Abbeba ....

     and Jimma–Bonga in Ethiopia
  • Makokou in Gabon
  • Mongo in Chad
  • Donkorkrom in Ghana


  • Falkland Islands
    Apostolic Prefecture of the Falkland Islands
    The Apostolic Prefecture of Falkland Islands is a Roman Catholic apostolic prefecture located in the Falkland Islands and covering the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island, and Tristan da Cunha.-History:...

     including South Georgia
  • Galápagos in Ecuador

See also

External links