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Auxiliary and Coadjutor Bishops

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By Nick Agule

Friends with the breaking news yesterday that the Holy Father Pope Francis has appointed the Archbishop of Jos, His Excellency Most Revd Ignatius Ayau Kaigama as COADJUTOR Archbishop of Abuja, a lot of questions have been asked regarding the difference between an AUXILIARY Bishop and COADJUTOR Bishop. A lot of these questions stem from the fact that the See of Abuja currently has an incumbent Auxiliary Bishop in the person of His Excellency Most Revd Anselm Umoren MSP and many wondered why he is not the one taking over. As my brother and friend Mike Utsaha correctly noted that the See of Abuja now has 3 Bishops which again is a point of confusion for some. I therefore feel compelled to make this writeup to explain the offices and roles of these Bishops. I must quickly concede that I am not a canon law expert.

To start with, the office of the Archbishop of Abuja currently occupied by His Eminence John Cardinal Olorunfemi Onaiyekan will soon be vacant because the Cardinal has attained the canonical retirement age of 75. This is provided in canon law as follows:

Can. 401 §1. A diocesan bishop who has completed the seventy-fifth year of age is requested to present his resignation from office to the Supreme Pontiff, who will make provision after he has examined all the circumstances.

Therefore Cardinal Onaiyekan having presented his resignation to Pope Francis, the Holy Father guided by the Holy Spirit has chosen to make provision for the Archdiocese by appointing Archbishop Kaigama to succeed Cardinal Onaiyekan. However Archbishop Kaigama cannot take canonical possession of the Archdiocese until Cardinal Onaiyekan leaves office. This is why Archbishop Kaigama was appointed as Coadjutor Archbishop. Archbishop Kaigama is therefore Archbishop in waiting of Abuja. This appointment is provided for in canon law as follows:

§3. If it appears more opportune to the Holy See, it can appoint ex officio a coadjutor bishop who also has special faculties. A coadjutor bishop possesses the right of succession

The implication is that for so long as Cardinal Onaiyekan remains in office, Archbishop Kaigama remains Coadjutor Archbishop of Abuja. How long more will Cardinal Onaiyekan remain in office is a matter between the Cardinal and the Pope. However it is expected that Cardinal Onaiyekan and Archbishop Kaigama will be working on the succession plan which includes handover formalities to enable the latter come to grips with all that is required to shepherd the people (Church) of Abuja. Cardinal Onaiyekan in addition to his role as Archbishop of Abuja is also the Metropolitan of Abuja which comprises the dioceses of Abuja, Lafia, Lokoja, Makurdi, Gboko, Otukpo, Idah and Katsina Ala. Archbishop Kaigama will also go through handover processes involving the administration of the Metropolitan of Abuja. The important point here is that the day Cardinal Onaiyekan leaves office either by the expiry of his notice of resignation, incapacitation, death or any other reason, Archbishop Kaigama automatically becomes the Archbishop of Abuja. No new appointment or formality is required. No vacuum is created. This automatic right of a Coadjutor Bishop to succeed the diocesan Bishop is governed by canon law as follows:

Can. 409 §1. When the episcopal see is vacant, the coadjutor bishop immediately becomes the bishop of the diocese for which he had been appointed provided that he has legitimately taken possession of it.

So who then is the Auxiliary Bishop and what is his role? 
An Auxiliary Bishop is appointed to ASSIST a diocesan Bishop. He has no right to succession. If the work of the diocese becomes too much for a single Bishop to do e.g. a Bishop is the minister of the sacrament of confirmation but there are dioceses where even if the Bishop does nothing else other than presiding over confirmations he cannot finish in a year. In such circumstances an Auxiliary Bishop is appointed to help the diocesan Bishop with his work. The appointment of an Auxiliary Bishop is provided for in Canon law as follows:

Can. 403 §1. When the pastoral needs of a diocese suggest it, one or more auxiliary bishops are to be appointed at the request of the diocesan bishop. An auxiliary bishop does not possess the right of succession.

When the diocesan Bishop leaves office, the Auxiliary Bishop remains an Auxiliary Bishop because he has no right to succession. The Holy Father may as well appoint an Auxiliary Bishop to succeed the diocesan Bishop or he may appoint him to another see or any other role e.g. at the Vatican. But if no such appointment is made then the Auxiliary Bishop continues in office as Auxiliary Bishop to the new Bishop. Thus Bishop Umoren will continue to function in office as Auxiliary Bishop of Abuja to assist Archbishop Kaigama whenever he succeeds Cardinal Onaiyekan except another announcement is made. As every Catholic Bishop must have a See, an Auxiliary Bishop is usually given a diocese that is suppressed or otherwise no longer functional. Thus Bishop Umoren is titular Bishop of Scampa.

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To better understand this is to look at the administration of a parish. A parish priest is appointed to lead the parish. When the parish becomes too big for one priest to run then one or more assistant priests is/are appointed to assist the parish priest (this is like Auxiliary Bishop appointed to assist a diocesan Bishop). When the parish priest is transferred it does not mean the assistant priest (who could be a young priest) will become parish priest. The Bishop appoints a more experienced priest to replace the PP. Now if the new PP resumes before the outgoing PP leaves the incoming priest will be like a Coadjutor PP and takes over the moment the PP leaves the parish. The assistant priest(s) in the parish will continue to be Auxiliary priests to the new PP until the Bishop appoints them to somewhere else.

In my view, almost all dioceses in Nigeria need one or more Auxiliary Bishops because the diocesan Bishops are simply doing way too much and we need to reduce the pressure on them. It takes a lot of years of service as a priest to be appointed a Bishop so age is usually not on their sides and overworking them has its consequences. Our Bishops are our treasures and we must preserve them. The Archdiocese of Westminster for example has 5 Bishops in office – 1 Archbishop and 4 Auxiliaries for more effective administration of the diocese. A diocese such as Gboko where a parish could have over 100 outstations needs at least 2-4 Auxiliary Bishops. A couple of dioceses such as Awka have Auxiliaries. But to think that a diocese like Lagos has none is troubling. I hope the Church in Nigeria will reflect more on this.

In summary:
1. An Auxiliary Bishop is appointed to ASSIST a diocesan Bishop and his successors.
2. A Coadjutor Bishop is appointed to SUCCEED (takeover from) a diocesan Bishop.

Congratulations to His Grace Archbishop Kaigama. I wish him many fruitful years of service of God and His people. The See of Abuja is very important because it has both ecclesiastical and political functions given its location in the political capital of the country. May God grant the Archbishop all the graces to succeed in this new role. Amen

Congratulations to Cardinal Onaiyekan for the wonderful work he has done raising the Archdiocese of Abuja to its current status. He is indeed a very beautiful gift from God to our generation for which we are immensely thankful to God for. He has spent his entire 75 years and counting to serve God and humanity. 50 years a priest, 37 years a Bishop, 7 years a Cardinal no be beans! Given that the Cardinal is in such good health (he passes for late 50s or early 60s) I believe the last has not being heard about him. It’s very possible that Pope Francis will draw the Cardinal to join him at the Vatican to take charge of one of the dicasteries (depts) of the Roman Curia. I wish the Cardinal more years of grace. Amen

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