Msgr. James Bartylla discusses role as diocesan administrator Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Mary C. Uhler, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
Msgr. James Bartylla
Msgr. James Bartylla

MADISON -- “The general rule is that a diocesan administrator can do whatever a diocesan bishop can do, but with some important limitations, and of course, a priest elected as the diocesan administrator isn’t a consecrated bishop, and therefore doesn’t possess the sacramental grace and character of the episcopacy,” said Msgr. James Bartylla in discussing his role as diocesan administrator of the Diocese of Madison.

On November 26, two days after the death of Bishop Robert C. Morlino, the College of Consultors -- a body of nine diocesan priests -- elected Monsignor Bartylla as diocesan administrator. He had been the vicar general for Bishop Morlino.

“Upon the death of a bishop, all vicars general and episcopal vicars lose their offices,” noted Monsignor Bartylla. “The College of Consultors assumes governance of the diocese upon the death of the bishop.”

However, all of the diocesan departments continue in full operation since the work of the diocese continues unabated through its parishes, entities, and diocesan curial offices in the multifaceted work of catechesis, evangelization, spreading the Gospel, and strengthening the faithful.

After accepting the position as diocesan administrator, Monsignor Bartylla took a Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity, and then he informed the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, of his election as the diocesan administrator.

Role of diocesan administrator

In his new role, Monsignor Bartylla consulted helpful Catholic resources about the official role of the diocesan administrator in collaboration with the diocesan curia. He found that the administrator is “bound by the obligations and possesses the power of a diocesan bishop” in regard to legislative, executive, and judicial powers.

However, his power “excludes those matters which are excepted by their nature or by the law itself.” For example, he cannot confer the sacrament of ordination or anything requiring episcopal consecration, such as the consecration of the chrism at the Chrism Mass. The administrator does have the faculty to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The diocesan administrator can never:

• Erect or approve a diocesan association of the faithful.

• Confer a canonry (irrelevant in the U.S.).

• Entrust a parish to a Religious Institute. Monsignor Bartylla noted that this only prohibits entering a new, formal, enduring agreement between the diocese and the institute. This does not prevent the administrator from appointing a member of a Religious Institute as a pastor (except to the extent that the diocesan administrator’s general ability to appoint pastors is restricted, as explained later).

• Remove the judicial vicar or adjutant judicial vicar.

The diocesan administrator can only place certain acts with the consent of the College of Consultors, such as:

• Remove the chancellor or other notaries.

• Issue dimissorial letters, and only for candidates to ordination who were not previously refused by the bishop.

Appointments of pastors

Monsignor Bartylla explained that the vacancy after the death of a bishop must last one year before the diocesan administrator can appoint pastors, although in the meantime, he can appoint parochial administrators and can accept the resignations of pastors.

The vacancy must last one year, and the College of Consultors must consent before the diocesan administrator can grant clerics incardination, excardination, or permission to move to another diocese.

No innovation

When a see (diocese) is vacant (i.e., without a diocesan bishop), there are to be no innovations. “While the term ‘innovation’ has certain technical dimensions and must be interpreted in accordance with longstanding canonical precedents,” said Monsignor Bartylla, “in general it means that the diocese is to be in ‘maintenance mode’ until the new bishop is elected.

“No major new diocesan undertakings, major new disciplinary or legislative measures, or general changes of course are permitted.”

The diocesan administrator is also “forbidden to do anything which can be prejudicial in some way to the diocese or episcopal rights.” Monsignor Bartylla said this would include decisions of long-standing importance that would be difficult to reverse, such as the sale of the chancery or the granting of a longstanding right.

Four main principles

Monsignor Bartylla said that there are four main principles governing the role of the diocesan administrator:

1. Aid (fundamental) -- Continue the work of the diocesan bishop while he is absent.

2. Restraint (fundamental) -- Restrain your action since you are not the diocesan bishop, but the important existing and ongoing work of the diocese must continue.

3. Defense (not as fundamental but based on Church experience) -- Defend the diocese from violations until the bishop is present. It is easier for unscrupulous people to try and take advantage of the diocese when the diocese doesn’t have a bishop.

4. Continuity (humble but useful) -- Follow the “tracks” left by the departed bishop. Acting differently tends to waste effort.

Monsignor Bartylla said that his personal goals include continuing Bishop Morlino’s support of promoting vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life and his emphasis on liturgy and catechesis. He also wants to support and nurture the current and excellent diocesan staff and make them available to help the new bishop.


Monsignor Bartylla urged the priests and faithful of the Diocese of Madison to pray for the selection of a future bishop for the diocese in addition to praying for the repose of the soul of Bishop Morlino.

He said that Bishop Morlino was a spiritual father to seminarians, priests, and diocesan staff. “He was a wonderful spiritual father. That makes his loss more difficult,” said Monsignor Bartylla. “‘But in the midst of grieving, we must keep going in the hope that is Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Bishop Morlino told us the vision will not disappoint.’”

Please support our advertisers: