History of Vicars Forane
The term “vicar forane” comes from Latin, meaning a representative (vicarius) who is outside (foras), because these priests were considered representatives of the bishop outside of the cathedral city. The office of vicar forane probably dates back to the fourth century when Christianity began to spread beyond the major cities to rural areas. Seeing the need to send representatives to these communities which had embraced the faith, bishops would send an “archpriest” with special delegation and responsibilities to act as a kind of overseer in the region who also was in charge of communication between the bishop and the local priests.
The 1917 Code of Canon Law mandated the establishment of vicars forane in every diocese. However, the understanding of this office experienced a pastoral renewal in the period following the Second Vatican Council. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council saw the vicar forane as a preeminently pastoral office, as a way to bring presbyters together in order to promote and direct a common pastoral activity in their territory. The 1973 directory for bishops likewise affirms the pastoral nature of the office and speaks of the vicar forane as one who animates and enlivens the local presbytery in pastoral action.
A vicariate forane is a region of the diocese over which a vicar forane exercises his office. Though these regions are sometimes referred to as “deaneries”, this term never appears in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Rather, these regions are called “vicariates” or even on occasion “districts” (cf. canon 555). Whereas the 1917 Code of Canon Law required a diocese to be divided into vicariates, canon 374 of the current Code makes it optional. Though facultative, vicariates forane serve a noble purpose and for this reason are common. Canon 374 §2 states that their purpose is to “foster pastoral care through common action.” In other words, they render the coordination of pastoral activity easier by improving the efficiency of pastoral initiatives in order to better provide for the needs of a given part of the diocese. Thus we can see that the purpose of the vicariate is not the division of the diocese, but rather the unity of parishes for the purpose of collaboration in pastoral action.
New Vicariates in the Diocese of Madison
In the Diocese of Madison, there will be a total of nine vicariates forane, most of which following closely the county lines. These nine are named generally for the counties of the parishes which comprise them. The nine vicariates in the Diocese of Madison are: Columbia-North Vicariate, East Dane Vicariate, Grant Vicariate, Jefferson Vicariate, Lafayette Vicariate, Madison Vicariate, Rock-Green Vicariate, Sauk Vicariate, and West Dane Vicariate.
Duties of the Vicar Forane
The canonical duties of the vicar forane are listed in canon 555 of the Code and are commonly classified under three aspects: 1) promotion and coordination, 2) vigilance, and 3) support and counsel. His duty of promotion and coordination chiefly pertains to his responsibility to oversee and assist in uniting the other presbyters in his vicariate in a common pastoral activity. This includes all aspects of ministry, including liturgical, catechetical, missionary, charitable, social, cultural, educational, etc.
His duty of vigilance ought to be understood in a pastoral sense, that is, a way of providing support and fraternal assistance to the other presbyters. This would include assisting presbyters in matters such as ensuring that liturgies are beautifully celebrated, churches properly maintained, parochial registers accurately inscribed, and the funds of the parish carefully administered.
His duty of providing support and counsel includes taking the initiative to organize ongoing formation for the priests of his vicariate. This formation would include theological lectures and spiritual retreats, often done in coordination with diocesan programs. For priests who are sick, he is to supply them with spiritual aid and pastoral assistance, often in coordination with the Vicar for Priests of a diocese. The vicar forane is also to visit all the parishes of his vicariate, which is to be an occasion of solicitude, assisting the local presbyter in many ways.
Concrete Duties in the Diocese of Madison
How will the vicars forane fulfill their function of providing a common pastoral action in the Diocese of Madison under the direction of the Bishop of Madison? First, they will organize regular meetings of all the clergy of the vicariate in order to bring the Church’s ministers together for the purpose of collaboration. In these meetings, not only will they discuss ways in which they can assist one another, but they will also discuss ways in which they can better serve the faithful in their vicariate in cooperation with diocesan objectives.
In the area of liturgy, they will work to coordinate Mass times in the vicariate, to coordinate Confirmation dates, to coordinate times for regular confession, and to assist in organizing workshops for extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and lectors.
In the area of evangelization and catechesis, the vicar forane would work with his fellow presbyters in promoting Seat of Wisdom Diocesan Institute classes, organizing marriage preparation classes, encouraging collaboration for RCIA classes, and promoting diocesan and other events.
In the area of parish planning, the vicar forane will work to foster collaboration among parishes to make the best possible use of human and material resources, to organize “best practices” sharing among the parishes, and to assist in financial matters.
Collaboration for the New Evangelization
The reinvigoration of the office of vicar forane in the Diocese of Madison is a response to the call of the Second Vatican Council and the needs of the present day. As we continue to implement Vatican II, it is important to use the best tools available to assist the local clergy in a coordinated effort in order to better provide for the pastoral needs of their region in light of the diocesan mission of the Bishop. The preeminently pastoral office of vicar forane, though its concrete duties are many, has but one primary goal: the sanctification and salvation of souls through a renewed common pastoral action, which is a call to set out into the deep in the New Evangelization.
~published in the Madison Catholic Herald on 11 October 2012