Apostolic Visitors' Reconnaissance Role:
"To Know the Problem Well," Says Vatican Aide
July 25, 2004
John Paul II's decision to send special inspectors to solve problems in an Austrian diocese and in the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch has highlighted the role of these little-known figures.
But, what do these inspectors, these apostolic visitors, do?
Monsignor Joaqu'n Llobell answered the question in an interview with the television agency "Rome Reports." The priest, who sits on the Apostolic Signature, is a judge of the Court of Appeal of Vatican City State and a professor of canon law at the University of the Holy Cross.
"When, like now, there is a problem, the visit is particularly necessary and the aim of the visit is to get to know the problem well, to get firsthand information which would not be influenced by different interests, in order to make a fair decision," Monsignor Llobell said. "The main problem is to get to know the situation well, to give it a solution."
On July 20, John Paul II appointed Austrian Bishop Klaus Kung of Feldkirch as apostolic visitor of the Diocese of Sankt Poelten, and in particular of its seminary which has been linked to a child pornography scandal.
The next day, the Vatican press office announced that the Pope appointed the apostolic nuncio in Turkey, Archbishop Edmond Farhat, to conduct a "visitation" of the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch, located in Beirut, Lebanon.
The archbishop has been entrusted with finding a way to reconcile the different points of view between the patriarchate and the Synod of Bishops of the Syrian Catholic Church.
Regarding the Austrian case, Monsignor Llobell said: "I do not know what this person [visitor] is going to do there, because in every visit it depends on the powers he receives."
"Normally the powers are within the confines of this investigation to question witnesses, review documents and understand what the problem is. Once he knows the truth he can transmit this to the Pope," he said.
In general, "it is true that the visitor has enough powers to make urgent transitory decisions," Monsignor Llobell said. "If he thinks we'd better remove the rector from his position for a while, then he does it. But he is returned to his post if it wasn't his fault; usually, it's an investigative power with minimal decision making."
An apostolic visitor may be appointed only by the Pope as "only the Vatican has the authority over the bishop. Bishops do not have authority over other bishops. The advantage is that the Vatican is a guarantee of independence."
In the Austrian case, the visit might end with severe punishments if accusations are verified, Monsignor Llobell said.
"If he's guilty, as the press has said about the rector, he can be dismissed from his position," the priest added. "He can be suspended as a priest or defrocked. If he is a seminarian, he could be expelled from the seminary. If it is the bishop's fault, he could be dismissed. It depends on the result of the visitor's investigative report."
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