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Territorial Prelate

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A territorial prelate is, in Catholic usage, a prelate whose geographic jurisdiction, called territorial prelature, does not belong to any diocese and is considered a particular church.

The territorial prelate is sometimes called a prelate nullius, from the Latin nullius diœceseos, prelate "of no diocese," meaning the territory falls directly under the jurisdiction of the pope and is not a diocese under a residing bishop.

The term is also used in a generic sense, and may then equally refer to an apostolic prefecture, and apostolic vicariate or a territorial abbacy (see there).


A territorial prelate exercises quasi-episcopal jurisdiction in a territory not comprised in any diocese. The origin of such prelates must necessarily be sought in the apostolic privileges, for only he whose authority is superior to that of bishops can grant an exemption from episcopal jurisdiction. Such exemption, therefore, comes only from the pope.

The rights of prelates nullius are quasi-episcopal, and these dignitaries are supposed to have any power that a bishop has, unless it is expressly denied to them by canon law. If they have not received episcopal consecration, such prelates may not confer holy orders. If not consecrated episcopally, they have not the power to exercise those functions of consecrating oils, etc., which are referred to the episcopal order only analogously.

Prelates nullius may take cognizance of matrimonial causes within the same limits as a bishop. They may dispense from the proclamation of matrimonial banns, grant faculties for hearing confessions and preaching, reserve certain cases to themselves, publish indulgences and jubilees, exercise full jurisdiction over the enclosure of nuns, and invite any bishop to confirm in their quasi-diocese.

These prelates may not, however, without special permission of the Holy See, convoke a synod or institute synodal examiners. Neither may they confer parochial benefices. They are not allowed to grant indulgences, or absolve from the reserved cases and secret irregularities whose absolution is restricted to the pope ordinarily, but allowed to bishops by the Council of Trent; nor promote secular clerics to orders, nor grant dimissorial letters for ordination, nor exercise jurisdiction over regulars as apostolic delegates.

Prelates nullius are, however, bound to residence, to preach the Word of God, to offer Mass for their people, to make the visit ad limina, and in concurrence with the neighbouring bishop to make a visitation of their quasi-diocese.

List of nominal territorial prelatures

In April 2006, there were 47, all of the Roman (i.e Latin) Rite:

In Asia

In Europe

In Latin America

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