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ConfusedInSaudiArabia wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am an Indian, now residing in Saudi Arabia. I humbly seek your clarifications on the following based on the Canon Laws of the Catholic Church:

  1. Has the Bishop based at Abu Dhabi, jurisdiction over all the Catholics in Saudi Arabia, irrespective of their rite, country and region?

  2. Can diocesan Bishops send their priests to other countries, regions and dioceses and permit them to conduct services for the Catholic communities in those places without the prior permission of the Bishop(s) in those places?

  3. Has the Bishop any right to ask such priests who enter or are sent without his prior permission, to stop their services, or invalidate their services as a priest?

Thank you,


  { What jurisdiction and rights does a bishop have in Saudi Arabia? }

Eric replied:

Dear ConfusedInSaudiArabia —

I will try to answer your questions but they are very specific canonical questions that I cannot fully answer. We may need to refer your question to someone else.

The bishop of Arabia (which is located in Abu Dhabi) only has jurisdiction over Latin Rite faithful in Saudi Arabia. He certainly has jurisdiction over those with domicile in Saudi Arabia. I am not sure what kind of jurisdiction he has over those whose domicile or quasi-domicile is not Saudi Arabia but are temporarily located there; he would, I assume, have jurisdiction over actions performed there, and possibly over the person as well.

A priest from another diocese of the same rite requires at least implicit permission from the ordinary to celebrate the sacraments there.

The ordinary certainly has a right to forbid them from doing so. He can't invalidate their services, except for weddings and confessions. I am not sure whether a priest of another rite (say, a
Syro-Malabar) could conduct the sacraments over the objections of the Latin ordinary of the territory. I am guessing he could but there would be political hazards to doing so.

We might refer this to an expert on the topic just to be sure.


ConfusedInSaudiArabia replied:

Eric —

Thank you for your prompt reply, however, as you yourself have hinted, we are in need of much clearer and official regulations from the Catholic head(s) or experts to the questions I have raised.

Let me place before you the dilemma of the Catholic communities, especially of Indian origin, working here.

The Catholics here have been guided and instructed in the past directly or through the Catholic Council here by the Vicar in Abu Dhabi who used to make at least one pastoral visit in a year to this land. We have so long been praying together in line with the Catholic beliefs, although secretly as an Underground Church, similar to the first Christian communities, without any narrow-mindedness of rites or social status or differences.

Priests of Kerala who used to come here with the ordinary's prior permission often conducted Holy Masses in Syro-Malabar rite too, as majority of us belong to the same rite. The Catechism classes too are being conducted in line with the syllabus of Syro-Malabar rite, and the faithful, even of the other rites and sects, whether Latin, Malankara, Jacobites, etc. among us, have accepted these all these years.

Unfortunately, now priests are being sent here by the Bishops of Syro-Malabar and Malankara rites of Kerala without the Vicar's prior approval and knowledge, and these priests are trying to gather the faithful of their own rites, instructing them and often misguiding them about him, his rights and the norms of the Church. The priests, together with their few supporters, are trying to challenge the Vicar, and spreading false news that the Oriental Heads of Syro-Malabar and Malankara rites in Kerala are equal in position and status to the Pope, stating that the Pope is just the Head of the Latin rite Catholics. They even propagate that the Vicar in Abu Dhabi has no jurisdiction over the Catholics in Saudi Arabia. They are trying to gather more support from among the faithful of their own rites.

The faithful are divided, a few of the priests' supporters threatening the Bishop through e-mails, and threatening they will betray us if priests, who come here with the Vicar's prior permission, perform Services while their own priests are not allowed to perform Services or the Sacraments. Officially, the Syro-Malabar community here had been instructed earlier by some responsible priests in Kerala to seek the prior approval of the Vicar in Abu Dhabi before bringing any priests, however, the priests here and their cronies are instructing otherwise, ignoring these instructions.

The Bishop, [name hidden for protection], who is very actively trying to get some kind of religious freedom for us through his discussions with the heads of this country, is very much upset about the recent developments and divisions among our communities, ignited by the priests.
He, as well as the general majority of the faithful in this country, are much worried about:

  • a schism in the Church in Saudi Arabia, and
  • about the security issues in this country, especially since one of the priests designated by him here had been recently arrested, along with a few lay persons, while conducting
    Holy Mass. They were released a few days later.

He has therefore, asked the disobedient priests to leave the country, but they still continue their adamant stand against the Vicar, stating that he has no authority over them.

The situation is grave. We, the faithful, wish to continue to pray together as one community in heart. There is still no freedom of religion in this country. We need the Vicar and his support to negotiate with the leaders of this country and get us some kind of official freedom to practice our faith. Neither:

  • the Bishops in Kerala nor
  • the priests they have sent nor
  • their supporters can help the Catholics here in this matter.

Until we get that, we need peace.  We need to extend to our Vicar all the support, which in the end, is our support for our regional Bishops in Kerala and the whole Catholic Church. Right now,
we request the Bishops in Kerala to support us, their faithful here in this country, by sticking to the rules, or letting us know the rules, if they know anything better than what we know or the Vicar in Abu Dhabi knows.

We are waiting for some clear and official instructions from the Church and Her Heads. We do not wish a divided Church as many of the laity here have toiled, day in and day out, to establish praying communities of real faith and spiritual thirst, although in extreme fear and secret. This in turn, had resulted positively to prevent many of our brethren from going to other faiths, especially of the Pentecostal sect but now, with these disputes and challenges, we are becoming a laughing stock.

Many of us believe the letters and instructions from the Vicar are official, however, since they are ignored by the disobedient priests and their supporters, we need the official intervention of higher authorities in Kerala, and the Global Church, even of the Pope, as to how we should proceed in these times of clashes and crisis, before they aggravate to more serious issues.

We do hope this letter will reach them somehow through your spiritual services.

Yours in Christ,

For His Glory,


Mary Ann replied:

Dear Confused —

I forwarded your communication to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which has the proper contacts and which might be able to help you.

Mary Ann

Fr. Jonathan, our priest/canon lawyer contact replied to me:


I am not an expert on the jurisdiction of Bishops.

I would point to Canons 271, 142 and 974 to start.

Fr. Jonathan

Canon 271 §1. Apart from the case of true necessity of his own particular church, a diocesan bishop is not to deny permission to clerics, whom he knows are prepared and considers suitable and who request it, to move to regions laboring under a grave lack of clergy where they will exercise the sacred ministry. He is also to make provision that the rights and duties of these clerics are determined through a written agreement with the diocesan bishop of the place they request.

§2. A diocesan bishop can grant permission for his clerics to move to another particular church for a predetermined time, which can even be renewed several times. Nevertheless, this is to be done so that these clerics remain incardinated in their own particular church and, when they return to it, possess all the rights which they would have had if they had been dedicated to the sacred ministry there.

§3. For a just cause the diocesan bishop can recall a cleric who has moved legitimately to another particular church while remaining incardinated in his own church provided that the agreements entered into with the other bishop and natural equity are observed; the diocesan bishop of the other particular church, after having observed these same conditions and for a just cause, likewise can deny the same cleric permission for further residence in his territory.

Canon 142 §1. Delegated power ceases:

  • by fulfillment of the mandate;
  • by expiration of the time or completion of the number of cases for which it was granted;
  • by cessation of the purpose for the delegation;
  • by revocation of the one delegating directly communicated to the delegate as well as by resignation of the delegate made known to and accepted by the one delegating.

It does not cease, however, when the authority of the one delegating expires unless this appears in attached clauses.

§2. Nevertheless, an act of delegated power which is exercised for the internal forum alone and is placed inadvertently after the lapse of the time limit of the grant is valid.

Canon 974 §1. The local ordinary and the competent superior are not to revoke the faculty to hear confessions habitually except for a grave cause.

§2. When the faculty to hear confessions has been revoked by the local ordinary who granted it as mentioned in canon 967, §2 (see below), a presbyter loses the faculty everywhere. If some other local ordinary has revoked the faculty, the presbyter loses it only in the territory of the one who revokes it.

§3. Any local ordinary who has revoked the faculty of some presbyter to hear confessions is to inform the proper ordinary of incardination of the presbyter or, if he is a member of a religious institute, his competent superior.

§4. If the proper major superior of a presbyter has revoked the faculty to hear confessions, the presbyter loses the faulty to hear the confessions of members of the institute everywhere. If some other competent superior has revoked the faculty, however, the presbyter loses it only with regard to the subjects in the jurisdiction of that superior.

Canon. 967 §2. Those who possess the faculty of hearing confessions habitually whether by virtue of office or by virtue of the grant of an ordinary of the place of incardination or of the place in which they have a domicile can exercise that faculty everywhere unless the local ordinary has denied it in a particular case, without prejudice to the prescripts of canons 974, §§2 and 3.

Confused replied:

Dear Mr. Mike,

Thank you very much. Indeed, it's a great help as it clarifies certain serious issues here.

It seems to me, from these arguments, that things are in favor of the ordinary based at
Abu Dhabi.

Yours in Christ,


A reader of this posting, A.V. replied:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing with respect to this posting.

I am now resident in the United States but formerly lived in the Gulf countries.

The Latin Vicar Apostolic has complete jurisdiction over the faithful of all Churches:

  • Syro-Malabar
  • Malankara
  • Coptic
  • Melkite
  • Maronite
  • etc. in the region.

This authority was formerly vested in the Vicar Apostolic of Arabia, the Most. Rev. Paul Hinder. From May 31, 2011, following a new allocation of territory in the region decreed by the Congregation for the Evangelization, it will be vested in the Most Rev. Camillo Ballin, the Vicar Apostolic of Northern Arabia, formerly, the Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait.

The jurisdiction over all the faithful was explicitly decreed twice by Blessed John Paul II in 2003 and the present Holy Father in 2006. Among other things, by the terms of the re-script:

  1. All acts of jurisdiction without the permission of the Ap. Vicar are nullified. (n. 2)
  2. priests and religious of any sui juris Church must be under the jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic, and any activity must be taken with his consent (n. 6)
  3. In particular the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church must not allow priests of the Syro-Malabar Church to minister in the area without the agreement of the Ap. Vicar (n. 7), canonical sanctions may be applied against priests and others who deliberately minister without the permission of the Vicar Apostolic by the leaders of their own Churches (n. 9)

To specifically respond to the questions posed by the questioner in the link above:

  1. Yes, by a "Rescriptum ex audentia" from the Congregation of the Evangelization of 2006.
  2. No, within the territory of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait or Yemen, by terms of the same document, without the approval of the competent Vicar Apostolic.
  3. Yes. All jurisdictional acts of those priests are voided, and canonical sanctions should be applied by their own bishops.

With prayers and all good wishes for your ministry, I remain,



Richard replied:

He's right.

The Eastern Churches sui juris are equal in dignity and rights to the Latin Church, but in order to exercise those rights, they will need to erect an exarchate or eparchy for their faithful in the territory. Until that happens — a matter that involves the Pope's assent — the one bishop already governing the place has full jurisdiction over the faithful and clergy of all Churches. This is confirmed by the decree quoted by AV.

Here's the document for the reorganization of the vicariates in Arabia and Kuwait:

The About Us page of the web site for the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia mentions the 2006 rescript referred to by AV:

Here is the FAQ Frequently Asked Questions page for the site.

— RC

Mike replied:

Hi, A.V. —

Thanks for the comment. It is appreciated.

Kudos to Richard for supplying the helpful web pages!


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