Sri Lanka: The article that appeared in the Daily News of Monday October 22, 2018, under the caption “ARCHBISHOP OF COLOMBO IS NOT THE HEAD OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN SRI LANKA”, is lacking from the total truth, according to the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. Therefore it can mislead the readers of this esteemed daily.
While explaining well the role and authority of a bishop in his own Diocese, which is the territory under a bishop’s jurisdiction, the writer has ignored certain important traditions and the teachings of Canon Law regarding the authority and duties of a Metropolitan Archbishop, in relation to other suffragan dioceses coming under his care.
In the Latin Church, Metropolitan is the bishop of the principal (the “metropolitan”) see of an ecclesiastical province composed of several dioceses.
The metropolitan receives a “pallium” (a woollen vestment consisting of a narrow circular band placed round the shoulders with a short lappet hanging from front and back) from the pope as a symbol of his office. The metropolitan archbishop has certain oversight authority over the suffragan dioceses in his province.
According to the Canon Law of the Catholic Church (Nos.435-437), an ecclesiastical province which is presided over by a Metropolitan Archbishop is given certain duties and responsibilities over the suffragan dioceses, i.e. i) To oversee that faith and ecclesiastical discipline are carefully observed and notify the Roman Pontiff if there be any abuses. ii) For a reason approved beforehand by the Apostolic See, to conduct a canonical visitation, if the suffragan Bishop has neglected it. iii) To appoint a diocesan administrator in accordance with canon law provisions in certain circumstances.
Then a Metropolitan can be given special function by the Apostolic See, where circumstances require it. However, in day today administration of asuffragan diocese, he has no other power of governance over them.
In Sri Lanka there is only one Metropolitan Archdiocese, at the moment and that is the Archdiocese of Colombo. All other dioceses in Sri Lanka are suffragans of the Metropolitan of Colombo. Sri Lanka is still one ecclesiastical province, coming under the Metropolitan Archbishop of Colombo.
The word Bishop comes from the Greek word “episkopos” original meaning of which is overseer. Therefore the metropolitan, is an archbishop who governs his own archdiocese, and also supervises all the other bishops in his archiepiscopal province.Yethe is the first among equals in relation to the suffragan bishops. That’s why he is considered the spiritual leader of the territory he oversees. One must not forget that more than half the catholic population (that is close to 700,000 catholic population) of Sri Lanka is in the Archdiocese which is the Western Province in the government administration.
As for the Bishops Conference it is grouping of all Bishops in the country and it is guided by its own constitution approved by the Holy See.Canon Law describes an episcopal conference as a “permanent institution” and as a “grouping [coetus] of bishops of a given nation or territory whereby, according to the norm of law, they jointly exercise certain pastoral functions on behalf of the Christian faithful of their territory.” (canon 447).
This I hope will give a clear picture of the ecclesiastical seniority according to the protocol of the Catholic Church as to who really is the head of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka.