Suffragan bishop

Last updated

A suffragan bishop is a type of bishop in some Christian denominations.


In the Catholic Church, a suffragan bishop leads a diocese within an ecclesiastical province other than the principal diocese, the metropolitan archdiocese; the diocese led by the suffragan is called a suffragan diocese.

In the Anglican Communion, a suffragan bishop is a bishop who is subordinate to a metropolitan bishop or diocesan bishop (bishop ordinary) and so is not normally jurisdictional in their role. Suffragan bishops may be charged by a metropolitan to oversee a suffragan diocese and may be assigned to areas which do not have a cathedral.

Catholic Church

In the Catholic Church, a suffragan is a bishop who heads a diocese. His suffragan diocese, however, is part of a larger ecclesiastical province, nominally led by a metropolitan archbishop. The distinction between metropolitans and suffragans is of limited practical importance. Both are diocesan bishops possessing ordinary jurisdiction over their individual sees. The metropolitan has few responsibilities over the suffragans in his province and no direct authority over the faithful outside of his own diocese. However he is competent to conduct pastoral visits and he can perform sacred functions, as if he were a bishop in his own diocese in all churches of the Metropolitan province, but he is first to inform the diocesan bishop if the church is the cathedral. [1] [2]

Bishops who assist diocesan bishops are usually called auxiliary bishops. If the assisting bishop has special faculties (typically the right to succeed the diocesan bishop) he would be called a coadjutor bishop. [3] Since they are not in charge of a suffragan diocese, they are not referred to as "suffragan bishops".

Anglican Communion

In the Anglican churches, the term applies to a bishop who is assigned responsibilities to support a diocesan bishop. For example, the Bishop of Jarrow is a suffragan to the diocesan Bishop of Durham.

Suffragan bishops in the Anglican Communion are nearly identical in their role to auxiliary bishops in the Roman Catholic Church.



English diocesan bishops were commonly assisted by bishops who had been consecrated to sees which were in partibus infidelium (titular sees that had in most cases been conquered by Muslims) before the English Reformation. The separation of the English Church from Rome meant that this was no longer possible. The Suffragan Bishops Act 1534 allowed for the creation of new sees to allow these assistant bishops, who were named as suffragan. Before then, the term suffragan referred to diocesan bishops in relation to their metropolitan. [4]

The concept of a suffragan bishop in the Church of England was legalised by the Suffragan Bishops Act 1534. The first bishops consecrated under that Act were Thomas Manning, Bishop of Ipswich and John Salisbury, Bishop of Thetford on 19 March 1536. [5] The last Tudor suffragan bishop in post was John Sterne, Bishop of Colchester, who died in post in 1607/8. No more suffragans were appointed for more than 250 years, until the consecration of Henry Mackenzie as Bishop of Nottingham on 2 February 1870. [6] At that point, the sees of suffragans were still limited to the 26 towns named in the 1534 Act; the Suffragans Nomination Act 1888 allowed the creation of new suffragan sees besides the 26 so named. The appointment of bishops suffragan became much more common thereafter.


Area bishops

Some Church of England suffragan bishops are legally delegated responsibility by the diocesan bishop for a specific geographical area within the diocese. Such formal arrangements were piloted by the experimental London scheme in 1970. [7] For example, the Bishop of Colchester is an area bishop in the Diocese of Chelmsford. Such area schemes are presently found in the dioceses of: [8]

  • London (since 1979): Two Cities (overseen by the diocesan), Edmonton, Kensington, Stepney, Willesden.
  • Chelmsford (since 1983): Barking, Bradwell, Colchester.
  • Oxford (since 1984): Oxford (overseen by the diocesan), Buckingham, Dorchester, Reading.
  • Southwark (since 1991): Croydon, Kingston, Woolwich.
  • Lichfield (since 1992): Shrewsbury, Stafford, Wolverhampton.
  • Leeds (since 2014): Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds (overseen by the Bishop of Kirkstall), Ripon, Wakefield.

Area schemes have previously existed in Worcester diocese (1993–2002; Worcester (overseen by the diocesan), Dudley), [9] Salisbury diocese (1981–2009; Ramsbury, Sherborne), [10] Lincoln diocese (2010 [11] – 31 January 2013; Grantham, Grimsby) [12] and Chichester diocese (1984–2013; Chichester (overseen by the diocesan), Lewes, Horsham). Other suffragans have or have had informal responsibility for geographical areas (e.g. in Winchester, [13] Peterborough, [14] and York), but these are not referred to as area bishops.

Suffragan bishops

Only the small Dioceses of Portsmouth and of Sodor and Man do not have a suffragan bishop. Until 2016/2017, the Dioceses of Newcastle and of Leicester each had a stipendiary assistant bishop instead of suffragans, [15] but these have since been replaced with suffragan bishops. The Diocese of Truro has had at some periods an assistant bishop; these have included John Wellington (formerly Bishop of Shantung) and Bill Lash, both retired from sees abroad. [16]

Provincial episcopal visitors

Suffragan bishops in the Church of England who have oversight of parishes and clergy that reject the ministry of priests who are women, usually across a whole province, are known as provincial episcopal visitors (PEVs) (or "flying bishops"). This concession was made in 1992 following the General Synod's vote to ordain women to the priesthood. The first PEV was John Gaisford, Bishop of Beverley, who was consecrated on 7 March 1994.


An early example of a suffragan can be seen in Wales is Penrydd, established in 1537, when the Welsh dioceses were still within the Church of England. The Bishop of Swansea was a suffragan in the Diocese of St David's from 1890 till the erection of the diocese in 1923. Since disestablishment, Thomas Lloyd was suffragan Bishop of Maenan in the Diocese of St Asaph, when the bishop diocesan was also Archbishop of Wales.


The Church of Ireland has no suffragan bishops, not even in the geographically large dioceses.

United States

Suffragan bishops are fairly common in larger dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA), but usually have no responsibility for a specific geographical part of a diocese. ECUSA is not within the jurisdiction of the English law that requires diocesan and suffragan bishops to be appointed as bishop to a specific place, and so suffragans are not given the title of any particular city within the diocese. For example, Bishop Barbara Harris was titled simply “Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts”.

Coadjutor and assistant bishops are different episcopal offices than suffragan. A coadjutor is elected by a diocesan convention to become the diocesan bishop (also called "the ordinary") upon the ordinary's retirement. A suffragan is also elected by a convention, but does not automatically succeed the diocesan bishop. However a suffragan's office does continue in the diocese until he or she chooses to retire. An assistant bishop is appointed by the diocesan bishop, and his or her office ends when the ordinary who appointed her or him leaves office.


Some Anglican Church of Canada suffragan bishops are legally delegated responsibility by the diocesan bishop for a specific geographical area within the diocese.

Malaysia (Diocese of West Malaysia)

The Diocese of West Malaysia is divided into two "area dioceses", each with their own suffragan bishop.

Acting bishops

It is common for Anglican suffragan or assistant bishops to serve as acting bishop during a vacancy in the diocesan see (e.g., between the death or retirement of the bishop diocesan and their successor taking post). In order to achieve this, the metropolitan bishop commissions a suffragan/assistant (usually the full-time bishop senior by consecration) who becomes the episcopal commissary, but may be referred to by any number of phrases (since the commission is held from the metropolitan archbishop, she may be called archbishop's commissary; the most usual current term in the Church of England being Acting Bishop of Somewhere). In the Anglican Church of Australia, someone (not always a bishop) acting as diocesan bishop is the Administrator of the Diocese and a bishop so commissioned is called the Bishop Administrator. [17]

In 2013, between the retirement of Nigel McCulloch and the confirmation of David Walker as Bishop of Manchester, both of that diocese's suffragan bishops (Chris Edmondson, Bishop of Bolton, and Mark Davies, Bishop of Middleton, who were consecrated on the same day, therefore neither had seniority) served as acting bishop co-equally. [18] In 2014–2015, during the vacancy between the episcopates of Paul Butler and Paul Williams, the diocese's sole suffragan bishop, Tony Porter, Bishop of Sherwood, became Acting Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham; however, when he resigned the commission due to ill health, Richard Inwood (retired former Bishop of Bedford and an honorary assistant bishop of the diocese) was commissioned Acting Bishop for a fixed one-year term. [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East</span> Anglican church organization

The Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East is a province of the Anglican Communion. The primate of the church is called President Bishop and represents the Church at the international Anglican Communion Primates' Meetings. The Central Synod of the church is its deliberative and legislative organ.

The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, commonly known as the Bishop in Europe, is the ordinary of the Church of England's Diocese in Europe in the Province of Canterbury.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Diocese of London</span> Diocese of the Church of England

The Diocese of London forms part of the Church of England's Province of Canterbury in England.

A vicar general is the principal deputy of the bishop of a diocese for the exercise of administrative authority and possesses the title of local ordinary. As vicar of the bishop, the vicar general exercises the bishop's ordinary executive power over the entire diocese and, thus, is the highest official in a diocese or other particular church after the diocesan bishop or his equivalent in canon law.

A provincial episcopal visitor (PEV), popularly known as a flying bishop, is a Church of England bishop assigned to minister to many of the clergy, laity and parishes who on grounds of theological conviction, "are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests". The system by which such bishops oversee certain churches is referred to as alternative episcopal oversight (AEO).

The Bishop of Stepney is an episcopal title used by a suffragan bishop of the Church of England Diocese of London, in the Province of Canterbury, England. The title takes its name after Stepney, an inner-city district in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The post is held by Joanne Grenfell whose consecration as bishop, and start of her tenure as Bishop of Stepney, was on 3 July 2019 at St Paul's Cathedral; the principal consecrator was Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem</span>

The AnglicanDiocese of Jerusalem is the Anglican jurisdiction for Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It is a part of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, and has diocesan offices at St. George's Cathedral, Jerusalem.

An assistant bishop in the Anglican Communion is a bishop appointed to assist a diocesan bishop.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Episcopal Diocese of Virginia</span> Diocese of the Episcopal Church in the United States

The Diocese of Virginia is the largest diocese of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, encompassing 38 counties in the northern and central parts of the state of Virginia. The diocese was organized in 1785 and is one of the Episcopal Church's nine original dioceses, with origins in colonial Virginia. As of 2018, the diocese has 16 regions with 68,902 members and 180 congregations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anglican ministry</span> Leadership and agency of Christian service in the Anglican Communion

The Anglican ministry is both the leadership and agency of Christian service in the Anglican Communion. "Ministry" commonly refers to the office of ordained clergy: the threefold order of bishops, priests and deacons. More accurately, Anglican ministry includes many laypeople who devote themselves to the ministry of the church, either individually or in lower/assisting offices such as lector, acolyte, sub-deacon, Eucharistic minister, cantor, musicians, parish secretary or assistant, warden, vestry member, etc. Ultimately, all baptized members of the church are considered to partake in the ministry of the Body of Christ.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Episcopal Church of Cuba</span>

The Episcopal Church of Cuba is a diocese of the Episcopal Church in the United States. The diocese consists of the entire country of Cuba. From 1966 to 2020, it was an extra-provincial diocese under the Archbishop of Canterbury. As of 2021, it had nearly 1,600 members and an average worship attendance of more than 600 in forty-four parishes, including the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Havana.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bishops in the Catholic Church</span> Ordained ministers of the Catholic Church

In the Catholic Church, a bishop is an ordained minister who holds the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders and is responsible for teaching doctrine, governing Catholics in his jurisdiction, sanctifying the world and representing the Church. Catholics trace the origins of the office of bishop to the apostles, who it is believed were endowed with a special charism and office by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Catholics believe this special charism and office has been transmitted through an unbroken succession of bishops by the laying on of hands in the sacrament of holy orders.

The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is the highest Orthodox authority in the Coptic Orthodox Church. It formulates the rules and regulations regarding matters of the Church's organisation and faith.

The Episcopal/Anglican Province of Alexandria is a province of the Anglican Communion. Its territory was formerly the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa. On 29 June 2020 the diocese was elevated to the status of an ecclesiastical province, and became the forty-first province of the Anglican Communion. The primate and metropolitan of the province is the Archbishop of Alexandria.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ordination of women in the Anglican Communion</span> Women becoming Anglican clergy

The ordination of women in the Anglican Communion has been increasingly common in certain provinces since the 1970s. Several provinces, however, and certain dioceses within otherwise ordaining provinces, continue to ordain only men. Disputes over the ordination of women have contributed to the establishment and growth of progressive tendencies, such as the Anglican realignment and Continuing Anglican movements.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anglican Diocese of Leeds</span> Diocese of the Church of England

The Anglican Diocese of Leeds is a diocese of the Church of England, in the Province of York. It is the largest diocese in England by area, comprising much of western Yorkshire: almost the whole of West Yorkshire, the western part of North Yorkshire, the town of Barnsley in South Yorkshire, and most of the parts of County Durham, Cumbria and Lancashire which lie within the historic boundaries of Yorkshire. It includes the cities of Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and Ripon. It was created on 20 April 2014 following a review of the dioceses in Yorkshire and the dissolution of the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds, and Wakefield.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina</span> Diocese of the Episcopal Church in the United States

The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina (EDOSC), known as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina from January 2013 until September 2019, is a diocese of the Episcopal Church. The diocese covers an area of 24 counties in the eastern part of the U.S. state of South Carolina. The see city is Charleston, home to Grace Church Cathedral and the diocesan headquarters. The western portion of the state forms the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina. As a diocese of the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of South Carolina is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion and traces its heritage to the beginnings of Christianity.

The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina was established in 1785 as one of the nine original dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the United States. The diocese originally covered the entire state of South Carolina, but the western part of the state became the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina in 1922. In 2012, a controversy led to the existence of two rival dioceses, the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, each claiming to be the legitimate successor of the original diocese.


  1. "Metropolitan". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. The Encyclopedia Press. 1911. pp. 244–45. Retrieved 2009-12-06.
  2. "Canon 435-36". Code of Canon Law . Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 2009-12-06.
  3. "Canon 403-10". Code of Canon Law . Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 2009-12-06.
  4. "3: Suffragan Bishops" (PDF). Church of England. Retrieved 28 January 2012.
  5. Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1986). Handbook of British Chronology (Third Edition, revised ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 288. ISBN   0-521-56350-X.
  6. Consecration details (version archived 17 November 2009) (Accessed 25 June 2016)
  7. "Virtual autonomy for London's 'area bishops'?" . Church Times . No. 5584. 20 February 1970. p. 1. ISSN   0009-658X . Retrieved 29 September 2020 via UK Press Online archives.
  8. "4: The Dioceses Commission, 1978–2002" (PDF). Church of England. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 June 2012. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
  9. GS 1445: Report of the Dioceses Commission, Diocese of Worcester (Accessed 23 April 2014)
  10. Salisbury Diocesan Synod minutes – 99th session, 7 November 2009 p. 3 (Accessed 23 April 2014)
  11. Diocese of Lincoln Central Services Review – Report to the Bishop of Lincoln Archived 2014-08-28 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 23 April 2014)
  12. Diocese of Lincoln Central Services Review – Response from the Bishop of Lincoln Archived 2014-04-24 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 23 April 2014)
  13. Diocese of Winchester: Vacancy in See – Background to the Diocese, 2011 [ permanent dead link ] (Accessed 23 April 2014)
  14. Ministry in the Diocese of Peterborough Archived 2014-04-24 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 23 April 2014)
  15. "2: Bishops and Diocese in the Church of England" (PDF). Church of England. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 28 January 2012.
  16. Brown, H. Miles (1976). A Century for Cornwall. Truro: Blackford
  17. Diocese of Newcastle — Peter Stuart (Archived 12 October 2013; accessed 15 November 2016)
  18. Diocese of Manchester – Bishop of Manchester has retired Archived 2015-11-17 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 15 November 2016)
  19. Diocese of Southwell & Nottingham – Richard Inwood takes temporary charge (Accessed 15 November 2016)