What Is A Titular See?
Last week I touched on titular churches. Turns out there are titular sees too, as I discovered when reading 12 Catholic Words That Don’t Sound Like What They Mean. The article has the following to say about them:
Titular Sees – YOU GIGGLED!! You know you did. Seriously. Grow up. It’s just dioceses where the Church once flourished but which later died out. Bishops without a territorial or residential diocese of their own are given titular sees.
That’s likely the most concise explanation you’ll find!
So why would a diocese die out? Many of the initial cases had to do with dioceses created during the early expansion of Christianity being conquered by Muslims. The Latin phrase for these defunct dioceses is in partibus infidelium, or “in the territory of the infidels” (this may be shortened to in partibus, or i.p.i.), although all of these titles have fallen out of fashion. In more recent times, these are dioceses that are dissolved in favor of a reorganization of some sort, such as moving the seat of the diocese, or merging several dioceses into one. Even in the United States, we have titular sees of this sort, such as Oregon City, Jamestown, ND, and Alton, IL. Father Z discusses some of the finer points of particular titular sees (both in the post and the comments) here. There are currently over 2,000 titular sees throughout the world.
Titular sees may have titular bishops, although there is no requirement that someone must always hold that title. Because titular sees are strictly historical and lack any functional purpose, bishops and cardinals who may be serving in some administrative post (such as a nuncio or superior in the Roman Curia) are given a titular see. Since bishops and cardinals are leaders in the faith, it is right for them to hold a diocese as a symbol of their leadership. This also allows for these dioceses to be remembered in some fashion.
There are also reasons to assign a bishop to a titular see that were likely never envisioned during their creation. For example, because titular sees lack any functionality, and thus the presiding bishop has no actual jurisdiction over the faith in that region, assigning titular sees to bishops who have fallen out of line with the Church is a way of striping their responsibilities. One of the more recent cases of this is Bishop Jacques Gaillot, who was removed from his position as the bishop of the Diocese of Évreux and assigned the titular see of Partenia in Algeria for his liberal political and social opinions, as well as heterodoxy regarding matters of the faith.