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In the Catholic Church, an apostolic visitor (or Apostolic Visitator; Italian: Visitatore apostolico) is a papal representative with a transient mission to perform a canonical visitation of relatively short duration. The visitor is deputed to investigate a special circumstance in a diocese or country, and to submit a report to the Holy See at the conclusion of the investigation.
Apostolic visitors are church officials whom canonists commonly class with papal legates. Visitors differ from other Apostolic delegates, principally in this, that their mission is only transient and of comparatively short duration.
In ancient times, the popes generally exercised their right of inspecting the dioceses of various countries through their nuncios or delegates (c. 1, Extravag. Comm. de Consuet. I, 1; c. 17, X, de Cens. III, 39), though they occasionally, even in the primitive ages, sent special visitors.
In the modern time, the mission of papal nuncios is rather of a diplomatic than of a visitatorial character. Visitors are, however, deputed by the pope for special emergencies and not at stated intervals. Their duty is to inspect the state of the Church in the country confided to them and then to draw up a report to the Holy See. At times, this visitation is made with the same attention to details as is an episcopal visitation.
Visitors Apostolic are also appointed to visit the various provinces of a religious order, whenever, in the judgment of the pope, this becomes useful or necessary. In all cases of Apostolic visitation, the pope, through delegates, is putting into effect the supreme and immediate jurisdiction which is his for any and every part of the Church. The exact powers of a visitor can be known only from his brief of delegation. His office ceases as soon as he has submitted his report to the Holy See through the Consistorial Congregation.
The Commission of the Apostolic Visitation
For the city of Rome itself there is a permanent Commission of the Apostolic Visitation. Established by Urban VIII as one of the Roman congregations under the presidency of the cardinal vicar, it was changed into a commission by Pope Pius X through the Constitution "Sapienti Consilio" (29 June 1908). These Apostolic visitors annually inspect the parishes and institutions of Rome and report on their spiritual and financial condition. They pay special attention to the fulfilment of the obligations springing from pious foundations and legacies for Masses and chaplaincies.
Eastern Catholic Apostolic Visitors
In Eastern Catholic (non-Latin) churches, the office of apostolic visitor can be indefinite and the closest thing to an ordinary for communities in regions which have not (yet) been organized into any ordinary jurisdiction. Although there is a history of apostolic visitors in the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church, Eastern Catholic apostolic visitors are generally found in the major Eastern Catholic churches.
Apostolic Visitors in the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church
Because the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church (Byzantine Rite) remains unorganized in terms of structural polity, with no proper jurisdictions of its own erected, since 1960 the Pope has entrusted the pastoral care of Belarusian Greek Catholics to a series of Apostolic Visitors. These apostolic visitors have thus served as the only hierarchs of the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church during this time period.
Bishop Ceslaus Sipovich served as Apostolic Visitor for the Belarusian Greek-Catholic faithful abroad (outside of Belarus) from 1960 until his death in 1981.
Bishop Uladzimir Tarasevich served as Apostolic Visitor for the Belarusian Greek-Catholic faithful abroad from 1983 until his death in 1986.
Father Alexander Nadson served as Apostolic Visitor for the Belarusian Greek-Catholic faithful abroad from 1986 until his death in 2015.
Father Sergiusz Gajek has served as Apostolic Visitor for the Belarusian Greek-Catholic faithful in Belarus since 1994.
Apostolic Visitors in the Major Eastern Catholic Churches
In recent years, nearly all of the Patriarchal and Major Archiepiscopal Eastern Catholic churches (except the Coptic) have made use of apostolic visitors, mostly in Europe and the Americas. This has sometimes served as a prelude to the creation of an apostolic exarchate or an eparchy. The apostolic visitors are almost always bishops, but only a few of them have a full-time mandate as apostolic visitors. Most of them perform their visitation in addition to some other more primary ecclesiastical role, whether as a residential bishop, an auxiliary bishop, a curial bishop, or their particular church's procurator at Rome.
The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church has had a number of apostolic visitors over the last few decades, three of whom served as apostolic visitors for two different regions simultaneously. Partly due to the canonical erection of several new eparchies and apostolic exarchates, however, there are currently no Syro-Malankara apostolic visitors at present:
^The Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Shamshabad was established on October 10, 2017, with Bishop Thattil as its first apostolic exarch. The establishment of this eparchy, along with that of Hosur on the same day, marked the conclusion of the Syro-Malabar apostolic visitation in India, with the entire territory of India finally covered by Syro-Malabar ordinaries.
^Isaac Mar Cleemis was appointed Bishop of Tiruvalla on September 11, 2003, and later became the first Metropolitan Archbishop of Tiruvalla before being elected Major Archbishop of Trivandrum in 2007, at which point he took the name Baselios Cleemis.
^The Syro-Malankara Catholic Apostolic Exarchate of the United States was established on July 14, 2010, the same day that Thomas Mar Eusebius was appointed to be its first bishop. He was also simultaneously appointed Apostolic Visitor in Canada. On January 4, 2016, the apostolic exarchate was promoted as the Syro-Malankara Catholic Eparchy of the United States and Canada, with its jurisdiction now extended to also include Canada.
^On March 26, 2015, all of the territory previously under the care of Jacob Mar Barnabas as Apostolic Visitor in India outside the proper territory was organized into the Eparchy of Gurgaon and the Apostolic Exarchate of Khadki. Jacob Mar Barnabas was appointed the first Bishop of Gurgaon, and Thomas Mar Anthonios the first Apostolic Exarch of Khadki.
^Lonchyna was originally appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Ukrainian Apostolic Exarchate of Great Britain on June 2, 2009, and was subsequently named Apostolic Exarch on June 14, 2011. He later became the first bishop of the Eparchy of the Holy Family of London when the Apostolic Exarchate was promoted on January 18, 2013.
^Kozelinski Netto was originally appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Eparchy of Buenos Aires on June 22, 2011, and was subsequently named Eparch on October 8, 2016.