Executive report: Chancellor and Canonical Advisor

I feel I should begin with a short introduction as the newest member of the diocesan curia. 

When Bishop Bill arrived in the diocese I was parish priest of the eight parishes of the Chisholm Pastoral Region. The bishop asked me to undertake canon law studies. Initially I thought he was joking, but he was not. So in September 2012, I headed to St Paul University, Ottawa, Canada, to study canon law. I completed a Masters in Canon Law, awarded by Ottawa University and the ecclesiastical degree Licence in Canon Law, awarded by St Paul University. In December last year I returned home and in February 2016 was appointed as chancellor and canonical advisor.

Historically, the role of the chancellor in a diocese was to manage the diocese for the bishop; the role was similar to the role of a university chancellor. In light of Vatican II, the Code of Canon Law was revised and the revision published in 1982. The chancellor became responsible for the diocesan archives and also a chief notary. The previous responsibilities of the chancellor were given to the Vicar General. In the churches with Irish origins, the chancellor’s role seems to vary from diocese to diocese, depending on the direction of the Bishop.

Here we have an effective electronic record and archive system managed by some very competent and talented people. I would just get in their way if I tried to exercise the canonical role of a chancellor! So what is my role? Bishop Bill has made it very clear that he expects the diocese to comply with both civil and canon law. In my mind to achieve this we need to know:

  • With what are we complying?
  • What is/are the best method/s of complying?
  • How do we know we have complied?
  • How do we report our compliance or non-compliance?

Underneath these questions there are the systems, statutes, charters etc that give direction and identify the responsibilities of those many individuals involved in the life of the church. One might call the monitoring and management of both the compliance and the structures that support compliance, governance. In simple terms, that’s my role.

In the months I have been in the role we have begun a review and rewriting of the statutes of some of the key consultative bodies to the bishop; The Council of Priests, the College of Consultors and the Diocesan Trustees. The statutes of theses bodies, if they exist, date back to 1984. The world is now a different place.

In the coming twelve months I hope to work with the other consultative bodies at a diocesan level to review and rewrite their statutes. I have also been providing canonical advice to parish priests and diocesan staff on many varied issues including staffing, bequests, sacraments, ownership issues and so on.

I also hope in the coming year to work with parish priests in assisting them to increase their skills in the area of governance.

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Fr Matthew Muller Image
Fr Matthew Muller

Fr Matthew Muller is the Chancellor and Canonical Advisor in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.