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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.
See also: Roman Curia
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.
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.
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.
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.
Since 1986, the Armenian Catholic eparchs of Paris (whose eparchy covers all of France) have served as Apostolic Visitor in Western Europe of the Armenians:
The Chaldean Catholic Church has had an Apostolic Visitor in Europe of the Chaldeans since 2005:
The Melkite Greek Catholic Church currently has one apostolic visitor:
The Romanian Greek Catholic Church currently has one apostolic visitor:
The Syriac Catholic Church currently has two Apostolic Visitors:
The Syriac Maronite Church currently has five apostolic visitors:
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church has had a number of apostolic visitors over the last several decades, including two at present:
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 Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had several apostolic visitors in Western Europe after the end of World War II and currently has three apostolic visitors: