Sedes Vacans (a vacant see), strictly a vacancy of the papal or an episcopal chair, since the term sedes (θρόνος) is applied only to apostolica, i.e. Roman and other episcopal sees; but it is in use extended to abbeys, prelatures, and all dignities to which the right of collating to benefices belongs. For the rules which govern in the event of the vacation of the papal chair, SEE CARDINAL; SEE CONCLAVE; SEE POPE. This article will be devoted to the subject with reference to bishoprics only.
A sedes vacans occurs by death, resignation, translation, deprivation, etc., and continues until a successor has been regularly installed. The current business of a bishopric during such interim was formerly administered by its presbytery, but subsequently, after the 4th century, by an officer termed intercessor, interventor, visitator, or commendator. A provision was made that the see should be filled within a year, in order, to prevent the seizure of the office by the temporary administrators, and also to hinder secular lords from appropriating the income of a vacant see. Still later the temporary administration was intrusted to the chapters, at first in spiritualia, and afterwards in temporalities as well. The modern usage is based on the decisions of the Council of Trent and of the Congregatio Concilii. The episcopal jurisdiction during a vacancy inheres in the chapter, but is administered by one or more "oeconomists" and a capitular vicar, who may be the general vicar of the late bishop, and all of whom must be appointed within eight days after knowledge of the vacancy has been obtained. The capitular vicar must be a doctor or licentiate of canon law, or else possess abilities in that direction, and, must be taken from the chapter if a suitable person can be found. When there is no chapter, or when the chapter neglects to appoint administrators, the metropolitan is empowered to act in its stead if the church be a suffragan church, the oldest suffragan bishop if it be a metropolitan church, and the nearest bishop if it be an exempt church. The capitular vicar is not the agent of the chapter in this instance, but administers independently; and he is not liable to be deprived of his office without sufficient reason, the determining of which does not rest with the chapter, but with the Congregatio super Negotiis Episcoporum. Certain general limitations, however, restrict his action. All episcopal rights which inhere in the ordo episcopalis, or are delegated by the pope, are in abeyance during the vacancy, except as provision for their exercise is otherwise made by the curia, or circumstances compel the employment of a neighboring bishop. A year of mourning (annus luctus) is appointed, during which no orders may be conferred within the bishopric, except they become necessary to administer a benefice which has been, or is about to be, received. Nor may the capitular vicar dispose of benefices which are subject to the bishop's collation, or the income of the diocese be in any way employed, except perhaps to pay the salary of the administrator. No real estate may be transferred to other hands, and, in general, no change which might result in disadvantage to the future bishop may be introduced. The sedes vacans ends with the installation of the new bishop, who is authorized to exact a complete account of the bishopric and its administration during the interim. A quasi vacans is distinguished from the sedes vacans, for which SEE SEDES IMPEDITA.
On the general subject, comp. the literature given in Pütter, Lit. des deutsch. Staatsrechts, vol. 3, § 1461; in Klüber's Fortsetzung, vol. 4:§ 1461, p. 528, 529; Ferraris, Bibliotheca: Canonica, s.v.; Ritter, Der Capitular-Vikar (Münster, 1842); Rau, Rechte der Domcapitel, etc., in the Tüb. theol. Quartalschrift, 1842, 3, 365-412; Huller, Die jurist. Persönlichkeit d. kath. Domcapitel in Deutschland (Bamberg, 1860).