Some Anglican suffragans are legally delegated responsibility for a geographical area within the diocese. For example, the Bishop of Colchester is an area bishop in the Diocese of Chelmsford. Such area schemes are presently found in the dioceses of:
- London (since 1979)
- Chelmsford (since 1983)
- Oxford (since 1984)
- Southwark (since 1991)
- Lichfield (since 1992)
- West Yorkshire and the Dales (since 2014)
Area schemes have previously existed in Worcester diocese (1993–2002), Salisbury diocese (1981–2009), Lincoln diocese (2010–31 January 2013) and Chichester diocese (1984-2013). Other suffragans have or have had informal responsibility for geographical areas (e.g. in Winchester and in Peterborough), but these are not referred to as area bishops.
English diocesan bishops were commonly assisted by bishops who had been consecrated to sees which were in partibus infidelium (titular sees that had in most cases been conquered by Muslims) before the English Reformation. The separation of the English Church from Rome meant that this was no longer possible. The Suffragan Bishops Act 1534 allowed for the creation of new sees to allow these assistant bishops, who were named as suffragan. Before this time the term "suffragan" referred to diocesan bishops in relation to their metropolitan.
Suffragan bishops in the Anglican Communion are nearly identical in their role to auxiliary bishops in the Roman Catholic Church.
Suffragan bishops in the Church of England who look after those parishes and clergy who reject the ministry of priests who are women, usually across a whole province, are known as provincial episcopal visitors. This concession was made in 1992 following the General Synod's vote to ordain women to the priesthood.
The dioceses of Leicester, Newcastle and Portsmouth do not have suffragan bishops, but the former two have one stipendiary assistant bishop with very little difference from a suffragan bishop, except that they do not have a see.
The Church of Ireland has no suffragan bishops, not even in the geographically large dioceses.
In the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, suffragan bishops are fairly common in larger dioceses, but usually have no specific geographical responsibility within a diocese (and are not affected by the English law requiring diocesan and suffragan sees to be named after a unique significant place) and so are not given the title of a particular city. Thus Barbara Harris was titled simply "Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts". Suffragan bishops do not have the right of succession in the event the bishop, also known as the ordinary, retires or otherwise vacates the office of bishop. However, unlike an assistant bishop (who is normally an already consecrated bishop whose term in the diocese ends with the retirement of the bishop who brought them into their diocese), a suffragan can continue on until they choose to retire on their own timeline. Additionally, a bishop coadjutor is elected to take over as the diocesan bishop upon the ordinary's retirement.
Roman Catholic Church
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In the Roman Catholic Church, a suffragan is a bishop who heads a diocese. His suffragan diocese, however, is part of a larger ecclesiastical province, nominally led by a metropolitan archbishop. The distinction between metropolitans and suffragans is of limited practical importance. Both are diocesan bishops possessing ordinary jurisdiction over their individual sees. The metropolitan has few responsibilities over the suffragans in his province and no direct authority over the faithful outside of his own diocese.
Bishops who assist diocesan bishops are usually called auxiliary bishops. If the assisting bishop has special faculties (typically the right to succeed the diocesan bishop) he would be called a coadjutor bishop. Since they are not in charge of a suffragan diocese, they are not referred to as suffragan bishops.
- "4: The Dioceses Commission, 1978–2002" (PDF). Church of England. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
- GS 1445: Report of the Dioceses Commission, Diocese of Worcester (Accessed 23 April 2014)
- Salisbury Diocesan Synod minutes – 99th session, 7 November 2009 p. 3 (Accessed 23 April 2014)
- Diocese of Lincoln Central Services Review – Report to the Bishop of Lincoln (Accessed 23 April 2014)
- Diocese of Lincoln Central Services Review – Response from the Bishop of Lincoln (Accessed 23 April 2014)
- Diocese of Winchester: Vacancy in See – Background to the Diocese, 2011 (Accessed 23 April 2014)
- Ministry in the Diocese of Peterborough (Accessed 23 April 2014)
- "3: Suffragan Bishops" (PDF). Church of England. Retrieved 28 January 2012.
- "2: Bishops and Diocese in the Church of England" (PDF). Church of England. Retrieved 28 January 2012.
- "Metropolitan". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 10. The Encyclopedia Press. 1911. pp. 244–45. Retrieved 2009-12-06.
- "Canon 435-36". Code of Canon Law. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 2009-12-06.
- "Canon 403-10". Code of Canon Law. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 2009-12-06.