Pope Francis joins Diocese of Frascati, Italy with Diocese of Velletri-Segni in a personal union

by Br. Alexis Bugnolo

Rome, Italy – Sept. 12, 20223 A. D. – Feast of the Holy Name of Mary: Breaking news, this evening from Rome is that Pope Francis has decided to merge in a personal union one of the ancient suburbican Dioceses of Rome: the Diocese of Frascati, with another, the Diocese of Segni-Velletri.

Known to the world over for its fine wines, the Diocese of Frascati was founded in the 4th century and since the 17th Century has been graced with this privilege, that its bishop was a Cardinal of the Roman Church.

While that tradition ended in 1962, when the Cardinalate Title was separated from the duties of Bishop of the Diocese, the suburbican Diocese has been ably cared for by 3 local bishops since then.

The most recent Bishop Msgr. Raffaello Martinelli retired today, when Pope Francis by a special decree appointed as its Bishop the Bishop of the Suburbican Diocese of Velletri-Segni, in a personal union.

This means that the Dioceses remain separate legal entities, but are ruled by the same Bishop: a very unique arrangement, often used here in the ecclesiastical Province of Rome, where the dioceses are so small they have less parishes than can be counted on two hands.

The current Bishop of Velletri-Segni, Msgr. Stefano Russo, becomes thus the Ordinary of both circumscriptions, but the parishes, assets, debts, clergy and faithful of Frascati remain part of the Diocese of Frascati.

Pope Benedict XVI was Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni when he was elected Pope, having also taken up the Cardinalite Title of Ostia, as Dean of the College of Cardinals.

The Diocese of Frascati is known in the United States primarily from the personal history of Father Z, the famous traditional priest blogger, a convert from Methodism, who was incardinated in the Diocese of Frascati for many years.

Msgr. Martinelli was a priest of Bergamo, Italy — in the north of the country — when Pope Benedict XVI appointed him Bishop of Frascati in 2009.

Msgr. Russo is the present Secretary General of the Italian Bishops’s Conference.

This personal union — which is a de facto merger — was in the works for some time, since the Diocese of Frascati had lost half of its clergy since 2006, and was struggling to recruit vocations.

Officially, Msgr. Russo is Bishop now of both Dioceses, and that will mean a bit more traveling for him, as he will have to serve in 3 Cathedrals: Velletri, Segni and Frascati.

The Suburbican Dioceses of Rome are the ancient seats of the Cardinals of the Roman Church who have participated in the election of the Roman Pontiff since before the 11th century. They enjoy the special privilege in the Lateran Treaty between the Vatican and the Italian Republic, in this, that the Pope can appoint to their sees men who are citizens of other nations.

The Cardinal holding the titular office of Velletri-Segni is currently Cardinal Arinze, who is in poor health.

The only large scale effect this merger might have is that if a Provincial Council is called, the removal of the Bishop appointed by Pope Benedict XVI will likely give Pope Francis a greater majority in decisions.

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