Pope Francis has officially accepted the resignation and subsequent retirement of Bishop Joseph Mugenyi Sabiiti Apuuli, who has faithfully served as the Auxiliary Bishop of the diocese of Fort Portal for 24 years.
This significant decision was announced by the Holy See Press Office on Saturday afternoon, alongside other notable resignations and appointments of prelates in Moncton, Canada, and Banjarmasin, Indonesia.
In the official statement from the Vatican, it was noted that the “Holy Father has accepted the resignation from the office of auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Fort Portal, Uganda, presented by Bishop Joseph Mugenyi Sabiiti.”
According to Canon Law, Catholic bishops are required to submit their resignation letters to the Pope upon reaching the age of 75, making Sabiiti’s retirement inevitable as he celebrated this milestone in May this year.
The news of Bishop Sabiiti’s retirement was shared with the faithful by Bishop Robert Muhira Akiiki, the reigning Bishop of Fort Portal, during a special event commemorating the 75th anniversary of Yerya Parish in Bunyangabu District. Bishop Mugenyi attended the same event and joined his superior to celebrate Mass. Ordained as an Auxiliary bishop in 1999, Sabiiti has faithfully served in this role until now.
In the Catholic Church, an Auxiliary bishop is appointed to assist the diocesan bishop in addressing the pastoral and administrative needs of the diocese. They may also hold the title of a bishop of a former territorial jurisdiction, which is the case for Sabiiti as the Titular Bishop of Maximiana in Numidia.
When Bishop Sabiiti was initially appointed as an Auxiliary bishop, there was speculation that he might eventually succeed Bishop Paul Kalanda, who retired in 2003. However, this did not come to pass as the Pope appointed Bishop Muhiirwa, the Parish Priest of Virika at the time, as the third African bishop to lead the diocese, following in the footsteps of the late Bishop Serapio Bwemi Magambo and Kalanda.
It’s important to note that the retirement of the diocesan bishop does not automatically entitle an Auxiliary bishop to assume leadership of the diocese. According to Canon Law, only a Coadjutor Bishop possesses the right to assume leadership in the event of the bishop’s resignation or passing.
Nevertheless, many Auxiliary bishops have eventually been granted ordinary powers. For instance, Bishop Henry Apaloryamam Ssentongo, formerly an Auxiliary bishop of Masaka, was in 1991 appointed as the Bishop of Moroto.
Similarly, Christopher Kakooza served as the Auxiliary Bishop of Kampala before being appointed to replace Bishop Ssekamanya of Lugazi in 2014 and, mostly recently, Lambert Bainomugisha who was the Auxiliary Bishop of Mbarara Archdiocese was eventually appointed to the same Archdiocese after the retirement of Archbishop Paul Bakyenga in 2020.
At one point, there were expectations that Bishop Sabiiti might be assigned to Kasese Diocese which had fallen vacant in 2014 after the retirement of Bishop Egidio Nkaijanabwo. However, the Pontiff chose Francis Aquirinus Kibira, who was the Vicar General of Fort Portal at the time.
The reasons behind Sabiiti not receiving his own diocese are not widely known to the public. However, a bishop recently revealed to our reporter that Sabiiti’s health issues prevented him from fully committing his energy and dedication to serve as a diocesan bishop.
During his speech at Yerya today, Bishop Sabiiti openly acknowledged his physical challenges, including what he called a “leg injury and other ailments.” He revealed that when he was initially appointed as bishop, he had actually declined the position, fully aware of his physical limitations and inability to fully fulfill the demands of the role.
During his address, Bishop Sabiiti characterized his episcopate as more than just a job or duty; likening it to a hobby that he willingly embraced to serve people. He reassured the faithful that even in his retirement, he would continue to serve them, albeit at a slower pace.
Overflowing with joy, Bishop Sabiiti, who relied on a walking stick for support, expressed heartfelt gratitude to the people of Fort Portal. He conveyed his appreciation for their unwavering support throughout his years of service. Furthermore, he extended warm congratulations to Yerya for reaching the remarkable milestone of 75 years and called upon God to continue showering them with blessings.
It is important to clarify the role and authority of an auxiliary bishop within the Catholic Church. While an Auxiliary bishop possesses all sacramental powers and is considered a successor of the Apostles, they do not hold full authority over the entire diocese. This distinction lies with the bishop, who has been entrusted by the Pope with the responsibility for the entire diocese.
Information obtained from Today’s Catholic newspaper highlights that an auxiliary bishop is not a co-leader of the diocese since they lack full authority. They are appointed to assist the bishop and may be given governing power over specific geographic sections or aspects of the diocese. However, the ultimate authority and decision-making rest with the Bishop.
In the hierarchy of diocesan officials, the bishop occupies the highest status, followed by the Coadjutor bishop, and then any Auxiliary bishops. The Church’s Code of Canon Law, specifically Canon 407.3, emphasizes the importance of consultation among these officials on matters of significant importance. This underscores the collaborative nature of decision-making within the diocese.