The English word “autonomous” is derived from the Greek words that correspond to Latin "sui iuris".
Church documents such as the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches apply the Latin term sui iuris to the particular Churches that together compose the Catholic Church (i.e., the Roman Catholic Church and those in communion with her). By far the largest of these "sui iuris" or autonomous Churches is that known as the Latin Church or the Latin Rite. Over this particular Church the Pope exercises, as well as his papal authority, the authority that in other particular Churches belongs to a Patriarch. He is therefore referred to also as Patriarch of the West The other particular Churches are called Eastern Catholic Churches, each of which, if large enough, has its own patriarch or other chief hierarch, with authority over all the bishops of that particular Church or rite.
The same term is applied also to missions that, though lacking enough clergy to be set up as apostolic prefectures, are for various reasons given autonomy, and thus are not part of any diocese, apostolic vicariate or apostolic prefecture. In 2004, there were eleven such missions: three in the Atlantic, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos, and Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; two in the Pacific, Funafuti (Tuvalu), and Tokelau; and six in central Asia, Afghanistan, Baku (Azerbaijan), Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
(See, Fr. Thomas Kuzhinapurath, "Malankara Catholic Church sui iuris: Juridical Status and Power of Governance", www.scribd.com)
The term Church sui iuris is used in CCEO to denote the autonomous churches in Catholic communion.
A church sui iuris is " a community of the Christian faithful, which is joined together by a hierarchy according to the norm of law and which is expressly or tacitly recognized as sui iuris by the supreme authority of the Church"(CCEO.27) . The term sui iuris is an innovation of CCEO (Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium - Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches) and it denotes the relative autonomy of the oriental Catholic Churches. This canonical term, pregnant with many juridical nuances, indicates the God-given mission of the Oriental Catholic Churches to keep up their patrimonial autonomous nature. And the autonomy of these churches is relative in the sense that it is under the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff.
For a better understanding of the concept of church sui iuris see, Žužek, Understanding The Eastern Code, pp. 94-109. “Una Chiesa Orientale cattolica è una parte della Chiesa Universale che vive la fede in modo corrispondente ad una delle cinque grandi tradizioni orientali- Alessandrina, Antiochena, Costantinopolitina, Caldea, Armena- e che contiene o è almeno capace di contenere, come sue componenti minori, piú communià diocesane gerarchicamente riunite sotto la guida di un capo commune legittimamente eleto e in communione con Roma, il quale con il proprio Sinodo costituisce la superiore istanza per tutti gli affari di carattere amministrativo, legislativo e giudiziario delle stesse Communità, nell'ambitto del diritto commune a tutte le Chiese, determinato nei Canoni sancti dai Concili Ecumenici o del Romano Pontefice, sempre preservando il diritto di quest'ultimo di intervenire nei singoli casi” pp. 103-104.
According to CCEO the oriental catholic churches sui iuris are of four categories:
The patriarchal church is the full-grown form of an Oriental Catholic Church. It is a 'a community of the Christian faithful joined together by' a Patriarchal hierarchy. The Patriarch together with the synod of bishops has the legislative, judicial and administrative powers within jurisdictional territory of the patriarchal church, without prejudice to those powers reserved, in the common law to the Roman pontiff (CCEO 55-150). Among the catholic oriental churches the following churches are of patriarchal status: Maronite, Chaldean, Coptic, Syrian, Melkhite, Armenian.
2.Major Archiepiscopal Churches:
Major archiepiscopal churches are the oriental churches, governed by the Major Archbishops being assisted by the respective synod of Bishops. These churches also have almost the same rights and obligations of Patriarchal Churches. A major archbishop is the Metropolitan of a see determined or recognized by the Supreme authority of the Church, who presides over an entire Eastern Church sui iuris that is not distinguished with the patriarchal title. What is stated in common law concerning patriarchal Churches or patriarchs is understood to be applicable to major archiepiscopal Churches or major archbishops, unless the common law expressly provides otherwise or it is evident from the nature of the matter" (CCEO.151, 152). The Syro-Malabar , the Ukrainian Byzantine, Syro-Malankara Catholic and Romanian Byzantine churches are the four Major Archiepiscopal churches in catholic communion.
The sui iuris church, which is governed by a Metropolitan, is called a Metropolitan church sui iuris. " A Metropolitan Church sui iuris is presided over by the Metropolitan of a determined see who has been appointed by the Roman Pontiff and is assisted by a council of hierarchs according to the norm of law" (CCEO. 155§1). The catholic Metropolitan churches are the following: Ethiopian, Ruthenian in the United States, and, as of 2008, Slovak Byzantine.
4. Other Churches sui iuris:
Other than the above mentioned three forms of sui iuris churches there are some other sui iuris ecclesiastical communities. It is "a Church sui iuris which is neither patriarchal nor major archiepiscopal nor Metropolitan, and is entrusted to a hierarch who presides over it in accordance with the norm of common law and the particular law established by the Roman Pontiff" (CCEO. 174). The following oriental catholic churches are of this juridical status: Belarussian Byzantine, Bulgarian Byzantine, Macedonian Byzantine, Greek Byzantine, Hungarian Byzantine, Italo-Albanian, Byzantine Church of the Eparchy of Križvci, Albanian Byzantine, Russian Byzantine.
Thus altogether there are 22 oriental sui iuris Churches in Catholic communion with Rome.
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