According to Papal Dictate dating back as far as 1883 the pope is nominally the Bishop of Kilfenora, in County Clare. Along with attempting to mend a fragile Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis I is taking on this west of Ireland diocese.
However, this doesn’t mean that Pope Francis I will be making regular visits to his Irish diocese.
The County Clare library records explain this anomaly. Their records state:
“The last Catholic bishop of the diocese was James Augustine O'Daly who died in France in 1749. In 1750 the Catholic church united Kilfenora with Kilmacduagh and in 1883 both dioceses were united with the relatively new diocese of Galway. To this day, the official title for prelate in the see of Galway is Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora. Technically, this means that the Pope is the Bishop of Kilfenora.”
The Church dictates that no bishop can be split between two different provinces.
A source from the parish told TheJournal.ie that this rule was introduced to “prevent bishops from collecting dues from more than one province without doing the work.”
They said it is unlikely that canon law would ever be changed to amend this as Kilfenora is the “only one of these parishes that still exists.”
The source said, “It’s a unique thing that the parish has and they pride themselves on it because it gives them that little bit of distinction from other parishes...For all practical purposes it means absolutely nothing because the bishop [of Galway] does everything and I don’t think it’s going to be high up on Pope Francis’ list.”
The Bishop / Pope is not expected to make frequent visits as the Bishop of Galway handles all the clerical and administrative duties of the area. However, last year, residents of the County Clare region did think that Pope Benedict XVI might make a visit to the diocese while travelling for the Ecclesiastical Conference in Dublin, according to the Clerical Whispers blog. However the now retired Pope did not travel to the event.