An apostolic administrator in the Catholic Church is a prelate appointed by the Pope to serve as the ordinary for an apostolic administration. An apostolic administration can either be an area that is not yet a diocese (a stable 'pre-diocesan', usually missionary apostolic administration) or for a diocese, eparchy or similar permanent ordinariate (such a territorial prelature or a territorial abbacy) that either has no bishop (an apostolic administrator sede vacante, as after an episcopal death or resignation) or, in very rare cases, has an incapacitated bishop (apostolic administrator sede plena).
Apostolic administrators of stable administrations are equivalent in canon law with diocesan bishops, meaning they have essentially the same authority as a diocesan bishop. This type of apostolic administrator is usually the bishop of a titular see.
Administrators sede vacante or sede plena only serve in their role until a newly chosen diocesan bishop takes possession of the diocese. They are restricted by canon law in what they can do to the diocese they temporarily administer. For example, such an administrator may not sell real estate owned by the diocese. This type of administrator is commonly an auxiliary bishop of the diocese, a priest serving as the vicar general of the diocese, or the ordinary of a neighboring diocese.
Normally when a diocese falls vacant, either the previously appointed Coadjutor bishop takes possession of the see or (lacking such successor) a vicar capitular/diocesan administrator is chosen locally, but the Pope, having full governmental power, can preempt this choice and name an apostolic administrator instead. Sometimes a retiring, promoted or transferred (arch)bishop is designated to be apostolic administrator until his successor is designated and takes office, sometimes the Metropolitan or a fellow suffragan is appointed.
2. Apostolic Administrations
In May 2015, there were the following stable apostolic administrations, most administered by a (titular or external) bishop.
Most are of the Roman rite; most are in former or current communist countries.
- Apostolic Administration of Atyrau, in Kazakhstan, suffragan of the Metropolitan Archbishopric of Astana
- Apostolic Administration of the Caucasus, immediately subject to the Holy See, established in 1991 for two predominantly Orthodox former Soviet Republics: Georgia (the cathedral is in its capital Tbilisi) and Armenia
- Apostolic Administration of Estonia, one of the Baltic Countries; immediately subject to Rome, established in 1924, with its cathedral in the capital Tallinn
- Apostolic Administration of Kyrgyzstan, a mainly Islamic former Soviet Republic in Central Asia; immediately subject to Rome, founded in 1997 as a mission sui juris and promoted in 2006
- Apostolic Administration of Uzbekistan, predominantly Islamic former Soviet Republic in Central Asia, immediately subject to Rome, founded in 1997 as a mission sui juris and promoted in 2005
- Apostolic Administration of Harbin in the People's Republic of China, immediately subject to Rome, established in 1935, with a cathedral, with two incumbents, a bishop without papal mandate since 2012 and a papal nominee since 2011.
- Kinma (Kinmen and Matsu, under the control of Taiwan), established in 1968, led by the Archbishop of Taipei.
Some apostolic administrations have jurisdiction not only over Latin Rite Catholics, but also over Catholics of other rites, not having their own jurisdictions there:
- Apostolic Administration of Southern Albania, with pro-cathedral see at Vlorë, established in 1939 for all Catholics in southern regions of Albania, both of Latin and Byzantine rites; since 2005, it is suffragan of the Metropolitan of Tirana–Durrës.
2.1. Diocese of Pyongyang
The Diocese of Pyongyang, North Korea: its last official bishop, Francis Hong Yong-ho, was imprisoned by the communist regime of Kim Il-sung in 1949 and later disappeared. The Metropolitan Archbishop of Seoul (South Korea) acts as the Apostolic Administrator in Pyongyang, as religion is suppressed in North Korea.
3. Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney
In addition, the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney is a non-territorial jurisdiction, similar to a personal prelature, which is exempt, i.e. immediately subject to the Holy See, not part of any ecclesiastical province. It is a separate particular church for traditionalist Catholics within the Brazilian Diocese of Campos, a suffragan of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Niterói.
The personal apostolic administration was formed by Pope John Paul II to administer to a group of traditionalist Catholic priests, using the Tridentine Mass, who reconciled with Rome on January 18, 2002. The group had been formed by bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer and had been associated with the Society of St. Pius X of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
4. Temporary Administration of Vacant Sees
It has become not unusual that the Pope appoints an Apostolic Administrator to a diocese which is sede vacante, thus replacing the diocesan administrator. Usually, the emeritus bishop will be appointed in such a case. Recently (and in exception to the latter), the archdiocese St. Andrews and Edinburgh had Philip Tartaglia under this procedure.
5. Former Apostolic Administrations
5.1. Latin in Europe
- Apostolic Administration of Český Těšín (Czech Republic)
- Apostolic Administration of Eastern Siberia (Russia)
- Apostolic Administration of Eupen–Malmedy–Sankt Vith (Belgium; promoted Diocese of Eupen–Malmedy, later suppressed into Liège diocese)
- Apostolic Administration of European Russia
- Apostolic Administration of Görlitz (Germany; promoted Diocese)
- Apostolic Administration of Haarlem (Netherlands; promoted Diocese, renamed Haarlem–Amsterdam)
- Apostolic Administration of Lubaczów (promoted and renamed diocese of Zamość-Lubaczów, Poland)
- Apostolic Administration of Moldova (Moldavia; now diocese of Chisinau)
- Apostolic Administration of Northern European Russia
- Apostolic Administration of Novosibirsk (Russia)
- Apostolic Administration of Prizren, a former diocese (and later titular bishopric) in Kosovo (ex-Yugoslavian autonomous province in Serbia) (in 1969 absorbed by Skopje in the present Republic of Macedonia), restored in 2000, elevated in 2018 as diocese, immediately subject to Rome
- Apostolic administration of Schwerin (partitioned Germany, merged into Hamburg archbishopric)
- Apostolic Administration of Southern European Russia
- Apostolic Administration of Trnava (Slovakia; promoted Archdiocese, lost Metropolitan status when restored after merger into Bratislava)
- Apostolic Administration of Tütz (then Germany, see moved to Schneidemühl (now Piła), elevated to Territorial Prelature, dissolved, now in Poland)
- Apostolic Administration of Upper Silesia (Poland; now Archdiocese of Katowice)
- Apostolic Administration of Western Siberia (Russia)
- Apostolic Administration of West Vlaanderen (West Flanders province in Belgium; promoted diocese and renamed Brugge (Bruges) after its see)
- Apostolic Administration of Yugoslav Bačka (Serbia; now Diocese of Subotica)
- Apostolic Administration of Yugoslav Banat (Serbia; now Diocese of Zrenjanin)
5.2. Eastern Catholic in Europe
- Apostolic Administration of Lemkowszczyzna (Poland; Ukrainian Catholic, promoted Apostolic Exarchate, suppressed)
- Ruthenian Catholic Apostolic Administration of Bosnia-Hercegovina (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Byzantine Rite; suppressed)
- Ruthenian Catholic Apostolic Administration of Targul-Siret (Romania, Byzantine Rite; suppressed)
5.3. Latin Overseas
- In Asia
- Apostolic Administration of Almaty (Kazachstan; promoted Diocese)
- Apostolic Administration of Astana (Kazachstan; promoted Archdiocese)
- Apostolic Administration of Kazakhstan (promoted Diocese and renamed Karaganda after its see)
- Apostolic Administration of Latakia (Maronite, Syria; now an Eparchy: Eastern Catholic Diocese)
- Apostolic Administration of Okinawa and the Southern Islands, alias Ryukyus (Japan; now Diocese of Naha)
- In America
- Apostolic Administration of Copiapó (Chile; now a diocese)
- Apostolic Administration of El Petén (Guatemala; promoted Apostolic Vicariate)
- Apostolic Administration of Izabal (Guatemala; now a diocese)
- Apostolic Administration of Rio Branco (Brazil; promoted Territorial Prelature, renamed and again promoted Diocese of Roraima)
- In Africa
- Apostolic Administration of the Comoros Archipelago (Comoros; now Apostolic Vicariate of the Comoros Archipelago)
- Apostolic Administration of Mbuji-Mayi (now Diocese of Mbujimayi, in Congo)
- Apostolic Administration of Zanzibar and Pemba (now Diocese of Zanzibar, in Tanzania)