A papal representative who in the territory assigned to him has the power and duty of watching over the status of the Church and of keeping the Roman pontiff informed regarding the same. Besides this ordinary power he has faculties that are delegated to him by the Holy See. In countries that have established relations with the Holy See the papal representatives have also a diplomatic character because of their office concerning the relations between the Church and the respective state or states. In countries that have no established relations with the Holy See the representatives of the pope have a purely ecclesiastical character. To this latter class belongs the Apostolic delegate. The prescribed exercise of the delegate’s office does not interfere with the jurisdiction of the local Ordinaries, since the rights and duties of both offices flow from the properly constituted government of the Church. The function of vigilance in its regular course brings about a strengthening of the general condition of the Church throughout all ecclesiastical units of the delegate’s territory, and thus confirms, unifies, and facilitates, the labors of the Ordinaries. The delegate takes precedence in honor over all Ordinaries of his territory who are not cardinals. He likewise enjoys several other concessions of an honorary nature.
The Apostolic delegation is not a tribunal of justice, but the delegate may decide conflicts in competence, as specified by church law (canon 1612, 2). The Roman pontiff’s right to send representatives to any part of the world flows from the constitution of the Church, i.e., from the papal primacy of jurisdiction. Since the pope himself cannot personally fulfill the office of vigilance over the condition of the Church in the various countries of the globe, it is logical that he should have representatives who perform this duty for him and forward to him the necessary information. Hence we find the exercise of this right contemporary with the freedom and spread of Christianity. As early as the fourth century the Holy See had a permanent representative in Illyricum. In the fifth century the Vicariate of Arles was constituted as the territory of the pope’s representative in Gaul. Throughout the centuries the exercise of papal representation kept apace with the spread of the Gospel into new territories.