An obscure law from 1917 places the moon under the purview of the Diocese of Orlando, Florida.
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The Diocese of Orlando, Florida, covers much of the greater central Florida area. It encompasses nine counties, hundreds of cities, nearly 401,000 Catholic residents, and, strangely enough, the moon.
UCatholic explains the unusual circumstances that led to the moon’s spiritual jurisdiction landing with the diocese that ministers to Disney, Universal, and Cape Canaveral:
The Apollo 11 space mission began with the launch from Cape Canaveral on July 16, 1969. The mission fulfilled the national goal proposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth, before this decade is out.” However, when Apollo 11 made its famous flight from Cape Canaveral to ultimately fulfill that goal, they inadvertently made Bishop Borders the first Bishop of the Moon thanks to an obscure rule from the 1917 Code of Canon Law in effect at the time.
In 1968, William Donald Borders was named the first bishop of Orlando. When Apollo 11 launched, one year later, there was still a law in the books that stated that any newly discovered territory would fall under the bishopric from whence the discovering expedition departed. Since Cape Canaveral was under the purview of the Diocese of Orlando, Bishop Borders was effectively the first bishop of the moon.
The story goes that following the success of Apollo 11, Bishop Borders made an ad limina visit to Pope Blessed Paul VI, during which he casually added, “You know, Holy Father, I am the bishop of the moon.” The Pope seemed perplexed until Borders explained that under the Code of Canon Law, he had become bishop of the “newly discovered territory” of the moon.
UCatholic notes that, if taken seriously, the Diocese of Orlando would become the largest, at fourteen and half million square miles, although it would be hard to call it the largest diocese in the world.
Father John Giel, chancellor for Canonical Affairs for the Diocese of Orlando, commented that being able to boast the moon is ultimately fruitless since it “means nothing if there is no one to have jurisdiction over.” Father Giel did, however, commend Bishop Borders for the gig:
“Since we have yet to find any life on the moon, the story only emphasizes Bishop Border’s good and humorous nature that allowed him to be such a good first bishop for central Florida.”