Full and Absolute Power

Nino Lo Bello, The Vatican Empire, “The Lateran Treaty V:”

Lord paramount of the Holy See, the pope is first among his bishops, all of whom come under his direct jurisdiction; in theory he has full and absolute power over the Roman Catholic Church. Every decree requires his approval. He can obey or ignore precedent. He can set aside tradition; he can write (or rewrite) constitutions; he can change discipline without consultation; he can proclaim dogmas on his own. Although on important matters the pope is supposed to seek counsel and advice from the College of Cardinals, he is empowered to make up his own mind and take action. On theological questions, the pope invariably consults with his bishops and cardinals, but, on matters of high policy, he may evolve a course of action without any previous consultations, as did Pope John when, without calling in the Curia cardinals for their views, he decided to go ahead with the Ecumenical Council.

The pope has executive as well as legislative and judiciary powers. He can be judged by no man, and there is no appeal from his decisions. In this respect his position is tantamount to that of a sovereign who cannot be brought to court. Acting in his executive capacity, the pope may (1) approve or sanction or suppress religious orders, (2) grant indulgences, (3) beatify or canonize saints, (4) appoint bishops, (5) erect, administer, alter, or suppress bishoprics, (6) assign an auxiliary bishop to one who is incapacitated, (7) found and legislate for papal universities, (8) issue liturgical books, (9) administer the temporal goods of ecclesiastical foundations, (10) erect and govern missions dependent on the Holy See.

As a legislator, the pope may (1) call, preside over, and adjourn ecumenical councils, (2) regulate holy days and Catholic feasts, (3) introduce new rites and abrogate old ones, (4) issue ex cathedra decretals on belief, (5) introduce, alter, or suppress Church laws on any subject, (6) defend doctrine against heresies, (7) define fast days and periods of fasting. Also liberally defined are the pope’s judicial duties. He may (1) relax vows and oaths for members of the religious who want to return to secular life, (2) give matrimonial dispensations, (3) act as a court, (4) establish rules of judicial procedure, (5) establish censures or punishments, (6) organize courts for hearing cases, (7) organize courts or appoint synodal judges for the diocese of Rome.

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