In the previous issue, we had an overview of the nature of the supreme authority of the Church, personified in the Petrine Office. Not in vain did our Lord pronounce those solemn words to Peter in Caesarea Philippi, after the latter had made his equally solemn profession of faith: “Thou art Peter (Rock) and upon this rock I shall build my Church…Whatever thou shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever though shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” In this issue we will tackle the more practical questions of the acquisition, exercise and loss of such power.
a. Acquisition and Loss of Papal Power
1) Acquisition — The Roman Pontiff obtains full and supreme power in the Church by means of legitimate election accepted by him together with episcopal consecration (c.332, §1 in principio). Thus, two elements must concur for the full constitution of papal power:
a) Legitimate election followed by acceptance by him. Because there is no one superior to the Pope who could confer the office or confirm his election to it, he takes office canonically by accepting legitimate election during the so-called conclave by the Cardinal electors of the Catholic Church.
b) Episcopal consecration of the elected pope; therefore, one who is already a bishop obtains this same power from the moment he accepts his election to the pontificate, but if the one elected lacks episcopal character, he is to be ordained a bishop immediately (c.332, §1 in fine). In other words, the Law provides for the possibility of a non-bishop being elected to the papacy (historically this indeed had happened), although with the present system of the Cardinal electors choosing from among their ranks, this provision finds very little applicability.
2) Loss of Papal Power. The papal office, in principle, is for life; thus it can be lost only in two ways:
a) Death—This is the most common and is so obvious that the CIC does not even mention it.
b) Resignation — This is the only case considered by c.332, §2, for which the following are the requirements for validity:
1º that he makes the resignation freely — Therefore, like any juridic act, the resignation must be free and not have any of the defects that invalidate such act (cf. cc.124-128; 187-189).
2º that it be duly manifested — For the necessary juridic certainty, the Code requires that the will to resign be formally manifested. However, the resignation need not be accepted by anyone, a consequence of the principle that Romanus Pontifex a nemine iudicatur.
b. The Juridical Government of the universal Church during a sede vacante or sede prorsus impedita
What happens when the Roman Pontiff dies or legitimately resigns? The Code is taxative:
Can.335 — When the Roman See is vacant or entirely impeded nothing is to be innovated in the governance of the universal Church; however, special laws enacted for these circumstances are to be observed.
In the first place, c.335 lays down the general principle: Sede vacante nihil innovetur—which is applicable also to the dioceses and particular Churches (c.428, §1). In the second place, it remits to special laws the regulation of the juridical government of the universal Church during the two situations mentioned:
1) Sede vacante — This is the situation that results when papal power is lost either by death or valid and legitimate resignation of the Roman Pontiff as previously described. The special law for this situation is the Apost. Const. Romano Pontifici eligendo (RPE), promulgated by Paul VI in 1.X.1975. The juridical government of the universal Church during this period, regulated in the five chapters comprising the first part of this document, can be summarized as follows:
a) The government of the universal Church is entrusted to the College of Cardinals, but only for ordinary and urgent matters, while preparing what is necessary for the election of a new Pope.
b) The key administrator for the day-to-day affairs of the universal Church is the
Camerlengo or Chamberlain, assisted by three other cardinals; while the administration of the diocese of Rome falls on the Vicar for the Diocese of Rome.
c) Specific applications of the general principle: sede vacante nihil innovetur.
2) Entirely impeded —No canonical characterization is given separately for the Roman See, but the norm given for all episcopal see in general can be applied servatis de iure servandis:
c.412—An episcopal see is understood to be impeded if by reason of captivity, banishment, exile or incapacity, the diocesan bishop is wholly prevented from fulfilling his pastoral function in the diocese, and cannot communicate with the people of his diocese even by letter.
No special provision for the juridical government of the universal Church in this situation exists either; hence, what is laid down by the RPE for the case of sede vacante can be applied, servatis de iure servandis.
c. Extension and Limits of Papal Power
To speak of extension and limitation of the exercise of papal power is tantamount to speaking about primacy and hierarchical communion, and these notions are regulated in c.333, §§1 and 2 respectively.
1) The Primacy — This term refers to a complex relationship that exists between the Petrine Office, Pastor of the universal Church, and the individual Bishops who are also Pastors of the particular Churches.
Can.333, §1 — The Roman Pontiff, by virtue of his office, not only has power in the universal Church but also possesses a primacy of ordinary power over all particular Churches and groupings of churches by which the proper, ordinary and immediate power which bishops possess in the particular churches entrusted to their care is both strengthened and safeguarded.
This paragraph of c.333 establishes the two important aspects regarding the extension of papal power:
a) The Primacy of the Roman Pontiff extends not only over the universal Church in its totality, but also to each and every one of the particular Churches and groupings thereof. This is really nothing else but a manifestation of the immediate character of the power that corresponds to the Pope by virtue of his office.
b) Such Primacy does not undermine the equally ordinary, proper and immediate power of the Bishops in their respective particular Churches (c.381, §1). On the contrary, the latter is both strengthened and safeguarded (c.333, §1; cf. LG, n.27).
2) Hierarchical Communion — If the extension of the papal power is best expressed by the notion of papal primacy (in the context of the communio ecclesiarum), the limits of the exercise of such power is best expressed by the notion of communio hierarchica, as laid down in the next paragraph of c.333.
Can.333, §2 — The Roman Pontiff, in fulfilling the office of the supreme pastor of the Church, is always united in communion with the other bishops and with the universal Church; however, he has the right, according to the needs of the Church, to determine the manner, either personal or collegial, of exercising this function.
What this paragraph establishes is that the exercise of the primacy of power is not exempted from the communion in the Church, and that the Pope—as Head of the Church—cannot separate himself from the body of the Bishops or from the body of the universal Church.
d. Assistance in Exercising the Papal Primacy
Can.334 — In exercising his office the Roman Pontiff is assisted by the bishops who aid him in various ways and among these is the synod of bishops; moreover the cardinals assist him as do other persons and other institutes according to the needs of the times; all these persons and institutes, in his name and by his authority, carry out the task committed to them for the good of all the churches, according to the norms defined by law.
1) Nature of the Assistance. Before going deeper into the specific institutions that help the Roman Pontiff, it is important to make some clarifications.
a) Personal exercise of Primacy. During the redaction of the canon, it was made clear that the canon was dealing with the personal—not collegial—exercise of the supreme power. Thus, here we are dealing with collaborators of the Pope in his own government of the universal Church.
b) Wide latitude of possibilities. Aside from the synod of Bishops, which is mentioned specifically, the canon does not concretize the way this collaboration is to be made, giving the Pope a wide latitude of possibilities as far as calling to his assistance other persons and other institutes according to the needs of the times.
3) Vicariate power of jurisdiction. The canon states that all these persons and institutes carry out the task committed to them by the Pope in his name and by his authority (...) according to the norms defined by law. Thus we are dealing with vicariate (in the strict sense) power of jurisdiction.
b. Specific Forms of Collaboration
Even if c.334 does not mention any specific forms of collaboration, aside from the synod of bishops, the following Chapters of the same Section I (Supreme Church Authority) deal with specific institutions:
1) The Synod of Bishops — dealt with in Chapter II (cc.342-348).
2) The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church — dealt with in Chapter III (cc.349-359).
3) The Roman Curia — dealt with in Chapter IV (cc.360-361).
4) The Legates of the Roman Pontiff — dealt with in Chapter V (cc.362-367).
Without getting into the details, suffice it to say at this point that all these forms of collaboration—e.g., the Vatican dicasteries or congregations, the papal nuncios—act in the name and authority of the Pope. Of special mention are the congregations of the Holy See, which—in most cases—issue documents (e.g., instructions and decrees) which have the full force of something issued by the Pope himself.