A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Pontifex legibus solutus?

Conservatives and traditionalists need not be the only ones to raise questions about some of Pope Francis's liturgical innovations, whether it was his including women and Muslims among those whose feet he washed or in the reduction of the readings for the Easter Vigil. But shouldn't we all be concerned when they are justified by the idea that, after all, the pope is the supreme law-giver and so is not bound by Church law?

There is an old Latin legal term for this: princeps legibus solutus, which Blacks legal dictionary translates as: Released from the laws; not bound by the laws. An expression applied in the Roman civil law to the emperor. As the example given shows, it is a very dangerous principle to allow into ecclesiology. At Vatican II, when no. 22 of Lumen gentium was being discussed, Pope Paul VI proposed introducing into a sentence about the pope's relationship to the college of bishops that in deciding whether to call the bishops to a collegial act a pope was bound to the Lord alone [uni Domino devinctus]. The Doctrinal Commission refused this addition for two reasons: (1) its intent was already assured by statements about the pope's freedom and independence, meaning by this that there is no higher human authority which the Roman Pontiff has to observe; and (2) because the formula is over-simplified. For the Roman Pontiff is also bound to observe revelation itself, the basic structure of the Church, the sacraments, the definitions of previous Councils, etc.; all such things cant be counted. Formulas of this sort, using only, have to be treated with the greatest circumspection; otherwise countless difficulties arise.The Commission was pointing to elements that bind the pope in the exercise of his role. A pope is not legibus solutus. Would we not like to propose some conditions on what Pius XII's claim that the pope alone has the right to permit or establish any liturgical practice, to introduce or approve new rites, or to make any changes in them he considers necessary? Can we be content with the view that the Pope is not bound by Church law when he does something we like, but ought to be bound by Church law when he does something we don't like?

So if one wishes to applaud some of the new pope's departures from Church law, before one gets too enthusiastic, it might be well to recall that it was also a pope who not so long ago tempted people to flee to the mountains when he obtruded the Divine Mercy devotion into Eastertide (see Mk 13:14).

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Re: It is the ultimate dream of liberals to restrict papal authority, just as they hope to see restrictions on bishops and the reduction of priests and priesthood to ministry. - Fr. Z's Blog It would be interesting to find out how Fr. Z understands priesthood in the Catholic Church. We (and maybe he) will discover that he is out of synch with this popes understanding of priesthood as he has been teaching us by his words and actions these past few weeks.It seems to me that Fr. Z should be on the alert about his lifestyle and the fact that he appears to be his accountable to no one but himself and his blog readership. It may not be so acceptable in the upcoming change of leadership in the Vatican.

in what sense is he not an absolute monarch?Simple: he has no power because he has no army. He cannot force us to do what we don't want to do, nor to not do what we want to do. We can ignore his statements, as we have been ignoring HV, and nothing bad will happen to us. He only has as much authority as we are willing to grant him.If he shared his authority more, people like me would be more willing to comply, so he might in reality increase his power by apparently diminishing it by sharing it.

Fr. Joe,Excellent post - and your last comment (4/3/2013 - 4:21 pm) should be noted by readers as the real question of substance raised here.As you know, Joe, the question of how to handle a pope who dissents from an essential and defined teaching on faith and morals is one raised (and variously answered) by many of the modern theologians such as M. Cano and R. Bellarmine. But their answers don't really solve the problem, in my opinion. You extend this quesition here to include also how to handle a pope who acts contrary to universal law in matters of discipline and governance as well. It's a question that has been urgent at different historical times in the Church, especially during the Conciliarist debates in the 15th century.Looking at historical examples, it seems that popes who - wittingly or not - acted or taught contrary to (or as if they were above) the law were only handled posthumously. By "handled" I mean juridically and by "law" I mean established, promulgated enunciations in essential matters of faith, morals, discipline, and government. To mention one well-known example: Pope Honorius and the monothelite issue.All that said, I believe that a pope is *not* above the law and it seems that the pope *cannot* be above the law. And yet, to enforce papal violations of the law, there has to be some structure or body firmly in place that can take juridical action (judge, impose penalties, etc.) in such cases. And there doesn't appear to be an explicit structure like this in the Church yet - save the juridical acts of popes and councils executed after the death of the pope in question.I think this conundrum is only intensified by the fact that Lumen Gentium (a. 22) affirms the teaching of Vatican I (Pastor Aeternus) on the pope being subject of supreme jurisdiction and by adding that the college of bishops "in union with their head the roman pontiff and *never without* this head" is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal church." This seems to say that the college can take universal juridical action, but never without the pope. Would it be possible for the college to take, not universal, but particular juridical action against a pope (like that executed by a local council or synod)?I'm very grateful that you started this discussion here as it's something I've been puzzling about for a good while now. It seems like it's a double-bind or a catch-22, as long as the pope in question is still alive.Perhaps what would have to happen regarding a pope acting flagrantly above the law would be to have bishops formally confront that pope (not just privately, but - of course - they should confront him privately at first and if that fails, then publically and formally) with charges and a formal request to make amends or step down. I'm not sure that's the right thing to do - I can foresee all sorts of mayhem ensuing if this kind of solution were not very carefully circumscribed and regulated. But is that a viable option?In any event, it doesn't seem like we're in such a situation with Francis (though I appreciate your comments on JPII and Divine Mercy Sunday - other papal acts can be adduced as well). Still, it certainly is an urgent question for the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue. What topic(s) are you all currently working on this cycle?Thanks again!- Mike

I wonder: How many readers heard the full slate of readings for the Easter Vigil? My parish did five. And: The Congregation for Divine Worship told Cardinal O'Malley in '05 that a bishop could decide to include women in the washing of the feet, "for pastoral reasons." In addition, the USCCB acknowledges that it's common practice for women to be included in that ritual.Does the 1988 opinion of the Congregation for Divine Worship amount to church law?

I remember as an alter server way back in the 1970s only doing between 4-5 readings at the Easter Vigil. Women being included in the foot washing is pretty standard practice in pretty much any church I've attended, though I concede I've never been to a papal Mass. Our parish has over the years has included families, young adults, teenagers, elderly, male and female. I have always assumed to signify that all are included in the Church and the Church is servant to all.

Let me hasten to point out that I am less interested in whether women or Muslims ought to be included in the foot-washing than in the principle I've heard stated more than once that places the pope above the law. I think it's a very dangerous notion.

And to your point, what about MPs such as Summorum Pontificum that have created more disuntiy than unity (appears to be closer to a hermeneutic of rupture than of continuity?). A MP that created two forms of the one rite for the first (?) time in our experience and over the objections of almost all episcopal conferences.

Do I detect some fear that Pope Francis might change the trajectory of the previous two popes? I couldn't agree more that, considering the colorful history of the papacy, having the pope unaccountable to the human institution is dangerous. However, although Pope Francis has done much to change the "tone" in the Vatican, and perhaps has bent tradition, I have read of nothing he has done that is a violation of Church law.Perhaps Mr. Komonchak needs to relax and have faith that our new Pope is at least as interested in the welfare of the Church as Mr. K. is.

I'm confused. Is doing something not allowed by the liturgical rubrics properly called a breach of church *law*? Is there some notion of felonies vs. misdemeanors? Also, a different interpretation of Pope Francis's actions, to the extent that they violated a rule, is that he wants to extend a certain flexibility to everyone - far from claiming exclusive above-the-law status for the pope. (But the above-the-law idea has been oft mentioned, sometimes uncritically.)

Ms. Hayes:Mr. Komonchak also hopes what you hope. No, there's no hidden agenda here. I welcome a new "tone," but hope for much more.I'm a member of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue and we've recently spent a few years discussing papal primacy, so I'm acutely aware of the difficulties that an unfettered papacy represents for an eventual reunion. The Orthodox regularly pose the question: In what way is the pope not an absolute monarch, legibus solutus? What would you say in reply?

At times like this I think about my old copy (Muhlenberg Press, 1960) of Luther's Letter to the Nobility of the German Nation. It has the most disturbingly official footnote on Luther's charge that "if the pope were so scandalously bad as to lead crowds of souls to the devil, still he could not be deposed." The footnote quotes from the canons: "A Pontifex indubitatus cannot lawfully be deposed or judged either by a council or by the whole world, even if he is so scandalous as to lead people with him by crowds into the possession of hell." In Luther's words, "Be astonished, O heaven; shudder, O earth! Behold, O Christians, what Rome is!" On the other hand, I have a friend here in the Diocese of Charleston who likes to conclude these discussions by quoting a different canon from the old 1917 code--in the hearing of confessions the "honor of God" must be balanced against "the welfare of souls." Mercy accompanies justice inseparably, and the care of souls is why we're all here in church. While I agree with Fr. Komonchak that surely we have come far beyond that papacy confronting Luther, surely there must be some room for discretion as the welfare of souls may call for it? For a pope, as for any ordained minister?A different note, though. I think the presence of Muslims at the Mass on Thursday was really wonderful. But, in a prison, under what circumstances did they attend? I assume it was their free choice, but I haven't seen it confirmed by any reports and I've been curious. As much as it cheers me to see the Holy Father offer this sign of respect and humble service, I found myself wondering why Muslims were at the Mass of the Lord's Supper in the first place. They oughtn't to be excluded, but neither should they have been coerced or compelled. Has anybody seen reporting on that question?

I accept that shortening the Genesis reading at the Easter Vigil is not at all on the same par as saying that the Missale of 1962 was not abrogated by Paul VI. (And I have strong doubts about the latter claim.) That said, I don't think there is any provision in liturgical law that allows for shortening the Genesis reading at the Easter Vigil. (Limiting the readings before the Gospel to five is allowed.) But it's the slippery slope that concerns me. With Father Komonchak, I find invoking the principle, as some have done, worrying, no matter who is the particular pope.

Before one ever gets to the issue of a Pope's authority with respect to canon law, one must first address the issue of the weight of canon law. The Pope is not a law unto himself, but neither is canon law a law unto itself.Canon law is not supreme. It is not doctrine, it is not dogma, it is not sacramental. Canon law is not the master, but the servant. It is at the service of the Church. The Pope could repeal the entirety of the code of canon law tomorrow and in doing so, he would not be acting improperly. It would be completely within his authority to do so.On the other hand, the Pope would have absolutely no authority whatsoever to decree that the Creed was abolished, that instead of a Trinity, there was only a Duality, or that the Eucharist is merely a symbol after all.The Pope is not above doctrine, he is not above truth. But canon law is neither even if in some places it quotes from and cites doctrinal matters. It is merely a set of useful rules that might be set aside by the Pope - he is Peter - when he deems it appropriate.

So if one wishes to applaud some of the new Popes departures from Church law

Facts not in evidence, Fr. K. I have not gone into the weeds on these matters, however, it seems to me that whether it is the foot washing or the reduction of readings, neither of these were outside of the scope of the authority of any Bishop, including the Bishop of Rome to modify. Indeed, it had already been done countless times by many bishops, including the Pope when he was bishop in Argentina.So, he has not departed from Church law; he has modified certain practices and customs as per the authority given in the law itself to Bishops. In the modification of the foot washing ceremony, he is showing by way of public example, how the Church needs to interpret its mission as service not only to those "inside" but to the wider world. The custom of celebrating in the cathedral was changed to the prison for obvious symbolic reasons. Ditto for the Muslim woman.There are many forms of symbolism that the ceremony takes. In some parishes, the pastor washes the feet of the ministers in the church to illustrate the idea of service.As for the reduction of readings, I am not a fan of that move, but, here again, he is within the scope of his authority.Besides, in law there is the principle of epikeia that permits a law as not applying in a particular case because of circumstances unforeseen by the lawmaker.This gets into the area of interpretation of legislative texts and I am sure some of the lawyers on board may have some perspectives on that question.

Fr. Komonchak's comments and Bill De Haas's, seem fair and prudent to me. And wouldn't it be a good moment to begin to think about setting some limits on governance by Papal proclamation while we have a Pope who might accept them?

John Page - had the wonderful privilege of reading the first reading from Genesis at the Easter Vigil.....pastor let me choose short or long version; and, of course, chose the long version as did the second reader.We only had five lessons - excuse was 15 baptisms plus 20 confirmations plus bilingual at times, etc with large number of young families in attendance.

I agree with the uneasiness. I wish Pope Francis explained the meaning of his actions. We are left to guess what he has in mind, with people advancing that he "seems to" want to do this or that. Does he think that he's above the rules? Does he have a particularly Jesuistical interpretation of the foot washing rules that makes his actions conform to the rules? Does he support pastoral flexibility and bending the rules, within some undefined scope? Is it a trial balloon before changing the rules? We don't know.George D: the foot washing thread explains that the term "viri" is present in the texts. In the US the bishops decided to make an exception and allow women. But Francis is the pope, not a bishop in the US. I would say that he does appear to be going against the letter of the rule. In the foot washing thread Rita wrote: "Pope Francis simply seems to be continuing to do what he did as Archbishop of Buenos Aires". But it's different now. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he had a certain latitude to bend or break the rules as he judged appropriate: one knew that if he had gone too far off, something would have happened to bring him back within acceptable norms. Now that he is pope, the mechanism is not clear. Ideally, if things were working well, he ought to be much more scrupulous than before in following church rules. There's a saying in French: "L'exactitude est la politesse des rois" - "punctuality is the politeness of kings". That's because, if kings show up late, since they have absolute power they will suffer no consequences from their lack of punctuality. Well - I read somewhere that pope Francis has a habit of being late. It's as though he didn't realize that his new role is giving him new constraints. He's behaving as though he were still a bishop and not a pope. Charming, but a little bit destabilizing. We are left a little bit uneasy.I do get a certain enjoyment out of that very unease, though. Maybe it's good for us.

And wouldnt it be a good moment to begin to think about setting some limits on governance by Papal proclamation while we have a Pope who might accept them?

Absolutely! However, I think that Pope Benedict's MP, Summorum Pontificum, was a clarification of that very point. Benedict argues that previous liturgies were never abrograted when reforms from Rome occurred. Instead, the previous practice was allowed to continue so as not to disrupt local communities. Gradually, uniformity of practice emerged. In this, I think that he is correct. Rome did not, or should not impose its will on the universal church. For Rome, sure; for the universal church - not so fast.Arguably, it was the pontificate of Paul VI that was too rushed and autocratic in its implementation of necessary liturgical reform.And I don't think diversity frustrates unity. As PJP II once said, uniformity is not unity.

It seems to me that you can argue either side on this issue because Lumen Gentium is self-contradictory on the matter. Here is from Ch 3, sect. 22:" pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.(27*)"To say that the Pope has 'full, supreme and universal power" over the Church PERIOD couldn't be a stronger affirmation of his absolute power. He *always* has power over *everything*. All that the follo2int sentences add is that when the bishops agree with the pope they participate in his absolute power. You can argue that these words don't intend what they apparently say. But unless there is ambiguity about the words "always" and "universal" there is no way of getting out of the independence of the Pope's power apart from the bishops, though the bishops' power is not independent of the Pope's.You can also say that in other places "the Church" says otherwise, that the Bishop of Rome is not an absolute ruler. But all this does is add another horn to the dilemma.

Bender: You wrote: "The Pope could repeal the entirety of the code of canon law tomorrow and in doing so, he would not be acting improperly. It would be completely within his authority to do so."The Code of Canon Law is not simply a set of rules. It also contains statements about the constitution of the Church, about the basic rights and duties of Christians, about procedures for justice, and a whole bunch of other things. The Pope cannot simply repeal all this. For example, do you think it's in the power of the Pope to repeal canons 208-223, which set out the rights and obligations of Christians?

No question that Joe K has a point. I like what George D wrote alluding to Summorum Pontificum: " Rome did not, or should not impose its will on the universal church. For Rome, sure; for the universal church not so fast." So the Divine Mercy feast can go for Rome, with imput from the Romans, but not for the Universal church. What Francis did was in the spirit of charity and we all know that "Charity covers a multitude of sins."Perhaps we should not get too worked up about these differences and concentrate of 1Cor: 13. After all what was Jesus doing talking to the Samaritan Woman and didn't Paul and Peter differ on rules on food? The four Evangelists tell the story of Jesus from very different viewpoints.There used to be a time when many thought that if a Saint said it it must be true. Now we admit that the most famous, Augustine, made some serious mistakes.

With all due respect, I really can't understand why these particular actions would make anyone think Pope Francis may be at risk of overstepping his authority and think himself superior to church law(!). Still, I'm old enough to remember similar alarms being sounded when Pope John XXIII began making what now look like mild ecumenical gestures compared to the celebrated acts of his successors, e.g., John Paul II. I hadn't thought any pope committed to dogmatic orthodoxy could ever shake things up as John did way back then. Now, I'm thinking it is possible after all.

It is an interesting idea that the Bishop of Rome is and ought to be more constrained than other bishops, although we cannot say exactly by what. Noblesse oblige? Sensus fidelium? Canon law? The promptings of the Spirit? If nothing is agreed upon and well established, then does anything truly constrain him but his own judgment and goodwill?Well, probably not laws. The original princeps, the Roman emperor, was legibus solutus, but he was still constrained by the need to keep the population fed and minimally content, to collect taxes, to fend off rivals, and to guard his borders. Modern popes don't face exactly those problems, but there is still some risk of schism and the increasing danger of rebellion or irrelevance either in changing too much or too little.The Church and the world are so diverse and so easily offended today, that a pope is unlikely to please anyone all of the time. Already Francis is being examined on all sides and criticized not for decisions of substance, for he has made none, but for gestures and symbols.Poor man.

What grounds canon law? Scripture? Tradition? The exigencies of ruling? Surely it isn't self-justifying. Who makes it? Certainly not the bishops plus pope in Council, not usually, at any rate. (Who are these people who keep telling us what to do and not to do? Where do the canon law legislators get their authority? Does the Pope have to sign all a "bill" for it to constitute a law?

A correction, though I think we are way beyond this point.There is a shorter form of the Genesis reading, as Bill deHaas has pointed out. (After several decades of attending the Vigil, I've never heard it.) And, in case of necessity, there can be as few as two readings before the reading from Romans and the Gospel.But I am still concerned about the principle. I stand with Claire. Symbols and gestures are not incidentals left up to the pope of the day. Change them, fine, but with some order and explanation.

And George D - your comment that Benedict supported his SP by saying that earlier liturgies were never abrogated. This is a point of contention and most liturgy experts, etc. would say that Benedict *invented* something here - Paul VI in 1969 clearly abrogated the 1962 missal and did most other popes after missal reforms (the council of Trent laid out a couple of liturgical changes but left it to the pope/curia to actually do this - two popes later and with the formation of the Congregation of Rites, we eventually got what we now label the Tridentine Rite - all other rites *with some local exceptions* were abrogated.Benedict's SP violated a number of patterns - after almost 40 years of a reformed liturgy, he tried to bring back and justify an abrogated mass - talk about unintended consequences. Moreover, and following what you say George D about how an implementation should be regional/local/etc. Benedict's SP was made over the vocal oppostiion of almost all episcopal conferences. So, you cite his SP as an example but, would argue, that SP is the opposite of what you cite.

If this whole discussion is premised on the claim that liturgical law was violated by washing women's feet, it shows a misunderstanding of the case.This is a willful misunderstanding on the part of those who wish to hold to a male-only foot washing. They wish it to be understood to be a law. Men-only. That's what they see as the law. They are not eager to see the pope as a law-breaker. Therefore, they say the pope is above the law and can do as he pleases.A dangerous principle indeed.But this isn't the case in the foot washing. There is nothing intrinsically "unwashable" about women't feet. The whole argument rests upon the reading of a single word, "viri" to mean exclusive of women. Nonsense. It doesn't say and never said women's feet can't be washed. It says nothing whatsoever about women's feet. The pastoral interpretation of that rubric is open. And it has indeed been interpreted variously. Above the law, my - uh - foot. The pope is the bishop of Rome, and is interpreting this rubric according to pastoral discretion. A much better interpretation for pastoral use, too, I might add. Cardinal Sean O'Malley asked Rome about this, and they said he is able to interpret this issue according to pastoral need. The bishop of Rome is not "breaking the law" by doing likewise.

If Francis is the bishop of Rome and the vicar of Peter (not the vicar of Christ), tradition suggests there might be some pontifical screw-ups for which Francis/Peter can seek forgiveness.

I am going to disagree with my friends Claire and John here. This is not a case of symbols being changed arbitrarily, willy-nilly, to make us all nervous. The symbolism of washing the feet is being rendered more accessible, and closer to the INTENTION OF THE RITE by including both men and women. To be bound by the letter with no regard for the spirit of the actual ritual in question is to make of liturgy an idolatrous undertaking.

Fr. Komonchak:"But shouldnt we all be concerned when they are justified by the idea that, after all, the pope is the supreme law-giver and so is not bound by Church law."Who has justified the popes actions in that way? Does the person or group have the authority or credentials to make such a justification? I would worry if Pope Francis would justify his actions by saying that HE is not bound by Church law.

" the new Popes departures from Church law " are -- what departures from Church law exactly?The rubrics explicitly provide for using fewer than the full number of readings at the Easter Vigil.It comes down to washing women's feet and that alone, does it not?It's disingenuous to bring up the Pope's "departures from Church law" while "leaving aside" the question of washing women's feet, if that's the sole example of such "departures from Church law." Or are there other examples?

It seems to me that the issue of departing from the rubrics of the liturgy is not a useful case for debating Pontifex legibus solutus.Rubrics are not Canon Law. As Canon 838 says, the liturgy depends solely upon the Apostolic See:Can. 838 1 The ordering and guidance of the sacred liturgy depends solely upon the authority of the Church, namely, that of the Apostolic See and, as provided by law, that of the diocesan Bishop. 2 It is the prerogative of the Apostolic See to regulate the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, to publish liturgical books and review their vernacular translations, and to be watchful that liturgical regulations are everywhere faithfully observed. If a bishop wanted to permit foot washing of women, children and non-Catholics in his diocese, he could apply to Rome for an indult or other permissionHere is an article by Ed Peters pointing out that "[I]t is common knowledge that permissions have been granted to individual bishops to permit women to have their feet washed". other sources I have read that those permissions go back at least prior to Lent of 2005. Obviously, if the Pope wants to wash feet beyond "viri selecti" he doesn't write to his own Prefect of the CDW asking permission. He does it on his own authority.

Rita: This whole discussion is not premised on the claim that liturgical law was violated by washing womens feet, but on the argument presented by those who think that is the case and find it fine because the pope is the supreme law-giver and so can change it at will.

Rita: I bet that pope Francis agrees with you that replacing "viri" by "homines" is closer to the intention of the rite - that "viri" is a mistake of sorts. He, the pope, can change that word. For the pope, wouldn't that be a better response? Then there is the question of his washing the feet of a young Muslim. The text you linked to in the other thread ( ) has a couple of mentions of general charity, but also has several more mentions of mutual charity between Christians or between disciples of Christ (starting with the gospel!). It's even less clear there that by washing the feet of a non-Christian he is accurately conforming to the intention of the rite. If the rite truly is or really ought to be about general charity, then that needs clarification. He's the pope: it seems to me that it would be better if he asked that those rules be updated. I still find that he is acting like a bishop more than like a pope. Don't you agree?

The other complaint from the traditionalist blogs is that Francis bows rather than genuflecting at the consecration. Again, I don't think this is a suitable case for discussing "Pontifex legibus solutus."

John: are you saying that the pope's correct attitude should be: "If I wish to go against some liturgical rubrics, I may do as I please, because I am the pope, but if others wish to do it, they have to ask me first for permission even if they want to do precisely the same thing that I am doing"?

First, would agree with those who have finally realized that arguing about rubrics misses the point. SC laid out liturgical principles (or intentions as Rita state above) and SC laid out that these principles relied upon the presider/community to implement so that our liturgies were full, active, and complete.Claire - would suggest that Rita is trying to indicate that rubrics do not lay out every possible liturgical action, decision, etc. and that when a rubric says *viri*, it doesn't mean that it restricts the mandatum to men only - it could be read in a different way. (another example in the 1980s was restricting altar servers to male only - eventually, CDW and canon law stipulated that this was a misreading (limitation) of the original rubric and didn't need an indult. (But, that hasn't stopped the rubrical literalists such as Morlino or Olmsted)Thus, to read rubrics or demand that things such as *viri* be revised to say *homines* is just another example of her comment - it becomes an *idolatrous undertaking*. Ed Peters is a good example of a canon lawyer who interprets based up a black and white reading rather than seeing canon law or even rubrics as *servants* to the pastoral situation. He places canon law (keep in mind that the new canon law took effect in 1983) over more primary church and conciliar documents such as SC. (some canon law experts decry the fact that the 1983 code did a poor job of reflecting the theology, attitude, and approach laid out in the VII council)

Claire, Chapter 9 of the GIRM is "Adaptations Within The Competence Of Bishops And Bishops Conferences" and allows individual bishops and conferences of bishops to adapt some specific items in the Missal to meet the pastoral needs of their people. Most of those adaptations require the recognitio of Rome before they can be implemented. The Mandatum isn't one of he items listed but, as Peters says, it is generally known that some bishops have reuested nd received permission to adapt it in their dioceses.So, yes, I do believe that a bishop who wants to adapt the rubrics to meet the pastoral needs of his diocese has to get permission from Rome. From what I have read, Cardinal O'Malley requested an indult in 2004 to include women in the Mandatum and was told by the CDW that he didn't need an indult and should do as he thought best for his diocese. He included women in 2005, as did Cardinal Bergoglio.John: are you saying that the popes correct attitude should be: If I wish to go against some liturgical rubrics, I may do as I please, because I am the pope I would phrase it as "if I determine that it is in the pastoral interest of the Church for me to adapt the rubrics when I perform a ceremony, i can do that on my own judgement since I am the only one who can authorize any adaptation by anyone" (when the CDW authorizes an adaptation by a bishop, they are acting on behalf of the Pope).

1. This whole business of bowing at the institutional narrative is rather silly. Anyone who watches the pope go down stairs surely realizes he has problems with his knees like many of the elderly (myself included). A knee replacement down the line wouldn't surprise me.2. The rubrics in the Lectionary for Mass gives wide latitude to the choice of readings. I didn't see any violation of these.3. The pope seems to have made a decision about not have papal liturgies lasting too long. I think they pulled this off just fine. And the Sacrament of Initiation was administered with dignity and warmth by the pope.4. The entire Triduum needs a good reworking. It still is a clip and paste from 1955.

Claire, the liturgy is a source of law, and I would be happy if Pope Francis changed viri to homines in order to settle what has been an unedifying and acrimonious dispute. In the same way that Pope John unilaterally deleted the word "perfidius" from the Good Friday prayer for the Jews, the pope could make this change if he simply grasps the nettle. But from the clarification offered by Fr. Lombardi, it sounds as if he doesn't have a problem with an all-male foot washing under other circumstances, so it is doubtful whether he will take the trouble, especially now, when he has only been pope for 3 weeks.Joe, thank you for the clarification. I found the post confusing, not least because "innovations" embraces much more than "law," but now I see that you wish to discuss the mentality or mental steps that some have used to explain the disjuncture between their expectations and the pope's actions. OK.

The other side of this question is whether the code of canon law and/or rubrics are somehow superior to the judgment of persons. Someone above already cited epikeia, which is a denial of law's inviolability. Man was not made for the Sabbath.Rita presents another version of this, the notion that the law may have been formulated incorrectly, using viri instead of homines. The code is not The Law, but a human rendition of the Divine that should not be treated as master of the church celebrating. Our conversation with God, our prayer, is guided by law, but is a greater knowledge of the Law than we can write in books. The code is bound by prayer.The foot washing issue would disappear if we went back to the traditional rite. Before 100 years ago, the antiphons for the foot washing alternated between the Last Supper and the stories of the women washing and anointing the feet of Jesus. Would people really exclude women from the foot washing if they were singing "the woman known as a sinner washed the feet of Jesus"? I suspect Francis has a sense of this side of the ritual, which is the basis for law and rubrics, not the result of them.

Reducing canon law or even rubrics to being *servants* of any pastoral situation weakens both the law and the rubric. Both then become the whim of the interpreter which makes the people dependent on he (or she) who does the interpretation. In the end this removes the liturgy from the people altogether. Fr. K's point is a good one and it was Benedict who carefully explained that a pope is the servant of the tradition not its master. I can understand why the Eastern Orthodox and so many devout Catholics are ill at ease when these kinds of things occur.

Fr. Coleman at America:"Most of my adult life, since Vatican II, at every parish I have either worshipped or celebrated Holy Thursday, the priest and others have washed the feet of men and women, boys, girls and elderly people. I have never in my life given much extra thought to this practice because it struck me that Jesus, of course, washes the feet of all those in need as a sign to us also to do likewise. That conservative and reactionary Catholics seemed aghast that Pope Francis, for the first time for a pope, washed the feet of women on Holy Thursday took me by surprise and stunned me! It literally stunned me in showing how out of touch so many in our church can sometimes be"

I don't know, Joe. You refer to the pope's "departures from church law," not people's perceptions of his alleged departures from church law. I think that's a bit confusing.

Speaking of the Eastern traditions, if the pope, and by extension, a servant of tradition and not its master, that message was lost on some Bishops in this area. I heard from a friend that the Catholic Bishops had asked the Eastern counterparts to not ordain so many married Eastern priests as it was causing some confusion.They apparently complied for the sake of good order (the Eastern rite is smaller here than when I was growing up with a lot of Ukrainian Catholics).Still, the point is that the law is that Eastern churches have the right to retain all of their liturgical and disciplinary traditions including married priests.In practice, the Roman Catholic bishops did not have a problem, not exactly violating their law, but certainly not acting according to its sprit.As I think about the question, yes certainly the law needs to be respected, and if you are acting apart from it, or seeming to, there should be and open and transparent rationale given. I get the symbolism of Pope Francis' action and support it. That is clear. What is less clear is the basis for the departure. The rationale given by Fr. Lombardi was convoluted and not transparent.

If a Pope's rule changing limits itself only to changing rules/laws made by other Popes, I don't think it puts the Pope outside the law, it instead maybe weakens the authority of the Pope to issue rules and laws on his own. It makes papal declarations seem like something more along the lines of an executive order, which can easily change with the next administration.If one doesn't think the Pope should be making the rules by himself, but that they should be collegial decisions, it might not be a bad thing.

"when he obtruded the Divine Mercy devotion into Eastertide"One more note. There were sound liturgical reasons why some people were / are concerned about Divine Mercy Sunday. They are: the Divine Mercy Novena begins on Good Friday, and carries on through the Triduum and up to the Second Sunday. This is a marked departure. The Paschal Trdiduum is the center and high point of the liturgical year and should be the focus of the Three Days. Second, the chief advocate for this devotion (I do not have the document in front of me, but could look it up) claimed that the Second Sunday of Easter is more important than Easter, because of divine mercy. The way of keeping the Easter feast is not bulletproof. Things like this can cause serious confusion those who are enthused with the new devotion. For reasons precisely like this case, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy directed that devotions should be drawn up to be always in harmony with the liturgical year, which surpasses them all in importance. I don't know of anyone who "ran to the hills" over this, but if anyone wants to compare Divine Mercy Sunday to the decision not to wear choir dress for the apostolic blessing, I'd say this is apples and oranges. Changing a custom of papal court ceremonial or dress is hardly parallel to setting forth a new religious devotion for the Christian people that is intended in the eyes of its most fervent supporters to overshadow the Triduum.

"I still find that he is acting like a bishop more than like a pope. Dont you agree?"Claire, I failed to reply to this question above. Sorry. It's a tricky question to my mind, because the pope IS a bishop; the two are not alternatives. Does presiding in charity over all the churches mean that the pope ought to bow to expectations that he is a kind of absolute monarch whose every gesture is scrutinized as having consequence for the whole Christian world? Is that what acting "like a pope" means? Well, I'd hope not. Does he have to give up being a bishop in order to be the pope? Ideally, certainly not. And, to the topic of this post, is he a lawgiver in his every example? Of course not. The other popes of my lifetime have not modeled being the Bishop of Rome in a very strong way that has been obvious to me, so I think my frame of reference for what a pope acts like is affected by this lack.

And there are sound liturgical reasons why people are troubled by the pope acting in a way contrary to the rubrics. The suggestion could become that no rubric is ultimately binding because any celebrant can construe a pastoral reason to ignore them. This takes the liturgy of the Church away from the people.Benedict's approach to the liturgy seemed especially humble to me. He openly said that the pope is not the master of tradition but its servant.

Rita, you're right that he's a pope in addition to being a bishop. But he can take decisions that only pertain to the diocese of Rome, or decisions with global impact. It would be nice to at least know which is happening. John H., in situations in which bishops normally ask for an indult, you are saying that for him in his diocese, he does not have ask for it. When that happens, what are the implications for the other bishops? Is his way the new default recommendation? Or is it an option that is now allowed along with other possibilities without necessitating an indult any longer? Or do other bishops still need to ask for an indult in order to be allowed to do the same thing as the pope? It's confusing.Bill de Haas: are you sure that that's how pope Francis sees things? If he sees things differently then your interpretation of his actions might be wrong.

Grant: Yes, I suppose I should have put "alleged" before "departures" in my last sentence. I confess I'm surprised that the majority of respondents have concentrated on the first and last sentences of my initial post and largely ignored what came in between. It is even more surprising that several people took the post to indicate that I disagreed with either of the actions that provided the occasion for some people to say that it would not matter if a pope were to depart from traditions or laws because, after all, he's the pope and can do what he wants. (My only hesitation about the new Pope's actions concerns whether Muslims should have been included in the foot-washing.) So the issue for me is not the actions themselves but a justification for them I have heard given.As for my last sentence, I guess that subtlety and indirection don't work. How anyone might conclude from it that I agreed with Pope John Paul's obtruding (the verb was chosen deliberately) the Divine Mercy devotion into Eastertide baffles me. May I suggest that the reason why some people were tempted to flee to the mountains (I was among them) is given by the Gospel text to which I, again deliberately, pointed and which I should have thought made it clear how abominable (the adjective is chosen deliberately) I consider that action of the former pope was. It's the sort of thing that can happen if one thinks the pope above the law on the grounds that quod papa facit, facere potest--what a pope does, a pope can do.

It appears that we have now a Pope with priorities, preferences, talents and interests that differ in many ways from those of his predecessor-- who tried with considerable success to impose his views and even his tastes on the Church. That the Bishop of Rome now has different views and tastes and gifts may seem to some of us a hopeful change, but it is a heavy burden to fall heir automatically to the outsize cult of personality that has grown up around the office, and also to the expectation that he may behave as an absolute monarch. This fatal combination can't be good either for the incumbent or the Church. Clarifying the limits of Papal prerogative might be a good first step toward improving the situation, for Francis, for those who come after Francis, and for all the rest of us.

Just checking my understanding here:The point of the post is to note that a perceived departure from strict tradition on the part of Pope Francis might send up red flags with the Orthodox (not Roman Catholics), who could see such departures as a sign that the Pope considers himself above tradition, yes?I would be interested to know if Mr. Fr. Komonchak has perceived any such concern among his Orthodox friends as a result of the foot-washing and abbreviated readings.

Jean: Not quite. The point of the post was to draw the attention of Roman Catholics to the dangers of defending actions by popes (any popes, not just Pope Francis) on the grounds that he is not bound by traditions or laws. This view certainly is anathema to the Orthodox, as I pointed out, but my main focus was on Catholics.I haven't seen any reactions from Orthodox commentators on Pope Francis' actions, so I can't answer your question.

How anyone might conclude from it that I agreed with Pope John Pauls obtruding (the verb was chosen deliberately) the Divine Mercy devotion into Eastertide baffles me. May I suggest that the reason why some people were tempted to flee to the mountains (I was among them) is given by the Gospel text to which I, again deliberately, pointed and which I should have thought made it clear how abominable (the adjective is chosen deliberately) I consider that action of the former pope was.Agree that it was abominable.

Pope Francis, it seems to me, conducts himself by intuition. He does things on the spur of the moment, without much (or any) consultation. He leaves procession routes to go into crowds to bless the disabled, he drops in unannounced at a luncheon for a group of priests, he decides to live in a guest house rather than his palace, he makes it known, a week or so in advance, that his Holy Thursday celebration will be in a juvenile detention facility. Under the previous papacy, saying and doing things without adequate consultation and consideration resulted in a number of gaffes. But so far, everything Francis touches seems to turn to spiritual gold. (Perhaps I am pouring my own hopes and fantasies into the vessel of this papacy, but I detect a certain joy on his part: that he finds his ability to do whatever he wants is very freeing, and that he derives a certain satisfaction from breaking with fusty traditions. I can't imagine what it would be like to be a bishop, to always be "on display", rather like the Queen of England, to always, always be expected to say and do the right thing. Perhaps he feels released from those expectations now.)Just speaking for myself, I can be an intuitive person. There are many times when intuition has served me well - but also a number of times when it hasn't. I've learned, in the school of hard knocks, to question my intuition, to seek to confirm it with data and outside opinions. I think intuition is risky. I hope the Holy Father has an internal braking system that warns him that a seat-of-the-pants judgment, in this or that particular case, needs to be restrained, or at least tested and confirmed.

The nub of the problem is found in the text from Lumen Gentium that Ann quoted above. popes power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power.That particular primacy was, and Fr. K, can correct me if I am mistaken here, codified at Vatican I. Vatican II sought to clarify the scope of the Pope's power but we are stuck with this unfortunate formulation from Vatican I.So, we are essentially, at the mercy of the temperment and style of the occupant.Personally, I think that if there is going to be any decisions that impact the whole Church, these need to be undertaken by way of achieving a consensus. But the reality is that this has not historically occurred since Vatican II (John XXIII did not, as far as I know, consult the bishops as to whether a council was required, Paul VI did not consult the bishops concerning HV as far as I know, PJP II did not consult bishops for Divine Mercy, Benedict XVI did not consult bishops concerning SP).But, perhaps there is no juridical solution to this problem. Even in well developed democracies, governors, prime ministrs, and presidents have certain executive powers invested in the office and they have discretion to exercise those.Jesus, specifically, outlined how authority was supposed to be exercised among his followers; the so called servant leadership model. But what this looks like in practice varies considerably.

Pope Francis, it seems to me, conducts himself by intuition. He does things on the spur of the moment

I thought so initially too Jim but then I read an account where someone who knows him said that this is not the case. He prays before every action and is very deliberate and aware of the symbolism of his actions.I think that the problem is, as has been pointed out above, people are seeing these symbolic actions and reading (too much)/(too little) into them.As Shakespeare wrote, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

Joe, I thought you were saying in the post that if one likes the pope doing certain things which are, OK let's say "original" or "outside the law," one is admitting in principle that other actions which are outside the law are equally admissible. Have I misunderstood your point here?

If the story was true that poor Benedict XVI was not allowed to have a cat in the palace where he lived and reigned, who laid down "the law" to him? If he had said, I WILL have a cat or four, and YOU are in charge of the litter box[es], who would say NEIN, du willst nicht Katzen haben?

Father Komonchak: there's a difference between justifying Pope Francis' action on the basis of princeps legibus solutus est and refuting the argument that Pope Francis violated liturgical law by washing a woman's foot. Many factors go into whether a Roman Pontiff is justified when ignoring law or changing it. But I think that those who say that Pope Francis "violated the law" when he washed a woman's foot in the mandatum rite either misunderstand the purpose of the rite or fail to appreciate that the Pope is not legally bound by his own law.

Rita: My point has been that the principle that the pope is above the law can cut in both directions. This doesn't mean you can't make distinctions, can't criticize, etc.

George DI remember being told in a graduate Theology course that before his (infallible) declaration of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary (1950), Pope Pius XII sought the opinion of Catholic Bishops throughout the world.

Here is the joint statement issued by the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation in 2010, which includes a vision of a reunited church and takes up the question of primacy. It alludes to Apostolic Canon 34 (late 4th century):

The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head and do nothing of consequence without his consent; but each may do those things only which concern his own parish and the country places which belong to it. But neither let him (who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity, and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit.

And it raises the question whether the principle can enter into the understanding and exercise of the Petrine office.

Mr. Madrid: I am among those who "fail to appreciate that the Pope is not legally bound by his own law." That's precisely the principle I think is so dangerous in ecclesiology. Church law is not "his" law; it's the Church's law.

the Pope is not legally bound by his own law.Really! Jesus himself chose to remain bound by religious laws. His excursions from Jewish laws were always explained as clarifications or re-interpretations (Matt 5:17). He was not above the law, but the Pope would be??

Thanks for the clarification, Fr. Komonchak. Clearly, I'm not subtle enough to follow this discussion, which everyone already knows, but I want the record to show that I'm not so dumb that *I* don't know it, too.A lot of Catholics (and otherwise) think that whatever the pope does or says is infallible, which seems to be a misread of the whole infallibility business raised at the first Vatican Council. People read "infallible" and run with that without looking at the caveats and historical context. Sorta like they do with then they read "right to bear arms" in the Second Amendment.I'll go find something to read that I can understand better now.

Father Komonchak: Not all of the laws of the Church are the Pope's laws. Note that I said "legally bound by his own law." The Pope is not the only ecclesiastical legislator, and the other authorities mentioned in your initial post accurately prescribe some of the bounds of his authority. I think that your citation of the Apostolic Canon is another appropriate source. But perhaps you are making a larger point than my relatively small one: are you suggesting that the Pope's own enactments legally bind him in all cases?Claire: I believe that you misunderstand my point. I am only making the relatively simple point that the Pope's own enactments do not legally bind him. Besides, note that your statement that Christ "chose to remain bound" implies that He was in fact above the law and chose to be otherwise.

It was a great gesture.Better to ask forgiveness than permission liturgically is a good motto.I've been at too many funerals where the so called rubricians who monitor anyone else's deviance have made crude and insensitive editorial remarks about who's welcome to the Eucharist that is not called for in the rubrics.I'm just glad the Pope did not apparently overly agonize with canon lawyers or liturgists before he did this.Now, he could, of course, done something that would have been seen as less inclusive and more restricting than necessary canonically and I'd be wrting in critism rather than priase. that's they way it.Take an action and take the consequences, Pope Francis. Thanks.

... and I'm sorry, but for all the beauty of the readings, most parishes cannot sustain a Holy Saturday liturgy that includes all these readings... Call us liturgical wimps and mandate that the Cathedral in each diocese celebrate with all (most do not) and cut the celebration back to three. You're still lucky to have cermony - done well with some good music less than 2 1/2 hours -- and I'm one who loves it!

Father Komonchak: to further illustrate my position, you had earlier posed whether it was in the power of the Pope "to repeal canons 208-223." If what you mean is "can the Pope repeal the norms expressed in canons 208-223," my answer is that he probably cannot, especially given that the majority of the norms in those canons are promulgated in scripture, tradition, and natural justice, all of which are sources of law for the Church. However, if what you mean is "can the Pope remove canons 208-223 from the code," my answer is yes.

Francis is obsessed with the gospel which is the center of our lives. We have all been corrupted by an Empire church and think legalistically usque ad nauseum. The beatitudes are the thing....I know too simple.....

As I understand it, Fr. Komonchak proposed this discussion to grapple with the more or less hypothetical problem of popes overstepping their authority and/or considering themselves above church law. If that's not really it, move on; I apologize for yet another superfluous posting.If it IS the issue at hand, however, I still need it clarified for me how Pope Francis washing the feet of a couple women on Maundy Thursday relates? Is this or is it not a violation of some sort? What are the rules, if any, with regard to exactly whose feet can be washed? If there is indeed a liturgical rule against washing the feet of women, I've no doubt washing Muslim feet would be even more egregious. But it seems to me this would be missing the larger issue by far -- namely, how far has the Church come from its original mission that its rules limit the servant of His servants from performing such charitable gestures?

Re: Divine MercyI have always thought that the canonization of Sr. Faustina (first canonization of the 21st century) and promotion of the Divine Mercy devotion by JPII had strong elements of Polish chauvinism (for want of a better term). Hopefully, Pope Francis, first Latin American pope, will be just as enthusiastic about promoting the canonization of Archbishop Romero.

Well. I admit that until just now I thought Divine Mercy and Sacred Heart were the same. But now I am learning that so many parts of Christ are focus of devotions: Holy Face, Holy Name, Sacred Wounds, Holy Hole (in his side), Precious Blood and many more.

I seem to recall that this argument about [whether-a-Pope-to-wash-or-not-wash-the-feet-of-women-and-Muslims] was similarly visited in the NT. In Mt2:27 the writer records: Jesus said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."Something tells me that Papa Francesco has a deep understanding and appreciation of this scripture than some of us. And apparently, Francis intends to act upon it.The symbolism of gesture is always more powerful than human pretense.

Fr. Z reprints Fr.. Komonchak's post and ends with:"It is the ultimate dream of liberals to restrict papal authority, just as they hope to see restrictions on bishops and the reduction of priests and priesthood to ministry

I find reading blogs like Father Z dangerous for my immortal soul. Doing so fills me with so much anger and vitriol that I really think nothing good can come of it. Yet, I often still do. O, the lingering effects of original sin

Mr. Madrid: I am among those who fail to appreciate that the Pope is not legally bound by his own law. Thats precisely the principle I think is so dangerous in ecclesiology. Church law is not his law; its the Churchs law.In the case of the rubrics of the Mass, Francis could have issued a Motu Proprio changing "virii" to "homines" in the rubrics. He could also have said (If he wanted) that each bishop could determine the qualifications of "homines" in his diocese.If he had the power to authorize others to do it, he had the power to do it himself without authorizing others. Is this whole argument about whether he filled out some paperwork first before doing what was appropriate pastorally? Personally, I think it would be good if he issued a document revising the rubrics before next Holy Week. Given the number of other things he needs to do, I won't be devastated if that doesn't get to the top of his list by then.

Can one usefully distinguish between a politico-legal right of the pope to do whatever he decides regardless of what codified positive laws or customs say and a religious-moral right to do so. In political terms, a ruler is regularly recognized to be within his right to set aside many laws for the common good or for the defense of the state? Think of declarations of martial law. I assume that a ruler can sometimes be justified on both politico-legal grounds and on moral-legal grounds in doing so. It is also possible that a ruler could be justified on one of these grounds but not on the other. It is a practical impossibility to codify an exceptionless rule for determining whether he is, in a particular case, justified in doing so.Is this distinction relevant to determining what rights the pope has or does not have?

It seems to me that in parts of this discussion laws are being confused with the justification, the grounds of the laws. A law is a *command* to do or not do something. It is neither a simple description nor a generalization about a class of things. For instance, the fact that we are siblings by adoption is the ground of the law that says that we must love all people. But being-a-sibling is not the law. Neither history nor science is law, though there are "laws" of history and of science in a somewhat different sense of "law". They describe regular behavior without any element of command or authority constituting the so-called law. When a law-giver actually establishes a general command (one that many people are bound by) it is his/her intention to bind (for the common good) and his/her promulgation of that intention that constitutes the law as such, and this assumes a prior acceptance of that law-giver's authority to make the the law. When an emperor says, "you shall not steal", he is implicitly affirming that a he is binding the people not to behave in a certain way. And as long as his intention (plus the intentions of the next emperor) endure, that is a law of the empire. A law is not some pie-in-the-sky Platonic "subsistence" which exists independent of the lawgivers and those bound by the law. It has no independent ontological status which continues when the law-givers and followers are gone. Describing the ontological status exactly would be very difficult, I think, because a law is actually a very complex reality involving processes which involve intentions and acceptance of those intention by the people, not to mention the historical event of promulgation. The basic problem about Frances and the foot-washing concerns, I think, his *authority* that is, his right to make a command/law and also his right/authority to eliminate or change the law. But trying to describe "rights", "duties" and "intentions" philosophically is philosophically highly perplexing, even though most of us are definitely convinced that such things as rights and duties intentions are real. Here comes my mantra again: we need a new Aquinas.(I still think that Vatican I and Vatican II on the subject of papal authority are contradictory in some ways, which adds to the problems in this discussion.)

ISTM that Fr. Z's problem is the same as the SSPXers problem: they accept the statements by Vat I and Vat II about the universal, full authority of the popes. They have my sympathy. They were taught one thing, and now they're being taught another.

John Hayes: "In the case of the rubrics of the Mass, Francis could have issued a Motu Proprio changing virii to homines in the rubrics. He could also have said (If he wanted) that each bishop could determine the qualifications of homines in his diocese."Ye gads, so this IS it! The rubrics say "virii," and Francis (like how many bishops before him?) acted as if the word were "homines." This is what has our ecclesial talking heads a-twitter?Forgive my slow take. I looked away for about a minute and missed the controversy so quickly stirred by a pope's Christ-like "impulsivity." A year ago, say, would anyone have believed this would be a topic of heated conversation today?

It wouldn't take a motu proprio. Just a word to the CDWS in preparation for the next edition of the Roman Missal. It could have been done with the third edition, but wasn't. We got 2 new dismissal formulas from Pope Benedict, no motu proprio on that.

It's clearly time the wording was changed, however it's done.That would certainly be a more likely (and limited) outcome of the Pope's controversial foot washings than the spectre of papal totalitarianism alarmists have raised.

I intended the thread to be a discussion, not of the foot-washing, but of whether there are any limits to the exercise of papal authority. I confess to being alarmed, indeed, by arguments that a pope is not bound by Church law. A little knowledge of Church history can reveal whether the consequences of such a view are merely spectral. And we might keep in mind that Francis is unlikely to be the last pope.

Father Komonchak: in your opinion, is the Pope bound by his own decrees? If so, why?

Yes, Father, I think I get your concerns. In fact, I believe I understood the larger point you were trying to make all along; it was the citation of the foot washings (and reduction in Easter Vigil readings) as reason for alarm that threw me for a loop. Why such dire foreboding over what still seem to me such charitable acts? For a Pope to overlook certain liturgical rubrics when, if followed to the letter, these would 1. exclude over half those standing before him, or 2. overburden the faithful who've been standing and kneeling for many hours, doesn't seem unreasonable, and certainly not radically disrespectful of church law per se. To paraphrase Christ, were we made for the rubrics, or were the rubrics made for us?All in all, I can't see how what the Pope did in these particular situations set a precedent for anything other than acting more Christ-like.

Mr. Madrid: If the Pope is legislating for the Church, and he is a member of the Church, he is binding himself. Pope Benedict XVI said several times that the pope is not an "absolute monarch". If he is above the law, in what sense, I ask you, is he not an absolute monarch?Ms. Bailey: I didn't cite those examples as "reason for alarm." My alarm was over justifications of them on the grounds of papal absolutism.

Fr. K: "I intended the thread to be a discussion...of whether there are any limits to the exercise of papal authority."Isn't the exercise of any legitimate authority limited by the demands of justice and charity?

Yes, "the exercise of any legitimate authority [is] limited by the demands of justice and charity." But two questions: (1) Are these the only limits on papal authority? (2) Has the Church any recourse if a pope ignores "the demands of justice and charity"?

Correction: Instead of "to enforce papal violations of the law", I should have written "to enact sanctions against popes who violate the law".

Sorry for the multiple posts, but perhaps Galatians 2:11 is an illuminating example for this discussion. Paul resisted Peter "to the face" (strongly worded!) when Peter acted against the new norms revealed to him (Peter) by Christ - that Gentiles were welcome in the church without being subject to the dietary (and other) laws....

Claire: I don't think that "absolute monarch" means "omnipotent monarch."

Fr, K: "I didnt cite those examples as reason for alarm. My alarm was over justifications of them on the grounds of papal absolutism."I'm sorry, I know this must be frustrating for you; clearly, there should be some way other than asserting papal absolutism to justify papal deviations such as this Pope's from the strict rubrics regarding feet washings, etc. I think I provided the one that likely occurred to the Pope himself, namely, the overriding demands of justice and charity.Beyond that, I don't know. It's not as if the Church had a constitution spelling out just how far, and no farther, a pope's authority extends. But we do have the words of Christ in scripture sending his apostles and Peter out into the world. Nothing said was a blueprint for absolutist rule. The best answer to your question is probably staring us all in the face.

JAK wrote: "two questions: (1) Are these the only there any limits on papal authority? (2) Has the Church any recourse if a pope ignores the demands of justice and charity?"Not after Chapter III of "Lumen Gentium" and the attached "Appendix" was approved by Paul VI"The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power."Even an Ecumenical Council can't overrule the Pope (it can't meet unless he calls it and its decisions don't take effect unless he approves them):"The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head. This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church,and made him shepherd of the whole flockin the end, he limit on Papal power lies in the consciences of individual believers - clergy who would resign and laypersons who would refuse to comply with evil or heretical instructions of the Pope. There is no provision to overrule a papal decision, to impeach a pope, or to remove a pope who becomes mentally or physically incompetent.

Your 4:21pm questions are not about opinions but about legal facts, aren't they?It doesn't seem that anyone reading this knows the answer better than you.

John, your comment was not up yet when I wrote mine. It was not about your comment.

John Hayes, I like the way you amend the statement to say "are there *any* limits on papal authority." And you amplified the difficulty I mentioned in giving a fuller citation of Lumen Gentium. And certainly action based on conscience would be a personal, perhaps private, way to respond to such a situation. However, there may be ways to develop provisions to handle formally these situations. The college cannot make universal acts without their head, but they can (and have) made particular and local acts that include sanctions - just glance at any edition of Denzinger and you can see them. I know this is "out of the box" in that it lacks historical precedent, but I don't see any reason why it couldn't be done, do you?

Mr. Hayes: You are correct that there is not in today's Code any provision for what the Church must do if a pope becomes a heretic or becomes mentally or physically impaired, but that is a defect in the Code and should be corrected. There was once a very extensive theological and canonical discussion of what to do in the case of a heretical pope, and Robert Bellarmine said that it would be legitimate to oppose even with physical force a pope who was ruining the Church. I don't think the Church should be left simply to wait for an intervention of divine providence, a lightning bolt, a Deus ex machina.Vatican II allows for collegial activities to be initiated "from below," by the bishops, with the pope's eventually approving or receiving the action (see LG 22, end).

But an initiative "from below" still requires the pope's approval. So we're still stuck, no?I didn't know that Bellarmine thought that...

I think that depends on finding a Pope who is willing to have those changes made. Perhaps Francis is that Pope. The mechanics can certainly be worked out if there's agreement on the goal. Perhaps one argument would be that it would facilitate reunion with the Orthodox. Paul VI seems to have had a real worry that the bishops might attmpt to exercise some comtrol over the Pope. I assume that's what led to this note "from higher authority" which was attached to LG as an appendix:"**The following was published as an appendix to the official Latin version of the Constitution on the Church.**A preliminary note of explanation is being given to the Council Fathers from higher-authority, regarding the Modi bearing on Chapter III of the Schema de Ecclesia; the doctrine set forth in Chapter III ought to be explained and understood in accordance with the meaning and intent of this explanatory note.Preliminary Note of ExplanationThe Commission has decided to preface the assessment of the Modi with the following general observations.1. "College" is not understood in a strictly juridical sense, that is as a group of equals who entrust their power to their president, but as a stable group whose structure and authority must be learned from Revelation. For this reason, in reply to Modus 12 it is expressly said of the Twelve that the Lord set them up "as a college or stable group." Cf. also Modus 53, c.For the same reason, the words "Ordo" or "Corpus" are used throughout with reference to the College of bishops. The parallel between Peter and the rest of the Apostles on the one hand, and between the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops on the other hand, does not imply the transmission of the Apostles' extraordinary power to their successors; nor does it imply, as is obvious, equality between the head of the College and its members, but only a proportionality between the first relationship (Peter-Apostles) and the second (Pope-bishops). Thus the Commission decided to write "pari ratione, " not "eadem ratione," in n. 22. Cf. Modus 57.see LG for the rest.

As noted, the Council of Jerusalem did, in fact, overrule Peter on circumcision. Of course, that was well before Lumen Gentium, but still; the first council's authority is blessed in scripture; the other too often dismissed as a merely "pastoral"event. What, in fact, are the limits on conciliar authority? Are some ecumenical councils more authoritative than others? It strikes me that authority in the church, conciliar and papal, is pretty circular. Jesus seemed to locate it in "two or more of you joined together [Mt 18:19]," but then he also said his church stood on Peter the Rock [Mt 16:18]. Isn't the ultimate reality one of those both-and situations? A council has no legitimate power without the Pope leading it, and a Pope without the agreement of his fellow bishops and faithful is just a leader with no one to lead.

A much better example of monarchical power at work is the new roman missal. Vatican grabbed power, changed the rules, the pope arbitrarily decided that at Mass we would no longer hear that Christ died for all (and many other changes), and everybody caved in. He didn't even respect the rules of the English language! It seems that most people are content to let an absolute monarch make arbitrary decisions, change or ignore laws according to his personal preferences, and impose that on everyone. The new missal is the proof that the pope can do whatever he wants. I don't see any way out as long as the people's will is not there.

Father Komonchak: That argument begs the question by assuming exactly what you are trying to demonstrate, namely, that all members of the church are bound by Papal law in all cases.I could use the same logic to make the following assertion:If Congress makes a law for the US, and Joe is a member (citizen) of the US, then Joe is bound by the law.This statement is not always true (for a lot of reasons). For starters (and consistent with the assumption in your argument) it assumes that all US citizens are bound by Congressional enactment in all cases. In other words, both assume too much concerning the subject of the Legislator's authority.Consider: Congress cannot legislate using the police power on persons living in the states. So if the law concerned the police power and Joe was a citizen of New York, then Joe would not be bound by it. But if Joe's domicile is the District of Columbia, then the law binds.So it is with Papal law. There are limits to its authority. One of those limits is that the Pope is not bound by it. There are other limits, and these limits are among the many reasons why I hesitate to say that the Pope is an absolute monarch, even though his own laws do not bind him.

Mr. Madrid: Distinguo: If Congress passes a valid law, I am bound by it. If Congress passes an invalid law, I am not bound by it.Isn't the parallel this: If Congress passes a valid law, members of Congress are bound by it?I would like to hear about those "other limits" that lead you to say that the pope is not an absolute monarch, "absolute," of course, having the same meaning as in the phrase "legibus solutus," not bound by the laws.

Isnt the parallel this: If Congress passes a valid law, members of Congress are bound by it?I don't think that's parallel. It requires a majority of both Houses plus the concurrence of the President to enact a law. It is a group action. Exempting one person from n law would require a similar group action. One member of the group couldn't exempt him/herself from the law without actionl by the others.Church law is enacted by the Pope alone, even if it is recommended to him by a dicastery, ecumenical council, etc. As the sole lawgiver, he can withdraw the law entirely or excuse himself or a defined group of people from complying with it - entirely by himself.

There are legal theorists who believe that the notion of sovereignty that underlies the teaching of Vatican II about papal jurisdictional and magisterial authority owes more to Hobbes et al. than to the great canonical theorists of the Middle Ages.Hobbes would certainly be happy wih a sole lawgiver. If I recall correctly, Occam thought that a council could depose a Pope and Gratian (and others) thought it required reception by the faithful for a Papal law to be valid. If most people ignored it, it wasn't binding on anyone. But those views didn't get accepted.

'As the sole lawgiver,. . . 'Isn't this the crux of the issue? Is the Pope the sole lawgiver or not? Saying that "if he is, then the rest of us are in a very vulnerable position" does nothing to counter the possibility that the statement "He is the sole lawgiver" is true. ALL absolute monarchs have vulnerable subjects, almost by definition.

Isnt this the crux of the issue? Is the Pope the sole lawgiver or not? The balance of power between the Pope and ecumenical councils was debated for a long time, going back at least as far as Occam (of the razor). The people who wanted more power for councils lost out.

Mr. Hayes: The parallel holds. That there is more than one person involved in legislation in the U.S. does not alter the case: a law valid for U.S. citizens applies to the law-makers. I do not say that the Pope may not change a law, but that until it is changed by formal act, the pope is bound by it.Before the first codification of Church law early in the twentieth century, the authoritative source was the Corpus Iuris Canonici, a collection of all sorts of laws emanating from many different sources, local or provincial councils, ecumenical councils, papal edicts, etc. A major change was effected when it was decided to replace the somewhat hodge-podge corpus of laws with a properly modern, rationally organized, Code of Canon Law, which would be promulgated by the sole legislator for the whole Church, the Pope. The model for this new way of conceiving law, law-giving, and indeed the Church was the Napoleonic Code which "rationalized," that is, modernized, law in France. Behind it was the same kind of "reason" that led France to decimalize the calendar and to abolish the provinces. [Why, we might ask, are Alaska and Rhode Island both states? And how do Wyoming and California both get to have two Senators? It's irrational, no?] There is great irony in the fact that while Rome expressed grave reservations about the centralized and omni-competent state as it was developing in the 19th and 20th centuries, it adopted that very model in re-organizing itself. There are legal theorists who believe that the notion of sovereignty that underlies the teaching of Vatican II about papal jurisdictional and magisterial authority owes more to Hobbes et al. than to the great canonical theorists of the Middle Ages.

"There are legal theorists who believe that the notion of sovereignty that underlies the teaching of Vatican II about papal jurisdictional and magisterial authority owes more to Hobbes et al. than to the great canonical theorists of the Middle Ages."Correction: This should have read: "of Vatican I." Vatican II ratified the earlier council's teaching, even while trying to bring it into a more adequate ecclesiological vision.

Quoting Vatican I: (Chapter 3 of Session 4)8. Since the Roman pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole church, we likewise teach and declare thathe is the supreme judge of the faithful [52] , and thatin all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment [53] .The sentence of the apostolic see (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone,nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon [54] . And sothey stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman pontiff.So, then,if anyone says thatthe Roman pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, andnot the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole church, and thisnot only in matters offaith and morals, but also in those which concern thediscipline and government of the church dispersed throughout the whole world; or thathe has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or thatthis power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful:let him be anathema.

John, can't you let this die the death of oblivion?

Some theologians of the last generation, e.g., Yves Congar and George Tavard, raised the question whether the teaching on the role of the pope in the Church can be dissociated from the modern notion of sovereignty in terms of which Vatican I seems to have stated that role. This would require something similar to the dissociation of the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the eucharist from the particular metaphysical scheme in terms of which it is often articulated and defended. Vatican I and, in many places, Vatican II also worked with a universalist ecclesiology, that is, a view that focuses on the so-called "universal Church" and has a strong tendency to see particular or local Churches as simple administrative sub-divisions of the BIG thing, which alone really deserves the name "Church". You know the schema, in what is only a slight caricature: The Church is an international religious corporation with central headquarters in Rome, branch offices (called dioceses) in many cities, and retail shops (called parishes). This is the Church whose administrative efficiency was praised in the 1950's by an independent group which placed the RC Church in second place, behind (if I remember correctly) only General Motors. This because the pope gave orders which were obeyed by the bishops whose orders were obeyed by the priests whose orders were obeyed by the laity. Times have changed, and not just for General Motors.

The Church is an international religious corporation with central headquarters in Rome, branch offices (called dioceses) in many cities, and retail shops (called parishes).Back in 2004 when he archdiocese here (Boston) closed 65 churches by fiat, the image that came to my mind was McDonald's deciding which stores it could close while still selling as many Big Macs as before. The idea was that if your parsh was suppressed, you should just find another parish nearby and they would be happy to take you in. the archdiocese seemed to think of parishoners as individuals rather than as existing communities that might want to stay together.Learning from the uproar that caused, the current planning for future parish consolidation is taking a much different direction, arrived at after meetings with pastors and parish members. The idea this time is to combine groups of about three parishes into a single community with a single pastor (with several parochial vicars) and a single finance committee - continuing, at least initially, to provide Masses and other activities in all of the existing churches.I think the unemphasized expectation is that, in future years as the number of available priests declines and expenses rise, each multi-parish community will make its own decision as to whether it needs all of the existing church buildings and other property. But even if, in the long term, it consolidates to a single church building instead of three, the decision on selling off some church buildings and other property will be made within the community and the community will stay together. So it's no longer the McDonald's analogy. Change is possible.

"I think the unemphasized expectation is that, in future years as the number of available priests declines and expenses rise, each multi-parish community will make its own decision as to whether it needs all of the existing church buildings and other property. But even if, in the long term, it consolidates to a single church building instead of three, the decision on selling off some church buildings and other property will be made within the community and the community will stay together."John, forgive me, but I'm skeptical that the archdiocese, which actually owns the property, would let a local community decide whether to sell any of the archdiocese's property. (Or, what is probably a more likely scenario, that the archdiocese would let a local community prevent the sale of archdiocesan property). That is not to say that there are more pastoral or less pastoral ways to go about it. But too much local control leads to situations like that church up your way that has been 'occupied' for seven years or some such.

McDonald's is an interesting analogy. McDonald's stores are mostly owned by independent franchisees. They have to agree to the products, the branding, the quality standards and undoubtedly all sorts of other things as conditions of being granted the franchises, but there is also a fair bit of local control for such things as hiring and firing, promotions, some regionalization of products, and so on. McDonald's corporate, I'm told, makes a big point of listening to their franchise owners. Still, in terms of "customer experience", I daresay there is more variation from one Catholic parish to another than from one McDonald's franchise to another. McDonald's values brand consistency. Catholics, apparently, don't as much.

John, forgive me, but Im skeptical that the archdiocese, which actually owns the property, would let a local community decide whether to sell any of the archdioceses property.I was skipping over the question of who would get the sale proceeds. I think the initial reason that the community would feel the need to close some church buildings would be to stop spending money on monthly operating costs they can no longer afford - even if all of the sale proceeds went to the archdiocese. In reality, I suspect a deal could be worked out with the archdiocese by which it would use some of the sale proceeds to maintain the surplus buildings until sold, pay for some necessary improvements to the church building(s) to remain in use, and pay off some or all of any amounts owed by the parish to the archdiocese. Of course, you are right that the archdiocese would have to agree to the sale and (here) would want to manage the sale itself, but I think they would be happy to sell any church real estate a cluster said it didn't need. Since the idea is that the pastor and the parochial vicars would all live at one location, the first issue would be whether to sell the unused rectories even while the churches continue in use.

Here at the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Jerusalem, today in the intro the presider said: "Today we celebrate the second Sunday of Easter, that is, the first Sunday after Easter Sunday. We celebrate the resurrection. It is also, in some form, the celebration of Divine Mercy." I wonder what reservations were hidden under that clumsy wording, "in some form"!(Without this thread I would not have noticed, because I would not have heard the capitalization of divine mercy.)

Francis seemed to welcome it in his homily today"Today we are celebrating the Second Sunday of Easter, also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. What a beautiful truth of faith this is for our lives: the mercy of God! Gods love for us is so great, so deep; it is an unfailing love, one which always takes us by the hand and supports us, lifts us up and leads us on....In my own life, I have so often seen Gods merciful countenance, his patience; I have also seen so many people find the courage to enter the wounds of Jesus by saying to him: Lord, I am here, accept my poverty, hide my sin in your wounds, wash it away with your blood. And I have always seen that God did just this he accepted them, consoled them, cleansed them, loved them.Dear brothers and sisters, let us be enveloped by the mercy of God; let us trust in his patience, which always gives us more time. Let us find the courage to return to his house, to dwell in his loving wounds, allowing ourselves be loved by him and to encounter his mercy in the sacraments. We will feel his tenderness, so beautiful, we will feel his embrace, and we too will become more capable of mercy, patience, forgiveness and love."After the Mass, from the Loggia of the Archbasilica, the Holy Father greeted the faithful gathered outside the church, and offered them his blessing: Brother and sisters:Buona sera! I thank you so much for your company in today's Mass. Thank you so much! I ask you to pray for me. I need it. Don't forget this. Thanks to all of you! And let us all go forward together, the people and the Bishop, all together, going forward always in the joy of the Resurrection of Jesus. He is always at our side. May God bless you! (He blessed the people.)Many thanks! See you soon.

For some reason this thread reminded me of conversation between Frederick Copleston and Bertrand Russell - a lot of time spent discerning the point to be discussed. If the thread is still alive, Fr. Komonchak, I would appreciate your suggestions on readings in church history that would help clarify the discussion on Papal authority, its reaches and limits.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment