The Magisterium answers: Who is Qualified to Judge the Pope?

Pope Boniface VIII issued a papal document, Unam Sanctam, in 1302, on the authority of the Church and of the Pope.

7. Therefore, if the earthly power goes astray, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a lesser spiritual power goes astray, [it will be judged] by its superior; and truly, if the highest [power] goes astray, it will not be able to be judged by man, but by God alone. And so the Apostle testifies, “The spiritual man judges all things, but he himself is judged by no one.” [1 Corinthians 2:15]

8. But this authority, even though it may be given to a man, and may be exercised by a man, is not human, but rather divine [power], having been given by the divine mouth [of Christ] to Peter, and to him as well as to his successors, by [Christ] Himself, [that is, to him] whom He had disclosed to be the firm rock, just as the Lord said to Peter himself: “Whatever you shall bind,” [Matthew 16:19] etc. Therefore, whoever resists this authority, such as it has been ordain by God, resists the ordination of God. [Romans 13:2] ….

9. Moreover, that every human creature is to be subject to the Roman pontiff, we declare, we state, we define, and we pronounce to be entirely from the necessity of salvation.

The above is my translation of Unam Sanctam. Here is another translation by Cardinal Manning.

The Church has the authority to judge all secular authorities, including rulers, laws, culture, and social customs. The spiritual power, the Church, is above the earthly powers. Then within the Church, the lesser authorities are judged by the higher authorities. For example, a parish priest is under the authority of his Bishop and the Bishop is under the authority of the Pope.

Then we come to a discussion of the authority of the Pope, who is the highest authority on earth. His authority is from Christ directly. And so Pope Boniface teaches that whoever resists this authority of the Pope, resists the ordination of God.

Finally, Pope Boniface teaches that every human being must be subject to the authority of the Roman Pontiff. In other words, the Pope’s authority is above all other authority on earth, save God alone. And every Patriarch, Primate, Cardinal, Bishop, priest, deacon, theologian, scholar, and holy persons, and all persons whether inside or outside the Church are each subject to that authority. None has the authority to judge the Pope, nor to condemn him, no matter how eminent or holy or scholarly such self-appointed judges might seem to be.

The same document, Unam Sanctam, was approved by the Fifth Lateran Council under Pope Leo X in 1516:

“And since it arises from the necessity of salvation that all the faithful of Christ are to be subject to the Roman Pontiff, just as we are taught by the testimony of the divine Scriptures and of the holy Fathers, and as is declared by the Constitution of Pope Boniface VIII of happy memory, which begins ‘Unam Sanctam,’ for the salvation of the souls of the same faithful, and by the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff and of this holy See, and by the unity and power of the Church, his spouse, the same Constitution, being approved by the sacred Council, we renew and approve.” (Pope Leo X, Fifth Lateran Council, Session 11, 19 December 1516)

It is an infallible teaching of the Magisterium that everyone is to be subject to the Roman Pontiff. Therefore, no one has the authority to judge the Pope except God. All these complainers who think themselves to understand the Faith better than Pope Francis are contradicting the infallible teaching of the Magisterium by claiming that some persons on earth have the ability or authority or standing or role to judge him.

The Pope can err in his personal opinions, but never to the extent of heresy. The Pope can err, to a limited extent, in his non-infallible teachings, but never to the extent of heresy. The Pope cannot err when he teaches infallibly. No Pope can teach material heresy nor commit the sin of formal heresy because, as the First Vatican Council infallibly taught, each Pope has the gift of truth and of a faith that never fails.

“7. This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine.” [First Vatican Council]

Whosoever claims that the faith of the Pope has failed commits the sin of formal heresy, by contradicting the infallible teaching of the First Vatican Council, and the sin of formal schism, by rejecting the authority of the Pope as taught by the Fifth Lateran Council and Unam Sanctam.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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