Canon Law does not permit Deposing a Pope

Old Code, Canon 1556: The Primatial See can be judged by no one.
New Code, Canon 1404: The First See is judged by no one.

“The Supreme Pontiff has the highest legislative, administrative, and judicial power in the Church. The Code states that the Roman Pontiff cannot be brought to trial by anyone. The very idea of the trial of a person supposes that the court conducting the trial has jurisdiction over the person, but the Pope has no superior, wherefore no court has power to subject him to judicial trial.” [Rev. Stanislaus Woywod, O.F.M., A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Volume 2, (New York, 1925), p. 199.]

This law, in Canons 1556 and 1404, is also an ancient teaching in the Church, taught by multiple Popes, taught in Unam Sanctam, confirmed infallibly by the Fifth Lateran Council, and taught infallibly again by the First Vatican Council. It is also infallible under the ordinary universal Magisterium. Rejection of this teaching is heresy. Those who propose methods for deposing a Pope are violating this dogma, as well as violating Canon law.

Can. 333 §3. No appeal or recourse is permitted against a sentence or decree of the Roman Pontiff.

Since there is no appeal or recourse from the decisions and teachings of the Pope to anyone else, he cannot be deposed. Papal deposition is presented as a process for taking action against a Pope over his official judgments and decrees, which includes decisions of doctrine and discipline. But since such a process of deposition would represent a type of appeal or recourse against the Pope’s sentences and decrees, deposing a Pope is contrary to Canon Law 333.

Can. 341 §1. The decrees of an ecumenical council do not have obligatory force unless they have been approved by the Roman Pontiff together with the council fathers, confirmed by him, and promulgated at his order.

If a Pope is to be deposed, the persons who would do so must have authority in the Church. Therefore, many papal accusers propose an “imperfect Council”, meaning an Ecumenical Council, which would specifically act without and in opposition to the Roman Pontiff, as the body that would have the authority of deposition. This is contrary to the teaching of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 22, which says the Bishops have no authority without the consent of the Roman Pontiff, and contrary to Canon 341, above, which says that the decrees of an Ecumenical Council “do not have obligatory force” without the Pope’s approval. Thus, an imperfect Council would be a body, without a head and without authority, attacking the Vicar of Christ. A body without a head is a monster.

For an Ecumenical Council to remove a Pope, he would have to approve, confirm, and promulgate the order to remove himself — which is nothing but a longer and more difficult way for a Pope to resign. If the Pope does not wish to resign, he can simply not approve of the decision of such an “imperfect Council”. Under Church law, even an Ecumenical Council does not have the authority to remove a Pope.

Can. 341 §2. To have obligatory force, decrees which the college of bishops issues when it places a truly collegial action in another way initiated or freely accepted by the Roman Pontiff need the same confirmation and promulgation.

Under the Canon above, any group of Bishop, or even the entire college of Bishops, cannot take any action concerning the universal Church, without acceptance, confirmation, and promulgation by the Pope. This Canon, too, excludes any type of exercise of authority by the Bishops against the Roman Pontiff. So while Vatican I excludes appeal to an Ecumenical Council, the fact that the Bishops might act while dispersed in the world does not improve their position, relative to the Pope. They still cannot take any “collegial action”, that is, any authoritative act as a body, without the acceptance, confirmation, and promulgation of the Roman Pontiff.

Can. 336 The college of bishops, whose head is the Supreme Pontiff and whose members are bishops by virtue of sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college and in which the apostolic body continues, together with its head and never without this head, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church.

The Apostolic College (the body of Bishops) has authority only because the Pope is their head and only as long as they remain in “hierarchical communion” with that head of the body. It is not merely communion, as one Bishop fraternally to another. It is hierarchical, meaning that the Pope has authority over them within that union. And so the body cannot exercise their authority, which is from the Pope and which only exists while they are together with their head, in order to remove the Pope. They may only exercise Apostolic or Episcopal authority with the Pope, never without him, and therefore never against his very authority itself. So that covers all the authorities in the Church who might attempt to depose the Roman Pontiff.

The entire college of Bishops has the Pope as its head, and cannot exercise it authority without this head, just as Lumen Gentium 22 also says: “But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head.” How can any group of Bishops depose a Pope when they have no authority without the Pope? They cannot.

Therefore, it is clear from the law of the Church that the Roman Pontiff is judged by no one, and no one has the authority to remove the Pope from his office.

Can. 331 The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.

The Pope has supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he can always exercise. Ordinary means that this power is exercised in full without the requirement of any extraordinary condition or case. In the ordinary daily course of events, the Pope has absolute authority over the whole Church. He does not have this supreme authority only in particular situations or only in cases of grave necessity. He holds and exercises it, whenever he wills, usually on a daily basis, or with whatever frequency he wishes. Papal deposition interferes with the exercise of this power in the Church.

Papal deposition always claims that some person or persons in the Church can impede the Roman Pontiff’s exercise of authority, and can act as if they were a higher authority than the Pontiff. Such claims contradict Canon law. There is no higher authority on earth than the Pope, other than God, and so there is no authority that can remove the Pope, other than God.


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2 Responses to Canon Law does not permit Deposing a Pope

  1. P.J. says:

    I was just thinking about Canon Law, and I have a question, fortunately on topic for once! Today’s installment, by David Warren, of the blog The Catholic Thing begins:
    “The recent scandal, or fiasco, in which our Pope has effectively made the sacrifice of the Old Mass illegal is theater of the absurd. “
    Has the Pope made the Latin Mass “illegal”? I didn’t think so. And what would that mean, anyway — I would assume “forbidden by Canon Law” , and I don’t remember seeing any changes to Canon Law in Traditiones Custodes. What is your opinion on the use of the term “illegal”, Ron?

    All the victim hysteria about TC really does not help the cause of the Latin Mass attendees, who, if anything , have increased since the Motu Proprio, as far as I can tell.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The reaction to Traditionis is really just proving the Pope right. This idolatry of the Latin Mass is surely offensive to God. It is pure Pharisaism, focusing on the exterior points of liturgical form, with little attention to prayer, worship, adoration, Scripture, the Eucharist — all the essentials of Mass. They make the details into the essentials, and then they nearly worship them. And when the Pope makes a decision, they treat him with the utmost contempt because the decision did not go their way. Just a terrible example.

      The TLM is not illegal. It continues in many dioceses, where the Bishops have authorized it under TC. There’s no Canon forbidding the TLM, but the Pope does desire one liturgical rite for the Roman Rite. He is right that the TLM — which is inherently good — is being used by those who reject authority in the Church; the groups that have grown up around the TLM are promoting disunity, esp. by attacking Vatican II, the Novus Ordo Mass, and the recent Popes.

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