Is the Pope Above Canon Law?

On January 13, 2013, the Canon Law Made Easy website in a article titled “Can a Pope Ever Resign?” said in speaking of a canon 332.2 phrase on a pope’s resignation having to be “properly manifested” said:

“[T]he Pope is the Church’s Supreme Legislator, he can interpret this law however he wishes.” []

On the other hand, the respected Fr. Brian Harrison in speaking on is the pope above canon law thought the statement “the pope is “above canon law” is a half-truth” according to a post on the Catholic Answers website:

The article “White Smoke, Valid Pope” by Fr. Brian Harrison (March 2001) makes an interesting but flawed argument against the sedevacantists’ claims about Rome. Fr. Harrison argues from canon law regulations on heresy and excommunication in order to show that a pope who incurs latae sententiae excommunication would be a valid but illicit pope. He writes, “While this [heretical] pope would offend God gravely by exercising his office while under an (undeclared) excommunication, all his official acts still would be juridicially valid.”

These arguments that place the pope under the rule of canon law are futile. A closer scrutiny of the situation would reveal that the pope answers only to God: The pope is the author of canon law, which depends solely on his will. Excommunication is a disciplinary decision of the Church, and thus the qualifications that automatically incur excommunication-such as advising someone to have an abortion-are subject to change.

Fr. Harrison writes, “A pope who began his pontificate as an orthodox Catholic but became a formal heretic or apostate during his pontificate would thereby legally incur excommunication.” That statement is an impossibility. The pope is above canon law and is not subject to excommunication.

Thank you for all the good your organization has done. Your magazine is the most interesting and informative Catholic publication I have encountered. 

Mara Mirus 
Nokesville, Virginia 

Fr. Harrison replies: To say that the pope is “above canon law” is a half-truth. It is true in the sense that the pope has no superior on earth who could declare, enforce, or remove any penalty against him for breaches of the law. But it is false insofar as it means that he could never incur, in God’s sight, any such penalty or that he has no moral duty to act and govern the Church according to the law that he himself officially recognizes as valid at any given moment in his pontificate.

Canon law includes numerous prescriptions of divine law that no pope can ever overturn (see for example cc. 330, 925, 849, 864, and 1024 in the 1983 Code). Even the “merely” ecclesiastical law contained in the Code is for the universal Church, and the pope is morally obliged to be the first in giving a good example by living and acting as a law-abiding Christian. Of course, as supreme legislator, the pope may change any ecclesiastical law by officially and expressly abrogating it or derogating from it. But if he were to decree something which broke the law-that is, which acted against an existing ecclesiastical law without expressly adding a clause derogating from that law-then canon law itself (c. 38, 1983 Code; c. 46, 1917 Code) states that such a lawless action, even on the part of a “competent authority” (and that, of course, includes the pope) would have “no effect.” []

Francis Notes:

– Doctor of the Church St. Francis de Sales totally confirmed beyond any doubt the possibility of a heretical pope and what must be done by the Church in such a situation:

“[T]he Pope… WHEN he is EXPLICITLY a heretic, he falls ipso facto from his dignity and out of the Church, and the Church MUST either deprive him, or, as some say, declare him deprived, of his Apostolic See.”
(The Catholic Controversy, by St. Francis de Sales, Pages 305-306)

Saint Robert Bellarmine, also, said “the Pope heretic is not deposed ipso facto, but must be declared deposed by the Church.”

– “If Francis is a Heretic, What should Canonically happen to him?”:

– “Could Francis be a Antipope even though the Majority of Cardinals claim he is Pope?”:

 –  LifeSiteNews, “Confusion explodes as Pope Francis throws magisterial weight behind communion for adulterers,” December 4, 2017:

The AAS guidelines explicitly allows “sexually active adulterous couples facing ‘complex circumstances’ to ‘access the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.'”

–  On February 2018, in Rorate Caeli, Catholic theologian Dr. John Lamont:

“The AAS statement… establishes that Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia has affirmed propositions that are heretical in the strict sense.”

– On December 2, 2017, Bishop Rene Gracida:

“Francis’ heterodoxy is now official. He has published his letter to the Argentina bishops in Acta Apostlica Series making those letters magisterial documents.”

Pray an Our Father now for the restoration of the Church by the bishops by the grace of God.

Election Notes:  

– Intel Cryptanalyst-Mathematician on Biden Steal: “212Million Registered Voters & 66.2% Voting,140.344 M Voted…Trump got 74 M, that leaves only 66.344 M for Biden” []

– Will US be Venezuela?: Ex-CIA Official told Epoch Times “Chávez started to Focus on [Smartmatic] Voting Machines to Ensure Victory as early as 2003”:– Tucker Carlson’s Conservatism Inc. Biden Steal Betrayal is explained by “One of the Greatest Columns ever Written” according to Rush: – A Hour which will Live in Infamy: 10:01pm November 3, 2020: What is needed right now to save America from those who would destroy our God given rights is to pray at home or in church and if called to even go to outdoor prayer rallies in every town and city across the United States for God to pour out His grace on our country to save us from those who would use a Reichstag Fire-like incident to destroy our civil liberties. [Is the DC Capitol Incident Comparable to the Nazi Reichstag Fire Incident where the German People Lost their Civil Liberties? and Epoch Times Show Crossroads on Capitol Incident: “Anitfa ‘Agent Provocateurs‘”:
Pray an Our Father now for the grace to know God’s Will and to do it. 

Fred Martinez

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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