JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

The Church and the Civil Authority.

114. We are now to consider certain points of contact between the Church and Catholic States. These relations do not directly concern such States as do not profess to be guided by Catholic principles; yet it is well for even these to understand our doctrine on this subject: they will learn that they have nothing to fear, but that, on the contrary, they receive strong moral support from the action of the Church; and they will see the wisdom of abstaining from encroachments upon her domain. The more fully a man is actuated by Catholic principles, the more useful a subject will he be in the State, being law-abiding, just, and charitable. Further, the two societies, the Church and the State, can help each other by their corporate action. If their views should differ, the higher and wider society should prevail. Besides, Catholic governors owe deference to the Church, whose members they are.

115. In Catholic States the Church claims immunity for her officials from the authority of civil tribunals; and this used to be very necessary for their just protection. If one of her ministers had offended, she would then judge him herself; and if he was highly criminal, she would "degrade" him, and then hand him over to the secular tribunal for punishment. On his part, the Pope, though all Catholics are subject to the Bishop of the diocese in which they reside, exempts princes from being liable to excommunication except by himself; and he inflicts this punishment on them very sparingly. Sometimes the Pope makes a "Concordat" with temporal rulers; that is, a treaty whereby, in consideration of certain promises of the latter, the Pope abstains from urging for the present certain of his rights. But the Church cannot recognize as rights certain privileges which the Gallicans claimed for themselves and which they called "Gallican Liberties". These greatly limited the powers of the Supreme Pontiff. Among them were the Placitum Regium and the Exequatur, which it was pretended prevented the will of the Pope from taking effect in France till it had obtained the royal sanction.

116. The Church holds immunity not merely by a favor of the State, but as an essential right. She claims it chiefly in behalf of her Supreme Pontiff; for as his jurisdiction is unlimited, so is the necessity for his perfect freedom absolute. The Pope being clothed with the prerogatives that we have described, no Catholic can question the right of such a Pontiff to be exempt from the jurisdiction of any civil tribunals. The same immunity must also belong to the Cardinals and his other officials. Practically this cannot be secured without the Temporal Power. For it is not enough that the Pope be free, if he be not known to be free: suspicion of his being influenced by his sovereign would be fatal to his own influence. Thus while the Popes resided at Avignon, their authority fell into great contempt, among those who looked on them as creatures of France. For these reasons and others, the Pope cannot rule the Church efficiently unless he be himself independent, and therefore a sovereign of a State. Therefore Pius IX. condemned the opinion of those who think otherwise. Besides, no government in Europe can show a better title than that in virtue of which the Pope ruled for more than fifteen centuries. As the District of Columbia, the seat of the General Government of the United States, is independent of all States of the Union, so should the seat of the general government of the Church be independent of all countries of the earth (See Amer. Cath. Quart. Review, 1892).

<< ======= >>