Can a Pope be excommunicated or deposed


This question is being posed in a thread in Traditional Catholicsm, but I remain confused over the matter…i.e. can a Pope be legally in Church Law excommunicated or deposed and if so under what conditions? A link to the appropriate and source reliable Church Document etc. would be very much appreciated and necessary to me personally.
If this question has been asked and answered in another thread, if you could direct me to it, I would be very grateful.:slight_smile:

Blessings - Barb:)


Well, if past actions of popes haven’t warranted being deposed, I’d hate to see what it would take to get deposed.

I could see one getting ex-communicated if he were to teach a heresy, of course, not ex-cathedra. I don’t think the Holy Spirit would allow the Pope to teach ex-cathedra incorrectly, so it would have to be such as is released in encyclicals (?).

Of course, this is just my opinion, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinions of any other living person! :wink:


I found this helpful. I hope you do too. It has lots of cites to source documents.


The answer to your question is “no.” There is no church law under which the Holy Roman Pontiff can be excommunicated or deposed, nor is there any credible historical basis for such a proposition. Here is a binding decree from Vatican I, Ch.3 paragraph 8-9 upon all Catholics:

Since the Roman pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole church, we likewise teach and declare that

* he is the supreme judge of the faithful [52] , and that
* in 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 so
* **they 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 that
        the Roman pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and
            + not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole church, and this
            + not only in matters of
                  # faith and morals, but also in those which concern the
                  # discipline and government of the church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that 
      o he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that
      o this 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. [](

There is no individual or body that can validly depose a Pope. It is not only Vatican I that confirms this, but the totality of history as well.


Pope Honorius was personally condemned as a heretic by the Sixth Ecumenical Council.

This was ratified by two succeeding Ecumenical Councils. He was also condemned by name by Pope Leo II, and by every pope up through the eleventh century who took the oath of papal office.

In his classic and authoritative series on the history of the Councils, **Roman Catholic historian Charles Joseph Hefele affirms this verdict **in relating the following irrefutable facts regarding Honorius and the Sixth Ecumenical Council:

It is in the highest degree startling, even scarcely credible, that an Ecumenical Council should punish with anathema a Pope as a heretic!..That, however, the sixth Ecumenical Synod actually condemned Honorius on account of heresy, is clear beyond all doubt, when we consider the following collection of the sentences of the Synod against him:
At the entrance of the thirteenth session, on March 28, 681, the Synod says: "After reading the doctrinal letter of Sergius of Constantinople to Cyrus of Phasis (afterwards of Alexandria) and to Pope Honorius, and also the letter of the latter to Sergius, we found that these documents were quite foreign…to the apostolic doctrines, and to the declarations of the holy Councils and all the Fathers of note, and follow the false doctrines of heretics. Therefore we reject them completely, and abhor…them as hurtful to the soul. But also the names of these men must be thrust out of the Church, namely, that of Sergius, the first who wrote on this impious doctrine. Further, that of Cyrus of Alexandria, of Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter of Constantinople, and of Theodore of Pharan, all of whom also Pope Agatho rejected in his letter to the Emperor. We punish them all with anathema. But along with them, it is our universal decision that there shall also be shut out from the Church and anathematized the former Pope Honorius of Old Rome, because we found in his letter to Sergius, that in everything he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrine." **
Towards the end of the same session the second letter of Pope Honorius to Sergius was presented for examination, and it was ordered that all the documents brought by George, the keeper of the archives in Constantinople, and among them the two letters of Honorius, should immediately be burnt, as hurtful to the soul.
Again, the sixth Ecumenical Council referred to Honorius in the sixteenth session, on August 9, 681, at the acclamations and exclamations with which the transactions of this day were closed. The bishops exclaimed: "Anathema to the heretic Sergius, to the heretic Cyrus, to the heretic Honorius, to the heretic Pyrrhus"
Still more important is that which took place at the eighteenth and last session, on September 16, 681. In the decree of the faith which was now published, and forms the principal document of the Synod, we read: "The creeds (of the earlier Ecumenical Synods) would have sufficed for knowledge and confirmation of the orthodox faith. Because, however,
the originator of all evil still always finds a helping serpent, by which he may diffuse his poison,** and therewith finds fit tools for his will, we mean Theodore of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, Peter, former bishops of Constantinople, also Honorius, Pope of Old Rome, Cyrus of Alexandria, etc., so he failed not, by them, to cause trouble in the Church by the scattering of the heretical doctrine of one will and one energy of the two natures of the one Christ. The Synod published the usual (logos prosphoneticos), which, addressed to the Emperor, says, among other things: "Therefore we punish with exclusion and anathema, Theodore of Pharan, Sergius, Paul, Pyrrhus, and Peter; also Cyrus, and with them Honorius, formerly bishop of Rome, as he followed them."
In the same session the Synod also put forth a letter to Pope Agatho, and says therein: **'91We have destroyed the effort of the heretics, and slain them with anathema, in accordance with the sentence spoken before in your holy letter, namely, Theodore of Pharan, Sergius, Honorius. **In closest connection with the Acts of the sixth Ecumenical Council stands the imperial decree confirming their resolutions. …the strengthener (confirmer) of the heresy who contradicted himself…**We anathematise all heresy **from Simon (Magus) to this present…besides, we anathematise and reject the originators and patrons of the false and new doctrines, namely, Theodore of Pharan, Sergius…also Honorius, who was Pope of Old Rome, who in everything agreed with them, went with them, and strengthened the heresy."
It is clear that Pope Leo II also anathematized Honorius…in a letter to the Emperor, confirming the decrees of the sixth Ecumenical Council…in his letter to the Spanish bishops…and in his letter to the Spanish King Ervig. Of the fact that Pope Honorius had been anathematized by the sixth Ecumenical Synod, mention is made by…the Trullan Synod, which was held only twelve years after…Like testimony is also given repeatedly by the seventh Ecumenical Synod; especially does it declare, in its principal document, the decree of the faith: “We declare at once two wills and energies according to the natures in Christ, just as the sixth Synod in Constantinople taught, condemning…Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, etc.” **there is found the old formula for the papal oath…according to which every new Pope, on entering upon his office, had to swear that “he recognised the sixth Ecumenical Council, which smote with eternal anathema the originators of the heresy **(Monotheletism), Sergius, Pyrrhus, etc., together with Honorius” (Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: Clark, 1896), Volume V, pp. 181-187).


Pardon me, but I have this annoying habit of insisting that we go to the horse’s mouth rather than linking to sites with an axe to grind. Try these links on Honorius:

Guilty Only of Failure To Teach


And of course Catholic Answers here shows why the Honorious-Proves-Pope-Fallible is pure rot:

Their “Favorite Case”

According to Fundamentalist commentators, their best case lies with Pope Honorius. They say he specifically taught Monothelitism, a heresy that held that Christ had only one will (a divine one), not two wills (a divine one and a human one) as all orthodox Christians hold.

But that’s not at all what Honorius did. Even a quick review of the records shows he simply decided not to make a decision at all. As Ronald Knox explained, “To the best of his human wisdom, he thought the controversy ought to be left unsettled, for the greater peace of the Church. In fact, he was an inopportunist. We, wise after the event, say that he was wrong. But nobody, I think, has ever claimed that the pope is infallible in not defining a doctrine.”

Knox wrote to Arnold Lunn (a future convert who would become a great apologist for the faith—their correspondence is found in the book Difficulties): “Has it ever occurred to you how few are the alleged ‘failures of infallibility’? I mean, if somebody propounded in your presence the thesis that all the kings of England have been impeccable, you would not find yourself murmuring, ‘Oh, well, people said rather unpleasant things about Jane Shore . . . and the best historians seem to think that Charles II spent too much of his time with Nell Gwynn.’ Here have these popes been, fulminating anathema after anathema for centuries—certain in all human probability to contradict themselves or one another over again. Instead of which you get this measly crop of two or three alleged failures!” While Knox’s observation does not establish the truth of papal infallibility, it does show that the historical argument against infallibility is weak.

The rejection of papal infallibility by “Bible Christians” stems from their view of the Church. They do not think Christ established a visible Church, which means they do not believe in a hierarchy of bishops headed by the pope.

This is no place to give an elaborate demonstration of the establishment of a visible Church. But it is simple enough to point out that the New Testament shows the apostles setting up, after their Master’s instructions, a visible organization, and that every Christian writer in the early centuries—in fact, nearly all Christians until the Reformation—fully recognized that Christ set up an ongoing organization.

One example of this ancient belief comes to us from Ignatius of Antioch. In his second-century letter to the church in Smyrna, he wrote, “Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8, 1 [A.D. 110]).

If Christ did set up such an organization, he must have provided for its continuation, for its easy identification (that is, it had to be visible so it could be found), and, since he would be gone from earth, for some method by which it could preserve his teachings intact.

All this was accomplished through the apostolic succession of bishops, and the preservation of the Christian message, in its fullness, was guaranteed through the gift of infallibility, of the Church as a whole, but mainly through its Christ-appointed leaders, the bishops (as a whole) and the pope (as an individual).

It is the Holy Spirit who prevents the pope from officially teaching error, and this charism follows necessarily from the existence of the Church itself. If, as Christ promised, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church then it must be protected from fundamentally falling into error and thus away from Christ. It must prove itself to be a perfectly steady guide in matters pertaining to salvation.

Of course, infallibility does not include a guarantee that any particular pope won’t “neglect” to teach the truth, or that he will be sinless, or that mere disciplinary decisions will be intelligently made. It would be nice if he were omniscient or impeccable, but his not being so will fail to bring about the destruction of the Church.

But he must be able to teach rightly, since instruction for the sake of salvation is a primary function of the Church. For men to be saved, they must know what is to be believed. They must have a perfectly steady rock to build upon and to trust as the source of solemn Christian teaching. And that’s why papal infallibility exists.

Since Christ said the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church (Matt. 16:18b), this means that his Church can never pass out of existence. But if the Church ever apostasized by teaching heresy, then it would cease to exist; because it would cease to be Jesus’ Church. Thus the Church cannot teach heresy, meaning that anything it solemnly defines for the faithful to believe is true. This same reality is reflected in the Apostle Paul’s statement that the Church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). If the Church is the foundation of religious truth in this world, then it is God’s own spokesman. As Christ told his disciples: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).


Well, then the only alternative is that the 6th Ecumenical council was in error.


Not at all. If you read what is linked, it’s a classic case of ultimately not having any bearing on the question of infallibility. That is, the Council’s action doesn’t prove the Pope is fallible in the proper understanding of the word.


Yes, thanks for having me. :slight_smile:

According to the Roman Catholic Church there are certain conditions which must be met for the teaching of the pope to fall within the overall guidelines of that which is considered to be. He must be teaching in his official capacity as the pope and he must be defining doctrine for the entire Church. The claim is made that Honorius did not meet these conditions. However, a careful reading of the official acts of the Council prove that it thought otherwise. The reader can judge for himself from the Council’s own statements how the situation with Honorius was viewed and whether it would have agreed with the assertions of Keating and Knox that Honorius did not actively teach anything. The Council makes the following statements:

Session XIII: The holy council said: After we had reconsidered, according to the promise which we had made to your highness, the doctrinal letters of Sergius, at one time patriarch of this royal God protected city to Cyrus, who was then bishop of Phasius and to Honorius some time Pope of Old Rome, as well as the letter of the latter to the same Sergius, we find that these documents are quite foreign to the apostolic dogmas, to the declarations of the holy Councils, and to all the accepted Fathers, and that **they follow the false teachings **of the heretics; therefore we entirely reject them, and execrate them as hurtful to the soul. But the names of those men whose doctrines we execrate must also be thrust forth from the holy Church of God, namely, that of Sergius some time bishop of this God-preserved royal city who was the first to write on this impious doctrine; also that of Cyrus of Alexandria, of Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter, who died bishops of this God preserved city, and were like minded with them; and that of Theodore sometime bishop of Pharan, all of whom the most holy and thrice blessed Agatho, Pope of Old Rome, in his suggestion to our most pious and God preserved lord and mighty Emperor, rejected, because they were minded contrary to our orthodox faith, all of whom we define are to be subject to anathema. And with these we define that there shall be **expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius who was some time Pope of Old Rome, **because of what we found written by him to Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines.
Session XVI: To Theodore of Pharan, the heretic, anathema! To Sergius, the heretic, anathema! To Cyrus, the heretic, anathema! To Honorius, the heretic, anathema! To Pyrrhus, the heretic, anathema! To Paul, the heretic, anathema!..
Session XVIII: But as the author of evil, who, in the beginning, availed himself of the aid of the serpent, and by it brought the poison of death upon the human race, has not desisted, but in like manner now, having found suitable instruments for working out his will we mean Theodorus, who was bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus…and moreover, Honorius, who was Pope of the elder Rome…), has actively employed them in raising up for the whole Church the stumbling blocks of one will and one operation in the two natures of Christ our true God, one of the Holy Trinity; thus disseminating, in novel terms, amongst the orthodox people, an heresy similar to the mad and wicked doctrine of the impious Apollinaris (Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XIV, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, pp. 342-344).

The above statements prove that the condemnation of Honorius meets the basic criteria for ex cathedra statements. The following points show this to be the case:

The Council condemns him specifically as a heretic and anathematized him in his official capacity as pope and not as a private theologian.
He is condemned for following after and confirming the heresy of montheletism.
He is condemned for actively disseminating and propagating heretical teachings in his official capacity as pope which affected the whole Church.


They prove no such thing.


Was Honorius deposed or ex-communcated?


Nope. Should he have been? Yup. I assume heresy, qualifies.


Heresy? What did he teach in error?


The OP asked whether a pope can be excommunicated or deposed:

  1. Honorius could not have been deposed by the Third Council of Constantinople because it was held over 40 years after his death.

  2. I note that the decrees of the council itself do not declare anathema upon Honorius, although I don’t doubt the accuracy of Hefele’s account that the council declared his name anathema. Nevertheless, in Catholic ecclesiology a person who has died can no longer be excommunicated or anathamatized. It is true that you will see councils declare the name of a deceased person anathema in order to warn the living of the heresy associated with the name.

So my position remains the same. A pope cannot be validly excommunicated or deposed.

A final note. William Webster is an anti-Catholic apologist who often omits to provide information relevant to the issue. He certainly isn’t an authority Catholics would rely upon.


That is just it. He didn’t formally teach a heresy *binding on the faithful. *It isn’t even a slam dunk that he interiorly held to Monothelitism. His is a sin of omission, not commission. And because of that, infallibility is not the issue.


Yes, I just wanted to see how our good kaycee would answer this.

In Robert Spencer’s essay, “The Truth about Pope Honorius”, he writes:

… a look at Honorius’ exact words shows that while he did use a formula–“one will”–that was later declared heretical, he used it in a sense that implied the orthodox belief.

This was picked up as early as 640 by Pope John IV, Honorius’ successor, who pointed out that Sergius had asked only about the presence of two opposing wills. Honorius had answered accordingly, speaking, says Pope John, “only of the human and not also of the divine nature.” Pope John was right. Honorius assumed the existence of a human will in Christ by saying that his nature is like humanity’s before the Fall. No one would claim that before the Fall Adam had no will. Thus Honorius’s speaking of Christ’s assumption of a “faultless” human nature shows that he really did believe in the orthodox formula of two wills in Christ: one divine, one human, in perfect agreement.

The Third Council of Constantinople was thus in error when it condemned Honorius for heresy. But a Council, of course, has no authority except insofar as its decrees are confirmed by the pope. The reigning Pontiff, Leo II, did not agree to the condemnation of his predecessor for heresy; he said Honorius should be condemned because "he permitted the immaculate faith to be subverted." [Carroll, 254]

This is a crucial distinction. Honorius probably should have known the implications of using the “one will” formula; he could have found out by writing a letter to Sophronius of Jerusalem. But he was no heretic.


Thank you to all who have contributed…to be honest, I can’t at this point make up my own mind as there seems to be as much conflict in this thread as in the other. I was hoping there would be a clearcut answer…and indeed there may well be when I can actually read the documents quoted and ensure source is reliable. Blessings - Barb:)



I wish I could give you a simpler answer. The fact is that the ecumenical council of Vatican I has declared that the Pope is the final arbiter of all matters concerning faith and morals, including the Pope’s own authority.

What you are seeing in this thread is an attack against one particular Pope - Pope Honorius. He was accused by an ecumenical council (including the subsequent bishop of Rome [the next Pope]) of a particular heresy. He may very well have been guilty of it. It does not mean he wasn’t the Pope. In fact, the council condemning Pope Honorius didn’t occur until 42 years after he died! We are all sinners, including even the Popes of Rome, but that doesn’t mean they can be excommunicated or deposed. I hope that helps. :slight_smile:



I never heard of even Pope Joan being deposed, right? :wink:


Thank you, tdgesq. Can I presuppose that a pope can never be deposed or excommunicated officially under any conditions whatsoever? Blessings - Barb:)

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