Canon 1404/5

What does it mean that “The First See is judged by no one” in 1404 or only the Pope can judge the people mentioned in 1405? What does it mean by “judge”?

You are in the section of the Code that governs trials. 1404 simply means that no tribunal can judge the Pope (remember Canon Law does not apply to the Pontiff).

You are in the section of the Code that governs trials. “Judge” means that the determination of guilt or innocence is at the discretion of the Pope.

Ok, thanks. :slight_smile:

New question…From Vatican I:

8. 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].

Does this mean we can’t question the Pope’s judgment concerning any ecclesiastical affairs?

Randomly quoting canons that are specific to trials and a Vatican I document seems a little strange. What is your real question/concern? What has sparked this line of questioning?

Yeah I admit it is pretty random. What is responsible for this questioning is seeing people being very critical toward Pope Francis…eventually I just came upon these items and wondered what they meant.

I echo this.

All your quotes and questions mean that if you are brought to a formal trial within the Church and the Pope judges you guilty you have zero recourse. Your last question about “ecclesiastical affairs” does not seem to have anything to do with what you posted.

If you are asking if you can question what the Pope says, the answer is yes and no. If you are asking something else, please be more specific.

Sorry, you posted as I posted.

We are free to discuss and debate, respectfully, what the Pope says (or what the media thinks he says;)) for clarity or further study.

We owe all clergy our respect for their office even if we disagree with their opinions. We owe the Pope more due to his office.

Those who criticize the Pope as a person are an embarrassment.

They are referring to trials.

The canons you cite must be read in the light of other canons

In order for a judge to judge, the judge in question must have jurisdiction. The first see is judged by no one because no one possesses any authority over the first see. Rather, he who is bishop of that see himself holds supreme, full, immediate and universal power…over that see and over every other see, every other person, every other ecclesiastical entity

No one, therefore, can assert any power over the Pope. That is the value underlying Canon 1404. It’s a consequence of Canon 331
Can 331 The office uniquely committed by the Lord to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, abides in the Bishop of the Church of Rome. He is the head of the College of Bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the Pastor of the universal Church here on earth. Consequently, by virtue of his office, he has supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, and he can always freely exercise this power.
Cardinals and Bishops, who are his brothers in the College of Bishops, must all make their promise to obedience to him and to his successors in order to receive the cardinalate or episcopal consecration. On the election of a new Pope, each Cardinal elector, and subsequently also the Cardinal non-electors, individually and personally kneel to profess obedience to the new Vicar of Christ.
*Can 332 §1 The Roman Pontiff acquires full and supreme power in the Church when, together with episcopal consecration, he has been lawfully elected and has accepted the election. Accordingly, if he already has the episcopal character, he receives this power from the moment he accepts election to the supreme pontificate. If he does not have the episcopal character, he is immediately to be ordained Bishop

§2 Should it happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns from his office, it is required for validity that the resignation be freely made and properly manifested, but it is not necessary that it be accepted by anyone

Can 333 §1 By virtue of his office, the Roman Pontiff not only has power over the universal Church, but also has pre-eminent ordinary power over all particular Churches and their groupings. This reinforces and defends the proper, ordinary and immediate power which the Bishops have in the particular Churches entrusted to their care
The Pope is always free, at any moment, to intervene in the governance of any particular Church; he could overrule its sitting bishop…including deposing the bishop, dissolving the particular Church or amalgamating it with another or subdivide it or make any disposition it pleases him relative to that Church and its governance. No appeal is possible
§2 The Roman Pontiff, in fulfilling his office as supreme Pastor of the Church, is always joined in full communion with the other Bishops, and indeed with the whole Church. He has the right, however, to determine, according to the needs of the Church, whether this office is to be exercised in a personal or in a collegial manner
When the Pope uses his supreme authority as head of the College of Bishops, it is purely and exclusively his free decision whether he will make any decision personally and uniquely or will associate his brother bishops with him
§3 There is neither appeal nor recourse against a judgement or a decree of the Roman Pontiff
Formal acts of the Pope are definitive and no other authority may make it otherwise than the judgement or decree promulgated by the Pope
Can 334 The Bishops are available to the Roman Pontiff in the exercise of his office, to cooperate with him in various ways, among which is the synod of Bishops. Cardinals also assist him, as do other persons and, according to the needs of the time, various institutes; all these persons and institutes fulfil their offices in his name and by his authority, for the good of all the Churches, in accordance with the norms determined by law
All serve under the Pope. They cooperate with him but they are submissive to him
Can 335 When the Roman See is vacant, or completely impeded, no innovation is to be made in the governance of the universal Church. The special laws enacted for these circumstances are to be observed
Thus going back to Canon 1405, for example, Cardinals are of such a dignity in the Church that the only one who has jurisdiction over them for their disposition is the Pope himself…in two recent instances in my years, Popes have acted, by means of a manner they freely decided upon, to adjudicate and then deprive Cardinals of the rights and privileges of the Cardinalate, which of course no one else in the Church may do. Such provisions are without recourse

The Pope may, of course, elect to delegate that authority and the legate would then execute the process, as was in-the-process of happening recently with a case in penal process involving a personage that fell precisely under Can 1405 §1…but the Archbishop died before the case was resolved

It is worth adding that since the Pope’s jurisdiction is not only supreme but also immediate, he could reserve any particular case to himself involving any person or from any diocese anywhere in the world that so pleased him; this would instantly remove the jurisdiction of any and all intervening authorities and deprive them of all competence in the matter…this could involve an administrative exercise of executive authority as well as a judicial process

If a matter is referred to the Pope and accepted and adjudicated by him – in whatever process he chooses to use – no subsequent decision may be entered by anyone of lesser jurisdiction

This is not properly correct to state, above all, though not exclusively, because elements of divine law and notably divine positive law are incorporated into the Code.

Very informative post on the Roman Pontiff, Canon Law, etc. Don Ruggero.

Thank you.

God bless.


Actually, I do not find your posting to be random at all. But then I spent many years in a lecture hall.



I can’t agree with this statement. … Maybe if it was followed by about 200 pages of nuance, I’d not disagree with it.



Not to be obtuse, but why is this? Is it not true that there are no appeals against papal decisions and that there are no earthly judges with jurisdiction over the pope? Is the nuance roughly that the pope is bound not to break some laws, but the enforcement of those laws left to the Holy Spirit and doesn’t rest with any earthly body?

Clearly this is not the place for 200 pages of nuance, but any insight is appreciated.

That’s a common misconception. Canon Law certainly does apply to the pope.

  1. The pope has the authority to change the law when he sees fit.
  2. And he has the authority to dispense himself from merely ecclesiastical laws (but not divine law which is sometimes articulated in canon law).

Both of those sentences are very different from saying that the law “does not apply” to him.

Every time the Roman Pontiff is mentioned in the code is an example of how the code does “apply to him.”

Yes, that’s true. His decision is final. This isn’t all that unusual. Every system of laws has some person or body which is the final place of appeal. In the U.S. that’s the Supreme Court. In monarchies, it’s often the monarch.

and that there are no earthly judges with jurisdiction over the pope?


Is the nuance roughly that the pope is bound not to break some laws, but the enforcement of those laws left to the Holy Spirit and doesn’t rest with any earthly body?

I suppose that’s one way of putting it.
The pope is certainly bound by Divine Law (for example, the 10 Commandments).

In eschatology, the Son will be the Judge, the Holy Spirit will be his defense attorney (since that’s what “Paraclete” means). :wink: Still, yes, we all get your point.

Clearly this is not the place for 200 pages of nuance, but any insight is appreciated.

It’s as I wrote in the earlier post. The pope is bound by canon law and other ecclesiastical laws. The nuance is that he has the legal authority to either change the law, or to dispense himself or anyone else from merely ecclesiastical laws. Remember though that a dispensation itself is a legal act, so a dispensation is not an act that ignores the law, rather it is an application of the law.

There is the principle of

“The Queen can do no wrong.”

The explanation being that the courts derive their power from the Queen, so the Queen cannot be tried in her own courts, as she is literally above the law.

The same is true for the Pope. The civil courts of Vatican City derive their power from him as the Sovereign, so as such, “The Pope can do no wrong.”

In ecclesiastical courts, the principle is the same. Their authority and the authority of Canon Law would be nil if not for the okay of the Pope. So where Canon Law is concerned, the Pope can do no wrong either. In other words, he cannot be guilty of anything illicit. He is literally above the law.

Of course a Pope who commits violations of the moral law (which is of divine origin) will pay for it, either in this life, in Purgatory, or in hell.

No, he is not “above the law.”

There is a difference, which I’ve explained twice recently.

Yes, I’ve seen them. I don’t buy them. The disclaimer is that I’m a monarchist, not a canon lawyer.

As far as I’m concerned, even if the Pope were to abolish Canon Law entirely, all the powers that the current law ascribes to him would still remain, because the Pope does not derive his powers from Canon Law, but rather his divinely-instituted office.

As Sovereign, Vatican City and the Supreme Legislator of the Catholic Church, he needs no law to exercise his powers in the civil and ecclesiastical spheres. He is therefore a law unto himself.

So you may indeed stick to your explanation, but I don’t buy it. It is impossible for a lower authority (Canon Law) to bind a higher one (the Sovereign), who is in fact the fount of law and the fount of justice. If he appears “bound” by a law such that he has to “dispense” himself from it, it’s only because he has allowed it as the fount of law. In reality, that’s a smokescreen. The Pope isn’t actually bound by any law in reality.

So we can nuance it all we like, but since Canon Law is at the mercy of the Pope and not vice versa, for all intents and purposes, as the Supreme Power, he is above the law. The Pope can do no wrong.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit