I think there is a danger in saying that the Pope is “above” an Ecumenical Council, or rather there’s a danger in viewing an Ecumenical Council as an appendage of the Pope. I’m not suggesting that anyone here is saying that, as I haven’t seen it, but I think it’s important to address the reason why such a term can be a difficulty.
The Pope is not an independent entity from the Catholic Church. I think we’d all agree that the only reason the Pope is important at all is because he IS a member of the Catholic Church (anyone who disagrees with this should take a look at Pope Michael I: catholicchurch.homestead.com/). In this sense, Papal authority is both Divinely appointed and derived from the Church, since Papal authority is directly connected with the Church in every instance that it’s discussed by Christ in Scripture. This doesn’t mean it comes from the Church’s continuing approval that can be withdrawn at any time, Christ didn’t ask the others if they wanted Peter to feed them and guide them and strengthen them, but it does mean that the Papacy must always be viewed as fully integrated into the Body of the Church.
Now, when it comes to Ecumenical Councils, or anything that is truly binding on all the Faithful, obviously the Pope plays a key role. If the Pope withdraws his consent, as Petrine protector of the Faith, then any universality is eliminated and the Council can’t function with real Catholic authority. This isn’t much different, however, from the role a keystone plays in an arch; it’s a direct part of the arch, and it’s what ultimately holds it together when put in place, but it can’t be considered as seperate or distinct from the rest of the arch. The keystone is what it is because of the rest of the arch, and the rest of the arch is what it is because of the keystone.
The main objection that I think arguments about Papal supremacy are trying to counter is the idea that a Council is somehow over the Pope, which is frankly absurd. That is what the error of Conciliarism held, and it’s a dangerous notion because it eliminates one of the very elements that makes a Council a Council in the first place. This doesn’t have to lead to the Pope being “above” a Council, however, as if the Pope just wanted to get all the Bishops together in one place so he could more easily expound his doctrines to them; the history even of Councils that were directly guided by the Pope show that this isn’t the case.
Another thing that’s important to remember, and has already been pointed out, is that Bishops do not derive their Sacramental authority from the Pope, but from Christ Himself. Proof of this can be seen in the fact that the Catholic Church recognizes Orthodox Bishops as true Bishops in every sense, so much so that when non-Catholic Apostolic Bishops have gotten involved in the ordinations of Protestant communities like the Anglicans, we carefully review who they’ve ordained when they or their “descendents” enter the Catholic Church. If we didn’t acknowledge the Sacramentality of those Bishops who are disconnected from the Pope, we wouldn’t go through such painstaking reviews before deciding what to do with them or those they’ve ordained. That’s to say nothing about the fact that we recognize their other Sacraments as valid, even permitting Catholics to receive from them in certain cases. Ironically, this fact of Sacramental authority outside the confines of the Catholic Communion was most adamantly defended by Pope Stephan I against the argument of St. Cyprian
So the Pope is definately the head of the Communion, and in the Papacy the Catholic Church finds its unity, as recognized even in the Early Church, but it’s not “above” the Church, rather it’s a member of the Church, and a very significant one of course. To emphasize this, we need only look at what Vatican I said about Papal Infallibility:
Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.
Peace and God bless!