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Years of Christianity: Battle of the Sword and Cross in Mactan, Part 10

“Leaders Of The Church Have Often Been Narcissus, Flattered And Sickeningly Excited By Their Courtiers. The Court Is The Leprosy Of The Papacy.” – Pope Francis

One of the most consequential outcomes of the 16th century Council of Trent was establishing the supremacy of the Papacy. With such edict, the Vatican City officially became a country of its own with the pope as Bishop of Rome, the de facto leader of the monarchy who is cloaked with the mantle of infallibility. It is an absolute monarchy (theocracy) that guarantees lifetime tenure. His scope of infallibility covers defining matters of faith and morals.

As the head of state, the pope is the titular head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Holy See. He is Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God.

While the physical location of the Holy See, the seat of government in the Vatican is only about 100 acres (about 40 hectares), yet its reach is global to over one billion Catholics across seven continents including Antarctica where the Chapel of Our Lady of Snows is located. The pope leads a strict hierarchy that follows a military type, top down structure: Cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, and deacons.

The seat of government (governing body) is the Holy See at the Vatican. The pope is supported by the Roman Curia, a massive bureaucracy that governs the day-to-day activity of Roman Catholic Church. Through the Curia, the pope exercises executive functions, legislative (issues apostolic constitutions) and judicial (through Congregations).

The administrative body consists of dicasteries (departments) and institutes. The dicastries consist of Secretariat of State, Congregations, Tribunals, Councils and the Offices of the Apostolic Camera, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, and the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See. It has its own apostolic constitution called the Pastor Bonus that delineates powers and responsibilities of every entity of the Curia.

The Cardinal State Secretary is considered the prime minister of the Holy See. He supervises two sections with the first handling human resources aspect including public affairs; while the second deals with foreign affairs. Section 2 supports over 100 Papal Nunciature (embassies) around the world. Each Nunciature is headed by a Papal Nuncio (ambassador).

The Congregations, collectively, include nine congregations and two Pontifical Commissions. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is the most powerful among the congregations. This office was first established in 1542 as part of the Counter-Reformation decreed by the Synods of Trent. It was formerly called the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition or the office of the Holy Inquisition.

Its main mission then was "to maintain and defend the integrity of the faith and to examine and proscribe errors and false doctrines." It served as the final court of appeal in trials of heresy that included Galileo as a defendant. Many were burned at the stake for heresy because of the Inquisition.

It was renamed later and added the word “sacred” in place of “holy” and dropped the “Inquisition” part. The word “sacred” was removed perhaps to imply there was nothing sacred with what this department was doing as it was going after enemies inside and outside of the church. Although the word “Inquisition” is no longer part of the title, inquisition is still very much part of the mission when Pope John Paull II (Vatican II) reaffirmed the authority of the CDF as a judicial body on matters of “faith and morals.”

A landmark decision by the Holy Inquisition in 1741 was declaring it a crime for priests to solicit sex from the confessional. However, during the clergy sexual abuse cases, the CDF did not rise to the occasion prompting Pope Francis to appoint a special ecclesiastical judicial commission separate from the CDF “to expedite adjudicating clergy abuse cases.” He also appointed, for the first time, three women to the Congregation.

Also for the first time, Pope Francis appointed a lay person to the Disciplinary Commission that normally calls for a cardinal or at least a bishop. The Pope’s unprecedented move earned him enemies within the Church and labeled him as a dictator for making unilateral moves without concurrence by leave from the College of Cardinals. It is ironic that the pope will be called a dictator since it is an absolute monarchy and not democracy where “due process” can be a legal challenge.

The Catholic Church has three Tribunals: Apostolic Penitentiary (deals with absolutions, dispensations, indulgences, among other favors), Apostolic Signatura (functions as the supreme tribunal), and Roman Rota (appellate court). Each of these tribunals operate following its own laws.

The Apostolic Camera deals with papal vacancy and the finances and preparation surrounding it. The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See administers the properties owned by the Holy See in order to provide the funds necessary for the Roman Curia to function. It is the accounting division. The Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, on the other hand, is the fiscal department that oversees the national treasury of the Holy See.

Nobody knows exactly how much is the Roman Catholic Church worth but it is estimated to be in the hundreds of billions dollars. Its source of funding streams come from the Holy See (donations collected by Catholic Churches around the globe and investments in stock and other investments from its diversified portfolio).

Vatican City receives revenue from within the city along with the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica, and the Vatican museums. The city relies on revenue collected through museum admissions, tours, highly sought-after stamps and coins, and the sale of publications. The Vatican Bank (or Institute for the Works of Religion) is a private bank that functions as a credit union with no stock or shareholders, only account depositors. The officers of the bank are cardinals and bishops managing the investment of the Holy See.

Although popes rule for life, they also die or they abdicate the papacy. In the history of the papacy, at least four popes were married before they were required to be celibate. Four popes were crowned kings and became emperors. Popes fought against each other for supremacy, including going to war. The Western Schism was all about recognition of the primacy of the pope. Pope Benedict recently abdicated and paved the way for the first Jesuit pope, Pope Francis.

From being primus inter pares (first among equals) without power, the Council of Trent codified the pope to become Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. To be a pope, one must be a member of the College of Cardinals who are tasked with electing the pope. Today, the pope is highly regarded and is visited by presidents and other heads of states.


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