But--that doesn't mean I know it all. So, let me ask you to be my reality check. In an echo of this post, I expressed surprise at the ease with which SoCon members of the RCC felt free to dismiss the very pope they demanded liberals obey a few years back, only to receive the reply, "For the eleventy-billionth time, Popes are themselves bound by Tradition and Canon Law."
Now, I have to admit, i don't believe this to be correct as a matter of Catholic ecclesiology. The Apostolic Constitution Sacrae Disciplinae Leges that precedes the 1983 Code of Canon Law describes the promulgation of Code itself as “an expression pontifical authority, and is therefore invested with a primatial character.” The Code itself states that it abrogates customs (traditions) that are contrary to its terms unless they are immemorial *and* tolerable in the judgment of the ordinary *and* cannot be removed due to circumstances. (Canon 5.) Section 331 of the Code states that "The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely." Succeeding canons (332-335) make clear that the Pope has power “not only over the universal Church but also obtains the primacy of ordinary power over all particular groups of churches and groups of them.” (Canon 333 S 1). He is in communionn with bishops, but he has the right to determine how to exercise his office. (Id., S 2) “No appeal or recourse is permitted over a sentence or decree of the Roman Pontiff.” (Id., S 3). The next section provides that "Bishops assist the Roman Pontiff in exercising his office. They are able to render him cooperative assistance in various ways, among which is the synod of bishops. The cardinals also assist him, as do other persons and various institutes according to the needs of the times. In his name and by his authority, all these persons and institutes fulfill the function entrusted to them for the good of all the churches, according to the norms defined by law."
This is consistent with the old (but well researched) Catholic Encyclopedia, which describes the authority as “plenary” allowing him to bind and loose in individual cases or in general, annulling his own laws or those of his predecessors, with or without the assistance of a council:
Whatsoever thou shalt bind . . . Whatsoever thou shalt loose"; nothing is withheld. Further, Peter's authority is subordinated to no earthly superior. The sentences which he gives are to be forthwith ratified in heaven. They do not need the antecedent approval of any other tribunal. He is independent of all save the Master who appointed him. The words as to the power of binding and loosing are, therefore, elucidatory of the promise of the keys which immediately precedes. They explain in what sense Peter is governor and head of Christ's kingdom, the Church, by promising him legislative and judicial authority in the fullest sense. In other words, Peter and his successors have power to impose laws both preceptive and prohibitive, power likewise to grant dispensation from these laws, and, when needful, to annul them. It is theirs to judge offences against the laws, to impose and to remit penalties. This judicial authority will even include the power to pardon sin. For sin is a breach of the laws of the supernatural kingdom, and falls under the cognizance of its constituted judges. The gift of this particular power, however, is not expressed with full clearness in this passage. It needed Christ's words (John 20:23) to remove all ambiguity. Further, since the Church is the kingdom of the truth, so that an essential note in all her members is the act of submission by which they accept the doctrine of Christ in its entirety, supreme power in this kingdom carries with it a supreme magisterium — authority to declare that doctrine and to prescribe a rule of faith obligatory on all. Here, too, Peter is subordinated to none save his Master alone; he is the supreme teacher as he is the supreme ruler. However, the tremendous powers thus conferred are limited in their scope by their reference to the ends of the kingdom and to them only. The authority of Peter and his successors does not extend beyond this sphere. With matters that are altogether extrinsic to the Church they are not concerned.Now, leave aside whether you, gentle readers, or I, agree with this model of the papacy or not. It certainly accords with the medieval research I did, and with the Code as quoted above. But is there something I've missed, some limitation that curbs the powers of the Pope?
As the supreme teacher of the Church, whose it is to prescribe what is to be believed by all the faithful, and to take measures for the preservation and the propagation of the faith, the following are the rights which pertain to the pope:
it is his to set forth creeds, and to determine when and by whom an explicit profession of faith shall be made (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. 24, cc. 1 and 12);
it is his to prescribe and to command books for the religious instruction of the faithful; thus, for example, Clement XIII has recommended the Roman Catechism to all the bishops.
The pope alone can establish a university, possessing the status and privileges of a canonically erected Catholic university;
to him also belongs the direction of Catholic missions throughout the world; this charge is fulfilled through the Congregation of the Propaganda.
It is his to prohibit the reading of such books as are injurious to faith or morals, and to determine the conditions on which certain classes of books may be issued by Catholics;
his is the condemnation of given propositions as being either heretical or deserving of some minor degree of censure, and lastly
he has the right to interpret authentically the natural law. Thus, it is his to say what is lawful or unlawful in regard to social and family life, in regard to the practice of usury, etc.
The legislative power of the pope carries with it the following rights:
he can legislate for the whole Church, with or without the assistance of a general council;
if he legislates with the aid of a council it is his to convoke it, to preside, to direct its deliberations, to confirm its acts.
He has full authority to interpret, alter, and abrogate both his own laws and those established by his predecessors. He has the same plenitude of power as they enjoyed, and stands in the same relation to their laws as to those which he himself has decreed;
he can dispense individuals from the obligation of all purely ecclesiastical laws, and can grant privileges and exemptions in their regard.
In this connection may be mentioned his power to dispense from vows where the greater glory of God renders it desirable. Considerable powers of dispensation are granted to bishops, and, in a restricted measure, also to priests; but there are some vows reserved altogether to the Holy See.