Friday, April 01, 2005

"when the pope speaks"---an introduction on papal pronouncements

As the world waits for news on John Paul's condition, here's an introduction on papal pronouncements.

Do you know that not everything that the pope says has equal weight? Well, there is in fact a hierarchy of papal pronouncements, a ranking of every official statement of the pope. Those at the top end are pronouncements that are not only more solemn, but are binding on the faithful; and those at the bottom end can be categorized as letters and responses given by the pope, which are not really dogmatic. Of course, as the pope is an important figure worldwide, one can't just ignore anything he says. But it is important to note this hierarchy, since one of the pope's recent pronouncements dealt with artificial nutrition and hydration for patients in a "persistent vegetative state," which directly touched on Terri Schiavo's situation.

So here they are in ascending order (from the least dogmatic to the greatest):

11) Letters: John Paul seems to like writing letters to groups of people. He is probably the first to use this type of pronouncement with some regularity. He has written one to women and another to artists.

10) Papal rescripts ("to write back") are issued by the pope in response to a request for a privilege or for a dispensation. These are neither dogmatic nor legislative in nature. An example of this is the rescript declaring the Church of Saint Ann in New York as a shrine on August 26, 1929.

9) Papal declarations: These are usually issued by an office of the Curia and can deal with a legislative matter. As these originate from the Curia, the pope then signs his name on them.

8) Allocutions (speeches): These deal with Church teaching or are reactions to events in the world. They are not dogmatic nor are they legislative, though they may make reference to Church law or teachings. The allocution delivered by John Paul last year on artificial nutrition and hydration is an example of this.

7) Common Declarations: These are statements issued jointly by the pope and another religious leader, usually following a meeting between the two. An example of this is the common declaration by the pope together with Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos concerning the Christian roots of Europe, issued on May 4, 2001.

6) Motu Propio ("by my hand"): These are usually a more common source of canonical legislation and have a proper interpretation and application of canonical legislation. These are issued only by the pope "on his own initiative" and addressed to the Church at large. An example of this is a motu proprio issued by Paul VI declaring that the pallium (a vestment) be worn only by metropolitans and by the patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latin rite.

5) Apostolic Constitution: This is the most solemn form of communication used by the pope. It usually contains matters of universal or particular law and deals with doctrinal or disciplinary matters such as the establishment of a diocese, dogmatic definition, and the promulgation of rites or laws. One apostolic constitution written by John Paul is Ex Corde Ecclesiae, on Catholic universities, basically outlining what makes for a Catholic institution of higher education.

4) Apostolic Exhortation: These are addressed to specific categories of the faithful and deal with issues peculiar to the particular group to which they are addressed. These are neither dogmatic nor legislative in nature. John Paul's Ecclesia in America ("The Church in America")--written to the faithful in the Americas--and my personal favorite in this category, Pastores dabo vobis ("I will give you shepherds"), concerning the formation of future priests in seminaries, are examples.

3) Apostolic Epistles: These are solemn letters which deal with dogmatic or social matters at the level of ordinary magisterium. Examples of these are Salvifici doloris, which deals with the meaning of human suffering and Orientale lumen ("The light of the East") which among other things deals with the Church's relationship with her Orthodox sister churches.

2) Encyclicals: These are formal pastoral letters which deal with ordinary magisterium providing counsel in matters of doctrine. John Paul has written many of these, such as which Fides et ratio which deals with the relationship between faith and reason; Veritatis splendor ("The splendor of truth'); and Ecclesia de Eucharistia ("On the Eucharist in its relationship to the Church").

1) Decretal Letters: These are acts of extraordinary magisterium requiring an assent of faith (which means you as a Catholic should adhere to this). Examples are the decretal letters of canonization. Also I found a very old decretal letter on the web which dealt with the relationship between church and state (a BIG issue during the Middle Ages). It was issued in 1202 to Berthold, duke of Zähringen.

So there they are...all 11 different types of papal pronouncements. As you can see this hierarchy situates John Paul's words (his allocution) concerning artificial nutrition and hydration.

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