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  • Sedes Romana impedita: Kanonistische Annäherungen zu einem nicht ausgeführten päpstlichen Spezialgesetzby Georg Müller
  • Kurt Martens
Sedes Romana impedita: Kanonistische Annäherungen zu einem nicht ausgeführten päpstlichen Spezialgesetz, by Georg Müller. Sankt Ottilien: EOS Verlag, 2013. Pp. 5121.

Canon 335 of the current Code of Canon Law reads: “When the Roman See is vacant or entirely impeded, nothing is to be altered in the governance of the universal Church; the special lawsissued for these circumstances, however, are to be observed” (emphasis added). The apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis(February 22, 1996) promulgated by Pope Saint John Paul II addresses the vacancy of the Roman See. Until 2013, such vacancy occurred always at the death of the Roman pontiff, while the resignation of the pope was only a remote theoretical possibility. But with the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the death and the resignation of the Roman pontiff are now two realistic ways for the Roman See to become vacant, both provided for or covered by special law. There is no special law, however, for the impeded Roman See. And, that is precisely the topic of this book.

The author has divided his work into four parts: a first part focuses on the theological-canonical development of the papal office since Vatican I. He starts with the constitution Pastor Aeternus, with special attention given to the primacy of jurisdiction, on the one hand, and to infallibility, on the other hand. The author then continues with the 1917 code, followed by the papal office between the two councils, then the Second Vatican Council with particular attention to Lumen gentium, and finally the treatment of the papal office in the 1983 code. In a second part—after an excursus on Alzheimer’s disease with some statistical materials—the author examines the impeded see. In this second part, he makes a comparison with the impeded diocesan see, and looks at various situations leading to an impeded see. Part three deals with two specific issues: the heretic pope and the insane pope, and the question of whether these two situations are identical or different. After a second excursus, this time on the decree Haec sanctaof the Council of Constance, the author proposes a number of solutions should the Roman See be impeded.

Interestingly enough, the author raises— in tempore non suspecto—the possibility of an age limit for the Petrine ministry, similar to the age limit for diocesan bishops, but adds immediately that it is not clear if such an arrangement would be desirable, especially since the status of an emeritus [End Page 684]pope is not clear at all. Since 2013, we know better. But that is something the author could not have known at the time of writing. The author wrestles with the question of the various protagonists during an impeded Roman See. The main concern seems to be who ultimately will make the decision that the see is impeded.

The author states that other officeholders stay in office until they reach a—fairly high—age limit, when they submit their resignation, while the one holding the Petrine office is supposed to hold that office for life (9). The author seems to suggest that chances for an impeded see are linked with the age of the officeholder, but seems to forget that the 1981 bullets aimed at killing John Paul II could have left us with an impeded see and a fairly young officeholder.

The organization of the material could have been done much better and could have followed a better logic. It is not entirely clear why the author wanted to include twice an excursus, while that material could have been easily included in the chapters. Moreover, a real conclusion to the book is lacking. Nevertheless, the work is certainly an interesting piece of research on a problem that is not very easy, at least one that is not easy to resolve. Whether the author managed to give the final answer or not is a judgment we leave to the discretion of the reader. [End Page 685]

Kurt Martens
The Catholic University of America
School of Canon Law
Washington, DC...


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