RNS Provides a History Lesson

The Catholic Church frequently boasts that it maintains ancient traditions going back to Peter and the Apostolic fathers – except, of course, when it abandons them because you need to have a “living faith.” Michael Sean Winters notes that “Vatican silence on Cardinal Pell's trial is a turn from a long history.” He reminds us that the Catholic Church, since the days of Constantine, has always insisted that secular legal institutions had no jurisdiction over it. For example, “St. Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury, England... was killed precisely because he refused to concede that King Henry II had the right to try a cleric for any reason…. The church alone claimed the right to judge ecclesiastical persons.” Yet Pope Francis handed Cardinal Pell over to the Australian without a complaint.

Winters provides many other examples of the Catholic Church insisting it is free from secular courts and other forms of oversight. He reiterates, “The idea that a cardinal, who was no longer even working in Australia and who could have been given immunity from prosecution by a foreign tribunal quite easily, will be facing a secular jury without so much as a peep of protest from the Vatican is stunning.” Furthermore, Winters believes that Pope Francis was correct to do so.

He failed to bring up Jesus’ position on this matter. When secular authorities tried Jesus, he never protested that they had no right to do so. Jesus taught, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” Caesar was entitled to his legal system. Jesus never said that Caesar's representatives had no jurisdiction over him.


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