Dispensation (Catholic Church)

Dispensation (Catholic Church)

Dispensation (Catholic Church)

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In the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, a dispensation is the suspension by competent authority of general rules of law in particular cases. Its object is to modify the hardship often arising from the rigorous application of general laws to particular cases, and its essence is to preserve the law by suspending its operation in such cases.


In canon law theory, the dispensing power is the corollary of the legislative. The dispensing power, like the legislative, was formerly invested in general councils and even in provincial synods. But in the west, with the gradual centralisation of authority in the Roman curia, it became ultimately vested in the pope as the supreme lawgiver of the Catholic Church.

Despite frequent crises in the diplomatic relations between the Holy See and temporal governments in the later Middle Ages, the authority of the papacy as the dispenser of grace and spiritual licences remained largely unchallenged. In the early thirteenth century, Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) fostered the extension of papal political power. He emphasised, "as had no pope before him, the pope’s plenitudo potestatis (fullness of power) within the Church." Since the Church comprised the whole of mankind, medieval jurists were accustomed to what we might call shared sovereignty, and freely accepted that the pope had a concurrent jurisdiction with temporal sovereigns. The temporal princes could administer their own laws, but the princes of the Church,...
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