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Moments in Time Magna Carta: Recent papal claims

By Gary Macy

Some papal prerogative are very recent indeed. The popes in the 19th century, for instance, appointed very few bishops worldwide. In 1801, Pope Pius VII signed a concordat with Napoleon giving the emperor the right to elect new bishops for the dioceses of the empire in perpetuity. In exchange, the pope received the support of Napoleon and a very large sum of cash. Pius VII signed a similar concordat with the rulers of Bavaria in 1817 and with the King of the Two Sicilies in 1818. By 1829 of the 646 episcopal sees in the Latin church, 555 were appointed by the state including all of the bishops in South and Central America. The papacy appointed bishops in only 24 dioceses, those in Russia, Albania and Greece. Further concordats giving the right of election of bishops to the government were signed by the papacy with the newly independent states of Latin America: Bolivia in 1851, Costa Rica and Guatemala in 1852, Honduras and Nicaragua in 1861 and San Salvador, Venezuela and Ecuador in 1862. Only in the 20th century did the custom begin of having bishops appointed by the papacy by right.

Gary Macy is a theology professor at the University of San Diego.

National Catholic Reporter, May 26, 2000