presiding over Catholic churches all across the world; however, it can only exercise governmental
authority over Vatican City.44
Vatican City is the smallest country in the world, and it is located within the city of Rome,
Italy.45 It was established in 1929 as the last remnant of the Papal States and is home to the Holy
See.46 Vatican City is recognized as a sovereign country that is governed by a theological-monarchy—the Holy See.47 It exists as an absolute ecclesiastical monarchy but is not recognized
as a democracy, and as such is not a member of many international organizations, including the
United Nations.48 Individuals who work for the Holy See are usually granted Vatican citizenship.49
The Pope exercises ultimate authority in Vatican City and can thus revoke Vatican citizenship.50
If citizenship is revoked, the individual is automatically considered an Italian citizen.51
B. Structure of the Roman Catholic Church
It is essential to understand the hierarchy of the Church in order to comprehend how its
disciplinary system functions. First, at the top of the Church’s hierarchy is the Pope.52 The Pope
has “full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always
exercise unhindered.”53 Second is the College of Cardinals, which serves in an advisory role to the
Pope.54 Cardinals are created by the Pope, and their chief responsibility is to elect a Pope upon the
death or resignation of the incumbent.55 Additionally, the Pope may call special meetings, called
consistories, when he wishes to discuss important issues pertinent to the Church.56 For example,
Pope Francis called a consistory in Rome on June 29, 2018 to create fourteen new Cardinals.57
Third is the College or Body of Bishops.58 Bishops possess the authority to make decisions
regarding the universal Church as a whole, but they cannot act on their own.59 The bishops can
only act in unison with the Pope.60 As such, this College has “supreme and full authority over the
45 Chepkemoi, supra note 34.
51 Chepkemoi, supra note 34.
52 Kathleen Rohan, Explaining the Hierarchy of the Church, CATH. EXCHANGE (Feb. 17, 2005),
https://catholicexchange.com/explaining-the-hierarchy-of-the-church; Jena McGregor, Pope Francis and the power
of five words, WASH. POST (July 29, 2013), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-
William S. Cossen, The real reason the Catholic Church remains plagued by abuse scandals, WASH. POST (Aug. 23,
53 McGregor, supra note 52; Bishops, Archbishops, and Cardinals, CANON LAW MADE EASY (Dec. 17, 2009),
http://canonlawmadeeasy.com/2009/12/17/bishops-archbishops-and-cardinals/ [hereinafter Bishops].
54 Bishops, supra note 53.
58 Rohan, supra note 52.