papal deposing power
The exercise of that papal right by which the sovereign pontiff authoritatively decides, from the spiritual standpoint, whether a ruler is so flagrantly in opposition to religion and morality as to entitle his subjects to be released from their allegiance to him.
The popes' use of this power is closely intertwined with medieval legislation and outlook on life.
Pope Gregory VII deposed Henry IV; Pope Innocent III deposed John Lackland; Innocent IV deposed Emperor Frederick II; Boniface VIII deposed Philip the Fair.
The sentence of deposition was only pronounced when other means proved ineffectual, often conditionally (in case there was no amendment), and for a time period as each case required.
The peculiar conditions reigning in the Middle Ages explain why the popes at times deposed civil rulers.
In the Middle Ages all Christians constituted one family with the pope as tile common spiritual head, who was likewise recognized as the common father of Christendom by the political constitutions of the time.
Fidelity to the Catholic Faith was a condition for holding power in certain hereditary and elective governments as England and Spain, whilst the constitution of the Holy Roman Empire contained the solemn injunction on the chosen ruler to maintain and defend the Christian religion of his subjects.
Not a few princes (Stephen of Hungary, 1000, and Roger II of Sicily, 1130) offered their kingdoms as fiefs to the Holy See, acknowledging themselves as its vassals.
Bearing these conditions in mind, it is readily seen that when the pope released subjects from their oath of allegiance, he was carrying out the provisions of civil constitutions and exercising a right conceded him by law.
Theoretically the deposition of a ruler could only be effected by the combined action of spiritual jurisdiction and civil law; practically, however, the ruler was deposed by the entire release of the subjects from the oath of allegiance, in releasing from which the pope was completely within his sphere as a spiritual judge, for the obligation of an oath is spiritual.
The indirect power of the pope in matters temporal in general, and in relation to the dethroning of princes in particular, is not a temporal but a spiritual power.
It is exerted in matters temporal only in so far as they entrench upon religion and in this way cease to be purely temporal.
This indirect power of the pope has never been defined as an article of faith but it is the common teaching of theologians.
Present day popes have no mind to resuscitate their deposing power.
As Pius IX said to the deputation of the Academia of the Catholic Religion, 21 July 1871:
"Although certain Popes have at times exercised their deposing power in extreme cases, they did so according to the public law then in force and by the agreement of the Christian nations who reverenced in the Pope the Supreme Judge of Christ extended to passing judgment even civiliter on princes and individual states.
But altogether different is the present condition of affairs and only malice can confound things and times so different."
New Catholic Dictionary