Among the Protestant faith a believer is to submit to the government:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. (1 Peter 2:13-14, NIV)

I am unsure about medieval historical details but I had the impression that there were struggles between the Catholic church and the state. I have the impression that the Pope tried to argue supremacy over the state in opposition to the words of Peter.

My main question is not, 'Did the Pope really try to do this?' My question is does the modern day Pope teach his duty to submit to secular authority?

According to catholic teaching is the Pope morally obliged to submit to every secular authority?

  • Comments here weren't clarifying the question, Please keep your comments to clarifications.
    – wax eagle
    Mar 22, 2013 at 13:53
  • Please provide citations for why you "have the impression" that the pope "tried" to argue supremacy. Which state, which pope, and when?
    – Alypius
    Mar 22, 2013 at 16:36
  • @Alypius - I do not know a lot about the subject so it is only an impression, but a quick google to help you out, stuff like this makes an impression: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultramontanism
    – Mike
    Mar 22, 2013 at 17:17
  • If you have a "general impression" concerning a concrete fact (that a specific pope argued this at a specific time), then it is not a "general impression". Here is a general impression "I have the general impression that some people think that the pope has supremacy over certain states". Either include that, or clearly elaborate on your specific claim.
    – Alypius
    Mar 22, 2013 at 17:36

2 Answers 2


It's a mistake to interpret the 1 Peter passage as meaning "every conceivable human authority". It means only those that have legitimate authority over you. People in Roman Israel were not expected to obey the laws of Roman Britain, unless visiting there. Likewise a US citizen is not expected to obey the laws of France while in the US.

Christians have also recognized that there are situations which override this passage. If the state forbids you to worship or follow God, that is not something you should obey. If the state commands you to kill and persecute those of a particular race, that is not something you should obey. Jesus himself demonstrated this by refusing the commands of the religious authorities to stop teaching.

On the specific case you ask about, the Pope is head of state of the Vatican, and as such is his own 'human authority'. That doesn't mean he is immune to the rules of that state, as is the case with most heads of state. If he were to violate the rules of the Catholic Church he would, as I understand it, be subject to discipline.

Regarding other countries' authorities: countries rules mostly don't extend to those who who are not citizens and not present in the country. Visiting heads of state are usually subject to diplomatic immunity, and so other countries' rules again don't apply.

In the unlikely event that the Pope found time to study for a fine arts degree, and that he didn't do so at a Vatican institution, I don't see any reason to think he wouldn't abide by the rules of the institution.

Finally: the Pope has only been in his office a week. If you want to find out what his teaching is on this subject, I recommend waiting.


In Catholicism, civil/social authority is a distinctly good thing, patterned after and ordained by God's own authority. The Catholic Catechism has a whole article (and several reiterations of these themes) on social structures and authority.


1898 Every human community needs an authority to govern it. The foundation of such authority lies in human nature. It is necessary for the unity of the state. Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society.

1899 The authority required by the moral order derives from God: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (CCC, Participation in Social Life)

So, it is my understanding that the Pope is morally obligated to submit all authorities in the communities to which he belongs, and presumably to a some extent in those communities he visits as well.

There is, as Alypius noted, an explicit exception.

Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, “authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.” (CCC 1903)

Hence, all Catholics, including the Pope, are required to submit to all rightful authorities in our communities and their laws, except those that are unjust or contrary to natural law or God's Law. And, we are morally obligated to disobey unjust or immoral laws.

Thus, disobedience in some settings can be a virtue and desirable moral response, and civil disobedience is an option in some instances. Blind obedience is not a value. Catholics must be alert not only to the ways in which they might be tempted to participate in evil intentionally and personally, but also the ways in which they might participate in evil socially and structurally by observing, tolerating, or ignoring systemic social and economic oppression. (Friends And Not Adversaries: A Catholic-Muslim Spiritual Journey)

Sorry, I couldn't quickly find a better, more focused resource for this.

Reiterating, the Pope, like every Catholic, is required to submit to the authorities in all communities in which he holds membership to the extent that the authority is rightful and just. In my understanding, this includes any law or dictate that is not distinctly opposed to justice and charity, enacted by a legitimate authority, wherein immunity has not been granted explicitly or implicitly. Bear in mind, since the Pope is sovereign of his own state, he is almost always granted diplomatic immunity.

Pope Gelasius I was the first pope recorded as enjoying diplomatic immunity, as it is noted in his letter Duo sunt to emperor Anastasius. (Wikpedia, Diplomatic Immunity)

  • +1 because I can't upvote my own answer :) The "diplomatic immunity" (not just a movie plot point!) is the key point in my view. If no authority even claims to have authority over you, then, obviously, you are not bound to any authority (except, of course, God).
    – Alypius
    Mar 25, 2013 at 17:08
  • @Alypius For what it's worth, I upvoted your answer when I read it.
    – svidgen
    Mar 25, 2013 at 17:16
  • The pope does not enjoy diplomatic immunity in all countries. The Holy See doesn’t have diplomatic relations with a handful of nations. Like any others country the Vatican’s ambassadors (nuncios) also enjoy this privilege. It is not a unique status of the pope only.
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 12, 2019 at 1:48

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