Inés San Martín reminds that the papacy still has the vestiges of civil authority and can use such power when it needs to:
The Vatican City State, which is about 110 acres, is an independent state — in fact, the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world by both area and population. The pope is its head, ruling almost like an absolute monarch. The Vatican mints its own euros, prints its own stamps, issues passports and license plates, operates media outlets, has its own flag and anthem, and yes, operates a criminal justice system.
Despite its somewhat medieval look, the Vatican City State technically doesn’t have a prison. It does, however, have four holding cells, each measuring about 12 feet by 12 feet, which authorities prefer to call “secure rooms” that randomly hold minor offenders, such as pickpockets caught at the Vatican Museums. . . .
The holding cells fall under the responsibility of the Corps of Gendarmes of Vatican City State, also known as the “gendarmeria,” a 130-person body that is responsible for border control, crime prevention and investigation, and the enforcement of financial and commercial regulations, according to its website.
In order to face the Vatican’s version of criminal justice, one either must be a citizen of the Vatican City State or be accused of committing a crime on its territory.
When it comes to the authority for making arrests, the gendarmeria depends on the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice office, currently headed by Italian layman Gian Piero Milano, a lawyer and professor of Church law at a Roman university. He was appointed by Pope Francis in 2013.
If a tourist manages to sneak into the Vatican’s grocery store, for example, and is caught stealing a bottle of wine, he could be questioned by the promoter of justice and taken into custody by the gendarmes. . . .
When a suspect is called in, he or she is interviewed behind closed doors in a process in which defense lawyers have no right to speak, although suspects can confer with them or refuse to answer a question.
A suspect considered a flight risk can be held in custody for up to 50 days, renewable for an additional 50 days in difficult cases, while awaiting trial.
When the modern Vatican City was founded in 1929, a result of the Lateran Treaty, Pope Pius XI decided it would be easier to adopt Italian criminal laws and procedures than to create his own version. Hence, the Vatican’s judicial system is highly similar to Italy’s, although it has since adopted its own laws and amendments.
The Vatican’s promoter of justice, for example, has the authority to bring accused criminals before a giudice unico, or lone trial court judge. Convicted parties can appeal to a three-judge tribunal, and ultimately to the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Accused criminals have the right to a public defender or a lawyer of their own choice.
If convicted, an inmate might serve time in one of the Vatican cells, as would have been the case for Gabrielle if Benedict hadn’t pardoned him. More commonly, long sentences are served at an Italian prison, with the Vatican footing the bill.
Of course, the pope has the power to overrule any court decision.
With the Vatican lacking a long-term prison, most convictions result in fines rather than confinement.
And because the Vatican’s justice system has so little experience with serious offenses, pontiffs have occasionally allowed Italian courts to rule in its cases. That was the case, for instance, in 1981, when Italian prosecutors handled the prosecution of Turkish citizen Mehmet Ali Ağca for his assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II.
It’s a long way from the glory days of papal supremacy:
The Dictates of the Pope
That the Roman church was founded by God alone.
That the Roman pontiff alone can with right be called universal.
That he alone can depose or reinstate bishops.
That, in a council his legate, even if a lower grade, is above all bishops, and can pass sentence of deposition against them.
That the pope may depose the absent.
That, among other things, we ought not to remain in the same house with those excommunicated by him.
That for him alone is it lawful, according to the needs of the time, to make new laws, to assemble together new congregations, to make an abbey of a canonry; and, on the other hand, to divide a rich bishopric and unite the poor ones.
That he alone may use the imperial insignia.
That of the pope alone all princes shall kiss the feet.
That his name alone shall be spoken in the churches.
That this is the only name in the world.
That it may be permitted to him to depose emperors.
That he may be permitted to transfer bishops if need be.
That he has power to ordain a clerk of any church he may wish.
That he who is ordained by him may preside over another church, but may not hold a subordinate position; and that such a one may not receive a higher grade from any bishop.
That no synod shall be called a general one without his order.
That no chapter and no book shall be considered canonical without his authority.
That a sentence passed by him may be retracted by no one; and that he himself, alone of all, may retract it.
That he himself may be judged by no one.
That no one shall dare to condemn one who appeals to the apostolic chair.
That to the latter should be referred the more important cases of every church.
That the Roman church has never erred; nor will it err to all eternity, the Scripture bearing witness.
That the Roman pontiff, if he have been canonically ordained, is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter; St. Ennodius, bishop of Pavia, bearing witness, and many holy fathers agreeing with him. As is contained in the decrees of St. Symmachus the pope.
That, by his command and consent, it may be lawful for subordinates to bring accusations.
That he may depose and reinstate bishops without assembling a synod.
That he who is not at peace with the Roman church shall not be considered catholic.
That he may absolve subjects from their fealty to wicked men.