Dispensation (Catholic canon law)

Such a dispensation was not, strictly speaking, legislative, but rather a judicial, quasi-judicial, or executive act. It was also, of course, subject to the proviso that his jurisdiction to dispense with laws was limited to those laws which were within his jurisdiction or competence. "[T]his principle would have been a commonplace to anyone who had studied in Bologna."

A matrimonial dispensation is the relaxation in a particular case of an impediment prohibiting or annulling a marriage. It may be granted: (a) in favour of a contemplated marriage or to legitimize one already contracted; (b) in secret cases, or in public cases, or in both; (c) in foro interno only, or in foro externo (the latter includes also the former). Power of dispensing in foro interno is not always restricted to secret cases (casus occulti). These expressions are by no means identical.

Besides the fixed perpetual faculties, bishops also receive from the Holy See habitual temporary indults for a certain period of time or for a limited number of cases. These faculties are granted by fixed "formulæ", in which the Holy See from time to time, or as occasion requires it, makes some slight modifications. These faculties call for a broad interpretation. Nevertheless, it is well to bear in mind, when interpreting them, the actual legislation of the Congregation whence they issue, so as not to extend their use beyond the places, persons, number of cases and impediments laid down in a given indult. Faculties thus delegated to a bishop do not in any way restrict his ordinary faculties; nor (in se) do the faculties issued by one Congregation affect those granted by another. When several specifically different impediments occur in the same case, and one of them exceeds the bishop's powers, he may not dispense from any of them.

A vicar capitular, or in his place a lawful administrator, enjoys all the dispensing powers possessed by the bishop in virtue of his ordinary jurisdiction or of delegation of the law; according to the actual discipline he enjoys even the habitual powers which had been granted the deceased bishop for a fixed period of time or for a limited number of cases, even if the indult should have been made out in the name of the Bishop of N. Considering the actual praxis of the Holy See, the same is true of particular indults (see below). The vicar-general has by virtue of his appointment all the ordinary powers of the bishop over prohibent impediments, but requires a special mandate to give him common-law faculties for diriment impediments. As for habitual temporary faculties, since they are now addressed to the ordinary, they belong also ipso facto to the vicar-general while he holds that office. He can also use particular indults when they are addressed to the ordinary, and when they are not so addressed the bishop can always subdelegate him, unless the contrary be expressly stated in the indult.

A parish priest by common law can dispense only from an interdict laid on a marriage by him or by his predecessor. Some canonists of note accord him authority to dispense from secret impediments in what are called embarrassing (perplexi) cases, i. e. when there is no time for recourse to the bishop, but with the obligation of subsequent recourse ad cautelam, i. e. for greater security; a similar authority is attributed by them to confessors. This opinion seems yet gravely probable, though the Penitentiaria continues to grant among its habitual faculties a special authority for such cases and restricts somewhat its use.

In the Roman Curia the expenses incurred by petitioners fall under four heads:

The moneys paid under the first two heads do not affect, strictly speaking, the gratuity of the dispensation. They constitute a just compensation for the expenses the petitioners occasion the Curia. As for the alms and the componendum, besides the fact that they do not profit the pope nor the members of the Curia personally, but are employed in pious uses, they are justifiable, either as a fine for the faults which, as a rule, give occasion for the dispensation, or as a check to restrain a too great frequency of petitions often based on frivolous grounds. And if the Tridentine prohibition be still urged, it may be truly said that the pope has the right to abrogate the decrees of councils, and is the best judge of the reasons that legitimize such abrogation. The custom of tax and componendum is neither uniform nor universal in the Roman Curia.