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A right exercised from the beginning of the sixteenth century by the secular rulers of Sicily, according to which they had final jurisdiction in purely religious matters, independent of the Holy See. This right they claimed on the ground of a papal privilege. The oldest document advanced in support of their claim is a Bull of 5 July, 1098, addressed by Urban II to Count Roger I of Sicily (Jaffé, "Regista Rom. Pont.", I, 2nd ed., n. 5706; latest edition of the text in "Quellen und Forschungen aus italien. Archiven und Bibliotheken", VII, 1904, pp. 214-9). The pope agreed not to appoint a papal legate for Sicily against the count's will, and declared his intention of getting executed by the count the ecclesiastical acts, usually performed by a legate (quinimmo quæ per legatum acturi sumus, per vestram industriam legati vice exhiberi volumus). Paschal II in a Bull of 1 October, 1117, addressed to Count Roger II of Sicily (Jaffé, loc. cit., 6562), confirmed this privilege and defined it more clearly. He bestowed upon Roger II the same power, "in the sense that if a papal legate be sent thither, that is a representative of the pope, you in your zeal shall secure the execution of what the legate is to perform" (ea videlicet ratione, ut si quando illuc ex latere nostro legatus dirigitur, quem profecto vicarium intelligimus, quæ ab eo gerenda sunt, per tuam industriam effectui mancipentur). Urban II had thus granted Apostolic legatine power to the secular rulers; according to the Bull of Paschal II this meant that, when a papal legate was sent to Sicily to exercise jurisdiction in certain ecclesiastical matters as the pope's representative, he must communicate the nature of his commission to the secular ruler, who would then execute in person the pope's order in place of the legate ( legati vice ). In both instances it was a question not of a jurisdiction of the princes of Sicily independent of the Holy See, but only of the privilege of the secular rulers to execute the precepts of the supreme Church authorities; in other words, the sovereign of Sicily was privileged, but also bound, to carry out papal regulations in his land.

As a result of the feudal relationship between the princes of Sicily and the pope, ecclesiastical matters here took on a more pronouncedly political character than elsewhere, and the Church in Sicily was reduced to the greatest dependence upon the secular power. However, up to the beginning of the sixteenth century, the privilege bestowed by Urban II was never invoked or even mentioned. When Ferdinand II of Aragon became King of Sicily, his secretary, Luca Barberi of Noto in Sicily, undertook to collect the official documents by which the rights of the kings of Sicily, both in ecclesiastical and in secular matters, were clearly determined. To this collection ( Capibrevio ) was joined a collection of documents under the title "Liber Monarchiæ", meant to prove that the secular rulers of Sicily had always exercised the spiritual power. In this "Liber Monarchiæ" the privilege conferred by Urban II in regard to the legatine power was first published. The kings urged it to give a legal basis to the authority they had long exercised over the local Church. They also used it to extend their pretensions that, by virtue of an old papal privilege, they possessed ecclesiastical authority in spiritual matters to be exercised independently of the pope. Despite doubts expressed concerning the genuineness of the Urban document, Ferdinand declared on 22 January, 1515: "As for the Kingdom of Sicily, where we exercise the supervision of spiritual as well as of secular affairs, we have made sure that we do so legitimately". In consequence of such exorbitant demands, disputes arose between the popes and the rulers of the island. Clement VII negotiated with Charles V concerning the Monarchia Sicula, but without success. In 1578 Philip II tried vainly to obtain a formal confirmation of the right from Pius V. In 1597 the king appointed a special permanent judge ( Judex Monarchiœ Siculœ ), who was to give final decisions in the highest ecclesiastical causes, an appeal from his judgment to the pope's being forbidden. The Judex Monarchiœ Siculœ claimed the general right to visit the convents, supreme jurisdiction over the bishops and the clergy, and the exercise of a number of ecclesiastical rights belonging to the bishops, so that papal jurisdiction was almost wholly excluded.

When Baronius, in an excursus on the year 1097 in the eleventh volume of his "Annales ecclesiastici" (Rome, 1605), produced solid reasons against the genuineness of Urban II's Bull and especially against the legality of the Monarchia Sicula, a violent feud arose, and the Court of Madrid prohibited the eleventh volume from all countries of the Spanish Empire. Baronius omitted the excursus in the second edition of the "Annales" (Antwerp, 1608), but published instead a special "Tractatus de Monarchia Sicula". During the War of the Spanish Succession another serious conflict arose between the Papal Curia and the Spanish court in regard to this alleged legatine power. The occasion of the dispute was a question of ecclesiastical immunity, and the differences continued after Count Victor Amadeus had been made King of Sicily by the Peace of Utrecht and had been crowned at Palermo (1713). On 20 February, 1715, Clement XI declared the Monarchia Sicula null and void, and revoked the privileges attached to it. This edict was not recognized by the monarchs of Sicily, and, when a few years later the island came under the rule of Charles VI, Benedict XIII entered into negotiations with him with the result that the Decree of Clement XI was withdrawn, and the Monarchia Sicula restored, but in an altered form. The king, through the concession of the pope could now appoint the Judex Monarchiœ Siculœ , who was at the same time to be the delegate of the Holy See and empowered to decide in the last instance upon religious matters. On the basis of this concession the kings of Sicily demanded more and more far reaching rights in ecclesiastical affairs, so that fresh struggles with the Holy See constantly arose. The situation grew ever more unbearable. Pius IX tried in vain by amicable adjustments to enforce the essential rights of the Holy See in Sicily. Garibaldi, as "Dictator" of Sicily, claimed the rights of the papal legate, and, during the service in the cathedral at Palermo, caused legatine honours to be shown him. In the Bull "Suprema" of 28 January, 1864, which was not published with the prescriptions for its execution until 10 October, 1867, Pius IX revoked the Monarchia Sicula finally and forever. The government of Victor Emanuel protested, and the Judex Monarchiœ Siculœ, Rinaldi, refused to submit, for which he was excommunicated in 1868. Article 15 of the Italian law of guarantees (13 May 1871) explicitly revoked the Monarchia Sicula, and the question was thus finally disposed of.


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