September 4, 2017 (Steven O’Reilly) – RomaLocutaEst shares the concerns of many faithful Catholics around the world regarding the course of this current pontificate. Perplexity and confusion over the words and acts of Pope Francis have led many to wonder what is really going on. One recent commentator, Colombian professor Jose Galat, was reportedly excommunicated for suggesting Francis is an anti-pope (see here). While much of what this pope has said and done has raised questions deserving of the Dubia and even a “formal correction,” it would be rash and wrong to reject him as being the Successor of St. Peter. The Church teaches to be in communion with the Successor of St. Peter is necessary for salvation (cf. Unam Sanctam and CCC 2089). Therefore, the stakes are quite high for those Catholics who would reject – and lead others to reject – the legitimacy of Francis, who by all outward appearance of canonical form, process and procedure was duly and validly elected pope.
However, there are those who claim Francis is an anti-pope because, as they argue, Benedict never really resigned, or that if Benedict appeared to do so, it was not valid because he was under duress. Thus, they argue, because Benedict XVI is still pope, Francis is – ipso facto – an anti-pope. While I agree with many of the concerns regarding this pontificate, the aforementioned argument appears to reduce to a fallacious argumentum ad consequentiam. That is, the argument seems to be: “If Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation is valid, that means Francis is a true pope.” In other words, the premise must be false because the conclusion is unthinkable. Now, of course, those who argue the premise will not state their argument as crudely as that, but does anyone really think the doubters would be debating the question of Benedict’s resignation had the conclave in 2013 given us a pope like Pius V? My humble guess is “no.”
The Church has had its share of awful popes. There were those who publicly stated erroneous opinions regarding doctrine (e.g., John XXII), those who favored heresy (e.g., Honorius). Pope Liberius who, apparently under duress, excommunicated St. Athanasius, the great defender of orthodoxy, during the Arian crisis (see here)! These and other cases of bad popes, such as Alexander VI, instruct us there have been bumpy times for the papacy and the Church where times looked very dark and grim. While it may be that our time is arguably worse for the Church – and I think a case can be made for that, it has yet to be demonstrated it is substantially different. That is to say, even if one accepts the worse criticisms of Francis as being true, he could be seen as combining the faults of a number of his predecessors, even if to a greater degree. We could well imagine the damage John XXII could have wrought in the life of the Church if he lived in our age of instant communication, social media and twitter. His views and sermons espousing his erroneous opinions regarding the Beatific Vision would have been twittered around the world, or broadcast via airplane press conferences. The same might be said of the relevant faults of Honorius, Liberius or Alexander VI.
With the above in mind, we must examine the merits of the claim which states Benedict is still pope – because there are some who are advancing that case. Two common theories which object to the legitimacy of Francis appear to be as follows:
- Pope Benedict XVI’s apparent resignation is invalid because it was forced, and not freely offered. Because Benedict XVI’s resignation was offered under duress – perhaps due to the machinations of the St. Gallen mafia – it is invalid. Therefore, Benedict XVI is still pope and, as a consequence, Francis is an anti-pope.
- Pope Benedict XVI did not have proper intent in his resignation. He believed he could surrender the active ministry of the Petrine office, while holding onto the “contemplative” part of it, i.e., he believed, in essence, there could be two popes. However, it is impossible to divide the Petrine office. Therefore Benedict’s intent to resign on these conditions involved a “substantial error.” Therefore, Benedict is still pope and, as a consequence, Francis is an anti-pope.
There are those who argue one of the above, while others seem to argue both – as if throwing food against the wall to see what sticks. In reviewing the state of evidence for these claims, I prescind from the question of whether it is even possible for the Church to mistakenly accept a man to be pope who really is an anti-pope. For the purpose of discussion here, I will assume arguendo it is possible for the body of believers to be so deceived. Still, even given this assumption, it would still remain the case that sufficient evidence would be necessary to conclude with moral certainty that the man we thought is Pope X is really anti-pope X. To do so without sufficient evidence would be gravely sinful (cf. Unam Sanctam and CCC 2089). My replies to the two preceding arguments follow below.
Argument 1: Pope Benedict XVI’s apparent resignation is invalid because it was forced, and not freely offered. Because Benedict XVI’s resignation was offered under duress – perhaps due to the machinations of the “St. Gallen mafia” – it is invalid. Therefore, Benedict XVI is still pope and, as a consequence, Francis is an anti-pope.
Reply to Argument 1
I do believe the whole “St. Gallen mafia” thing stinks to high Heaven. It should be investigated. When it first came to light, a delegation of cardinals should have gone to Pope Francis and demanded he swear he had no knowledge of its activities. However, even so, there is no convincing evidence the St. Gallen mafia or anyone else forced Benedict XVI to resign. There are various theories as to pressure points that might have been applied to force Benedict to resign (e.g., the investigation into a choir which the pope’s brother, Fr. Georg Ratzinger, once ran). However, these remain only theories. There is no smoking gun. No proof.
While I grant manipulation may have played a part (see Thoughts on Free Will and Hypothetical Papal Plots), manipulation is not coercion. Finally, Benedict himself has denied he had been forced to resign (see here); and this on top of his own declaration wherein he stated his resignation was freely made (see here). Given Benedict continues to maintain he was not forced (he has stated it was freely made on at least two occasions), and there not being any evidence to the contrary, one should not accept the argument Benedict did not resign freely.
Argument 2: Pope Benedict XVI did not have proper intent in his resignation. He believed he could surrender the active ministry of the Petrine office, while holding onto the “contemplative” parts of it, i.e., he believed there could be two popes or two men sharing the papacy. However, it is impossible to divide the Petrine office. Therefore Benedict’s intent to resign on these conditions involved a “substantial error.” Therefore, Benedict is still pope, and as a consequence, Francis is an anti-pope.
Reply to Argument 2
While I reject both arguments as being without any foundation, I find this second argument against the validity of Benedict’s resignation the weakest of the two on its face. Any Catholic with only a modest familiarity with Church history and theology knows (1) popes have resigned in the past – and that none of these kept any share of the Petrine office; and (2) there cannot be either two true popes at the same time or two men sharing the papacy. Now, consider, Benedict – as an excellent theologian – had more than just a modest familiarity with Church history and theology. He was too good of a theologian to have created such a harebrained theory as a divided papacy; or to ever think he could! What seems most evident, at least in retrospect, is that Benedict always intended to resign at some point. For example, in 2009, Benedict visited the tomb of Pope Celestine V, the last pope to have resigned. Leaving his pallium on the tomb of that pope, Benedict seemed to signal his intent to one day follow Celestine’s example, which was to give up the papacy.
Now leaving the above aside, it is evident from Pope Benedict XVI’s Declaratio that he intended to resign the office of the papacy. Pope Benedict XVI said in this statement (emphasis added):
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer. (Declaratio, Pope Benedict XVI, February 11, 2013)
Pope Benedict XVI made it clear he was fully aware of the seriousness of the act. The Pope said he was resigning in “such a way…the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant.” He did not say partially vacant. He said vacant. He would not have said this if he hoped, thought or expected he could retain – in part or in whole – a share in the ministry of Peter. Something cannot both be and not be vacant at the same time! Furthermore, Pope Benedict called for a conclave to elect a “new supreme pontiff.” He said new pontiff, not an additional pontiff. It is clear: Pope Benedict intended to resign, and that this intent was not defective.
Yet, as clear as this is, some suggest that Benedict XVI’s final audience shows he intended to keep part of the Petrine ministry (munus). I have excerpted part of the final audience below (emphasis added):
Here, allow me to go back once again to 19 April 2005. The real gravity of the decision was also due to the fact that from that moment on I was engaged always and forever by the Lord. Always – anyone who accepts the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church. In a manner of speaking, the private dimension of his life is completely eliminated. I was able to experience, and I experience it even now, that one receives one’s life precisely when one gives it away. Earlier I said that many people who love the Lord also love the Successor of Saint Peter and feel great affection for him; that the Pope truly has brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, throughout the world, and that he feels secure in the embrace of your communion; because he no longer belongs to himself, he belongs to all and all belong to him.
The “always” is also a “for ever” – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere. My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences, and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter. Saint Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be a great example for me in this. He showed us the way for a life which, whether active or passive, is completely given over to the work of God. (excerpted from the last general audience of Pope Benedict XVI, February 27, 2013)
Some say Benedict’s comments above prove he intended an expanded Petrine office comprised of an “active” pope and a “contemplative” pope. It is here, these folks suggest, that Benedict XVI exhibited his “substantial error” which demonstrates his resignation is invalid. I have read this final audience many times over, and I cannot help but conclude that those who cite it to demonstrate “substantial error” have instead fallen prey to a case of pareidolia, i.e., seeing something that is simply not really there.
First, it must be remembered, the resignation (see Declaratio) is manifestly clear: Benedict intends to vacate the Chair of St. Peter, and he calls for a conclave to elect his successor. Second, in his final audience, Benedict speaks of what his life will be after he steps down. He speaks of anyone who is elected pope losing privacy. As he says of him who is elected a pope: “He belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church.” It is because of this, he says “in a manner of speaking“, his privacy is eliminated. In other words, Benedict is speaking of his own privacy being forever lost, but only in a sense – not due to some indelible mark of papal office or ministry he cannot lose or freely surrender. What does a Pope gain when he loses the ‘private dimension’? Benedict continues on in this vein saying the Successor of Peter is loved by the whole Church: “he belongs to all, and all belong to him.” But let us look as Benedict explains his meaning regarding the ministry not being revoked (emphasis added):
“The “always” is also a “for ever” – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere. My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences, and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter. Saint Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be a great example for me in this. He showed us the way for a life which, whether active or passive, is completely given over to the work of God.
Benedict has already talked about election to the papacy as eliminating, in a manner of speaking, the private dimension of his life – but then what this loss gains for him (i.e., belonging to all, and all to him). He then says his resignation does not change this, i.e., he will not lose this belonging, this loving of those who had become his daughters and sons, sisters and brothers as pope. Thus, Benedict tells us: “I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter.” Benedict tells us, again, he will no longer be pope(!), but that his life will be devoted to praying for the whole Church (those who became his sons and daughters, sisters and brothers as pope), and it is in this way – “so to speak” – he remains in the enclosure of Peter, praying for the whole Church. But again note, here he says he remains “in the enclosure of Peter” only in a sense (“so to speak”), i.e., not in fact.
Benedict’s logic, in brief summary, runs as follows: (1) one who is elected pope belongs to the Church and the Church to him, the private dimension of his life in a “manner of speaking” is lost; (2) yet, one receives ones life when one gives it away, i.e., the Pope truly gains brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, throughout the world; (3) a Pope feels secure in their embrace because he “no longer belongs to himself, he belongs to all and all belong to him;” (4) resigning the papacy does not revoke this loving attachment (i.e., that which has been gained by the loss of the private dimension of one’s life), as he will always retain that love for all (i.e., for we the Church), and thus (5) he will pray in service for the Church; and it is in this qualified sense – “so to speak” – he remains in the “enclosure of Peter,” but not in fact.
This is far simpler explanation of Benedict’s words, and it has the benefit of not requiring us to forget he was a good theologian and had familiarity with Church history. Nor does this explanation require us to make Benedict a heretic who proposed there could be two popes or two men sharing the papacy. Granted, Archbishop Ganswein, Benedict’s aide, did make some confusing statements that helped fuel the theory we are rebutting, but we should use Benedict’s words, not Ganswein’s. Yet, even if the doubters prefer to read Benedict through Ganswein, it seems clear enough that (1) Ganswein’s statements are consistent with the rebuttal above and (2) Ganswein has since clarified he never meant to suggest Benedict maintained any part of the office of the papacy (see here).
Moving on, let us consider the letter of Cardinal Caffarra, on behalf of his fellow Dubia cardinals, which was hand delivered to the Pope on May 6 (see here). This letter sought an audience with Pope Francis to discuss the Dubia. In this letter, Caffara – on behalf of his fellow Dubia cardinals wrote:
“We do not share in the slightest the position of those who consider the See of Peter vacant, nor of those who want to attribute to others the indivisible responsibility of the Petrine munus.”
Thus we see the Dubia cardinals do not doubt the validity of Benedict’s resignation. They reject the theory that suggests Benedict intended to divide the “indivisible responsibility of the Petrine munus” (ministry). It should be remembered that the late Cardinal Meisner, one of the Dubia cardinals, had been in contact with the former pope Benedict (see here). Cardinal Meisner could not have subscribed to the statement above if he had any reason from any conversation with Benedict which raised any doubts regarding the validity of Benedict’s resignation. Thus, we have additional evidence – from one who conversed with Benedict – there was no defect in Benedict’s intent to resign. If all the above is still not enough, a book length interview with Benedict was published and there is nothing in it to suggest any defect in Benedict’s intent to resign.
RomaLocutaEst has no corner on wisdom and does not presume to have all the right answers, but that will not stop it from stating its opinion – which it does believe is the correct one in this instance. Aside from potentially running the risk of schism (cf. Unam Sanctam and CCC 2089), rejecting the validity of Benedict’s resignation undermines efforts to get Pope Francis to answer the Dubia or to respond to a formal correction – if and when it comes (see High Noon: Musings on a Formal Correction of a Pope). If Francis isn’t pope, even caring if he answers the Dubia or a formal correction becomes nonsensical.
The Church teaches to be in communion with the Successor of St. Peter is necessary for salvation (cf. Unam Sanctam and CCC 2089). Thus, the issue addressed above is not an academic one, as if it were one for folks living in an ivory tower. One must not go further than the evidence allows, and one should not tread beyond where one’s own authority ends. There is no reason or evidence – certainly not any known to us – that should lead one to reject the validity of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. The burden of proof is on those who claim Benedict is still pope and Francis is an anti-pope. It is abundantly clear they have simply not met that burden.
Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives near Atlanta with his wife Margaret. He has four children. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical-adventure trilogy, set during the time of the Arian crisis. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com.