September 13, 2017 (Steven O’Reilly) – Last week I outlined my position on the theory held by others which states Benedict XVI is still pope. In this article I’d like to add a few more thoughts to what I have already said on this topic. My response to that theory last week was: Benedict is not Pope (see Benedict is NOT pope). My response this week is: Benedict is still not pope. Kind of like the old Chevy Chase routine on the old Saturday Night Live nightly news: “Generalissimo Franco is still dead” (see here).
Many have gone bald pulling their hair out over Francis. It is easy to understand why. Fortunately enough for me, I have a lot of hair on my head – it will take me a while to go through it. I welcome readers of this wee, humble blog to read my rebuttal (see Benedict is NOT pope) of the “Benedict is Pope” theory (BiP theory). The thrust of my argument is and remains, that one ought to have very good reasons to believe Benedict is still pope – especially if one is going to lead others into “BiPdom” and its obvious implication: Francis is an anti-pope. However, the BiP argument fails to deliver the proof.
We live and act in this world on what we understand to the best of our knowledge to be true, even if the reality – hidden from our view – may be far different. Benedict stated he resigned in his Declaratio and in his final audience (and a time or two since), and from all appearances at least, there was a valid conclave which elected Francis. Not a single canonist, bishop or cardinal has denied either of these propositions, at least not to my knowledge. The common sense conclusion is unavoidable: there is no sufficient reason, canonical or otherwise, for a Catholic to reject the validity of Benedict’s resignation or the election of Francis to the papacy. In such an instance, the weak counter-theory (i.e., BiP) does not appear a sufficient justification to reject the validity of Francis as pope, especially given the significant ramifications of doing so (cf. Unam Sanctam and CCC 2089). As I score the “Francis is an anti-pope” theories, by far the weakest in my view is the BiP theory which suggests Benedict intended to split the ministry (munus) of the Petrine office. While my full argument is here, this BiP theory is weak on three grounds. First, it flies in the face of common sense. Second, its own documentary evidence undermines the BiP argument. Third, all witnesses with access to Benedict, Benedict included(!), testify against it.
At least as I see it, if one must insist on somehow making Francis an anti-pope, I think one wastes one’s time with the BiP theory – it is a non-starter for the reasons given. Besides, declaring the resignation of Benedict valid would not necessarily clear the way for Francis. Whereas in the proposition “If Benedict’s resignation is invalid, Francis is not pope” the conclusion is necessarily true if the premise is; this is not the case with the proposition “If Benedict’s resignation is valid, Francis is pope.” That is to say, the validity of a papal election does not rest solely on the end of the prior papacy, whether through death or valid resignation. Note, I am not saying Francis is an anti-pope, or even that he might be. I am stating there is more than one way to become an anti-pope. So, for example, an anti-papacy might result from certain irregularities in a conclave per applicable papal legislation, like Universi Dominici Gregis (emphasis added):
Should the election take place in a way other than that prescribed in the present Constitution, or should the conditions laid down here not be observed, the election is for this very reason null and void, without any need for a declaration on the matter; consequently, it confers no right on the one elected. (Universi Dominici Gregis, 76)
The actions of the St. Gallen Mafia stink, and on the surface raise some questions in my mind (see Thoughts on Free Will and Hypothetical Papal Plots). However, I have not heard of a single canonist, bishop or cardinal who would interpret this cabal’s known actions and efforts as nullifying the 2013 conclave (NB: let me know if you know of one, I would be interested to read about it). However, if actions of the St. Gallen mafia and Cardinal Bergoglio were to come to light that definitely ran afoul of UDG’s conditions, then clearly the election of Francis “for this very reason” would be “null and void.” In which case, we would then know we had suffered through four years of an anti-papacy. But to my earlier point, until that hypothetical moment, we must act on what the known facts tell or suggest to us now (i.e., Francis is pope), and not suppositions about what might have happened or what might one day come to light.
The point is, I do not believe God would toy with us by giving us a firm rule, i.e., being in communion with the successor of Peter is necessary for salvation (e.g., Unam Sanctam or CCC 2089), and then leave us to drown in our own fallibility in confusing times, to thrash about in water far over our heads, wondering if we have cause or not to disobey these same firm rules. I do not believe God would treat us like yo-yo’s. But, if we entertain the hypothetical that Francis is an anti-pope, God – by allowing such a deception to go on for so long – would be testing the Church, or so it seems to me at least. This would put us into apocalyptic territory, possibly even witnessing the fulfillment of certain scriptures (cf. CCC 675). Even so, we don’t have the grounds to demonstrate this is the case, yet.
Therefore, until then, one must be faithful, bide one’s time and know the faith. Do not be led into heresy and be not pushed into schism. Wait till God “shows” His hand, which He is now holding very close to His vest – so to speak. If Francis is an anti-pope or a pope who has fallen into formal heresy, this will be revealed in the “formal correction” process related to the Dubia (see High Noon: Musings on a Formal Correction of a Pope). This would happen at the end of two or three warnings should Francis fail or refuse to (1) profess the Faith and Practice of the Apostolic See and (2) reject those opinions and interpretations which have contradicted it, even if they had once been his own. God help us if that day comes, but if it does – the Chair of Peter will be certainly vacant. We have yet to see the worst of this crisis. Let us pray Pope Francis will understand that and then remember the Lord’s words to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that they faith fail not: and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).
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.