September 25, 2017 (Steven O’Reilly) – It has been a couple of days since the release of the Filial Correction of Pope Francis by 62 Catholic scholars. Again, those who prepared, wrote and committed their signatures to this document ought to be commended. We will watch in the coming days and weeks to see what impact it might have on Pope Francis – or what revenge he might seek on the signatories. We will also wait for the arrival of the “Formal Correction” to be issued by the “Dubia Cardinals,” which will likely begin a process which might conceivably lead to the deposition of Pope Francis (see The Coming Storm, High Noon: Musings on a Formal Correction of a Pope). Of course, let us pray it does not need to come to that.
One item that caught my attention in the Filial Correction is the following statement on page 2 (see Filial Correction), emphasis added:
Those Catholics, however, who do not clearly grasp the limits of papal infallibility are liable to be led by the words and actions of Your Holiness into one of two disastrous errors: either they will come to embrace the heresies which are now being propagated, or, aware that these doctrines are contrary to the word of God, they will doubt or deny the prerogatives of the popes. Others again of the faithful are led to put in doubt the validity of the renunciation of the papacy by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Thus, the Petrine office, bestowed upon the Church by our Lord Jesus Christ for the sake of unity and faith, is so used that a way is opened for heresy and for schism.
It appears quite evident that those who prepared this document consider it an error to doubt the validity of Benedict’s renunciation of the papacy. This is evident in that the document suggests the “words and actions” of Pope Francis are “so used that a way is opened for heresy and for schism.” The document cites two types of heretical errors from those who “do not clearly grasp the limits of papal infallibility”, either: (1) they will embrace the heresies being propagated, or (2) “aware that these doctrines are contrary to the word of God, they will doubt or deny the prerogatives of the popes.” These are the aforementioned heretical errors. The error of schism of which the document speaks is to “put in doubt the validity of the renunciation of the papacy by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.”
I agree with the Filial Correction on all the points above. As I have previously argued on this blog (see Benedict is NOT pope, Benedict is STILL not Pope), the argument which alleges Benedict is still pope (“BiP”) amounts, in the end analysis, to a fallacious argumentum ad consequentiam.
“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.”” (See Benedict is NOT pope)
I do not doubt the sincerity and good will of the people who offer the argument “Benedict is Pope,” what I call the BiP argument. However, I do doubt the weight and force of the evidence for the BiP theory, which I believe crumbles into dust upon close examination, as I have argued in greater detail before (see Benedict is NOT pope, Benedict is STILL not Pope). If this were only a speculative question like how many angels can dance on the head of pin, I would not bother surfacing this discussion again. But, to the contrary, for all those Catholics who look at the prospect of a “formal correction” as an unfortunate necessity, BiP should not be viewed as an idle, speculative question. That is, BiP is not just simply wrong on its own merits, it is also a complicating factor to the resolution of the crisis. Granted, being a complicating factor does not make BiP wrong per se, but I do think this fact should give Bippers pause to test their own true devotion to the BiP cause and their intellectual acceptance of the evidence offered in favor of it, i.e., do you really want to go down this road?
Consider the following thought experiment for BiP supporters. Let us suppose the “formal correction” finally appears, and the “Dubia Cardinals” and other prelates together with them begin a process with canonical warnings (see The Coming Storm, High Noon: Musings on a Formal Correction of a Pope). Suppose the correction warns Pope Francis that if he does not profess the Catholic faith and reject errors related to the issues associated with the five Dubia by the end of a specified period, that the Chair of Peter will be declared vacant. Let us further suppose this specified period of time lapses without Francis making the necessary professions and retractions, and thus the declaration is made that – Francis having demonstrated himself to be a formal heretic – the Chair of St. Peter is vacant. Let us suppose one last thing. Following this declaration, the remaining faithful cardinals, perhaps with other bishops, in a conclave or an imperfect council elect a new pope.
Now, given the thought experiment above, my question to BiP supporters is: are you so enamored of your position and persuaded by the force of its arguments that you will reject a conclave or an imperfect council that elects a new Roman Pontiff following the deposition of Francis – if Benedict still lives to that day? Or, will you maintain the man elected by the aforementioned conclave is an anti-pope, even as you believe in the case of Francis? Will you still maintain Benedict is your pope – even if Benedict continues to maintain, as he does to this day(!), that he resigned freely? Or, what if – God willing – there is the happiest of endings and Pope Francis heeds the correction and fully reverses course and professes the faith, rejects heresies, undoes his policies, etc? Is Benedict still your pope?
My honest question to the Bippers out there: do you really think your position is a strong one, and so strong you would stick with it in the event of the hypothetical scenarios above? Remember, a true-blue Bipper shouldn’t care at all about either the “filial correction” or the “formal correction,” or even whether Francis recants and “confirms the brethren” with his apostolic authority. If you think you would still be a Bipper even in consideration of the thought experiment above – i.e., you would even call a man elected to replace a deposed Francis an anti-pope because “Benedict is Pope” or reject Francis even if he fully recants, then I guess you are a true-blue Bipper. My hunch though is. . .there aren’t many such “bunker Bippers.”
Yes, I did see a recent informal and unscientific Blog poll that suggested there is wide support for the BiP position among traditional Catholics. But, I suspect that this support if it be a mile wide, is an inch deep – based more on valid concerns over Francis (as suggested in the Filial Correction) than on the strength of the actual BiP evidence (which is very weak). It is understandable in the wake of all Francis has said and done that folks are casting about for theories which try to make sense of what is going on, but a bad theory is not a substitute for a good one. The point is, Bippers – I feel your pain. Hang on to your Francis angst and direct that energy toward prayers and supporting the “formal correction” with your friends, family, priests and bishops where it might do good; but ditch the BiP theory – it is a dead end and a waste of time.
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.