May 7, 2018 (Steven O’Reilly) – There has appeared elsewhere, again, the claim that the conclave that elected Pope Francis was invalid (see a recent interview with His Excellency, Bishop Rene Henry Gracida of Corpus Christi, Texas – see The Okie Traditionalist here). I greatly respect Bishop Gracida, but I do believe the casting of doubts on the 2013 conclave and the election of Pope Francis is unfortunate. That said, given the confusing course of events these past few years, it is understandable that the pontificate of Pope Francis has raised concerns among the faithful over Amoris Laetitia and other issues. It is not surprising, I suppose, that many are searching for theories which explains the Francis papacy, i.e. ‘how could it be that we could have such a pope as Francis who could create such confusion among the faithful?’
Yet, as understandable as this question is, I believe a couple of the proposed answers to that question current on the internet only deepen the crisis – by offering the faithful the illusion of a fix that seems to allow them to check out of the crisis, as it were. On the one hand, there are those who believe that Benedict XVI is still pope, or as I call them “Bippers” (i.e., Benedict is pope). I have written a few articles debunking these suggestions ( see Benedict is NOT pope and Benedict is STILL not Pope and Thoughts on Free Will and Hypothetical Papal Plots), But while those who accept Benedict as the still reigning pope may at the moment cheer the suggestion of Bishop Gracida (and those who agree with him) that the 2013 conclave and or election of Pope Francis was invalid, both of these camps are only allies in this fleeting moment. The reality is, they are in opposite camps of a potential schism. If, for example, Francis, were to die before Benedict, then the “Bippers,” if consistent to their beliefs, would deny the need for a new conclave and a new pope, while those who believe as Bishop Gracida do would demand a new conclave and a new pope. The more immediate and practical consequence of these theories is that each undermines the unity of any effort to formally correct Pope Francis, as each of these theories already considers him to be an anti-pope (i.e., a formal correction of an anti-pope would be unnecessary). Who benefits from this disunity? Who is behind this disunity?
It seems to me that both of these parties, motivated by a love orthodoxy, are in effect and reality, contributing to schism in the Catholic Church. Each of these theories, in my opinion, does harm to the cause of orthodoxy while claiming to uphold it. I reject the theory “Benedict is still pope.” The theory is utterly absurd. As for the invalidity of the 2013 Conclave – that theory is not much better. As I said in an earlier article (See Benedict is STILL not Pope):
“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.”
Now, I suppose one might say Bishop Gracida is a “single bishop” per my challenge above. Yes, one might say that, and I guess that is so. However, his lone voice does not overcome the weight of all those who accept the validity of the 2013 conclave. What is more probable? That one lone bishop is correct in casting doubts on a conclave held five years ago, or that the moral and unanimous consensus of the rest of the Church is correct in accepting it? Only wishful thinking could, in my opinion at least, lead one to accept the former.
Now, all the above said, this article is not a defense of Pope Francis, at least not one that goes beyond a defense of the claim he is the validly elected Successor of St. Peter. So, what then to make of the papacy of Francis? My belief is, if Pope Francis were not a true pope, things would have been far worse than they have been. A true anti-pope could have published doctrinal declarations that in outward form and appearance would seem to – but in reality would not – bind the Church to heresy, but this has not happened. Instead, I believe the Holy Spirit has kept Francis from making any doctrinal declarations in Amoris Laetitia or elsewhere (see Honorius Redivivus – Addendum or Does Amoris Laetitia (297) Deny Hell?) that would formally bind the Church to a doctrinal error. Rather than erroneous ‘binding’ doctrinal declarations from Pope Francis, we have gotten confusion and ambiguity that, in effect, tends to favor heresy in a number of instances. In this, there is nothing that has happened during this current pontificate that does not have some precedent in the pontificates of other, less than stellar popes, such as Honorius or John XXII, who have either voiced erroneous opinions, or said or done things which favored the spread of heresy (see Pope Francis’ Predecessors come to the Defense of his Magisterium? Well–Yes and No, Mr. Walford and Why the Case of Pope Honorius Matters, Mr. Alt). Pope Francis may yet prove to be the worst combination of all other such “less than stellar” popes that the Church has ever known. Pope Francis may be well on his way to earning the dubious distinction of having ‘surpassed’ all popes in the ‘less than stellar’ category – but, even if so, that is still no reason to reject the validity of his papacy. Instead of such nonsense – which takes one’s eyes off the ball, Catholics need to support efforts to get Pope Francis to answer the Dubia, as well as to be ready to fully support a formal correction of Pope Francis (see here and here) when it comes. All else at this moment in Church history is a needless distraction from the defense of orthodoxy.
Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives near Atlanta with his family. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical-adventure trilogy, set during the time of the Arian crisis. He asks for your prayers for his intentions. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA).
Updated: 5/8/2018 at 2:03pm (EST)