One prominent theory among the papal accusers is that Pope Francis was never the valid Roman Pontiff. The reason given is that Benedict’s resignation was invalid, making him still the Pope. This would then imply that any subsequent election would be invalid, and therefore could only elect an antipope. This article examines and refutes this claim as contrary to dogma and contrary to dogmatic fact. In particular, I’m replying to the video claims of Brian Murphy at God’s Plan For Life website.
Claim: Benedict resigned the ministry but not the office of the papacy. Similar claims use different wording, but to the same result, as if Pope Benedict XVI only partially resigned.
Claim: At no point does Pope Benedict XVI actually state the he resigned the papal “office” (“munus”). He only states that he renounces the ministry. “What you do not renounce, you still keep.” [Brian Murphy] Murphy then cites Canon Law:
Canon 332 n. 2: “If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.”
So this claim is based on an erroneous distinction between the ministry of the Roman Pontiff and the office of the Roman Pontiff. No such distinction exists in magisterial teaching. The office of the Roman Pontiff is divided into his authority over doctrine and discipline, such that he has a teaching authority (Magisterium) and a temporal authority (discipline, prudential judgment, etc.). But the Church does not teach a distinction between ministry and office. The ministry of the Pope is his office. It is merely a different wording. Therefore, Benedict did resign the office of Roman Pontiff.
Another error here is in assuming that the Pope must not only resign his office, but must do so by using the particular word “office”. To the contrary, Canon law does not require a particular wording, the only requirement is that he resigns freely and manifests this to the Church. Sacraments require a particular wording, but no such requirement has ever been taught by the Magisterium for a resignation.
Proof that Pope Benedict XVI did resign the entire office of Roman Pontiff is found in the resignation itself. Here is the text of his public announcement of his resignation. First, Benedict gives his reasons:
“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.”
His reason for resigning is that he is unable, due to advanced age, to carry out the role. He states that he lacks “both strength of mind and body” and so he therefore lacks the capacity “to adequately fulfill the ministry.” How then would he have the strength of mind and body to fulfill the “office”, if the false dichotomy of office and ministry were true? His reason for resigning clearly applies to the whole of the office, ministry, role or whatever other terms might be used, of the Roman Chair of Peter.
Benedict then makes his resignation official with the following words:
“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.”
Though he uses the term “ministry” instead of “office”, he states that he is resigning as “Bishop of Rome” and as “Successor of Peter”. These terms encompass the entire office of the Roman Pontiff. The use of the term ministry along with those phrases in no way limits his resignation to be only partial.
Moreover, do you not know that, when the Church refers to the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ, the whole of Christ is indicated by reference to a part. For the body of Christ is Christ in his entirety, and the blood of Christ is also the whole of Christ. So when the Roman Pontiff resigns his ministry, he resigns the whole.
In addition, Pope Benedict XVI states that the See of Saint Peter, due to his resignation, becomes “vacant” and that the Cardinals are to hold “a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff”. These words clearly and unequivocally indicate a resignation of the entire office of Roman Pontiff.
Now the claim that Pope Francis is not validly elected, due to the invalid or only partially resignation of Benedict is refuted by the above quote from Benedict himself. He states the See is vacant, and he tells the Cardinals to hold a conclave to elect a new Supreme Pontiff. Francis was elected by the conclave ordered by Pope Benedict XVI, ordered prior to his resignation becoming effective as of 28 February, about 17 days after the announcement on the 11th.
In addition, the dogma of the indefectibility of the Church also refutes the claim that Benedict is still Roman Pontiff, or that he still holds the office but not the ministry. The Church cannot go astray by following a false or invalid Pope. Since the body of Bishops has accepted the resignation of Benedict, and has accepted Pope Francis as the true Roman Pontiff, the resignation must be valid and Pope Francis must be the true Pope. Otherwise, the Church would have defected by following an antipope, which cannot happen. Therefore, it is a dogmatic fact that Benedict validly resigned, and that Pope Francis is the valid Pope.
And if anyone were to claim that Pope Francis was validly elected, but that he lost his validity by some sin or canonical crime, this too is refuted by the same dogma of indefectibility. The body of Bishops continues to follow Pope Francis and to hold that he is still the valid Roman Pontiff, so that must be the case. For the prevenient grace of God, in order to keep the promise of Christ that the Church would be indefectibility, does not permit the body of Bishops to follow an antipope.
Murphy gives a few other reasons for thinking that Benedict is still the valid Roman Pontiff, or at least that he still holds the office, not the ministry: wearing white, papal ring, using the name Benedict, living in the Vatican, giving Apostolic blessings. None of these arguments can withstand the dogma of the indefectibility of the Church and the clear statement in the resignation that the Cardinals should elect a new Roman Pontiff. Wearing white: even altar servers wear white; it does not mean they are Pope. The papal ring: he retains the ring because he is a retired Pope, just as a retired Bishop retains his Bishop’s ring. Using the name Benedict: he has asked to be called “Father Benedict”, clearly indicating that he is no longer Pope. He is still called Benedict just as past Popes are still called by their papal name. Living in the Vatican: many persons live in the Vatican, and none are Pope except Francis. Giving the Apostolic blessing: he is permitted this ability by the current Roman Pontiff, who hold the keys of Peter.
Finally, we come to the real reason that so many persons claim Benedict is still the Roman Pontiff: they judge the decisions of Pope Francis on doctrine and discipline to be faulty. But this contradicts Canon Law: “The First See is judged by no one.” It also contradicts the dogma of the First Vatican Council, that each Pope has the gift of truth (immunity from grave error) and a never-failing faith. Therefore, Pope Francis, having been accepted by the body of Bishops, must be the true valid Pope, and as the true valid Pope, he cannot err gravely on doctrine and discipline, nor can he fail in faith by apostasy, heresy, or idolatry. This implies that Pope Francis, as a dogmatic fact, is innocent of all accusations contrary to the above dogma.
And all who continue to accuse him are guilty of heresy, by rejecting the dogma of Vatican I and the dogma of the indefectibility of the Church, and are guilty of schism, for refusing submission to the new Supreme Pontiff, who was elected upon the orders of the previous Pontiff, orders given prior to the effective date of his resignation.
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