Is Pope Benedict XVI still the valid Pope?

A certain theory says that the resignation of Pope Benedict was not valid, and so he is still the Roman Pontiff. This would make the election of Pope Francis invalid, since no new Pope can be elected while the previous Pope is still in office. The only way for a papacy to end is by death or resignation. This article will refute the claim that Benedict’s resignation was not valid, and will prove that Francis is the true successor of Peter.

One of the clearest explanations of this theory about Pope Benedict (sometimes inaccurately called “Benevacantism”) is put forward by brother Alexis Bugnolo at FromRome.Info. Here is his Index to Pope Benedict’s Renunciation.

Here is the translation of the Latin text of the resignation of Pope Benedict, in Br. Alexis’ translation:

“On which account (5), well conscious of the weight of this act I declare in full liberty, that I renounce the ministry (6) of the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Saint Peter, committed (8) to me through the hands of the Cardinals (7) on the 19th of April, 2005, to leave unused (10) from the 28th of February, at 20:00 hours, Rome time (9), the See of Saint Peter, and that a Conclave to elect a new Supreme Pontiff is to be convoked by those who are competent (11).”

The numbers are notes in which he comments on the text and tries to interpret the resignation as invalid or even as not freely made. The notes are found here.

Even in Br. Alexis’ translation, the will of the Roman Pontiff is clear. Note the teaching of Vatican II:

“This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.”

What Br. Alexis does is parse the wording of the Latin text very finely, with a view toward finding anything he can use to claim that the resignation is not canonically valid, or has hits of a compelled resignation. Like many Catholics, he has doubts about Francis, and finding a way to make Benedict still Pope would be an easy resolution to those doubts. But it is one that I cannot support. Anyone could find a way to interpret a text of the Bible or a magisterial document and, as a result, obtain whatever content that they wished. We know that many Bible commentators have done just that, often to try to explain away the Catholic Faith. We have to be careful not to interpret any text to the contrary of what is plainly stated.

Rather, the way to read a text, especially of the Roman Pontiff, is as Vatican II says: according to his manifest mind and will, from the character of the documents and his manner of speaking. Now let’s apply this to the text of the resignation, using brother Alexis’ biased translation.

“On which account (5), well conscious of the weight of this act I declare in full liberty, that I renounce the ministry (6) of the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Saint Peter, committed (8) to me through the hands of the Cardinals (7) on the 19th of April, 2005, to leave unused (10) from the 28th of February, at 20:00 hours, Rome time (9), the See of Saint Peter, and that a Conclave to elect a new Supreme Pontiff is to be convoked by those who are competent (11).”

Pope Benedict declare “in full liberty”, which meets the necessary condition that a Pope’s resignation be made freely. The Pope himself declared that he is acting freely, so to claim that he was forced to make this statement is an accusation against the Pope.

The claim implies that Benedict is a coward, who resigned under pressure, rather than withstand his opponents publicly and resolutely. The claim implies that the Roman Pontiff abandoned his flock under pressure. Then no one even claims that Benedict was under so much pressure to resign that he would have been martyred if he refused. But should we not expect Pope Benedict XVI to have the faith and fortitude to withstand pressure to resign? To say that Benedict abandoned his flock under pressure is a grave accusation against him, and one that does not match the character which he showed to the whole Church as Cardinal for so many years, resolutely defending the faith against all criticisms, and as Roman Pontiff.

Pope Benedict XVI states that he is acting in full liberty, and the claims to the contrary are little hints interpreted with great bias. In addition, Benedict has given interviews and has moved about freely since his resignation, and he has never said it was not freely given. He voiced no objection to the election of Pope Francis, nor to his papacy. To say that Benedict is still under pressure, as the reason he keeps silent or only gives “hints” rather than speaking openly is again to accuse him of cowardice, of lacking faith, fortitude, and even love for the Lord and His Church. One cannot believe that Benedict is still Pope without also believing that Benedict lied to the whole Church in his resignation (an exceedingly grave sin) and that he is a faithless coward who does not love the Lord enough to persevere under coercion, but instead abandoned the flock of the Lord. That is not the Benedict that I have known through his writings, as Cardinal and as Pope.

Much has been made of his use of ministry “ministerio” (ministry) rather than “munus” (office, gift) in the resignation. But in fact, the Latin text uses munus twice to refer to his office, saying: “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 [munus].”

So he clearly states that it is the munus (office) that he is resigning. (The Vatican translation uses ministry for munus.) So even though the statement of resignation, which Br. Alexis focuses on uses ministerio, we see from the text of the resignation that Benedict clearly intended to resign his entire role as Roman Pontiff.

He indicates this without any doubt by saying: “I renounce the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Saint Peter, committed to me through the hands of the Cardinals on the 19th of April, 2005.”

The terms “Bishop of Rome,” and “Successor of Saint Peter” as well as the reference to his election by the Cardinals in 2005 clearly and unequivocally indicates his resignation from the role stated: Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter. The use of ministerio in one place and munus in two other places then destroys the argument that he only intended to renounce a portion of his role or responsibilities. Pope Benedict XVI left no room for reasonable doubt when he described the ministry from which he resigned, “in full liberty”, as Bishop of Rome and Successor of Saint Peter and added the date of his election by the Cardinals.

Br. Alexis states that this wording of the resignation in Latin has many grammatical errors. I am an experience Latin translator who has translated the entire Latin Vulgate Bible, as well as the doctrines of the Council of Trent and other documents and passages from Latin to English. I have translated approximately a million words of Latin. I find the claims of Br. Alexis on the alleged errors in the Latin text spurious. He argues that different wordings should have been used, as it would have expressed the meaning better. But he openly disagrees with the meaning given to the text in the official Vatican translations. This is essentially circular reasoning on his part, as his alleged errors are based on his conclusion that the meaning of the text is substantially different from what the official translation says, and then those errors are used to bolster the conclusion (which is the basis for the claim of errors).

In his translation of “decisionem” as “cut-off” rather than as the obvious and certainly correct “decision”. Here is the official translation compared to Br. Alexis’ translation:

Latin: Non solum propter tres canonizationes ad hoc Consistorium vos convocavi, sed etiam ut vobis decisionem magni momenti pro Ecclesiae vita communicem.

Alexis: “Not solely for the sake of three acts of canonization, have I convoked you towards this Consistory, but also to communicate on behalf of the life of the Church a thing of great importance: your being cut-off. ”

Vatican: “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.”

The phrasing “your being cut-off” is in no way justified by the Latin text of the resignation of Benedict. There is no basis for the text “your being” before “cut-off”. The word “vobis” is correctly translated as “to you”, not as “your” and no Latin word justifies the word “being” in the translation of Br. Alexis. Then “decisionem” is easily and commonly translated as “decision.”

After reviewing the Latin text, I find no basis for any claims that the text means anything other than what the official English translation says.

Benedict’s resignation also states: ” 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.”

And then the resignation of Benedict ends thusly: “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.”

He explicitly tells the Cardinals to elect a new Supreme Pontiff. The word “Supreme” before Pontiff clearly indicates that this new Pope will have the full supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff, and not a divided or partial role, as some Benevacantists claim. It is beyond reason to claim that this resignation somehow does not represent a full resignation of the entire role of Roman Pontiff. Then since Benedict explicitly tells the Cardinals to elect a new Supreme Pontiff, this shows the meaning of the previous resignation, leaving no doubt that Benedict resigned “in full liberty”.

The claim that Pope Benedict XVI is still the Roman Pontiff cannot be supported by the Latin text. The claim of many errors in the Latin text is false. The mind and will of Pope Benedict XVI in his resignation declaration is absolutely clear.

The final claim to be refuted is that his resignation is not valid under Canon Law, and therefore he did not effectively resign — no matter what his mind and will may have been!! This cannot be true for one simple reason, the Supreme Pontiff is above Canon Law. Not only can the Roman Pontiff change Canon Law, dispense from the law, or even abrogate the law — Pope Saint John Paul II entirely abrogated the Canon Law of 1917 and replaced it with the Canon Law of 1983 — but the Roman Pontiff is absolutely not under the Law, even if he lets the Law stand as it is. He can ignore the law without guilt.

{12:2} Then the Pharisees, seeing this, said to him, “Behold, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbaths.”
{12:3} But he said to them: “Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him:
{12:4} how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
{12:5} Or have you not read in the law, that on the Sabbaths the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath, and they are without guilt?

The Supreme Pontiff is above Canon Law. He does not need to make his resignation comply with the details or rules of the Law. To be valid, his resignation need only be made freely and promulgated to the Church. This was clearly done. Nothing in Canon Law can make any act of the Roman Pontiff null and void. His mere mind and will, promulgated to the Church, stands above Canon Law. That is why is authority is supreme.

Vatican I: 9. “So, then, if anyone says that the Roman Pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, and this not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the Church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the Churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema.”

Pope Francis has been accepted by the body of Bishops as the Supreme Pontiff. Therefore, he has the full authority given to each successor of Peter, and not some partial role shared with the prior Roman Pontiff. The Apostolic Church cannot go astray such that the body of Bishops would follow a false Pope, not even in the End Times. For the gates of Hell never prevail over the Church, nor over the Roman Pontiff, as Pope Leo XIII teaches:

Pope Leo XIII, quoting Church father Origen: ” ‘neither against the rock upon which Christ builds His Church nor against the Church shall the gates of Hell prevail.’ ”

Pope Francis is the valid true Supreme Pontiff. The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI was valid. The body of Bishops have not erred in following Pope Francis as the successor of Peter. And each Roman Pontiff has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, such that he can never teach or commit heresy, nor err gravely in doctrine or discipline.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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3 Responses to Is Pope Benedict XVI still the valid Pope?

  1. MichaelT says:

    Prior to becoming Pope Benedict, Cardinal Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dean of the College of Cardinals, and needless to say a highly regarded theologian. Notably, he wasn’t the first, or even the second pope to step down from the papacy. From a letter he wrote to an Italian newspaper a year after he resigned to put to rest any speculation that coercion was involved in his decision, “There isn’t the slightest doubt about the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry. The only condition for the validity is the full freedom of the decision. Speculation about its invalidity is simply absurd”.

  2. P.J. says:

    Hi Ron, I just saw an interesting tweet, would you mind commenting? I don’t have a Twitter account, so I will just retype it . Off topic, I know, but I would like your opinion.
    @johnamonaco. “For some Catholic apologists (such as Dave Armstrong, Michael Lofton, and Eric Ybarra), there seems to be no limit to what a pope can do. Thus, a ban on the rosary/ Sacred Heart would be seen as “unfortunate” but “binding” because it falls within the realm of discipline/devotion. “
    I thought that when Saint John Paul ll added a mystery to the Rosary, it was as an optional devotion, not binding?
    I am sorry to hear about your relative ; could you tell us their initials, please, to add to our prayer lists?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Different decisions of the Pope have different levels of authority. Doctrine can be infallible or non-infallible. One can disagree with a non-infallible teaching or discipline, only if one does not claim grave error on the part of the Pope. The Pope’s authority is supreme. There are few limits on what he can do. He cannot bind subsequent Popes to his decisions on disciplines. Proposing that the Pope would ban the Rosary or the Sacred Heart devotion is not a valid argument; no Pope has done something like that. Moreover, we must trust in God working through the Church, rather than submit everything the Pope does to our own judgment.

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