Are the Benevacantists planning to elect a Pope? Is Francis the true Pope?

The term “Benevacantist” refers to those Catholics who think that Pope Benedict XVI either did not validly resign, or only resigned part of his role as Pope. This loose-knit group thinks that Pope Francis is not the valid Pope, but an antipope, or, strangely, that Benedict and Francis each share part of the papacy. Note that both versions of Benevacantism are schismatic and contrary to dogmatic fact.

Since the death of Pope emeritus Benedict, the Benevacantists have found themselves in a philosophical conundrum of their own making. (See my previous post.) Those that thought Benedict and Francis shared the papacy are now left with essentially half a Pope? That is absurd. Those that thought Benedict remained the true Pope — even though he resigned publicly, said the See of Peter was then vacant, and called for a conclave to elect the next Pope (i.e. Francis) — are now sedevacantists. And they don’t seem to be comfortable claiming that the Church has no true Pope, only Francis, whom they claim is an antipope.

Reportedly, some Benevacantists in Rome are planning to hold an election for the next Roman Pontiff. And while conclaves to elect a Pope only admit Cardinals under 80 years of age as electors (older Cardinals may be present for prayer), this group of Rome Benevacantists — a small subset of Benevacantists, who are themselves a tiny subset of Catholics — contains zero Cardinals and zero Bishops, as far as we now know.

Suppose that the obtain a few Cardinals or Bishops to join their manifestly illegitimate conclave. They still would not have even a thin veil of a claim to be a true conclave. Other small groups in the past have held fake conclaves, without Cardinals or Bishops, and their elected “Pope” was ignored by each successive Pope, by the body of Bishops, by the vast majority of Catholics, and even by the majority of schismatics, heretics, and sedevacantists.

Who Is The True Pope?

The authority of Christ resides in the Church, which has Christ as Her eternal Head and eternal Foundation. This authority is exercised by the Vicar of Christ (the Pope) and the body of Bishops led by him. No group of Bishops or other persons can exercise the authority of Christ, when they are not led by and submissive to the Roman Pontiff. For Christ himself founded His Church with Peter and his successors as its visible Head and as its visible Rock. But the Church does not have two Heads or two Rocks. Instead, each Roman Pontiff possesses the charism of mystical unity with Christ. Therefore, as Pope Pius XII teaches, “Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head” of the one Church [Mystical Body of Christ 40].

Vatican II: “But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.(27*) This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church,(156) and made him shepherd of the whole flock;(157) it is evident, however, that the power of binding and loosing, which was given to Peter,(158) was granted also to the college of apostles, joined with their head.(159)(28*) This college, insofar as it is composed of many, expresses the variety and universality of the People of God, but insofar as it is assembled under one head, it expresses the unity of the flock of Christ. In it, the bishops, faithfully recognizing the primacy and pre-eminence of their head, exercise their own authority for the good of their own faithful, and indeed of the whole Church, the Holy Spirit supporting its organic structure and harmony with moderation. The supreme power in the universal Church, which this college enjoys, is exercised in a solemn way in an ecumenical council. A council is never ecumenical unless it is confirmed or at least accepted as such by the successor of Peter; and it is prerogative of the Roman Pontiff to convoke these councils, to preside over them and to confirm them.(29*) This same collegiate power can be exercised together with the pope by the bishops living in all parts of the world, provided that the head of the college calls them to collegiate action, or at least approves of or freely accepts the united action of the scattered bishops, so that it is thereby made a collegiate act.” [Lumen Gentium 22]

Any person or group of persons has no authority in the Church, including any number of Bishops, unless they are united to the Roman Pontiff as the head of the body of Bishops. When the Cardinals gather in a true conclave to elect the next true Pope, they do so as representatives of the body of Bishops. There is no per se authority given by Christ or the Church to the body of Cardinals. They have authority only as the Roman Pontiff designates that authority to them, and he can remove anyone from the Cardinalate for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all. By comparison, Bishops possess the highest degree of Holy Orders and therefore are successors to the other Apostles (other than Peter).

Vatican II: “Bishops, as successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord, to whom was given all power in heaven and on earth, the mission to teach all nations and to preach the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain to salvation by faith, baptism and the fulfilment of the commandments.”

“Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent.”
[Lumen Gentium 25]

Now most Cardinals are also Bishops, and they have the role to assist the Roman Pontiff and His See in teaching and guiding the faithful. But the authority to elect a new Roman Pontiff rests with the Cardinals, by longstanding decision of the Pope and the body of Bishops, not because the authority to elect was given to them by Christ, but rather because the Pope and body of Bishops designated them as the representatives of the previous Pope, whom they assisted until his resignation or death, and as representatives of the body of Bishops.

For this reason, if the Church ever lacked sufficient Cardinals to gather in a conclave, the body of Bishops (between Popes) certainly continues to possess the authority to elect the next Pope. For that authority has always rested with them, as the successors to the Apostles. A Cardinal might be only a priest, or even a lay person. The Cardinalate is not a degree of ordination. Christ did not structure the Church on Cardinals as successors to the other Apostles, but on the body of Bishops led by the successor of Peter.

As for claimed conclaves attempting to elect a new Pope, if they are not composed of the body of the Cardinals — who currently are chosen by the successive Popes and the body of Bishops to represent and exercise their Apostolic authority in choosing the next Pope — then it is not a legitimate conclave. The hypothetical case of an conclave with few Cardinals able to gather (due to a schism, or a war, or a natural disaster, etc.) would be necessary for the body of Bishops to intervene and decide to elect the next Pope by a gathering of both Cardinals and Bishops.

A gathering of Bishops from one part of the world cannot claim to be a legitimate conclave, as they do not have the assent of the Cardinals, who currently hold that authority, nor would they represent the body of Bishops in the universal Church. As for the gatherings of schismatics and heretics, who from time to time attempt to elect a Pope, they do not represent the college of Cardinals nor the body of Bishops in any way, shape, or form. Their claim to legitimacy is absurd.

Pope Francis is the valid Roman Pontiff

It is a dogmatic fact that Pope Benedict XVI validly resigned, and that Pope Francis is the valid Roman Pontiff. Catholic dogma teaches that the Church is one holy catholic and apostolic Church, and also indefectible. Never at any time can the body of Bishops cannot go astray following a false Pope. If so, then the Church would not be indefectible and apostolic. The Church can never be a scattering of Bishops and Cardinals, who have departed from the majority of Bishops in the world, for then She would not be one or universal (catholic). And it is never holy to reject the words of Christ, including the promise that the faith of Peter will never fail and that the gates of Hell will never prevail over the Church.

So when a person is accepted by the body of Bishops as the true successor of Peter, Vicar of Christ, and Roman Pontiff, such a person must be the true Pope. This fact is established by incontrovertible dogmas, and any contrary position implies heresy as such a position would require rejection of one or more dogmas. Therefore, every successive Roman Pontiff, accepted by the body of Bishops as the Pope, is the true successor of Peter as a dogmatic fact.

Pope Francis has been accepted by the body of Bishops as the true Roman Pontiff. The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI was acknowledged by the body of Bishops. Therefore, it is also a dogmatic fact that Benedict did not continue to be the Roman Pontiff in any sense of the word, after the effective date he gave for his resignation. The term “Pope emeritus” merely means a former Pope, a Pope who has resigned.

Something similar can be said against those who claim that Pope Francis, while being the true Pope, is also a heretic or apostate or idolater. The body of Bishops has continued to follow Pope Francis, and to accept his teachings. If they were to follow a heretic, apostate, or idolater, or if they were to accept heretical teachings, then the Church would not be indefectible and apostolic. For Bishops who fall into formal heresy automatically lose their jurisdiction and authority [Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum, 15]. The Church would not be indefectible if Her visible Head and Rock, the Pope, taught heresy or idolatry or apostasy, or if he committed formal heresy or idolatry or apostasy; nor would the Church be apostolic and indefectible if the body of Bishops followed such a person.

Since it never permitted by God for the Church to lose Her indefectibility, and never permitted by God for the Church to lose her fundamental characteristics (one holy catholic and apostolic), it can never be the case that the body of Bishops accepts or continues to accept a Pope who commits the errors and sins of heresy, apostasy, or idolatry. And since the body of Bishops has continued to accept Pope Francis as the valid Roman Pontiff, Pope Francis cannot possibly be guilty of teaching any heresy, nor of committing heresy, apostasy, or idolatry.

This argument above is presented in addition to my argument based on the papal charism of truth and never-failing faith, which preserves the Roman Pontiff from grave errors on doctrine and discipline, and from grave failings of faith.

Whoever rejects Pope Francis as the valid Pope, along with whoever accuses Pope Francis of grave errors on doctrine or discipline, or of grave failings of faith (such as heresy, apostasy, or idolatry) is guilty of schism and heresy. It is a dogmatic fact that Pope Francis is innocent against all those claims, and that he is and continues to be the valid Roman Pontiff.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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