Pope emeritus Benedict never had so many unofficial “spokespersons” until after he died. Then many persons came forward, using his name to oppose Pope Francis and to oppose the authority of the Apostolic See. Here is what Pope Francis said recently:
Catholic News Agency: Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s death was used by people in a self-serving way, Pope Francis said aboard the papal plane returning from South Sudan on Sunday [5 Feb 2023].
“I think Benedict’s death was instrumentalized by people who want to serve their own interests,” he said during an in-flight press conference Feb. 5.
People who instrumentalize such a good and holy person, Francis added, are partisans and unethical.
There is a widespread tendency to make political parties out of theological positions, he said. “I leave it alone. These things will fall on their own, or if they don’t fall they will move on as has happened so many times in the history of the Church.”
Pope Francis is absolutely right. Certain Catholics who have long opposed Pope Francis (and other Popes and Vatican II) began to use the name of Benedict for their own purposes, to advance their own agendas, after he died and could not object.
But the truth is that Pope Benedict validly resigned and then he himself accepted Francis as the next valid successor of Peter. And during the reign of Francis, Benedict may have had some mild criticisms, but he NEVER resisted the authority of Pope Francis, never accused him of any grave error or grave failing of faith, never joined those who are accurately called the papal accusers.
But now that Benedict has passed away, the papal accusers are using his name to attack the Pope. They waited until after his death because they themselves know that Benedict would have objected, if they had said the same things during his life.
Ronald L Conte Jr
Hi Ron, I have a nice quote for you to add to your article on the Roman Pontiff at “catholicism.io”
is from Pope Francis on the authority of the pope:
“The Lord Jesus, meek Judge, Shepherd of our souls, entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his Successors the power of the keys to carry out in the Church the work of justice and truth; this supreme and universal power of binding and loosing here on earth , affirms, corroborates and vindicates that of the Pastors of particular Churches, by virtue of which they have the sacred right and duty, before the Lord, to judge their subjects.”
-Pope Francis: Apostolic Letter Mitis et misericors Iesus
Added to Catholicism.io — thanks!
Mitis et Misericors Jesus, n. 1:
“The Gentle and merciful Jesus, the Shepherd of our Souls, entrusted to the Apostle Peter and to his successors the power of the keys to carry out the work of truth and justice in the Church; this supreme and universal power of binding and loosing here on earth asserts, strengthens, and protects the power of Pastors of particular Churches, by virtue of which they have the sacred right and duty before the Lord to enact judgment toward those entrusted to their care.”
I’ve heard several critics of Pope Francis invoke this passage from St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae, II-II, Question 33, a. 4, ad 2: “If the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, ‘Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.’”
This position of Aquinas, though, seems to be later rejected by Pope Gregory XI, who, in 1377 condemned 19 errors of John Wycliffe. Error 19 read: “An ecclesiastic, even the Roman Pontiff, can legitimately be corrected and even accused, by subjects and lay persons” (Denz.-H. 1139).
Does Gregory XI’s 1377 rejection of error 19 of Wycliffe apply to the papal critics who cite the ST II-II q. 33 a. 4, ad 2 to justify their criticisms of the Holy Father?
Thank you for considering the question. As we know, the positions of Aquinas or Augustine do not have authority over those of the Pope.
One crucial issue concerns the accusation that Pope Francis did not merely err to some extent, but that he is heretical, an apostate, an idolater, has taught heresy, etc. and should be, they say, resisted generally (“recognize and resist”). Dogma excludes these types of grave errors and grave failings in faith due to the teachings of the ordinary universal magisterium and Vatican I on the papal charism of truth and never failing faith (References). Moreover, the dogma of the indefectibility of the Church also excludes the claim that the Pope, or the body of Bishops with him, or an Ecumenical Council would lead the Church astray.
Saint Thomas clearly excludes these types of grave failings of faith and grave errors, since he proposes correction from a subordinate, and continued rule by the superior. Those who have gone gravely astray from the faith, so that they do not listen even to the Church, are not likely to listen to a subordinate. Though Thomas says “if the faith were endangered”, I don’t believe he refers to the types of severe errors of which Pope Francis is accused. I think he means a limited doctrinal error. Also, Thomas combines, in his treatment of the question, lesser prelates and the Roman Pontiff, so we cannot assume that “if the faith were endangered” applies to the Pope. Based on other teachings of Thomas, that phrase would only apply to lesser prelates.
Thomas’ only reference to the Pope is the correction of Paul, which concerned Peter’s personal behavior and example, not his exercise of the Keys.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, Contra Errores Graecorum: “For it is revealed that to be subject to the Roman Pontiff is from the necessity of salvation” This teaching became dogma at Lateran V.
Lateran V: “It arises from the necessity of salvation that all the faithful of Christ are to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”
Lateran V: “the person who abandons the teaching of the Roman pontiff cannot be within the Church….”
Saint Thomas quoting Saint Cyril: “According to this promise of the Lord, the Apostolic Church of Peter remains pure and spotless from all leading into error, or heretical fraud, above all Heads and Bishops, and Primates of Churches and people, with its own Pontiffs, with most abundant faith, and the authority of Peter. And while other Churches have to blush for the error of some of their members, this reigns alone, immovably established, enforcing silence, and stopping the mouths of all heretics; and we, from the necessity of salvation, not drunken with the wine of pride, confess, together with it, the formula of truth and of the holy apostolic tradition.” [From the golden chain of Saint Thomas Aquinas, attributed incorrectly to Saint Cyril, but approved by Thomas.]
Pope Paul IV writes about heresy and schism among leaders in the Church and in society of every rank — but he never considers that the Pope could err to that extent (except that a man could err prior to becoming Pope). And he says that if the Pope “deviates” from the faith only that he can be contradicted, not judged, opposed, condemned, etc. Such a deviation is clearly a lesser error.
By contrast, Innocent III and Pope Saint John Paul II taught that Popes cannot deviate from the Faith (in a different sense, that of grave errors) —
Pope Innocent III: “The Lord confesses at the time of the Passion that he prayed for him: ‘I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail: and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren’ [Lk 22:32], by this manifestly indicating that his successors would never at any time deviate from the Catholic faith, but rather they would recall others and also strengthen others in such a way as to impose on others the necessity of obeying….”
John Paul II: “Moreover, Peter — and like him each one of his successors and head of the Church — has the mission of encouraging the faithful to put all their trust in Christ and in the power of his grace, which he personally experienced. This is what Innocent III writes in the Apostolic Letter Sedis primatus [the First See] (November 12, 1199), quoting the text of Luke 22:32 and commenting on it thus: ‘The Lord clearly signifies that Peter’s successors will never deviate from the Catholic faith. Rather, they will help the deviating to return and will strengthen the vacillating’ (DS 775). That Pope of the Middle Ages considered that the declaration of Jesus to Peter was confirmed by the experience of a millennium.”
Thank you very much for putting the position of St. Thomas Aquinas within its proper context and for the other great references. They are very helpful to have.
God bless you,