26 November 2018

The Validity of Pope Benedict's Abdication

The question of the validity of Pope Benedict XVI's abdication (or resignation) has taken on a life of its own. Ann Barnhardt, who had already become at least a practical sedevacantist, is beating the drum, His Excellency  René Henry Gracida, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi has gotten on the bandwagon, and recently they were joined by Msgr Nicola Bux, a former consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who has added his voice to the increasing clamour.

Below are three different responses. The first, as the tweet says, is from an FSSP Chaplain (Pastor) in Kansas. My opinion follows these responses.

And from an adherent of the SSPX, trained at the graduate level in theology and philosophy,

Fortunately (or unfortunately) there are two points to be remembered with regards to this question which are philosophical and theological, so no news articles, desires, worries or appearances will change.

  • Most traditional theologians have held that it is an infallible fact (because certain dogmas and doctrines depend on that fact) that a man who is publicly and openly accepted as Pope without any significant questions (even if they should later come up) is the Pope. That was confirmed by the Western Schism and its resolution in which the last of the Antipopes simply lost the support of the faction he had behind him, who transferred their allegiance to the true Pope, which made it clear that that man was the Pope, and the other the Antipope, solving the question.
  • The Pope is the Supreme Legislator, and thus is not bound by Canon Law. He is bound by moral law, divine law and fundamental ethical principles, but not by Canon Law.
The take away from this is that he can resign however he wants and under whatever condition he wants. His resignation is not invalidated by Canon Law, because it is not governed by Canon Law (which simply lays out a procedure so that resignation can be properly manifested, since one usually resigns to one's superior, and the Pope has none).

The question of Canon 188 is not applicable to a Papal resignation for the same reason, but does embody a principle of moral theology. It extends the principle, however, beyond what moral theology teaches. Canon Law says that fear invalidates, which is more than the moral theology principles would state. The freedom or voluntariness of an action is reduced by grave fear according to traditional moral principles, but is is not taken away unless reason is taken away. If a gun is held to your head and you are told to press a button to kill your father, if you do so you are guilty of murder, and the fear reduces your guilt, but does not remove the grave sin. Similarly, while the Church states for those bound by Canon Law that fear will invalidate a resignation, that does not apply to the Pope's resignation which is not necessarily governed by Canon Law (unless the Pope intended this, and then there is no reason to think this), and would be governed by the moral principles of Natural Law and human actions.

I never cease to wonder why people are so stuck on bringing Benedict back.

Would he be better the Francis? Probably, though he still has some quite wrong ideas that are more subtle and set the stage for Francis.

But I think people forget that if Benedict did resign out of fear, and has consistently played the role of the resigned Pope, then he has at best, when the going got tough, failed gravely in his duty as Pope to protect the faithful and instead facilitated the rise of Francis and encouraged him by his apparent support and silence. At best Benedict in such a scenario is a terrible coward and failed to stand up when his duty required ... and that's the man many people want to pop back in and supplant Francis ... ?

And Mundabor, on his blog, chimes in, under the heading 'An Unnecessary Clarification'. I have no idea who or where Mundabor is, or what his qualifications are, but he's no friend of Francis. I have shared posts of his, where I had to disassociate myself from his strong language, wishing death upon Francis.

His post:

I wrote yesterday:
In Italy, every university Professor is called, upon retirement, “Professore Emerito”.
This is meant to mean exactly what Benedict stated: the professor is not in charge anymore, but the honour of the position remains with him forever, it stays with him for life.
No one thinks he still has the job.


Not one.

The words and the concept are elementarily clear to every Italian, and Ratzinger has lived there for the better part of his life. It is clear enough what he wanted to say. The rest is  fluff.

This is not difficult to understand for anyone who takes the time to, actually, read.
No Italian thinks that a Professore Emerito still has the job. 
Not one. 
What the word mean, is that the man is now retired, and another one is teaching in his place.
Professore Emerito is, very simply, how you call a retired professor.
This is exactly why Benedict has chosen the title of Pontiff Emeritus, and he explicitly said that he does not want to be the one in charge anymore. He very clearly wanted to convey exactly this meaning. 
Therefore, I am (emphatically) not stating that nobody believes that Benedict is still the reigning Pope.
I am, obviously, well aware that there are people who keep floating this absurd idea.
This is exactly why I write blog posts refuting it.
I don’t like being misrepresented, and I do not think this is, whether you agree with me or not, fair to this little effort.
OK, now my opinion, for what it's worth. I agree with all three responses I've shared, tho' I think the FSSP Chaplain may have gone a bit far saying that such opinions 'border on insanity'. The opinion is born out of just anger, fear for Holy Church, and frustration at an obviously heretical Pope. However, I totally agree with him that it has 'no clear basis in discernible reality'.

My friend who adheres to the SSPX goes into a bit of analysis. I totally agree with his point that Benedict's abdication cannot be governed by Canon Law, because, until the moment he ceased to be Pope, he was the Supreme Legislator of the Church. As a matter of logic, the Legislator cannot be bound by the Law. He can change the Law on a whim. How could it possibly bind him?

My friend deals with Canon 188 as well, explaining that, even tho' it did not bind' Benedict, it raises a point in which the Law goes beyond moral theology. He points out that whilst the Law did not bind Benedict, moral theology does not support the contention of the invalidity of his abdication either. 

And in closing, he asks the $64,000 Question. Why do people want a man to return as Shepherd, who, if they are correct, deserted his flock and left them to ravening wolves? I have always respected Benedict, but if what is implied by these people is true, I definitely don't want him as Pope. If it were true, I would be forced to consider Benedict a craven nithing, not worthy of any respect or honour. Is that the sort of man they want as Pope? A coward, who flees in fear? Did Our Lord flee in fear from Gethsemane?

And, Mundabor's response is just a hard headed, straight forward, 'This is what the man said! This is what it means! Don't be ridiculous!', and I couldn't agree more. In fact, I'm surprised that Bishop Emeritus Gracida hasn't noticed. Does he think he's still Bishop of Corpus Christi?

So, in closing, Benedict's abdication was valid. Francis was validly elected Pope. Yes, he's a heretic. Yes, he's a Protector and Promoter of Perverts. Yes, he's a disaster for the Church. Yes, I want him gone yesterday. But, he's still the Pope and I pray for him every day. I pray especially that he may return to our Holy Faith that he has so obviously abandoned!


  1. Barhardt addressed all of these objections in her video, and quite well, except for the inapplicability of Canon Law, which goes straight to the heart of her theory. She would do well to consider that. But she does not like Benedict; she's just convinced he's still the Pope, which obviously means she is not a Sedevacantist. It is unfair to label her such.

    1. Which is exactly why I did NOT call her a sedevacantist. Since I have no idea of her interior disposition, I said that she was at least a practical sedevacantist.


Comments are subject to deletion if they are not germane. I have no problem with a bit of colourful language, but blasphemy or depraved profanity will not be allowed. Attacks on the Catholic Faith will not be tolerated. Comments will be deleted that are republican (Yanks! Note the lower case 'r'!), attacks on the legitimacy of Pope Francis as the Vicar of Christ (I know he's a material heretic and a Protector of Perverts, and I definitely want him gone yesterday! However, he is Pope, and I pray for him every day.), the legitimacy of the House of Windsor or of the claims of the Elder Line of the House of France, or attacks on the legitimacy of any of the currently ruling Houses of Europe.