Reigning and “Emeritus.” The Enigma of the Two Popes
It is an unprecedented innovation in the history of the Church. With many unknowns still unresolved, and with serious risks already in play. An analysis by Roberto de Mattei
ROME, September 15, 2014 – That the figure of “pope emeritus” is an unprecedented innovation in the history of the Church, “instituted” by Benedict XVI himself in his act of resignation, has been recognized by Pope Francis himself, during the press conference on the airplane that brought him back from Korea to Rome last August I8.
This does not change the fact that from both the juridical and the doctrinal point of view it is by no means established that this new figure in the Catholic hierarchy has any real foundation.
“Time will tell if it is right or wrong, we shall see,” Francis said prudently, although he is personally an enthusiast of the innovation.
Among theologians and canonists, in fact, the viewpoints continue to be highly discordant.
Just two days after the announcement of the abdication, Manuel Jesus Arroba, a professor of canon law at the Pontifical Lateran University, warned against the use of the title: “Juridically there is only one pope. A ‘pope emeritus’ cannot exist.”
But it was above all a leading light of canon law and former rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Jesuit Gianfranco Ghirlanda, who refuted the legitimacy of the figure of “pope emeritus” in a long and thoroughly substantiated article published on March 2, 2013 in “La Civiltà Cattolica” and therefore - as for all the articles of this magazine - printed after review and authorization by the Vatican secretariat of state:
Cessazione dall'ufficio di Romano Pontefice
At the end of his article, Fr. Ghirlanda drew this conclusion:
How he exercises his power is, naturally, another discussion. But even in this case theology and the “sensus fidei” offer us instruments for resolving all the theological and canonical problems that may arise in the future.To deal at some length with the question of the relationship between the acceptance of legitimate election and episcopal consecration, and therefore of the origin of the authority of the Roman pontiff, has been necessary precisely in order to understand more deeply that the one who ceases from the pontifical ministry not because of death, although evidently remaining bishop is pope no longer, in that he loses all of the authority of primacy, because this did not come to him from episcopal consecration, but directly from Christ through the acceptance of legitimate election.
And he therefore ruled out the notion that the one resigning could continue to use the name of “pope,” even as emeritus:
[QUOTE]It is evident that the pope who has resigned is no longer pope, and therefore no longer has any authority in the Church and cannot interfere in any matter of governance. One might wonder what title Benedict XVI will retain. We think that he should be given the title of bishop emeritus of Rome, like any other diocesan bishop who steps down.[/QUOTE]Afterward, however, it was Ratzinger himself who took the title of “pope emeritus” and in a certain sense retained the trappings by continuing to wear the white cassock.
He enigmatically anticipated the meaning of this decision in the last of his general audiences as pope, on February 27, 2013, the eve of his effective abdication:
There are those who remember that Pius XII, when he prepared his letter of resignation that would go into effect in the event that the Germans should come to arrest him, said to his closest collaborators: “When the Germans cross that line, they will find not the pope, but Cardinal Pacelli."Anyone who accepts the Petrine ministry no longer has any private dimension. […] My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences, and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter.
But this was not at all the case for Benedict XVI. In resigning, he had no thought of being able to go back to being “Cardinal Ratzinger.” It was and is his firm conviction that there is something of his election as pope that remains “forever.”
And this is what some scholars have been trying to identify and justify.
Like Valerio Gigliotti, a professor of the history of European law at the University of Torino, in the book “La tiara deposta,” which www.chiesa covered last April:
The Pope's Third Embodiment
Or like Fr. Stefano Violi, a professor of law at the theological faculty of Emilia Romagna, in an article in the “Rivista teologica di Lugano” entitled: “The resignation of Benedict XVI between law, history, and conscience.”
According to Violi, in abdicating Benedict XVI indeed left the active exercise of the Petrine ministry, but not the office, the “munus” of the papacy, inalienable precisely because it was entrusted to him forever with his election as bishop of Rome and successor of Peter.
Those who know Ratzinger know that he would never subscribe to such a splitting of the papal office, which in his judgment can be only accepted or rejected as a whole.
But he has never said anything to clarify what he sees as the nature of his being “pope emeritus” even after the abdication.
The adjective “emeritus,” borrowed from bishops who have resigned, is of no help in understanding.
A bishop remains bishop forever, by virtue of the indelible character of the sacrament of orders, even after he no longer governs any diocese.
And a successor of Peter also remains bishop forever, after his resignation. But how can he still remain “pope,” after he has renounced all, not only a part, of what constitutes the specifically Petrine?
This silence of Ratzinger gives free rein not only to doctrinal conjectures that he certainly does not share - like the invention of an indelible “character” impressed by election as pope, as if it were a sacramental act - but also to the disorientation of not a few of the faithful, tempted to maintain that there can be two popes in the Catholic Church - perhaps on different levels, but still more than one - and to take sides for one against the other.
The following reflection goes to the heart of the matter and brings to light the seriousness of what is at stake, under the historical, canonical, and doctrinal profiles.
Roberto de Mattei, 66 years old and a father of five, is a professor of the history of Christianity at the European University of Rome. He directs the magazine “Radici Cristiane” and the news agency “Corrispondenza Romana.” He was vice-president of the National Research Council from 2003 to 2011. He is the author of the book “The Second Vatican Council - An Unwritten Story,” already translated into English, French, German, and Polish.
ONE AND ONE ALONE IS POPE
by Roberto de Mattei
Among the multiple and multifaceted statements of Pope Francis in recent days there is one that deserves to be evaluated in its entire scope.
During the press conference held on August 18, 2014 on board the plane that was bringing him back to Italy after his voyage to Korea, the pope said among other things:
The institutionalization of the figure of pope emeritus would therefore seem to be a fait accompli.I think that a Pope emeritus should not be an exception; after so many centuries, this is our first Pope emeritus. […] Seventy years ago bishops emeritus were an exception; they didn’t exist. Today bishops emeritus are an institution. I think that a ‘Pope emeritus’ has already become an institution. Why? Because our span of life increases and at a certain age we no longer have the ability to govern well because our body is weary; our health may be good but we don’t have the ability to deal with all the problems of a government like that of the Church. I believe that Pope Benedict XVI took this step which de facto instituted Popes emeriti. I repeat, perhaps some theologian will tell you that it isn’t right, but that’s what I think. Time will tell if it is right or wrong, we shall see. You can ask me: ‘What if one day you don’t feel prepared to go on?'. I would do the same, I would do the same! I will pray hard over it, but I would do the same thing. [Benedict] opened a door which is institutional, not exceptional.
Some Catholic writers, like Antonio Socci, Vittorio Messori, and Fr. Ariel Levi di Gualdo, have stressed the problem raised by this unprecedented situation, which seems to accredit the existence of a pontifical “diarchy.” A revolutionary break with the theological and juridical tradition of the Church paradoxically made precisely by the pope of the “hermeneutic of reform in continuity.”
It is no coincidence that the “school of Bologna,” which has always distinguished itself by its opposition to Benedict XVI, greeted with satisfaction his resignation from the pontificate, not only because it removed an unwelcome pope from the scene, but precisely because of that “reform of the papacy” which he is seen as having inaugurated with the decision to take the title of pope emeritus. More : Chiesa News