“Crazy” rumor about what Francis might do during the August consistory

Posted on 25 August 2022 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf on his blog:

Church news, especially having to do with the papacy, has lately become a hybrid between a long-delayed forensic autopsy and Fawlty Towers, sickeningly hilarious.

Yesterday, I saw this tweet from Damian Thompson.

Crazy rumour in Rome that at his August consistory Francis will try to appoint some sort of co-adjutor… can’t believe even he would try to fix the appointment of his successor in this way.

— Damian Thompson (@holysmoke) August 24, 2022

Today I saw this.

If – (pope) Bergoglio appoints a coadjutor bishop of Rome with right of succession, then the papacy becomes a monarchy.

This will be a return to an ancient Roman tradition. The Caesars used to appoint their successors — the Emperor Tiberius appointed Caligula as his successor

— Nick Donnelly (@ProtecttheFaith) August 25, 2022

Today in texting with friends I put my money on Becciu. Or else Benedict, who has a strong CV, though his employee history in the job is a little iffy.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict is obviously still with us.   There are those who believe that Benedict is still the true Pope, that is to say, holds both the offices of Vicar of Christ and Bishop of Rome as Successor of Peter.

In Donnelly’s tweet, the phrasing was interesting: “If – (pope) Bergoglio appoints a coadjutor bishop of Rome with right of succession, then the papacy becomes a monarchy.”

Well, maybe not.  Firstly, it is not entirely clear that a Pope can name a successor.  He would have to entirely abolish the rules for conclaves, etc., and attempt a simultaneous enthronement abdication.  Not likely.  But Francis… who knows?  Time is greater than space … God of Surprises.

I’ve gone through this mind exercise before, but my thought has evolved a little.  Allow me a little space to spin it out.  Again, I am musing through a mind exercise.  I’ll try to take you along with as much clarity as I can muster without 20 rewrites.

From the onset, we must acknowledge and then set aside the fact that “pope… papacy” are concepts that evolved in late antiquity.  It is anachronistic to refer to Peter as “Pope”, although that is what he was in potency, as it were, in view of the future developments of the role he held as Vicar of Christ and head of the community in Rome, it’s Bishop.

It seems to me that the “Benedict is Pope” argument, at least the better argument, stems from the premise that Benedict did not have “free will” to resign.  His will might have been pressured by bankers who were screwing with the Vatican’s “Swift”.  Perhaps it was the cumulative effect of the “dossier” and betrayal.  It may be because he was trying something innovative, a kind of bifurcation of the papacy into active and a contemplative functions, one being Bishop of Rome and the other remaining Vicar of Christ.  If he was wrong about that, if that was impossible because the offices are inseparable, then he was in “substantial error” about his resignation and that would have rendered it null and void.  Hence, he would still be both Vicar of Christ and Bishop of Rome and Francis would be, at least, an antipope, albeit a virtually universally accepted antipope.

However, if it was possible to separate the two offices, and Benedict truly managed to renounce being the active component (Bishop of Rome), then the College of Cardinals, being the clergy of Rome, elected a new Bishop of Rome without electing a new Vicar of Christ.

Remember that in the 6th century, Belesarius arrested and exiled Pope Silverius and then imposed Vigilius as Pope on 29 March 537.    Silverius died on 2 Dec 537.  When Silverius died, Vigilius was recognized as Pope by Rome’s clergy.   Successions of Pope can be messy.

Rome’s special “clergy” are the College of Cardinals, whose Electors have the role of electing the Bishop of Rome.  Under normal circumstances (i.e., the Pope dies) the Electors elect a new Bishop who is also, as Successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ.  But – and here we go back to the idea that there are two offices which are, in fact, separable, namely Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ – if a Pope legitimately resigns only being Bishop of Rome, and the Electors elect a new Bishop of Rome, then that new Bishop of Rome (who isn’t also Vicar of Christ) can name all the Cardinals he wants because Cardinals are Roman “clergy”.  That’s why they get churches assigned to them in Rome, even if it is only symbolic.  Meanwhile, when the former Bishop of Rome (emeritus) who remained Vicar of Christ dies, it would be supposed that that office would then automatically inhere in the one who had been elected only as Bishop of Rome (cf. Vigilius).  Otherwise, alternatively, the office of Vicar of Rome would be vacant (as sometimes it is for a while, as is normal), until the new non-Vicar Bishop of Rome died.  The man the College would then elect would be both Vicar of Christ and Bishop of Rome and things would be back to…. normal.

Hence, there is no worry about the integrity of the See of Peter or a problem of “sedevacantism” in the case of the failed resignation of a Pope and imposition of a new Bishop on the City.

Would there be a problem with that “Pope’s” legislation and magisterium?  Perhaps with the magisterium, but perhaps not with the legislation because of the concept of Ecclesia supplet.  Can. 144 says:

“In factual or legal common error and in positive and probable doubt of law or of fact, the Church supplies executive power of governance for both the external and internal forum.”

So, even if Francis is in a chair he shouldn’t be in, that of the Bishop of Rome, his juridical acts could be valid because the Church supplies the jurisdiction.  Hence, he can name clergy to Roman Churches… who are the Cardinals… who form the next conclave.

Magisterium is trickier. That would have to be dealt with by a legitimate successor, perhaps with the aid of a Council.

BTW… eventually Vigilius, too, would be exiled.  He wrote to his captors: “You may keep me in captivity, but the blessed Apostle Peter will never be your captive.” Interesting phrasing.

A great deal of this depends on the idea that the offices of Vicar of Christ and Bishop of Rome as separable.  This was debated somewhat at the time of Vatican I.  The problem was not resolved, though the majority of theologians thought that, because Peter shed his blood in Rome, that sealed the two offices together, such that they are, for all of his successors, inseparable.

On the other hand – and there’s almost always another hand – it would be easier to have One-Handed Theology, sometimes – one might ask the question of when Peter became Vicar of Christ.

In Matthew 16:19, Christ says to Peter “I will give you” the keys, future active indicative of didomi, not “Here are the keys” or “I give (contemporary) you the keys”.   Furthermore, being Vicar of Christ is certainly inextricably bound up with being the head of the College of Apostles (all the bishops).  Peter didn’t become a bishop (using the modern term) until the Last Supper and the conferral of the ordained, ministerial, priesthood with the institution of the sacrament of Holy Orders.  Is that when Peter became Vicar of Christ?  After all, in modern times, if a non-bishop were to be elected by the Electors in a conclave, upon acceptance he must immediately be consecrated as a bishop, because you can’t be the head of the College of the Apostles (Bishops) if you aren’t one.

Otherwise, I also have a sense that Peter became the Vicar of Christ and received the keys that Christ promised to give him in the future in John 21 at the shore of the Sea of Galilee… where Christ’s and Peter’s history started.  That is the moment of the reconciliation, the purification of Peter’s three-fold betrayal, and the description given by Christ to Peter of what his earthly destiny would be:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.”

So, it seems from this passage that – if this is the moment when Christ definitively makes Peter His Vicar – that Peter’s role in the Church as Vicar is tied up, so to speak, also with the way that Peter will die.

Peter, Vicar of Christ, founded the Churches of Antioch and Alexandria, but he died in Rome.

Some might think of the description by Christ of Peter’s role in the Church, as in Luke 22:32: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

Note that “when”, which is Greek is “when once” (pote, a disjunctive particle) and then “you have turned again” (epistrepsas… aorist active participle) and “strengthen” (sterison… aorist active imperative).  The point is that this is to be done in the future.  It is a job description depending on Peter’s conversion.  That is what would take place at the Sea of Galilee.

As an aside, if the legend is true, his “turning around” or conversion would also have taken place when Peter was fleeing Rome: on meeting Christ, going to Rome to be crucified again, Peter turned around and went back to be crucified as Christ’s Vicar would.

So there is a tension between two ideas.  First, Peter was Vicar of Christ long before he reached Rome.  Also, Peter, Vicar of Christ, left sees that he founded (e.g., Antioch).  On the other hand, Christ, during His threefold reconciliation of Peter, explicitly talks about Peter’s death.  So it would seem that Peter’s death and being Vicar of Christ have something to do with each other.  That would support the idea that the offices of Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ are not in fact separable.

And if Benedict thought they were, he was wrong.  And if he was wrong, and if he was attempting to separate them through his resignation… and the Latin of the resignation is, it must be admitted, a little odd in regard to the terms ministerium and munus… then he was in substantial error about what he was trying to do and, therefore, the resignation would have been invalid.

Another aside, but an important one. The terms ministerium and munus, what they mean in relation to each other, is really murky.  On the one hand we can go to our dictionaries and obtain a little clarity.  On the other hand, we also have to go by how they are used in Church documents.  I was at one time pretty sure they were quite specific and meant obviously different things.  Then I read a paper written by a serious canonist about the problematic meanings of munus, ministerium and officium written back in 1989, long before 2013 and this controversy.  It was written by future Cardinal Peter Erdõ, considered papabile now.  Divine providence?  (Cf. ERDÖ, “Ministerium, munus et officium in Codice iuris canonici”, in Periodica, 1989, pp. 411-436.)  It’s in Latin.  Enjoy.

Bottom line, between the uses of the three terms in the 1917 Code, Vatican II, and the 1983 Code, according to Erdõ, there is confusion.  It is hard to fix definitions that don’t overlap to the point that they are sometimes interchangeable.  More work is needed on the problem.

Frankly, I think that in a document as important as an instrument of abdication from the papacy, even if somewhat informal as a read speech, the author would want to use precise terms.  Maybe Benedict thought those terms weren’t as precise as they seem to others, perhaps even because of Erdõ’s work.  I speculate.  Let’s move along.  I’m not sure we get very far with this.

The problem here is that, while we have a dreamy speech from Gänswein about what Benedict tried to do, and we have cryptic remarks by Benedict that he will always be Pope, in a sense, and he wears white, lives in the Vatican and gives blessings in the manner of a Pope, he has also said that Francis is Pope, Francis is pretty much universally accepted as Pope, and not a single Cardinal involved in the 2013 conclave has publicly said anything to the contrary.  Universal acceptance is not 100% conclusive, but it also not nothing.

Is any of this important to anyone on a daily basis?  Yes and no.

No, in the sense that we all have vocations to live and that we can go on fairly normally, though little in our time is normal.

Yes, in the sense that what Francis is doing sends massive ripples through the Church (whether he is truly the Pope or not, or just Bishop of Rome, or not… etc.).  Think “Traditionis custodes”, which has prompted many bishops to suppress the celebration of the Vetus Ordo.  Whether it was legitimately done or not, now many thousands of people suffer as a result and vocations to the priesthood and religious life or traditional group were undermined.   He has tried to change, not evolve, the Church’s teaching concerning the death penalty.  If he can do that, he can also try to change other moral teachings.  And he has: the infamous footnote in Amoris laetitia which has left many with the idea that the Church approves of Communion for manifestly objective adulterers.   And then there’s Pachamama, which I believe caused a ripple effect.. nay rather tsunami effect not only in the Church.  He had a demon idol Pachamama bowl placed on the altar of Sacrifice directly over the bones of Peter.

So, yes, “Who is Pope?” makes a difference.  You are or will be impacted by what he does.

What we must not let the question do is in anyway erode our active membership and participation in the life of the Church, even if we have to get creative about how that it to be done.

All of this will pass and will be resolved in the way that God desires it to be.  It is HIS Church.   She will suffer a Passion because the Lord suffered His Passion.  She will rise, because He rose.   Mary is her Mother and Joseph is her guardian.  Whether she is large and triumphal or small and humble, the Church will endure.

I take great comfort in the fact that Christ told Peter, when He promised Peter the keys in Matthew 16 that “the gates of Hades… pulai hadou” will not “overpower… katisxusousin” the Church, “ekklesia” which would be founded on Peter’s person.  Knowing that Peter continues in the Church (because the “keys” indicate from the Davidic priest kings a hereditary office passed down from one to the next), the Church is safe in regard to the “gates of Hades” even today, also because of the Petrine ministry which is a constituent element of the Church.

My comfort derives from the fact that “gates” are defensive structures. 

It is not Hell that is on the offensive, though it seems that way most of the time.  It is the CHURCH that is on the offensive and Hell’s gates will not “overpower” the Church’s battering rams.  No matter how small the Church might become, Hell cannot win.  Even if the Church is reduced to a handful, that handful – like Gideon’s band, like the Maccabees – will be enough.

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