by Br. Alexis Bugnolo
Recently, the noted Vatican theologian, and former member of the Congregation for the Faith, Msgr. Nichola Bux publicly opined that the validity of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI should be studied in regard to the question of what appears to be substantial error in the formula of resignation. (For a correct English translation of the formula, see here).
Msgr. Bux was not the first to raise this issue. In fact, doubts as to the validity of the act of resignation were raised immediately upon the news being made known. Flavien Blanchon, a French journalist working at Rome, writing only 2 days afterwards, cited an eminent Latin scholar who pointed out errors in the text of abdication, and who noted that the presence of any error, according to canonical tradition, was held to be a sign of lack of deliberation, rendering the act null and void.
Then a year later, Antonio Socci openly speculated that the resignation might be invalid on account of the lack of interior will given by Benedict. In the same year, a very noteworthy study published by a Professor in canon law at the Theological Institute of Legano, Switzerland, in 2014 by Fr. Stefano Violi, which discussed canonically the renunciation: The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI Between History, Law and Conscience, without, however, raising the question of its invalidity. (Its a must read on account of its rich citation to the canonical history of papal resignations.) However, the study, by identifying the matter of the renunciation to regard the active ministry, not the munus, made it clear that the question of substantial error invalidating the resignation was a real question, founded upon the text of the act itself.
However, on June 19, 2016, Ann Barnhardt raised specifically the question of a doubt arising from canon 188, which cites substantial error as sufficient grounds to establish the grounds for a canonical determination of invalidity in any resignation. She did this following the remarkable comments by Pope Benedict’s personal Secretary on May 20th earlier, in which he claimed that Benedict still occupied the Papal Office (Full Text, English Translation).
Then the blogger, Sarmaticus, discussed the issue raised by Ganswein’s words on August 5, 2016, with a post drawing out the significance of what the Archbishop had said at the Gregorian University, in a post entitled: “Ockham’s Razor Finds: Benedict Still Pope, Francis Is False Pope, Universal Church in State of Necessity since 24 April, 2005.”
Msgr. Henry Gracida, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas, in the United States, and a former member of Opus Dei, has also sustained this same doubt and others regarding the validity of the resignation. I understand that the Bishop has written many members of the Sacred Hierarchy and Curia about these matters urging action be taken (He suggests a public declaration by 12 pre-Bergoglian Cardinals).
According to Ann Barnhart, in the following year, Attorney Chris Ferrara and Mrs. Anne Kreitzer also sustained this same doubt. The historian Richard Cowden Guido opined the same on May 11, 2017. And, the famous Italian controversialist, Antonio Socci quoted Violi at length on May 31, 2017 and sustained the same thesis.
In May of this year, at the latest, Fr. Juan Juarez Falcon expounded the canonical reason for the invalidity of the resignation, on the basis of substantial error, in an article entitled, “Dos Graves Razones”.
Finally, Pope Benedict XVI in his private letters to Cardinal Brandmueller, published in the summer of 2018, openly asks for suggestions for a better way to resign, if he did not do it correctly.
There being a number of notable Catholics sustaining this doubt, and since Msgr. Bux called for an investigation of this matter, I will add here in Scholastic Form, some arguments in favor of sustaining it, in course of which will refute all substantial arguments against it. In the course of time, as I find them, or think of new ones, I will add them to this list.
Whether Pope Benedict XVI by means of the act expressed in his address, “Non solum propter”, resigned the office of the Bishop of Rome?
And it seems that he did not:
1. First, because substantial error, in an act of resignation, regards the vis verborum, or signification of the words, as they regard the form and matter of the act. But the act of renouncing a ministry regards one of the proper accidents of the office by which that ministry can be rightfully exercised. Therefore, if one renounces a ministry, he does not renounce the office. And if he believes to have renounced the office, by renouncing one of the ministries, he is in substantial error as to the signification of the words he has used. But in the text, Non Solum Propter, Benedict XVI renounces the ministerium which he received as Bishop of Rome, when he was elected. Therefore, to understand that act as a renunciation of the office is to be in substantial error as to the effect of the act. Therefore as per canon 188, the resignation is invalid.
2. Saint Peter the Apostle exercised many ministries in many places. But no one is the real successor of Saint Peter except the Bishop of Rome (canon 331). If one renounces a petrine ministry, therefore, he does not renounce the office of Bishopric of Rome (cf. canons 331 & 332), who has other ministries in virtue of his office. Therefore, if one believes he has renounced the Bishopric of Rome by renouncing a petrine ministry, he is in substantial error, and thus as per canon 188, the resignation is invalid.
3. According to Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 12) there are diverse graces, ministries and offices in the Church, inasmuch as the Church is the Body of Christ. Therefore, since the Bishop of Rome can exercise several of these ministries, it follows that one does not renounce the Bishopric of Rome if one renounces one of these ministries, since no one ministry is coextensive with the Bishopric of Rome. Ergo in such a renunciation, if one believes he has sufficiently signified the renunciation of the Bishopric of Rome, he is in substantial error. Therefore, as per canon 188, the resignation is invalid.
4. According to Seneca (Moral Essays, vol. 3, John W. Basore, Heineman, 1935), one must distinguish between benefices, offices and ministries. Benefices are that which are given by an alien, offices by sons, mothers and others with necessary relationships, and ministries by servants who do what superiors do not do. The Petrine ministry is a service to the Church. But the office of the Bishop of Rome is a duty to Christ. If one renounces the ministry of a servant, he does not renounce the office of a son. Ergo in such a renunciation etc…
5. The validity of an act of resignation cannot be founded upon the subjective definition of words, or the mere intention of the one renouncing. If that were the case, the interpretation would make the act an act of resignation. The act itself would not declare it. But the Church is a public society founded by the Incarnate Living God. Therefore, the renunciation of offices must be not only intentional but public, to give witness to the fact that the office was established by the Living and Incarnate God. But the office of the Bishop of Rome is such an office. Ergo in such a renunciation etc..
7. Likewise, Christ prayed for Peter that his faith might not fail, and so that he could confirm his brethren in the Apostolic College. Now this prayer of Christ must be efficacious, since Christ is God and the Beloved Son of the Eternal Father, and because of the office of Saint Peter is not something merely useful to the Body of Christ, but necessary in matters of faith and unity. Therefore, Christ’s prayer for the Successors of Saint Peter must be efficacious in some manner as regards the faith and unity of the Church. But Bergoglio manifestly attacks both the faith and unity of the Church. Far be it, therefore, to judge that in this one man Christ’s prayer was not intended to be effective. Ergo, Bergoglio is not a valid successor of Saint Peter!
8. From the text of the act of resignation. Pope Benedict admits in the first sentence that he holds the munus petrinum. But further down, he says he renounces the ministerium which he had received as Bishop of Rome. Therefore, he has not renounced the munus. But munus means office and gift of grace (cf. Canon 145 §1 and Paul VI, Christus Dominus). Therefore, he has not stated that he has renounced the office and gift of grace. Therefore, in such a resignation etc..
9.From the sense of the Latin tongue, which lacks the definite and indefinite article. When you say: Renuntio ministerio, you do not say whether you have renounced the ministry or a ministry. Therefore, you leave unsaid what ministry you have renounced. Therefore, in such a resignation etc..
10.From the papal law Universi Dominici Gregis, on Papal elections: One is not elected to the Petrine Ministry, but to be the Bishop of Rome. Therefore, unless one renounce the Bishopric of Rome one has not vacated the See of Saint Peter. But in public statements Pope Benedict XVI after March 2013 says only that he has renounced the ministerium. Therefore, he is in substantial habitual error as regards what is required in an act of resignation of the office of the Bishopric of Rome. Therefore, in such a resignation etc..
11. From the Code of Canon Law: Canonical resignations are valid if 3 things are valid: liberty from coercion, right intention, unambiguous signification. This is confirmed in canon 332, § 2 which expressly denies that the acceptance of a resignation affects is validity or non-validity. But Pope Benedict admits in his letters to Cardinal Brandmueller that his intent was to retain something of the Pontifical Dignity. His private secretary also publicly has affirmed that he occupies the See of Peter but shares the Petrine Ministry still. This is incontrovertible evidence that the act of resignation is ambiguous. For either it means he has renounced the See or has not renounced the See, that he has renounced the ministry, or has not renounced the ministry. Therefore, in such a resignation etc..
12. From Pneumetology, that is, from the theology of the Holy Spirit. After Feb 2013 the whole Church still recognizes and accepts Pope Benedict with the title of pope and with papal prerogatives. All call him Benedict, not Ratzinger or Joseph. But the whole Church cannot be deceived. Nevertheless, according to Divine Institution, the Papacy cannot be held by more than one person at one time. And he who holds it first, has the valid claim to the office. Therefore, the Church does not understand the act as one which renounces the office. Therefore, in such a resignation etc..
13. From insufficiency of intention: If a Pope renounces eating bananas, he has not renounced the office of Bishopric of Rome. Therefore, if he says, “I have renounced eating bananas, to vacate the See of Rome”, he is in substantial error as to the effect of his act. But in his text of renunciation he says he has renounced the ministry so as to vacate the see of Saint Peter [ut sedes Sancti Petri vacet]. But that is a substantial error, since the ministry is only a proper accident of the Bishopric of Rome, for to be the Bishop of Rome is the first act of its being [esse primum], to exercise the ministries of the Bishopric of Rome is the second act of its being [esse secundum]. Therefore, since the second act of being is in potency to the first act, and potency is divided from act as accident to substance, to renounce a or all ministries of an office is an act regarding the accidents not the substance of the office. Therefore, one could just as well renounce any or all of its ministries and retain the office. Therefore, by renouncing a or the ministry he does not renounce the office. Indeed, in public statements, he explicitly affirms only to have renounced the ministry. Therefore, his insufficiency of expressed intention does not save the act from substantial error. Therefore, in such a renunciation etc..
14. The Pope is not more powerful than God the Son. But God the Son in becoming the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, at the moment of Consecration, renounces all the accidents and action of His Sacred Humanity, yet remains still God and Man. Hence, even if a Pope were to renounce all his actions and ministries as Pope, he remains the Pope. But Pope Benedict XVI in his declaration of Feb. 11, 2013, renounces only the ministerium of his office, not the office. Therefore, he remains the Pope.
15. If you get up from your chair, but to not give the chair to another, the chair becomes vacant but remains your property. Now the office of St. Peter’s Successor is to Saint Peter’s Successor as a throne is to the one enthroned. So if a Pope renounces the ministry of his office, but not the office, even if he intends by such a renunciation that the Throne of St. Peter be vacant, he does not cede his right and holding of the office. So when Pope Benedict writes declaro me ministerio … renuntiare ita ut Sedes Petri vacet its clear that while he renounces serving as Pope, he does not renounce the Papacy.
16. If any President, Prime Minister or father of a family renounces fulfilling the duties of his office, he nevertheless has not ceased to be President, Prime Minister or father. Likewise with the Pope, if he textually renounces only the ministry of his office, he has not lost his office.
17. God, who is Being, as the institutor of the Office of Peter, cannot regard as resigned from the office of the Successor of Saint Peter, any Roman Pontiff, validly elected, who only renounces accidents or second acts of the being of that office. But Pope Benedict XVI renounced only the ministerium, or exercise of the office, which he had received, not the munus, which is the office itself. Therefore, since the exercise of office is the second act of the being of the office, God cannot acknowledge such a resignation as valid. And if God does not recognize it as valid, neither can the Church. Therefore, in such a resignation, etc..
18. The essence of ‘being the Pope’ is the dignity of the office held. The essence of a ministry is the service rendered. Therefore, just as renunciation of a service does not cause the loss of dignity, so the renunciation of the Petrine Ministry does not cause the loss of Papal office. Therefore, in such a resignation, etc..
19. As the learned canonists Juan Juárez Falcó argues: Canon 332 which is the only canon regarding Papal renunciations speaks of the renunciation of the munus, not of the ministerium. But Benedict XVI speaks only of renouncing the ministerium, not the munus. Ergo per canon 188, the renunciation is invalid to effect a renunciation of munus. But as per canon 145, the munus is the office. Therefore, in such a resignation, etc..
As the eminent Canon Lawyer, Fr. Juan Ignacio Arrieta, says, commenting on Canon 126: When the ignorance or error regards the essential object of the act, … then the act must be considered as never having been posited, invalid. (Codice di Diritto Canonico, e Leggi Complementari: Commentato, Coletti a San Pietro, 2004, commentary on canon 126).
Hence, it appears, that if a Pope were to intend to retire from active ministry, but retain the Papal Office in all its fullness, that he could just as well read out loud the statement made by Pope Benedict XVI, Non solum propter, since the vis verborum of that text is that he renounced the ministry of the office of the Bishop of Rome, but not the office. Herein lies the substantial error, and thus that act of Benedict XVI on Feb. 11, 2013 must be judged to be invalid, as per canon 188, if it be asserted to be an act of resignation of the office of Bishop of Rome. However, if one were to assert that it is only the act of renunciation of active ministry, not of office, then yes, it should be said to be a valid act, containing no substantial error.
In Conclusion, Theological Reason
Though there can be many kinds of substantial error in an act of resignation, there is NONE more SUBSTANTIAL than the one which involves confusing the accidents of the office to be resigned as sufficient terms to signify the substance of the office itself. Now, according to canon 188, where substantial error is present in such an act, the act is invalid in its effect “by the law itself”. Therefore, the text of Non solum propter, of Benedict XVI does not effect validly his resignation from the office of the Bishopric of Rome.
In Conclusion, Canonical Reason
This is corroborated by undisputed facts of law, namely that the only Canon in the Code of Canon Law, Canon 322 §2, which speak expressly of a papal resignation, requires that the man who is pope resign the munus and do so rite (i.e. property according to the norms of law). But the text of Benedict’s resignation speaks only of a renunciation of ministerium. Therefore, since it regards an act wholly outside the meaning of Canon 332 §2, the act is invalid to effect a Papal resignation. It is also thus invalid by the law itself, according to Canon 188, and by canon 126.
On which account, as a baptized Roman Catholic, Italian Citizen and legal resident of the City of Rome, I call upon the Italian Government to invoke its right, as a party to the Lateran Pact and its subsequent agreements, to convene the entire Clergy of the Diocese of Rome, to judge in tribunal, just as they did in A. D. 1046 at Sutri, at the command of the Germany King Henry III, the validity of the claim to office of Popes Benedict and Francis, namely, whether the act of renunciation of Benedict XVI was valid as to a renunciation of office, and if not, to declare the Conclave of 2013 canonically invalid ex radicibus.