How usurpation of the Papacy leads to the excommunication of the participating Cardinal Electors and Bishops

by Br. Alexis Bugnolo

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Canon 359 expressly withdraws authority from the College of Cardinals to elect a Pope, when the Papal Office is still retained by another: there being no sede vacante. To call a conclave when there is still a true Pope, thus, is illicit. To elect another is to participate actively and immediately in the crime of the usurpation of the Papal Office.

Usurpation is the crime whereby someone without a legitimate claim, lays hold upon or claims an office which is not his.  In the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Usurpation is discussed under several canons, usurpation of office in canon 1381.

Though the crime of usurping the papacy is not named in the code expressly — since it has not occurred for centuries, those participating in such a crime can still be excommunicated latae sententiae out of the consequences of such an act, and this in two ways: 1) by the Anti-Pope ordaining bishops and collaborating with him in that, 2) by the crime of schism.

The first regards the crime of usurpation itself in the act of ordaining Bishops.

The worse crime of usurpation mentioned explicitly in the code is in canon 1382:

Can. 1382 — A bishop who consecrates some one a bishop without a pontifical mandate and the person who receives the consecration from him incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

Pope John Paul II cited this canon to declare that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the Society of Saint Pius X, was excommunicate on account of his ordination of their 4 Bishops. Bergoglio cited this same canon to “excommunicate” Bishop Williamson, after he was reconciled by Pope Benedict XVI, who undid John Paul II’s excommunication.

This applies to Anti-Popes, inasmuch as not being the legitimate successors of Saint Peter, their ordaining of Bishops is without true pontifical mandate.  It also applies to Bishops who ordain those nominated by Bergoglio, since they too have no true pontifical mandate to act.

Accomplices of both are also punished by the same punishment, as is clear from canon 1329.

Can. 1329 — §1. If ferendae sententiae penalties are established for the principal perpetrator, those who conspire together to commit a delict and are not expressly named in a law or precept are subject to the same penalties or to others of the same or lesser gravity.

§2. Accomplices who are not named in a law or precept incur a latae sententiae penalty attached to a delict if without their assistance the delict would not have been committed, and the penalty is of such a nature that it can affect them; otherwise, they can be punished by ferendae sententiae penalties.

Since the excommunication leveled in canon 1382 takes place immediately without the necessity of any public declaration by any authority, in accord with Canon 1329 §2 all the Cardinals involved in the uncanonical election of an Anti-Pope are also ipso facto excommunicated, since they participate intimately and immediately in his claim to exercise the pontifical mandate.

While it can be argued that those in substantial error as to the invalidity of Benedict’s resignation ought not be excommunicated, because they had good will, they must confront canon 15, which says in § 2: Ignorance or error about a law, a penalty, a fact concerning oneself, or a notorious fact concerning another is not presumedThus, as soon as any Cardinal Elector sees that Benedict resigned the ministerium, not the munus, and that Canon 322 §2 requires the resignation munus — all the while refusing to repudiate the validity of that resignation — he becomes indisputably culpable of the usurpation of the Papal office by way of consent to uphold Bergoglio’s claim to exercise the pontifical mandate, and as such, merits punishment under canons 1382 and 1329 §2.

The second way to excommunication latae sententiae, is through the crime of schism.

Cardinals and Bishops participating in supporting an Anti-Pope are also involved in the crime of schism, since they formally separate themselves from communion to the true Pope. Thus they are also subject to excommunication from canon

Can. 1364 — §1. Without prejudice to the prescript of can. 194, §1, n. 2, an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication; in addition, a cleric can be punished with the penalties mentioned in can. 1336, §1, nn. 1, 2, and 3.

Thus, the controversy over the invalidity of Pope Benedict’s resignation becomes one of the greatest import for Catholics, to know who is truly their pastors and who are truly schismatics and excommunicates.  This is not a joking matter, and any Cardinal or Bishop who treats it as such, should be sternly reminded of such.

Presumption and Silence

Finally, it needs to be pointed out, that whereas there is a presumption of validity of every Conclave, in the event of the death of the Roman Pontiff, however, in the case of a papal resignation, there is no such presumption, and since it is the grave duty of the Cardinals to act in accord with Canon Law in the election of the Roman Pontiff, they had the grave and solemn duty to verify that the resignation of Pope Benedict was in conformity with Canon 332 §2.  If they did verify that, why have they never admitted to having verified it? And if they did not, they ostensibly become culpable of usurpation out of negligence in so grave a duty.

Indeed, the Vatican is full of Doctors of Canon Law, but to my knowledge neither in February of 2013 nor in the following six years, as any Canon Lawyer from the Vatican published any study showing that Non solum propter effects a valid resignation in conformity to canon 322 §2. Nor does it seem that anyone in the Diplomatic Corps asked the Vatican for such a verification.* Nor does it seem that the Italian Government, bound by the Lateran Treaty to uphold only constitutional governments in the Vatican, ever asked for such a verification or explanation. — If this be true, its of the gravest indications that the resignation was never put to any kind of rational scrutiny, but was presumed to be valid by a bunch of giddy men who wanted Benedict out of the way.


For my Scholastic Disputation on the Papal Act of February 11, 2013, see here in English, and here in Spanish translation. For a summary of the Canonical Argument against validity, see Veri Catholici, here in English, and here in Italian translation.

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Image Credits:  Getty Images, Conclave of March 2013.

* For example, Eduard Hapsburg, the Ambassador of Hungary to the Vatican, recently insulted Catholics who question the validity of the resignation. But when asked for a verification of the resignation, remained utterly silent.

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Where Robert de Mattei is wrong

This week, Catholic Family News, the traditional private Catholic Newspaper founded by the late John Vennari, publishes an article entitled, “Socci’s Thesis Falls Short: Review of the Secret of Benedict XVI“, an English translation of an article which was published on Jan 8, 2019 online at Cooperatores Veritatis. The translator is a Giuseppe Pelligrino. (Socci’s book details facts and canonical arguments why Pope Benedict XVI is still the Pope, and Bergoglio an Anti-Pope, that is uncanonically elected). I will comment on the English version of the article.

The author, Dr. Roberto de Mattei, I have long admired, and have had the occasion to meet in person. His foundation, the Lepanto Foundation does much good work, and thus I bear him no animus. Nay, if the author of that article was someone unknown or not influential at Rome, I would probably have paid it no attention at all.

Moreover, the purpose of this present article is not to defend Socci’s book.  Rather it is to address the grave errors contained in De Mattei’s article, which on account of his personal reputation are magnified in the minds of many, and thus represent a danger to souls.

Here, then, I will discuss the errors briefly in the order they appear in that English translation by Signor Pellegrino.

The first error of which is that De Mattei sustains that the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI is valid, because there has been a peaceful and universal acceptance of the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

I will put aside the fact that several recent polls (not scientific) have shown that as much as 70% of Catholics reject Bergoglio as pope, because there is a more serious error to address, than disputing whether there is in fact a peaceful and universal acceptance of Bergoglio’s election.

Signor De Mattei is learned enough to own a copy of the Code of Canon Law. So I humbly suggest he read Canon 359 and consider publicly withdrawing his assertion that a peaceful and universal acceptance of an apparent papal election establishes it to be held as valid by Catholics.  For, that canon reads in Latin:

Can. 359 — Sede Apostolica vacante, Cardinalium Collegium ea tantum in Ecclesia gaudet potestate, quae in peculiari lege eidem tribuitur.

When translated into English — here I give my own translation — that canon says:

Canon 359 — When the Apostolic See is vacant, the College of Cardinals only enjoys that power in the Church, which is granted to it in particular law.

This is the reference to the power of the College to elect the Pope.  So, according to Canon 359, when there is no pope, the Cardinals have the authority to elect a pope.

Now, if the resignation of a pope is in doubt, then obviously, there is a doubt whether the Apostolic See is vacant, and therefore the Cardinals have doubtful authority. And when a resignation of a pope has not taken place, or a pope is not dead, the Apostolic See is not vacant, and therefore the Cardinals have NO power to elect another.

So, it should be obvious then, that “the peaceful and universal acceptance of the election of a pope by a College of Cardinals” which HAS NO POWER to elect a pope, because the See is NOT vacant, DOES NOT MAKE THE ELECTION VALID.

Second, De Mattei claims this principal regarding the acceptance of the election of a pope on the basis of commonly held opinion. But if he has studied Canon Law, he should know that Canon 17 does not permit common theological or canonical opinions to be interpretative guides to reading any canon, when the text of the canon expressly forbids an act to take place by denying the body which acts the power to act. For in such a case the mind of the Legislator takes precedence.

Third, what is worse, De Mattei then cites the Vatican translation of Canon 332 §2, where he admits that it denies that a papal resignation is valid on the grounds that anyone accepts it (in its final condition)! How that squares with the theory of peaceful and universal acceptance is impossible to imagine, since it undermines the validity of its application to the case of a disputed resignation. It does so, because obviously a Conclave called during the life of a pope who has not resigned, is called either because that College knows he has not and does intend to elect an Anti-Pope, and then it does not matter who accepts him, his election is invalid; or in the case the College opines that a resignation is valid, and they proceed to act as if there is no pope. But as canon 332 §2 declares, that they think it is valid, does not make it valid. Therefore, even if they think it is valid, when it is not valid, they cannot appeal to Canon 332 §2 to claim the authority in Canon 359 to lawfully elect another. Rather, they must follow Canon 17 and apply it. And so, whether the subsequent election be accepted or not, in the case of elections which follow papal resignations, the principal cited by De Mattei is improperly cited at best because it pertains to another case.

Finally, De Mattei is, in my opinion, intellectually dishonest, when he says that Violi’s canonical study of Pope Benedict’s act of Feb 11, 2013 contributes to the confusion. Because that study, which is cited in the preface of the Disputed Question, published here in November, is a very scholarly well thought out and precise study without any animus or polemic, which gives great clarity to the canonical signification of that papal act. To say that it causes confusion therefore is not based on Violi’s work, but rather seemingly on a desire to advance his own opinion by insulting a scholar who shows greater knowledge of Canon Law than himself.

As for Archbishop Ganswein’s discourse at the Gregorian University, at first glance it does seem to be confusing. But when you research, as Ann Barnhardt has done, what opinions regarding the mutability of the Papacy were being discussed at Tubingen, when Fr. Joseph Ratzinger was a professor of Theology there, then you would rather say its revealing, not confusing at all.

For those who want to understand the correct canonical argument, why Pope Benedict XVI is the Pope and why Bergoglio was never pope, supported by Canon Law and all the evidence, and put in simple terms, see “How and Why Pope Benedict’s Resignation is invalid by the law itself.”