I was recently sent an article entitled “Francis: The First Anti-Pope in Centuries?”—even though the dash is quite unnecessary in the word antipope. The article includes the subtitle, “The case is airtight – and foolproof – that he is” and is written by a fellow called Matthew Hanley. First of all, it is indisputable that he is not because Pope Linus II exists or at least did exist before he inexplicably vanished in 2007, and the Palmarian Christian Church has somehow had four Popes, somehow having two Popes named “Peter” after we were completely without a single one for a solid 1937 years without one. However, Mr. Hanley is wrong for a more important reason—namely, that Francis is the real Pope.
It is a long article, so I will not quote the entire thing, but I hope to deal with all Mr. Hanley’s main points. If the reader is unfamiliar, Beneplenism seems to be increasingly common among people who are concerned about Francis’ papacy. Basically, it espouses that Benedict XVI never validly resigned and therefore Francis is not the true Pope.
Mr. Hanley simply begins by mentioning a few things Pope Francis has done which some Catholics have found scandalous, although I do not really see why, considering that St. Peter denied Jesus three times and then there was the time when Paul had to rebuke Peter for hypocrisy in not eating with Gentiles when the Judaizers were around. The point is, the Pope committing scandalous actions is by no means a legitimate reason to question his pontificate. So his first real point in questioning the legitimacy of Francis’ pontificate is the following:
Consideration 1: “Is Francis a heretic? Several well-respected scholars and religious have formally claimed so. If any Pope were indeed an explicit heretic, he would automatically forfeit the Papacy, and place himself outside the Christian fold.”
This is a complicated subject. It has been disputed for many centuries among theologians whether God would even allow a heretic to be Pope. It is my personal view that it is probably possible, since Popes are human beings and have been known to commit other mortal sins. Besides, it is possible that Honorius I was himself a formal heretic, although that is in dispute. It is true that some, most famously Bellarmine, have taught that a Pope would automatically forfeit the papacy by heresy, but even that does not work. A council of bishops would be necessary to declare the Pope as such. The Church does not, of course, truly judge the pope in Bellarmine’s version, but only determines if he is a heretic. He would not be ipso facto deposed until the proper authorities, namely the bishops at a council, rendered a judgment and declared him to be separated from the Church. Until then, the Pope would retain the pontificate and his acts of jurisdiction.
If it were really up to the laity’s personal judgment to determine whether a pope is a heretic, that would be chaos, as can be seen from the existence of sedevacantism and Beneplenism. For a more exhaustive writing on the subject, see my article, Can Popes Be Heretics?
Consideration 2: “There is also the matter of the St. Gallen Mafia, a group of high-ranking cardinals vehemently opposed to Benedict XVI, named for the town in Switzerland where they regularly met. According to a recent autobiography by the late Belgian Cardinal Daneels, one of its members, they maneuvered in advance to install Bergoglio. Such manipulative scheming, if true, would automatically invalidate the outcome of the conclave.”
This again fails and it comes from a misunderstanding of canon law. I assume Mr. Hanley is referencing the document Universo Dominici Gregis. Universo Dominici Gregis is a document issued by Pope John Paul II on February 22, 1996. Now, Chapter V of the document, which takes up paragraphs 62-77, describes the necessities for an election to be valid. For instance, it tells how ballots are supposed to be cast, when and how the election is supposed to begin, and so forth. What this means is that the elections would be invalid if the cardinals, instead of casting ballots, were to just do something weird. For instance, if the cardinals were to have a hotdog eating contest and the last man swallowing whole hotdogs wins, that would be considered null and void—as enjoyable as it would be to see 120 older men choking down hotdogs.
I presume Mr. Hanley is referencing Chapter VI, paragraphs 78-82 or thereabouts. I find that many Beneplenists do not quote paragraph 78, for reasons that should be made clear in a moment, but I will here.
78. If — God forbid — in the election of the Roman Pontiff the crime of simony were to be perpetrated, I decree and declare that all those guilty thereof shall incur excommunication latae sententiae. At the same time I remove the nullity or invalidity of the same simoniacal provision, in order that — as was already established by my Predecessors — the validity of the election of the Roman Pontiff may not for this reason be challenged.
79: Confirming the prescriptions of my Predecessors, I likewise forbid anyone, even if he is a Cardinal, during the Pope’s lifetime and without having consulted him, to make plans concerning the election of his successor, or to promise votes, or to make decisions in this regard in private gatherings.
80: In the same way, I wish to confirm the provisions made by my Predecessors for the purpose of excluding any external interference in the election of the Supreme Pontiff. Therefore, in virtue of holy obedience and under pain of excommunication latae sententiae, I again forbid each and every Cardinal elector, present and future, as also the Secretary of the College of Cardinals and all other persons taking part in the preparation and carrying out of everything necessary for the election, to accept under any pretext whatsoever, from any civil authority whatsoever, the task of proposing the veto or the so-called exclusiva, even under the guise of a simple desire, or to reveal such either to the entire electoral body assembled together or to individual electors, in writing or by word of mouth, either directly and personally or indirectly and through others, both before the election begins and for its duration. I intend this prohibition to include all possible forms of interference, opposition and suggestion whereby secular authorities of whatever order and degree, or any individual or group, might attempt to exercise influence on the election of the Pope.
81: The Cardinal electors shall further abstain from any form of pact, agreement, promise or other commitment of any kind which could oblige them to give or deny their vote to a person or persons. If this were in fact done, even under oath, I decree that such a commitment shall be null and void and that no one shall be bound to observe it; and I hereby impose the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae upon those who violate this prohibition. It is not my intention however to forbid, during the period in which the See is vacant, the exchange of views concerning the election.
82. I likewise forbid the Cardinals before the election to enter into any stipulations, committing themselves of common accord to a certain course of action should one of them be elevated to the Pontificate. These promises too, should any in fact be made, even under oath, I also declare null and void.
I quoted this at length so as not to be accused of taking anything out of context. However, in simplified terms, John Paul II proscribes a latae sententiae excommunication for anyone who cheats on the election, which, if there was actually a massive conspiracy to install Pope Francis, would included it.
However, notice John Paul II’s words, “At the same time I remove the nullity or invalidity of the same simoniacal provision, in order that — as was already established by my Predecessors — the validity of the election of the Roman Pontiff may not for this reason be challenged.” In other words, even if a latae sententiae is invoked, that does not make the election invalid. I think that since it does not say otherwise for the others following it, it can be safely assumed that they do not make an election invalid either. To name a somewhat similar example, many Americans believe that the election of 2020 was a fraudulent one and Joe Biden should not be legally president, but as long as the U.S. government recognizes him as president, he is president.
For those who are stuck on how a man who invoked a latae sententiae can be Pope, let it be known that an undeclared latae sententiae does not prevent someone from becoming Pope. As a matter of fact, in paragraph 35 of Universo Dominici Gregis, John Paul II explicitly states, “No Cardinal elector can be excluded from active or passive voice in the election of the Supreme Pontiff, for any reason or pretext.” (Universo Dominici Gregis, 35) “Active” means that a cardinal may take part in a papal election. “Passive” means that a cardinal may be elected.
Or see the even clearer words from Pope Pius XII—“None of the cardinals, by any excommunication, suspension, interdict, or any other ecclesiastical impediment, by pretext or cause, can in any way be excluded from the active and passive election of the Supreme Pontiff.” (Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis, 34, December 8, 1945)
Now, in case anyone is unsure whether he or she read this sentence properly, the Church goes out of her way in her law to say that Freemasons, formal heretics, apostates, and simoniacs can be valid Pope. The reason for this is that sins such as heresy and even simony can be committed secretly without anyone really knowing. The Church makes this law to prevent exactly what the Beneplenists are claiming to be happening from happening. An invalid Pope on the see of Peter, that no average lay Catholic would recognize, would be a cancer to the Church. Imagine, the bishops appointed by him would have no true right to govern their respective dioceses. No laws the Pope passed would be binding on the Church. Most importantly the cardinals named by him would not be valid electors of a future pope, making future elections of a valid Pope impossible. So no, this does not make Francis’ pontificate null and void.
Mr. Hanley goes on to say that these issues are irrelevant, because Benedict’s resignation was invalid, and then he goes on to describe a personal anecdote as to his own story, so I will skip to the first actual argument that Benedict’s resignation is invalid.
Consideration 3: “First off, I was a bit surprised to learn that immediately after Benedict XVI’s Declaratio (within days), prominent Latinists, canonists, philosophers, theologians and journalists were pointing out significant errors in the Latin text Benedict XVI had delivered. [. . .] It is indeed noteworthy (and mortifying) that no one affiliated with the subsequent conclave called for an investigation into this matter at the time. That would have been prudent and indeed necessary, precisely because non-compliance with canonical norms voids such juridical, ecclesiastical acts. After all, if the consequential shortcomings or ambiguities of Benedict XVI’s Declaratio had been publically enumerated in a transparent effort to clarify his objective, Benedict XVI could have easily responded by issuing a simple, unambiguous renunciation of the Papacy, free of error, which would meet the requirements of canon law. But that never happened.”
Mr. Hanley is, I assume, calling into question the idea that there was ever Peaceful and Universal Acceptance—a doctrine, by the way, for which I think the Catholic Church is in dire need of a dogmatic definition. The doctrine of Peaceful and Universal Acceptance is that legitimacy of a Pope, who has been elected peacefully and accepted by at least a practical unanimity of Catholics, is infallibly certain. I am curious who these “prominent Latinists, canonists, philosophers, theologians and journalists” and what they said. I wish a source were included, but I do not think that matters much for my purposes.
The most well-known theologian for teaching this view is probably John of St. Thomas, a Dominican friar from the seventeenth century. This is his quote on the subject:
“The unanimous election of the cardinals and their declaration is similar to a definition given by the bishops of a Council legitimately gathered. Moreover, the acceptance of the Church is, for us, like a confirmation of this declaration. Now, the acceptance of the Church is realized both negatively, by the fact that the Church does not contradict the news of the election wherever it becomes known, and positively, by the gradual acceptance of the prelates of the Church, beginning with the place of the election, and spreading throughout the rest of the world. As soon as men see or hear that a Pope has been elected, and that the election is not contested, they are obliged to believe that that man is the Pope, and to accept him.”
John of St. Thomas, Cursus Theologicus, Tome 6. Questions 1-7 on Faith. Disputation 8
So, in other words, this is en par with rejecting a Council, by saying it is null and void on a technicality into which the Church never looked. One can see why I have trouble justifying this with our Lord’s promise in Matthew 16.
Now, John says that people are obliged to “believe that that man is the Pope, and to accept him”, as soon as they hear a Pope has been elected, and that the election is not contested. Remember, this was long before the World Wide Web and television or radio or whatever, so news did not travel as quickly, hence he describes it as a “gradual acceptance”. Nowadays, he probably would not have described it so specifically.
So how can an election be contested? The most common way in the past is if another person were also claiming to be Pope—which is not the case with Benedict, by the way. Although PUA has not been dogmatically defined, I doubt several Italian writers expressing concern about a papal resignation’s wording, which was never addressed, would be enough to contest a papal election’s validity.
Consideration 4: “While several canons pertain to our awkward, canonically impossible “two pope” situation, the most central is canon 332§2 – which explicitly details what is required for a valid Papal renunciation. It reads:
“If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.
“The main problem is that the Roman Pontiff Benedict XVI did not renounce the office itself – munus in Latin – but rather a set of functions or ministry (ministerium in Latin) that one may exercise by virtue of holding a specific office in the first place. The Latin text of the Declaratio, it must be emphasized, is the binding version. [. . .] his use of one Latin word over the other for the object he was renouncing can yield various interpretations. Where interpretation is possible and clarification is needed, there is doubt; where there is doubt, there cannot be the clear and proper manifestation of the juridical act in question. Ergo, we have an invalid Papal renunciation.
“Some have claimed that the Latin terms munus and ministerium are close enough if not interchangeable, so that the meaning is clear: Benedict XVI basically intended to stop being the Pope. This is sharply contested; my understanding is that canon law decisively distinguishes between these two terms; that nowhere does the term ministerium correspond to the dignity, charge or office denoted by the term munus; and that the proper, precise meaning of words must inform our understanding of ecclesiastical law and related juridical acts. [. . .] The term ministerium simply does not signify an ontological equivalence with the sovereign dignity of the Papacy itself; renouncing it, therefore, does not mean Benedict XVI stops being the pope.”
As can be seen, I skipped over a couple sentences so as to make it more concise, but the reader can look at the original text if he is interested. I think I captured the meaning well enough.
First of all, in Latin, munus and ministerium mean basically the same thing. Perhaps one could say that they do not mean precisely the same thing, but they are close enough that they do not really matter. I do not think there are any two words in any language that mean precisely the same thing in every context.
But even if I grant Mr. Hanley’s distinction between the two more-or-less identical terms, it still does not work. Let us consider the context: Benedict is resigning from the ministry of the papacy. Here is the thing: even if the office and ministry are ontologically distinct, they are still necessarily connected. Throughout the history of the Church, the office and ministry of the Papacy have always been considered together.
It is well-known that the Pope has the authority to both teach and govern, so it is absurd to suppose Benedict thought that the two roles could be separated, unless Benedict is a formal heretic, which I think undermines the point of supposing Francis is an antipope. But look how clearly Benedict states his resignation:
“For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.” (Source, emphasis added)
The phrase, “the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant” does not seem by any means vague, and this is followed by the statement, “a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff”. In other words, he clearly said that a new Supreme Pontiff will be elected. Ambiguity can exist, to an extent, in the eye of the beholder, but I think this is clear enough.
Consideration 5: “There are other common objections to the view that Bergoglio is an anti-Pope, such as the claim that Benedict XVI has stated, ex post facto, that Francis is the Pope. My understanding is that he has never done that. What he has done is vaguely say that “the Pope is one” – without ever specifying who is that one. Meanwhile he still dresses and blesses as befits the Pope alone, while still residing in the Vatican; all while he has never plainly said Bergoglio is the one and only pope. Curious, don’t you think?”
As I said, Benedict basically acknowledged it in this original Declaratio. As for Benedict wearing white, first of all, the fact that he still wears white does not undo his resignation any more than I would be Pope by wearing white. Remember that the last time we had a papal resignation, the Pope did not even wear white, so there is some confusion as to how to treat a former Pope in the modern day. However, even if you think Benedict should not wear white, that is hardly solid evidence to call him Pope.
As for his giving apostolic blessings, it is possible for the Pope to delegate this power to another, so this is no great proof. Perhaps Pope Francis gave this to Benedict.
Consideration 6: “Another typical objection goes like this: distress over the fact that Bergoglio routinely flouts traditional Catholic belief, orthopraxis and metaphysical reality has led some Catholics to manufacture a convoluted hypothesis about Benedict XVI’s Declaratio so that everything Bergoglio has ever done will have no standing whatsoever. In other words, they have invented a pretext to dispatch with someone they deem to be an errant pope.
“But that too evades the central issue: how does what Benedict XVI’s Declaratio actually says comport with binding canon law? [. . .] Perhaps there is something I haven’t accounted for, but to date I haven’t found any adequate rebuttal to the specific claim that Benedict XVI did not fulfill what is required by canon law for a valid renunciation of the Papal office.”
I made sure to quote the last sentence, because it does show humility for Mr. Hanley to admit he does not know everything. He goes on a bit more on this issue, but I am not even going to quote it, since he is right: it evades the central issue. We, sedeplenists—a Beneplenist might object to me calling him not a sedeplenist, but frankly it is the best term that comes to mind and the word “sedeplenist” is typically defined as someone who holds that line of popes from John XXIII to Francis is valid—we, sedeplenists, can sometimes be guilty of the genetic fallacy by saying such things. I suspect that many people were led to hold Beneplenism because they opposed many of Francis’ words and actions during his pontificate. However, that does not really say much about whether Beneplenism is true or not.
Consideration 6: “There has also arisen a rift of sorts among those who are rightly convinced Bergoglio is an anti-pope. In one camp are those who feel that Benedict XVI made a “substantial error” in his Declaratio, because he aimed to retain a portion of the Papacy yet also incorporate a successor pope to take over the practical, day to day administrative and governing functions of the universal Church.
“In other words, he mistakenly thought he could bifurcate or otherwise expand the Papacy – transform it from a Divinely instituted charge given individually to St. Peter and all his individual successors to a similarly authoritative but more collegial unifying entity.
“The relevant canon for this view is 188, which reads:
“A resignation made out of grave fear that is inflicted unjustly or out of malice, substantial error, or simony is invalid by the law itself.”
I have heard this argument many times before, but I think that is very implausible. The fact that there can only be one Pope at a time is basic Catholic theology, testified very directly in the First Vatican Council. For example, “the Church of Christ may be one flock under one Supreme Pastor.” (Pastor Aeternus III:2)
I frankly think it is absurd to suppose that a great theologian could simply be unaware of the such a fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church such as that there can be only one Pope at the same time.
Consideration 7: “In another camp are those who contend that Benedict XVI did not erroneously attempt to pluralize the papacy, but rather that he specifically and intentionally did not renounce the munus because he intended to remain Pope. So why such a tack?
“He did this because he felt he could no longer properly function as Pope on account of pervasive opposition from within the Church itself. He was essentially impeded from governing in accordance with his charge in the manner he saw fit. (Canon 412 delineates the criteria of an impeded See).
“By stepping aside the way he did, he judged his unworthy, subversive adversaries would likely jump at the chance to seize power; their nefarious ways would eventually be exposed, thereby hastening a much-needed purification of the Church.”
I think many people fail to realize the moral implications of this idea. In other words, in order to allegedly save the Church, Benedict led almost all the Faithful to submit to an antipope. This would be one of the most massive scandals in the history of the Church, leading millions into schism, leading to numerous invalid bishops, unbinding laws, and invalid cardinals.
Besides, how could Benedict even know who would become Pope? Benedict does not choose the next Pope. What if, when Benedict resigned, we were to get a good man who thought he was a Pope but was not? Even if you can say Benedict thought an evil cardinal would probably be elected, that is hardly assurance. Besides, if he planned for everyone to think a wicked man or a heretic was Pope, that says some not too positive things about his character. A scandalous Pope (or well-accepted antipope) would be a scandal to the Faithful and a load of bullets for all those anti-Catholic people who like using straw-man arguments (I am looking at you, James White).
Any way one can slice it, Benedict’s supposed plan to expose corruption would both be gravely scandalous (probably worse than anything Francis has done) and could go wrong in so many ways.
Mr. Hanley goes on for some time after this with various closing statements, but I will not get into those, since the basic arguments are over. I will say that Mr. Hanley admits that if this matter is not rectified, the next conclave will elect an anti-pope, which is what worries me about this viewpoint. Once Benedict passes away (which we hope will not be for some time, but he is already ninety-five), all the Beneplenists will have to become sedevacantists and, provided the Church does not declare that Benedict was Pope all along, they may remain such for a long time.
Remember Matthew 16:18, “On this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Revised Standard Version) If almost no one in the Church even realizes who the true Pope is and is submitting to an antipope (therefore, committing material schism), I might question whether the Church has indeed fallen into the snares of the Devil. There can never be a time when the teachings of the Catholic Church can fall into general obscurity, so I see no reason why the identity of the Pope can.
Bonum Certamen Certemus
I am the Catholic of Honor