Skip to main content

Notice of Danger: A Church with Two Popes The imminent conclave will elect the new pontiff. But it will not dismiss the uncertainties about the role of the so-called "pope emeritus." A great canonist reveals the risks of this title. And of other ambiguities that surround it by Sandro Magister

Notice of Danger: A Church with Two Popes

The imminent conclave will elect the new pontiff. But it will not dismiss the uncertainties about the role of the so-called "pope emeritus." A great canonist reveals the risks of this title. And of other ambiguities that surround it

by Sandro Magister

ROME, March 9, 2013 – How will the new pope who is about to be elected guide the Church with the one who preceded him on the chair of Peter still alive?

With the conclave imminent, the unknowns about how this coexistence will take shape are still to a large extent unresolved.

There still remains uncertain, in particular, the title to be attributed to Joseph Ratzinger after his renunciation of the papacy.

It is true that the director of the Vatican press office, Federico Lombardi, has authorized and encouraged the use of the formula: “His Holiness Benedict XVI pope emeritus.”

But it is also true that he has done so in an informal way, in speech alone, according to him simply “at the indication of Don Georg," the personal secretary of the one who has renounced the papacy. Too little and too vague for the question to be considered closed.

In affirmation of the enduring uncertainty, on February 28, three days after the statement by Fr. Lombardi, "La Civiltà Cattolica," the magazine of the Rome Jesuits that is printed after review and authorization by the Vatican secretariat of state, has come out with a long and sophisticated article on the “Cessation of the office of the Roman pontiff,” written by the illustrious canonist Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a former rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, that absolutely rules out the idea that one who has renounced the office could continue to be referred to as “pope.”

At a certain point, Fr. Ghirlanda writes:

"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."

And in the final paragraph:

"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.”

Questioned in this regard, Fr. Lombardi replied that “La Civiltà Cattolica" was indeed issued after but printed before the indication he had given, which would continue to apply.

In effect, the formula "His Holiness the pope emeritus Benedict XVI" has been used in the infelicitous telegram of farewell sent to Ratzinger on March 5 by cardinal dean Angelo Sodano in the name of the college of cardinals gathered for the preparation of the conclave. A telegram of disarming brevity and banality, wrong in both manner and timing, Benedict XVI himself having already said farewell, in his last public act as pope, to each cardinal one by one:

> "A Sua Santità il Papa emerito..."

In any case, an official decision on this is still lacking. In order to have one, one may perhaps have to wait for the new edition of the Annuario Pontificio, which by necessity of the situation will dedicate beside the page of the new pope with the titles that belong to him a page as well for his living predecessor, with the qualifications that the new pope will assign to him.

The uncertainty about this specific matter is a case in point of a more general enduring disorientation in interpreting the act of renunciation carried out by Benedict XVI and in understanding its effects.

With the risks that could emerge from the coexistence of two popes who are both defined as such, one reigning and one emeritus.

The following contribution, expressly written for www.chiesa, is intended to shed light on this ambiguity-strewn terrain.

The author is a tenured professor of canon law in the faculty of jurisprudence of the Università Roma Tre. Noteworthy among the books he has published are the two volumes on “The Roman Church and juridical modernity,” from the council of Trent to the 1917 code of canon law.



by Carlo Fantappiè

The renunciation of Benedict XVI has prompted various vaticanistas to style themselves as Church historians or theologians of the papacy. The principal newspapers have contained glaring errors into which even representatives of the academic world have fallen (1). But above all the novelty of the act has been used as a point of departure for bringing back into discussion or prognosticating the crisis of the Petrine office.

There have been some who have spoken of a modernization of the papacy, which would be transformed from a permanent institution into an institution with a fixed term. Some who have taken the opportunity to bring up the necessity of reform of the papal office by integrating it with other collegial organisms. Some who have hazarded to speak of the end of a model of governance and of a conception of the papacy.

There have also been, on the other side, some who have not accepted the present renunciation even as an exceptional decision, because they see the “sacredness" of the pope as being stripped away, and some who even maintain that papal resignations are simply impossible on the metaphysical and mystical level, because the acceptance of election would place the elect on a different ontological level (2).

It is evident that the renunciation of Benedict XVI has raised grave problems about the constitution of the Church, about the nature of the primacy of the pope in addition to the scope and extension of his powers after the cessation of office.

Before speaking of a “redefinition” of the papacy, however, it would be necessary to take into account its complex theological and canonical elaboration.


In the first place it must be said that the papacy is an office occupied by a person and not, properly speaking, a person who occupies an office, even if he becomes its proprietor.

As Max Weber recognizes, canon law has the distinction of having transformed the “personal charism” into the “charism of office.” Carl Schmitt would add that in these conceptual repartitions “lies the rational creative force of Catholicism and, at the same time, its humanity.”

“Person” and “office” in the material constitution of the Church must be distinguishable. This is also the condition in order that “with one pope dead another can be made,” or that a pope can, in truly exceptional cases and for the greater good of the Church, “renounce the office” without falling into grave sin before God.

This distinction also makes clear the attribution of sacrality, infallibility, and the other jurisdictional and honorific prerogatives. In that they stem from the office (to be more precise: from the authority of governance which is different from the simple authority of orders, even if it is inseparable from this latter), these prerogatives are lost completely with death or eventual renunciation.

In the same way must be considered overcome, according to constant canonical doctrine, the thesis advanced by the traditionalists concerning the impossibility of the renunciation of the papacy.

A noteworthy clarification of this point came, not by coincidence, from the arguments adopted by Olivi or by Egidio Romano against the theses of the cardinals Colonna following the resignation of Celestine V.

It must be remembered in fact that the person of the pope is not invested with an indelible character, because the office of which he is proprietor does not represent a fourth degree of sacred orders after the episcopate, nor is the pope a bishop superior to the others in terms of his power of orders.

The one who is elected bishop of Rome (this is the efficient cause of the papacy) succeeds in the office that was first occupied by the apostle Peter and therefore “inherits” the powers of governance or of jurisdiction conferred on this latter directly by Christ as pastor of the whole Church.


But the papal renunciation opens a second question, that of the vacuum of power in the Church.

It is only by reasoning on the source of this power of the pope and of that of the episcopal college that one can define in the correct way the unique character of the papal function and the limits of his power.

In order to do this it is essential to avoid a twofold confusion that appears in the language of contemporary commentators.

The first confusion is between the canonical organization and the dynastic system, according to which the papacy would be an absolute hereditary monarchy in which each pope would succeed his predecessor instead of Peter.

In this way the powers of a new pope would be limited by the decisions of the previous one, something that is not admitted, and there would be raised the theoretical possibility, which we will see is unfounded, of appointing his successor.

The second confusion is between the canonical system and the representative democratic system, according to which the pope would receive a sort of mandate from the Church, in the form of the assembly of all the bishops (ecumenical council), or from a representative body (synod of bishops), or from the college of cardinals that for almost a millennium has enjoyed confidentiality about his election.

Catholic doctrine affirms, instead, that the pope is invested with his power of primacy, in the twofold level of head of the episcopal college and head of the Church, directly from Christ through acceptance of the legitimate election made by the organ of the college of cardinals. This means that this latter is understood as an organ of the divine will. In fact, it loses all of its power after fulfilling its task.

In its turn, the college of bishops derives its own powers from the apostolic college, but cannot exercise them independently of its head, because the college "does not exist without its head" (Vatican Council II, "Nota explicativa praevia").

Therefore, during the time of the vacant apostolic see the college of bishops or a representative body of it cannot perform acts proper to this college. A council or a synod of bishops in course is not dissolved, but remains suspended "ipso iure" pending the decision of the new pope. To the college of cardinals and not to other possible institutions is entrusted the governance of the Church for the handling of ordinary or non-postponable affairs, with the clarification that the cardinals have no authority over matters that are the responsibility of the Roman pontiff, including the rules for the election of the new pope.


It is worth dwelling on precisely this third and last point to clarify, with two historical-doctrinal references, the problem of eventual interference between one pope and the other or between a reigning pope and a so-called "pope emeritus."

In the first place I would like to evoke a long-discussed theory about the right of the pope to appoint, to indicate his successor or to intervene in his election.

This hypothesis was formulated on two occasions: in 1877 by the Italian and European press, which, after the promulgation of the dogma of pontifical infallibility, elaborated a curious theory of the pope's right to hold "in pectore" the name of the future elect, or of his right to appoint a "coadjutor" pope with right of succession, residing in the palace of the Lateran with the honors and insignia reserved for the old pope, with the exception of the tiara.

Again in 1902 the European press brought up the idea of a possible appointment of a successor by Leo XIII. In both cases the intention, among others, was to eliminate at the root any external interference of a political nature in the appointment of a pope, or to avoid the constitution of parties in the conclave.

In the same year a French canonist of ultramontanist bent, G. Péries, wrote a highly informative brochure to demonstrate the lack of foundation for similar opinions, which moreover had already emerged in the sixteenth century. While reiterating the right of the pope to regulate the election, to establish its date and determine the subjects suited to take part in it, he absolutely rejected the right of the pope himself to designate in obligatory fashion the one who would succeed him in the apostolic see.

The other historical-doctrinal reference useful for illuminating the current problems of the Church dates back to the Middle Ages and is the opinion of two canonists of the twelfth century, Baziano and Uguccione da Pisa, who found themselves commenting, in cause VIII of the Decree of Gratian, on the coexistence of Saint Augustine and Valerius as bishops of the same city.

Both canonists asked if such a coexistence was also possible in the papal office. And both replied in the negative. Such an eventuality - they maintained - not only would be the source of schisms, but would make the Church "bicipite." The great Uguccione noted that only in a deformed body can there be multiple heads, while to only one was it said": ""Tu vocaberis Cephas".


A conclusion. In the important papacy of Joseph Ratzinger, the recovery of the bond between "theologia" and "ratio," as well as between "lex orandi" and "lex credendi," has not found an equally positive counterpart in the relationship between "theologia" and "ius canonicum," as an instrumental component in the Catholic form of Christianity.

From fifty years ago until today, little has been done to create a renovated bridge between the ecclesiology of Vatican II and juridical-canonical rationality.

When instead precisely thanks to this latter the stability of the Church makes use of institutes, rules, and procedures that permit the resolution of crisis situations, guaranteeing the continuity of the institutions.


(1) For example, the historian Alberto Melloni when he incredibly indicated "the sole infallible act of the twentieth-century magisterium" in the definition of abortion as a "grave moral disorder." Or Armando Torno, when he called the pope "successor of Christ."

(2) Thus Enrico Maria Radaelli on www.chiesa of February 20, 2013.


In this interview with "Avvenire" on February 21, before Fr. Lombardi gave the green light to the formula "pope emeritus," Professor Carlo Fantappiè had expressed the hope that as was done once for "Pietro del Morrone, formerly Celestine V," today by analogy would be chosen the expression "Joseph Ratzinger, former Roman pontiff":

> Quando Pietro depone le chiavi

The article from www.chiesa on the two volumes by Fantappiè on "The Roman Church and juridical modernity," dedicated in particular to the elaboration of the code of canon law in the early twentieth century:

> Saint Pius X, a Backward Pope? No, an Unprecedented Cyclone of Reform (13.5.2008)


The complete text of the article by the canonist Giuseppe Ghirlanda in the March 2, 2013 issue of "La Civiltà Cattolica," opposed to the concept of "pope emeritus":

> Cessazione dall’ufficio di Romano Pontefice


Popular posts from this blog

Might Biden be a Liar & Predator like McCarrick?

September 15, 2020   Everyone knows that sexual predator ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick is a liar. His whole life was a lie of betrayal of the most sacred vows he took and the violation of the moral tenets of the Catholic faith which he desecrated. Most people don't realize that part of this desecration of lies included lying for "gravely sinful" Democrats like Joe Biden. McCarrick protected Biden when then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later to be Pope Benedict XVI) wrote that bishops were not to admit to Communion politicians like "gravely sinful" Biden who supports the killing of unborn babies. McCarrick lied for politicians like Biden by ignoring the important parts of the Ratzinger letter and told bishops not to ignore the Catholic Church law.  Last year, Fr. Robert Morey denied Holy Communion to the “gravely sinful” Biden following a "2004 decree signed jointly by the bishops of

My good friend ( now deceased ), Mother Teresa of the Still River Mass convent , called me years before the McLucas story broke. Latest Comments 2Vermont JULY 30, 2019 I think the only thing I would add here is what seems like MV’S obsession with things of a sexual nature. Tom A JULY 30, 2019 He, like many, defend the institution with the zeal that should be used to defend the Faith. Sad. What Mr. Voris fails to admit is that it is the institution of the conciliar fake church that is the biggest enemy of the Faith. Lynda JULY 30, 2019 Blinded by secular values and prestige of man. coastalfarm JULY 30, 2019 Please see the article “Unmarked building, quiet legal help for accused priests” Dryden, Mich. (AP) for the priest Mr. Voris defends, Rev.Eduard Perrone of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church also known as Assumption Grotto, is co-founder of Opus Bono Sacerdotii. This non-profit organization takes in accused priests and gives them shelter, legal defense, transportation, etc. Opus Bono claims to have helped over 8,000 priests and has raised over $8 million 2002-201

The Biben Lying Machine: "Joe , do you know what else is a Sin besides Killing Babies? Lying... "

October 09, 2020   It appears that Joe Biden was even a lying machine in 2008 according to the post " Media Ignores Biden Repeatedly Lies During 'Meet the Press' Interview" on the Weasel Zippers website: Joe Biden Repeatedly Lies During "Meet the Press" Interview, Claims he Doesn't Support Taxpayer Funded Abortions.....   Joe, do you know what else is a sin besides killing babies? Lying... ... Joe Biden repeatedly made the claim in a Sunday interview on the NBC political show "Meet the Press" that he opposes taxpayer funding of abortions. However, a look at his voting record over the years reveals numerous instances where Barack Obama's pro-abortion running mate did exactly that. "I don't support public, public funding. I don't, because that flips the burden. That's then telling me I have to accept a different view," he said on the program. As recently as February, Biden voted against an amendmen