by Br. Alexis Bugnolo
The Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica hands down the Catholic Tradition on the duties of the Catholic Faithful in matters where the Faith itself is put into public doubt or danger by the actions or statements of prelates, even of one’s own Bishop, when he writes:
To withstand anyone in public exceeds the mode of fraternal correction, and so Paul would not have withstood Peter then, unless he were in some way his equal as regards the defense of the Faith. But one who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectufully. Hence the Apostle, writing to the Colossians (4:17), tells them to admonish their prelate: “Say to Archippus, Fulfill thy ministry!”. It must be observed, however, that if the Faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence, Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning the Faith, and, as the gloss on St. Augustine says, on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.” (Summa Theologica, II II, Q. 33, a. 4, ad 2)
Thus, I take up my pen to publicly rebuke Mons. Athanasius Schneider for statements made in his Essay published today at LifeSite News, entitled, On the question of the true pope in the light of the opinion of the automatic loss of the papal office for heresy and the speculations about the resignation of Benedict XVI.
First, I find remarkable, that the Monsignor has doubled down on his opinion that the canonical crime of heresy publicly posited does not cause one to lose immediately every office in the Church, both theologically and canonically. He has sustained this opinion before, against all the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, as has been shown by several other writers. His attempt to do so again, by arguing that a particular passage of Gratian is spurious is simply an absurd recourse to an absurd argument. Gratian was never a magisterial authority, so whether a particular passage is authentic or not, does not change the fact that notable authors, including Pope Innocent III, before and after Gratian held the opinion that heresy causes the loss of office, for anyone whomsoever. — Is he really saying, that Innocent III taught error, because of a faulty gloss? I say that he himself, that Bishop Schneider, is teaching error on the basis of a bad hermeneutic. To claim that the Church can lose Her Faith because She cannot discern that an unauthentic gloss presents false teaching, is to say the Church has no grace of discernment in matters of the Faith, but I, Bishop Schneider, know better than them all. Who do you think you are, your Excellency? Do you think you are greater that Saint Robert Bellarmine, S. J., who is as Doctor of the Church, and who disagrees with you?
Canon 1364 makes no exceptions whatsoever for a pope. The principle of The First See is judged by no one, which is enshrined in canon 1404, regards cases before a tribunal and acts of the Roman Pontiff. It does not regard the man who is the pope, in the case of his personal faith. Because just as a man who is a heretic, is not a member of the Church, a man who is a heretic holds no office. And thus a man considered or judged on account of heresy, is not considered or judged on account of any office. This is why Canon 1364 has no exceptions and imposes an excommunication upon each and everyone who commits a public crime of heresy, schism or apostasy.
Second, as regard the Declaratio of Pope Benedict: Your excellency shows that you either do not understand Canon Law or that you do not understand causality itself. If you had apprised yourself of even some of the documents sent to you by many Catholics round the world, you can see that the Code of Canon Law — an authentic Magisterial Document which you have no right to disregard or misrepresent — itself requires for a valid papal resignation, that the act posited by the man who is the Roman Pontiff, be an act of renunciation of petrine munus. But Pope Benedict XVI never posited such an act. Statements made before or after such an act, regarding intention or signification of the act, have no bearing whatsoever on the nature of the act. If your excellency had done as much due diligence as I have, when you were in Rome, and paid a visit to Mons. Arrieta, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legal Texts, you would have understood that an act of papal renunciation has to be clear in itself, it cannot be subject to the interpretation of anyone, not even by the pope. For if it needs interpretation or explanation, then it is not clear, and not valid. And if the man has validly resigned, any interpretation he gives is not authoritative. Nor can a pope resign, by authoritatively interpreting an invalid act as valid, after the fact. Because Canon 332 §2 requires an act of renunciation of petrine munus: and by such it does not permit an act of resignation by means of a post-factum papal interpretation of a not clearly manifest act.
Your opinion runs contrary to Saint Alphonsus dei Liguori, C. Ss.R., a Doctor of the Church, on legal interpretation. Do you think you know better than he, who held 2 doctorates in Law, one in canon law and another in civil law?
Third, all the quotes you cite, though they have no bearing, nevertheless, do not even prove the case you make with them, as I shall show here, by quoting each and commenting:
“Among you, in the College of Cardinals, there is also the future pope to whom today I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience” (Farewell address to the Cardinals, 28 February 2013).
Since, normally speaking, all Popes were former Cardinals, this statement can be said at any time to the College of Cardinals. It means nothing. We all should promise our obedience to all legitimate future popes, and past popes, because our obedience is owed to the office.
“I have taken this step with full awareness of its gravity and even its novelty, but with profound interior serenity” (Last General Audience, February 27, 2013).
Howsoever, aware one is of an act, does not make an act valid, unless you think you are God or that the one acting is God. Canon 332 §2 by imposing conditions upon a papal resignation and defining it as a papal renunciation of petrine munus, teaches implicitly that Pope John Paul II held invalid a renunciation of ministerium, that John Paul II judged his successor, as the man who was Pope, and that the act itself must be duly manifest, to be valid. All of which make no provision for full awareness of substantial error or novelty as a cause of validity (cf. canon 188 and 126).
“There is not the slightest doubt about the validity of my renunciation of the Petrine ministry. The only condition of validity is the full freedom of the decision. Speculation about the invalidity of renunciation is simply absurd” (Letter from February 18, 2014, to Andrea Tornielli, published in La Stampa, February 27, 2014).
The controversy over the canonical effect of the Declaratio has nothing to do with the claim that a renunciation of ministerium cannot be valid or is not valid. It has to do with the claim that the renunciation of ministerium effects the same thing as a renunciation of munus, and that it fulfills the requirements of Canon 332 §2, as not being corrupted by substantial error (cf. canon 188). Moreover, if Pope Benedict XVI thinks that liberty of action alone is the cause of a valid renunciation, then, he shows himself to be in invincible error as regards his own act, because clearly in Canon 332 §2 there are 2 causes of validity of a renunciation of munus: freedom and due manifestation. And if you think you can transpose those 2 causes of validity for an act of renunciation of munus to an act of renunciation of ministerium, to make the renunciation of ministerium a renunciation of munus, then clearly you are in error, grave error! Then your act is invalid either on account of Canons 38 when reading an administrative act in violation of 36 §2, and/or of canon 15 §1 for all such cases of error in juridical acts against canons 188 and 332 §2.
During a conversation with a journalist from the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the former Pope Benedict XVI said: “The Pope is one, he is Francis.” These words of Benedict XVI were reported in the written edition of Corriere della Sera, June 28, 2019 and anticipated in the Italian version of Vatican News on June 27, 2019.
This statement by Bishop Schneider is amazing of itself, because it is made regarding a report which was debunked by LifeSite News just days later. I suppose, the Bishop does not read the very electronic journal which publishes his Essay. And I suppose the editors of the same electronic journal omitted fraternal correction to help him save face by repeating such a false claim. But again, maybe I suppose too much.
Fourth, your excellency, why do you quote statements by Pope Benedict regarding his intentions to prove the Act of renunciation of ministry means an act of renunciation of papal munus, and then, in the next section of your essay, tell us not to hold that the actions and statements made by Pope Benedict which clearly show his intention to hold on to the papal dignity and office are not to be interpreted thus?
The Church is a visible society. Therefore, what was essential for the fulfillment of Benedict XVI’s resignation was not his possible internal thought but what he externally declared, for the Church does not judge about internal intentions (de internis non iudicat Ecclesia). Pope Benedict XVI’s ambiguous acts, like wearing a white cassock, keeping his name, imparting the apostolic blessing, etc., do not affect the unequivocal meaning of his act of renunciation. Many of his demonstrable and unequivocal words and actions after his resignation also confirm that he considers Pope Francis, and not himself, to be the pope.
Is evidence only to be interpreted to support your theory, and not objective reality? Do you honestly think that a validly resigned pope, should dress as the Pope, sign as the Pope, give blessings as the Pope? Moreover, do you think a real pope would salute a retired pope, at Panama City, saying to the crowds: Look, Benedict, the pope!
If you want to close your eyes to facts which disprove your allegations, that is your affair, but asking the rest of the Church to do so is the very consummation of pride.
Finally, I must publicly reprove you for blasphemy against the Saints of Holy Mother Church, when you write:
Declaring Pope Francis to be an invalid pope, either because of his heresies or because of an invalid election (for reasons of alleged violations of the Conclave norms or for the reason that Pope Benedict XVI is still the pope because of his invalid renunciation) are desperate and subjectively taken actions aimed at remedying the current unprecedented crisis of the papacy. They are purely human and betray a spiritual myopia. All such endeavors are ultimately a dead end, a cul-de-sac. Such solutions reveal an implicit Pelagian approach to resolving a problem with human means; a problem, indeed, which cannot be resolved by human efforts, but which requires a divine intervention.
Many Councils, not the least of which the Council of Etampes, France, in 1130 A.D., presided over by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and the Synod of Sutri, approved of by St. Peter Damian and Bl. Pope Victor III and Pope St. Gregory VIII, have pronounced men to be invalid popes. To say that all such endeavors are pelagian and a dead end is not only a historical lie by a blasphemy against these holy men.
For all these reasons, I publicly ask you to withdraw the false assertions of your essay, if you want to be regarded any longer by Catholics as a Bishop who is faithful to the teaching and practice of the Church over the last 2000 years. Your desire to sustain the claim of Bergoglio to the papacy is clearly not based on facts, history or canon law, and is causing grave scandal to the faithful.
The true way forward, is the Catholic way, and it was proposed today by Catholics who know their faith and accept the teaching of the Church in its entirety.
CREDITS: The Featured Image is a screen shot of the page at LifeSite News, where Bishop Schneider’s Essay has been published. It and the citations from his essay are used here in accord with fair use standards for editorial commentary.
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