Tag Archives: interpretation

My Meeting with the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts

By Br. Alexis Bugnolo

I write this post to publicly thank Mons. Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, Titular Bishop of Civitate, who was appointed by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI as Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.

I met with him this morning at 9:45. The meeting lasted about 75 minutes. I did not record the meeting, but want to share with everyone what I remember of it, because of its great importance to the life of the Catholic Church.

I began by saying that I had come to discuss the interpretation of law (interpretatio iuris) or more specifically the right to interpret canonical acts (ius interpretandi). Bishop Arrieta is an expert on this matter, having served in the capacity of a Professor of Canon Law since 1984 at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, and from 2003 to 2008 at the Preside of the “St Pius X” Institute of Canon Law at Venice, and as Canonist to the Apostolic Penitentiary. Since February of 2007, he has served in the Pontifical Council as its Secretary. This title does not mean he is a secretary, but rather, the Vice President as it were to the Council.

I want to remark on the gentleness and noble demeanor of the Bishop, who never used any hominems, never lost his patience and showed himself willing to discuss the most impolitic issues, from the point of view of canon law, in the Church.

I began my questions with a preface, and with the Bishop’s permission read to him my entire article, entitled, ¡Viva Guadalajara! which was published, here, at the From Rome Blog, this morning.

During the reading, the Bishop could not hide his amusement at the fictitious story, but as I moved to my comments on how this story applies not only to the first moments of a papacy but also to the last, that is, to a Papal renunciation, the amusement on his face disappeared instantly. — Nevertheless, he continued to be polite.

He confirmed for me the following facts:

  1. To his knowledge, there was no meeting of canonists in February of 2013 which discussed the validity of the Act of Renunciation, nor whether a renunciation of ministerium effected a renunciation of munus.
  2. To his knowledge, Pope Benedict XVI never explained himself to any Cardinal or canonists in private as to whether his act effected a renunciation of the petrine munus or office.
  3. To his knowledge, no act of interpretation of the Renunciation was ever promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI.
  4. Bishop Arrieta did admit that he was asked questions regarding the Renunciation, on Feb. 11, 2013, but no question regarded the use of the term ministerium instead of munus.

He also confirmed for me these points of law:

  1. If anyone heard Pope Benedict XVI in February of 2013 explain or officially interpret his Act of Renunciation as an act of renouncing the munus, and left a sworn testimony to the fact, this would have no juridical value whatsoever. That is it would not make or alter the signification other than it is.
  2. An act of papal Renunciation is not subject to the interpretation of anyone in the Church. That is, no one has the right to interpret it.
  3. An act of papal Renunciation, therefore, must be certain in itself. If it is not certain, it is invalid.
  4. There is no Canon in the Code of Canon Law which predicates the term ministerium of an ecclesiastical office.
  5. What Ganswein said at the Gregorian University in 2016 A.D. — he admitted he had not read the text of Ganswein in full or in the original — is impossible, since the Papal Office is theologically incapable of being held by more than one man at a time.
  6. It is canonically impossible that two persons hold he Petrine Munus at the same time.
  7. The Roman Curia shares in the Petrine Ministerium, but not the Petrine Munus.
  8. There can only be one pope.
  9. The Pope is subject to Divine Law and cannot split the office.
  10. Canon 1331 §2, n. 4 does allow an excommunicated person to hold a ministry in the Church, but that there is a reform of the Penal Code in the works and that this is something that will be addressed.
  11. Canon 332 §2 requires a verbal renunciation, not a renunciation which is signified by gestures or after the fact statements.
  12. The supreme theological and legal principle for interpretation of canonical acts is the teaching of Jesus Christ, where He said, “Let your yes be Yes, and your no, No, anything else comes from the Devil” (Mt. 5:37)

Now Bishop Arrieta did not agree with me in everything. He made it clear to me that he holds the following positions:

  1. The Renunciation of Pope Benedict was certain and clear.
  2. The Renunciation clearly signified the renunciation of the office of the papacy.
  3. It is morally impossible in the judgement of Bishop Arrieta, based on his knowledge of the man, Ratzinger, that Pope Benedict intended to deceive anyone by pretending to resign one thing instead of the other.
  4. Canon 332 §2, as regards the requirements of liberty and due manifestation, is not talking about a renunciation of the petrine munus.
  5. The necessity in a papal renunciation is a renunciation of the papal office, not of the petrine munus, which is a canonical term which does not adequately reflect the theological reality.
  6. In the Code of Canon Law there is no clear distinction between munus and ministerium.

Regarding this 4th position of the Bishop, I must say I tried to get a word in edgewise to object to such a patently false statement, as if conditions for validity for an act of renunciation of munus only regard the act of renouncing and not the object which is to be renounced. I think the Bishop just said this out of desperation because it is logically absurd on the face of it, as you cannot read part of a sentence which regards conditions for validity and ignore what was said as the fundamental condition for the occurrence or discernment of the occurrence of the act in question!

Regarding the 5th position, I disagree, because Pope John Paul II, the Vicar of Christ, by promulgating the Code imposed upon the whole Church the canonical obligation of understanding it in accord with Canon 17, not as defective in anything. Therefore, an interpretation of canon 332 §2 which implies a defect, cannot be authentic.

I won’t respond here to n. 6, since I have devastatingly refuted it in the recent Academic Conference at Rome, the excerpt of which I published on this very topic, here.

What left me unsatisfied about our conversation is that I asked a lot of questions, but Mons. Arrieta could not give me answers. Here are some of my question, not verbatim, but according to their sense, that the Bishop did not or could not answer:

  1. If it is clear that Pope Benedict resigned his office, can you explain to me canonically how he did that if he never mentioned the office or the Petrine Munus?
  2. If Canon 41 gives to every priest the discretion and right to evaluate the Papal Act of Renunciation before deciding to stop naming Benedict in the Canon of the Mass, as the Pope, why it is canonically wrong if he exercise this discretion, judge the act nullus and continue to name Benedict?
  3. If no one has the right to interpret the Papal Act, how can you explain why nearly everyone in the Hierarchy holds that it effected a renunciation of the Papal Office, if nowhere in the Act did Pope Benedict say I renounce the office or the munus? Is that not an interpretation?
  4. While I am willing to concede out of respect for Pope Benedict that he did not maliciously intend to deceive, is it not possible he was in substantial error when he resigned one thing and not the other?
  5. Does not our loyalty to Jesus Christ, Who bound Himself to observe Canon Law, require us to consider as possible that the Pope be in error in thinking he can resign part of the papal prerogatives and keep the rest? or was wrong in desiring to bifurcate the papacy?
  6. Does not the historical facts that 1) Pope Benedict XVI before his elevation to the Papacy knew of the desires of many German theologians to split the papal office along the lines of the petrine munus and the petrine ministry, and 2) the strange way of renouncing the ministry, but not the munus, coupled with 3) the testimony of Ganswein his personal secretary, who should know the mind of the Holy Father, produce the most sound forensic testimony that the Pope did intend to bifurcate the Papal Office and should be corrected by the Church, even if we personally hold that he had no such intention by way of supposition and respect for his person?

The Bishop closed by remarking that my approach to the reading of the Act of Renunciation was strange to him, that he has never considered this problem before, that he has never read about this controversy, but that I had given him “much to think about”.

CONCLUSION

The sum of what Mons. Arrieta told me leads me to conclude the following:

  1. The Act of Renunciation was presumed from the start to be a renunciation of the Papacy, without any consideration of the discrepancy of renouncing the ministerium instead of the munus, as if the Code of 1917 were operative, and not the Code of 1983.
  2. There has never been any canonical reflection on the canonical value of the Act of Renunciation by anyone known to Bishop Arrieta.
  3. There are no canonical arguments for the validity of the renunciation to effect a loss of the Papal Office, because the interpretation is simply a presumption based on an extrinsic method of reading the act (as I point out in my previous article), which is the most unauthentic and error-prone method of interpretation.
  4. The opinion of No Cardinal or Bishop or Priest on this matter constrains anyone in the Church to accept it, because no one has the right to say that the Papal Act means something other than it expressly says.
  5. Thus, the Renunciation of Pope Benedict DID NOT effect the loss of the Papal Office. He remains the Pope, the Successor of Saint Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff and the Roman Pontiff with all rights and privileges, all prerogatives and powers, graces and carisms, BECAUSE IF YOU DO NOT RENOUNCE THE PAPACY BY WORDS, YOU HAVE NOT RENOUNCED THE PAPACY!*

Finally, I do want to thank the Bishop for his patience. Several times in the 75 minutes we spent discussing this most important matter, he remarked he had other duties, but stayed anyhow when what I said was substantial and presented a line of argumentation which he felt necessary to respond to.

____________

* For those not familiar with the technical language, in this controversy, “papacy” here refers not to the Vatican, nor to the Papal State(s) or Territory,  nor to the government of the Vatican, but to the Office of the Roman Pontiff. And I use this term here in the linguistic sense, not in the sense of the thing, but of the thing as named. For example, a husband refers to his wife by either one of her proper names, first, middle, last, or improper names, such as honey, dear, sweetie, or by a pronoun standing alone or followed by a subordinate phrase, such as, “the one who does the dishes”. If he says, I am going to get rid of the dish-washing, the bathroom-cleaning, the meal-preparation and the warm bed, he has not referred logically nor verbally to his wife, because the actions which his wife does or the effects of which she is the cause are not her, they are effects or actions under her power, and by naming them, one does not name necessarily or determinatively the one who is his wife. — So likewise, when Pope Benedict renounced the ministry but not the Papal Office, he did not renounce the Office, because he did not name it, he only referred to that which might be construed as the ministry which flows from it. The intellectual incapacity or inability to recognize this common law of human language and signification is at the heart of the reason why so many think Benedict resigned the papacy, when in reality he did nothing of the kind. However, why he did what he did, is besides the point (praeter rem), because whatever his motives, the act remains invalid, null.

 

¡Viva Guadalajara!

by Br. Alexis Bugnolo

In the conclave of 2243, the Cardinals of the Roman Church, in their final votation, elected a Spaniard.

So, according to the rules established by Pope John Paul II, on February 22, 1996, in the document Universi Dominici Gregis, n. 87, the Cardinal Deacon, the Secretary of the College of Cardinals and the Master of Cerimonies for Pontifical Liturgies approach the Spanish Cardinal and ask him in these solemn words if he will accept his election:  Do you accept your canonical election as the Supreme Pontiff?

Silence.

Then the Cardinal Deacon signals with his eyes to the Elected Cardinal, asking for an answer.

The Cardinal Elect, smiles, then extends both hands to each side and forms the V sign. With that he says in a clear voice: ¡Viva Guadalajara!

The Spanish Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, familiar with the jocularity of the Elected Cardinal, giggle. The Cardinal from Barcelona says to himself, “What a joker! But this is not a time for laughs!”

The Secretary of the College gives a stern look at the Cardinal Elect. He is not amused at this kind of levity. So he turns to the Cardinal Deacon, who is perplexed, and whispers: “Let’s ask him again”.

So the aged Cardinal Deacon, turns to the Cardinal Elect, and asks again, this time in Spanish: ¿Acepta su elección canónica como Sumo Pontífice?

Silence.

Then, the Cardinal Elect, answers: raising both his right and left hand as before, and making the V sign with each, he says: ¡Viva Guadalajara! — This time with an even bigger smile on his face.

At this point, the Cardinals break their silence, and mixed mutterings of insouciance and consternation.

The Cardinal Deacon, now impatient, says to the Cardinal Elect: “This is no time to make jokes. Please answer the question with a Yes or a No”. Then recomposing himself, he repeats the canonical question, this time in Italian: Accetti la tua elezione canonica a Sommo Pontefice?

And again, the Cardinal Elect responds in the same manner.

At this point, the Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel break out in small groups of conversation. Everyone is trying to figure out what the Cardinal Elect means to say. The Spanish Cardinals approach the Elect and attempt to reason with him. But he says nothing futher. All he does is keep smiling and raising his right and left hand now and then with the V sign, for victory.

So in accord with the Papal Law on Conclaves, UDG, n. 5, the Cardinal from Paris asks that the College discuss and decide what is to be done, since the Papal Law says nothing about the manner in which the Cardinal Elect is to accept the office, whether it be by a Yes or No or by some other sign.

Two factions arise among the Cardinals. On the one side, a minority hold that the Cardinal Elect, by the words used has not accepted his election and must be considered either in error or mad. On the other side, the position taken is that of the Cardinal of Mexico City, who reasons this way: There is no more certain a manner of indicating that one has accepted the dignity of a prince than to respond in a manner which requires his listeners to acquiesce to his authority. Now by responding in this manner, does not the Cardinal Elect clearly show his intent to act like a prince? And therefore, his intention to accept the election? Is he not just putting our loyalty to the test? I for one will not fail in my loyalty to the Supreme Pontiff in this his first act of office!

This line of reasoning wins over the majority and they vote to regard the manner of speech chosen by the Cardinal Elect as meaning, “Yes, I accept”.

The Cardinal Deacon, then approaches the Cardinal Elect and asks him by which name he wants to be known. He replies, “Ignazio I”.

And years pass. And there is nothing controversial in the pontificate of Ignatius the First. Not in the least.

Except for this one thing.

Every time journalists manage to get an interview with him, and they ask him about the moment of his election as Pope, they ask him what he said, and he says: ¡Viva Guadalajara!

About 6 years into his reign as pope, one journalist, by the name of Marco Tosatti III, wanting to understand this better, asks a very specific question of Pope Ignatius I, during a plan trip.

Tosatti III: I know, your Holiness, has been asked this same question many times. And we are all impressed by your talent for humor and your jocundity, which is so unique among the Popes. But the day of your election, if I may ask again, can you tell just what you said, when the Cardinal Deacon asked you if you would accept your canonical election?

Ignatius I: I said, ¡Viva Guadalajara!

Tosatti III: Is that all you said?

Ignatius I: Yes.

Tosatti III: Did you not say, Yes?

Ignatius I: No, I never said Yes or No. I simply said, ¡Viva Guadalajara!

Marco Tosatti III publishes his interview and it goes round the world. The Pope never said yes.

A few days later, another Italian Vaticanista, by the name of Sandro Magister V, obtains an interview with the aged Cardinal Deacon, who confirms the story: Yes, he never said, yes. In fact there was a controversy in the Conclave, and now that Pope Ignatius I has abolished the pontifical secret on his election, I can reveal that we held a vote in accord with Universi Dominici Gregis, n. 5, and we determined that canonically speaking, this phrase, ¡Viva Guadalajara! would be taken to mean, “yes, I accept”.

Magister V also publishes his interview, which causes even more of an uproar and travels round the world.

About two weeks later, an old lady from the suburb of Madrid, Spain, where Pope Ignatius I grew up, flys to Rome and enters the Piazza of St Peter with a sign, saying, “He is not the Pope!” The Gendarmerie, the Vatican Police, attempt to take the sign from her, there is a scuffle and they end up punching her and she punching them back. Eventually they take both her and the sign away.

But the pilgrims in the piazza photograph and video record the entire travesty and these images go world wide on all social media platforms.

The next day in all the majors newspapers and MSM sites the one topic is why they beat up this poor old women. And the journalists who are allowed to interview her in the Vatican jail all receive the same statement, prepared by her attorney: In my suburb of Madrid, where I grew up with Pope Ignatius I, the phrase, ¡Viva Guadalajara! has always meant, “You got to be kidding. I would no more agree to that than support the team from Guadalajara, by shouting ¡Viva Guadalajara! at a soccer match with our own team!”

At this news, journalists flock to Madrid, Spain and interview all those they can find who knew the Pope as a child or youngster. And they all agree that what this old lady said is the absolute truth.

And these journalists report what they find. And, the next day, Ignatius I gives an interview and says: You see, there is nothing I hate more that arrogance and sycophantry. So when I saw that there were no worthy candidates for the Papacy, I determined to do what I could to delay as much as possible the Conclave, so the most unworthy ones would be taken by the Lord or not be able to vote, having reached the age of 80. So I contrived the deception I used to fool everyone. And it worked. But now that my purpose has achieved its goal, I willing admit that I was never pope, because I never accepted my election as the Supreme Pontiff. Therefore, I will now stop pretending to be pope and go back to Madrid and enjoy my final years of life by drinking cerveza and watching the Madrid Soccer team. Good-bye and Adios!

_____________

The Limits of Discretion

So ends the fictional canonical case I have created. As you can see, strange things can happen if the discretion which we Catholics traditionally accord to the Cardinals goes beyond all limits. There are just some things they cannot do even if they want to.

One thing they cannot do, even if they want to, regards the interpretation of verbal texts. As a translator of medieval texts, I understand well that there are 3 ways of determining the meaning of any obscure phrase. The first is intrinsic, the second extrinsic and the third is referential.

Intrinsic methods look to the meaning of the words used and their grammatical structure. Extrinsic methods look to the context in which the phrase is used and impose a theory about what the intent was in the author’s mind in using the obscure phrase. Referential methods look for other occurrences of the same obscure phrase in the writings of the same author, his contemporaries or those authors he read or cited.

And as a translator, I have learned the hard way, that the worse method of interpretation is the extrinsic method. The intrinsic method can be used but it requires great discretion and a good knowledge of the author one is reading. The referential method is the most certain but one has to take into account that every author might use standard phrases slightly differently.

¡Viva Guadalajara!

As can be seen from the fictional case I have constructed, grave error can arise when the ones who should be interpreting the meaning of things said by the Pope use the extrinsic method, by adopting the context of the phrase and some theory of what the intention was of the one saying it, and from these two data points extrapolate the meaning of the phrase.

This has been no idle study. And though you may find this story humorous, that is not my intention. Because though it regards what could happen regarding the very first moment an man becomes the Pope, the same interpretational problem can arise in the very last moment a man is the Pope, that is in an Act of Renunciation.

Because, when a man renounces the papacy, Canon 332 §2 requires that he say something that signifies, In my capacity as Roman Pontiff, I renounce the munus which I received in the Apostolic Succession from Saint Peter, the day I accepted my election as Supreme Pontiff by the College of Cardinals.

The words do not have to be the ones I just wrote, but they have to signify essentially the same thing.

If you say, however, I declare that I renounce the ministry which was entrusted to me through the hands of the Cardinals, the day I was elected, then you have a problem. Because no where in the Code of Canon Law, nor in Canonical Tradition, nor in the mind of Pope John Paul II do we find any clear equation or predication of munus by ministerium. To hold that Pope Benedict’s renunciation of ministry means a renunciation of munus is an interpretation, unfounded in the law. Moreover, the Cardinals and Bishops and Clergy who hold this interpretation have no authority in the law to interpret the Papal Act in this manner.

We need to be adults and admit this problem of interpretation.

And the ones who committed this error have to grow up and stop insisting that we follow them in it. After all, religious extremism does not consist in refusing an error of interpretation. Religious extremism consists in insisting, like ISIS, that we accept their errors of interpretation or else.

CREDITS: the image of the Cathedral of Madrid is taken from the Wikipedia article on the Facade of the Cathedral of Madrid and is used under the wiki commons license described there.