Second theory of substantial error:
“The Papacy as a sacrament” (continuation)
2.2. Ratzinger’s ecclesiology subordinates the juridical to the sacramental in such a way that the ontological dimension of the Order ends up absorbing the essence of the Papal office and communicating to it the trait of indelibility
Let us go by parts when exposing and analyzing this second accusation.
The first thing we are told is that, in Ratzinger’s ecclesiology, “what really counts is the sacramental, ontological munus, and not the canonical juridical office.”[i] It is added that Ratzinger “condemns the Church’s theology of potestas iurisdictionis [the power of jurisdiction],” that is, “scathingly criticizes the Church’s traditional understanding of the Power of Jurisdiction and “office” in contrast to the Power of Sacramental Order with regard to the bishop“, characterizing such understanding “as something distorted and corrupt to the core.“[ii]
In support of these assertions we are offered four quotes taken from two of Ratzinger’s books: Principles of Catholic Theology (1987)[iii] and Theological Highlights of Vatican II (1966).
The context of the first quote is given by Ratzinger’s reflections on the change in ecclesiology brought along by the Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis issued in 1947 by Pius XII, in relation to Sacred Ordination:
“While the medieval text presents a so-called indicative sacramental formula, that is, it performs the consecration through the indicative form of transmission of power (“receive the power…”), according to the 1947 text the consecration occurs in a deprecatory manner, which is the peculiar characteristic of supplication, of prayer. It thus becomes perceptible, also in its internal expression, that the authentic dispenser of power is the Holy Spirit, whom the sacramental prayer invokes, and not the human consecrator.
The medieval Rite was configured on the model of the investiture process of a secular charge. Hence, its basic concept is that of potestas. The holder of a power transfers, in turn, a power to another. The Rite that Pius XII has before his eyes means a return to the paleoecclesial form, which is pneumatologically determined by the gesture (since the imposition of hands means transmission of the Spirit, petition of the Spirit) and by the word: the preface is the petition of the Holy Spirit. According to this, now the determining concept is the ministerium or respectively the munus: ministry and gift“[iv].
Next, we are presented with Ratzinger’s critique of the growing distancing, which took place in the Middle Ages, between sacrament and jurisdiction:
“The most decisive process in the evolution of the Latin West was, in my opinion, the growing distancing between sacrament and jurisdiction, between liturgy and concrete direction.
In my opinion, one should have enough honesty to recognize this temptation of “mammon” in ecclesiastical history and to see its formidable power, which was capable of deforming the Church and theology, even corrupting their deepest layers. The distinction between ministry as law and ministry as ritual was maintained for reasons of prestige and financial security.“[v]
From the book Theological Highlights of Vatican II[vi] we are offered these two quotes from Ratzinger:
“The Bishop’s ministry is not an externally assigned “administrative power”, but arises from the necessary plurality of the Eucharistic communities (that is, of the Churches in the Church) and, since it represents them, it has a sacramental basis. The government of the Church and her spiritual mystery are inseparable“.
The teaching of Vatican II “opens a breach in the wall that separated the Middle Ages from the primitive Church and, therefore, the Latin West from the Churches of the East. We see why future references to Peter the Lombard, Albert, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas will no longer make sense in this matter.
This passage consists of the inadvertent little statement that membership in the college of bishops is gained through sacramental ordination and communion with the head and members of the college [Lumen Gentium 22]…. This statement gives episcopal collegiality a double basis, but in such a way that these two roots are inseparably connected.
The rigid juxtaposition of sacrament and jurisdiction, of consecratory power and governing power, which existed since the Middle Ages and which was one of the symptoms that marked the Western separation from the Churches of the East, has finally been eliminated… The renewal of our century of liturgical and theological order has eliminated the basis of this division. We know again today that the sacramental and mystical body of Christ do not exist as separate parallel realities, but have their existence both from and with each other… In the Eucharistic office, both the sacrament and the “governing power” interpenetrate one another, and it is immediately clear how inappropriate the words “government” and “power” are with respect to the Church. We have no more right to speak of a quasi-profane government power, clearly separated from the sacramental ministry, than we have to speak of a separation between the mystical and Eucharistic body of Christ“.
Well, facing the transcribed paragraphs, we must insist that in Ratzinger’s theology there is no such thing as the absorption of the power of jurisdiction in the power of order, or a position according to which “what really counts is the sacramental, ontological munus“, to the detriment of the “canonical juridical office“. What it is really about is the renewed emphasis on the fact that the episcopate is an institution of divine law, in such a way that the bishops receive a gift from above, called to concretize, through the missio, in a juridical relationship with the subjects of a given diocese. In other words, it is about rescuing the sacramental basis of the episcopate, without ignoring its juridical dimension; that is, revealing the intimate relationship between one aspect and the other.
Nor should we be surprised by the criticism that Ratzinger directs at certain practices and theoretical elaborations that emerged in the Middle Ages, cataloged by himself as “corrupt” and influenced by the “temptation of mammon”. Let us see, in a slightly broader context, what exactly he is referring to:
“[…] The Irish monastic Church did not know the episcopal order: the power of consecration in sacramental solemnities and the power of direction go their separate ways. The privately owned churches went in this same direction, which were a derivation of the German juridical space: the priest becomes an official of the cult, within the administrative complex of a feudal lord. Only in appearance does the Ottonian combination of Imperium and Sacerdocium or, what amounts to the same thing, the putting of the priesthood at the service of the empire, take a different path: here it is the entire Church that becomes, in a way, the private property of the Germanic empire. The bishop, as an imperial official, is only secondarily oriented towards the ecclesial assembly, to the point that, when he deems it appropriate, he delegates certain specific functions to others. In such a context, the separation between prebends and spiritual service developed rapidly, until the late middle ages and even until the baroque. The most threatening crystallization of this process occurs in the separation between sacrament and law, between sacramental function and power of direction. The ministry, as a juridical figure, to which certain products, income or possessions were linked, falls to some great lord who, often, has not even received holy orders and who makes cultic acts be performed by a poorly paid priest, who has no managerial responsibility nor can feel, given his situation, minimally responsible. He is not qualified for preaching and often limits himself to the simple repetition of the rite, which thus loses, in practice, its true meaning.
On the theological level, the most transcendental consequence of this separation between sacrament and jurisdiction was, in my opinion, the isolation of the concept of sacrament that derived from it: the essential identity of the Church and the liturgical assembly, of the Church and communion, can no longer be perceived. Now the Church is, on the one hand, a juridical apparatus, a set of laws, orders and pretensions that are the basic characteristics of any society. She also had the peculiarity that ritual actions took place there: the sacraments. The Eucharist is one of them, a liturgical action along with others, but no longer the general place and dynamic medium of ecclesial existence. The consequence was that now the Eucharist was also disintegrated into different rites with little cohesion: in the celebration of the sacrifice, the adoration and the cultic banquet“[vii].
These claims are further understood thanks to Minakata’s description of the historical context:
“An organizational and disciplinary overturn occurred with the appearance of the juridical institute of the “ecclesiastical benefice” (eighth century). The benefice was an income-generating patrimony for the sustenance of the clergy, assigned in a stable way in exchange for the exercise of a spiritual function, that is, linked to an office; linked to the benefice there was the Eigenkirche or own church: the lord of the fief built a church on his properties, requested pastoral care, was obliged to the sustenance of the minister and reserved a series of rights and faculties, such as the appointment of the holder —ius patronatus—.
These two juridical figures, with their positive and negative profiles, influenced the way of conceiving and explaining the exercise of power in the Church. The incardination and the canonical mission were separated: the title of ordination solved the problem of the sustenance of the minister and of the determination of his service, that is, his mission; incardination became a disciplinary instrument to avoid idle clerics.
Those who provided pastoral service in their own churches were detached from the episcopal authority linking themselves to the feudal lord; this caused a progressive integration between secular and ecclesiastical power in a markedly stratified society. Many abuses, revealing by the way, originated: the granting of benefices and related offices, among laymen; with the appointment and granting of the benefice “the office was in fact granted, while the order was conferred later, often by virtue of urgency. And in fact, with the order, only what was necessary to carry out the acts of order was conferred”, since the other functions were carried out by virtue of the appointment.
The most delicate issue would arise with the extension of the ius patronatum to the appointment of bishops by princes and kings, which would bring along, among other things, the government of the Church by non-ordained “bishops”, assisted by corepiscopos for the sacred functions, and a reaction in the opposite direction in defense of pontifical power.
A case of non-episcopal exercise of government is found in the territorial abbeys. The hierarchy was often attached to monasteries in what is now Ireland and Great Britain; in those cases “the proper episcopal power was in the hands of the superiors of the monasteries —the abbots— who were sometimes also bishops, and collaborated in the pastoral task of the diocese with other bishops, who acted under them or with them. It happened that the abbots themselves generally did not receive the episcopal order, despite which they exercised the government of the diocese that was identified with the area of influence of their monastery. Behold a clear power of episcopal government, without episcopal order“[viii].
After this contextualization, will Ratzinger continue to be seen as a “dissident” of the “ecclesiological tradition”, or certain ecclesiological positions, contingent and historically conditioned, debatable and debated, as a finished and untouchable doctrinal edifice? We hope not.
Now, the second theory of “substantial error” continues, pointing out that, for Ratzinger, “The Pope’s Power of Order suffices, it seems, to account for the essence of Who and What he is! He does not occupy “an office of jurisdiction,“ which comes and goes, so much as a spiritual “office of rite“ which is irrevocable“[ix]; Ratzinger “kind of sees becoming pope as almost like a […] second Episcopal consecration“[x]; just as in the sacrament of Holy Orders it is Christ himself, and not the Church, who makes the one ordaining a priest and therefore he cannot cease to be so, “likewise, Benedict seemingly argues, since it is Christ Himself and not the Church who makes a man a pope, he cannot be unmade a pope in the deepest sense“[xi]. Let us see what “evidence” is offered to us on these points:
On one side we are presented with the following quote from Principles of Catholic Theology:
“It has been precisely this different juridical conception that has been deepened more and more, until reaching, in the formulation of the primacy of jurisdiction of the pope, in 1870, its most extreme harshness: on one of the sides, the only juridical source admitted is tradition, of which the normative criterion for correct use and interpretation is given by the unanimous view of all the Churches. On the other side, it seems that the source of law is the will of the sovereign, who creates by himself (ex sese) new law, which then binds everyone without discussion. Faced with this new juridical idea, the old sacramental structure seems to be suffocated, even drowned: the papacy is not a sacrament, but “only” a juridical rank. And this rank has been placed above the sacramental order“[xii].
From this quote they have tried to convince us that Ratzinger “disagrees with those who teach that the Papacy is not a sacrament“[xiii]. And that is, let us say it clearly, a real madness. It is enough to go back a few lines to notice that Ratzinger is outlining the impressions that the “orthodox” East holds regarding Rome, and vice versa:
“[…] from the Orthodox point of view, at least according to one current of opinion, the monarchia papae implies a destruction of the ecclesial structure as such, behind which something new and different appears in substitution of the early Christian form. Given that, in general terms, this problem is, to a certain extent, unknown in the West, I will try to explain, by means of brief brushstrokes, what this impression of the Eastern Church may be due to. In this conception, the Western Church no longer appears as a cohesive group of local Churches guided by their bishops, whose collegial unity refers to the college or community of the twelve apostles. She appears as a monolithic and centralized organization, in which the new juridical idea of the “perfect society” has destroyed the old concept of the permanence in the community. In this Church, the traditional faith is no longer valid —or so it seems— as the only normative instance, which only admits new interpretations when there is the unanimous consent of all the local Churches; here it is the will of the absolute sovereign that creates a new law. It has been precisely this different juridical conception […]“[xiv].
It is true that these reflections of Ratzinger are inserted in an ecumenical context, and therefore seek points of rapprochement between the Roman and the “Orthodox” perspectives. Thus, he begins by making a diagnosis of the separation, to propose then what he considers to be viable and realistic alternatives for unity:
“It is true that Rome —unlike the East— has placed a great deal of emphasis on the New Testament sentences on Peter, and thus has in fact remained faithful to the tradition of the origins, a tradition for which nowhere else is it given a clear and specific answer. But it is no less true that the applications that have been made of that sentence have gone far beyond the initial heritage, to the point that, at first glance, they seem to have buried the basic sacramental structure. However, in the real life of the Church and in the authentic core of her constitution, the sacramental link always remained alive, which was, precisely in its unity with the Petrine ministry, its basis and support. An approach and a more detailed study of the mutual positions cannot but agree that, throughout the entire controversy, the ultimate unity was never attacked. Although the West may reproach the East for the absence of Peter’s ministry, it must, for its part, admit that in the Church of the East the content and figure of the Church of the Holy Fathers have been kept uninterruptedly alive. If the East can reproach the West for the existence of the Petrine ministry and its pretensions, it must also recognize that the Church of Rome is none other than that of the first millennium, that time when the Eucharist was celebrated in common and there was only one Church.
First of all, certain maximalist demands are clearly detected in which the search for unity is irremediably doomed to failure. It would be, for example, a maximalist demand that the West demand from the East the full recognition of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, understood with all the fullness and breadth with which it was defined in 1870, in such a way that the Orthodox Churches would be subject to a praxis of the primacy similar to that accepted by the United Churches. It would also be a maximalist demand on the part of the Easterners to ask that the doctrine of the primacy of the year 1870 be declared to be a total error, thereby denying the validity of all the obligatory doctrinal affirmations based on this primacy, from the Filioque of the creed to the Marian dogmas of the 19th and 20th centuries“[xv].
As can be seen, Ratzinger tries to distinguish the inalienable ecclesiological elements from the contingent ones (vgr. “the New Testament sentences on Peter” vs. the effective praxis of the Primate, in certain geographical and historical contexts), with the purpose of detecting possible reciprocal “concessions” between Rome and the East. What concessions these may be, is something that is glimpsed more clearly in this other quote:
“The image of the central State, which the Catholic Church has offered until the Council, does not simply emanate from the office of Peter, but from a close involvement with the patriarchal function that has been more and more expanded in the course of history and that concerned the Bishop of Rome for all Latin Christianity. The uniform canon law, the uniform liturgy, the uniform provision of the episcopal sees from the Roman central; these are all things that are not necessarily attached to the primacy as such, but rather result from the close union of both offices. Consequently, it should be seen as a task for the future to distinguish again more clearly the true office of the successor of Peter and the patriarchal office; and, if necessary, create new patriarchates and dismember them from the Latin Church. Admitting unity with the pope would no longer mean joining a uniform administration, but would only mean conforming to the unity of faith and communion, recognizing the pope’s authority to compulsorily interpret the revelation that came to us with Christ and, consequently, submitting to that interpretation, when it is done in a definitive way. This means that a union with Eastern Christianity should change nothing, absolutely nothing, in its concrete ecclesiastical life. The unity with Rome should be in the edification and concrete realization of the life of the communities as exactly “impalpable” as in the ancient Church. The palpable changes could be these: that in the provision of central episcopal sees there would be a “ratification” comparable to the exchange of letters of communion in the ancient Church; there would again be common meetings in synods and councils, and the exchange of Easter letters or similar documents (“encyclicals”) would cross the borders of East and West again; finally, that the bishop of Rome would be once again named in the canon of the Mass and in the prayers: prayer, remembrance, is of course the way in which the unity of Christianity really penetrates even into the liturgy of each place, and the manner in which its split operates even within the liturgy“[xvi].
We see that, in no way, the ecumenical dialogue with the “orthodox” that Ratzinger proposes implies the adoption of a conception of the Papacy as a sacrament, although it does imply, once again, a reinforced emphasis on its sacramental (episcopal) basis.
At this point, the defender of the second theory of “substantial error” insists that, according to Ratzinger’s ecclesiology, “the power that the Pope has came from the sacrament…, it comes from being a bishop… [According to Ratzinger] there is no such thing as jurisdiction without sacramental power, they are always together“, “for Ratzinger you can never have a jurisdiction all by itself, without the power of the sacrament“, and “that is problematic because we have never understood the Papacy that way“, “all throughout the Church’s history we have understood it as something which is a matter of jurisdiction and not a matter of sacrament“, and “if they are always together, sacrament and jurisdiction, you can never lose the essence of the office, you can give up the practical administration of the office but you cannot give up the essence of it“[xvii]. In reinforcement of this reasoning, we are presented with the reflections of the Italian Jesuit priest and canonist, Gianfranco Ghirlanda: “He [Ghirlanda] says that Ratzinger’s view of the sacramental ontological munus, when applied to the juridical office of the Bishop of Rome, is going to create major problems. Let me give you his exact words. “The greatest difficulty that arises from the affirmation, that the primacial power of the Roman pontiff comes from his Episcopal consecration and not from the acceptance of the election, would be that in the event that the pope resigned from his office, not because of death, he would never lose the power as it is conferred by a sacramental act, which has an indelible character“”[xviii].
Let us go by parts, for there are several errors in these reasonings.
In the first place, let us note that the phrase “there can be no episcopal jurisdiction without a sacrament” –”for Ratzinger you can never have a jurisdiction all by itself, without the power of the sacrament“– comes to be equated to that of “there can be no episcopal sacrament without jurisdiction” (“if they are always together, sacrament and jurisdiction, you can never lose the essence of the office, you can give up the practical administration of the office but you cannot give up the essence of it“). Ratzinger defends the former – precisely because he rescues and emphasizes the sacramental/divine basis or origin of the episcopate, his ecclesiology is hostile to the idea of an “episcopal government” by a “non-bishop”, but not the latter.
In fact, he himself alludes to cases of bishops without jurisdiction when he mentions that “de facto, today (and from a very long time ago) consecration and jurisdiction are separated: There is the merely “titular” bishop, who is consecrated of course with a “title” to a given diocese, but who in fact cannot exercise jurisdiction“[xix]. Thus, if a bishop (the one of Rome included) possesses any “essence” forever, with or without jurisdiction, it is the one that he has received from above in the episcopal consecration and that, in the case of the munera of teaching and governing, derive from the sacrament in a barely mediate way or “as a seed”, without the juridical determination necessary for the exercise. How can one attribute to Ratzinger the belief that the Pope could never cease to be so in a certain way, not even in the event of resignation, if none of his statements impugn the fact that, by definition, the Pope must have the ready (determined, concrete, immediate) power to teach and govern (in addition, of course, to the power to sanctify)?
Nor is it totally accurate that “all throughout the history of the Church we have understood it [the Papacy] as something that is a matter of jurisdiction and not a matter of sacrament.” Throughout the history of the Church it has been understood that the specific difference between the Papacy and the other episcopal offices lies precisely in the jurisdiction (because only the Pope can exercise jurisdiction over the Universal Church), but this does not mean that the Papacy is “only” a matter of jurisdiction, alien to the sacrament, since the Pope is at the same time the Bishop of Rome.
And finally we have the reference to Ghirlanda. It is true that this canonist has emphatically opposed the thesis that the primatial power derives from episcopal consecration and not from the acceptance of the papal election[xx]. However, let us note that it is one thing to affirm that the episcopal office is linked to the Primacy (meaning, that the Pope must be a bishop at the same time), and quite another is to maintain that the Primacy is conferred at the time of episcopal consecration. Where is the quote from Ratzinger defending this last idea?[xxi]
While we wait for it, let us continue with another couple of Ratzinger references. We are offered two extracts from the article The Primacy of the Pope and the Unity of the People of God[xxii] and from the book Called to Communion[xxiii]:
“The office of the papacy is a cross, indeed, the greatest of all crosses. For what can be said to pertain more to the cross and anxiety of the soul than the care and responsibility for all the Churches…attachment to the Word and will of God because of the Lord is what makes the sedes a cross and thus proves the Vicar to be a representative”.
“But the witness is not an individual who stands independently on his own. He is no more a witness by virtue of himself and of his own powers of memory than Peter can be the rock by his own strength. He is not a witness as “flesh and blood” but as one who is linked to the Pneuma, the Paraclete who authenticates the truth and opens up the memory and, in his turn, binds the witness to Christ… This binding of the witness to the Pneuma and to his mode of being -“not of himself, but what he hears”- is called “sacrament” in the language of the Church. Sacrament designates a threefold knot—word-witness, Holy Spirit and Christ—which describes the essential structure of succession in the New Testament. We can infer with certainty… that the apostolic generation already gave to this interconnection of person and word in the believed presence of the Spirit and of Christ the form of the laying on of hands“.
But in what way can these words – which speak of testimony, of martyrdom – mean that the Papacy is itself a sacrament and therefore indelible? In no way, we believe.
We are getting closer to the end. The last set of quotes presented to us is drawn from the last two book-length interviews of Pope Benedict XVI with his biographer Peter Seewald (Last Testament and A Life), the last General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI (February 27, 2013) and the speech delivered by Msgr. George Gänswein in May 2016 at the Pontifical Gregorian University, on the occasion of the presentation of Roberto Regoli’s book, “Beyond the Crisis of the Church. The pontificate of Benedict XVI”.
Let us start with Seewald[xxiv]:
“In your declaration [the Declaratio of February 2013] you mention the decline of your forces as the reason for the resignation. But, is the decrease in physical vigor sufficient reason to descend from the throne of Peter?
Here we can point out that it is a functionalist misunderstanding: in fact, the successor of Peter is not only linked to a function, but is involved in the depths of being. In this sense, the function is not the only criterion. On the other hand, the Pope must also do concrete things, he must have the whole situation under control, he must know how to establish priorities, etc. From the reception of the heads of state, to that of the bishops, with whom he really must be able to initiate an intimate dialogue, to daily decisions. Even when it is said that some commitments could be cancelled, there are still so many, equally important, that if one wants to carry out the task correctly there is no doubt: if there is no longer the capacity to do it, it is necessary -at least for me, someone else can see it differently–, to free the throne.
Some have raised the objection that your resignation has secularized the Papacy. Now it would no longer be a ministry without equal but a charge like any other.
I had to take this into account and reflect on the question whether, so to speak, functionalism has not completely conquered the papal institution as well. But the bishops have also found themselves facing a similar step. Before, not even the bishop could leave his charge and many of them said: I am a “father” and I remain so forever. You cannot simply cease to be so: it would mean conferring a functional and secular profile to the ministry, and turning the bishop into an official like any other. Here, however, I must reply that even a father stops doing as a father. He does not cease to be so, but leaves the concrete responsibilities. He remains a father in a deeper, more intimate sense, with a particular relationship and responsibility but without the duties of a father. And this has also happened with the bishops. In any case, in the meantime it has been understood that on the one hand the bishop is the bearer of a sacramental mission, which binds him intimately, but on the other hand he should not remain in his function forever. And so I think it is clear that even the Pope is not a superman and it is not enough that he is in his place: he must fulfill functions. If he resigns, he retains the responsibility he has assumed in an inner sense, but not in the function. For this reason, little by little it will be understood that the papal ministry is not diminished, although perhaps its humanity would be more clearly highlighted.“[xxv]
“With your resignation from the charge, you have laid the foundation for a new tradition in the Catholic Church. You are the first successor of Peter to define himself as “Pope emeritus”. Church historians claim that there is no Pope “emeritus”, since there are not two popes.
It is not understood why a Church historian, that is, someone who studies the Church’s past, should know better than others whether or not there can be a Pope Emeritus. From my point of view I would like to say the following: until the end of the Second Vatican Council, the resignations of bishops were not even contemplated. After heated debates, resignations for bishops were finally introduced, and soon there was a practical problem to be faced that no one had thought of: one can become a bishop only in relation to a certain episcopal see. Episcopal ordination is always “relative”, that is to say, associated with the assignment of an episcopal see. The relational character rooted in the sacrament of episcopacy for non-resident bishops (today mostly called auxiliary bishops) implies that for them at least a fictitious see must be found. For this purpose, the several hundred sees that existed in the ancient Church can be used, and which today, especially because of the Islamization of the areas in which they are located, can no longer be really occupied by bishops.
Thus, for each resigning bishop who left his see (e.g. Munich, Berlin) a titular see had to be found (e.g. Carthage, Hippo, etc.). It soon became evident that the number of these sees was increasing rapidly with the increase in the number of resigning bishops and of the other titular bishops, and it was now foreseeable that the time would soon come when titular sees could no longer be found.
What does it mean?
As far as I know, the solution was found by the then bishop of Passau, Simon Konrad Landersdorfer, a very energetic and cultured man. He declared that, once he left his real episcopal see, he did not wish to be assigned to a fictitious one. He would just be “emeritus” of Passau.
What is a Bishop or Pope emeritus?
The word “emeritus” indicated not the active holder of a certain episcopal see, but the ex bishop who continued to have a special relationship with his former see. In this way, the need to define the role of the resigning bishop in relation to a real diocese was taken into account, without, however, making him a kind of second bishop of the diocese in question. The word “emeritus” meant that the retired bishop had completely resigned his office, but the spiritual link he maintained with his former see was now recognized as a juridical quality. While a titular see is generally a pure juridical fiction, with the introduction of the title “emeritus” the bishop’s special relationship to a see that had been his lifelong workplace was officially recognized. The new meaning of the word “emeritus” formed after Vatican II is none other than the recognition of the special relationship between a resigning bishop and his former see, a real relationship, but not previously recognized under the juridical aspect. It does not establish any participation in the concrete juridical content of the episcopate, but at the same time it recognizes as real the spiritual bond with the episcopal see. Therefore, there are not two bishops, but there is a spiritual mandate of the bishop emeritus, whose essence is to serve the former see in the interiority of the relationship with God, in the participation and dedication of prayer.
But does this also apply to the Pope?
One cannot understand why this juridical figure should not also apply to the Bishop of Rome. The formula manages to account for both aspects: on the one hand, no specific juridical mandate, on the other a spiritual charge that remains, although invisible. The juridical and spiritual figure of the emeritus makes it possible to avoid even the idea of the coexistence of two popes, given that an episcopal see can have only one holder. At the same time, a spiritual connection is expressed that can in no case be annulled. I particularly thank the Lord that the kind and cordial attention of Pope Francis towards me allows me to put this idea into practice.
According to one of the objections raised earlier against the institute of episcopal resignations, a bishop is a father and paternity cannot be renounced.
There is something right and something wrong in this. Naturally, a father remains a father until death: the human and spiritual meaning of being a father is not revocable. But fatherhood is not only ontological, it is also functional. The generational change foresees that at a certain point the juridical power of the father ceases: the father no longer holds the paterna potestas, but, when the time comes, he must leave command to the son. I find this passage very well expressed in a very widespread tradition among Bavarian peasants. This is the Austrag, a term that means both “resolution” and “annuity [vitalicio]“, and it is a delivery passage specifically represented by a simple house located next to the central body of the estate. The father “hands over” his farm to his son, leaves the main building of the farm and moves to the small “house of the annuity [casa del vitalicio]“, receiving a life annuity, precisely, meaning, the donation of material goods (food, money , etc.). In this way, both the economic independence of the father and the transfer of specific rights to the son are guaranteed. Which means: the spiritual side of being a father remains unchanged, while on the side of concrete rights and duties the situation changes accordingly. It is not difficult to understand how this structure also applies to the figure of the bishop emeritus.
Cardinal Raymond Burke –one of the four authors of the Dubia, the writing in which some doubts were raised about the Pontiff’s apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia– in November 2016 declared that Amoris laetitia had created confusion: “A tremendous division is being produced in the Church and this is not the path that the Church is accustomed to go through”. Pope Francis has not responded to the Dubia. Would it be better if he did?
I prefer not to take a direct position on this last question, because that would mean delving into the concrete questions of the Church’s government and abandoning the spiritual dimension to which my mandate belongs exclusively. If I did reply, I suppose all those who continually attack me for my public statements would have their gossip confirmed. Therefore, I can limit myself to referring to what I said on February 27, 2013 at my last general public audience. In the midst of all the torments that afflict humanity and the disturbing and destructive force of the evil spirit, in the Church it will always be possible to recognize the silent force of God’s goodness. The darkness of the historical epochs that follow one another will certainly never allow us to be able to enjoy completely undisturbed the pure joy of being Christians…. But in the Church and in the life of every Christian there are always moments when one can deeply feel that the Lord loves us, and this love means joy, it is “happiness”[xxvi].
Do these quotes allow us to conclude with certainty that, for Benedict, the Papacy is itself a sacrament, a kind of “second episcopal consecration”, which confers character and in that sense is indelible?
If we pay attention to each of Benedict’s words, we observe that in no case do they show that the Papacy has a sacramental nature. This is affirmed, yes, in relation to the bishops in general, those who are expressly characterized as “the bearers of a sacramental mission“, but when dealing with the “successor of Peter“, the “Pope“, the language changes, pointing towards a vague “responsibility … in an inner sense“, “in the depths of being“. Let us see:
Note that, immediately after the phrase: “the bishop is the bearer of a sacramental mission, which binds him intimately, but on the other hand he must not remain in his function forever“, comes the one that reads: “And then I think it is clear that even the Pope is not a superman and it is not enough that he is in his place: he must fulfill functions. If he resigns, he retains the responsibility he has assumed in an inner sense, but not in the function“. “Even the Pope is not a superman,” says Benedict.
But…what exactly does the “inner responsibility” that, according to him, the Pope assumes, consist of? Does Benedict understand that the Pope is the bearer of a new, independent, different sacramental mission, superior to that of the other bishops (in the manner of a second episcopal consecration)? Or is he simply speaking of the spiritual bond that links the Pope, as bishop of Rome, with the Apostolic See? Benedict’s words are considerably obscure on these points, and in no way allow for a “substantial error” to be attributed to him.
In any case, we see that there is certain continuity between these lines and the Declaratio of February 2013. Benedict tells Seewald that “the successor of Peter is not only linked to a function, but is involved in the depths of the being. In this sense, the function is not the only criterion“, and in the Declaratio he had told the Church and the whole world that the Petrine munus, of a spiritual nature, is something more than the functions or ministries, since it involves or supports them all, in such a way that between one (munus) and the others (ministerium) there is a relationship of the type being (the Pope) vs. doing or exercising (as Pope): “[…] I am well aware that this munus must be carried out not only by acting and speaking, but also and to no lesser degree by suffering and praying”[xxvii]. Here one can then see, once again, the message that it is possible to be the holder of the Petrine munus (charge/office) even though some of the ministerium (functions) associated with it are not performed[xxviii].
Let us now turn to Benedict’s answers on the institution of the “emeritus”:
In this case, the words are not only obscure, but openly contradictory. Note, in effect, that what according to Benedict makes the figure of the “bishop emeritus” viable –the relative nature of episcopal ordination and the indestructible spiritual bond between each bishop and his “former see“– is totally inapplicable to the case of the Pope, Bishop of Rome, and yet Benedict affirms that “one cannot understand why this juridical figure should not also apply to the Bishop of Rome“.
On the one hand we have that, as a general (practical) rule in our times, whoever is elected Pope has already been previously consecrated bishop, so that his episcopal consecration has been linked to the administrative assignment of a diocese other than that of Rome[xxix]. But in addition, the charge of bishop of Rome is the only episcopal office that is tied to that of Pope (Pastor of the Universal Church on earth), so its holder is destined, not only to a certain diocese, as happens with the other bishops, but to the whole Church. Thus, the scheme of the “bishop emeritus” who “serves his former see” is completely broken in the case of the bishop of Rome, since, we repeat, the service of the latter extends throughout the earth.
And this is precisely what Benedict has made us see by having preserved, not only his name as Pontiff, but also the initials “P.P.” (Pastor Pastorum or Pater Patrum): his fatherhood, even after the Declaratio, is not like that of the other “bishops emeritus”, since he continues to be (the only and true) “Father of Fathers“. This is also what his (illogical, contradictory) title of “Pope Emeritus” tells us, as well as his white robe, unique in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and his occasional public interventions after the Declaratio –and paradigmatically that on the sexual abuse crisis in the Church (2019)–, addressed, not to the diocese of Rome, but to the Universal Church: Benedict is not just another “retired bishop” –he did not even abandon the munus of bishop of Rome[xxx]–, he is THE POPE –because he never resigned the Petrine munus–[xxxi].
Why, then, are these ambiguities and contradictions present in the words addressed by Benedict to Peter Seewald[xxxii]? How to explain, furthermore, the content of his last General Audience and Msgr. Gänswein’s speech at the Gregorian?
For the umpteenth time we repeat: it is a communicational system implemented by the Pope in a context of ecclesial, political and financial harassment, based on the constant use of “mental reservations” and aimed precisely at highlighting the anomalies that surrounded the Declaratio and ultimately prevented the validity of Francis’ pontificate[xxxiii].
When, at his last General Audience, Benedict affirmed that on April 19, 2005 (the day of his papal election) he committed himself “forever” to the Lord[xxxiv], he was alluding precisely to the fact that, his resignation having been invalid, he would continue to be Pope until death. When Msgr. Gänswein declared at the Gregorian that Benedict did not abandon the Petrine ministry and continued to participate in it, and that “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church continues to have one legitimate Pope” but at the same time “today we live with two living successors of Peter among us“[xxxv], the meaning was not that there were “two Popes”, each one with his respective functions, but that there is a legitimate Pope (Benedict XVI) and an illegitimate one (Francis).
Benedict was, therefore, and continues to be aware that his resignation was juridically null and void. Among the many references of Ratzinger/Benedict XVI that we have analyzed so far, there is not a single sentence in which he expressly and clearly attributes to the Papacy a sacramental character of its own and, along with this, the trait of indelibility[xxxvi]. There is, then, no demonstration of the “substantial error” of which he is accused, in the ecclesiological field related to the notions of “power of order” and “power of jurisdiction.”
[i] Cf. interview of Dr. Edmund Mazza with Patrick Coffin: https://www.patrickcoffin.media/is-benedict-xvi-still-the-pope/.
[iii] For our part, we have consulted the following version in Spanish: RATZINGER, Joseph. Teoría de los principios teológicos: Materiales para una teología fundamental. Barcelona: Herder, 1985, 476p. Available on: https://docplayer.es/150214277-Teoria-de-los-principios-teologicos.html.
[iv] Here we take the quote directly from the book in question (RATZINGER, Teoría de…, Op. Cit.), pp. 289-290.
[v] Ibid., p. 308.
[vi] We were unable to obtain this material ourselves, so we stick to the citations as presented to us by Dr. Edmund Mazza here: https://www.edmundmazza.com/2021/04/21/leave-the-throne-take-the-ministry-the-sacred-powers-of-pope-emeritus/.
[vii] RATZINGER, Teoría de…, Op. Cit., pp. 306-307. The bold is ours.
[viii] MINAKATA URZÚA, Claudio. Naturaleza y efectos de la misión canónica en la organización eclesiástica. Trabajo de Grado, Doctorado en Derecho Canónico. Pamplona: Universidad de Navarra, 2015, pp. 172-173, 176-177. The bold and underlined are added. Available on: https://fdocuments.es/document/misin-cannica-en-la-organizacin-eclesistica-universidad-de-navarra-facultad.html?page=27.
[xii] We go directly to the source again, in the Spanish version consulted (RATZINGER, Teoría de…, Op. Cit.), p. 233.
[xiv] RATZINGER, Teoría de…, Op. Cit., p. 233.
[xv] Ibid., pp. 234-237. Emphasis added.
[xvi] RATZINGER, Joseph. El Nuevo Pueblo de Dios: Esquemas para una Eclesiología. Barcelona: Herder, 1972, pp. 160-161. (The bold and underlined are ours). Available on: https://portalconservador.com/livros/Joseph-Ratzinger-El-Nuevo-Pueblo-de-Dios.pdf.
[xvii] Interview of Dr. Edmund Mazza with Timothy Flanders: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeTnTN6h1yI&t=5044s.
[xix] RATZINGER, El nuevo…, Op. Cit., p. 215. The Code of Canon Law (CCL), in canon 376, states that “Bishops to whom the care of some diocese is entrusted are called diocesan; others are called titular”. In the (digital) edition by the Universidad de Navarra (CÓDIGO DE DERECHO CANÓNICO. 6ª ed. Pamplona: Ediciones Universidad de Navarra S.A., 2001), it is explained that “According to the terminology of the c., the Bishops are diocesan or titular. The first —previously called residential— are those who are in charge of a diocese, and other Prelates are equal to them in law (cf. c. 381; Christus Dominus 21). As far as the general prescriptions of the CIC regarding Bishops are concerned, all other bishops are included in the category of titular Bishops, even if they cooperate in the government of a diocese, as auxiliaries. Titular Bishops used to be assigned to a currently disappeared diocese or in partibus infidelium, according to the terminology in use until the mid-nineteenth century […]” (emphasis added).
[xx] Cf. BONI, Geraldina. Sopra una rinuncia: La decisione di papa Benedetto e il diritto. Bolonia: Bononia University Press, 2015, pp. 117-118.
[xxi] For the rest, it is interesting to note that the “completely minority” thesis that the Papacy is itself a sacrament –the highest degree of the sacrament of Holy Orders– is attributed by Boni specifically to Rahner, and it is Rahner that Ghirlanda directly refutes in this regard. Ibid.
[xxii] In: Communio 41 (Spring 2014); pp. 112-128. Available here: https://www.communio-icr.com/articles/view/the-primacy-of-the-pope.
[xxiii] San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996, p. 68.
[xxiv] We will carry out a more extensive citation work than the one presented to us by Dr. Edmund Mazza. The more context, the more understanding.
[xxv] We go here directly to the book: SEEWALD, Peter. Benedetto XVI: Ultime Conversazioni. Milán: Garzanti, 2016, pp. 30, 33. Our own translation from Italian. Emphasis added.
[xxvi] Also in this case we take the quotation directly from: SEEWALD, Peter. Benedetto XVI: Una vita. Milán: Garzanti, 2020, pp. 1204-1208. Own translation from Italian. The bold is ours.
[xxviii] This is precisely what has happened, during the last nine years, with Pope Benedict XVI. He “freed the throne” in a purely factual (de facto), not juridical (not de iure) way.
[xxix] Theoretically, a different situation may well arise –that is, the elect may be a priest or even a lay person– and for this reason n. 88 of the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis (UDG) establishes that “After his acceptance, the person elected, if he has already received episcopal ordination, is immediately Bishop of the Church of Rome, true Pope and Head of the College of Bishops. He thus acquires and can exercise full and supreme power over the universal Church. If the person elected is not already a Bishop, he shall immediately be ordained Bishop“. This different hypothetical situation, however, is not the most usual, and it was certainly not the one that arose in the case of H.H. Benedict XVI (former Archbishop of Munich and Freising).
[xxx] The Declaratio literally states: “declaro me ministerio Episcopi Romae […] renuntiare”. http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/es/speeches/2013/february/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20130211_declaratio.html.
[xxxi] Dr. Mazza mistakenly subscribes the wrong approach of Roberto De Mattei, who, regarding the title “Pope Emeritus” points out that “The only explanation possible is that the pontifical election has imparted [upon Benedict] an indelible character, which he does not lose with the resignation” (https://www.edmundmazza.com/2021/04/21/leave-the-throne-take-the-ministry-the-sacred-powers-of-pope-emeritus/). The only explanation possible? Isn’t a deliberately invalid resignation another possible explanation?
[xxxii] Which, by the way, are not the only ones. For example, “no pope has resigned in a thousand years”, says Benedict to Seewald in Last Testament (p. 26), while being aware of Celestine V’s case. At the same time, Seewald says in A Life that Benedict drafted his “resignation” two weeks before its public announcement, with the greatest care that the text was not “too long or too complicated“, trying “to be precise and pay attention to detail, in order to prevent controversy referring to canon law“; furthermore –adds Seewald–, the Pope “did not formulate the text in Italian because “such an important thing is done in Latin“, and he also did not want to make mistakes in a language that was not his own” (p. 1158, the bold is ours). Aren’t these true ironies?
[xxxiii] Cf. ACOSTA, Estefanía. Benedict XVI: Pope “Emeritus”? and CIONCI, Andrea. Codice Ratzinger.
[xxxv] https://aleteia.org/2016/05/30/complete-english-text-archbishop-georg-gansweins-expanded-petrine-office-speech/; https://www.acistampa.com/story/bendetto-xvi-la-fine-del-vecchio-linizio-del-nuovo-lanalisi-di-georg-ganswein-3369; https://web.archive.org/web/20180828113915/http://www.kath.net/news/55276.
[xxxvi] For the rest, we see that in the conversations between Benedict XVI and Peter Seewald the previous papal resignations in history are addressed. Specifically, Benedict knows and addresses the case of Celestine V, whose complete, total, definitive resignation from the Papacy is an obvious and indisputable/undisputed fact. Still, Benedict tells Seewald in A Life that “the situation of Celestine V […] could in no way be invoked as a precedent” (p. 1202). Does not this show that for Benedict the Papacy is in no way indelible (because otherwise the resignation of Celestine V would have been impossible) and that, if in his personal case he did not cease to be the Pope, it was simply because his resignation was null?