Yes, really


FRANK: Imagine that. BEN: yeah… FRANK: Who woulda thunk? BEN: Uh-huh… | Photo as seen at The Independent

A response to no. 3 in Damian Thompson’s “Are there really two popes?” (Catholic Herald, 14 Jan. 2016)

Pope Francis said, “Sixty years ago there were no emeritus bishops. And now we have 1400. In general I think what Benedict so courageously did was to open the door to the Popes emeritus [sic]. … Benedict should not be considered an exception, but an institution.”

I agree, albeit only in principle, but the quote really serves to contextualise my point: Benedict may have wished (even now) to be referred to as ‘Father’ but of all people he is sure to know the implications of resigning the Chair of Peter.

The Prince of the Apostles was the Pope before becoming Bishop of Rome, so that in conclave the man who eventually accepts his canonical election becomes the Bishop of Rome because he became the Pope.

Now, in Peter’s case, it was only when Christ ascended into heaven that he could assume the fullness of the papacy; but even then he would be the Bishop of Antioch, not of Rome. Christ is still in heaven, so the full papacy is assumed more immediately by the one who accepts his election in conclave.

But unlike the first Pope, and so in fact because of him, today’s candidate must also be the Bishop of Rome to take on the full papacy. (This is why a man who is not a Bishop is immediately ordained to the episcopate after he would have been elected.) Had Peter died in Antioch, it seems that today’s papal candidate would have to be the Bishop of Antioch.

So when the Pope resigns it is as Bishop of Rome — like any other Bishop, but with the following exception: any other Bishop is appointed “by the grace of God and the favour of the Apostolic See” (i.e. because the Pope appointed him). So his resignation is presented to the Apostolic See to see if favour has shifted, to which he is subject.

The Pope, however, is subject to no-one on earth: he is Pope solely by the grace of God, so his resignation is not subject to favour by anyone. Yet for that very reason what is required for it is free occasion (i.e. that no-one forces his own favour on the Pope to resign) and publicity (that everyone would know he does so in free occasion).

To me, then, Pope Benedict set the standard for papal resignation by making his free occasion of a consistory which was broadcast live. But, returning to implications, what does this say about one who resigns the papacy?

At least for me “Benedict is not called Pope Benedict”, irrespective even of his own statements, because history cannot change: on 19 April 2005 the former Joseph Ratzinger, a Cardinal, accepted his canonical election as Pope under the name ‘Benedict’. The next time someone does this will be the seventeenth, just as the last time was the sixteenth.

There is a Pope Benedict XVI, but he is not the Pope, although he was the Pope because he was the Bishop of Rome. But, now that he is no longer the Bishop of Rome, we remember that he was because he merited that title: he is Bishop emeritus of Rome and, at the same time, Pope.

It doesn’t mean that he is a threat to the one who is at once Bishop of Rome and Pope, since history cannot change: on 11 February 2013 Pope Benedict XVI declared his resignation from “the See of Rome” (his words) to be effective at the end of 28 February.

Eventually, on 13 March, the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio SJ, a Cardinal, accepted his canonical election as Pope under the name ‘Francis’.

So there are two Popes, but only one who is Bishop of Rome. In contrast there were 264 Popes and there were 265 Bishops of Rome. So what? I understand that this is new even after three years, but please stop making an apocalypse out of articles (definite and indefinite alike).


I blame the mainstream media for this, though I understand that reporting about someone could get repetitive by the second line or paragraph, which it seems natural to start with a reference to said person, unless there are different ways to do this.

I would go with Pope Benedict; Benedict; The former pope; The pope (who served) from 2005-2013; The (immediate) predecessor of Pope Francis (or Pope Francis’ immediate predecessor); The German-born pope (or pontiff); or, to borrow from the Italians, Pope Ratzinger.

[Hmm… And to think they’re experts at twisting words!]


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