(Rome) "Who is Pope today and how many are there exactly?" Italian journalist Antonio Socci, who is known by his accentuated criticism of Pope Francis asked on Saturday in his publication for the daily Libero. General confusion reigns in the Church, and the new interview book by Benedict XVI., "The Last Conversations," instead of clearing away the fog, adds to it.
Socci had questioned 2014/2015 the validity of the election of Pope Francis. He has more recently distanced himself from this thesis though, yet he doesn't seem to have given it up so completely. The still surprising resignation of Benedict XVI, still disturbs him and other Catholics too. It's an inner restlessness that is constantly fueled anew by the pontificate of Francis.
In the new article, Socci has occupied himself once more with the validity of the official renunciation of Benedict and its even more surprising step, to introduce a previously completely unknown figure of "emeritus pope." Is Benedict still Pope? How can there be two popes? These questions not only arise to Socci, as leading canonists have warned of the introduction of this figure. Such things were raised by Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, a close confidant of Benedict XVI., who does not approve of the step in the "retirement." Therefore, the cardinal warned last July against the institutionalization of a "papa emeritus", also because there are groups in the Church, who still hold Benedict for the legitimate pope, and thus is a dangerously explosive force with the risk of schism in the air (see Cardinal Brandmüller: Figure of an "Emeritus" Pope poses "Serious Risks" for Unity of the Church in German).
The Most Curious Detail
"I start with the most curious detail," says Socci. Peter Seewald asked Benedict XVI. if he knew the prophecy of Malachi, who allegedly created a list of all future popes until the end of the world in the Middle Ages. According to this list the papacy, and therefore the Church, would end with Benedict XVI.. Seewald didn't ask the question about the last Pope directly but took a turn from it: What if Benedict XVI. actually were to be the last pope, who has represented the figure of Peter's successor in the unprecedented form?
"The response from Ratzinger is surprising: 'Alles kann sein.' Everything is possible? Even that Benedict is the last pope, although for more than three years his successor has ruled? In Seewald's book Benedict adds: 'This prophecy probably arose in the circles around Philip Neri.'"
"He calls them, 'prophecy,' and returns to a great saint and mystic of the Church, and then to loosen up concluding with a joke, but that was his answer," says Socci.
"Does Benedict XVI. believe his is the last papacy (at the end of the world or at least the end of the Church)?" asks Socci. "Probably not. But then does he think - at least according to the recounting of his interlocutor -- one who has exercised the papacy in the recognizeable form for the last two thousand years? Perhaps. This statement can be heard, because the papacy can not be changed by human will as a divine institution as is well known, of the Church."
But what change will it involved? "Is there a break in the uninterrupted tradition of the Church? Another point in the book points in this direction. Do you see yourself as the last pope of the old or as the first of the new world?' Benedict XVI's answer to Seewald's question: 'I would say both. '"
"But what does that mean," asks Socci. What does "old" and "new world" mean, especially for someone like Benedict XVI., who always opposed an interpretation of Vatican II as a 'break' with tradition and instead emphasized its continuity?
Seewald ascribes to Benedict XVI. a "revolutionary" conduct with which he, "like no other pope of modern times, changed the papacy." Socci wonders whether this assertion, "clearly alludes to the introduction of 'emeritus pope,'" a reference to a concrete statement by Benedict XVI. in the book which he had made and thought to be valuable.
The Detective Story
Socci recalls that the figure of an "emeritus pope" is completely alien to Church history and emphasizes the canon emphatically that a Pope who waives his office, automatically returns to the status he had prior to his election, because the papacy, in contrast to the episcopal ordination, is not a sacrament. While the bishops, therefore, remain bishops, even if they no longer exert a particular jurisdiction, this was not the case with a Pope.
Nevertheless, Benedict XVI announced in the last days of his pontificate against the opinion of all canonists that he would become an "emeritus pope" after his resignation. He did not offer a canonical or theological justification of his unusual step, which was even more unusual than the resignation itself. Rather, he said, during his last general audience on February 27th: "My decision to dispense with the active version of the office, this does not withdraw it back [being a pope]."
He coupled this statement with his announcement of remaining at the Vatican and continuing to wear the robe of a pope and the papal coat of arms and to be introduced with his papal name, including the honorary title "His Holiness".
"That was enough to ask the question of what is happening, and whether he was really withdrawn from the papacy." Therefore, Socci had, as early as 2013, been concerned in numerous articles with the unusual resignation and the subsequent conclave.
Meanwhile, the canon lawyer Stefano Violi, examining the Declaratio, with which Benedict XVI. announced his resignation, came to the conclusion: "Benedict XVI. agreed to renounce the ministerium [service]: not the papacy under the provisions of Boniface VIII, nor of the munus [Official] according to Canon 332, paragraph 2, but to the ministerium, or as clarified in his last audience, to the active exercise of the ministry."
After Antonio Socci had pointed the finger at inconsistencies in several articles, the Vaticanist Andrea Tornielli, very closely linked to Pope Francis, asked Pope Benedict XVI in February 2014 why he had remained "emeritus pope". The answer was:
"The maintenance of the white robe and the name Benedict is simply a practical matter. At the time of the resignation there were no other garments available. "
There were no other garments available?
"Tornielli broadcast his 'sensational news' in all directions, but on closer inspection, the words must have proven an elegant joke to suggest a question that Benedict XVI. then could not speak on (Who believes that there were no black cassocks in the Vatican?)," says Socci. "But he speaks now about three years later, and explained the reasons for its decision, which have nothing to do with sartorial affairs."
"It means that he is pope"
In the new interview the considerations on the bishops come out. When it was stipulated there would be a limit of their tenure at 75 years, the "Bishop Emeritus" was created because it was said that a father always remains father.
Benedict XVI. now says that also about himself. Even if the children are already grown, the father remains father, even if he no longer bears the whole responsibility connected to fatherhood. He remained a father in a deeper, more intimate sense, said Benedict XVI.
Socci speaks of a "poetic idea", others speak of a transfigured representation. but on the theological level it was "explosive", because "it means that he is pope."
His personal secretary, Archbishop Curia Georg Gänswein, announced last May in his speech at the Gregoriana at what Benedict XVI. now sets forth in his interview book. Gänswein went even further and in detail.
Gänsweins speech, which was concealed by most media, "struck the Roman Curia like a nuclear bomb", according to Socci. Gänswein said the papal service hasn't been the same as before, since February 11, 2013. The papacy has in fact been the foundation of the Catholic Church, but it was altered by Benedict XVI. through his "exception pontificate" fundamentally and permanently.
His resignation and the creation of the figure of "emeritus pope" was a "weighty step of a millennially historic proportions." It's a step that had never happened before, because Benedict XVI. never gave up his Petrine ministry, but "renewed" it.
The novelty lies in the "extension" of the papacy from a "collegial and synodal dimension" to an office exerted "quasi communally." Although there really are not two popes, it's a de facto "expanded" papacy with an "active and contemplative" Pope.
One of two people effecting a common Office? One wonders seriously, what the situation is and rubs his eyes in disbelief. Paul Badde had already asked Gänswein a few days after his Gregorian speech about the Malachy prophecy. Such things might be add a little spice to an interview or an article by a journalist, but it hardly helps the Church much in its current situation. Gänswein gave the impression in his Gregorian speech and Badde interview for EWTN that he wanted to ultimately transfigure the incomprehensible step of Benedict XVI. and subsequently charge through a constructed meaning, which actually made all rather worse. Especially Gänswein's response to Badde, he would have "no problem" with four or five popes emeritus, lacks of seriousness. The whole situation of Benedict's resignation is problematic enough, without the need for sloppy swaggering.
Torpedo against Benedict
Socci does not stop till he reaches his next goal. Until the Gänswein speech "Bergoglio must have already heard these things by Benedict XVI without understanding them, as the emeritus papacy was explained:" The Resignation of Benedict XVI. was a "government action" comparable to a bishop who renounces and retires his jurisdiction.
Since the Gänswein speech of May "the Court of Bergoglio has only just become aware of the scale of the problem," says Socci, hence as Francis issued upon returning from Armenia, the clear rejection of the notion of a "common Petrine ministry."
In August Tornielli ( "The Thermometer of the Curia") published an interview with the eminent canonists and representatives of the Roman Curia, Titular Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, who unreservedly shredded the figure of an "emeritus pope." "The uniqueness of Peter's successor does not allow further discrimination or duplication of the Office" or even the nominal service as an honorary title. There is especially no distinction between the office and its exercise (see New Broadside Against "Emeritus Pope" - Canonist Sciacca: "Legally and Theologically Untenable" in German).
So Socci gets in the core of his column to a question which is quite legitimate, but at the same time, of which Cardinal Brandmüller recently warned:
"Benedict XVI. had decided to retain the authority of the Pope and to dispense only with the active exercise of the office. If this decision of his is inadmissible and void, does it mean that even his resignation is null and void?"