The 2020 edition of the Pontifical Directory published by the Secretariat of State and the Vatican Publishing House, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, relegated the Pope’s “Vicar of Jesus Christ,” title to a footnote ranked as a simple “historical title.” Cardinal Ludwig Müller, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, expressed himself in Tagespost on April 2, saying: “It is theological barbarism to devalue this title of the Pope as a simple historical name.”
Until now, the page dedicated to the sovereign pontiff, which precedes the sections on the college of cardinals, the bishops of the world, and the Vatican dicasteries, was published under the title “Vicar of Jesus Christ.” The Pope’s other titles then followed on the page: Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Sovereign Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God.
Lastly came the name of the current pope followed by a short biography. In the 2020 edition only the name “Jorge Mario Bergoglio” appears at the top of the page, followed by a brief biography—the pope’s titles are relegated to the bottom of the page under the note “historical titles,” as shown in a photograph from the page published by Il Messagero on April 3.
The former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sees this modification as fraught with meaning. It has the effect of setting aside the “dogmatic meaning” of the title of “Vicar of Jesus Christ,” because “even the title of Bishop of Rome has no dogmatic meaning: Jesus did not name Simon Peter as Bishop of Rome, but designated him as Chief of the Apostles,” explains Cardinal Müller.
After the resurrection, Christ appeared to Peter to confirm his unique and universal power over His Church, as Tradition has unanimously always understood it: “When therefore they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep” (Jn. 21: 15-17).
“The titles of the pope ‘Successor of Peter, Representative of Christ and Visible Head of the whole Church’… state essential elements of the Petrine primate, which date back to its institution by Christ and is therefore of divine right and not just a human-ecclesiastical law. No Pope or Ecumenical Council,” the German prelate continued, “could, with reference to their highest authority over the Church, do away with the primacy, the episcopacy, or the Sacraments, or to re-interpret them in their essence.”
And to conclude: “It is only with a lot of humor and irony that one can endure the theological dilettantism of statisticians, even if it is presented hypocritically as a sign of great humility.”
In an interview with the Vaticanist Aldo Maria Valli, on April 7, Msgr. Carlo Maria Viganò, former nuncio to the United States, showed the practical effects of this pope’s ostentatious humility that refuses the titles—and therefore the duties—of the office that he occupies: “we cannot demand obedience to the pope if, at the same time, the one who sits on the throne of Peter behaves as if he were not [the pope]; because in so doing, he is carrying out a veritable hoax; he plays with obedience and with the hierarchical sense of the faithful, but at the same time he consider himself as liberi battitori [“a self-employed worker”], released from all duties and all the constraints that the papacy imposes.”