The Difficulties Raised by Benedict XVI’s Renunciation

March 02, 2019

“Benedict XVI’s renunciation was valid and Jorge Bergoglio was properly elected to the sovereign pontificate” is the basic answer from Cardinals Raymond Burke and Walter Brandmüller, as well as from Archbishop Georg Gänswein, to those who raise doubts regarding Pope Francis’ legitimacy.

The Prefect of the Pontifical Household wrote a letter on February 11, 2019, to clarify the issue: “There is only one legitimately elected and incumbent pope, and that is Francis. Amen.” “I have already cleared up the ‘misunderstanding’ several times,” he wrote. “It makes no sense at all, no, even more, it is counterproductive.” 

Cardinal Brandmüller and Burke agree: “The resignation was valid, and the election was valid. Enough,” was the curt answer from the former president the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences to Lifesite. “It seems clear to me that Benedict had his full mind and that he intended to resign the Petrine office,” concluded Cardinal Raymond Burke.

Benedict XVI is not the first pope to have resigned from his office. But the conditions surrounding this abdication are most unusual. First of all, the title of “pope emeritus” is a source of confusion. “Emeritus” means “the former holder of an office, having retired but allowed to retain his title as an honor.” But can a pope who has abdicated retain the honors reserved for the reigning Sovereign Pontiff?

The white cassock he wears also seems inappropriate. And the presence of the “pope emeritus” within the Vatican can only make the confusion worse. And there is no lack of persons who, dissatisfied with Francis, eye Joseph Ratzinger’s lodgings with hope, revolt, nostalgia or disappointment. 

Nonetheless, there is a risk that this move will set a precedent; the reigning pope has already mentioned the idea of resigning, and now that a “retirement age” has been imposed upon all the other degrees of the hierarchy, there may be a temptation to apply the same new rules to the papal office. This would be a frontal attack on the constitution of the Church, but it would also create a group of “emeritus popes”, whose ranks would feed certain schismatic tendencies even without their consent.