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Article No. 3

Two Popes?

by Christopher A. Ferrara
March 12, 2013

As this column appears, the papal conclave is in its first day. While we await the momentous outcome, it seems the issue of Pope Benedict’s decision to retain his title, adding “emeritus,” continues to elicit concern about canonical confusion  —  as if we needed still more confusion in the Church.

I addressed the disturbing implications of Benedict’s novelty in Perspective No. 654 (“A Quasi-Pope?”). Writing in La Stampa back in February, Andrea Tornielli addressed the same problem, quoting Civiltà Cattolica, the Catholic intellectual journal whose content is vetted by the Vatican Secretariat of State. The article in Civiltà, by the eminent canonist Gianfranco Ghirlanda, notes that “He who gives up the papal ministry for any reason other than death, remains a bishop of course, but is no longer pope as he loses all primatial power because he did not gain this through Episcopal consecration but directly from Christ, after his legitimate election.” Ghirlanda concludes that the appropriate title for Benedict, if not simply Bishop of Rome emeritus, would be “former Pope.”

In view of this, Tornielli (days before the papal abdication took effect) observed that “the outgoing Pope is no longer Pope, regardless of whether he continues to give his whole life in service to the Church, through intercessory prayer, ‘hidden from the world.’... ‘Pope Emeritus’ on the other hand risks insinuating he is a second Pope. One gets the impression that little reflection was given to Ratzinger’s current title, from both a canonistic and theological point of view.” This is hardly the first ill-considered novelty we have seen in the Church since the Second Vatican Council, however.

Yet Benedict’s decision is not necessarily final, as it will be his successor who determines whether a living predecessor of his who renounced the papacy can still be called a Pope in any way, shape or form. Benedict’s preference for a certain title cannot bind the Pope who succeeds him. So, how Benedict will be listed in the Church’s official directory of its hierarchy, the Annuario, remains to be seen. It seems hard to imagine that the Annuario will officially list two living persons as having the title Pope, with one “retired” from the papacy. But, then again, in these times of diabolical disorientation in the Church we should hardly be surprised to see the introduction of yet another disorientating innovation.

Let us hope and pray for a Pope who will restore the Church’s good order, sweeping away that host of improvisations  —  including this most recent one  —  which have brought her nothing but grief over the past half-century. May Our Lady of Fatima intercede for us, obtaining the merciful favor of the Pope we need, rather than the one we deserve.