Despite the length and vigor of my recent post on the strange tale of the two popes, I would like to make it clear that I am not asserting anything dogmatically. I am merely running many peculiar data through the codgitator, while you get to sift through the entrails. As far as my research currently extends, there are two factors which secure my benefit of the doubt for the “received” understanding of the current papacy.
Second, the bishop of Rome is the successor Peter, and Benedict is no longer the bishop of Rome: Francis is.
(See? I’m not as insane as everybody wants to believe!)
Nevertheless, I am still deeply troubled by what Benedict has, apparently, wrought with his bizarre quasi-resignation. I am trying to get access to and an understanding of Professor Stefano Violi’s paper on the canonical nuances–and lacunae–of Benedict’s renuntiatio. If an esteemed Italian professor of canon law says there is a crucial distinction between renouncing the munus petrinum and its ministerium, I am more than willing to temper my reading of the declaratio with his analysis, especially since Benedict has apparently not even totally abdicated the papal ministerium (viz. he chooses to maintain the orando-et-patendo aspect of the papal executio)! If Benedict renounced the munus petrinum (qua the “central” nature of the papacy), then he has no right, at the very least, not in Rome, to execute the papal ministerium (qua the “peripheral” nature of the papacy). If, however, he still has canonical “access” to the ministerium, this can only be because he still retains the former. Since it is only the Petrine office which guarantees the graces of papal authority, one must ask how a beneficiary of that office could lack those graces–unless there is not in fact such an absolute connection between the Roman papacy and the Petrine supremacy.
I also find it astounding that the reality of there being “two popes” in “one church” is apparently faced as an open secret in Italy. How can such a frank, and frankly confusing, discussion even be taking place without hordes of conservative kapos stomping on the throats of those who so clearly “hate Pope Francis” (or something)? I gather that one era of fascism was enough for Italian Catholics, but we are a younger nation of faithful, so the adolescent angst rampant in AmChurch is understandable.
But I digress.
The problem that I am grappling with is not that a former occupant of the See of Peter is still alive, but that, apparently, it was the previous pope’s desire to create two popes–or at least two modes of the papacy–which could operate in different ways, presumably to meet different “needs”. Unfortunately, this pluralizing of the papacy is as novel as it is problematic (and just as potentially divisive). It’s little wonder that a papacy which ended on such precarious and murky terms has given birth to a papacy that has been a highlight reel of novelty and confusion. There is a great deal of fog surrounding Pope Francis, but perhaps this is only because he stands too close in time to the pope whose abdication kicked the Vatican fog machine into high gear. Numerous Catholics these days are seeing double simply because the Church is poping double, if not doubling down on ogling a popularized papacy. In that sense, the dubious duality of the papacy these days is but a holographic condensation of the pluralistic ambiguity and failure of nerve which has wracked the Church–and flummoxed the faithful–since at least the Second Vatican Council. Where once it was obvious that there was “one pastor to rule them all,” the Church now grapples with a tendency to believe that there is “one council to trump all else.”
Yet, as the quotations from Vatican I in my previous post establish, the unicity of the Petrine See is as dogmatic a fact as its perpetuity (sorry, sedevacantists) and its infallibility (sorry, Protestants). If there really are “two popes”, and if that was Benedict’s desire, then the divisiveness of the confusing novelty springs to the fore. It’s not hard to fathom how this papal pluralism, wrought by an act of astounding papal positivism, fosters the individualistic, stylized factionalism precisely which the papacy is intended to confute.