Fr. Hunwicke minced no words in his appraisal of the idea being floated in some circles that Pope Benedict might still retain a portion, or an aspect, of Petrine authority despite having abdicated. As Fr. Hunwicke explains, “once a pope, always a pope”, is worse than incoherent.
I strongly condemn the idea being bandied around in some quarters that there are ‘two popes’; that Joseph Ratzinger has not totally renounced what one such article called, illiterately, the ‘munus Petrinus‘. I consider this idea an error of the very gravest nature. There is only one Roman Church, the visible centre and organ of Unity within the visible Church Militant; and it has, can only have, one bishop; who enjoys to the full, and exclusively, the prerogatives defined in the decree Pastor Aeternus of Vatican I. To argue otherwise is to subvert the entire structure and constitution of the Catholic Church.
A second reason why it is wrong is that it appears to create a new sacramental order within the Catholic Church, with a ‘character’ indelibly and irrevocably marked upon the soul of a man who has once been Pope. There is no such order, and it is heretical to say or to imply that there is. The sacramental orders in the Church of Christ are those of Bishop, Presbyter, and Deacon. A pope is simply the Bishop of Rome, and a pope emeritus is a Bishop who was once Bishop of Rome and now is so no longer*. Joseph Ratzinger is a learned man who knows that the colour of the Papacy is red [Oh, the irony!]. That is why, on ceasing to be pope, he gave up the use of that red, even as concerned his footwear. Those who promote this outrageous thesis are apparently under the ignorant impression that one can draw conclusions from the wearing of a white cassock as being the symbol of papal authority [Again with the irony!]. It isn’t (clergy in Africa used to wear white, and perhaps still do). I have explained this matter more than once previously in my blog. (It is pity that Benedict’s successor, in a facile pursuit of Gestures of Humility, has foolishly abandoned these ancient conventions which, like most ancient conventions, do have meaning.) [Quite so, yet note the “peacock” metaphor in this article employed by the pope-to-be.]
It may be that this absurd idea might appeal to those who, with good reason, much admired Benedict XVI, and dislike Francis. I can only say that the very worst tribute that can be paid to our beloved Papa Ratzinger and to his years of sacrificial, persecuted, ministry is to invent a couple of new heresies in his ‘honour’.
*At the time of the abdication, anticipating the possibility of confusions, I suggested that Pope Benedict should have a new suburbicarian See created for him, which would have given expression to his sense of still being within the Enclosure of S Peter while making clear that he is no longer Bishop of Rome. I still think this would have been sensible. Episcopus in Vaticano, perhaps.
I deplore the novel fad, which I think may have begun in Academe, of flinging around the word ’emeritus’. Christopher Budd is not the Emeritus Bishop of Plymouth. He is in no sense the Bishop of Plymouth. He has, I hope, been formally translated to a titular see. I[f] he hasn’t, this is another praiseworthy old convention which ought to be revived. Vivant sedes in partibus infidelium. If I had one, I would actually go and visit it, and sign my name +Iohannes Synnadensis.
Tell us, as they say, how you really feel, Fr. Hunwicke.
His canonical solution for giving Ratzinger an enclosure in the Vatican sounds cogent, and his zeal only strengthens his case.
So, who knows–maybe Fr. Hunwicke will get a phone call one of these days from Fr. Bergoglio?