Rorate Caeli

De Mattei: The real mess is the cohabitation of 2 Popes

Roberto de Mattei
Corrispondenza Romana
January 15, 2020

The latest controversy, erupting just after the publication of the book on the priesthood by Cardinal Sarah and Benedict XVI, makes plain the pitiful confusion the Church is facing today.

On January 12th , the news of a text written by the Pope emeritus and Cardinal Sarah exploded like a bomb. The book, edited by Nicholas Diat, Cardinal Sarah’s right-hand man, was published by Fayard with the title Des profondeurs des nos coeurs From the Depth of Our Hearts) and carries a strong defense of ecclesiastic celibacy.  The media of the  progressive lobby immediately went on the offensive by denying that the Pope emeritus had ever written a book with Cardinal Sarah and accused the latter of having engaged in an “editorial operation” against Pope Francis. Cardinal Sarah, for his part, reacted in the strongest possible terms: “I declare solemnly that Benedict XVI knew that our project would have been made into a book (…). Certain attacks seem to be insinuating that I am lying. These defamations are exceedingly grave. “

On January 14, however, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Joseph Ratzinger’s secretary and Prefect of the Papal Household, partially contradicted Cardinal Sarah, requesting that the Pope emeritus’ signature as co-author be removed from the book: “The Pope emeritus knew that the Cardinal was preparing a book and had sent his text on the priesthood authorizing him to use it as he wished. But he had not approved any project for a co-authored book, nor had he seen and authorized the cover.  This was a misunderstanding that doesn’t call into question Cardinal Sarah’s good faith.” 

The Guinean Cardinal didn’t accept being made responsible for the misunderstanding and published three letters, with the dates of September 20, October 12, November 25, 2019 from which the full agreement between him and Benedict [clearly] emerges, and gives the go-ahead for the publication with these words “For me, the text can be published in the form you have planned.”

However, Monsignor Gänswein’s request was accepted and in future editions the co-authorship of the book will be removed and the author will be “Cardinal Sarah with the contribution of Benedict XVI”. On the other hand “the entire text will remain absolutely unchanged” Cardinal Sarah made clear in a Tweet. A real “mess” the responsibility of which seems to fall on the Cardinal’s collaborator, Nicholas Diat, who probably emphasized the initiative more than he should have but it falls especially on Monsignor Gänswein, who undoubtedly gave into the pressure of those who wanted to defuse the contents of the book with the aim of disqualifying the Guinean Cardinal, improperly described as an “ultra-conservative”.

From this situation, there emerges, however, a much greater mess, which is that of the unnatural cohabitation of two Popes in the Vatican, above all when one of them, Benedict XVI, after renouncing the papacy, maintains the name, continues to wear white, imparts his Apostolic Blessing that only the Pope should do, and once again breaks his silence which he had vowed to keep by resigning.  In short, he considers himself Pope, even if “emeritus”.

This situation is the consequence of a grave theological error by Cardinal Ratzinger. By keeping the title Pope emeritus, as happens with bishops, he appears to believe that the rise to the Papacy imprints an indelible mark similar to that of the priesthood. In reality, the sacramental grades of the priesthood are three only: the diaconate, the priesthood and the episcopacy.  The Papacy belongs to another hierarchy in the Church, the jurisdictional one, or the governmental one, wherein it is the apex. When a Pope is elected, he receives the office of supreme jurisdiction, not a sacrament with an indelible mark.

The priesthood can’t even be lost by death, because it subsists “in aternum” . The papacy, on the other hand, can be lost, not only by death, but also in the case of voluntary renunciation or of manifest, notorious heresy. If he renounces being pontiff, the Pope ceases to be such: he has no right to wear white nor impart the Apostolic Blessing. He, from a canonical point of view, is no longer even a cardinal, but goes back to being a simple bishop.  Unless his renunciation is invalid: but this, in the case of Benedict XVI, should be proven. Effectively, the title of Pope today is being given to both Francis and Benedict, but one is certainly abusive, as only one [man] can be Pope in the Church.  

The history of the Church has seen Popes and Anti-Popes who fought each other, but each one   excommunicated the other and clarification imposed choices, as happened in the Great Western Schism, when all Christendom found itself excommunicated by one Pope or another and the faithful were forced to take a stance.  What has never happened is that two Popes  acknowledge each other as legitimate, and manifest reciprocal respect and reverence, apart from the fighting going on behind the scenes through third parties. Any attempt at publically pitting them against each other is an improbable enterprise, contradicted by facts and doomed to failure.

What will happen when the process of liquidating ecclesiastic celibacy, initiated officially by the Amazon Synod, is pushed  forward by the German Episcopal Conference’s  “synodal path”? And what will Benedict XVI say faced with the “path” of his German confreres, who have said they want “obligatory value” given to their decisions in Germany? For his part will Cardinal Sarah confirm his “filial obedience to Pope Francis” made manifest in his press release on January 14 or will he unite his voice to the cardinals who intend resisting the auto-demolition of the Church, by following the apostolic teaching “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts, 5 v.29)? It is time for clarity, not confusion.

Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana