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Pope Francis (L) with then-Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI

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(LifeSiteNews) — Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, recently addressed the questions and controversies raised by the resignation of Benedict XVI and the last nine years of the pontificate of Pope Francis in a presentation of the book “Benedetto XVI nove anni di papato-ombra” (Benedict XVI nine years of shadow-papacy) by Massimo Franco (Milano 2022).

Müller firmly threw his weight behind the legitimacy of Francis’ pontificate. “Against all contrived theories and swollen aversions,” he declared, “the statement is impeccable and irrefutable: There is legitimately only one pope and his name is Francis. Whoever was pope, living or dead, is no more, even if he is entitled to all gratitude and personal veneration.”

The cardinal then delved into the confusions caused among the faithful by Benedict’s resignation. “The resignation of Pope Benedict in 2013,” he said, “has introduced a tension into the Petrine principle of the unity of the faith and the communion of the Church that has no parallel historically and has not yet been dogmatically addressed. The norms of canon law are by no means sufficient here, and the tricks of diplomacy even less so.”

Acknowledging the freedom of the Pope to resign from his office according to ecclesiastical law, Müller pointed out that “the pope is never merely the president of their [the bishops’] assembly, appointed by the bishops, who could or should retire into well-deserved retirement at the end of a term of office or at his own discretion,” but is rather called to witness to the crucified Christ even to the point of death.

“It is true that according to purely ecclesiastical law the Pope of Rome can freely declare his resignation, but this is counterbalanced by the fact that according to divine law he is personally appointed by Christ, the invisible but true head of the Church, as Peter’s successor and as his deputy in the universal pastoral office, and that as the visible head of the whole Church he has all spiritual authority to lead the house of the living God in communion with the other bishops. Therefore, the pope is never merely the president of their assembly, appointed by the bishops, who could or should retire into well-deserved retirement at the end of a term of office or at his own discretion. This is already forbidden by the mission and authority to bear witness to Christ in the word of proclamation, even to the death of martyrdom, following the suffering and crucified Jesus.”

The cardinal also argued that the resignation of the Roman Pontiff must remain an extremely rare exception in the Church and cannot become an ordinary standard or permanent practice. “Even those who pragmatically accept the facts and grant them normative force,” he said, “can by no means — this is the conclusion drawn from the nine years of coexistence of a single pope and his predecessor as papa emeritus — declare the resignation of a pope for reasons of age and health to be the normal case. It must remain the strictest exception and must then be contemplated only for the good of the Church. The bonum ecclesiae, however, is not to be interpreted with the categories of worldly professions, but in view of the witness to Christ entrusted to the apostles and their successors until death.”

The issue of Benedict XVI’s resignation has raised questions from the beginning of Francis’ pontificate due the frequency of heterodox statements and continuous scandals. From Amoris Laetitia to the changing of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty, from the Pachamama idolatry to financial scandals, from the McCarrick abuse to countless other cover-ups of episcopal crimes, from the harsh persecution of the those who love the Traditional Latin Mass to the recent appointment of pro-LGBTQ cardinals, the scandals of the current pontificate have left many faithful Catholics confused, wondering how to reconcile these things with their faith in the Church.

The question of the legitimacy of the current papacy and Benedict’s resignation has increasingly received attention among theologians and Catholic commentators. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano recently called for an investigation by the bishops into the matter. Layman Patrick Coffin has argued that Benedict XVI did not in fact lay aside the papal office and that Francis is therefore not Pope. Edward Feser has argued against this claim. Just today, Bishop Athanasius Schneider laid out his position that Francis is indeed the legitimate Pope, even if there were irregularities in either Benedict’s resignation or Francis’ election. He argued that to hold otherwise defies the tradition of the Church.

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