But the Cardinals Accepted His Resignation…..

Another argument I hear to accept as valid Pope Benedict XVI’s “renunciation” is that the cardinals accepted his resignation and proceeded to elect another pope.  The following is the most relevant part of Pope Benedict XVI’s Declaratio:

“I renounce the ministry [ministerio] of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, committed to me through the hands of the Cardinals on April 19, 2005, so that on February 28, 2013, at 20:00 Roman Time [Sedes Romae], the see of Saint Peter be vacant, and that a Conclave to elect a new Supreme Pontiff be convoked by those whose duty it is [ab quibus competit].1

It is true that Pope Benedict XVI here seems to allow for the calling of a conclave to elect the next pope, but this is spurious because if a pope resigns it is doubtful that he has the power to postpone his resignation to a later date.  This is nowhere permitted in either the 1917 or 1983 Code of Canon Law.  However, it does make sense if he was not renouncing the papacy itself, but only some aspect of it.  We turn, therefore, to the most critical part of the Declaratio:

“I renounce the ministry [ministerio] of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter…..”

Compare this formula to the only canon in the 1983 Code that directly addresses a papal resignation:

Can. 332 – §2. Should it happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns from his office, it is required for validity that the resignation be freely made and properly manifested, but it is not necessary that it be accepted by anyone.

Note that a pope must renounce his office, not his ministry, and that the renouncing of the office must be properly manifested, which clearly was not in the formula.

What should have happened is that the cardinals, especially the Dean of Cardinals at the time (Cardinal Angelo Soldano) and those learned in canon law (such as Cardinal Raymond Burke), should have questioned the “resignation” before proceeding with a conclave.  Of course, they did not do that, but that they assumed that the “resignation” was valid and proceeded to the conclave does not make the “resignation” valid.  Just as §2 of Canon 332 does not permit the cardinals to reject a valid papal resignation, it hints that the reverse is also true, that is, that the cardinals are not permitted to accept a clearly invalid or questionable resignation.  To demonstrate this last point, imagine if Pope Benedict XVI had made the following declaration:

“I renounce the wearing of the garb of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, so that on February 28, 2013, at 20:00 Roman Time, the see of Saint Peter be vacant, and that a Conclave to elect a new Supreme Pontiff be convoked by those whose duty it is.”

Then the cardinals accepted this formula as a valid resignation and proceeded with a conclave.  What would you think?  I rest my case.


  1. https://fromrome.info/2018/11/23/litteral-english-translation-of-benedict-xvis-discourse-on-feb-11-2013-a-d/

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