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Monday, February 17, 2014

Latest from Socci: The Papal Games

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Latest from Socci: The Papal Games

Today (February 17) the world press reported that Pope Francis has obtained an Argentinian passport and identity card under his former name, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and that he “would like to keep traveling around the world with the Argentinian passport.” That is, although he already holds a Vatican passport as Pope Francis, head of the Vatican city state and Vicar of Christ, he would like to continue to be known, and treated by immigration authorities, as simply Jorge Bergoglio, citizen of Argentina. In yet another display of an endlessly praised humility that is becoming a titanic spectacle, Pope Francis—or should I say Jorge Bergoglio—insisted on personally paying the processing fees to the Argentinian government. In the “Church of the poor” there is no money to waste on fees for the Pope’s alter ego passport and ID card, but $28 million was readily available for a massive three-hour rock concert cum Novus Ordo Mass on the beach in Rio.


While Pope Francis seems uncomfortable with the idea that he is Pope Francis, and wishes in some way to remain the former Jorge Bergoglio, the former Cardinal Ratzinger seems uncomfortable with the idea that he is no longer Pope, and wishes in some way to remain Benedict XVI. What is going on here? It seems we are dealing with another effect of the cloud of obscurantism that descended upon the Church during and after Vatican II, causing what Romano Amerio so aptly described as “the loss of essences” in post-conciliar thinking. It seems churchmen low and high, not excluding the Pope himself, have mysteriously become incapable of stating or even believing with firm conviction that one thing is clearly distinct from another—that, for example, the Vicar of Christ is distinct from the man he once was, and that “Pope” is not just a job title to be added to his folio of identity documents.

It is becoming clearer by the day that we are living in the midst of a situation that Antonio Socci rightly calls “almost apocalyptic” in one of two new newspaper articles posted on his website which I have translated for Remnant readers. Socci’s astonishing remarks about the apparent problem of “two Popes” living at the same time received serious treatment from none other than John Allen, writing from his new post at the Boston Globe. Socci, writes Allen, is “definitely not the lunatic fringe.” Indeed he is not. The lunatic fringe would appear to be Socci’s subject, however. CAF


The “retirement” of Benedict XVI—a year later —is tinged with yellow [mystery].* Because of emerging “details” which compel serious questioning of its real canonical validity.

I start with that to which I myself have given testimony. In the summer of 2011 I received the news from a reliable source: Benedict XVI has decided to resign and will do so after having completed 85 years, i.e., in April 2012.

I wrote everything in these columns, on September 25, 2011. I was buried by an avalanche of contemptuous responses from both the Vatican entourage and the Vaticanists. Arriving at the Spring 2012, one of the Vaticanists noted repeatedly that my prediction had not come true.

I replied that it was in the middle of the storm of Vatileaks, and for that reason the Pope had not yet resigned. In fact, on February 11, 2012, with the Vatileaks case just closed, Benedict XVI announced his dramatic withdrawal (it was still in his 85th year).

Yet yesterday the gnawing critics [rosiconi]* at “Vatican Insider” wrote: “Over the years, in the Italian newspapers, Antonio Socci and Giuliano Ferrara spoke, for different reasons, of the hypothesis that Joseph Ratzinger would resign. No one, however, was able to predict the timing.”

Aside from the fact that mine was a news item, while the article by Ferrara, which was released months later, was a cultural reflection, in my article, the timing was very well defined.


Also yesterday, Cardinal Bertone, in an interview with Il Giornale, revealed: “The Pope had arrived at the decision some time ago; he had already spoken with me about it in mid-2012.”

Then he decided to delay the communication awhile on account of the many storms that were in progress. But the decision had been made by April of 2012. Just as I had written.

At this point I wondered how my source already knew all of this for certain in the summer of 2011, two years before [the resignation]? Who and why was he in a position to know such a thing?

Or had someone close to the Pope, or some group of people, “negotiated” and obtained it? Well, in the summer of 2011, people close to the Pope did not know it. So, were there forces that wanted and pressed for that decision, even to the point of “extracting” a date from him?


I do not think it is a conspiratorialist exaggeration because, in addition to the very strong external attacks that have characterized his papacy, Benedict XVI has from the beginning been opposed in an extremely harsh way within the ecclesiastical world: this is evident from the document in which a group of anonymous cardinals, just after the conclave of 2005, broke their oath on the Gospel by circulating an alleged diary of the votes that de-legitimized Ratzinger and in practice broadcast the signal to quit. Deviously prefiguring the events that would then indeed be realized.

That public de-legitimization of a newly elected pope, on the part of perjured cardinals hidden behind anonymity, has no equal in the modern history of the Church.

And it is possible to think that from there was unfurled an entire hostile strategy that clearly pointed to the resignation of the Pope. In the book “Attack on Ratzinger” in 2010, Andrea Tornielli and Paolo Rodari reported the declaration of an important cardinal who, after the Conclave of 2005, said of Pope Benedict: “Two or three years; he will not last more than two or three years” (and “he accompanied the words with a gesture of his hands, as if to minimize”).


It should be mentioned also the disquieting “report” presented to Benedict XVI on December 30, 2011 by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, in which there are mentioned things that another Cardinal, Paolo Romeo, Archbishop of Palermo, is reported to have said to some people in November 2011 during conversations in Beijing. Cardinal Romeo, according to the author of the report, “harshly criticized Pope Benedict XVI.”  Finally, “with self-assurance, as if he knew with precision, Cardinal Romeo announced that the Holy Father would have only twelve months to live. During his conversations in China he prophesied the death of Pope Benedict XVI within the next 12 months.”

This document then went out in the press in February 2012 and caused a sensation, but was quickly forgotten, even by the media (always superficial). Downgraded to empty chatter by some absent-minded person who had misunderstood everything, imagining assassination attempts and the like.

Certain aspects of that report were strange, but in light of what really happened in the ensuing twelve months, can we say that it was just a coincidence that the disappearance of Ratzinger was foreseen with certainty?

Certainly, with all this dark turmoil in the Curia, today appear hardly credible statements like the one by Cardinal Sodano in the heat of the Pope’s resignation: “A bolt from the blue.”

Sodano—who was Secretary of State in 2005 and was replaced by Benedict XVI in 2006—is also the one who, as dean of the Sacred College, managed the new Conclave of 2013. And he remains the strong man of the Curia.


The story of the resignation of Pope Benedict is ever more mysterious. And embarrassing as well. Not coincidentally, on the anniversary of the withdrawal one read surreal things, such as the declaration by Cardinal Cottier, who told Avvenire: “With great clarity he measured his own strength and the work to be done.  And he decided that you cannot force Providence.”

To remain at his post would have been “force Providence”? And in what theology manual would such nonsense be written, offensive to Pope Benedict as well as to Providence, which is held to be incapable of guiding human lives? Perhaps the Conclave of 2005 went against Providence?

So here we are before the crucial question: that of the “resignation” of Benedict XVI. On February 11, 2013 he solemnly announced it, “well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom.”

It is not admissible to doubt his words; therefore his was a free act. However, one can press in many ways to obtain a decision in this sense. Not necessarily with a direct demand.

Some have suggested that the Pope had heard being aired catastrophic events for the Church which, in his heart, he believed he would be able to avoid by stepping aside. In this case, he would have made own free decision, but how valid would his resignation have been?

The problem of the canonical validity of his resignation is enormous. In fact, invalidity —according to some canonists—does not regard only the case of coercion, but arises in other cases as well.


For example, one may ask whether there was a contest of the will in his heart when the Pontiff made the decision—that is, he if retired interiorly as well as exteriorly. It seems a speculative question, but in the things of God's the heart, which He alone sees, is determinative.

In fact, even for the sacraments this is requisite. The consecration of the Eucharist requires matter, form and intention: if it lacks even one of these elements, the sacrament is invalid.

For example, if there is no inner intention of the priest to consecrate, if he expresses the words, but has no intention of consecrating, the consecration is invalid.

Has Benedict XVI also retired interiorly?

In addition to the language of words there is that of actions. What we see is that he has chosen to remain “in the enclosure of Peter,” to dress in white, to be called “Pope emeritus” and to continue to be called Benedict XVI (signing thus).

He also refused to change his coat of arms back to that of cardinal, still retaining one with the keys of Peter. The Vatican has said that Benedict “prefers not to adopt a heraldic emblem expressive of the new situation created by his renunciation of the Petrine Ministry.”

We know that in the Church there is also a “tacit magisterium.” Perhaps this is the case. And of course Benedict is in agreement with Francis. A beautiful mystery.

Antonio Socci

From Il Libero, February 12, 2014

PS. I wish to emphasize, quoting them, the beautiful and meaningful tweet yesterday by Pope Francis: “Today I invite you to pray for His Holiness BENEDICT XVI, a man of great courage and humility.”

*Translator’s note: “Yellow” is an Italian idiom connoting a mystery novel. “Rosiconi” (literally “gnawers”) is an idiom connoting those who, out of envy or stubbornness, refuse to admit that another is right about a certain matter and continue gnaw away at his positin rather than admit that he was correct.


On February 11th the anniversary of the “renunciation” of the papacy by Benedict XVI was remembered.  On February 28 it will be a year since the end of his pontificate. But in recent days what happened in the Vatican a year ago is ever more mysterious. And what is the true nature of the “retirement” of Benedict XVI.

In previous cases, in fact, popes who resign have always returned to their status as cardinal or religious: five months after he abdicated, the famous Celestine V, elected in 1294, returned to being the hermit Peter of Morrone.

And the legitimate Pope Gregory XII, who, in order to repair the great Western Schism retired from the papal office on July 4, 1415, was reinstated to the Sacred College with the title of Cardinal Angelo Correr, serving as papal legate in Marche.

Given the precedents, the same spokesman for Benedict, Father Federico Lombardi, during a briefing with reporters on 20 February last year, in answer to the question “and if he decides to call himself Pope Emeritus?” said: “I would rule it out. ‘Emeritus’ is a bishop who, even after resignation, maintains a link ... in the case of the Petrine ministry it is better to keep things separate.”

Famous last words. Just one week later, on February 26, the same Father Lombardi had to communicate that Benedict XVI would remain precisely “Pope Emeritus” or “Roman Pontiff Emeritus,” retaining the title of “His Holiness.” He would no longer wear the ring of the fisherman and would dress in a simple white cassock.

In these days Benedict XVI also refused to change his papal coat of arms, rejecting both a return to the heraldry of a cardinal and the coat of arms of a Pope Emeritus. He will keep the coat of arms of a Pope, with the keys of Peter.

What does all of this mean? Obviously excluded is any personal vanity for a man who has given proof of total detachment from worldly positions (here it involves matters theological, not worldly goods).

So, there can be only a weighty historico-ecclesial reason, probably related to the motives for his retirement (for which so many pressed unduly). But what is this reason?


The only official explanation lies in his speech of February 27, 2013, the one in which he clarified the limits of his decision: “Here, allow me to go back once again to 19 April 2005. The real gravity of the decision was also due to the fact that from that moment on I was engaged always and forever by the Lord.” 

Note: I emphasize that expression “always and forever” because the Pope then explained it thus: “Always—anyone who accepts the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church (...) he no longer belongs to himself….”

Then he added, and I quote: “The ‘always’ is also a ‘forever’—there is no longer a return to the private sphere. My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this.”

It is amazing that a statement of this sort passed unnoticed. If words have meaning, in fact, here Benedict XVI says he renounces “active exercise of the ministry,” but the Petrine ministry, as such, is “forever” and is not revoked. In the sense that his resignation applies only to “active exercise” and not to the Petrine ministry.

What other meaning can these words have? I do not see it. Hence we must ask what kind of “resignation” was that of Benedict XVI.

That speech of February 27 seemed consistently to confirm the distinction between “active exercise” and “passive exercise” of the Petrine ministry.

He said, in fact: “I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter. Saint Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be a great example for me in this. He showed us the way for a life that, whether active or passive, is completely given over to the work of God.”

To the fact of these words, and the words “forever” and “ministry not revoked,” were then added the acts of which we have spoken, that is, the permanence of the name Benedict XVI, the dress, the title “His Holiness,” and the pontifical coat of arms.


Moreover, perfectly recognized by Pope Francis, who on February 11 broadcast this tweet: “Today I invite you to pray for His Holiness Benedict XVI, a man of great courage and humility.”

This is a totally new situation in the history of the Church. In past centuries, in fact there have been, again and again, conflicts between popes and anti-popes, even three at a time.

There had never been, instead, two popes in communion, who recognized each other in the process. I said “two popes,” considering that one of the two is the previous pope, become “Pope emeritus,” and that involves a completely unheard-of figure.

What in fact is his theological status? And what does “retirement” from only the “active exercise” of the Petrine ministry mean?

Benedict XVI, speaking to the cardinals before the conclave, anticipated his reverence for and obedience to his successor. This in fact is the attitude of Benedict toward Francis. The communion between the two was made visible when they co-wrote the encyclical “Lumen fidei.”

But it is striking that in their filmed encounter at Castel Gandolfo, as well as in the ceremony held in the Vatican gardens to bless the statue of St. Michael, you see the two men of God who embrace each another as brothers, and from neither of the two the gesture of kissing the Ring of the Fisherman. It makes one wonder: who is the Pope?


Is there perhaps a secret, between them, which the world ignores? Or are they to be considered on the same level? We know that cannot be because the Church’s divine constitution can have only one Pope. But then?

There are new and surprising problems in light of which some may also assign unexpected meanings to certain gestures of Francis, such as presenting himself on the balcony of St. Peter only as “Bishop of Rome,” without pontifical vestments, or the lack of the pallium in his Papal coat of arms (the pallium is now the symbol of the pontifical coronation, having replaced the papal tiara).

Of course people who are now trying to pit one against the other are acting arbitrarily. Moreover, some Lefebvrians and the sedevacantists who question the authority of Francis are equally hostile to Benedict.

The constant prayer of Benedict for Francis and the Church is perhaps the great prophetic sign of this historic moment.

However, one cannot pretend that everything is normal, because the situation is almost apocalyptic. And one cannot avoid the questions: about the reasons for the resignation of Benedict, about how many desired it, about the undue pressure they caused. And about his current status.


In the days following the announcement of the resignation, before he had specified his new situation, even Civiltà Cattolica, like Father Lombardi, had committed a gaffe.

In fact, it published an essay by the canonist Gianfranco Ghirlanda where it was affirmed: “It is clear that a pope who has resigned is no longer pope, and thus no longer has any power in the Church and cannot meddle in any affair of government. It can be asked what title Benedict XVI will retain. We think there should be attributed to him the title of Bishop Emeritus of Rome, like every other diocesan bishop who resigns.”

In any case, not “Pope Emeritus.” But Benedict has chosen to be precisely “Pope Emeritus.” There must be a very serious reason for deciding to “continue” thus. And the consequences are obvious. His are very important signals sent to those who have to understand them, and to the whole Church.

He signals that he continues to defend the treasure of the Church, albeit in a new way. And he seems to repeat what he said during his inaugural Mass: “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.” 

Antonio Socci

From Il Libero, February 16, 2014



Last modified on Thursday, February 20, 2014
Christopher A. Ferrara

Christopher A. Ferrara: President and lead counsel for the American Catholic Lawyers Inc., Mr. Ferrara has been at the forefront of the legal defense of pro-lifers for the better part of a quarter century. Having served with the legal team for high profile victims of the culture of death such as Terri Schiavo, he has long since distinguished him a premier civil rights Catholic lawyer.  Mr. Ferrara has been a lead columnist for The Remnant since 2000 and has authored several books published by The Remnant Press, including the bestseller The Great Façade. Together with his children and wife, Wendy, he lives in Richmond, Virginia.