February 05, 2023

Why Benedict XVI continues to be the Vicar of Christ?

Benedict XVI did not renounce the divine mandate that made him Vicar of Christ in 2005, but only the ministry of the Bishop of Rome and the administrative duties of the Papacy, by declaring (discourse of the 27th February 2013) that he would keep the “Petrine Primacy”. By doing so, he let it be seen that he continues to shoulder the responsibility and vocation of being the Vicar of Christ. This cannot be renounced, it is an “ad vitam” quality given by Christ to Peter and to his successors.

A day before taking the helicopter to temporarily retire to Castel Gandolfo, Pope Ratzinger pronounced a discourse clarifying the situation regarding the two ”Popes” currently living in Rome.

In this allocution he referred to the invitation he received from God when he was elected successor of Saint Peter on the 19th of April 2005. On that occasion he said (paragraph 23) that the vocation he received from Christ was ad vitam (for life) and that therefore, he could never renounce it (as was always understood by all Popes in the history of the church): “The always is also a forever, there is no longer a return to private life”. “My decision to renounce the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this (the Petrine primacy)”

Besides, Benedict established, before the juridical organs of the church, that he would keep the white soutane and the title “Your Holiness”,that he would keep the keys of Peter in his coat of arms and would continue being Pope, simply adding the epitaph “emeritus”. The latter is very significant as, when Pope Gregory XII renounced, he went back to being a cardinal, and when Pope Celestine V renounced, he went back to being a monk. Benedict XVI did not do this. He established that he would continue being the Pope, a case totally unheard of in the history of the church.

This discourse clearly expresses the conviction that he would continue being the Vicar of Christ and spiritual head of the church, and that he was only renouncing the administrative duties of the Papacy. In his mind, the ministry of the Bishop of Rome is one thing, and another thing is the Petrine Primacy which is ad vitam and which cannot be renounced. Sic et simpliciter.

The valid renunciation of the Papacy demands that one renounces the munus, (responsibility of the office of Peter) as is expressed in the Code of Canon Law (CCL canon 332.2), not the ministerium as Pope Benedict XVI did.

Let us look at what canon 332.2 of the CCL actually says:

“Si contingat ut Romanus Pontifex muneri suo renuntiet, ad validitatem requiritur ut renuntiatio libere fiat et manifestetur, non vero ut a quopiam acceptetur”. (If the Roman Pontiff should renounce his office, to be valid it is required, that the renunciation be free and manifested formally and that it not be accepted by anybody”.

Reading the renunciation text of Benedict XVI, it is observed that the Pope does not renounce the Petrine munus but only the ministerium as the Bishop of Rome: “declare me ministerio Episcopi Romae...commisso renuntiare”.

A person as wise as Benedict XVI understood perfectly that in order to be valid, the renunciation of the Papacy required the renunciation of the munus, and not only the exercise of same (ministerium). One cannot appeal to ignorance here. Not in his case, as he is one of the most learned and knowledgeable in ecclesiastical matters. Therefore, this difference in the formula used was meant to mean something. Something such as: I continue to be the Vicar of Christ, even though I renounce the executive government of the church. I can’t say it openly, but I will continue here, dressed as Pope, living in the Vatican and calling myself “Your Holiness” for anyone who wishes to understand”.

Benedict XVI is still the Vicar of Christ, because he never renounced the office but, for greater clarity, he tells us explicitly that he was only renouncing the ministerium.

Let us remember that the Papacy is an office, as the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium reminds us: “Because the Roman Pontiff has over the church, by virtue of his office (munus), as Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the whole church, full, supreme and universal power, which he can always exercise freely”. Thus it was also declared before by Vatican Council 1 in 1870, repeating the previous magisterium, particularly the Council of Florence in the XV century.

In the Papacy, the munus is received with the election in the conclave and is lost when one dies and the ministerium, which is consubstantial to it and inseparable, is equivalent to the juridical exercise of the episcopacy of Rome, today head of all the episcopacies. Having separated them, Benedict XVI is conveying a very fine and delicate message to the world and the church.

The famous words of Monsignor Gӓnswein, a German archbishop and jurist, personal secretary of Benedict XVI and Prefect of the pontifical house of “Francis”, about a “prolonged ministry” (with two members) confirm in a resounding way the same conclusion: Benedict XVI continues to keep the investiture or munus, therefore Francis is not really the Vicar of Christ.

Monsignor Gӓnswein recalls that Benedict XVI did not renounce his name nor his full length white habit: “He did not retire to an out of the way monastery, but rather continues within the Vatican, as if he had scarcely taken a step sideways, to make way for his successor and a new stage in the history of the Papacy.

Therefore Benedict XVI continues to be dressed in white, with his skullcap, the fisherman’s ring, his title of Pope, and the name Your Holiness. He did not go back to being Cardinal Ratzinger as happened with Gregory 12th who became Cardinal Angelo Correr after his renunciation. Benedict continues in the Vatican and he hasn’t returned to his beloved Bavaria or to some distant monastery, and he is not cardinal Ratzinger.

It is not necessary to state that Monsignor Gӓnswein did not make these very serious declarations without relying on the support of Benedict XVI himself. It is no more than the explanation of the conclusions of his farewell on the 27th of February 2013.

In fact, Benedict XVI did not use the renunciation formula established by Boniface VIII. The exact norm that regulates the discipline on Papal renunciation is found in the Apostolic Constitution Quoniam Aliqui which was fixed in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, and currently in the already quoted canon of the CCL of 1983, number 322.2.

Let us examine the text of that Decree of Boniface VIII:

“Decree of Boniface VIII (in 6th), 1.1, T.7, Chap. 1: De Renunciatione: «renunciare valeat Papatui, eiusque oneri, et honori...”. In other words, it explicitedly says that he must renounce his office and all his honours.

Neither did he use the formula for renunciation used by the only Pope to do so before him, Pope Celestine V: «cedo Papatui et expresse renuncio loco, et dignitati, oneri, et honori » («I retire from the Papacy and expressly I renounce the place, its dignities, duties and honours»).

On the contrary, Benedict XVI uses for the first and only time the explicit and clear formula “ministerio Episcopi Romae...commisso renuntiare” (I renounce the ministry of the bishop of Rome).

Pope Benedict XVI photographed in the Vatican gardens on the 16th April 2017, celebrating his 90th birthday.

A smiling Monsignor Gӓnswein shows His Holiness still wearing the fisherman’s ring, the sign of Papal authority.

Conclusion: In the Declaration of renunciation read by Benedict XVI on the 27th of February 2013, there is no reference whatever to canon 332.2 of the CCL, which seems very strange coming from such a knowledgeable and meticulous theologian. Neither did he use the Decretal formula of Boniface VIII (renuntiare Paptui) nor the formula validly used by Celestine V (oneri et onori). A great message for the church and the world:

The vocation he received from Christ to the Petrine primacy, to be His vicar on earth, is simply irrrenouncible “The always is also a forever, there is no longer a return to private life”. That is what he wished to do, and that is what he did.

*Some data's source: Juárez Falcó, Juan. "Dos graves razones de Derecho Canónico que confirman que Benedicto XVI sigue siendo Papa". http://comovaradealmendro.es 24 may, 2018.

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Last modified on Friday, 02 November 2018 19:13
José Alberto Villasana Munguía

José Alberto Villasana Munguía is a Writer and analyst of political, economic and religious international affairs.

He studied Theology in the Gregorian University in Rome, Philosophy in the Angelicum University in Rome, Classical Humanities in the Centre for Higher Studies in Salamanca, Spain and International Communications in the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM), specialising in Eschatology since 1995.

He is Academic Adviser to the International Institute of Human Rights.

He is a director member of the Journalist’s Club of Mexico.

He is President of the pro life civil association “Life to be Born” (Vida para Nacer).

He has received the National Award for Journalism on three occasions in the categories of in-depth investigation.