My Meeting with the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts

By Br. Alexis Bugnolo

I write this post to publicly thank Mons. Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, Titular Bishop of Civitate, who was appointed by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI as Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.

I met with him this morning at 9:45. The meeting lasted about 75 minutes. I did not record the meeting, but want to share with everyone what I remember of it, because of its great importance to the life of the Catholic Church.

I began by saying that I had come to discuss the interpretation of law (interpretatio iuris) or more specifically the right to interpret canonical acts (ius interpretandi). Bishop Arrieta is an expert on this matter, having served in the capacity of a Professor of Canon Law since 1984 at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, and from 2003 to 2008 at the Preside of the “St Pius X” Institute of Canon Law at Venice, and as Canonist to the Apostolic Penitentiary. Since February of 2007, he has served in the Pontifical Council as its Secretary. This title does not mean he is a secretary, but rather, the Vice President as it were to the Council.

I want to remark on the gentleness and noble demeanor of the Bishop, who never used any hominems, never lost his patience and showed himself willing to discuss the most impolitic issues, from the point of view of canon law, in the Church.

I began my questions with a preface, and with the Bishop’s permission read to him my entire article, entitled, ¡Viva Guadalajara! which was published, here, at the From Rome Blog, this morning.

During the reading, the Bishop could not hide his amusement at the fictitious story, but as I moved to my comments on how this story applies not only to the first moments of a papacy but also to the last, that is, to a Papal renunciation, the amusement on his face disappeared instantly. — Nevertheless, he continued to be polite.

He confirmed for me the following facts:

  1. To his knowledge, there was no meeting of canonists in February of 2013 which discussed the validity of the Act of Renunciation, nor whether a renunciation of ministerium effected a renunciation of munus.
  2. To his knowledge, Pope Benedict XVI never explained himself to any Cardinal or canonists in private as to whether his act effected a renunciation of the petrine munus or office.
  3. To his knowledge, no act of interpretation of the Renunciation was ever promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI.
  4. Bishop Arrieta did admit that he was asked questions regarding the Renunciation, on Feb. 11, 2013, but no question regarded the use of the term ministerium instead of munus.

He also confirmed for me these points of law:

  1. If anyone heard Pope Benedict XVI in February of 2013 explain or officially interpret his Act of Renunciation as an act of renouncing the munus, and left a sworn testimony to the fact, this would have no juridical value whatsoever. That is it would not make or alter the signification other than it is.
  2. An act of papal Renunciation is not subject to the interpretation of anyone in the Church. That is, no one has the right to interpret it.
  3. An act of papal Renunciation, therefore, must be certain in itself. If it is not certain, it is invalid.
  4. There is no Canon in the Code of Canon Law which predicates the term ministerium of an ecclesiastical office.
  5. What Ganswein said at the Gregorian University in 2016 A.D. — he admitted he had not read the text of Ganswein in full or in the original — is impossible, since the Papal Office is theologically incapable of being held by more than one man at a time.
  6. It is canonically impossible that two persons hold he Petrine Munus at the same time.
  7. The Roman Curia shares in the Petrine Ministerium, but not the Petrine Munus.
  8. There can only be one pope.
  9. The Pope is subject to Divine Law and cannot split the office.
  10. Canon 1331 §2, n. 4 does allow an excommunicated person to hold a ministry in the Church, but that there is a reform of the Penal Code in the works and that this is something that will be addressed.
  11. Canon 332 §2 requires a verbal renunciation, not a renunciation which is signified by gestures or after the fact statements.
  12. The supreme theological and legal principle for interpretation of canonical acts is the teaching of Jesus Christ, where He said, “Let your yes be Yes, and your no, No, anything else comes from the Devil” (Mt. 5:37)

Now Bishop Arrieta did not agree with me in everything. He made it clear to me that he holds the following positions:

  1. The Renunciation of Pope Benedict was certain and clear.
  2. The Renunciation clearly signified the renunciation of the office of the papacy.
  3. It is morally impossible in the judgement of Bishop Arrieta, based on his knowledge of the man, Ratzinger, that Pope Benedict intended to deceive anyone by pretending to resign one thing instead of the other.
  4. Canon 332 §2, as regards the requirements of liberty and due manifestation, is not talking about a renunciation of the petrine munus.
  5. The necessity in a papal renunciation is a renunciation of the papal office, not of the petrine munus, which is a canonical term which does not adequately reflect the theological reality.
  6. In the Code of Canon Law there is no clear distinction between munus and ministerium.

Regarding this 4th position of the Bishop, I must say I tried to get a word in edgewise to object to such a patently false statement, as if conditions for validity for an act of renunciation of munus only regard the act of renouncing and not the object which is to be renounced. I think the Bishop just said this out of desperation because it is logically absurd on the face of it, as you cannot read part of a sentence which regards conditions for validity and ignore what was said as the fundamental condition for the occurrence or discernment of the occurrence of the act in question!

Regarding the 5th position, I disagree, because Pope John Paul II, the Vicar of Christ, by promulgating the Code imposed upon the whole Church the canonical obligation of understanding it in accord with Canon 17, not as defective in anything. Therefore, an interpretation of canon 332 §2 which implies a defect, cannot be authentic.

I won’t respond here to n. 6, since I have devastatingly refuted it in the recent Academic Conference at Rome, the excerpt of which I published on this very topic, here.

What left me unsatisfied about our conversation is that I asked a lot of questions, but Mons. Arrieta could not give me answers. Here are some of my question, not verbatim, but according to their sense, that the Bishop did not or could not answer:

  1. If it is clear that Pope Benedict resigned his office, can you explain to me canonically how he did that if he never mentioned the office or the Petrine Munus?
  2. If Canon 41 gives to every priest the discretion and right to evaluate the Papal Act of Renunciation before deciding to stop naming Benedict in the Canon of the Mass, as the Pope, why it is canonically wrong if he exercise this discretion, judge the act nullus and continue to name Benedict?
  3. If no one has the right to interpret the Papal Act, how can you explain why nearly everyone in the Hierarchy holds that it effected a renunciation of the Papal Office, if nowhere in the Act did Pope Benedict say I renounce the office or the munus? Is that not an interpretation?
  4. While I am willing to concede out of respect for Pope Benedict that he did not maliciously intend to deceive, is it not possible he was in substantial error when he resigned one thing and not the other?
  5. Does not our loyalty to Jesus Christ, Who bound Himself to observe Canon Law, require us to consider as possible that the Pope be in error in thinking he can resign part of the papal prerogatives and keep the rest? or was wrong in desiring to bifurcate the papacy?
  6. Does not the historical facts that 1) Pope Benedict XVI before his elevation to the Papacy knew of the desires of many German theologians to split the papal office along the lines of the petrine munus and the petrine ministry, and 2) the strange way of renouncing the ministry, but not the munus, coupled with 3) the testimony of Ganswein his personal secretary, who should know the mind of the Holy Father, produce the most sound forensic testimony that the Pope did intend to bifurcate the Papal Office and should be corrected by the Church, even if we personally hold that he had no such intention by way of supposition and respect for his person?

The Bishop closed by remarking that my approach to the reading of the Act of Renunciation was strange to him, that he has never considered this problem before, that he has never read about this controversy, but that I had given him “much to think about”.


The sum of what Mons. Arrieta told me leads me to conclude the following:

  1. The Act of Renunciation was presumed from the start to be a renunciation of the Papacy, without any consideration of the discrepancy of renouncing the ministerium instead of the munus, as if the Code of 1917 were operative, and not the Code of 1983.
  2. There has never been any canonical reflection on the canonical value of the Act of Renunciation by anyone known to Bishop Arrieta.
  3. There are no canonical arguments for the validity of the renunciation to effect a loss of the Papal Office, because the interpretation is simply a presumption based on an extrinsic method of reading the act (as I point out in my previous article), which is the most unauthentic and error-prone method of interpretation.
  4. The opinion of No Cardinal or Bishop or Priest on this matter constrains anyone in the Church to accept it, because no one has the right to say that the Papal Act means something other than it expressly says.
  5. Thus, the Renunciation of Pope Benedict DID NOT effect the loss of the Papal Office. He remains the Pope, the Successor of Saint Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff and the Roman Pontiff with all rights and privileges, all prerogatives and powers, graces and carisms, BECAUSE IF YOU DO NOT RENOUNCE THE PAPACY BY WORDS, YOU HAVE NOT RENOUNCED THE PAPACY!*

Finally, I do want to thank the Bishop for his patience. Several times in the 75 minutes we spent discussing this most important matter, he remarked he had other duties, but stayed anyhow when what I said was substantial and presented a line of argumentation which he felt necessary to respond to.


* For those not familiar with the technical language, in this controversy, “papacy” here refers not to the Vatican, nor to the Papal State(s) or Territory,  nor to the government of the Vatican, but to the Office of the Roman Pontiff. And I use this term here in the linguistic sense, not in the sense of the thing, but of the thing as named. For example, a husband refers to his wife by either one of her proper names, first, middle, last, or improper names, such as honey, dear, sweetie, or by a pronoun standing alone or followed by a subordinate phrase, such as, “the one who does the dishes”. If he says, I am going to get rid of the dish-washing, the bathroom-cleaning, the meal-preparation and the warm bed, he has not referred logically nor verbally to his wife, because the actions which his wife does or the effects of which she is the cause are not her, they are effects or actions under her power, and by naming them, one does not name necessarily or determinatively the one who is his wife. — So likewise, when Pope Benedict renounced the ministry but not the Papal Office, he did not renounce the Office, because he did not name it, he only referred to that which might be construed as the ministry which flows from it. The intellectual incapacity or inability to recognize this common law of human language and signification is at the heart of the reason why so many think Benedict resigned the papacy, when in reality he did nothing of the kind. However, why he did what he did, is besides the point (praeter rem), because whatever his motives, the act remains invalid, null.


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23 thoughts on “My Meeting with the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts”

  1. This story confirms that those at the top believe they are the Church. The fact that Mons. Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru never read Ganswein’s explosive public remarks and has never heard of, thought about, or read about the resignation controversy is proof enough that the Curia and Cardinals and most bishiops exist for themselves, and simply don’t care about reality. It is all words to them.

    1. Mary Ann, I agree with you that there is a profound disconnect, but not only among the Curia, it is common to all moderns, because, I think, the culture of media, from newspapers to Videos, has made most people think that informing themselves or entertaining themselves is a heroic act and a substantial achievement, but not necessary for life. So regardless of what is really happening or what events really mean, they go about their lives insulated from reality. Christian virtue requires that we act and react decisively on the basis of our Faith, Hope and Charity for God and our charity for neighbor. But there are few to teach us how to do it, and the plethora of information makes few inclined to actually imitate the good examples we have. This is especially true when what needs to be done takes extraordinary action. I do not fault the Bishops so much in the Curia, because if there is only one person who has left his native land to lobby them, like myself, then can we really say that everyone else cares any more than they about the crisis in the Church. If they did, they would be here in swarms and the problems would be solved. I pity the Catholics who would go to a pro life rally to save the unborn without hesitation, but wont even consider coming to Rome to save the Church. there is no salvation without the Church, but everyone seems to forget that.

  2. Br Bugnolo, for myself, not being fluent in any language but English, how might I follow up with Bishop Arrietta on your conversation with him to at least thank him for his patience and consideration of the topic and the controversy that you just presented? Might I write to him in English? If so what is his address?

    How did you discover that you could meet with him? Did you simply show up at his office or did you make an appointment? Thank you for your lobbying effort and for reporting that BiP is not a controversy in the Curia. In charity, I wish to bring the controversy to the attention of bishops in the Curia in hopes of relieving and revealing the disconnect. When I spoke with the canoninst/pastor, his opinion was that there would be no way to proceed with a request for examination of the BiP-facts because no controversy exists. Now that at least Bishop Arrietta is aware that there is a controversy, how do I appeal to him to pursue and examination? The canonist/pastor here will no longer speak with me on this topic. For him the matter is closed.

    1. Dear Islam is Islam, yes, the Bishop can read and speak English. The address to write to can be found here in the right column of that page at the top. Yes, to get an appointment to speak with anyone in the Curia, you just go to their offices and ask, usually by leaving a written note with contact information. Not everyone grants a meeting, and you must give a reason. My reason was based on the fact that both I and the Bishop attended the same conference on Legal Interpretation, so I had a certain foot in the door ahead of time. Plus, my reason for speaking fell under the competence of his Dicastery, legal interpretation. So there was a double connection, which is why I think he spoke with me, that and the fact that he is obviously a very well mannered man.

      1. Wonderful! Thank you for the means of contacting Bishop Arrieta. I, too, will be polite when I write to him. Would it be appropriate to ask him how I might go about requesting an examination into the evidence he had not yet considered until your conversation with him?

  3. Some replies from Twitter, from Steve Skojec himself, “The From Rome guy — Alexis Bugnolo — is way off the rez. When he’s not personally attacking people for disagreeing with him on his “Benedict is still pope” thesis he’s coming up with wild conspiracy theories about how Benedict is playing 15D chess and blinking in code.”

    My response, “but I’ve had the opposite, those who do not want folks to ask these questions come out attacking, so whatever that slogan “unite the clans” thing, maybe not come out attacking like hornets to both camps, isn’t from asking questions that we learn?” Crickets, no response yet.

    1. When you resort to ad hominems, then you show you have no basis for your own position. But I do thank Mr. Skojec for recognizing that my attempts to explain the anomalies in the Renunciation are based on respect for the Holy Father and a recognition that he is an intelligent man. I am a Catholic, however, so that approach is praiseworthy, because it is respectful as one should be. You see, railing against the Pope daily but claiming to “recognize and resist” is not a Catholic position. It was condemned as dissent in the 80’s back with most talking heads were still in their diapers. I was in college then, and I saw that for what it is. I still do.

      I pity those who hold that the Renunciation is valid, after seeing the substantial arguments against the validity. Because they have no rational or canonical or philosophical or legal arguments to support their side. They just have a consensus of presumption against the presumption of the law, based on an extrinsic method of interpreting the act. And all that is nothing but a wall of dark fog. From a distance it seems solid and insurmountable, but if you have the courage to approach, you see that it melts away as far as you advance. The inability to rationally defend their position causes them to freak out or become seriously perplexed. Men with less than saintly perfection are apt to thus get angry and lash out. I am very edified that Bishop Arrieta did not act like this. I think the conversation that he and I had yesterday should serve as an example to the Church going forward: Patience, respect and dialogue about the truths of the Faith upon which principles the Renunciation can be understood for what it is, not for what anyone may want it to be or mean.

  4. Poor Arrieta. Looks like he hit a wall with Brother Bugnolo. Hopefully the one on one meeting shakes him up a little. Brother Bugnolo planted the seed and if the dirt is fertile, Our Lord will allow it grow in due time.

  5. My concerns, not from a canonical perspective that I can have no competence in:
    What about the universally accepted axiom that ‘Actions speak louder than words’? We see Pope Benedict wearing papal white, reportedly still wearing the papal ring, reportedly never kissing Bergoglio’s ring, residing in the Vatican, and retaining his papal name rather than re-assuming his previous name.
    Did not Jesus Himself essentially use the axiom that actions speak louder than words when He gave the parable of the two sons who were told by their father to go work in the vineyard?
    And what about Bergoglio acting as though the graces of the papal office are lacking in his case, as reflected in many of his deeds and even words and teachings? Most egregiously in his role in the worship of pagan fertility idols in the Vatican.

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