by Br. Alexis Bugnolo
There is no better day than the 15th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s acceptance of the Petrine Munus, than to address the most important question regarding who is and who is not in schism from him. For on that day, Sunday, April 19, 2020, the whole Church will celebrate the anniversary of Pope Benedict’s XVI election and acceptance of the Office of Saint Peter.
Notice I said “the whole Church”.
You might ask me, “But how can that be, if so few still recognize him as the Pope?”
This question merits an answer, especially on such a solemn day.
First of all, one must understand that this question can be answered in several ways. Because just as every creature is composed of form and matter, so every creature can be considered formally or materially. Here I use “matter” not in the sense used by Saint Thomas Aquinas, who often restricted matter to the physical particulate in creatures creatures, but in the sense of Saint Bonaventure who holds it to be mere potentiality to be.
So the Catholic Church, obviously, being a creature of God, that is created by Jesus Christ, has a form and matter. What She is, is Her form. And of what She is, is Her matter.
What is the Catholic Church
The form of the Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, the Assembly of the Faithful, the Communion of the Saints.
In this definition, “Mystical Body of Christ” refers to Her relationship to Jesus Christ, inasmuch as She is inseparable from Him on account of Her members being baptized into Him and living by His grace, His mediation, and His Headship or governance.
However, in this definition, “Assembly of the Faithful” refers to the created persons who comprise or make up the Church. The Church is constituted materially, that is, in Her constitutive members by the baptized believers. This is a double condition.
First you have to believe and then you also have to be baptized with the Sacrament. If you simply believe, but are not baptized yet, you are associated with the Church inasmuch as you pose no obstacle to union with Her and seek Baptism, but otherwise you are not even yet a believer, since true Christian Faith requires union with the Catholic Church and water Baptism.
In addition, to be a believer, you have to assent by a supernatural act of mind to all that Jesus Christ teaches in Scripture, Tradition, and in the infallible magisterium of the Church. If you assent to 99.999999999% but reject the rest, you are not a believer, though you may be baptized.
Finally, you consciously have to accept that Christ established Saint Peter and His successors as the bond of unity in the Church.
Moreover, in the definition of the Church as the “Communion of Saints”, “Saints” refers strictly to the Saints in Heaven, but generally, to all who are baptized into Christ here on Earth, who believe the whole faith, are united to the Roman Pontiff in ecclesiastical communion and who are in the state of grace. If you are all these things, but are in mortal sin, then you do not share this communion, because you are dead to Christ, to grace and to the Holy Spirit. You need to go to confession and repent to be revived.
Of what is the Church composed
As we can see from the definition of what the Church is, there are Three things which are required for someone to be a member of the Catholic Church: Faith, sacramental Baptism, communion with the Roman Pontiff. You have to have at some point in your life consciously accepted all three and never rejected them. This applies even to Baptism, if you received baptism as a babe, you have to accept it now and not reject it.
Communion with the Roman Pontiff
It follows, then, that being in communion with the true Pope is a necessity to be reckoned by God as a member of His Mystical Body, the Catholic Church.
If you reject the concept of the Papacy, the authority of all the popes, etc., or the whole concept that Christ gave to Saint Peter a special office which passes down to his successors, then you cannot be in communion with the Roman Pontiff, because you do not regard him to be what the Church teaches he is.
However, if you accept the teaching of the Church about the Roman Pontiff and Saint Peter’s Office, then it is sufficient that you accept the Roman Pontiff and obey him in all things just and right, as the Church teaches, to be in communion with the Pope.
Being in communion with the Pope
However, since both God and the Church judge things by truth and according to the whole truth, one can speak of a person being in communion with the pope in several ways: according to faith, according to intention, according to right knowledge, according to action.
According to faith, every Catholic is in communion with the pope by simply accepting the teaching of the Church on the papacy and the papal prerogatives.
According to intention, every Catholic who intends to be in communion with the true pope is in communion with the true pope, because intention does not fail on account of ignorance or error. A Catholic missionary in the remotest part of the world, who did not know that one pope died and another was elected, but kept offering mass in communion with the dead pope, was never according to intention not in communion with the true pope. He was just ignorant of the news.
Likewise, if someone is fooled into thinking one man is the true pope, who is not the true pope, because of the lies or errors spread by others, then his intention to be in communion with the true pope remains as to its spiritual value in the sight of God and His Church, even if the error will lead him in his actions and ecclesiastically to be outside of communion with the true pope.
One is in communion with the pope by right knowledge, when the one whom he recognizes as the true pope is according to canon law the true pope.
And finally, one is in communion with the pope by action, when one has both intention, right knowledge and performs actions of obedience or service to the true Pope in all that is legitimate and right and just, even if this requires one to correct the pope when he is in error.
Who, then, is in communion with Pope Benedict XVI?
Now we can answer the question, which was first moved above.
If we speak of communion with Pope Benedict XVI in the true sense, according to which one merits grace and according to which God judges the matter, only those are in communion with Pope Benedict XVI, who recognize that he is still the true and only pope according to the norm of law. It does not matter if they do so because they think his renunciation was invalid or ineffective on account of one thing or the other, because whether they do on account of a true argument or evidence or on account of faulty knowledge, the result is the same, they remain in communion with the true pope.
All others are in formal schism with Pope Benedict XVI. But not all others are guilty of the sin or of the canonical crime of schism.
However, in a moral sense, that is, judging by intentions, all those who would be in communion with him if they knew the truth, but who presently do not regard him as the Pope because of accepting the fake news put out in Feb. 2013, remain in communion with him. But since this communion is not formal, only moral, they do not enjoy the full merit of communion with him. But how much merit they do enjoy is known to God alone. Nevertheless, because of their error, they might very well be committing grave mortal sins of disrespect for him or disobedience to him or falling into other grave errors or sins on account of following Bergoglio as the pope, when Bergoglio is in fact, that is, by law, an anti-pope. And for these reasons, even one who is only morally in communion with Pope Benedict — because if he had true knowledge would recognize him as the pope — loses the grace of God and is dragged down to perdition because of such sins and de facto separation.
Obviously, those who reject the evidence that Pope Benedict XVI is the true pope are not in communion with him, though if this rejection is merely light and based on invincible ignorance, they might only demerit a little by it. For them it is not yet a mortal sin.
But when it is based on full knowledge, such as that which the Cardinals must certainly have, especially if they hold doctorates in Canon Law and have examined the evidence, then their rejection is a mortal sin of schism and totally separates them from the Church, and thus in virtue of canon 1364 these are excommunicated ipso facto latae sententiae for the crime of schism. See here for a complete list of other canonical crimes of which they might be guilty. The first effect of this excommunication is that they lose all office in the Church, including the right to elect the Roman Pontiff and/or govern a diocese or hold any position of authority in the Roman Curia or at the Vatican.
Whether those in schism confect valid sacraments?
The confection of the Sacraments refers to the ability of a validly ordained priest or validly consecrated Bishop to validly confer the Sacraments. When a sacrament is validly conferred it truly did exist and was truly given. Sacramental validity refers to the Sacrament being a true Sacrament. Because when true, the Christ makes it powerful.
The teaching of the Church has always been that Catholic Bishops and Priests, as well as schismatic clergy, can validly confer all the Sacraments, except the Sacrament of Penance, that is, Confession. This last Sacrament normally requires that the one hearing confessions is in communion with the true Pope, from whom flows the power to forgive sins. This communion has to be formal and conscious.
But if a schismatic priest or Bishop is also a pertinacious heretic in any matter whatsoever, then they might not be able to validly confer a sacrament IF their heresy denies the efficacy of the Sacrament which they are attempting to confer. Thus if a priest pertinaciously denies that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus, there is grave doubt that the Eucharist which he consecrates becomes Jesus Christ’s Body and Blood. Otherwise, as with all clergy, so long as the priest or Bishop does what the Church prescribes, the Sacrament is valid.
But if the clergy are not formally in communion with the true Pope, then the Sacraments they confer obviously do not restore one to communion with the true pope. Nor are they as efficacious in those who are schismatics, because the sin of schism or their separation from the true pope obstructs the power Christ gave to the Sacrament.
For this reason, we must understand that schism alone, whether the sin or the canonical crime, does not make a Sacrament invalid (excepting Confession), but it does reduce their efficacy in schismatics. The Mass too, as a prayer of impetration — that is as a prayer and sacrifice which obtains grace and mercy from God — is not as efficacious when offered by Schismatic clergy, because their sin makes their offering of the true Sacrifice displeasing to the Divine Majesty. And in this sense you can say their masses are less efficacious. You could also say they are invalid, but that is improperly said.
According to Saint Alphonsus, however, a Catholic in communion with the true pope can receive the Sacraments from schismatics who are not heretics, under certain conditions: see here for his teaching. This applies to even the Sacrament of Confession, which in virtue of the fact that the penitent is in communion with the true pope and has grave need (i.e. is in mortal sin), can be validly conferred on him if his confession is otherwise capable of validly receiving absolution). (And it is not necessary to admit in confession that Benedict XVI is the true pope).
This is important to understand, because on Sunday, Catholics have the duty to attend Mass. But this duty applies only when there is a Catholic priest or Bishop in communion with the true Pope offering Mass. If he, rather, is a schismatic in fact, or by intention or by desire, his mass cannot be reckoned as Catholic and thus attending it does not fulfill the Sunday obligation. And there is no moral obligation to attend such masses.
However, if he is not a heretic and is simply in error about who is the true Pope, a Catholic who is not in error about who is a true Pope can attend and receive Communion, so long as scandal is not given, that is, so long as by doing so one does not lead others into thinking that communion with the true pope is not important. But again, there is no moral obligation to attend these masses, because they are objectively offered in schism from Pope Benedict XVI.
Finally, if a priest or Bishop refuses communion to Catholics who publicly recognize the true pope as the true pope, one is obliged to presume that such a priest or Bishop is a formal schismatic and guilty of the canonical crime of schism, and one should avoid him as an excommunicate. But if he is willing to give the Sacraments to those who publicly recognize Pope Benedict XVI as the true pope, then he is probably not a formal schismatic and may be signalling that he recognizes that Pope Benedict XVI may indeed be the true pope.
Can a pope be in schism with himself?
A pope cannot be in schism with himself, obviously, because the notion of being in communion with the pope does not apply to the pope, it only applies to everyone else on earth. The Saints and Angels of Heaven, and God, obviously are always in communion with him, even if no one else on earth was, and even if he does not know he is the true pope.
Let us pray for Pope Benedict XVI to return to his duties, and let us work to convince all others to remain or return to communion with him.
For as Pope Boniface VIII taught, rejection of the true Pope merits eternal damnation.
POSTSCRIPT: Here are the names of the Clergy in communion with Pope Benedict XVI. If you know others, please leave their names in the comments below. IF YOU ARE A BISHOP, PRIEST or DEACON WHO IS IN COMMUNION WITH POPE BENEDICT, PLEASE ADD YOUR NAME TO THIS LIST!
Clergy in communion with Pope Benedict XVI
Jesus Christ and all the popes, bishops, priests, deacons, those in minor Orders, in Heaven
All the popes, bishops, priests, deacons and all those in minor orders in Purgatory
Archbishop Jan Paul Lenga, Emeritus of Karaganga, but residing now in Poland
Bishop René Henry Gracida, Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas, USA
Several Italian Bishops, who are not yet publicly identified
Father Walter Covens, Martinique, France
Father Francesco d’Erasmo, Tarquinia, Italy
Father Alessandro Minutella, Palermo, Sicily
Father Enrico Roncaglia, Veneto, Italy
Several priests at Rome, not yet publicly identified
Many priests in all the world, who are not yet courageous enough to publicly admit it OR who are not known to us yet.
Catholic organizations in communion with Pope Benedict XVI
Il Piccolo Nazareth: a movement lead by Don Minutella of Palermo
Veri Catholici: an association opposing Kasperite heretics
Ordo Militaris Catholicus: an association dedicated to the defense of Catholics
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