Which is the true Pope? — The Canonical Question which cannot be ignored

by Br. Alexis Bugnolo

Recently, I had the opportunity to have as a guest a fellow Franciscan hermit. And in the course of our discussions, we came to the topic of who is the Pope. He gave me his reasons, mostly drawn from a canonist whom he respects.

Since our discussion would be helpful if it be known by the entire Catholic world, I share it here:

That canonist replied to me in this vein — this is not a direct quote:  If Br. Alexis Bugnolo is correct about the meaning of the term, “munus” then Benedict is still the Pope.  But until the Church comes to an agreement about this, we should not risk schism by breaking from Bergoglio. We must be very careful not to presume to say one word means this or that, especially when by error in this matter we could separate ourselves form the true Church.

Having received this reply, I explained to my guest, how wrong this answer is, and this for several reasons:

  1. This argument is guilty of a petitio principii, that is, of presuming that that which it attempts to prove is true and arguing back to that truth, without ever putting it into question.  For it presumes that Bergoglio is the vicar of Christ, the Roman Pontiff, and then argues that since he is, we would be risking our eternal salvation by breaking from him on our own judgement of whether munus means or does not mean the papal office. And it concludes by saying we should stick with Bergoglio unless the Church decides otherwise.
  2. This argument pretends that what “munus” means is merely a question of opinions, and that since there is no authority which has declared it, we should refrain from making a judgement and follow the consensus of our ecclesiastical superiors.
  3. This argument also errs in ignoring the proper canonical procedure in resolving the doubt of a juridical question.
  4. This argument should conclude with the call for a Council to declare one way or another who is the Pope, but by resting in indecision shows that it pretends to honesty while, rather resting in dishonest indecision, which is in fact a form of intellectual and moral sloth, and this, in a matter which touches upon the salvation of the entire Church and of billions of souls now and in the future.

Here is my response to the comment by the canonist:

It is not a matter of opinion as to the meaning of munus, as if it were possible to sustain both that meaning by which munus means the papal office in a formal or substantive sense and that meaning by which munus can be named through the term ministerium.

Nay, rather, since no one has the right to interpret a papal act, and since Monsignor Ignacio Arrieta, President of the Pontifical Council on Legal Texts says, that no one has the right to interpret a renunciation — since if it is to be interpreted it is dubious and not manifest — the only way to understand the meaning of an act of renunciation is to have recourse to the obligation of the Code of Law, canon 17, which obliges us to understand the words of a juridical act as the Code of Law uses them.  For in understanding a papal renunciation according to the obligation of law, we remove our method from every opinion of men and submit our own personal judgement to the declared authority of the Church:


  • Given that in canon 145 every ecclesiastical office is a munus
  • Given that in canons 331, 332, 333, 334, the only word for the office of the Roman Pontiff is munus
  • Given that in canon 1331, n. 2, iv, an excommunicated person cannot attain any dignity, office or munus but can obtain a ministerium
  • Given that the members of the Roman Curia assist the Roman Pontiff in the execution of his office, that is, his ministerium, but do not share in his office, that is, his munus,
  • And given that in renouncing X one separates himself from X, whereas, if X be that which can be had by one who is not the pope or not in communion with the Church, then its renunciation by the Pope cannot have the consequence of causing him to lose that which he shares with no other man, namely, that which makes him the pope,
  • That Canon 12 declares that ALL are bound by the canons of the Church, when a canon has been promulgated for them, and thus in renouncing the man who is the pope is not above Canon Law
  • Canon 332 §2 declares, that a pope renounces when he renounces his munus as pope, not his ministerium
  • That to fulfill canon 332 §2, the man who is pope is obliged by canon 124 §1, which requires him to make an act of renunciation which regards the same essence of act specified in canon 332 §2, and that if he does NOT, then canon 124 §2 says that there is no presumption as to its validity, nay rather, in accord with canon 188, if the act contains a substantial error, it is irritus by the law itself (ipso iure), that is, it must be considered to have never been posited.
  • If the act of renunciation of ministerium is not a juridical but only an administrative act, it must be understood in accord with canon 36, which reaffirms the same principles as canon 17.

Hence it results that in renouncing the ministerium and not the munus, the man who is Roman Pontiff cannot be understood to have meant to have renounced the munus without imposing an interpretation upon his words.

And therefore we must assume that the Renunciation made by Pope Benedict as Ratzinger on 11 Feb. 2013 does not mean a renunciation of the papacy, the office, nor the dignity or munus of the Roman Pontiff.

And therefore it does not appear that such renunciation produces a sede vacante.

Hence, We are obliged to hold that such renunciation is dubious and therefore invalid to produce the effect of the loss of office

Therefore by virtue of the words declared by the lips of the Living Incarnate God, Jesus Christ, Head of the Church, and sole Teacher of all, given to Simon Peter: “What you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven,” which directly refer to the Code of Canon Law, we must ALL hold that Jesus did not transfer the grace and office to another, since He Himself has bound Himself to the Code of Canon Law promulgated by His Vicar, John Paul II.

And that therefore, Benedict XVI remains the pope.

End of the canonical argument.

By the way, IF YOU HAVE NOT NOTICED,  Pope Benedict XVI still

  1. Wears the white of a pope
  2. Signs with his papal name
  3. Adds the abbreviation, P. P, to his name, which only a pope can do.
  4. Gives the Papal Blessing, which only a pope can do.
  5. Lives in the Vatican.

Which is all consistent with the above canonical argument. Hence, it is not even credible to counter argue, by saying, “But until Benedict says otherwise, we must presume Bergoglio is the pope.”

Hence it is entirely without any foundation in reality, that those, who say Bergoglio is the pope, continue to do such. They have been hoodwinked, if they are innocent and without bad will. But God is counting the years and soon His Wrath will fall upon all the slothful and bad-willed, for as it is says in the Book of the Apocalypse, the first to be cast into the eternal pit of Hell are the slothful: those who know there is a problem or something that needs to be done for the salvation of themselves or others, but dismiss taking any action on it.

The correct response from all honest Catholics would simply be to call a council and have all the Cardinals and Bishops of the World expert in theology, philosophy, and canon law to discuss the matter. To fail in that, is to risk the damnation of most of the faithful and the destruction of the Church. And that is the treachery of Judas Iscariot.