by Br. Alexis Bugnolo
The Successor of Saint Peter’s Role in God’s Plan of Salvation
God alone knows the times and places wherein we will each be called to stand before the throne of Christ and receive judgement for our lives. And it will be inexorable and infinitely just in every detail. But until that time, we should live as His humble servants, confessing our sins and working for the good of His Church, which is His Mystical Bride on Earth.
Down through the Centuries, the Church has made pilgrimage from the Pentecost wherein She was born among men and manifested Herself for the first time to unbelievers, toward the Eternal and Final Heavenly Marriage Banquet wherein She shall celebrate Her Nuptials with Christ the King.
And to ensure that She arrives safe at that Day of days, Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ entrusted Her to Saint Peter and His Successors, in time. so that from generation to generation in this long pilgrimage, She might have a faithful hand to guide Her without error unto that magnificent feast.
A Short History of the Election of the Roman Pontiffs
Each pope in the Apostolic Succession at Rome accepts that duty when he accepts his election as the Bishop of Rome. But down the course of the ages, that election has been conducted under different procedures.
At first, with the death of Saint Peter, it is most probably that Saint Paul the Apostle presided over the first election of a pope, Saint Linus, where, out of fear of persecution, the Church of Rome met in secret to elect their own Bishop, faithful and clergy and consecrated alike. In those days the Church of Rome presided over the entire valley of the Tiber, extending from the hills of Tuscania to those of Albanus, and from the hinterlands of the Tiber to the shores of the Tyrrhenian sea.
We do not know anything more precise about the first election of a pope. It was not a conclave, because that term arises from the first elections in the 13th century (1216?, 1241 and especially that of 1269 at Viterbo) conducted under lock and key, to prevent the Cardinals from delaying too long in their decision.
Throughout the ages, the elections of the Roman Pontiffs were usually held in the Roman Province, in some location, not always at Rome, but always where those who has the right of election gathered. In the first ages, the right of election pertained to every member of the Church, but in later ages it was restricted to the Bishops of the city and suburbican dioceses (satellite dioceses around Rome).
Pope Nicholas III wrote one of the first laws for Papal Elections in 1059 — In Nomine Domini, April 13, 1059 — and FromRome.Info has published the only available English translation on the internet, here.
There is now available a long historical explanation of papal elections at Wikipedia, which has further information on elections of the pope throughout the ages, though this is found under the anachronistic term, Conclave.
At first, papal elections were conducted under Apostolic Tradition, that is, the precedent set by Saint Paul the Apostle when he presided over the election of St. Linus. Saint Peter, having set up his See at Rome, bequeathed it to the Church of Rome with his death. It is important to note that the Church of Rome is not a Diocese separated from the other dioceses of the Church, but is the Church founded by Jesus Christ on Peter, from which all the other dioceses have been separated.
Thus the Church of Rome has ever followed her own particular traditions and rules for the election of Bishops and has never respected those rules which were established elsewhere, even in General councils, for other dioceses.
Until there was a papal law for electing a Roman Pontiff, elections were said to be valid or not. Once a papal law was promulgated, they were said to be legitimate or not. Once popes laid down canons to govern the process, they were said to be canonical or not. In the Rule of Saint Francis of Assisi, promulgated in 1223 by Pope Honorius III, we find that St. Francis promises “to show reverence and obedience to the lord Pope Honorius III and his canonically elected successors”.
The Limitation contained in the current Papal Law on Papal Elections
Nowadays, Popes are elected according to the Papal Law, Universi Dominici gregis, promulgated by Pope John Paul II on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, on Feb. 22, 1996. (1) But since the Code of Canon Law of 1983 specifies that elections are to be by special law, this special law, such elections can be said to be both canonical and legitimate, though it is better to say that they are lawful or not.
Reading the Papal Law on elections attentively, however, reveals that this Papal Law has a provisional character, since it forbids the Cardinal Electors to elect a Roman Pontiff by any other means other than following all the prescriptions of this law. Thus, since this law requires that they meet in Conclave before the 21st day after the death of the Roman Pontiff, if they fail to do so, they lose all right to elect the Roman Pontiff (Universi Dominici Gregis, n. 37). And if such an event should happen without a force majeur intervening, then the Law would no longer be in force. (2)
What then would the Church of Rome do? Since this Law in its promulgated explicitly annulled all prior laws, such an election would have to be conducted according to Apostolic Tradition, since this is the only rule which cannot be abolished by a Roman Pontiff. In fact, every Papal Law and canon about papal elections has merely been an application of this right according to one or more arrangements for the specification and reduction of electors to certain conditions.
I have touched upon this before, on Aug. 31, 2020 A. D., but it will be useful to discuss the matter again.
Without a papal law, then all these specifications and reductions of electors pass out of force.
The rejection of Pope Benedict XVI by the Cardinals will trigger a Unique Situation
As I have said before, this view regarding the election of a Roman Pontiff with all the Cardinal Electors failing to do their duty, is not merely a hypothetical or a useless speculation, since now the Church of Rome risks confronting such a situation head on.
This is because, Pope Benedict XVI has not renounced the papacy. And yet, all the Cardinal Electors publicly recognize the anti-pope and usurper, who is a manifest heretic and not even a Christian in his personal beliefs, as he has manifested on numerous public occasions.
Thus the Cardinals may not convene in conclave to elect a successor of Pope Benedict XVI. And that failure would then trigger the recourse to Apostolic Tradition, on the grounds that the Papal Law would then make it illegal for them to elect any pope at a later date.
The only way this could be avoided is if at least one Cardinal Elector publicly declares for Pope Benedict XVI and is reconciled to him before his death. Both the public declaration and reconciliation is required, because, on account of their public communion with a heretical anti-pope, they are involved in the public crime of schism, whereby they lose all right to elect a pope, because they lose all right to the dignity of the Cardinalate.
Electing a Roman Pontiff according to Apostolic Tradition
The Election of Pope Benedict XVI’s successor then might be the first election of a pope according to Apostolic Tradition since 769 A. D., when the Synod of the Lateran abolished the right of the laity to participate in the election. This abolition was itself abolished by the general clause in the present papal law, which abolished all previous laws.
Thus, there will be no papal law, most likely, to govern the election of Pope Benedict XVI’s successor, which is perhaps what he signified in his Declaratio when he spoke of the Cardinals being cut off (vobis decisionem) and of a future election by those who are competent (ab his quibus competit).
Here it is important to note that if Pope Benedict XVI in his Testament, of which he has occasionally spoken, lays down anything in this regard, if it not be published in his life time, it has no juridical force, since a papal law must be promulgated during the life of the Pope, since he has no authority after his death. Likewise, if in secret he has reconciled any Cardinal, such a reconciliation cannot be retained to be authentic unless it is accompanied by a document signed by trustworthy witnesses and sealed with his seal, during his lifetime.
The Role of Canon Law in such an election according to Apostolic right
This does not mean that the general principles of Canon Law are to be ignored. While all the Faithful will be able to participate, they must at least according to the norm of Canon Law be able to participate: they must be baptized in the Roman Rite and of the age of reason; they must have received the Sacrament of Confirmation, which makes one an adult in the Church; they must be free of ecclesiastical censures imposed by true Popes; and they must be resident according to ecclesiastical law in the Diocese of Rome or one of the Suburbican Dioceses, all of which are parts of the Church of Rome according to ecclesiastical custom.
This number of the Faithful, all of whom are electors, includes all the Catholics who declare that Pope Benedict XVI was the true pope. This number includes the Cardinals of the Roman Church, whether electors or not, the Archbishops, Bishops, Monsignors, Pastors, Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and all religious who are members of Congregations of Diocesan Rite in any of the dioceses, I have mentioned, who are residents at Rome or therein. This includes the laity of all station and rank in life, from the house wife to the head of Roman Noble Families.
Clergy incardinated in the Diocese of Rome, regardless of their location of residence, and Cardinals whether electors or not, repenting of their schism in a public act before or at the start of such an election, can also participate, regardless of their residence, since by their dignity of Cardinal they are princes of the Church of Rome.
No members of the Masonic Lodges of any rite or observance can participate, since these are excommunicated by Canon Law, as Cardinal Ratzinger reminded everyone more than 40 years ago.
Archbishops and Bishops from other dioceses can attend merely as witnesses, but they cannot speak without permission, nor can they be given a right to vote.
To be a resident, you have to have made your dwelling at Rome or in one of these dioceses at least 1 year before the election and have done so by abandoning your physical residence in all other places, without the intention to return.
Conditions of Time and Place and Convocation of the Electors
There is no precise requirement as to when the election take place, though I am of the opinion, to remove all canonical doubt, that it be held no sooner than the 22nd day after the death of the Roman Pontiff, to exclude any claim by Cardinal Electors that they retained the sole right to elect him.
It can be held in any place in the territory of the Church of Rome, as I have already mentioned.
I believe there is a solid argument to say that the convocation of the Faithful of the Church of Rome must be made by the clergy of Rome, if any are in communion with Pope Benedict XVI — and to my knowledge there are. In fact, I know of two, at least, and there are probably many more than that.
The Election can be held by popular acclaim or by public or secret vote, but the method of election must be agreed upon by the electors. Whether a vote is considered valid by a majority or by two-thirds must also be decided upon.
Whether the election is to be moderated is also a decision that needs to be made.
If any simony be involved it would invalidate the election of one elected in virtue of the influence of it, according to the general norms of Canon Law. This is the one point, where the canons of the Church imposes a more strict rule than the current Papal Law, which explicitly allows for a valid simonaical election, due to the fact that a Conclave being held in secret, makes the determination of whether simony was involved impossible by the rest of the Church.
I do believe, however, that the time and place of the election should be publicized before hand, to remove all doubt that it is the Church of Rome and not some private group, which acts.
Who can be elected the Successor of Pope Benedict XVI?
As to the one elected, Canon Law remains in force, that such a one must be a Catholic, regardless of which rite in which he was baptized, male, of the age of reason, free of ecclesiastical censure under Pope Benedict XVI or his predecessors. But he does not have to be a Cardinal, Archbishop, Bishop, Priest, Deacon or even a seminarian or religious. But he does have to be a celibate male, that is, not currently in a Sacramental Marriage, nor a civil marriage, and free from the moral obligation to care for children. He should be of good moral reputation and capable of leadership. He does not have to be the citizen of any particular nation, nor a resident of the Vatican City or a member of the Roman Curia. He must be a biological male from birth, and cannot be mutilated or have had a sex reassignment. (Alas, this needs to be clarified due to the evil world we live in).
But he does have to be a person who is publicly known to have not participated in the schism and betrayals against Pope Benedict XVI, or else grave doubt as to the legitimacy of his election will arise, for surely many would say, that the enemies of Pope Benedict XVI took control of the assembly — and since schismatics and heretics cannot be elected Pope, doubt would arise as to the validity of the election process.
However, in my judgement, I think he should at least know Latin and have studied theology, for how else can he govern the Church?
The one to be elected does not have to be present at the convocation, he can be in any place in the world. However, if not present, his consent to accept his election needs to be certified by at least 3 witnesses who speak with him by phone or video conference. The convocation would have to deputize the individuals to do this.
And if such an election has to take place, then the one elected should be prepared to be crucified, because, without a doubt, all Hell will raise its voice against him, and he shall be persecuted from one end of the earth to another.
The Powers and Rights of the Elected come into effect as soon as he accepts his election
The election will be valid if it is held according to the above general canonical norms and facts. As soon as the one elected accepts his election, he becomes the Successor of Saint Peter, even if he has not yet been consecrated a Bishop or is not even a priest. (3) From that moment on, he has the full power of Christ’s Vicar to rule and legislate and can reconcile any Cardinal, Archbishop, Bishop, priest, deacon or seminarian, who is in schism or under censure. He can also begin to put the Church back in order by formally excommunicating the rebels and by reconciling the repentant. It is the better opinion, in my judgement, however, that the Pope only has the right to exercise the power of teaching after his episcopal ordination, but this is a question open to dispute. I hold this opinion, because the munus to teach the faithful is contained only in the Sacrament of Episcopal Consecration, which even if it is distinct from the petrine munus, has a necessary relation to it, since the one elected is elected to be the Bishop of Rome, not merely or solely the Vicar of Christ or the Successor of St. Peter.
According to canon 355 §1, the episcopal consecration of the Pope, if he not be a bishop, pertains by right to the Dean of the College of Cardinals, and if he is impeded, to the most senior Cardinal. — This presumes that there is at least one Cardinal not in schism from Pope Benedict XVI. Arguably, if there is not, then his first act should be to appoint at least a few Cardinal Bishops, who are to elect their own Dean, who will preside at his consecration. These newly created Cardinals can be given any one of the 13 historical titles, which are not assigned to anyone in the College at present.
(1) Note, that in his Motu Proprio, publishing this Papal Law, Pope John Paul II states, “Precisely for this reason, while recognizing that theologians and canonists of all times agree that this institution is not of its nature necessary for the valid election of the Roman Pontiff, “ — Hence, he recognizes that there is another way to elect the Roman Pontiff. This is part of his secret provision — in my opinion — of the Papal renunciation which required that of the munus (canon 332 §2) — which if it went unnoticed by all the Cardinal Electors, in an attempted coup d’état against the reigning Pope, would enable an election by Apostolic Right, concerning which is this article of mine.
(2) Because it can be reasonably argued, in the case of extreme necessity induced by outside threats (e.g. occupation of Rome by a hostile military force or government) or impossible situations (e.g. Rome being destroyed by nuclear attack), that the Cardinals have the authority granted to them in the Papal Law to arrange for a Conclave at later date. This cannot be done, if they are in schism with an antipope, however, since in such a case they cannot exercise their rights to elect the Successor of the true Roman Pontiff.
(3) Cf. the First Canon of the Third Lateran Council, canon 1. This is the teaching of St. Gregory VII (Dictatus, XXIII), which was put into effect in the election of Pope Adrian V, even though Canon 332 §1 states that “full and supreme power” (terms which it does not define) is had after episcopal consecration. Cf. Commentary here, from Juan Ignazio Arrieta, ed., Codice di Diritto Canonico, on canon 332 §1.