An Open Letter to the College of Cardinals
REPRINTED FROM DEC. 11, 2019 A. D.
by Br. Alexis Bugnolo
In the conclave of 2243, the Cardinals of the Roman Church, in their final votation, elected a Spaniard.
So, according to the rules established by Pope John Paul II, on February 22, 1996, in the document Universi Dominici Gregis, n. 87, the Cardinal Deacon, the Secretary of the College of Cardinals and the Master of Cerimonies for Pontifical Liturgies approach the Spanish Cardinal and ask him in these solemn words if he will accept his election: Do you accept your canonical election as the Supreme Pontiff?
Then the Cardinal Deacon signals with his eyes to the Elected Cardinal, asking for an answer.
The Cardinal Elect, smiles, then extends both hands to each side and forms the V sign with the fingers of each hand. With that he says in a clear voice: ¡Viva Guadalajara!
The Spanish Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, familiar with the jocularity of the Elected Cardinal, giggle. The Cardinal from Barcelona says to himself, “What a joker! But this is not a time for laughs!”
The Secretary of the College gives a stern look at the Cardinal Elect. He is not amused at this kind of levity. So he turns to the Cardinal Deacon, who is perplexed, and whispers: “Let’s ask him again”.
So the aged Cardinal Deacon, turns to the Cardinal Elect, and asks again, this time in Spanish: ¿Acepta su elección canónica como Sumo Pontífice?
Then, the Cardinal Elect, answers: raising both his right and left hand as before, and making the V sign with each, he says: ¡Viva Guadalajara! — This time with an even bigger smile on his face.
At this point, the Cardinals break their silence, and mixed mutterings of insouciance and consternation.
The Cardinal Deacon, now impatient, says to the Cardinal Elect: “This is no time to make jokes. Please answer the question with a Yes or a No”. Then recomposing himself, he repeats the canonical question, this time in Italian: Accetti la tua elezione canonica a Sommo Pontefice?
And again, the Cardinal Elect responds in the same manner.
At this point, the Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel break out in small groups of conversation. Everyone is trying to figure out what the Cardinal Elect means to say. The Spanish Cardinals approach the Elect and attempt to reason with him. But he says nothing further. All he does is keep smiling and raising his right and left hand now and then with the V sign, for victory.
So in accord with the Papal Law on Conclaves, UDG, n. 5, the Cardinal from Paris asks that the College discuss and decide what is to be done, since the Papal Law says nothing about the manner in which the Cardinal Elect is to accept the office, whether it be by a Yes or No or by some other sign.
Two factions arise among the Cardinals. On the one side, a minority hold that the Cardinal Elect, by the words used has not accepted his election and must be considered either in error or mad. On the other side, the position taken is that of the Cardinal of Mexico City, who reasons this way: There is no more certain a manner of indicating that one has accepted the dignity of a prince than to respond in a manner which requires his listeners to acquiesce to his authority. Now by responding in this manner, does not the Cardinal Elect clearly show his intent to act like a prince? And therefore, his intention to accept the election? Is he not just putting our loyalty to the test? I for one will not fail in my loyalty to the Supreme Pontiff in this his first act of office!
This line of reasoning wins over the majority and they vote to regard the manner of speech chosen by the Cardinal Elect as meaning, “Yes, I accept”.
The Cardinal Deacon, then approaches the Cardinal Elect and asks him by which name he wants to be known. He replies, “Ignazio I”.
And years pass. And there is nothing controversial in the pontificate of Ignatius the First. Not in the least.
Except for this one thing.
Every time journalists manage to get an interview with him, and they ask him about the moment of his election as Pope, they ask him what he said, and he says: ¡Viva Guadalajara!
About 6 years into his reign as pope, one journalist, by the name of Marco Tosatti III, wanting to understand this better, asks a very specific question of Pope Ignatius I, during a plane trip.
Tosatti III: I know, your Holiness, has been asked this same question many times. And we are all impressed by your talent for humor and your jocundity, which is so unique among the Popes. But the day of your election, if I may ask again, can you tell just what you said, when the Cardinal Deacon asked you if you would accept your canonical election?
Ignatius I: I said, ¡Viva Guadalajara!
Tosatti III: Is that all you said?
Ignatius I: Yes.
Tosatti III: Did you not say, Yes?
Ignatius I: No, I never said Yes or No. I simply said, ¡Viva Guadalajara!
Marco Tosatti III publishes his interview and it goes round the world: “The Pope never said yes.”
A few days later, another Italian Vaticanista, by the name of Sandro Magister V, obtains an interview with the aged Cardinal Deacon, who confirms the story: Yes, he never said, yes. In fact there was a controversy in the Conclave, and now that Pope Ignatius I has abolished the pontifical secret on his election, I can reveal that we held a vote in accord with Universi Dominici Gregis, n. 5, and we determined that canonically speaking, this phrase, ¡Viva Guadalajara! would be taken to mean, “yes, I accept”.
Magister V also publishes his interview, which causes even more of an uproar and travels round the world.
About two weeks later, an old lady from the suburb of Madrid, Spain, where Pope Ignatius I grew up, flies to Rome and enters the Piazza of St Peter with a sign, saying, “He is not the Pope!” The Gendarmerie, the Vatican Police, attempt to take the sign from her, there is a scuffle and they end up punching her and she punching them back. Eventually they take both her and the sign away.
But the pilgrims in the piazza photograph and video record the entire travesty and these images go world wide on all social media platforms.
The next day in all the majors newspapers and MSM sites the one topic is why they beat up this poor old women. And the journalists who are allowed to interview her in the Vatican jail all receive the same statement, prepared by her attorney: In my suburb of Madrid, where I grew up with Pope Ignatius I, the phrase, ¡Viva Guadalajara! has always meant, “You got to be kidding. I would no more agree to that than support the team from Guadalajara, by shouting ¡Viva Guadalajara! at a soccer match with our own team!”
At this news, journalists flock to Madrid, Spain and interview all those they can find who knew the Pope as a child or youngster. And they all agree that what this old lady said is the absolute truth.
And these journalists report what they find. And, the next day, Ignatius I gives an interview and says: You see, there is nothing I hate more that arrogance and sycophancy. So when I saw that there were no worthy candidates for the Papacy, I determined to do what I could to delay as much as possible the Conclave, so the most unworthy ones would be taken by the Lord or not be able to vote, having reached the age of 80. So I contrived the deception I used to fool everyone. And it worked. But now that my purpose has achieved its goal, I willing admit that I was never pope, because I never accepted my election as the Supreme Pontiff. Therefore, I will now stop pretending to be pope and go back to Madrid and enjoy my final years of life by drinking cerveza and watching the Madrid Soccer team. Good-bye and Adios!
The Limits of Discretion
So ends the fictional canonical case I have created. As you can see, strange things can happen if the discretion which we Catholics traditionally accord to the Cardinals goes beyond all limits. There are just some things they cannot do even if they want to.
One thing they cannot do, even if they want to, regards the interpretation of verbal texts. As a translator of medieval texts, I understand well that there are 3 ways of determining the meaning of any obscure phrase. The first is intrinsic, the second extrinsic and the third is referential.
Intrinsic methods look to the meaning of the words used and their grammatical structure. Extrinsic methods look to the context in which the phrase is used and impose a theory about what the intent was in the author’s mind in using the obscure phrase. Referential methods look for other occurrences of the same obscure phrase in the writings of the same author, his contemporaries or those authors he read or cited.
And as a translator, I have learned the hard way, that the worse method of interpretation is the extrinsic method. The intrinsic method can be used but it requires great discretion and a good knowledge of the author one is reading. The referential method is the most certain but one has to take into account that every author might use standard phrases slightly differently.
As can be seen from the fictional case I have constructed, grave error can arise when the ones who should be interpreting the meaning of things said by the Pope use the extrinsic method, by adopting the context of the phrase and some theory of what the intention was of the one saying it, and from these two data points extrapolate the meaning of the phrase.
This has been no idle study. And though you may find this story humorous, that is not my intention. Because though it regards what could happen regarding the very first moment an man becomes the Pope, the same interpretational problem can arise in the very last moment a man is the Pope, that is in an Act of Renunciation.
Because, when a man renounces the papacy, Canon 332 §2 requires that he say something that signifies, In my capacity as Roman Pontiff, I renounce the munus which I received in the Apostolic Succession from Saint Peter, the day I accepted my election as Supreme Pontiff by the College of Cardinals.
The words do not have to be the ones I just wrote, but they have to signify essentially the same thing.
If you say, however, I declare that I renounce the ministry which was entrusted to me through the hands of the Cardinals, the day I was elected, then you have a problem. Because no where in the Code of Canon Law, nor in Canonical Tradition, nor in the mind of Pope John Paul II do we find any clear equation or predication of munus by ministerium. To hold that Pope Benedict’s renunciation of ministry means a renunciation of munus is an interpretation, unfounded in the law. Moreover, the Cardinals and Bishops and Clergy who hold this interpretation have no authority in the law to interpret the Papal Act in this manner.
We need to be adults and admit this problem of interpretation.
And the ones who committed this error have to grow up and stop insisting that we follow them in it. After all, religious extremism does not consist in refusing an error of interpretation. Religious extremism consists in insisting, like ISIS, that we accept their errors of interpretation or else.
CREDITS: the image of the Cathedral of Madrid is taken from the Wikipedia article on the Facade of the Cathedral of Madrid and is used under the wiki commons license described there.