I was doing my usual rounds this morning and was pointed to an article in Italian – Forse non è canonicamente valida la “rinuncia” di Papa Benedetto. The way things move in the Vatican, this one might have the canonists chomping on it for centuries.
This journalist (I haven’t the foggiest idea about his credentials to comment on Roman Catholic affairs) comes up with the thesis that others have suggested – that the abdication of Benedict XVI would have been forced on him. If this is so, no canonical act is valid if it is done under constraint or fear. It is the same principle as in marriage. No marriage is valid unless it is bilaterally free and without force or fear.
The argument is based on the timing of the abdication and who knew what when. It seems that the question of a Papal abdication was in the air from 2011, though Cardinal Bertone only discussed it from mid 2012. Benedict XVI made it clear in his speech of 10th February 2013 that:
For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, …
Perhaps the decision to abdicate was indirectly forced. Are there degrees of coercion, given that he was opposed by a number of Cardinals in the Vatican? There are some external signs Benedict XVI kept like the white cassock, the title and his arms. Are they of any significance.
On the other side, Benedict XVI appears to have accepted the Papacy of Francis without any reserve. It was the same in 1958 when it was alleged that Cardinal Guiseppe Siri was elected in 1958 to replace Pius XII and was forced to refuse the election, clearing the way for Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli who became John XXIII. The idea is the basis of the ideas of some sedevacantists, called the “Siri Thesis”. See Fr Paul Kramer’s position here.
Whilst I am far from convinced by these conspiracy theories, we may be inclined to stay tuned and keep our ears open. The ambiance in the Roman Catholic Church over the past year has been quite strange, as it has been in the blogs. Time will tell…