The Cat among the Pigeons of St Peter’s Square?

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…

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7 Responses to The Cat among the Pigeons of St Peter’s Square?

  1. I thought Benedict looked seriously ill around the time that he stood down and for several months afterwards. It is not unknown for doctors to give a carefully thought through prognosis and then for the patient to unexpectedly improve. That may be the simple answer to the abdication of the Pope Emeritus.

  2. Stephen K says:

    Quite frankly, I think this kind of conspiracy proposition amounts to an admission that the election of popes has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit, and everything to do with the complex – and often banal – motivations of human beings including the particular person(s) we are thinking about. To my way of thinking, if God’s Spirit inspires the choice of X, then it is for God’s reason; and it would seem to me logical that X’s abdication , prompted by whatever considerations, is all in the hands of God. That is to say, all is for the Good. Conversely, if X’s abdication is seen as the successful thwarting of God’s will, then what sort of God are we talking about? Truly, the serpent in Eden was right: it is the evil in men, not their good, that makes us gods.

    That people conspire to do things secretly, to suborn, coerce, oppress, even murder, is fact, not theory. Why should we be surprised that the Church has its share of such skulduggery? Everyone has a battle campaign, and leaders of movements always have discussions in private. Why shouldn’t people be able to see in Benedict’s abdication the work of God for the long-term? That is, a significant step in the liberation of the Church, its popes as well as its people, from papolatry and from a monarchic concept of Vicarage that compels a person to a living tomb, aka John Paul II?

    For those of us who read true crime history, enjoy books like Umberto Eco’s wonderful novel “Foucault’s Pendulum”, and are fascinated by alternative universes in which the baddies in black hats in history get their come-uppances, the abdication hypothesis is of some initial interest, but it got me thinking and realising that for the vast numbers of people who still bother to go to Mass, it’s completely peripheral to either their dogged spiritual search or their ordinary concerns. There is, for me, a lot of truth and wisdom in the words of Jiddhu Krishnamurti, who, when he renounced his leadership of the Order of the Star (in the East) in 1929, urged his erstwhile followers to follow no-one in their search for union with God, saying, essentially, that once religion got organised, the path went astray. (You can read his dissolution speech at

    There is for me a paradox: the church is visible, but only when its invisible good is perceived and participated in. In other words, the pope, archbishop, cathedral, stained glass window, vestment, priest, or preacher etc, are like ‘fool’s gold’: shiny and glittery, but not the real thing.

    We have to constantly take care not to go down cul-de-sacs, or worry about things beyond our control, especially things like Vatican poker, where every Pope is, or is supposed to be, a hand dealt by either the Freemasons or Opus Dei!

    • I have a small amount of intuition about the whole thing, related to the complete impotence of conservative Catholics faced with this situation. I have read the hypothesis of Benedict XVI wanting to “demystify” the Papacy and bring people to a more realistic understanding of it. In this, there would be some kind of continuity between the demystified abdicated Pope and the election of one whose break with the Papacy à la Pius IX, Paul VI, John Paul II and others is apparent.

      Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum is an important work for understanding that reality is a lot more boring than fantasy and imagination. The Benedictine monk’s life is little different from that of a coal miner in Barnsley, the only difference being that he goes to sing the Office in church and is perhaps a little more refined culturally and intellectually. Both men are down to earth and trust “boring” reality more than the fruit of vivid imaginations. Predictability is a good guide. If something is likely, it almost certainly is the case. If something is true, it is known about by all, and nothing can be held in secret for very long. The great conspiracy often turns out to be a complete illusion.

      Perhaps the day will come when we find we are alone and responsible for our destiny, and we are subject to the laws of karma. This is, at least for me, the message of Lent – reality with all illusion stripped and burned away. We are then faced with ourselves with no beauty to console us in our judgement. We meet some of the notions expressed by Dietrich von Bonhöffer faced with the way churches collaborated with the absolute evil of Nazism. No sin goes unpunished!

      The radical traditionalists and sedevacantists strike me in a different way than the attitudes and beliefs I found in the 1980’s and 90’s. At that time, they seemed to have perhaps a grain of credibility. Nowadays, I wonder if they even believe their own message. We are twenty to thirty years further down the road, and only we “specialists” have any knowledge of the Church fifty, a hundred or two hundred years ago.

      I was in conversation with someone a few days ago, discussing a particularly obnoxious and hypocritical “pious” person. My reflection was that if I wanted to become an atheist, I would only have to talk with that person for five minutes. The ultimate question is whether God is man’s property or whether each of us can relate to God. I have reflected about many things on this blog, about how deeply affected I was on reading the Grand Inquisitor of Dostoyevsky and seeing the magnificent theatrical performance of John Gielgud. What came out essentially was someone defending the “faith” with such dedication and fanaticism whilst effectively being an atheist.

      Over the past year or so, whilst I write regularly on my blog, I have had a feeling of futility and that there are other things to do. I have my priestly calling confirmed by being under the jurisdiction of a Bishop in communion with a college or Bishops and an Archbishop Metropolitan in an organised Church. For that I am grateful, but I have no local calling from the people of the country where I am living. I am brought to appreciate living in as ordinary a way as possible, relating to other human beings through common interests and a sense of getting on with life and not bothering with the “big agendas”. Such thoughts take much of my energy from blogging, as I am brought to understand what many priests went through in the 60’s and 70’s.

      Be sober, be vigilant, &c.

  3. ed pacht says:

    I have not sufficient information to make judgments or even good guesses about complex matters of this sort. While I do not accept the papal claims, I do firmly accept that the Bishop of Rome does have a God-ordained role in God’s Church. Of course there are political machinations and less-than-godly occurrences in the Church, whatever ‘denomination’ or ‘jurisdiction’ one has in mind (after all the Church is made up of flawed and fallen men), but even these things can be turned to God’ purposes. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” and, “All things work together for good to … the called according to His purpose.” I think it’s time to stop worrying bout such things and to get on with His business as best as we are able.

  4. clairveaux says:

    Things like forced abdications/resignations, blackmail, assassinations and usurpations occur quite regularly so I’m not sure why entertaining these theories is ridiculed. The Kennedy assassination is probably the least common way to get rid of an unwanted power figure so perhaps for every assassination I’d say that there are 10 leaders that are removed by other, less obvious methods.

    The Siri Thesis makes a lot more sense than this theory about Francis and Benedict especially with a 50 year perspective. In the case of Siri there was a clear indication that a pope was elected two days before Roncalli (John XXIII).

    This by itself is certainly not enough to warrant the Siri thesis but when you take into account that within 10 years of the 58 conclave they were changing the words of consecration along with the systematic destruction of every other aspect of the Church it starts to look like the point where papal authority was usurped.

    This, along with multiple sources claiming that the Siri was elected and “shoved aside” plus Siri’s own testimony gives this theory a lot of credibility. Perhaps not enough to claim for certain that he was elected and that he was the valid pope but certainly enough to warrant an investigation. Unfortunately, if the theory holds true, then the ones doing the investigating would be the ones who usurped the throne of Peter in the first place which leaves us in a situation where we’ll just have to wait and see.

    Benedict on the other hand was always a modernist, evident by his donning a suit and tie to the Second Vatican Council and by his theological writings some of which were banned by Cardinal Wyszynski of Poland. More recently Benedict hosted the third “inter-religious” meeting in Assisi.

    As far as his abdication, he had had signaled well in advance that he planned to abdicate and there were more than a few writers that picked up on the signals. One was visiting the tomb of a pope that had abdicated several hundred years ago.

    As for the conservatives / traditionalists who thought that Benedict was their friend, this theory serves an important purpose. It allows them to escape the alternative conclusion that this clown Bergoglio is pope, which they know he can’t be, which would force them to admit what they’ve refused to admit for a long time, that the Chair of Peter has been stolen.

    • Stephen K says:

      Clairvaux, the theory is not ridiculed. As you say, people are forced to resign and other things frequently. It is the notion that in the end, and for most people, it amounts to more than a hill of beans that is politely declined.

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