No, “pressure” to resign from the papacy does not make resignation invalid…

Eamonn Clark

Look. I’m not a professional canon lawyer. But two days in a row now even I have been able to point out some whoppers, both involving juridical validity.

It’s been irresponsibly suggested that “some canon lawyers” (who?) say that if a pope resigns due to scandals, he “cannot be said to have made his decision of his own free will – even if he insists that he is doing so.”

As the kids say these days – lolwut?

Even though the Holy Father apparently has said he has no intention of resigning, he is an unpredictable man, isn’t he. So let’s take a look at this important topic anyway.

Okay, so just a few questions to start us off… Since when is there a legal definition of “scandal”? And who determines whether there is such a “scandal”? And wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that a person who sees danger and ineffectiveness coming for him due to a scandal would truly want, as an authentic good, to leave office?

If it is true that scandal precludes the resignation of office, it would mean that the person is stuck there, even if due to his own sins and the real good of the Church requires his resignation. On what planet is this a juridic reality? The fact is that there are always scandals and pressures facing popes which would incline them to leave office, many of which are unknown to most people. So is every papal resignation therefore invalid?

No, of course not. As my own professor of canon law told our class, one of the important tools in reading and interpreting canon law is common sense. 

Let’s go through the text, shall we? My comments in bold.

Can. 187 Anyone responsible for oneself (sui compos) can resign from an ecclesiastical office for a just cause. Obviously, the pope is such a person. Note that mounting scandals and ineffectiveness due to pressure to resign would certainly constitute a “just cause.”

Can. 188 A resignation made out of grave fear that is inflicted unjustly or out of malice, substantial error, or simony is invalid by the law itself. This means that, even if there is grave fear on the part of the office holder, that fear must be caused by a serious threat to that person which violates justice in its mode or in its end… We could quibble about exactly what “unjustly” and “out of malice” mean, (and it’s unclear to me if “out of malice” is its own clause – perhaps so) but at present, there seems to be nothing but serious complaints and demands for answers. No threats against the life or liberty of the person of the Holy Father.

Can. 332 …

§2. If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone. The key here is how to interpret the word “freely.” As we have seen, grave fear of being an ineffective pastor or of harming the Church through giving scandal would not suffice to inhibit freedom in the proper way, even for holders of a “normal” office. The office of the papacy, however, is not a normal office – it is the supreme office of the Church militant – and so even more stringent requirements would seem to obtain with regards to proving who seems to be the pope isn’t the pope or who seems to have left the papacy has not.

…ah but wait – let’s go back a few hundred canons…

Can. 14 Laws, even invalidating and disqualifying ones, do not oblige when there is a doubt about the law. When there is a doubt about a fact, however, ordinaries can dispense from laws provided that, if it concerns a reserved dispensation, the authority to whom it is reserved usually grants it. So since there is at least a serious argument to be made that “scandal” and “pressures” do not of themselves suffice to render a resignation null when it is properly manifested, there is at least doubt about the law. This subjects the invalidating law, c. 332 §2, to a “stricter” interpretation. Any claim must overcome the arguments provided.

What, then, might actually render an attempted resignation invalid due to a restriction of freedom? Well, the pope could not be tortured to procure a resignation, for example. He also could not reasonably be presumed free when publicly and presently threatened with death or imprisonment by those with clear means to procure either. Anything like this, in which an invalidating pressure is manifest to all reasonable persons, when the Holy Father actually manifests an intention to resign it would indeed be invalid. Otherwise, we have at a minimum a doubtful application of law, which, especially given the importance of the office, should therefore be subject to strict interpretation, as explained above.

Therefore, the Pope is perfectly free to resign, no matter how bad the scandal gets.

Well, that’s my basic argument. Someone will have to show me where I’m going wrong, if indeed that’s the case. We didn’t even get into c. 17… That would be important too.

Text and context.

No, campaigning for a pope does not invalidate the conclave…

Eamonn Clark

I don’t want to comment on the escalating rhetoric stemming from the letter from the letter of Abp. Viganò… I do want to comment on the escalating fear that campaigning for a pope pre-conclave (or at least before “santa sede”) invalidates the election.

It does not.

The argument goes like this: it’s an excommunicable offense to campaign for a pope (at least before the Holy See is vacant), a number of cardinals did this (the “St. Gallen’s Mafia” as it’s called), those excommunicated cardinals had invalidated themselves from voting, and therefore the last conclave was invalid.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. And it is irresponsible of people with only a passing familiarity with canon law to be going about spreading such a serious claim.

Here’s what the documents say.

From Universi Dominici Gregis, the document with the special procedural rules for conclaves:

“The Cardinal electors shall further abstain from any form of pact, agreement, promise or other commitment of any kind which could oblige them to give or deny their vote to a person or persons. If this were in fact done, even under oath, I decree that such a commitment shall be null and void and that no one shall be bound to observe it; and I hereby impose the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae upon those who violate this prohibition. It is not my intention however to forbid, during the period in which the See is vacant, the exchange of views concerning the election.”

So, electors are forbidden from what we might call “serious” campaigning. It seems they would not be forbidden from simply expressing desires to each other, or discussing pros and cons. Anyway, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine this prohibition was indeed violated by a number of electors, and despite the litany of conditions which make such penalties very difficult to incur, they’ve really been excommunicated by their acts of “campaigning.” Then what?

In the Code of Canon Law, we find:

“Can. 10 – Only those laws must be considered invalidating or disqualifying which expressly establish that an act is null or that a person is effected.”


“Can. 1331 §1. An excommunicated person is forbidden:

3/ to exercise any ecclesiastical offices, ministries, or functions whatsoever or to place acts of governance.

§2. If the excommunication has been imposed or declared, the offender:

2/ invalidly places acts of governance which are illicit according to the norm of §1, n. 3″

So what this means is that, while excommunicated persons do indeed have the obligation not to vote in a conclave, that act now being illicit, in order for such an act to be invalid that excommunication must be declared. That’s why section 2 says “If the excommunication has been imposed or declared,” implying that if it hasn’t been declared (or imposed, not categorically but personally, ferendae sententiae), then the subsequent penalties don’t apply. Obviously, no such excommunications have been declared (i.e. made public by the proper authority), and so any campaigners, while doing something illegal and immoral, would be doing something which is valid.

See more here.

It was a valid conclave, whether the outcome was good or bad.

Some Dogmatic, Canonical, and Moral Questions to Ponder

Eamonn Clark

Given the past few years of theological disputes, several questions have proposed themselves as needing more serious attention, either in explanation of or exploration for the correct answers. Except to suggest the use of one particular theological tool, I don’t have any purpose here other than to say what some (but not all) of these questions are and to give them a definite shape in the hopes of helping them to be more effectively addressed. Here we go…

  1. How do we determine what is infallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium and what is fallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium?
  2. Even if something is certainly taught fallibly by the ordinary magisterium, how do we know if it is still binding through demanding “religious assent”?
  3. What is the moral significance of failing to adhere to various kinds of positions taught with varying degrees of frequency, strength, and recentness?
  4. To what degree, if any, are theologians exempt from such demands and their corresponding moral penalties?
  5. Who exactly belongs to this supposedly exempt category called “theologians”?
  6. When does it become morally acceptable for theologians to presume to correct a legitimate ordinary magisterial organ, in various degrees of publicity?
  7. What is the exact significance and character of the extraordinary magisterium if it can only teach what has already been taught by the ordinary magisterium?
  8. Can a practice of the Church or its encouragement of a practice establish a speculative doctrine to one degree or another, other than with regard to the liturgy and the sacraments?
  9. What is the authoritative character of prudential utterances of the Holy Father or his legitimate direct cooperators (such as the CDF) when the matter of the utterance actually belongs most properly to the discretion of a legitimate civil authority?
  10. Is there a good solution to so-called “conflict marriage” annulment cases in which the petitioner is unable to produce witnesses due to a legitimate obstacle (such as the witnesses being dead)?
  11. What level and kind of ignorance of the Church’s legal system and its legitimate demands upon oneself would suffice to remove some or all of the formal aspect of sin from one’s materially sinful union?
  12. If there is a possibility of a complete or partial excuse of moral culpability due to ignorance of canon law’s legitimate demands upon oneself with regard to marriage which can be privately ascertained by a sacred minister, how ought such persons be sacramentally ministered to, whether publicly or privately?
  13. Aside from the general application of c. 915, and independent of the question of culpability for cohabitation and bigamy themselves, under what circumstances, if any, is it possible that to leave a person in ignorance about the moral necessity of an annulment, for which he or she is privately judged to be at least partially culpable, constitutes a legitimate condescension to a perceived likelihood of being unwilling to cooperate and thus likely leading to even worse sin?
  14. What is the exact character and efficacy of a so-called “spiritual communion” for those who persist in mortal sin?

These aren’t “ivory tower debates.” Some of these questions, as I have implied in previous posts, could be helped by a more common use and further refinement of the Church’s system of “theological notes.”