Br. Bugnolo Redefines “Dogmatic Facts” to justify Benevacantist schism


Br. Bugnolo Redefines “Dogmatic Facts” to justify "Benevacantist" schism

by
Robert Siscoe and John Salza

Schismatics really separate a deceived multitude from the Church” (St. Jerome)


There’s a common saying that schism always ends in heresy.  If a false doctrine isn’t trumped up to justify the schism, a true doctrine is distorted and eventually denied to sustain it. The latter is taking place before our eyes with Br. Alexis Bugnolo, whose “Benevacantist” * position has now forced him to falsify the meaning of dogmatic facts by entirely redefining the term. It was only a matter of time before this happened, since his rejection of the peaceful and universal acceptance (UPA) has always really been a rejection of the infallibility of the Magisterium in judging dogmatic facts.  As we will see later, according to Cardinal Ratzinger himself, by rejecting the legitimacy of Francis’ election, Br. Alexis Bugnolo has rejected a truth of the faith, denied the infallibility of the Magisterium, and cut himself from communion with the Catholic Church.  And this teaching of Cardinal Ratzinger is perfectly consistent with what all the theologians have taught, and what Martin V defined at the Council of Constance.

What’s worse is that Br. Bugnolo now treats the very error that caused his shipwreck in the faith, and severed him from the Church - i.e., that Benedict’s abdication was invalid - as if it has magisterial authority and is binding on all Catholics. Those who see through his specious arguments and reject his erroneous conclusion, are accused of “rebelling against the papal law, and thus to be condemned by Unam Sanctam, because it is a grave duty of the Faith that we be subject to papal laws and to the true pope” (Bugnolo). That is no different than Luther privately interpreting the Bible and declaring that Catholics who reject his erroneous conclusions are “rebelling against the Word of God, and being condemned by God Himself, because of the grave duty of faith they have to believe what He has revealed.”

Like Luther, Bugnolo has assumed for himself the place of the Magisterium. The problem is that his private judgment differs from the public judgment of Benedict himself, who not only recognizes Francis as Pope, but names him as Pope in the canon of the Mass.  Bugnolo, on the other hand, declares that Bergoglio (Francis) is an antipope, and says “all those who are in communion with Bergoglio (Francis)” are members of the Church of Antichrist! But that would necessarily include Benedict, since he too has remained in communion with Francis.

This leaves Br. Bugnolo in quite the predicament.  If he remains in communion with Pope Benedict, he too is a member of the Church of Antichrist. Yet if the refuses to accept his own judgment that Benedict’s abdication was invalid, he is “rebelling against the papal law,” and “condemned by Unam Sanctam.” 

What this reveals is that the schism is not between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, but between Pope Benedict and the “Benevacantists” (or, more properly, the "Beneplenefrancisvacantists") such as Br. Bugnolo. 

And what Br. Bugnolo’s ridiculous explanation of “dogmatic facts” reveals, is that he either lacks the most rudimentary knowledge of theology, or else he is intentionally lying and intentionally distorting the meaning of term to deceive his readers.  Considering his recent antics, it is probably the latter.

Br. Bugnolo Falsifies the Meaning of Dogmatic Facts


Here is how Br. Bugnolo seeks to cleverly redefine dogmatic facts in order to justify his denial of dogmatic facts:

Br. Bugnolo: “To be clear, the notion of a dogmatic fact is precise: it regards legitimate acts. Thus, if Monsignor So and So refuses to be bishop of this or that, even though he was just nominated as Bishop of this or that, the Papal act is not a dogmatic fact, even though it is papal, because it is contrary to fact. It is a dogmatic fact that the pope nominated [him], but not that the man nominated is the Bishop because he refused to accept.

Thus even a Conclave which followed all the rules … and resulted in the election of a man who was accepted by the whole Church, all the while the man insisted he never accepted, then, that he was the pope would not be a dogmatic fact, even though it would be a dogmatic fact that the Cardinals chose him,”

As anyone who has ever consulted a theology manual concerning dogmatic facts would know, the nomination of a bishop is not a dogmatic fact, regardless of whether he accepts the nomination. Neither is the choice of the Cardinals during a conclave.

Dogmatic facts are a secondary object of infallibility. They are facts “connected with a dogma and on which the application of the dogma to a particular case depends.”  (Catholic Encyclopedia 1913). They are not simply “legitimate acts” of the Church as Bugnolo pretends, but specific facts that must be infallibly true due to their intimate connection with revealed truths quoad nos.

For example, the binding force of the dogmatic decrees promulgated by the Council of Trent is dependent upon the Council itself being a true Council (a dogmatic fact). Similarly, the infallible certitude that the Immaculate Conception is true, is dependent upon the infallible certitude that Pius IX (who defined the dogma) was a true Pope (another dogmatic fact). Any doubt about the legitimacy of Pius IX’s pontificate ipso facto results in doubt about the dogma he defined - and about the First Vatican Council that he approved and ratified. Thus, a dogmatic fact must be infallibly true because of its relationship to a revealed truth that the Church has infallibly defined, and to preserved the deposit.

Using the tactic of the Modernists, Br. Bugnolo has entirely redefined the term, by equating dogmatic facts with “legitimate acts” of the Church, as he calls them (again, without citing any authorities or even attempting to define his terminology). Then, after positing his new fabricated “definition,” he gives three examples that have no correspondence whatsoever with the true meaning of the term. And, ironically, the one fact Bugnolo says would not be a dogmatic fact is the only thing that is a dogmatic fact in his explanation: that a man elected by the Cardinals and “accepted by the whole world” as Pope, is the true Pope!

Bugnolo is not only forced to falsify the definition of “dogmatic fact,” but also the meaning of UPA.  While the real meaning of UPA is that the “universal acceptance” is caused by Christ making the elected man a true Pope (the acceptance being the effect of the action of Christ), Bugnolo attacks the meaning by claiming that “a man who was accepted by the whole Church” (which is the effect of Christ making the man a true Pope) could actually be a false Pope.   Bugnolo turns the true meaning of UPA on its head, and then attempts to classify a non-dogmatic fact (that the Cardinals merely chose him) as a dogmatic fact, even though said “fact” is not necessary to protect or preserve a revealed truth – which is precisely why it is not a dogmatic fact.

Of course, every theology manual that has ever explained UPA rejects Bugnolo’s absurd claim, but Alexis either doesn’t know that because he hasn’t read the manuals, or is trying to hoodwink his audience by betting that they haven’t read them. For those who have, they would know that “the whole Church” could not accept a man who refused the election because Christ would not join a man to the papacy against his will. What Bugnolo fails to understand (among many things) is that the election itself does not make a man the Pope. Christ makes the man the Pope. In Thomistic terminology, when the man is elected and accepts, the Church only designates the matter. Christ joins the form to the matter, thereby making the man Pope.  The act of Christ joining the form to the matter is what produces the effect of the universal acceptance. Thus, Bugnolo’s “hypothetical” is a non-starter because it could never happen. His hypothetical is also a denial of the Church’s infallibility in judging dogmatic facts, as will become clear later.

True Meaning of Dogmatic Facts

Now, since Br. Bugnolo failed to include a single quotation to support his explanation of dogmatic facts (because none exist, and he knows it), let’s begin by seeing how the approved sources explain the true meaning. The following is from Fr. E. Sylvester Berry’s book, The Church of Christ: An Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise, which was originally published in 1927, during the pontificate of Pope Pius XI.

“DOGMATIC FACTS. A dogmatic fact is one that has not been revealed, yet is so intimately connected with a doctrine of faith that without certain knowledge of the fact there can be no certain knowledge of the doctrine. For example, was the Vatican Council truly ecumenical? Was Pius IX a legitimate pope? Was the election of Pius XI valid? Such questions must be decided with certainty before decrees issued by any council or pope can be accepted as infallibly true or binding on the Church. It is evident, then, that the Church must be infallible in judging of such facts, and since the Church is infallible in believing as well as in teaching, it follows that the practically unanimous consent of the bishops and faithful in accepting a council as ecumenical, or a Roman Pontiff as legitimately elected, gives absolute and infallible certainty of the fact.

Fr. Berry’s last sentence above shows the relationship between UPA and dogmatic facts: If a “practically unanimous consent of the bishops and faithful” accept “a Roman Pontiff as legitimately elected” (UPA) his legitimacy as Pope is an infallible dogmatic fact. Yet, Bugnolo argues precisely the opposite in his impossible hypothetical, when he says that “a man who was accepted by the whole Church” as Pope, as the result of a legitimate papal election, “would not be a dogmatic fact” if he really didn’t accept the election.

Of course, Bugnolo’s statement is false on two fronts: First, the legitimacy of a Pope who is “accepted by the whole Church” is a dogmatic fact as Fr. Berry explains; and, second, a man who refused to accept during the Conclave (and therefore would not even have a papal name) could never be “accepted by the whole Church” as Pope, since Christ would not have joined him to the papacy. Also notice that Fr. Berry begins his explanation with an actual definition of the term “dogmatic fact” before providing examples of actual dogmatic facts. Br. Bugnolo, on the other hand, carefully avoided providing an actual definition, instead choosing his smokescreen approach of gratuitously asserting that a dogmatic fact “regards legitimate acts.”

Bugnolo’s “definition” is not only false, but it guts the term dogmatic fact of its true meaning, i.e., a fact that must be infallibly true in order to have certain knowledge about a connected doctrine. Needless to say, the “legitimate act” of the Cardinals “choosing” (Bugnolo’s word) a man for the papacy, who then refused to accept, is not a fact that is connected to a doctrine of the faith in such a way that without certain knowledge of the “legitimate act” there could be no knowledge of the doctrine. In fact, if the Cardinals ever did elect a man who refused the papacy, we would likely never know about the “legitimate act,” since the Cardinals who take part in the Conclave are sworn to secrecy. That is another reason why this “legitimate act” is not a dogmatic fact.  

Here is how another real theologian, Tanquerey, explains dogmatic facts in Vol. I of Dogmatic Theology (1959).

The Church is infallible in regard to dogmatic facts.  A dogmatic fact is one which is so much connected with a doctrine of the Church that knowledge of it is necessary in order to understand the doctrine and to preserve it safely.  Dogmatic facts can be threefold: historical, doctrinal and hagiographical. Thus, dogmatic facts are the legitimacy of the Holy Pontiff, the ecumenical (universal) nature of a Council. That the Church is infallible in regard to dogmatic facts is certain.” (Tanquerey, Dogmatic Theology, vol. 1, 1959, p. 146.)

Again, we see that a dogmatic fact must be believed with faith because of its connection to revealed truth, and is a fact that the Church judges infallibly due to its relation with a revealed truth. We will see how the Church infallibly judges them infallibly in a minute.

       Msgr. Van Noort provides the same explanation in his manual of Dogmatic Theology, The Church of Christ, published in 1957:

“A dogmatic fact is a fact not contained in the sources of revelation, on the admission of which depends the knowledge or certainty of a dogma or of a revealed truth. The following questions are concerned with dogmatic facts: ‘Was the Vatican Council a legitimate ecumenical council? Is the Latin Vulgate a substantially faithful translation of the original books of the Bible? Was Pius XII legitimately elected Bishop of Rome? One can readily see that on these facts hang the questions of whether the decrees of the Vatican Council are infallible, whether the Vulgate is truly Sacred Scripture, whether Pius XII is to be recognized as supreme ruler of the universal Church." (Christ’s Church, Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press, 1957, p. 112)

       Notice that the reason Van Noort said the papacy of Pius XII (the presently reigning Pope) was a dogmatic fact, was not because of its connection to any dogma he defined (although he could have made such an appeal, since Pius XII did define a dogma), but because of the connection between his papacy and the previously defined dogma that the Pope is the supreme ruler of the universal Church. The dogma that the Pope is the supreme ruler of the Church is intimately related to the knowledge (quoad nos or, according to us) of who that supreme ruler is. What this shows that the Church’s infallibility in judging dogmatic facts doesn’t only apply to past Popes, but to the presently reigning Pope as well (and that is because the dogma applies to the reigning Pope). In other words:    

The Dogma: The Pope is the supreme ruler of the Church.

Dogmatic Fact: The person that the Church currently recognizes as Pope is the supreme ruler of the Church.

Van Noort also explains how the Church infallibly judges a dogmatic fact:

“Meantime, notice that the Church possesses infallibility not only when she is defining some matters in solemn fashion, but also when she is exercising the full weight of her authority through her ordinary and universal teaching. Consequently, we must hold with an absolute assent, which we call ‘ecclesiastical faith,’ the following theological truths: (a) those which the Magisterium has infallibly defined in solemn fashion; (b) those which the ordinary magisterium dispersed throughout the world unmistakably proposes to its members as something to be held (tenendas). So, for example, one must give an absolute assent to the proposition: ‘Pius XII is the legitimate successor of St. Peter’; similarly … one must give an absolute assent to the proposition: ‘Pius XII possesses the primacy of jurisdiction over the entire Church.’ For    skipping the question of how it begins to be proven infallibly for the first time that this individual was legitimately elected to take St. Peter’s place [i.e., the doctrine of UPA]    when someone has been constantly acting as Pope and has theoretically and practically been recognized as such by the bishops and by the universal Church, it is clear that the ordinary and universal magisterium is giving an utterly clear-cut witness to the legitimacy of his succession.” (Van Noort, Sources of Revelation (Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press, 1957, p. 265.)

As Van Noort and others have explained, if a man has been practically recognized by the bishops and the universal Church as Pope (as is the case with Pope Francis), the Church has infallibly judged that he is the Pope. And if the Church has infallibly judged that a man is Pope, his legitimacy as Pope cannot later be called into question due to alleged defects in his election. To do so would be a rejection of the Church’s infallibility, at least implicitly. This explains why the ‘universal acceptance’ of a Pope is a one-time event that eliminates any future doubts about the validity of his election.

The Consequences of Rejecting this Doctrine

If the entire hierarchy could “theoretically and practically” recognize a man as Pope, and then find out years later that he was not the true Pope, it would mean the Church is not infallible in judging dogmatic facts “when she is exercising the full weight of her authority through her ordinary and universal teaching,” and giving “utterly clear-cut witness” to the legitimacy of a Pope,” by accepting “the legitimacy of his succession.”   And if that were the case, then no pontificate (past or present) would be safe; and if no pontificate is safe, no Cardinal appointed by a Pope and no dogma defined by a Pope is safe. Any possible doubt about the legitimacy of a Pope who the entire hierarchy has accepted as Pope, is potential doubt about every papal act, and every dogma that has been defined by a Pope, who the universal Church accepted as Pope. This, of course, is impossible.

Now, there have been times when the identity of the true Pope was not known with certainty, such as during the Great Western Schism, or other times when there were multiple papal claimants. When this happens, the Church herself does not consider the legitimacy of any Pope to be dogmatic fact (“a doubtful Pope is considered no Pope),” unless and until the doubt is cleared up.  But this applies to a Pope whose election has always been in doubt, not one that was accepted by the entire Church and later became doubtful.  As Fr. Wernz explains in his teaching on a doubtful Pope, “the words 'No pope' are not necessarily understood of a Pope who has previously been received as certain and undoubted by the whole Church, but concerning whose election so many difficulties are subsequently brought to light that he becomes 'a doubtful pope' so that he would thereby forfeit the pontifical power already obtained.  This understanding of the axiom concerning 'a doubtful pope' should be reproved…” (Fr. Franz X. Wernz, Ius Decretalium, Tomus II, Romae: De Propoganda Fide, 1898, Scholion 618). 

When the entire Church has recognized a man as Pope, his legitimacy cannot later be doubted without calling into question the infallibility of the Church in judging dogmatic facts, and implicitly undermining the legitimacy of every previous Pope and every papal act.

Now, before addressing Bugnolo’s next objection, listen to what Fr. Hunter says about dogmatic facts in his book, Outlines of Dogmatic Theology (1894). His explanation shows how Catholic theologian in the nineteenth century refuted the Protestants who pointed to legal defects in past papal elections, in an attempt to prove that the line of true Popes had come to an end. 

“Dogmatic Facts: - But besides these speculative truths, there are certain matters of fact concerning which the Church can judge with infallibly certainty. These are called by many writes dogmatic facts [.]

“First, then, the Church is infallible when she declares what person holds the office of Pope; for if the person of the Pope were uncertain, it would be uncertain what Bishops were in communion with the Pope; (…)  Also, it affords an answer to a much vaunted objection to the claims of the Catholic Church, put forward by writers who think that they find proof in history that the election of a certain Pope was simoniacal and invalid, and that the successor was elected by Cardinals who owed their appointment to the simoniacal intruder; from which it is gathered that the Papacy has been vacant since that time. A volume might be occupied if we attempt to expose all the frailness of the argument which is supposed to lead to this startling conclusion; but it is enough to say that if the Bishops agree in recognizing a certain man as Pope, they are certainly right, for otherwise the body of the Bishops would be separated from their head, and the Divine constitution of the Church would be ruined.” (Hunter, Outlines of DogmaticTheology, Volume I (New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, Benzinger Brothers, 1894) ch. VI, N. 211.

Here is how Fr. Kavanagh replied to this same Protestant argument:

“Mr. Gladstone need not be alarmed about the papal succession. Independently of all previous proceedings, the acceptance of Martin V by the Universal Church as lawful Pope proves that his election was canonical and legitimate; for the recognition of the true Pope is a dogmatic fact in which the Universal Church cannot err.” (Rev. James Kavanagh, D.D., A Reply to Mr. Gladstone’s Vaticanism, Dublin, James Guffy, 1895, p. 54)

Notice Fr. Kavanaugh says the acceptance of the universal Church “proves” the election was legitimate and canonical. That’s how the Catholic theologians and canonists of the nineteenth century refuted the Protestants who used arguments that are essentially identical to those of Br. Bugnolo as the basis for rejecting the legitimacy of numerous Popes.  This bring us to Bugnolo’s final objection.


What is a Legitimate Election?


Br. Bugnolo: “Siscoe also ignores that John of St. Thomas explicitly said that the concept of universal acceptance regards a legitimate election. That any theologian before or after omits that condition proves nothing, because as anyone who knows theology knows, many authors repeat doctrines imprecisely and incompletely, and their doing of such does not alter the doctrine. Thus you cannot escape from the fundamental condition of the notion of universal acceptance which only regards LEGITIMATE ELECTIONS.”

This objection further highlights Bugnolo’s ignorance of the subject matter he pretends to know. If he had actually read John of St. Thomas’ treatise, he would have learned what is required for a “LEGITIMATE ELECTION,” and would no doubt have been disappointed to learn that Francis’ election meets the necessary criteria. Here is John of St. Thomas’ explanation:

“whoever is elected by the persons that the Church designates to choose a pope in her name, by the very fact that he is accepted by the Church as legitimately elected, is in fact pope. This latter is what the definition of Martin V, related above, as well as the acceptance of the Church, is really about. (…)

As we can see, the two requirements for a legitimate election are: 1) that he is elected by those chosen by the Church to elect (the Cardinals). 2) that the Church accepts the election as legitimate. In other words, a papal “election” is “legitimate” when the Church accepts it as such. Here is what the Dominican theologian further says about the second condition.

“Christ the Lord entrusted it to the Church to choose for herself a man who, for a certain period of time, would be the sort of rule of faith just described; and, consequently, the Church also received the commission to determine, by her own act of acceptance, that this man was canonically and legitimately elected. (…)
Thus, it is the Church’s act of acceptance that determines if the election is “legitimate and canonical.”  It doesn't require the “act of acceptance” from Br. Bugnolo or Ann Barnhardt, regardless of how authoritative they imagine their interpretation of canon law, their private judgment of the facts, and their personal act of acceptance to be.
Also notice in the previous quote that John of St. Thomas said this second condition is what “the definition of Martin the V is about.” This is another critical point. John is explaining the Magisterial foundation of the doctrines of UPA and dogmatic facts. The definition he is referring to comes from the Council of Constance, in the form of a proposition that those suspected of heresy were required to affirm in order to determine if they “believed rightly.”  It is a proposition that pertains to the Faith itself, and those who did not answer “yes” were marked as heretics.

Here is the definition along with John of St. Thomas’ commentary:

“Martin V, in the Council of Constance, in the condemnation of the errors of Wyclif, which is to be found after the fourth, fifth, and last sessions of the Council, in the interrogations that are to be made of those whose faith is suspect, to see whether they rightly believe, puts this question.  Also, whether he believes that the Pope canonically elected, who is reigning at the time (his proper name being given), is the successor of Blessed Peter, having supreme authority in the Church of God?  [Denz. 674] These words do not speak of the truth of that proposition understood in a general sense—namely, that whoever is lawfully elected is the Supreme Pontiff—but in the particular, concerning whoever is pope at the time, giving his proper name, for instance, Innocent X.  It is of this man, whose proper name is given, that the pope is bidding the person suspect in faith to be asked, whether he believes that such a person is the successor of Peter and the Supreme Pontiff: therefore this pertains to the act of faithnot to an inference or a moral certitude; for neither of the latter two is a matter of faith….
“Therefore, we have the certainty of faith, by a revelation implicitly contained in the Creed and in the promise made to Peter, and made more explicit in the definition of Martin V, and applied and declared in act (in exercitio) by the acceptance of the Church, that this man in particular, canonically elected according to the acceptance of the Church, is Pope. The certainty of faith touches this alone; and whatever is prerequisite to, or else follows upon, the fact of the election, is inferred as a theological conclusion drawn from the proposition that is de fide, and is believed mediately. … The Church accepts the election and the elect as a matter of faith, because as she receives him as the infallible rule of faith, and as the supreme head to whom she is united—for the unity of the Church depends upon her union with him. 

Notice that the legitimacy of a Pope is de fide if he has been “canonically elected according to the acceptance of the Church,” not the according to the acceptance of Br. Bugnolo or Ann Barnhardt.

Those who refuse to accept a Pope whose election the Church has accepted as legitimate – and who the Church recognizes as its supreme head – reject a matter of the faith itself.

The renowned is the eighteenth-century canonist, Louis Ferraris, confirms that the legitimacy of the currently reigning Pope is de fide, by virtue of this definition of Martin V. He also confirms that it is the Church’s acceptance that determines if the election is legitimate:

“It is of faith (de fide) that Benedict XIV [currently reigning Pope], for instance, legitimately elected and as such by the Church’s acceptance, is the true Pope. This is proved from the Council of Constance, sess. ult. where Martin V. Const. Inter Cunctus, decrees that those who return from heresy to the faith shall be asked, among other points, ‘Whether they believe that the Pope canonically elected, for the time being, his name being expressly mentioned, is the successor of St. Peter, having supreme authority in the Church of God.’ For thereby he supposes it to be an article of faith, since those who abjure heresy are ‘interrogated only as to truths of faith.’ … and it is certain from the fact that the Church receives him as legitimately elected, that God himself reveals to us the election is legitimate (quoque est certa, quia eo ipso quod Ecclesia ipsum recepit ut légitime electum, revelat Deus ipsius electionem esse legitimam); (Ferraris, Louis, Prompta Bibliotheca Canonica Iuridica Moralis Theologica. (Romae: S. C. De Propaganda Fide, 1764) article Papa, Nos. 67).

This is how all the scholastic theologians interpreted and applied the definition of Martin V. To read other theologian’s commentary on this definition, see here.  

To sum up our reply to Br. Bugnolo’s objection. The legitimacy of Francis’ election meets both requirements listed by John of St. Thomas: 1) He was elected by those designated by the Church to elect a Pope, and 2) his election has been accepted as canonically valid and legitimate by the Church ever since. Therefore, the legitimacy of his election must be affirmed as a matter of faith, according to the definition of Martin V. And, ironically enough, the same has been affirmed by the very man Alex Bugnolo claims is still the Pope: Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) himself.

Cardinal Ratzinger: Benevacantists are Outside the Church

In 1998, Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict), as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, issued a commentary on the 1989 Professio fidei (Profession of Faith). In the commentary, the very man that Bugnolo thinks is the true Pope, explains that the legitimacy of a papal election (that the Church accepts as legitimate, as is the case with Pope Francis), must be held as de fide, based on the infallibility of the Church’s Magisterium. Ratzinger’s theology is consistent, of course, with that of Berry, Tanquery, Van Noort, John of St. Thomas, and every other theologian who has addressed the subject matter (we list 40 of them on our website at www.trueorfalsepope.com).

The 1989 Professio fidei includes three categories of truths: (a) dogmas, (b) doctrines definitely taught by the Church (but not defined as formally revealed), and (c) doctrines taught authoritatively, but not definitively, by the Magisterium.  In his commentary, Cardinal Ratzinger explains the nature of assent that is owed to truths contained in each of the respective categories, and describes the consequences of failing to give the required assent. The legitimacy of a papal election falls into the second category, as a dogmatic fact.  Here is how Cardinal Ratzinger describes the second category of truths:

“The second proposition of the Professio fidei states: ‘I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.’

“The object taught by this formula includes all those teachings belonging to the dogmatic or moral area, which are necessary for faithfully keeping and expounding the deposit of faith, even if they have not been proposed by the Magisterium of the Church as formally revealed. Such doctrines can be defined solemnly by the Roman Pontiff when he speaks 'ex cathedra' or by the College of Bishops gathered in council, or they can be taught infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Church as a ‘sententia definitive tenenda’.  Every believer, therefore, is required to give firm and definitive assent to these truths, based on faith in the Holy Spirit's assistance to the Church's Magisterium, and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium in these matters.”

The commentary goes on to explain precisely what truths are contained in the second category and (you guessed it) it includes the legitimacy of the election of a Pope:

“The truths belonging to this second paragraph can be of various natures, thus giving different qualities to their relationship with revelation. There are truths which are necessarily connected with revelation by virtue of an historical relationship [i.e., dogmatic facts]; (…) With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given: the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff…”

What is the consequence of denying a truth in the second category?  Cardinal Ratzinger explains:

“Whoever denies these truths [second category] would be in a position of rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine[1] and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.”

     So, according to the official commentary on the 1989 Profession of Faith, issued by Cardinal Ratzinger as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, anyone who refuses to give a definitive assent to the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff is guilty of denying a Catholic doctrine, and therefore is no longer “in full communion with the Catholic Church;” or, to use pre-Vatican II terminology, has cut himself off from the Church, outside of which there is no salvation.

Needless to say, no exception is made for those who reject an election that the Church has accepted as legitimate, based upon their personal speculations of coerced resignations, irregular Conclaves, private interpretation of canon law, and the like. That is because the Church’s acceptance of the legitimacy of an election is an infallible act. If Magisterium accepts the election as legitimate, it must be definitely held as legitimate based on the infallibility of the Church.

Thus, Br. Bugnolo’s pet theory that Benedict’s abdication was not accepted by Christ because he used the wrong word (ministerium instead of munus), and his consequence rejection of the legitimacy of Francis’ election, is a rejection of what the Church has definitively proposed as a matter of faith, and which “is necessary for faithfully keeping and expounding the deposit of faith.”

What Br. Bugnolo doesn’t understand is that just as Christ is the efficient cause that makes a man Pope by joining the form to the matter, so too is He is the efficient cause of “unmaking” a man Pope, if he abdicates, by separating the form from the matter.  Christ is not restrained by human ecclesiastical law. No legal technicality (even if one did exist) can prevent Christ from disjoining a man from the Papacy, especially if the Pope convinced the entire Catholic world that he was resigning, and then sat idly by as a Conclave was convened and elected a new Pope.  All of Bugnolo’s canonical arguments presuppose that Christ is constrained by human ecclesiastical law, and every one of them, which are intended to prove that Benedict’s abdication was not accepted by Christ, are proven to be false by the “fact” (dogmatic fact) that Francis’ election was accepted by the entire Church, in the days, weeks, months that followed.

Francis is the Pope the Church deserved, and he’s the Pope the Church needed to wake up the sleeping faithful. And they are now awake.  Just look at the vile reaction to the recent Pachamama scandal, and compare it to the “non-reaction” of sorts to John Paul II’s 1986 Assisi prayer meeting (where, among other things, a statue of Buddha was placed on a Catholic altar) - which was an even graver scandal and sacrilege.   The Holy Ghost has not failed in His Mission, and Christ is bringing good out of the evil He has permitted.

"Benevacantism" is the term used to describe the idea that Benedict remains Pope, but the meaning itself implies the opposite (that Benedict is still Pope).  The proper term would be "Beneplenefrancisvacantism."  We use "Benevacantism" only because this has become the commonly used phrase. 


[1] John Paul II, Motu proprio Ad tuendam fidem (May 18, 1998).

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