ASK FATHER: If Francis resigned… then what?

I’ve had a lot – A LOT – of emails about various aspects of the possibility of Pope Francis’ resignation.  There is talk about this, since The Viganò Testimony.  More and more people are calling for Francis to resign.  That’s a popular trend these days, however.  If someone has a bad hair day, they MUST RESIGN!    Seriously, this is a far graver situation than that, but it is hard for me to imagine that Francis would consider abdicating even for 2 full seconds.

Nevertheless, I am getting questions along this line.

From a reader…


Hi Father, If in whatever way, Pope Francis stopped being Pope; Canonically, could Pope Benedict renounce his resignation and return to the Papacy? Mentally, it seems that he is very alert and he could be in office just long enough to remove bad members of the hierarchy and replace them with good ones and then again and then a conclave could be called and a new Pope could be elected?

Let’s think this through.

If Francis were to resign…

Scenario 1: There would be a conclave, the cardinals would come and elect a successor.  They are free to elect whom they wish.  They could re-elect Benedict!  He could then accept or refuse.  Say he accepts.  He is again, indisputably, the Pope hopefully until the natural end of his days.  Enough of this resignation stuff.

Scenario 2: Francis resigns.  However, enough evidence is produced to prove that there was something wrong with Benedict’s resignation in 2013.  They say Benedict was pressured out of office and his resignation was null.  That means that Benedict is still the Pope now.  He can’t be reelected.   Any conclave that would be called after Francis resignation from an office he never held would be seriously compromised because a) lots of the cardinals in it aren’t really cardinals and b) the man elected would be an anti-Pope.  Benedict would be Pope thereafter until his dying day.  Unless he resigned for real.

Scenario 3: Benedict really did resign, but there were enough shenanigans in the conclave, violations of JP2’s and B16’s regulations, that the electors or the elected were somehow banned from licit participation or holding office.  That would mean that the results of the election were faulty and that there is now an anti-Pope.  But there isn’t a true Pope either because Benedict legitimately resigned.  That would mean that the cardinal electors who were cardinals at the time of Benedict’s resignation in 2013 would have to convince every one that they alone should be in a new conclave and elect Benedict’s successor.  They could re-elect Benedict if they wanted to.  Then, see the end of Scenario 1.

Scenario 4: Francis resigns and two factions of cardinals gather in separate, rival conclaves.   They might elect different guys… or the same guy!  A third party?  Benedict?  Probably different guys.  Then we have a problem that is harder to work through.

Shades of the Council of Constance!

And in that time, there were rival claimants and questionable cardinal electors and saints on both sides and post factum sanations of acts.   Whew.

Anyway, one could write a rip-snorter TV series out of this!

Anyway, I would once again be able to dust off my old “RE-ELECT BENEDICT” Swag in my online shop from before the 2013 conclave and we could reform the “Committee To Re-Elect The Pope“.  I shut that shop down after the 2013 conclave, of course.  But there was some fun stuff in it!   Car-flags, stickers, campaign buttons, yard signs.

I have an old button, still.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. I like Bishop Gracida’s argument, on his blog, if for anything that it raises the question of how the current papal crisis might be resolved. 40 years as a bishop, of 3 different dioceses, reputation as one of the most traditional and conservative American bishops, 60 years as a priest, WWII tail gunner, mentally sharp, and only 95 years old! Should count for something.

  2. McCall1981 says:

    I wonder if there is any chance Francis’ advisors will convince him to resign?
    When the Viganò testimony came out I had hope that he would resign soon, but now it seems like he won’t.
    My hope now is that maybe he will wait a little while (like six months or something) then resign so it doesn’t look directly connected to Vigano, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

  3. sorengard says:

    I’d just settle for Cardinal Wuerl to resign at this point…

  4. Anne C. says:


  5. There are those who believe the underlying premises of Scenarios 2 and 3 — that either Pope Benedict’s abdication was of no effect, or that the Holy See is vacant. It’s interesting how many of us would rather believe that we have either an anti-pope or no Pope at all than that we have a bad Pope. I’m not sure what that betokens. Maybe it’s a want of faith in some area. Or, it could be just plain denial. Perhaps the people who hold those views find comfort in them. I can’t say I find them comforting. None of it is comforting. None of it should be comforting.

  6. JesusFreak84 says:

    1 & 2 are out; there were concerns about Cardinal Ratzinger’s age and health when he was elected, and he looks a LOT older and more “feeble” now. 3 I could live with, tough as it would be, (because there WOULD be mass apostasies over the matter, IMHO,) and 4 terrifies me. It’s hard enough to find a good parish these days, and that’s with everyone, on paper, acknowledging the same Papal authority.

  7. Dismas says:

    Was Leo X a legitimate pope? Alexander VI? Boniface VIII? Certainly, and they will provide scandal for centuries to come (provided there are centuries to come at all, of course).

    Pope Francis may surpass them all, even stacked together, and yet I do not challenge his legitimacy. If anything, that the Church will survive his perverse reign, and those of his chosen bishops, shall be a tremendous proof of Indefectability.

    That doesn’t mean that I would be against a plague of rats boiling up and devouring the evildoers alive this October.

    Come what may, I will read Psalm 2 and be restored.

  8. Amerikaner says:

    I do not think that should people should be asking the Pope to resign. This situation would be different from Pope Benedict’s which is believed to have been made under no pressure. However for Pope Francis it would certainly be made under presssure and then there would be the whole issue under canon law as to whether he really resigned or not… and the Church would have a mess come out of that. But more importantly, it would allow outside actors to try to get dirt or even fake things to pressure a Pope to resign. The Papacy would forever be open to outside influences and blackmail. I think we need to live with a Pope no matter if he be good or bad until the end of his days to prevent such scenarios.

  9. BrionyB says:

    I wish Benedict had never resigned, but I agree it seems unlikely he will return now, given his age and health. Option 4 seems… not impossible, given how acrimonious the divide between different factions seems to have become, and how openly tradition is being defied. Maybe we are due for another major schism?

    It’s all very worrying, but worth remembering that the Church has been through such turbulent times (and worse) before, as Fr. Z alludes to, and the Church has survived and WILL survive. We ordinary Catholics need to focus on the things we can control, like keeping our own faith strong, praying the Rosary every day, living and witnessing as good Catholics, whatever happens around us. We know the gates of Hell will not prevail, so someday the Church will emerge from this crisis, whether or not we live to see it.

  10. defenderofTruth says:

    I don’ find scenario 2 that far-fetched, mainly because of the absolute reversal in handling abusive priests and bishops under Francis. Mueller and 3 good CDF priests out, because they take their job seriously, “rehabilitation” of unrepentant vile men, creation of a “cabinet” stacked with men of questionable character and more. There was much at stake for the Lavender Mafia in 2013. Its not implausible that Benedict XVI could have been forced out.

    But until there’s proof (or even a legitimate allegation), Francis is the pope, and all those cardinals whom he elevated are still cardinals, warts and all.

  11. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Of course popes can resign. Aegidius Romanus wrote up the documents about it for the popes back in the day.

    But Pope Francis is not the kind of guy who would voluntarily resign a post, if not forced out. Everyone else could leave the Vatican, and the world could end and the dead rise. You would still find Francis sitting in his Domus throneroom, grasping at power. Our Lord would have to come to him to do judgment, or send angels to carry him off.

  12. taylorhall95 says:

    It’s interesting how many people are willing to dismiss those who have legitimate questions about whether Francis was canonically elected or not. While I could see it going both ways (yes he was legitimate and bad, or he was illegitimate), I have to say that there are enough suspicious circumstances surrounding Pope Benedict’s resignation that imply that he could have been coerced, and similarly there is evidence of illegal “campaigning” for Pope that took place, which would invalidate the election under the 1983 Code of Canon Law. So it may be the case, or it may not be, either way both options aren’t great.

  13. Black Jaque says:

    I suppose if there were too much pressure to resign, Pope Francis supporters could claim it as an invalid resignation, no?

    Perhaps Fr. Z or someone more erudite than I could answer this question: Can individual bishops refuse to allow the Pope to preach in their diocese? They can do so for other bishops. And where is the next World Youth Day?

    If bishops have this authority, they could refuse to allow Fr. Martin to speak at any big events such as WMOF (if it were in their diocese). And if the good bishops made this a strong a clear practice, we could start a spreadsheet on what dioceses are allowing Fr. Martin, the Pope, et. al. to speak. Then we would certainly know “who is who” among the bishops.

  14. grumpyoldCatholic says:

    Please bring back the buttons I would buy a few

  15. Sonshine135 says:

    The church is soundly divided, not along faith, but along political ideology. Faith should always trump ideology, but it is clear that we have shepherds that place their ideology over the faith. That is wickedness. I don’t want the Pope to resign, I just want to hear him defend his position, and offer an independent investigation into the matter. Pleading the 5th on issues of abusive priests is a no-go, and implies the Pope has something to hide. Then again, like the dubia, asked for the benefit of the flock, I doubt we will hear squat from this Pope.

  16. Georgemartyrfan says:

    I’d like to request a citation of a previous pope who taught error specifically in grave matters of faith or morals? I’m finding references to Honorius, John XXII, etc, however these were cases where a pope either did not adequately defend the faith, or contradicted settled teaching on the afterlife, neither of which is the pope using his teaching authority to ratify sin.

    It is one thing for me to inadequately discipline my children or wrongly show them how to solve an algebraic equation, it is another to teach them that sin is good. The first two get me in trouble, but the 3rd gets me a millstone.

  17. EC says:

    I believe that the canonical realities are clear… Dr. Peters commented some time ago about it. It was a valid resignation… It was a valid conclave… Being “pressured” is just not nearly enough to remove sufficient freedom, and latae sententiae excommunication has to be declared publicly in order to invalidate public acts of governance.

  18. Kent Wendler says:

    I think we need to pray (and fast) that the Holy Spirit will resolve this situation. I suspect that no purely human intervention will work.

  19. Dismas says:

    Just because there has not been a pope that has been so focused upon intentionally perverting and confusing the Church doesn’t invalidate him. The Devil has been given his time and his power these days.

    Notice how all the appaling things that have been done were specifically outside of the strict definition of infallibility?

  20. Georgemartyrfan says:

    @ Dismas, our Lord is not a deceiver and so I do not believe His promises or the Church’s teaching on infallibility ride on an overly legalistic understanding of how infallibility is applied. The papacy, in order to mean anything, must faithfully teach our Lord’s teachings regarding faith and morals. It’s not that hard.
    Can a pope be weak and still be pope? Yes.
    Can he be corrupt? Yes.
    Can he be silent? Yes.
    Can he teach the anti-Faith and still be pope? NO.

    Perhaps his errors fall short of bright-line infallible teaching, but couldn’t the constant error of this “papacy” merely be evidence that he never was a valid pope. Aren’t there enough red flags to demand a serious review?

    Oh, and Pope Benedict still wears white.

  21. PTK_70 says:

    Even should the cries for resignation reach a fever pitch, we might ask ourselves: do we really want a papacy beholden to the howling masses? Do we really want the people to have the power to oust the Supreme Pontiff?

    My view is that reform is a long game and shan’t be quickly accomplished by means of explosive revelations.

  22. Dismas says:

    God is not a deceiver, but Satan is. It should be noted that demons are well known to take advantage of every legalistic claim, no matter how arcane or esoteric. If they are given an unprecedented degree of power of late, they will press that to the utmost theoretical possibility.

    That said, Pope Francis hasn’t TAUGHT heresy. He has encouraged it by numerous means, but has been thusfar fastidious in not explicitly and publicly teaching error himself.

  23. Orlando says:

    There is absolutely no way Francis will resign. Have you ever heard of a Latin American strong man voluntarily giving up power??? It doesn’t happen.

  24. veritas vincit says:

    Scnarios 2, 3 and 4 are starting to sound like something out of a Dan Brown conspiracy novel.

    Of course, ever since the Viganò letter broke, it has seemed we are all in a Dan Brown conspiracy novel. I’ve been waiting for the Tom Hanks symbologist character to show up.

    But as for re-electing Pope Benedict — I’d support that!

  25. Alexander Verbum says:

    I would rather not re-elect someone who shared in the post-conciliar disasters of ecumenism and irreligious dialog (Assisi III) and who praises de Lubac, Balthasar, and Wojtyla. A man fully invested in the post-conciliar novelties except for the liturgy. Hows about someone else, huh?

  26. Dismas says:

    I love Pope-emeritus Benedict. I gladly would buy more of his books, were I not under strict orders to not collapse the bookshelf. That said, his condition is frail.

    I would, however, be on the verge of tears in gratitude for Cardinals Burke, Sarah, Müller, etc. to put the Barque back on course.

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  28. grumpyoldCatholic says:

    where is Jude Law when you need him?

  29. Matamoros says:

    Fr. Z, is it possible that the College of Cardinals could rule that because of Francis’ crimes against faith and morals that he has lost (been deposed from) the See, and convene to elect a new Pope.

  30. Matamoros says: is it possible that the College of Cardinals could rule

    The College of Cardinals is not a body that, on its own, can do much along these lines. They have, as a college, a determined function laid out with documents, when the See of Peter is empty, and only the function which is outlined. The members of the College do things “as Cardinals” when the Roman Pontiff summons them or deputes them to do something either as a group or individually. They don’t act on their own as an official body. The Cardinal in, for example, New York is primarily the Archbishop of New York. Being Cardinal there doesn’t give him any special privileges other than his attire and form of address.

    If it happened that a bunch of Cardinals got together to make some determinations about X or Y, they would be doing so as men who happened also to be Cardinals. They could not depose a Pope. At best, they could produce evidence which they could show to the Pope and to the world, to induce him to step down. They have no authority to try, judge, or condemn a Pope. But, since facts are stubborn things, their concluding arguments would be as persuasive as their evidence and procedures were sound.

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