Why I Didn’t Sign the Call for the Resignation of Pope Francis

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Last week a group of 17 prominent Catholics released a “Call for the Resignation of Pope Francis.” In the lengthy statement, they claim that “the words and actions of Pope Francis have caused an unprecedented crisis in the Catholic Church.” The statement details a laundry list of alleged crimes—against canonical, civil, natural, and divine law—committed by Pope Francis during his pontificate, as well as alleged heresies he has promulgated.

Due to these crimes and heresies, the signatories call for Pope Francis to resign the papal office. If he refuses, the signatories request that cardinals and bishops ask Francis to resign. If Francis still refuses, the signatories finally ask the cardinals and bishops to declare that he has lost the papal office. So you see this statement is more than just a call for the resignation of Pope Francis; it is a call for his deposition.

In most times in Church history, such a statement would be shocking and scandalous. But we don’t live in “most times;” we live in an unprecedented time in which the holder of the papal office is a source of division and confusion, rather than one of unity and clarity, as is intended by Our Lord. Desperate times lead to desperate measures, as they say, and calling for the resignation and even deposition of the pope is clearly a desperate measure. But that does not necessarily make it a bad measure.

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Prior to the statement’s release, I was asked to add my name but I declined. I have signed similar public statements in the past, but I did not feel comfortable adding my signature to this particular one, and I’d like to explain why.

I should make clear first that while I don’t know all the signatories, I do know a few, and I have a deep respect for two in particular, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski and John-Henry Westen. I do not doubt the sincerity of their motives, and I know they have thought through this statement in prayer and even trepidation. It was not a rash decision made out of human frustration that led them to sign it, but instead a deep love for the Church, for the office of the papacy, and for souls.

Further, while I have not fully researched every claim made in the statement, on the whole I essentially agree with their analysis of the Francis pontificate. This pontificate has been deeply scandalous, and this statement will be a useful resource for historians when writing about this black mark in the history of the papacy. This pontificate has been deeply scandalous, and this statement will be a useful resource for historians when writing about this black mark in the history of the papacy.Tweet This

So why did I not sign it myself?

First, I think these public statements have diminishing returns. When the first ones were released a few years ago, it was a real story: distinguished Catholics willing to publicly criticize a pope’s actions. But it seems to me that most Catholics now take a “ho-hum dog bites man” approach to them. It’s no secret that many Catholics have serious concerns about Pope Francis and are willing to state them publicly, so another statement isn’t really that newsworthy or effective in moving the needle in the discussion.

Second, it seems a bit unseemly to me for lay people to be calling for the pope to resign. The papacy isn’t a political office in which we start impeachment proceedings when we don’t like what the office-holder is doing. Calling for the resignation of the pope comes across a bit like Republicans trying to oust Bill Clinton or Democrats doing the same to Donald Trump. While the papacy has always been surrounded by political machinations, public calls for the pope to resign or bishops to pressure him to resign is a step too far, in my mind.

There’s also the problem that Francis is the immediate successor to the first pope to resign in eight centuries. To have two popes resign, in succession, gives a strong impression that the papacy is just another political office that can be manipulated and controlled by political factions in the Church. This was the impression of the papacy during the 10th century pornocracy, and it led to an extreme diminishment of the office.

But I have a deeper concern. Note that both of my concerns thus far are prudential matters. I understand that Catholics of goodwill might disagree, and feel that the harm done by this papacy far outweighs the harm that might result from a statement calling for the pope’s resignation. My last concern is more pressing, for it is theological in nature.

The statement declares, “If Pope Francis refuses to resign, the duty of the bishops and cardinals is to proceed to declare that he has lost the papal office for heresy.” This is a daring claim, for the fact remains that it is a debated point in Catholic theology how a pope can be deposed, or even if it is possible. Theologians have debated this in the past with no definitive resolution (despite what that anonymous Catholic account on Twitter might insist). Yet this statement declares that it is the “duty” of the bishops and cardinals to do so.

Can cardinals and bishops declare that a sitting pope has lost his office? If so, how many prelates does it take to make it legitimate? A majority, more than 25%, or something else? What if other cardinals and bishops reject that declaration? What if the pope refuses to accept the declaration?

These are all questions without definitive answers. A number of years ago I wrote an article arguing that a pope cannot be deposed, a position shared by Bishop Athanasius Schneider. Since writing that, however, I have become less sure of that viewpoint. History is messy, including papal history, and I think a good argument can be made that past popes have been deposed on rare occasions, typically by emperors. That being said, there’s still no clear mechanism today for deposing a pope (other than perhaps to have an emperor again!).

To me, then, a statement calling on cardinals and bishops to depose a pope is putting the cart before the horse. First there would need to be agreement on whether such a deposition is possible, and if so, the mechanism to make it happen. Until then, such calls are premature.

My heart is with the signatories of this call, and Catholics must come to grips with the depths of scandal of this papacy. We need to pray for the pope and the Church, and expose the errors and crimes of Pope Francis. But calling for his deposition just adds to the confusion of our times instead of helping relieve it.

Author

  • Eric Sammons

    Eric Sammons is the editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine.

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