Apologetics for the Masses #417: Is Pope Francis an Anti-Pope

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Patrick Coffin recently recorded a video titled: "Seven Pieces of Evidence that Francis is an Anti-Pope".  Let's look at the evidence.

General Comments

Hey folks,

2 things:

1) If you are in the Birmingham metro area, I will be doing a 3-part apologetics series at St. Theresa's parish in Leeds, beginning tomorrow night (March 22nd), and continuing the following two Tuesdays.  It will begin at 6:30 PM and end at 8:00 PM.  It is open to all and is absolutely free.  We will be in the parish hall.  The purpose of the series is to simply teach Catholics how to engage with others to explain, defend, and share the faith. 

2) If any of you are in the Fresno area, I'll be there on Friday, April 8th, to speak at the breakfast meeting of the Catholic Professional and Business Club at 8:00 AM.  The breakfast will be at Pardini's.  If you're interested in attending, contact the CP&BC at: cpbcfresno.org.

Introduction

     In this issue of the newsletter I'm going to look at the arguments that Patrick Coffin (former host of EWTN's Catholic Answers Live radio program) presents in a video he put out titled: Seven Pieces of Evidence That Francis is an Antipope.  An anti-pope, of course, is someone who claims to be pope, and that a number of people think is the pope, but he's really not the pope - he wasn't validly elected.  If you want to watch the video, it's a little over 30 minutes long and you can find it here: https://www.patrickcoffin.media/seven-pieces-of-evidence-that-francis-is-an-antipope/

     What I want to do is simply look at those seven pieces of evidence he presents, comment on each of them, and then give you my conclusions regarding that evidence, and about Francis, in general.  Hopefully it will prove to be of value to you. 

Challenge/Response/Strategy

Seven Pieces of Evidence that Francis is an Anti-Pope

Introductory Comments

     To open the video, Patrick talks about how, in general, he tries to live his life like a juror at a trial - always examining the evidence of the truth claims or arguments for this or that which are put in front of him.  We need, he says, to rationally sift through the arguments, weigh the evidence - pro and con - and then make a decision based on those arguments and that evidence...along the lines of what you would do were you sitting on a jury.  Listen to the arguments, weigh the evidence, make a decision. I appreciate this type of approach. 

     By the way, it is obvious that he has come to the conclusion, based on the evidence he presents, that Francis is indeed an anti-pope and that Pope Benedict is still the real pope.  So, let's take a look at the evidence and see what's what.  And, obviously, I will be summarizing his arguments as I see them so, again, if you want to hear the entire thing for yourself, click on the link above. 

 

Piece of Evidence #1: The title of "Pope Emeritus" has no precedent in the church and is confusing.

     When I first read the title of this piece of evidence as it was posted in the video, I thought to myself, "Really?!  A protocol issue is evidence?"  But, I listened to what he had to say, and he did make some valid points.  It is indeed a bit confusing as to exactly how this former pope thing...this Pope Emeritus thing...works exactly.  What is Benedict's role?  What is his official status as a pope, or former pope?  And so on.  After all, we haven't had a former pope for over 500 years or so.  So, I can see why no one really knew how he should be addressed from a perspective of protocol.

     But, at the same time, we have plenty of retired bishops who are now called "Bishop Emeritus" and no one blinks an eye.  Of course, being the leader of the entire church is a bit different than being a bishop of a single diocese - there is, after all, only one pope - but the analogy between Bishop Emeritus and Pope Emeritus does hold in some ways.  After all, the bishop is the chief shepherd of his diocesan flock.  So, does having a Bishop Emeritus, especially one that still lives in the diocese, confuse the people?  Does it somehow affect the authority of the bishop?  Does it present protocol problems?  No, not really. 

     Yes, the title of Pope Emeritus is unprecedented - but that's only until the next pope resigns and we then refer to him as Pope Emeritus, as well -  and I have a feeling it won't be another 500 or 600 years before that happens.  Another thing is, do we really know what they called any previous popes after they resigned way back in the day?  Maybe not Pope Emeritus, but they had to have called them something.  That, too, would have been unprecedented at the time.  So, does an unprecedented matter of protocol amount to evidence that Pope Francis is not really the pope?

     Also, we have former Presidents of the United States who are still called, "Mr. President," or "the President," as well as being referred to as "former President".  Again, not a perfect analogy, but there is only one President of the United States at a time, yet we currently have 6 presidents of the United States. 

     So, I found this piece of evidence to be rather unconvincing.

 

Piece of Evidence #2: Pope Benedict XVI seems to have resigned only part of the papacy, the active ministerium, but not the office or  "munus" of the papacy.

     This piece of evidence was a bit more complicated than the first one and, for me, a bit of a stretch.  Patrick is saying, if I'm understanding it correctly, that Pope Benedict resigned the executive functions of the papacy - the duties of the papacy - but he didn't actually resign the office of the papacy.  This didn't resonate with me at all, even after I watched a good chunk of a referenced video of Patrick and Professor Edmund Mazza discussing "munus" and "ministerium".  It just made no sense to me how you could resign the ministerial functions of the office, but not the office itself.  If the office, by its very nature, confers these functions - this authority - on you, then when you resign these functions and authority, how can you be said to still hold the office?  I don't see how the one can be separated from the other.  As if Nixon could have maybe resigned his roles as Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief and so on, yet still retained the Office of the President. This argument just made no sense to me. 

     Plus, the points made with this piece of evidence were exceedingly technical, nuanced, complex, etc.  And whenever someone presents an argument to me in regard to the church that basically requires me to have a degree in canon law, or to be fluent in Latin, or be expert in this area or that area, in order to make an informed decision about the thing in question...well, that always causes me to simply dismiss the argument outright because I ask myself the question: Would Jesus require me to be an expert in this or that or the other thing in order to know the truth about His church?  My answer, always and everywhere, is, "No."  I'll talk about this more in my summary comments. 

 

Piece of Evidence #3: Pope Benedict’s longtime personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein has made statements that appear to affirm Benedict’s continued papal identity.

     My first thought on hearing this evidence was: Who cares what Archbishop Ganswein says?  What authority does he have in such matters?  None.  But, what about statements from Pope Benedict himself?  My thoughts on any statements that might be interpreted as Benedict implying that he is still Pope were basically this: You want me to believe that Benedict "resigned," but didn't really resign, and he's maybe trying to give us veiled messages that he's still the Pope, or some such thing?  That makes no sense whatsoever to me.  First, why would he carry out the charade of resigning only to then start dropping hints that he didn't really resign?  Is he senile?  Is he being controlled by some evil force and can only from time to time give us coded hints not to take his resignation seriously?  At one point Patrick speculates that Benedict was simply too weak to take on the malevolent forces (my wording) that were arrayed against him.  Sorry, I just can't buy that.  Why couldn't he just say, "Hey, the resignation was staged - I was forced to do it - I'm still really the Pope?"  If there was something phony about his resignation - it was a resignation in appearance only, but not in acuality - then Pope Benedict has had ample opportunity in the last several years to set the record straight.  The fact that he has not clearly and unequivocally denounced the resignation as a hoax, or an evil plot, or some such thing leads me to believe he hasn't done so because he doesn't believe any such thing. 

 

Piece of Evidence #4: Pope Benedict’s correct form of address is still “Your Holiness"

     This piece of evidence, as #1 above, is a protocol issue.  As I said earlier, the former presidents are still called, "Mr. President".  Also, a retired bishop is still called, "Bishop," and "Your Excellency".  A retired cardinal is still called "Your Eminence".  Not a perfectly analogous situation to the pope, but pretty close in this juror's mind.  Is there some teaching in the Catechism or somewhere that declares how a former pope should be addressed?  I view this, again, as nothing more than a protocol issue, not a "the Pope isn't really the Pope" issue. 

     The video also mentions that Pope Benedict still wears a white cassock and a white zuchetto.  My response to that is: So what?  Still an issue of protocol more than anything else.  Again, we haven't had a former pope in hundreds of years, so I don't think all the small details were necessarily thought through before he submitted his resignation.  I mean, the guy is probably agonizing over the decision of whether or not he should resign - Will it help the church? Will it hurt the church?  Could I hang on a few more years? and so on.  So, "What will I wear after I resign?" probably wasn't something with a high priority.  And, if it is supposed to be some sort of signal from Benedict himself that he is still the Pope, my question is: Why is he dropping veiled hints as opposed to just coming out and saying, "Hey, I'm still the Pope!"?

     Like the protocol issue in #1, I find this piece of evidence rather unconvincing. 

 

Piece of Evidence #5: There are at least three errors in the official Latin “declaratio” read by Pope Benedict on February 11th, 2013.

     This is one of those arguments about Church things where I need a certain level of expertise in a particular area - this time it is Latin - in order to be able to verify this evidence for myself.  So, on the surface, my tendency is to reject such an argument outright, going back to what I said earlier about Jesus not requiring such expertise for me to know the truth about His church.  However, I will, on occasion, give credence to what trusted experts have to say on a particular matter.  But, the problem here is that Patrick doesn't tell us what those 3 errors are.  He refers the viewer to a book written by a Professor of Law from Columbia (the country, not the university) in order to know what those errors are. 

     Now, this Professor of Law may be exceedingly competent, but I have no way of knowing that.  This reminds me of the sedevacantists I've dealt with in the past who told me: "Just read this book and you'll be convinced that Pius XII was the last real Pope."  Or, "Go to this website and this website and read the articles there and it will convince you."  What authority do these authors have, or do the people who put up those websites have, that I should believe what they say?  Where is the authority in the Church?  In some book or on some website, or in the Magisterium?  Sorry, but if you cannot say, "It says here in the Catechism," or, "At this council of the Church," or, "In this papal encyclical," or even, "Canon XXX of the Code of Canon Law says...," so that I can go and see for myself what the Church teaches on a particular matter, then I am not going to consider your evidence as holding any authority at all.

     He does state, however, that there is a principle in traditional canon law that "every rescript, every brief, every papal bull containing a fault in the Latin language, makes that document null."  That may very well be, but now I have to have expertise in canon law, as well as Latin, to verify this piece of evidence - after I've read the book.  If, for the sake of argument, there are indeed 3 errors in the Latin of Benedict's resignation declaration, does a resignation letter fall under the above-mentioned principle of canon law?  I don't know.  And where is the above-mentioned principle of canon law codified?  I don't know.  All I know is that this piece of evidence, like #2 above, is pretty dadgum technical and, as a juror weighing this evidence, I simply do not have the expertise to rule one way or the other in regards to whether its credible or not.  So, I have no choice but to rule this piece of evidence out.

 

Piece of Evidence #6: “Universal peaceful acceptance by the Church of Francis has never really occurred.

     Here Patrick cites another canonical principle: "Pacifica universalis ecclesia adhaesio," as evidence for Francis being an anti-pope.  This principle, according to the video, dates back to before the medieval era and it supposedly purports to teach that a papal election is not legitimate unless there is "universal peaceful acceptance" of the election. Again, not being an expert in canon law, or Latin, how do I verify this claim?  I could probably do some research into this particular canonical principle and read some articles on it, but am I really in a position to judge whether or not this principle is valid and, if so, if it is relative to the issue of whether or not Francis is pope?  No, I'm not.

     But, there is also the fact that the section of Patrick's video on this piece of evidence was rather confusing.  If you start around the 14:10 mark and go to about the 16:00 minute mark, Patrick seems to be contradicting himself.  I listened to this almost 2-minute section a few times and still could not figure it out.  Maybe it's a sign of my rather stunted intelligence, or maybe its a sign of improper editing or some such thing.  Anyway, it seems to me, that Patrick, after using this "pacifica universalis" principle as evidence that Francis is an anti-pope, then goes on to say that, "The principle was never defined as a dogma," and that it's an "obsolete idea," and that "peaceful" and "universal" have never been defined.  All of which would seem to work against his argument.  If any of you guys listen to it and figure out what exactly he is trying to say there, please let me know.

     Given all of that, I find this piece of evidence to not be credible.

 

Piece of Evidence #7: The canonically illegal behavior of the St. Gallen Mafia cardinals in conspiring to vote in their man from Buenos Aires in 2013 invalidates the Conclave.

     This piece of evidence refers to a small group of European cardinals, known as the St. Gallen Mafia - because they would oft meet together for vacations or conferences in St. Gallen, Switzerland - who purportedly lobbied for, campaigned for, and manipulated circumstances in the effort to have Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, elected pope.  All of which, according to Patrick's interpretation of Universi Domenici Gregis - an apostolic constitution issued in the 90's by Pope St. John Paul II on the topic of papal elections - would invalidate the election of Francis as pope.  Again, I need a certain level of expertise to properly evaluate this claim.  A level of expertise that I do not have.  So that's a problem.

     Secondly, the St. Gallen Mafia was, at the time of Francis' election, comprised of only 3 cardinals who could actually vote for the election of a new pope.  Did this small group of cardinals really sway the outcome of the vote?  And, another question: Even if they didn't influence the vote enough to change the outcome, would their campaigning and scheming to get Bergoglio elected still invalidate the outcome of the election - assuming Coffin's interpretation of Universi Domenici Gregis is correct?  Once again, in order to properly evaluate this evidence, and to properly evaluate Coffin's interpretation of Universi Domenici Gregis, I need some expertise that I simply do not have. 

     Furthermore, in the Catholic Answers' video response to Coffin's video (which I will link to below), the claim is made that Coffin arrives at his interpretation of Universi Domenici Gregis by taking the document out of context.  They say he takes a paragraph from one section of the document and improperly uses it in conjunction with paragraphs from another section of the document which, according to them, invalidates his interpretation of the document.  I could, of course, go and read that particular section of the document for myself, but would it really do me any good?  If I read it and agree with the Catholic Answers folks...so what?  If I read it, and agree with Coffin, so what?  Who am I...what expertise do I have...what authority do I have...to make a definitive call on this document and its interpretation one way or the other?

     All of which leads me to dismiss this piece of evidence as pointing to an invalid election of Pope Francis. 

 

In Summary

     As I said earlier, I very much appreciate the manner in which Patrick Coffin presents his arguments.  He presents his evidence and he simply asks for the viewer/listener to consider the evidence and to make up their own mind.  All good.  So, I have considered the evidence as he has presented it and I have, in case you haven't already figured it out, rejected it as being sufficient to conclude that Pope Francis is an "anti-pope". 

     I do not, however, reject the possibility that Patrick Coffin could ultimately be proven correct.  There is simply no way for me to know with 100% certainty, one way or the other.  But, the evidence as presented in the Coffin video, I find to be exceedingly unconvincing. 

     There are two major concerns that I have with this evidence.  One I have already mentioned and the other I will introduce below.  Those two concerns are:

     1) St. Ambrose said, "Where Peter is, there is the church."  So, if I don't know who the real pope is, then I don't know where the real church is.  So, Patrick Coffin is discussing an issue of grave importance not just for Catholics, but for anyone who is ever searching for the truth.  Given that, I do not believe that Jesus would require me to be exceedingly competent in various fields of knowledge - Latin, canon law, theology, church history, and such - in order to be able to find His Church.  So, any argument for Francis as an anti-pope, or for Benedict to still be pope, or that a papal election was invalid - or arguments such as Vatican II not being a true council of the church or Pius XII having been the last "real" pope or any other such type of argument - that requires me to have expertise in one or more fields of study in order to make a rational judgment regarding the truth of where the church is, I find to be, on its face, an invalid argument. 

     Again, though, I hold out the possibility that I could be wrong on this.  As Patrick points out in the video, we have had situations in the church in the past where people were confused as to which "pope" was the real pope.  So, there have been times where it was difficult to assess who was or was not the real pope.  But, this is how I see it: Let's say that I'm wrong and that Francis is an anti-pope, yet I believe him to be an authentic pope.  Is it a mortal sin to believe someone is pope when they really aren't if I have not been presented with any real way of knowing for sure?  Will God hold me accountable for trusting my bishop who says that Francis really is the Pope or for not having the necessary degrees and expertise to be able to make an informed decision on the matter?

     On the other hand, let's say Francis is really the Pope.  Is it a mortal sin to deny that Peter is Peter?  To deny that the true Pope really is the Pope?  Will God hold me accountable for listening to voices outside of the Magisterium and for denying what my bishop is saying about the matter?  I couldn't tell you either way.  But, what I can say, is I am more comfortable with the former scenario than the latter one.  And I am talking about me, personally, here...I am not talking about Patrick Coffin or anyone else who believes as he does about Pope Francis.

     2) Do a whole lot of people have issues with this current Pope?  Absolutely.  As do I.  After getting used to the very tight wording of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, this Pope's phrasing in certain situations - particularly in airplane press conferences - can make the job of a Catholic apologist pretty difficult at times.  "Did the Pope say homosexuality is okay?" I was asked dozens of times.  "Did the Pope say all atheists go to Heaven?" Got that one any number of times.  And other questions along those same lines..."Did the Pope really say...?"  If you read what he actually said on those issues, and others, the answer is, "No, he didn't really say that."  But, his wording is loose enough that it allows folks to easily misinterpret what he has said.  From a messaging standpoint, not always so good.

     And this whole thing with the pachamama statue was just outright bizarre to me.  And the crackdown on the Latin Mass is very baffling.  And other such things that simply make no sense to me whatsoever.  But, here's the thing: Even if you don't like what the man says and does day in and day out, that doesn't mean that he isn't the Pope.  I am reminded of Matthew 23:1-3, "Then said Jesus to the crowds and to His disciples, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice..." 

     So the scribes and Pharisees were doing things that Jesus did not agree with.  If you read the rest of Matthew 23 you will see how much he disagreed with them.  Yet, the scribes and Pharisees sat on the seat of authority - Moses' seat.  So, the people, and even Jesus' own disciples, were told by Jesus to obey what they said, but not to do what they did.  Pope Francis sits on the seat of authority - Peter's chair.  So, we should obey what he says, and if he is doing things that we think are wrong, then we are not to do them.  We have Jesus' own guarantee that the Pope will not teach us error in matters of faith and morals - which are the two areas in which we are required to obey him when he speaks from the chair.  So, we don't have to agree with him when it comes to politics, or global warming, or economics, or allowing a pachamama procession at the Vatican, or any other such thing.  But, just because we may disagree with him on some things - maybe lots of things - that doesn't make him an anti-pope. 

     As a juror in this trial, then, I vote, "No," to Pope Francis being an anti-pope.  By the way, here is the response from Catholic Answers to Coffin's video: https://www.catholic.com/audio/caf/a-response-to-patrick-coffins-seven-pieces-of-evidence-that-francis-is-an-antipope

Closing Comments

     One other thing: I have just officially signed the agreement with EWTN Publishing to write that book I mentioned to you a few months back.  The tentative is: Problems With Protestantism and Questions Protestants Can't Answer - sort of a two-for-one book.  Hopefully it will be out sometime in the Fall.  Do me a favor and please pray that I can find the time to sit down and put this book together.

     I hope all of you have a great week!

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Apologetics for the Masses