The pope comes up in Daily Wire’s election coverage
During last night’s election coverage, the hosts of the Daily Wire turned to casually discussing the papacy. Jeremy Boreing, Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens, Andrew Klavan, Michael Knowles and Matt Walsh raised questions about the papacy and the transfer of power in the wake of Pope Benedict’s 2013 resignation as they anticipated returns on the midterm elections.
“We’ve talked off-stage, I don’t know if we’ve talked on the show,” mused Jeremy Boreing, “what happens if Francis dies before Benedict?” Michael Knowles sardonically replied, “Sure would be weird wouldn’t it?”
Knowles went on to explain that some people believe that the papacy cannot be resigned. To Knowles’ point, in fact, before Pope Benedict abdicated on Feb. 28, 2013, Pope Gregory XII was the most recent pope to have resigned. He did so in 1415 in order to allow a pope to be elected at the Council of Constance and thereby end the Western Schism. And prior to Gregory’s resignation, Pope Celestine V renounced the papacy in 1294. And in addition to the resignation of Benedict IX in 1045, several other resignations have been handed down in the annals of history. So historically, a resignation is rare, but certainly possible, and has happened more than once.
Boering then wondered if a resignation would sever the right of governance, like a divine right king losing his lineage. The Church teaches, “Just as in the Gospel, the Lord so disposing, St. Peter and the other apostles constitute one apostolic college, so in a similar way the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are joined together.” The pope is the foundation of the Church’s unity and the head of the bishops. But because the pope is elected by the members of the College of Cardinals, which currently has 128 members eligible to participate in a conclave, the office is not handed down, as if to an heir. Ultimately, as Knowles says, the papacy is guided by the Holy Spirit, who will never leave the Church.
Moreover, Knowles noted that although Pope Benedict XVI resigned for health reasons, he is alive and well nearly 10 years later. In fact, as Knowles mentions, he occasionally even writes theological commentary, such as this recent letter addressed to a conference at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
In his resignation letter, Pope Benedict writes, “In today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.” Others have speculated that the principal reasons for Pope Emeritus Benedict’s resignation have more to do with an inability to lead a reform of Vatican governance than with personal health.
But all of these questions notwithstanding, the main question raised in the Daily Wire’s election coverage remains: What happens if Pope Francis were to die before Pope Benedict?
While the exacting details of the role of a pope emeritus in the funeral rites and public ceremonies of a reigning pontiff would no doubt be considered by canonical and liturgical experts the main question has a simple answer. A conclave would be called and a new pope would be elected. A once resigned pontiff would not again take up the mantle of Petrine ministry simply because the See of Rome had been vacated.