As I said in a comment earlier this morning, what we are trying to provide here with our articles on the status of the papacy is clarity in the midst of escalating confusion. Just as Amoris Laetitia muddied the waters on sin and marriage, the thesis that Benedict is still the pope muddies our understanding of Church authority, infallibility, and the papacy.
We all know that Francis is a problem. And we have to find ways to deal with that. But I don’t see how we can address anything effectively if we can’t even agree on the Church’s authority to do an absolutely basic, fundamental task: tell us who our leader is. This is imperative because of the charism of the office of the papacy. We have to know if we owe submission to the man who holds it through any authentic exercise of his Magisterium or not.
This is why the Church teaches that it is infallibly certain that a pope universally accepted is the pope. Francis was universally accepted — as Robert Siscoe said, this isn’t mathematical unanimity, but practical universality. John of St. Thomas explains what universal acceptance consists of:
All that remains to be determined, then, is the exact moment when the acceptance of the Church becomes sufficient to render the proposition de fide. Is it as soon as the cardinals propose the elect to the faithful who are in the immediate locality, or only when knowledge of the election has sufficiently spread through the whole world, wherever the Church is to be found?
I REPLY that (as we have said above) the unanimous election of the cardinals and their declaration is similar to a definition given by the bishops of a Council legitimately gathered. Moreover, the acceptance of the Church is, for us, like a confirmation of this declaration. Now, the acceptance of the Church is realized both negatively, by the fact that the Church does not contradict the news of the election wherever it becomes known, and positively, by the gradual acceptance of the prelates of the Church, beginning with the place of the election, and spreading throughout the rest of the world. As soon as men see or hear that a Pope has been elected, and that the election is not contested, they are obliged to believe that that man is the Pope, and to accept him.
I am posting this today as a point of reference. I see a lot of argument over what “universal acceptance” means, but it’s much simpler than people think. And if the explanation of John of St. Thomas is correct — and I have no reason to believe that it isn’t — then we can see that Francis was universally accepted.
I strongly recommend that those who would like a more in-depth explanation of the concept of peaceful and universal acceptance read this.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.