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For Each Objection, an Answer: Why Francis Is Pope

This is Part II in a two-part series. Read Part I here

To briefly recap what was shown in Part I, the peaceful and universal acceptance of a pope, following his election, is an infallible sign of his legitimacy and of the presence of all the conditions required for legitimacy. Practically speaking, when the cardinals elect a pope and present him to the Church as having been elected, if the election is not at once contested, or if the man elected is not at once rejected, it provides infallible certitude that he is the true pope, as well as an equal degree of certitude that every condition required for him to have become pope (such as the condition that the papal office was vacant at the time), was satisfied.

Objections and Answers

(The objections in quotation marks are taken verbatim from online sources; the others are paraphrased.)

Objection: “Benedict remains in office. Even if the whole world is in error of fact on the invalidity of Benedict’s renunciation, the belief based on that error, i.e. that Francis has been validly elected pope, cannot nullify the fact that there is already a pope[.] … Universal acceptance cannot validate the election of a man who is elected while another man is still validly holding office[.]

Answer: The error in this objection is evident. It treats a fallible personal opinion (i.e., that Benedict’s abdication was invalid) as an infallible fact, and then uses it to reject a truth that is infallibly certain (i.e., the legitimacy of a pope who has been universally accepted). Here is the syllogism according to this erroneous reasoning:

Major: Francis’s election was accepted by the entire Church, which provides infallible certitude that he became the pope (infallible dogmatic fact).

Minor: Benedict’s resignation was invalid (fallible personal opinion).

Conclusion: Since Benedict’s resignation was invalid, Francis never became the pope (error).

The correct reasoning is as follows:

Major: Francis’s election was accepted by the entire Church, which provides infallible certitude that he became the Pope (infallible dogmatic fact).

Minor: A condition for Francis to have become Pope is that Benedict’s resignation was valid.

Conclusion: Since the entire Church accepted Francis as Pope, it is infallibly certain that Benedict’s resignation was valid.

Objection: “Finally, as regards the universal and peaceful acceptance of a papal election: while this principle is certainly a valid reflex principle for troubled consciences in the case of a valid election, there is no possibility of a valid election when the College had no right to act, for it is contrary not only to Canon Law but to Divine Law to elect another Roman Pontiff while the Pope still lives and has not validly resigned.”

Answer: This objection maintains that “the peaceful and universal acceptance of a pope” provides infallible certitude of a pope’s legitimacy only if his election was valid, but not if it was invalid. To put it another way, it guarantees the legitimacy of a pope only if all the conditions required for him to have become pope were satisfied, but not if they were not satisfied. But if that were the case, the doctrine would serve no purpose at all, since the Church could never have infallible certainty that all the requisite conditions were satisfied and that an election was valid.

The truth is that the universal acceptance of a pope is what guarantees that all the conditions were satisfied, which is why Cardinal Billot said, “[F]rom the moment in which the Pope is accepted by the Church and united to her as the head to the body, it is no longer permitted to raise doubts about a possible vice of election or a possible lack of any condition whatsoever necessary for legitimacy.”

Once again, the root error of this objection is the rejection of a truth that is infallibly certain (and de fide) based on a fallible personal opinion (that Benedict’s abdication was invalid).

The next objection is a continuation of the previous one.

Objection: “It is also not valid, as regards its implicit minor: namely, that there has been a peaceful and universal acceptance of the Papal resignation. There has not, as the preface to this disputed question demonstrates. Hence, the application of this reflex principle to the present case is at best praeter rem, and worse a subterfuge.”

Answer: The validity of a resignation does not require that it be peacefully and universally accepted. All that is required is that it be “made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone” (Can. 332 §2). Therefore, the peaceful and universal acceptance of Benedict’s resignation is not an implicit minor. The minor is that the Chair of Peter was vacant before Francis was universally accepted as Pope; the implicit minor is that Christ accepted Benedict’s abdication and stripped him of the papal office.

Now, as the official declaratio shows, the manifest intention of Benedict was to “renounce the ministry of the Bishop of Rome … in such a way that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant” [1] (minor). The universal acceptance of Francis as pope two weeks later proves that Benedict accomplished his goal (implicit minor).

Objection: “Though, in common law, possession is nine tenths of right, and thus, usurpation can lead to acquisition of right; … it is not valid theologically in regard to an ecclesiastical office which was established by Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, by an immediate personal act. Of which kind is the office of Pope. The theological reason is this: that no one can snatch anything out of the Hand of the Living God (John 10:28). And thus, no usurpation of the papal office can constrain the Godhead, Who is Infinite Justice and Omnipotence Himself, to transfer the grace of the Papal munus to another. To hold otherwise, would be a theological impossibility and absurdity.”

Answer: If a papal claimant usurped the papal office illicitly, without becoming the legitimate pope, he would never be universally accepted as pope by the Church. On the other hand, if his claim to the papacy is universally accepted, it provides infallible certitude that he became the pope. Cardinal Billot explains the reason as follows:

God can permit that at times a vacancy in the Apostolic See be prolonged for a long time. He can also permit that doubt arise about the legitimacy of this or that election. He cannot however permit that the whole Church accept as Pontiff him who is not so truly and legitimately [2].

Objection: The idea that a man is pope just because everyone accepts him as pope is “BS.” “I don’t care if it is completely unanimous,” since “if the entire world is proclaiming something that is false, it does not make that falsehood true.”

Answer: This objection errs 1) by reversing the cause and effect and 2) by a faulty comparison. The universal acceptance of a pope does not cause a man to become pope (“it does not make” him the pope), but rather confirms that he has already become pope.

As the canonists Wernz-Vidal explain, the practically unanimous acceptance of a pope is an “infallible effect” [3] of his legitimacy — or “an infallible sign of his legitimacy” [4], in the words of Cardinal Billot. The effect is the universal acceptance; the cause is a legitimate pope. If the effect (universal acceptance) exists, it provides infallible certainty of the presence of the cause (a legitimate pope). If the cause is not present, neither will be the effect. The following shows how this objection erred by reversing the cause and effect:

“If the entire world is proclaiming (cause) something that is false, it does not make (effect) that falsehood true.”

Here is the correct understanding of the doctrine:

If the entire Church proclaims a man as pope (effect), it is because he is the legitimate pope (cause).

It should also be noted that even if there were a causal relationship between the Church’s acceptance of a pope and his legitimacy as pope, the Church’s universal acceptance “would not make a falsehood true.” Rather, Christ (the efficient cause) would make a non-pope the true pope by conferring upon him the pontifical dignity, which the Church’s acceptance of him as pope would dispose him to receive (the universal acceptance being the dispositive cause). Simply put, if a non-pope became pope as he was gradually universally accepted by the Church, it would be due to Christ making him the pope, not man proclaiming him so.

Objection: Vatican I defined that the pope is infallible and therefore cannot lose the faith or teach heresy. Francis clearly does not have the Faith, and he has taught heresy. This proves that he lacks the protection of the papal office and therefore is a sign that he is not the pope.

Answer: Nowhere did Vatican I define that a pope is unable to lose the Faith or personally teach heresy. What it defined is that he is unable to err when he defines a doctrine, ex cathedra. Cardinal Camillo Mazzella, who held the chair of theology at the Gregorian in the decade following the First Vatican Council, wrote the following in De Religione et Ecclesia (1905):

[I]t is one thing that the Roman Pontiff cannot teach a heresy when speaking ex cathedra (what the Council of the Vatican defined); and it is another thing that he cannot fall into heresy, that is, become a heretic as a private person. On this last question the Council said nothing (De hac questione nihil dixit Concilium); and the theologians and canonists are not in agreement among themselves concerning it. [5]

More than a century after Vatican I, Cardinal Stickler wrote:

No theologian today, even if he accept unconditionally the infallibility of the Roman pontiff, asserts thereby that the pope, speaking in the abstract, cannot personally become a heretic[.] [6]

Objection: Even if Francis became pope after his election, he clearly does not have the faith now, so he can’t be the pope. St. Robert Bellarmine said a heretic is ipso facto deposed.

Answer: In De Ecclesia Militante (Chapter X), Bellarmine shows what his true position is concerning the loss of office for heresy. He explains that a pope who falls into heresy does not lose the pontificate unless 1) he publicly separates himself from the Church or 2) is convicted of heresy by the Church:

It is certain, whatever one or another might think, an occult heretic, if he might be a Bishop, or even the Supreme Pontiff, does not lose jurisdiction, nor dignity, or the name of the head in the Church, until either he separates himself publicly from the Church [7], or being convicted of heresy, is separated against his will.

Francis has not publicly separated himself from the Church, nor has he been convicted of heresy. Therefore, according to Bellarmine, he has not lost his office. And the fact that he remains pope is confirmed by the infallibility of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, which continues to recognize him as pope, thereby providing “clear-cut witness to the legitimacy of his succession” (Van Noort) [8], as was discussed in Part I.

Objection: I know a lot of Catholics who reject Francis as pope, so I deny that he is “universally accepted” as pope.

Answer: Even if someone denies that Francis is “universally accepted” now, he can’t deny that Francis was universally accepted in the weeks and months following his election. That alone suffices to prove he became pope. As Cardinal Billot explains, the legitimacy of a Roman pontiff is infallibly certain “from the moment in which the Pope is accepted by the Church” [9]. John of St. Thomas teaches the same: “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” [10].

Objection: Francis might be “universally accepted,” but he hasn’t been “peacefully” accepted.

Answer: The “peaceful” aspect refers to the election not at once being contested; the “universal” aspect refers to the entire Church learning of the election and not at once contesting it. No one contested Francis’s election until many months after the entire Church had accepted it.

Objection: The papal bull of Paul IV, Cum ex Apostolatus, says pre-election heresy renders null the promotion or elevation of a bishop, a patriarch, or even the Roman pontiff and goes on to say the elevation or promotion does not become valid even if obedience had been “accorded to such by all.” Therefore, universal acceptance does not prove the legitimacy of a pope.

Answer: The first thing to note is that the penal sanctions contained in Cum ex Apostolatus were considered so manifestly unjust and problematic that at the time of Vatican I, the opponents of papal infallibility presented it as evidence that the pope is not infallible. And the defenders of the dogma did not disagree with them concerning the problematic nature of the contents of the document, but instead defended papal infallibility by proving that the bull itself did not meet the conditions for infallibility. Second, Cum ex Apostolatus has been derogated and hence is no longer in force. Third, saying a pope, whose election is null and void from pre-election heresy, will not acquire validity if obedience is accorded to him by all does not mean it can actually happen that an invalidly elected pope can be universally accepted as pope by the Church. Lastly, the legitimacy of a pope who has been universally accepted is qualified as “theologically certain.”  This would not be the case if the Church interpreted the aforementioned teaching of the problematic, and now abrogated, papal bull, Cum ex Apostolatus, as meaning that an illegitimate pope can be universally accepted as pope by the Church. For more on this, see here.

Objection: Even if Benedict’s abdication was valid, the election of Francis was null and void due to the conspiracy of the St. Gallen Mafia, which is forbidden by Universi Dominici Gregis, n. 81.

Answer: The canonist Ed Peters has provided a canonical reply to this and other canonical objections. Theologically, all such objections are proven to be false by the universal acceptance of Francis, which would not have taken place if any illicit acts of the cardinals had invalidated the election. Also relevant here is the following teaching of St. Alphonsus:

It is of no importance that in past centuries some Pontiff was illegitimately elected or took possession of the Pontificate by fraud; it is enough that he was accepted afterwards by the whole Church as Pope, since in light of such acceptance he has already become the legitimate and true Pope (attesoché per tale accettazione già si è renduto legittimo e vero pontefice). [11]

It should also be noted that the election is merely the mechanism by which the Church chooses a pope, but it is always Christ Who makes the man pope by conferring upon him the pontifical authority. Now, Christ is not restricted by human law or hindered from acting due to illicit or fraudulent acts of man. While it is certain that Christ will act by joining the man elected (matter) to the pontificate (form) when the election laws are followed, He is not hindered from doing so due to a defect in the election. This explains why some men who were illicitly elected became legitimate popes.

This would logically apply in reverse as well. For example, if a pope pretended to resign from the papacy and deceived the Church into believing he did so (which is essentially what those who deny the validity of Benedict’s resignation are attributing to him), there is no doubt that Christ would strip such a one of the pontificate. This is implicitly confirmed by the historical examples of true popes who were illicitly deposed yet nevertheless lost the papal office when they acquiesced to it.

Now, since it is certain that only Christ can authoritatively remove a true pope from the pontificate, if He has done so in cases of popes who were illegally deposed yet acquiesced to it, would He not do the same in the case of a pope who pretended to resign, by orchestrating his own illegal abdication and acquiescing to it? No doubt He would, and if the next pope were universally accepted, it would prove it.

Objection: If a man is elected by a conclave, that by itself does not mean he’s the pope, or even a member of the Church. He is guilty until proven innocent, and the burden of proof is on him to demonstrate that he is Catholic before the faithful accept him as pope.

Answer: This objection is virtually identical to the following error of Wycliffe and Hus, which was formally condemned at the Council of Constance:

“The vocal (viva voce) agreement of the electors, or of the greater part of them, according to human custom, does not mean by itself that the person has been legitimately elected, or that by this very fact he is the true and manifest successor or vicar of the apostle Peter, or of another apostle in an ecclesiastical office. It is rather to the works of the one elected that we should look[.] … For, the more plentifully a person acts meritoriously towards building up the church, the more copiously does he thereby have power from God for this.” – CONDEMNED. [12]

The faithful do not decide for themselves if the elect is a member of the Church before accepting his as pope. The election laws provide that the elect becomes the “true pope and Head of the College of Bishops” immediately upon his acceptance of the election (Universi Dominici Gregis, n. 81). The universal acceptance simply confirms his legitimacy and prevents future doubts from calling it into question.

Objection: The peaceful and universal acceptance of a pope doesn’t prove he is the true pope. This is proven from the case of Antipope Anacletus II, who “was backed by a majority of cardinals and the entirety of Rome with the exception of the Corsi family and illegitimately ruled EIGHT YEARS until his death. … You can read the long versions at”

Answer: Anacletus II’s election was not uncontested (“peaceful”), nor was he ever “universally accepted” as pope by the Church. “The long version at” refers to his election as “the contested papal election of the year 1130.” The reason it was contested is because it took place three hours after the election of the true pope, Innocent II — who was proclaimed to be the true pope by three synods held later same year. The usurper may have won over the majority of the population of Rome for a time, but that doesn’t suffice for a “universal” acceptance.

Objection: The doctrine of the peaceful and universal acceptance is nothing but a theological opinion that any Catholic is free to reject.

Answer: This doctrine is far more than a mere opinion, and no Catholic who wishes to save his soul can reject it. In his book On the Value of Theological Notes and the Criteria for Discerning Them (which was drafted for use by the auditors of the Roman Congregations), Fr. Sixtus Cartechini, S.J., noted that the rejection the legitimacy of a pope who has been universally accepted is a “mortal sin against the Faith. John of St. Thomas qualifies it as heresy:

Whoever would deny that a particular man is Pope after he has been peacefully and canonically accepted, would not only be a schismatic, but also a heretic; for, not only would he rend the unity of the Church … but he would also add to this a perverse doctrine, by denying that the man accepted by the Church is to be regarded as the Pope and the rule of faith. Pertinent here is the teaching of St. Jerome (Commentary on Titus, chapter 3) and of St. Thomas (IIa IIae Q. 39 A. 1 ad 3), that every schism concocts some heresy for itself, in order to justify its withdrawal from the Church. Thus, although schism is distinct from heresy, in (…) the case at hand, whoever would deny the proposition just stated would not be a pure schismatic, but also a heretic, as Suarez also reckons[13]

It is worth noting that the reason Cartechini qualified it as “a mortal sin against faith,” rather than heresy, is due to a doctrinal development that occurred in the last few centuries.[14] Today, strictly speaking, heresy is limited to the rejection of a truth that has been formally revealed (the primary object of infallibility), whereas in past centuries rejecting any doctrine that is de fide was considered heresy (cf. ST II q. 11, a 2). But whether it is qualified as heresy in the strict or only in a broad sense, in either case, it is a mortal sin against faith, which will deprive a Catholic of the state of grace and merit an eternal punishment.


With the election of Francis, the Church appears to be entering into the final stage of her passion, as the walls of the Great Façade are finally collapsing — which never would have happened if the cardinals had elected another Benedict or John Paul II. At the present time, the scales are falling from the eyes of many Catholics, and the wheat is rapidly being separated from the chaff. During this time of chaos and doctrinal confusion, the proper response is not to imitate heretics by rejecting “sound doctrine,” but rather to stand fast and hold to tradition (cf. 2 Thess. 2:14), which, as St. Vincent of Lerins said, “can never be led astray by any lying novelty.” No one who holds fast to tradition will reject the legitimacy of a pope whose election has been universally accepted by the Church.

[1] Benedict XVI, Declaratio, February 10, 2013.

[2] Op.cit.

[3] Wernz-Vidal, Ius Can., II. p. 520, note 171,

[4] Op. cit.

[5] Mazzella, C. De Religione et Ecclesia, 6th ed. (Prati: Giach. Filii., 1905), p. 817.

[6] The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 3.

[7] By “separating himself publicly from the Church,” he means leaving the Church and publicly severing communion with the other bishops. This is clear from the historical example he uses (Novatian) to support same teaching in De Romano Pontifice, bk. 2, ch, 30.

[8] Op. cit.

[9] Op. cit.

[10] Op. cit.

[11] Liguori, Verita della Fede, in “Opera…,” vol. VIII., p. 720, n. 9.

[12] Inter Cunctus, Council of Constance.

[13] Op. cit.

[14] The development resulted in a distinction between the assent of faith owed to formally revealed truths (de fide divina et catholica) and the assent that is owed to de fide truths that constitute the secondary object of infallibility (de fide ecclesiastica). Today, rejecting the former is heresy, strictly speaking (c. 751), while rejection of the latter is a mortal sin against faith.

3 thoughts on “For Each Objection, an Answer: Why Francis Is Pope”

  1. Dear Mr Siscoe,

    I am happy to finally see a greater discussion around the declaration of Pope Benedict here in the USA. I do not agree completely with your conclusions. It seems to me that you recognize imperfections in the declaration in the sense of an abdication and I agree with you on this. It was not an abdication but instead a declaration of the Pope renouncing to the the administration of the pontificate, the ministerium. It is also lacking the immediacy of the declaration that is proper of a Pure act as the abdication act is considered in canon law. The third element that differentiate the declaration from an abdication is the presence of formal errors. These are the main facts that define the declaration as different from an abdication. The Pope, as Benedict repeated over and over, was only one and he never said it was Francis, because he, Benedict, did not abdicate. Pope Benedict remained as such but he moved from an active state to an impeded state. The troubles started when the conclave was called because the divine title did not return to God but was still held by Pope Benedict. The conclave was then illegitimate and, with a domino effect, all subsequent acts were illegitimate. All the voices raised to discuss these issues, even days after the declaration, were ignored or suppressed. The visible Catholic Church was hijacked into a schismatic church the moment the conclave was called in and it deliberated.
    From the legal stand point the situation is very clear, it only lacks the recognition of canonists, which could come from the review of the facts by some of the legitimate cardinals.
    I seem to understand that you bring a theological reason for the acceptance of Bergoglio as Pope in the fact that if the church universally accepted him, he is the Pope. I cannot talk about this theological interpretation, it would be interesting and exciting to see if you would be available to discuss it with some theologians. If we consider this option as a valid one, my doubt rests on the fact that the church which is universally accepting him, is now Bergoglio’s church, a self schismatic church fruit of an invalid conclave. In that case it does not matter if Bergoglio is considered the Pope of that church, we are not talking about the Roman Catholic Church of Pope Benedict but something else. I wonder what you think of this position.
    Thank you. Best, Giovanni


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