Francis: The First Anti-Pope in Centuries?


It is well known that orthodox minded Catholics have felt considerable consternation with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, known to the world as Pope Francis. On issue after issue, year after year, Catholics have had no shortage of occasions to feel perplexed, alarmed, and alienated – justifiably so.

There’s been his positioning on the issue of remarriage and Holy Communion, for example, or his punitive attacks on the traditional liturgy.  Even if non-Catholics may be indifferent to those matters, anyone of good will would also be troubled by his oblivious stance vis-à-vis Islam, his kowtowing to the Chinese Communist Party, his subservience to the globalists (whose “new world order” he condones), and so forth.

Let’s also not forget about his accommodation of priestly pederasty during his Argentinian days and, as Pope, his calculating association with and elevation of prelates known for their own similarly egregious deviancy. It is baffling that he gets little to no bad press about this. Our society’s overlords, normally keen to seize upon any occasion to attack Christianity, have rather curiously refrained from pouncing on his – the Pope’s! – record on this front; that they turn a blind eye to this giant bulls-eye is worth pondering. Evidently this Pope is off limits. After all, Bergoglio is their man – not the “Vicar of Christ”, a title he himself has tellingly shelved.

But cataloguing all his misdeeds and deviations from the deposit of faith, and from common sense and common decency, is not my aim here. My intent is to briefly mention a couple of reservations circulating about the legitimacy of Francis’ papacy - and to share a firm conclusion I unexpectedly and belatedly reached about Bergoglio.

Many Catholics have wondered: is Francis a heretic? Several well-respected scholars and religious have formally claimed so.  If any Pope were indeed an explicit heretic, he would automatically forfeit the Papacy, and place himself outside the Christian fold.  I have some views on the subject, but I wish to explicitly distinguish the question of heresy with the conclusion I have reached about Bergoglio – because it does not depend on any particular issue, or any of his statements or actions.

There is also the matter of the St. Gallen Mafia, a group of high-ranking cardinals vehemently opposed to Benedict XVI, named for the town in Switzerland where they regularly met. According to a recent autobiography by the late Belgian Cardinal Daneels, one of its members, they maneuvered in advance to install Bergoglio. Such manipulative scheming, if true, would automatically invalidate the outcome of the conclave.

Both these issues do appear to be massive red flags but even they may be cast aside, because there is a more germane consideration – one that led me to believe, with moral certainty, that Bergoglio is not really the pope.   

He is an anti-pope because Benedict XVI did not validly renounce the Papal office as required by Canon Law – the most recent 1983 version of which he himself helped craft.  Therefore there should never have been a conclave following his surprising February 11, 2013 announcement known as the Declaratio. This would be the case even if someone other than Bergoglio had been chosen, and even if Bergoglio hadn't done and said all the things he’s done and said.

That is my conclusion. Here is how I got there.

When trying to make sense of Bergoglio’s ambiguous or problematic positions, I was inclined – like many others – to give him the benefit of the doubt; to focus instead on crediting things he expressed that were consistent with the deposit of faith that any Pope is entrusted to guard and pass on; to allow things to sort themselves out over time. 

So I didn’t concern myself with any questions about the legitimacy of the Bergoglian pontificate itself. It never crossed my mind.

As time went by, I heard some chatter here and there about how Bergoglio might actually be an anti-Pope, but still never really gave it any thought.  After all, I told myself, aren’t there people out there who say that John Paul II wasn’t really the Pope either? That the Holy See has been vacant since 1958?  Wouldn’t it be too dicey to try to navigate that whole minefield?

Other thoughts came to mind: there is so much on the internet, so how can one be sure what is reliable and what is not? And if Bergoglio is an anti-Pope, why hasn’t anyone within the hierarchy been sounding the alarm?

And if I were to engage the issue, wouldn’t I be “schismatic” – at least potentially; that was obviously an uncomfortable thought, but one I came to deem as overly deferential and ultimately evasive.  (I suspect a noble but fallible impulse towards loyalty may in part account for why Catholic outlets have tended to steer clear of this matter). After all, if looking into this is somehow un-Catholic, how did previous anti-Popes ever get identified? 

So one day I said to myself: I am going to look into it. I am going to read what people who claim Bergoglio is an anti-Pope have to say – and evaluate their arguments.  Not their personality or writing style, nor their position within “society” or the Church, but the thrust of their arguments. I wouldn’t have to commit.  I could just sit with it all for a while.  And so that’s what I did. 

First off, I was a bit surprised to learn that immediately after Benedict XVI’s Declaratio (within days), prominent Latinists, canonists, philosophers, theologians and journalists were pointing out significant errors in the Latin text Benedict XVI had delivered. Do such errors always nullify a juridical act? Possibly not. But let’s just say it raised eyebrows even at that time.

Most significantly, though, I was struck by the simplicity and persuasiveness of the contention that, from an objective point of view, Benedict XVI’s Declaratio does not adequately constitute a valid Papal renunciation as stipulated by canon law. If the relevant canonical requirements are not satisfied in the communicated act of renunciation, no other circumstance (e.g. “everyone now accepts Bergoglio as the Pope), event (e.g. a conclave), or rationalization, whenever expounded, can validate it. At its core, it really is that simple. 

It is indeed noteworthy (and mortifying) that no one affiliated with the subsequent conclave called for an investigation into this matter at the time.  That would have been prudent and indeed necessary, precisely because non-compliance with canonical norms voids such juridical, ecclesiastical acts.

After all, if the consequential shortcomings or ambiguities of Benedict XVI’s Declaratio had been publically enumerated in a transparent effort to clarify his objective, Benedict XVI could have easily responded by issuing a simple, unambiguous renunciation of the Papacy, free of error, which would meet the requirements of canon law.  But that never happened.

While several canons pertain to our awkward, canonically impossible “two pope” situation, the most central is canon 332§2 – which explicitly details what is required for a valid Papal renunciation. It reads:

If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.

The main problem is that the Roman Pontiff Benedict XVI did not renounce the office itself – munus in Latin – but rather a set of functions or ministry (ministerium in Latin) that one may exercise by virtue of holding a specific office in the first place. The Latin text of the Declaratio, it must be emphasized, is the binding version. Whether or not his Declaratio was composed and delivered with cavalier imprecision (which seems unlikely given its consequential nature, his record of erudition, and aversion to sloppiness), parsing it is more than warranted.

At the very least, his use of one Latin word over the other for the object he was renouncing can yield various interpretations. Where interpretation is possible and clarification is needed, there is doubt; where there is doubt, there cannot be the clear and proper manifestation of the juridical act in question. Ergo, we have an invalid Papal renunciation.  

Some have claimed that the Latin terms munus and ministerium are close enough if not interchangeable, so that the meaning is clear: Benedict XVI basically intended to stop being the Pope. This is sharply contested; my understanding is that canon law decisively distinguishes between these two terms; that nowhere does the term ministerium correspond to the dignity, charge or office denoted by the term munus; and that the proper, precise meaning of words must inform our understanding of ecclesiastical law and related juridical acts.  

This is not necessarily to say that the specific word munus must be included in a valid papal renunciation, only that something unambiguously synonymous with office/munus must be renounced, such as the Papacy, charge, Roman Pontiff, sovereign title, or Pontificate. The term ministerium simply does not signify an ontological equivalence with the sovereign dignity of the Papacy itself; renouncing it, therefore, does not mean Benedict XVI stops being the pope.

There are other common objections to the view that Bergoglio is an anti-Pope, such as the claim that Benedict XVI has stated, ex post facto, that Francis is the Pope.  My understanding is that he has never done that.  What he has done is vaguely say that “the Pope is one” – without ever specifying who is that one.  Meanwhile he still dresses and blesses as befits the Pope alone, while still residing in the Vatican; all while he has never plainly said Bergoglio is the one and only pope. Curious, don’t you think?

Another typical objection goes like this: distress over the fact that Bergoglio routinely flouts traditional Catholic belief, orthopraxis and metaphysical reality has led some Catholics to manufacture a convoluted hypothesis about Benedict XVI’s Declaratio so that everything Bergoglio has ever done will have no standing whatsoever. In other words, they have invented a pretext to dispatch with someone they deem to be an errant pope.

But that too evades the central issue: how does what Benedict XVI’s Declaratio actually says comport with binding canon law?

It’s not as though those skeptical of Bergoglio’s legitimacy are unaware of the historical fact that there have been valid but corrupt Popes on occasion. Waywardness is not evidence of invalidity, which can only be found in the failure to abide by the decrees of canon law.   

High caliber intellects whose work I respect are among those who dismiss the thesis that Benedict XVI remains the pope. Perhaps there is something I haven’t accounted for, but to date I haven’t found any adequate rebuttal to the specific claim that Benedict XVI did not fulfill what is required by canon law for a valid renunciation of the Papal office.

There has also arisen a rift of sorts among those who are rightly convinced Bergoglio is an anti-pope.  In one camp are those who feel that Benedict XVI made a “substantial error” in his Declaratio, because he aimed to retain a portion of the Papacy yet also incorporate a successor pope to take over the practical, day to day administrative and governing functions of the universal Church.

In other words, he mistakenly thought he could bifurcate or otherwise expand the Papacy – transform it from a Divinely instituted charge given individually to St. Peter and all his individual successors to a similarly authoritative but more collegial unifying entity.

The relevant canon for this view is 188, which reads:

A resignation made out of grave fear that is inflicted unjustly or out of malice, substantial error, or simony is invalid by the law itself.

Whether or not Benedict XVI audaciously intended to introduce an unprecedented and inadmissible wrinkle into the nature of the Papacy, it may also be said that the failure to heed the distinction between resigning the office itself and ministries or activities emanating from said office constitutes an invalidating substantial error.

In another camp are those who contend that Benedict XVI did not erroneously attempt to pluralize the papacy, but rather that he specifically and intentionally did not renounce the munus because he intended to remain Pope.  So why such a tack? 

He did this because he felt he could no longer properly function as Pope on account of pervasive opposition from within the Church itself. He was essentially impeded from governing in accordance with his charge in the manner he saw fit.  (Canon 412 delineates the criteria of an impeded See).

By stepping aside the way he did, he judged his unworthy, subversive adversaries would likely jump at the chance to seize power; their nefarious ways would eventually be exposed, thereby hastening a much-needed purification of the Church.

Talk about intrigue! I can appreciate how anyone considering this possibility for the first time might be incredulous. But this is not a movie or a novel; if only the widespread, hostile infiltration of the Church – the rot even at its highest levels – were fictional.

One shudders to ponder the depravity stacked against Benedict XVI, who explicitly mentioned his “fear of the wolves” upon first assuming the Papacy.  So his maneuver may have been a purposeful act of inspiration born out of desperation.

Both of the above interpretations, sincerely held by their proponents, are products of intensive investigation; both are reasonable suppositions, plausible enough at least at first hearing that they cannot simply be dismissed.

In one sense, both explanations cannot be right because they offer conflicting analyses of Benedict XVI’s motivation for doing what he did – a highly important question that awaits an answer in due time. And yet both are correct in what matters most: whatever his motivation or intention, Benedict XVI did not renounce the Papacy in accordance with Canon Law, and therefore Bergoglio is an anti-Pope and everything he has done carries no weight whatsoever because he has never held the Papal munus.

The implications are massive going forward – and not just for Catholics. If the situation is not rectified, the next conclave (regardless of who dies first) would be invalidly constituted, so we’d have another anti-Pope, succeeded by yet additional anti-Popes – who, like Bergoglio, would not likely supply much forceful, indispensable moral and spiritual resistance to the various inhumane agendas menacing our horizon.

Though initially a bit reluctant to look into this matter, I found myself at peace with my conclusion. Sure, it is a distressing, grave situation.  But it also provided an interpretive key to so many other things unfolding all around us – primarily the lockdowns. The unprecedented closure of churches.  The “Pope” canceled Easter! A pope never does that.

I just so happened to reach my conclusion about Bergoglio around the end of 2019 – a few short months before the corona operation kicked off in March 2020 for those two weeks going on two and a half years now.

The realization that something was radically off within the Church itself, while obviously troubling, aided me, in a way I can’t adequately describe, when churches closed. It also helped me perceive and brace for the torrent of lies, corruption and oppression that propelled and perpetuated the harms ushered in by a manufactured “pandemic”.

History provides a further measure of peace: two contemporary saints, both Dominicans, had opposing views about who was the legitimate Pope over 600 years ago. It turns out that St. Catherine of Siena was right all along, and for decades the great St. Vincent Ferrer was aligned with an anti-pope.  He did not know this, of course. He had been deceived – by a Cardinal who also went on to become an anti-Pope for a time. But once he realized the truth, he promptly shifted his loyalty. This provides proof – and hope today – that people of faith and good will can live holy, productive lives even if they happen to be holding differing views.

There hasn’t been an anti-Pope in centuries, so it’s not as if this matter is on most people’s radar.  People are in so many in different places spiritually and intellectually, with different dispositions, dealing with the pressures of daily life.  A bit of time is needed to absorb all this. 

Yet it is right and just for Catholics to grapple with the evidence that Bergolio is an anti-Pope. The facts and the arguments are out there, and the case is rather airtight – foolproof, in my humble estimation.  This is not an arbitrary or agenda-driven personal judgment but the outcome of a sincere reading and dutiful application of the pertinent Canon law, which alone dictates the verdict.

Matthew Hanley is the author of Determining Death by Neurological Criteria: Current Practice and Ethics.