My poll on Pope Francis, asking if he is a living Saint, has had surprising results. More than half of respondents think he is a Saint. That is a larger percentage than I expected, given that his papacy is controversial and relatively new. But a more disturbing surprise is the number of persons who think that Pope Francis is not a valid Pope (currently at 10%).
There seems to be some misunderstanding on the conditions for validity for any Pope. To be a valid successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ, and the Head of the Church on earth, only three conditions need to be met:
1. valid election
2. free acceptance of the office by the person elected
3. valid ordination as a Bishop
On the third point, there was a priest named Stephen who was validly elected as Pope. He accepted the office, but he died before he could be consecrated as a Bishop. Lacking ordination to the episcopal degree, he is not considered to be a Pope, but only “Pope-elect” Stephen II.
On the first point, the election need not be perfect in its form, nor do the electors need to be, each and all, veritable Saints. The election of Pope Francis is not in dispute. He was elected according to the rules of the Church by the Cardinals of the Church. And he freely accepted the office.
All the conditions for validity are met, as spelled out in the document Universi Dominici Gregis, which governs the election of the Popes. So Pope Francis is a valid Pope.
It doesn’t matter to the validity of his office whether he is a Saint or not, whether he is holy or sinful, whether he is liberal or conservative, wise or foolish, and so on. The Pope can make mistakes in judgments of the temporal order and in his personal opinions on matters not decided definitively by the Magisterium. But if you and the Pope disagree, the greater likelihood is that you are the one who is mistaken.
No Pope can ever fall into heresy or schism or apostasy — the grace of God absolutely prevents it. And this unique prevenient grace is not contrary to free will, for each and every Pope is able to resign if he so chooses. Each Pope’s free acceptance of the office is sufficient for him to obtain the grace of God to be preserved from all apostasy, heresy, and schism.
Pope Francis is certainly a valid Pope. You are entitled to your opinion as to the efficacy of his efforts to lead the faithful well. But any Catholic who claims that Pope Francis is not a valid Pope has thereby committed the mortal sin of schism and is automatically excommunicated.