Contra Antonio Socci on the validity of Pope Francis

Excerpted from my book: In Defense of Pope Francis

Already some foolish Catholics are claiming that the election of Pope Francis was invalid, making his papacy invalid. Why would they say such a thing? The main motivation seems to be that the Pope is liberal, and they are conservative. They wish that no Pope would ever be liberal, and so they look for some way to claim that his election was not valid.

One prominent author and commentator, Antonio Socci, claims that the election of Pope Francis did not occur in accord with the rules of Universi Dominici Gregis, and therefore Francis is not a valid Pope. He alleges that certain procedural rules were not followed, and he draws the conclusion that the election cannot be valid. The premise of his argument is false; the election of Pope Francis followed the proper rules. But I can refute the conclusion of his argument, even if his premises were correct.

Suppose that all of the procedural errors alleged by Socci are true and accurate. Even so, the election is valid. For the Sacraments are just as important, or more so, than a papal election. And every canonist knows that a Sacrament can be done in a manner that is illicit, and yet be valid. I’ve already given examples on this point above. In addition, a Mass can be said with a number of illicit departures from the proper form, yet the consecration of the Eucharist can still be valid. Even some variation in the wording of the prayer of consecration (“cup” instead of “chalice”) does not make the Sacrament invalid. Protestants are baptized and are married outside the Church, and yet their baptisms and marriages are valid. And the Council of Trent infallibly taught that the baptism of heretics is valid, despite heresy and schism.

So his conclusion does not follow from his premises. Even if there were procedural errors and violations of rules in the election of Pope Francis, it would not make his election invalid.

Pope Francis was elected by the Cardinals of the Church, gathered at Vatican City, and generally following the established norms. The Cardinals have the authority to depart from those norms, without suffering the penalty of invalidity. Small departures from procedural rules is perhaps common in papal elections.

The idea that no papal election is valid unless every rule is followed in every detail is Pharisaical, and contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Gospels:

{13:10} Now he was teaching in their synagogue on the Sabbaths.
{13:11} And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years. And she was bent over; and she was unable to look upwards at all.
{13:12} And when Jesus saw her, he called her to himself, and he said to her, “Woman, you are released from your infirmity.”
{13:13} And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was straightened, and she glorified God.
{13:14} Then, as a result, the ruler of the synagogue became angry that Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, and he said to the crowd: “There are six days on which you ought to work. Therefore, come and be cured on those, and not on the day of the Sabbath.”
{13:15} Then the Lord said to him in response: “You hypocrites! Does not each one of you, on the Sabbath, release his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it to water?
{13:16} So then, should not this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for lo these eighteen years, be released from this restraint on the day of the Sabbath?”
{13:17} And as he was saying these things, all his adversaries were ashamed. And all the people rejoiced in everything that was being done gloriously by him.

The Pharisees were angry that Jesus healed on the Sabbath. They imagined that following all the rules would lead to salvation, without mercy or justice or love. Socci’s argument is Pharisaical, seeking to invalidate the Vicar of Christ based on the alleged violation of mere rules.

{12:1} At that time, Jesus went out through the ripe grain on the Sabbath. And his disciples, being hungry, began to separate the grain and to eat.
{12:2} Then the Pharisees, seeing this, said to him, “Behold, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbaths.”
{12:3} But he said to them: “Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him:
{12:4} how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
{12:5} Or have you not read in the law, that on the Sabbaths the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath, and they are without guilt?
{12:6} But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here.
{12:7} And if you knew what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would never have condemned the innocent.
{12:8} For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Jesus taught that David and his men did nothing wrong when they ate the bread of the Presence, which the Old Testament law forbid anyone to eat except the priests. They broke rules written in Sacred Scripture and were innocent. How much smaller, then, are the alleged rules violations at the papal election of Francis? Those rules are changed from time to time, at the will of whomever is Pope at the time. These are not rules written by God into Sacred Scripture.

The rule violations alleged by Socci, even if they were all true, are not sufficient to make the election invalid. Pope Francis is the valid Pope.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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