Expert Answer Forum

Papal Succession QUESTION from Joe October 21, 2000 Dear Mrs. Fortin:
In response to your recent response to me ,I do not quite follow all of your logic.
You said that the church would have to issue a canon to invalidate a previous papal election. Logically, what good would this do since what is being questioned is all successor popes of the pope who was elected by illegal electors (cardinals)? How could one who himself is in office by dubious means issue a canon that his predecessors obtained their office by either legal or illegal means. A pope cannot validate nor invalidate a previous election if he himself is successor to an invalid process. Therefore it would be impossible for a canon to be issued by successors of an illegally elected pope because the one issuing such a canon would have no authority to do so.
Your analogy of papal elections to American presidential elections does not appear to be on point to me. A more accurate analogy would be an American president who attained office by achieving it via illegal voters (not by influences as you illustrated). Illegal voters would be defined as those voting who have no legal right to vote, i.e. non-citizens, non-Americans, those who have been convicted of a felony, those under eighteen years of age. If persons in these categories voted and their votes were enough to put a candidate for president over the top, then that president would definitely be illegally elected and the election would be ruled null and void by the Supreme Court.
This is what appears to me to be the same as the case of the early popes who were elected by cardinals who were themselves illegally installed in office as cardinals, popes appointing men cardinals because they were forced to do so by kings, kings who held them hostage for a variety of reasons.
If a marriage can be declared invalid by the church because the proper elements were not existing at the time the ceremony took place (such as the intent not to have children) then it would appear logically to follow that if a pope did not wish to appoint someone cardinal but did so only because he was forced to do so (sometimes, according to historical accounts under death threats), that cardinals appointed under these circumstances are not truly cardinals.
If they are not truly cardinals, then their vote for a person for pope means nothing. If the candidate these would-be cardinals vote for becomes pope, this pope is pope in name only, not in reality.
Thank you very much.
Joe
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on October 23, 2000 Dear Joe,
In order to better answer your question, let me respond point by point. Your points are in bold
You said that the church would have to issue a canon to invalidate a previous papal election.
This is what I said:
In order for a cardinal's appointment to be canonically invalid, you would have to show that 1) there was a canon invalidating appointments made through coercion and 2) that real coercion actually existed as the Church defined it. . And then, to demonstrate that a papal election was invalid, you would have to show that that canon law invalidated elections in which such cardinals participated.
I did not speak of the Church invalidating a previous papal election. That can't be done. Once a pope is elected, he's the pope unless his election is shown to be canonically invalid.
What I am saying is that your question is very broad, and that in order for you to make your point, viz. cardinals that are appointed in an immoral manner, or through coercion, cannot elect a pope, you will have to do what I said above. If there is no rule against such an election, the election stands. I realize you may not like that process, but that's the way it is.
A pope cannot validate nor invalidate a previous election if he himself is successor to an invalid process.
A valid election is one where the rules were followed. If the rules did not forbid a particular behaviour, then that particular behaviour did not render that election invalid, no matter how immoral it was. So if the rules did not preclude simony, then simoniacal elections were valid. Again, you may not like the rules, but that's the way it was.

. Therefore it would be impossible for a canon to be issued by successors of an illegally elected pope because the one issuing such a canon would have no authority to do so. Well, you assume that there has been an illegally elected pope. You seem to equate invalidity with immorality. I am telling you this is irrelevant. An immoral election that follows the rules is still a valid election. If you want to discuss a particular election, then fine, but you are making many assumptions without any reference to specific historical situations and details.

A more accurate analogy would be an American president who attained office by achieving it via illegal voters (not by influences as you illustrated). Illegal voters would be defined as those voting who have no legal right to vote, i.e. non-citizens, non-Americans, those who have been convicted of a felony, those under eighteen years of age. If persons in these categories voted and their votes were enough to put a candidate for president over the top, then that president would definitely be illegally elected and the election would be ruled null and void by the Supreme Court. Well, yes you are right, except 1) you have not shown that there existed canons that precluded the kinds of elections you are talking about and 2) invalid papal elections would have had to have been judged canonically invalid according to the rules of the period. I have stated that once a pope is elected according to the rules, he's elected fair and square. Your objections have no reference to either canon law or historical situations.
This is what appears to me to be the same as the case of the early popes who were elected by cardinals who were themselves illegally installed in office as cardinals, popes appointing men cardinals because they were forced to do so by kings, kings who held them hostage for a variety of reasons. The question is: were any rules broken? You claim that they were illegally installed. I don't know which cardinals you have in mind, nor am I aware of any ecclesiastical laws against what was done. If there were improperly appointed cardinals, then come out and tell us which ones.

If a marriage can be declared invalid by the church because the proper elements were not existing at the time the ceremony took place (such as the intent not to have children) then it would appear logically to follow that if a pope did not wish to appoint someone cardinal but did so only because he was forced to do so (sometimes, according to historical accounts under death threats), that cardinals appointed under these circumstances are not truly cardinals. It would seem logical, but canon law doesn't work by analogy, it works according to explicit statements. If there is no statement explicitly forbidding a particular behaviour, then it's not forbidden. It might be immoral, but it's not forbidden by Church law.
And even your marriage analogy doesn't work because once a marriage ceremony takes place, marriage enjoys the favour of the faith. That means that even if there appears to have been irregularities, until a judge has ruled that the marriage never existed, it is assumed to exist. Using that analogy, a papal election is assumed valid until evidence to the contrary is presented (and that according to canon law).
Thank you for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne
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