Well, yes, it would have indeed been possible. Nowhere is it written in canon law that the word “office” must be used. Canon law simply says the resignation must be “properly manifested” per Can. 332.2 (which is a canon specifically regulating PAPAL resignations, so to anyone using the “pope is above canon law” thingy… that dog won’t hunt).
So how could Pope Benedict have properly resigned without specifically using the word “Office?”
Let’s take a trip down memory lane. Here is an excerpt from President Nixon’s resignation speech, 8 August 1974:
From the discussions I have had with Congressional and other leaders, I have concluded that because of the Watergate matter I might not have the support of the Congress that I would consider necessary to back the very difficult decisions and carry out the duties of this office in the way the interests of the Nation would require.
I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.
To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.
Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow.
See how clear and simple that is? Notice anything similar to the Benedictine Declaratio? Notice anything different? I was only seven years old, but I don’t recall there being any Nixovacantists in the aftermath of this, so even though he didn’t use the word “office” in the essential clause of the text, he must have done his resignation properly.
Because he NAMED the office he was resigning. The Presidency IS the office. He speaks earlier in the passage of the DUTIES of the office, and the difficulties in his carrying out those duties, due to current circumstances (as did Pope Benedict in a very similar way). But then when it got down to actually, you know, RESIGNING, he did not say, “I shall resign the DUTIES of the Presidency,” because if you only resign/delegate the duties, then you’re still the President. For the resignation to be effective, you have to resign the Presidency itself.
It was also helpful that when Nixon left on his helicopter ride, he really left. Benedict, not so much.
Remember, this is an issue because Pope Benedict only attempted to resign/delegate the ministry/duties, not the Papacy/office. If Benedict had simply said, “I resign the Papacy,” then it would have been finished, because the Papacy is synonymous with the Office. “The ministry of the Bishop of Rome,” is clearly not synonymous with the Office. Check the Latin Declaratio; he didn’t even bother to capitalize “ministry:”
Quapropter bene conscius ponderis huius actus plena libertate declaro me ministerio Episcopi Romae, Successoris Sancti Petri, mihi per manus Cardinalium die 19 aprilis MMV commisso renuntiare ita ut a die 28 februarii MMXIII, hora 20, sedes Romae, sedes Sancti Petri vacet et Conclave ad eligendum novum Summum Pontificem ab his quibus competit convocandum esse.
There is just so much to talk about in this sentence. First we see that he is intending to delegate the “ministerio” or the duties (Active Ministry) of the Office, but every reader of this space knows from Canon 131.1 that delegating the duties does not confer the Office, HERE. Notice that he also inserts “Successor of Saint Peter,” which seems strange, because Benedict remains such whether he is present pope or retired pope. He forever will have been Successor of Saint Peter. We also have the controversy surrounding the Future Indicative vs Potential Subjunctive (“ita ut a”, “vacet”) where the notion that the See will be vacant goes from being a statement of fact to merely an opinion or possibility, depending on which Latinist you consult. See HERE and modified HERE. The phrase that I first latched onto, the one that first raised my eyebrow and nudged me to dig into this whole mess, was that he attached “ita un a,” (meaning, “in such a way”) as a modifier to to the resignation in connection to the (possible?) need for a conclave. If you really are resigning, why is the phrase even needed? But if you are only attempting to resign/delegate the duties, well then you might have to be splainin’ how even though you are retaining the office, you’re doing it “in such a way” that we might need a conclave and a new pope anyway. Is it plain enough that this entire paragraph is utter chaos?
The idea of the exactness and correctness of the Latin text being crucial to the validity of an act is ancient and well-documented. The following is from an article titled, “A Null Act?” printed two days after the Declaratio HERE. It provides several examples worth considering. Forgive the horrible google translate from
It is a certain principle in traditional canon law that any rescript, brief or papal bull that contains a Latin fault is null. St. Gregory VII ( Registrum 1.33) declared a privilege granted to a monastery by his predecessor Alexander II, “because of the corruption of the Latin” , which constitutes “a very obvious sign” .
The decretal Ad audientiam of Pope Lucius III, which appears in the body of canon law (Decretals of Gregory IX, I, Title III, Rescriptis , v. XI) posits that ” the false latinity invalidates a rescript of the pope” . The pope forbids to believe a pontifical letter “since it contains an obvious fault of construction” . The gloss (in the official corrected text published on the order of Pope Gregory XIII in 1582) explains in this respect that a rescript of the pope “must contain no fault” , since it is “elaborated with a lot of time”. A Latin fault constitutes such a presumption of nullity that no evidence to the contrary can be admitted.
In the same article, you will read that the original Latin Declaratio currently posted on vatican.va is NOT the same document written and read aloud by Pope Benedict HERE. Although the Vatican originally published the real document, it was quickly taken down because there were even more serious errors in the Latin than what remain in the version we see today. The two most glaring being:
- Mixing tenses and grammatical incoherence, where declares was changed to declaro, and commissum was changed to commisso. The fact that these errors appeared in the crucial clause of the text is a serious matter.
- The time at which Benedict stated he would resign was 28 February 2013 at the 29th hour.
Yeah, he will totally not be the pope anymore at the 29th hour of the last day of February. (Keep in mind, the entire non-anglo world uses what we would call military-style 24 hour clock, with the addition of the colon. So what we in angloworld call “1:00 P.M.,” everyone else says “13:00”) So the syntax is not an issue, if only he would have actually written and read out “20th hour” or “20:00,” which is 8 P.M., which is what “they” amended the text to read. UPDATE, 11:09 MST 23 June: Although 29th Hour was in the written Declaratio, it sounds as if Pope Benedict stumbles a bit in the video, but then does say twentieth hour, “hora vicesima,” at the 01:24 mark.
Can you imagine if Nixon had said, “I shall resign the Presidency effective at 29 O’Clock tomorrow?” Do you think someone would have suggested to him that this was a nonsense statement, and that he needed to personally correct it, or else the resignation would not be properly manifested?