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Pope John Paul II: “A Pope Emeritus is Impossible”

Image courtesy of Bren Buenaluz (Creative Commons License)
Image courtesy of Bren Buenaluz

A new book is being released by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in which he offers reflections on the priesthood to mark the 65th anniversary of his ordination. The preface of the book is written by Pope Francis, who says that

“every time I have read the works of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, it becomes increasingly clear that he has done and is doing ‘theology on his knees’.

“On his knees because, even before being a great theologian and teacher of the faith, we see a man who truly believes, who truly prays, you see he is a man who embodies holiness, a man of peace, a man of God.”

But there is more in the preface of Pope Francis. The Italian daily, La Repubblica, reports that Francis says of his immediate predecessor:

renouncing the active exercise of the Petrine ministry, Benedict XVI has now decided to devote himself totally to the “service of prayer: The Lord calls me to ‘climb the mountain’, to dedicate myself even more to prayer and meditation…”

We have heard something similar recently from Archbishop Georg Gänswein, personal secretary to Pope Benedict and Prefect of the Papal Household of Pope Francis, about an “expanded Petrine ministry” with an “active and a contemplative member.” Said Gänswein in a recent speech:

From the election of his successor, Pope Francis—on 13 March 2013—there are not then two Popes, but de facto an enlarged ministry with an active and a contemplative member. For this reason, Benedict has not renounced either his name or his white cassock. For this reason, the correct title with which we must refer to him is still “Holiness.” Furthermore, he has not retired to an isolated monastery, but [has retired]  within the Vatican, as if he had simply stepped aside to make space for his Successor, and for a new stage in the history of the Papacy, which he, with that step, has enriched with the centrality of [prayer] and of compassion placed in the Vatican Gardens.

This, of course, makes absolutely no sense.

The Petrine ministry is not something to be divided amongst various “members”. It is a binary position. Yes or no, on or off, one or zero. There is only one pope at any given moment in time. (We have also seen the kind of conclusions this sort of thing can lead to.)

It is worth taking note, therefore, of something that Catholic journalist Giuseppe Nardi has just brought back to light in the German publication,

In 2001, an orthopedic surgeon confirmed that the Pope was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, an incurable and debilitating neuro-degenerative disorder which would eventually make any meaningful exercise of the Petrine Office impossible. Though that information would not be released to the public until 2003, it was obvious to all that his health was rapidly declining, and many were wondering whether the Pope’s condition called for a reconsideration of the matter of papal retirement.

This condition would in fact become such an impediment that the last public appearance, in 2005, of a pope known for his remarkable skill in communication would be remembered principally for his inability to express himself at all due to his physical ailments and limitations.

Nardi reports that just a few years earlier, in July of 2002, the question of a possible retirement was was put to the Pope himself, and his response was clear and emphatic:

“A Pope Emeritus is impossible.”

This exchange is reported to have taken place at the Toronto residence of Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter between the Pope and former media magnate Lord Conrad Black. Black first reported the conversation in a 2005 issue of the Catholic Herald.

So what are we to believe? Which pope is correct? The pope who died in office, encumbered by a debilitating illness and allegedly administratively usurped by certain of his advisers who took advantage of his incapacity? The pope who abdicated, saying that his “strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry”, despite the fact that he has continued for three years in more robust health than John Paul II enjoyed at the end? Does Ratzinger even wish to be seen as a “Pope Emeritus”, when he said clearly to German journalist Jorg Bremer that he wanted to be called “Father Benedict” rather than retaining a papal title, or even that of “Emeritus,” but “was too weak at that point to enforce it”?

At least part of the reason for wanting his new title to simply be “Father” rather than Pope Emeritus or Benedict XVI is to put more space between him and the role of the pope, so that there is no confusion as to who the “true Pope” is, Bremer reported.

The retired pontiff encouraged the journalist to write about his desire, saying “Yes, do that; that would help.”

These days, it seems that we are always uncovering new questions, but very few answers.

59 thoughts on “Pope John Paul II: “A Pope Emeritus is Impossible””

  1. Steve, was it not just a few days ago that you criticized Pope Francis’ remarks on the possible invalidity of many marriages today on account of its lack of prudence, regardless of how true or false the statements actually were?

    Could it not also be said to be just as imprudent to take speculation like this – that Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation was invalid – and air it on a public forum such as this for any number of faithful to see and worry about?

    It seems to me that this is an inopportune topic to be discussing, given the any number of other scandalizing phenomena plaguing the life of the Church currently. In your own piece yesterday you dismissed these kind of accusations as being, more than likely, without merit. I am perplexed, then, that you are choosing to entertain them further today.

    Furthermore, the very idea that a pope cannot abdicate the Petrine throne – be it either willingly or forcibly – is without historical merit. What would we say, then, of Pope St. Celestine V, who abdicated the papacy to return to his contemplative life? Or of Pope St. Martin I, who is said to have acknowledged his successor in Rome after he was imprisoned by the monothelite Byzantines?

    • I’m not sure I understand your objection.

      I personally don’t find defect in his resignation, though there are others who do. The point of this article is to point out an interesting contrast: we have the actions of Benedict, coupled with the words of Francis and Ganswein, set against the adamant refusal of JPII to acknowledge this as a possible outcome of his own papacy, even though he knew how bad it was going to get.

      I am highlighting the fact that these men are all saying different things because it matters that they are saying different things. Which is it? Can a pope resign, or can’t he? Did Benedict resign due to poor health (even though he’s healthier than his predecessor who wouldn’t) or was there something more at work?

      And there is no precedent for a pope emeritus. None. The previous popes who resigned/abdicated returned to their prior ecclesiastical status. This is an entirely new invention that in fact leads to the kind of conclusions I was contesting in my piece yesterday. I happen to believe Ann reaches the wrong conclusions, by the way, but I don’t think it’s at all odd that she’s asking these questions. Anyone who isn’t looking nervously over their beer at their Catholic friends at the BBQ and saying, “So what’s the deal with the two popes?” probably isn’t paying attention. Something is very odd about Benedict’s retention of the trappings of office, and now these comments about an expanded Petrine ministry. I wasn’t proposing that we silence any criticism of the mixed signals this sends.

      So I am not saying abdication is impossible. In fact, I’m not even saying a “pope emeritus is impossible.” But JPII did say that. Why? Shouldn’t we desire clarity on this?

      • There is no prior precedent for a pope emeritus, true, but what there *is* precedent for is a bishop emeritus of a diocese (even if that precedent is extremely recent in the context of Church history). I don’t see why it would be any more troubling to consider the existence of a pope emeritus harmoniously with the current pontiff than to consider the presence of a bishop emeritus in a diocese with a successor bishop installed (as is the case in many dioceses currently).

        I have yet to hear anyone make a case that the diocesan bishop emeritus is ecclesiastically troublesome for the diocesan bishop. One could extend the same logic to the Diocese of Rome.

        • The notion of a retirement in and of itself is not particularly troubling to me. What’s troubling is that this retirement has – at least, according to Gänswein – led to the Petrine Office itself being “expanded” to include multiple individuals. An unheard of novelty. Is there any diocese with a Bishop Emeritus which functions in such a manner?

          • And why give the explanation now and not at the time “Pope Emeritus” was announced? The more Pope Francis can be shown to be connected to the Pope Emeritus, giving the impression that therefore the Pope Emeritus is approving of Pope Francis’ acts, together with the continued silence of the Pope Emeritus, the more devastating the havoc caused by Pope Francis and the innovators.

          • “Is there any diocese with a Bishop Emeritus which functions in such a manner?”

            No there is not. Even a bishop emeritus may not exercise his priestly faculties without the permission of the local Ordinary. That said, if a pope declares himself “emeritus”, it logically follows that he needs the permission of the Ordinary of the diocese (in this case Rome, hence, Francis) to exercise his priestly ministry.

            However, under the current information put out by Francis, Benedict, and others from the Holy See, it appears that Francis and Benedict BOTH exercise some portion of the Petrine office.

            I, too, think this is very novel. I agree with what Pope St. JPII said about any “pope emeritus” situation.

        • The bishop has the fullness of the priestly ministry – The imposition as bishop, is an indelible mark on the soul, thus, once a bishop always a bishop.

      • Steve,

        There’s something else that must be clarified – the charism of Papal infallibility. Vatican I defined the four conditions under which ***the*** Pope (singular) is infallible. If Benedict XVI renounced ONLY the *active exercise* of the Petrine ministry and NOT the Petrine ministry itself, then it would seem that Benedict XVI and not Francis has the charism of infallibility.

        If this is the case – and I’m not saying that it is, this is just my opinion – if this is the case, then what about the Saints/Blessed that he canonized or beatified (including two of his predecessors)?

        In True or False Pope? A Refutation of Sedevacantism and Other Errors by John Salza and Robert Siscoe, they mentioned that any defects in his election to the Papacy were “healed in the root” with the peaceful acceptance of Francis as the new Pope.

        I’m still reading the book and it has cleared up a lot of questions for me. I don’t know if they address the charism of infallibility in the book (if they do, I haven’t read that far yet).

        Finally, since PJPII said that a Pope emeritus is impossible, WHY would Benedict XVI take the title of Pope emeritus? He worked with PJPII for years and that’s probably why the Cardinals elected him in 2005 – to keep the legacy of PJPII alive. You’d think that he would be the last person on earth to go against PJPII. for the book

      • The day BXVI’s resignation was announced, I thought, with great certitude, that he would become a Cardinal again. IIRC, that’s what Pope Celestine did. I have never ceased to think he should have become Cardinal Ratzinger, and gone home to Germany.

        When Bergoglio came out on the balcony, his face gave me the willies. Joyless, even hostile. Then, when he knelt down to receive a “blessing” from the crowd, my stomach turned. In three years, it has never turned back. He has removed all doubt: He hates Catholicism. He hates the West. He hates freedom. He loves globalism, totalitarians, abortionists, trannies, and chaos.

    • I neglected to say that I think the papacy should be until death. To paraphrase Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Yeah, yeah, but your canonists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

  2. “It is a binary position. Yes or no, on or off, one or zero.”

    The world cannot figure out what a male and female because of the utter rot in their heads about how they “feel”. My two year old knows mommy is a girl and daddy is a boy.

    I bring this up because a simple gender question is a binary position just like he is pope or he is not a pope. Obviously the Vatican is mirroring the confusion grasping the world in general.

    Ask yourselves… why this whole Petrine Ministry thing is coming up NOW? Why not in 2013 or 2014 or 2015? There is a reason this is being pushed subtlety a Cardinal and now even the Bishop of Rome is bringing it up. What is the plan because this new fondness has a deeper implication.

    I am not omniscient by any means but the Bishop of Romes insistence on decentralization of the Church through Synods and his own talk is leading us somewhere.

    Perhaps this expanded role of Peter will include other bishops and cardinals and who knows maybe some other “brother” bishops in the spirit of ecumenism. An equal among many brothers with morals being more of a cultural/regionalthing than having the Universal Truth. The martyrs for Truth will be mocked by this abomination of relative morality.

    I hope I am wrong – please pray I am wrong.

  3. Papal thoughts loading….please wait…system overload…I cannot complete this function at this time…please contact the system administrator if you feel this message is in error………………..



    • var Benedict = new Pope();
      var newMinistries = {
      pretendBadHealth: true,
      // begin new property gained by Pope class
      activeMinistry: false,
      retainPassiveOffice: true,
      // end new property
      randomChimeIn: true,
      preferredName: ‘Father’,
      usedName: ‘Emeritus’,
      retainWhiteCassock: true

      // merge new properties into Benedict
      for (var prop in newMinistries) { Benedict[prop] = newMinistries[prop]; }

      var Francis = new Pope();
      // set new property on Francis
      Francis.activeMinistry = true;
      // Roulette mode. If random number equals zero, orthodoxy enabled.
      Francis.orthodoxyMode = (Math.random() * (2000 – 0) + 0) === 0;
      // chained methods for convenience
      var synod = Francis.initiate().climateChange().synod();
      bigamy: true,
      sodomy: true,
      adultery: true


      var laity = new Laity();

      if (Benedict.retainPassiveOffice == true && Francis.activeMinistry == true && Pope.numberPossible == 1)
      throw new Error(“You broke the papacy in class ‘Pope'”);


    • Hi Ann, I enjoyed your article about the Pope and Respect your Courage.
      When the Pope will visit Russia then we will know, keep this news from me.

      • Except for the fact that I still love God and people so very deeply. I know it is love because of the pain. If I ever descend into DN, as you posit, I will know it precisely by the lack of pain.

        • I believe in your mission Ann. There is nothing more important than the Truth – and there is something to be said about one who gave up everything she had to follow Jesus Christ, who is the Personification of The Truth. As we say in Kiwiland – good on ya mate!

          By the way some great news; Britain has just rejected the
          Obama/E.U./Francis axis of evil by voting for Brexit. The liberals are howling at the moon with rage, for now they know that the people are waking up to their great deception..

          Spitfire MkIX MH367 from Ardmore, with its melodic RR Merlin 61 engine has just performed a series of high speed low level passes followed by victory rolls right over our area to ‘press the point’ home. I love the sound of a Merlin or a Griffon in the afternoon – it sounds like VICTORY!

  4. “It is a binary position. Yes or no, on or off, one or zero.”

    Steve, please…didn’t you hear?

    With apologies Llamame Jorge:

    “Pope Francis warned on Thursday against an excessive rigidity, saying those within the Church who tell us “it’s this or nothing” are heretics and not Catholics.”

      • 1 Pope, 2 Popes

        Red Pope, Blue Pope

        Active Pope, Contemplative Pope

        Maybe we’ll see a new children’s book sold in Rome called ‘My Two Holy Papas’

        They’ll be holding hands in front of a rainbow on the cover.

        When we complain we’ll be told we’re reading too much into it.

  5. Well, there IS the principle of Non-Contradiction. There can be only one Supreme Pontiff if words are to have any meaning.

    This claim (it is hearsay) suggests the possibility that the new theologian/modernist Ratzinger was part to the movement to define two different subjects – Pope and College of Bishops – as BOTH BEING SUPREME. See Lumen Gentium.

    Yes, we are supposedly religiously bound to accept this absurdity

    We have become so inured to absurdity that we swallow these claims whole without stopping to even consider how absurd they are and how in stark opposition to the Principle of Non-Contradiction they and how illogical they are.





    ON NOVEMBER 21, 1964

    22. Just as in the Gospel, the Lord so disposing, St. Peter and the other apostles constitute one apostolic college, so in a similar way the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are joined together. Indeed, the very ancient practice whereby bishops duly established in all parts of the world were in communion with one another and with the Bishop of Rome in a bond of unity, charity and peace,(23*) and also the councils assembled together,(24*) in which more profound issues were settled in common, (25*) the opinion of the many having been prudently considered,(26*) both of these factors are already an indication of the collegiate character and aspect of the Episcopal order; and the ecumenical councils held in the course of centuries are also manifest proof of that same character. And it is intimated also in the practice, introduced in ancient times, of summoning several bishops to take part in the elevation of the newly elected to the ministry of the high priesthood. Hence, one is constituted a member of the Episcopal body in virtue of sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head and members of the body.

    But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church,

    Back in the day, in the Peimonte area where IANS was born, we used to call such claims bull shit.

    How’n’hell can an Ecumenical Council identify two different subjects as both being SUPREME?

    It can’t for such a claim is rendered inane as two subjects can NOT be supreme.

    Only one can be supreme (unless we are talking about Diana Ross and the dolls)

  7. As someone who greatly looked up to Benedict XVI/Ratzinger in my formation for diocesan priesthood, all of these things are deeply disturbing and potentially very disappointing. My faith is not shaken, but who can be trusted? That is what is shaken. I read the link to Mr. Pentin’s article and the excerpts from the preface by Pope Francis about priestly life were actually edifying to me, particularly in regards to the most fundamental need for prayer in the life of a priestly or the rest just goes to pot. I have seen enough parishes, pastors, and office staffs to recognize how dire the spiritual situation is at what I can presume are most parishes. If I live long enough to retire and I actually do such a thing (to avoid official meetings but to still be able to actively support the presbyterate by celebrating the Sacraments is the principle reason most priests retire), I, of course, would love to bury myself in prayer and deep theological studies. The Pope doesn’t get to do that. Now look at this mess. Though the words about priestly life were edifying, the overlaying thought was: “If you wanted that, you should have decline election at the conclave, so you could retire, grow older with your brother, play piano, read books, and tend your cats. Priests and bishops can do that… not the Pope.”

      • I’ve read too much of his work to believe that he has been some sort of secret agent working towards this all along. He was too hated by so many to have been one of them, I believe. I have been inclined for quite some time to that same suspicion as it is the only one that can make sense. I have also read too much of him to believe that he would make such a bold decision without a dang good reason, especially as he saw how much his friend John Paul II suffered. Losing one’s physical faculties is a hang of a lot different that losing one’s mental faculties in such a position.

    • When he took the office there was no thought of resigning in a few. Even his brother knew that he would belong to the Church until death and said as much.

  8. Bicephalism – “A pope emeritus is impossible.” JPII means Benedict is Still the Pope, because Pope Benedict XVI had no intention to resign as Pope therefore his resignation is invalid.

    Vittorio Messori Corriere della Sera, May 28, 2014:
    «That is to say, we discover, that Benedict XVI did not intend to renounce the munus petrinus, nor the office, or the duties, i.e. which Christ Himself attributed to the Head of the Apostles and which has been passed on to his successors. The Pope intended to renounce only the ministerium, which is the exercise and concrete administration of that office. In the formula employed by Benedict, primarily, there is a distinction between the munus, the papal office, and the execution, that is the active exercise of the office itself: but the executio is twofold: there is the governmental aspect which is exercised agendo et loquendo – working and teaching; but there is also the spiritual aspect, no less important, which is exercised orando et patendo – praying and suffering. It is that which would be behind Benedict XVI’s words : “I do not return to private life […] I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter.” “Enclosure” here would not be meant only in the sense of a geographical place, where one lives, but also a theological “place.”

    Antonio Socci
    Libero, May 29, 2014 «Through the Divine Constitution of the Church, in reality only one can be the Pope. And if it is as Messori says – Benedict XVI “did not intend to renounce the pontifical munus” which “is irrevocable” what kind of demission is his?
    Messori knows well that his entire article induces one to ask a dramatic question (who is the Pope?), but he avoids carefully formulating it, allowing the reader to pose it. Why? Is this article a signal that many are posing it in Church circles? Bergoglio’s papacy is invalid, even if we apply the same logic that he applies to invalid marriages: Bergoglio also since the beginning called himself “Bishop of Rome” and neither assumed the office as a Pope and Bergoglio said in the interview with Valentina Alazraki, ” I do not know if they made me swear something, I forget. ”

    Any forced marriage is invalid Bergoglio even dont know if he made any vows. It means Bergoglio officially does not took over as a valid pope, and nor acts or behaves like a pope but as a heretic. “
    Bergoglio was interviewed by journalist Valentina Alazraki, correspondent of Televisa News in the Vatican:
    You also told us that will follow the example of Pope Benedict … This changes a bit ‘the idea of the papacy, because we used that the pope was an institution created by the Holy Spirit and to the death.
    BERGOGLIO- “There were some cardinals who PRIOR to the CONCLAVE, in the general congregations, probed the very interesting, very rich THEOLOGICAL PROBLEM. I think that what Pope Benedict did has been to open a door. 60 years ago there were no emeritus bishops. And now we have 1400. They came to the idea that a man after 75, or close to that age, cannot carry the weight of a particular church. In general I think what Benedict so courageously did was to open the door to the Popes emeritus. Benedict should not be considered an exception, but an institution. Maybe he will be the only one for a long time, maybe he will not be the only one. But an institutional door has been opened. Today the Pope Emeritus is no longer a RARITY since a door for him to exist as a figure has been opened”.
    VALENTINA ALAZRAKI: Can you imagine a situation where a Pope retires at 80 as is the case with bishops?
    BERGOGLIO- “I can. However, I do not really like the idea of an age limit. Because I believe that the Papacy is a kind of last instance. It is a special grace. For some theologians the Papacy is a sacrament. The Germans are VERY CREATIVE in all these things. I do not think so, but I want to say that it is something special. To say that one is in charge up to 80 years, creates a sensation that the pontificate is at it’s end and that would not be a good thing. Predictability. I would not support the idea of putting an age limit on it, but I share the idea of what Benedict did.

    And speaking of the Curia he says:
    “I think this is the LAST COURT that remains in Europe. The others have been democratized, even the most classic among them. There is something in the papal court that maintains a somewhat atavistic tradition. And I do not say this in a derogatory way, it is a question of culture. This must be changed, the appearance of a court can be maintained, while being a working group at the service of the Church. At the service of the bishops”.

  9. I believe Bl. Ann Emmerick had a vision which included “two popes.” You wrote about it recently.

    Regardless of what has been said recently from the Vatican, what she saw was thusly characterized.

  10. ‘renouncing the active exercise of the Petrine ministry, Benedict XVI has now decided to devote himself totally to the “service of prayer: The Lord calls me to ‘climb the mountain’, to dedicate myself even more to prayer and meditation…”
    “a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father’. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain…”
    Anyone notice any similarities?
    “For this reason, Benedict has not renounced either his name or his white cassock. For this reason, the correct title with which we must refer to him is still “Holiness.” Would this give anyone ‘the impression that it was the Holy Father’.
    Anyone notice any similarities?

  11. What does Tradition say? Or doctrine say? There is no such thing as a “Pope Emeritus.” Why is something so easy so difficult for the modern Church? And neither will I blindly accept that what is promoted as being authored by Benedict XVI really is. After all, we have the Vatican itself hacking transcripts to protect Francis and his invalid marriage comments. What a trustworthy source. How about the edits of the Synod documents? And if anyone thinks that Pope JP2 actually approved of altar girls they don’t really know the depth of the Freemason infiltration and control. The smoke of Satan entered the Vatican in 1972, and has hade decades to mature, with even more decades the communists entering the seminaries and proceeding up the ranks.

  12. What difference does any of this make? The travesty continues. All we know is:
    –Pope Francis ascendancy to the papal office is highly questionable.
    –That Pope Benedict’s departure was mysterious.
    –That Pope Francis does not appear to be a good Pope and may not be the Pope at all.
    –That we all are left in a sea of confusion.
    But we also know that God is with us along with the historical doctrine of the Church. So we know what to do.
    –Prayer and mortification that God will rescue His Church and for all the souls who are presently being misguided.
    –Resist the present direction of the Church
    –Promote the truth via blogs such as OnePeterFive.

  13. Pope Benedict XVI resigning was probably the worst decision of a Pope since John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council. These three years of Francis have been a destructive nightmare. Thank God there is a growing number of people who see that the Emperor has no clothes on and are pointing it out just a bit more every day.

  14. “when he said clearly to German journalist Jorg Bremer that he wanted to be called “Father Benedict” rather than retaining a papal title, or even that of “Emeritus,” but “was too weak at that point to enforce it”?” What does too weak mean? Physically? Sphere of influence as retiring pope? I don’t get this at all. Sounds fishy….


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