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Whither Benepapism?

Months after the death of Benedict XVI, those who claim he remained pope till the end, so-called Benepapists, persist in their claims. The two main camps within Benepapism include those who believe Benedict made a “substantial error” in his resignation, in that they claim he erroneously believed he could bifurcate the papacy, or retain the papal munus in some way. This rendered Benedict’s resignation invalid through a “substantial error” per canon 188, they claim. The other camp believes Benedict created a self-impeded see by intentionally resigning the administration of the papacy, while retaining the papacy itself. This Benedict did, they say, to save the papacy from the Modernists.

Thus, one is left with making an odd choice. Either Benedict was a strategic genius or a theological fool. An example of this seeming conundrum arises from Benedict’s greeting to some pilgrims just a couple hours before his resignation went into effect on February 28, 2013. He said, as of 8pm that evening, “I am no longer the supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church.” Ordinarily, common sense should dictate this is a clear statement of Benedict’s intent and understanding he would no longer be pope in any sense.

However, undeterred by such strictures, the competing camps of Benepapists try to explain away this clear statement, so damning to their central claim. One camp says Benedict contradicted himself from his last audience the day before – at least as they interpret it. The other camp explains away Benedict’s clear meaning by saying he really was speaking in a cryptic code, which by their gnostic interpretation, ultimately, means he was saying he was remaining pope! Common sense should have put a brake on such nonsense long ago. They are guilty of what we object to in the “mainstream” media: agenda-driven misinterpretation of the facts, ignoring contrary evidence and responses, and gaslighting.

Unfortunately, to date, Benepapists have offered nine books advocating their dogmatic views, held with moral certitude, leading others into potential error and schism. My book, Valid? The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, takes a close look at the Case against the Benepapists. Let’s review the state of the evidence.

Munus vs. Ministerium 

In his Declaratio, Benedict declared that he “renounced the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter… in such a way… that the See of Rome, the See of Peter” would be vacant, and an election for a new supreme pontiff would be necessary. Seems open and shut declaration that he renounced the papacy.

The resignation meets the two requirements of Canon 332.2. First, the resignation was freely made. Benedict said so in the Declaratio, and later in his Seewald interviews. There is no demonstration to the contrary. Second, his resignation was duly manifested having been read before a consistory of cardinals, videotaped, and entered into the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.

Yet, Benepapists object that while the canon in Latin speaks of renouncing the munus, Benedict used the Latin word ministerio (ministerium) instead. Therefore, for them, the resignation was invalid. The reply to this is that there is no required canonical formula for a papal resignation. Other words may be used as shown by the case of Pope Celestine V who used the Latin word for papacy.

Even so, writers such as Ryan Grant and Fr. John Rickert, FSSP, PHD have demonstrated that multiple, authoritative Latin reference works explicitly state munus and ministerium are synonyms, and or have overlapping definitions.

Fr. Rickert elsewhere points out that the Latin title of the Declaratio in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis uses the word munus: “Declaratio Summi Pontificis: De Muneris Episcopi Romae, Successoris Sancti Petri Abdicatione.”  This title may be translated “Declaration of the Supreme Pontiff on the abdication of the office (munus) of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter.”  Thus, the use of munus in the title demonstrates that the text below it, which uses ministerio, is to be understood as synonymous.

In my book, I cite Fr. Rickert’s discovery (per personal correspondence) of the following paragraph in Lumen Gentium where the Council Fathers speaking of succession from the Apostles, say:

They therefore appointed such men, and gave them the order that, when they should have died, other approved men would take up their ministry (ministerium). Among those various ministries (ministeria) which, according to tradition, were exercised in the Church from the earliest times, the chief place belongs to the office (munus) of those who, appointed to the episcopate(Lumen Gentium, 20).

Above, the Council Fathers taught explicitly the episcopal munus is “among those various ministries (ministeria)” passed on by the apostles. The munus being “among those various ministries,” then it necessarily follows a ‘munus is a ministry (ministerium).’ This argument based on Lumen Gentium was further developed in consideration of LG 18-22 in an article on my blog. Given this entailment, if one resigns the Petrine ministerium, one necessarily resigns the Petrine munus.

The ‘Always’ is also a ‘Forever’

The Benepapists have notoriously misread Benedict XVI’s Last Audience of February 27, 2013, specifically the paragraph which begins with the line:

The ‘Always’ is also a ‘Forever’” – there can be no return to the private sphere. My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this.

For the Benepapists, this paragraph is “the smoking gun,” and the “interpretive lens” to understand Benedict’s resignation. In these words, the Benepapists claims the “always” and “forever” either refers to Benedict’s erroneous belief that a papal election confers an indelible mark upon him, and or that he intended to retain the papal munus in some way, ‘always and forever.’

The reality is, by this interpretation the leading Benepapists have deceived themselves and others by failing to consider the paragraph preceding the one they exclusively cite. In that forgotten paragraph, Benedict explicitly defined what he meant by the “Always:”

Always – anyone who accepts the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church.

Benedict is referring to a “loss of privacy” upon becoming pope in that he “belongs” to the whole Church. Reading the whole audience, one sees he speaks of the Church, not as an abstraction, but as a living communion of “brothers and sisters,” “sons and daughters,” etc. And indeed, Benedict immediately goes on in this forgotten paragraph to explain this loss of privacy and belonging as having to do with gaining “brothers and sisters,” and “sons and daughters” upon his election. In this forgotten paragraph, Benedict says of a pope: “he no longer belongs to himself, he belongs to all and all belong to him.” Indeed, Benedict as Cardinal Ratzinger had used a similar theme of a pope no longer having privacy and not belonging to himself following the death of Pope Paul VI.

Thus, “The ‘Always is also a Forever’” is not a reference at all to a supposed “indelible mark” of a papal munus. No. Benedict is speaking of a bond of charity formed upon becoming pope. He became a “father,” and had a father’s love toward the Church, and indeed, the Church as people, his “sons and daughters” loving him back.

Consequently, when Benedict says “The ‘Always’ is also a ‘Forever’ – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere” he is simply saying this bond of charity will persist forever, even after his resignation. This he affirmed in the next line in saying his resignation “does not revoke this.” Grammatically and logically the “this” refers back to the “privacy” theme, i.e., his resignation from the papacy does not revoke this bond of charity. Benedict would always have a “heart of a father” towards his “sons and daughters,” the Church. That is why he goes on to say that even though he “no longer bears the power of office for the  governance of the Church”, i.e., he is no longer pope, he will devote himself in the service of prayer for the Church (i.e., his “sons and daughters”). This theme can be found earlier in the Last Audience where he spoke of praying for the Church “with a heart of a father.” These same themes can also be found in his interviews with Peter Seewald.

One last note on the Last Audience. Benepapists claim Benedict’s reference above to an “active” ministry indicates Benedict either intended to bifurcate the papacy into an “active” and “passive/contemplative” component, keeping the “passive” part for himself; or that he intended to only give up the doing of the papacy, while retaining the being of the papacy.

In reply, first, there is no such distinction or qualification of an “active ministry” in Benedict’s instrument of resignation, the Declaratio. Benedict clearly declared he “renounced the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter.” No qualification of an “active ministry” here. Second, in the paragraph from the last audience cited by the Benepapists, Benedict explains his use of “active” in a way contrary to their interpretation. Benedict XVI points to how Saint Benedict will be an example for him after his resignation, saying St. Benedict “showed us the way for a life which, whether active or passive, is completely given over to the work of God.” Note clearly, Benedict XVI was speaking of a ‘way a life, which is active or passive’; not a papacy which is active or passive. Benedict XVI had given up the “active” portion of his life in his renunciation of the papacy, and was now committed to a passive life devoted to prayer. That is all he meant. I discuss this in my book, and in an article on my blog.

So, as we see above, the Benepapists do here what Protestants do in interpreting the Bible. They have taken a phrase completely out of context, e.g.., “The ‘Always’ is also a ‘Forever’”, and then misinterpreted it to suit their own agenda.

Final Thoughts

Now, this article considered the main objections to the validity of Benedict’s resignation. My book, a variety of articles, and a video series address these Benepapist claims, as well as others, such as Archbishop Gänswein’s speech, Benedict wearing white, Apostolic Blessings, Andrea Cionci’s Ratzinger Code, etc.

As one looks at the supposed ‘evidence’ brought forward by the leading Benepapists, one thing stands out upon close examination. Benepapist misuse of source material in this controversy is not isolated to the Last Audience. They have ignored, or discounted sources that contradict them, and have grossly misread or misrepresented them. Through a combination of wishful thinking, poor interpretations, bad logic and nonsensical theories, they have backed themselves, and those who put their faith in their analytical powers, onto the edge of an abyss.

Some Benepapists support a 2021 declaration which states they will not recognize any future conclave in which cardinal-electors created by Pope Francis take part. Others suggest they would accept such cardinal-electors. What is not so clear is what these bitter-ender Benepapists will do in the former case if their conclave conditions are not met, or in the latter case, if the newly elected pope confirms the validity of Benedict’s resignation. Would they then doubt the validity of the election of this new pope on such grounds?

It is well past time for leading Benepapists to come to grips with the reality that their claims do not withstand close scrutiny, and step back from the brink of schism, which is a mortal sin and a canonical offense incurring automatic excommunication (cf Can. 1364 §1, Can. 1336 §2-4). They have brought themselves, and their followers who have misplaced their trust in them to this brink. It is time for common sense, and the Catholic Faith to prevail.


Editor’s note: Dr. Edmund Mazza contacted us to assert that a response to Mr. O’Reilly’s argument is contained in his book. A critique of Mazza’s book by O’Reilly can be found here. OnePeterFive does not endorse or publish the BIP view as we understand the papacy of Francis to be a non-negotiable element of our Traditionalist publishing and are not convinced by the arguments proposed by this movement. Nevertheless we maintain an amicable relationship with these fellow Catholics provided that they express their opinions in good faith as questiones disputatae and maintain docility to the Magisterium as the only competent judge over this matter. Not every BIP Catholic maintains this pious attitude, but Dr. Mazza does.

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