July 20, 2017 (Steven O’Reilly) – There has been much commentary on the Internet on whether Pope Benedict XVI freely resigned the papacy. If he did not resign freely, we must conclude: (1) his resignation would be invalid; (2) Benedict would still be Pope and (3) Francis as a consequence would be an anti-pope. Those who make this argument have understandable concerns regarding the pontificate of Pope Francis. However, this argument against the validity of the election of Francis reduces to an argumentum ad consequentiam. While I understand and share the valid concerns about this pontificate (just read my blog!), I see no evidence to suggest that Benedict XVI resigned against his will. Therefore, I share the opinion of Fr. Blake on the matter: Francis is Pope.
Pope Benedict XVI is, in my estimation, an honorable man. I do not believe he would “flee the wolves” or abdicate under the threat of blackmail. In fact, had he faced coercion, I expect he would have stuck it out. As a good theologian, he would know a coerced abdication would not be valid. So too, any plotters against him within the Church would know the same thing. There would be no point in the plotters coercing Pope Benedict off the Chair of St. Peter in favor of their own candidate only to have “Emeritus” Benedict successfully and easily challenge (1) his own abdication at some later date and (2) the validity of his “successor.”
While I seriously doubt Benedict was blackmailed or coerced in any way that would undermine the validity of his resignation, this does not mean there was not a plot against him in the true sense. I do think the story of the St. Gallen mafia and its activities is a tale yet to be fully told (See Edward Pentin of the NCRegister and Marco Tosatti of La Stampa and in Rorate Caeli for background). According to the linked to Pentin and Tosatti articles, the St. Gallen Mafia wanted “drastic reform of the Church” and to make it “much more modern.” This collection of St. Gallen Cardinals and bishops were vehemently opposed to Cardinal Ratzinger, and wanted their own candidate – Cardinal Bergoglio – to be elected in the 2005 papal conclave.
We also know the late Cardinal Martini, one of the lead members of the St. Gallen mafia urged Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 to resign and that this discussion may have impacted Benedict’s decision to resign in February 2013. According to one of Martini’s associates (Fr. Fausti), the ostensible reason for Cardinal Martini’s suggestion was that Benedict had failed to reform the curia (see here). It is interesting to note from this same article that Martini spoke to Ratzinger during the 2005 conclave and supposedly threw his own votes behind Benedict XVI to get him elected; while also suggesting that if Benedict failed to reform the curia, he should resign at some future point. According to the article in Vatican Insider:
According to Fausti, Ratzinger and Martini “had more votes, Martini a few more” than Ratzinger. There had apparently been a scheme to elect a Curia cardinal. “Once the ploy had been unveiled, Martini went to Ratzinger in the evening and said to him: tomorrow, you agree to become Pope with my votes… He said to him: you accept, you have been in the Curia for 30 years and you are intelligent and honest: if you manage to reform the Curia great, if not, you step down.” (Martini: Benedict XVI’s Resignation and the 2005 Conclave, Vatican Insider, 7/18/2015)
Given the St. Gallen group had a secret agenda (opposition to Ratzinger, “drastic reform” of the Church, “modernization” of the Church, etc.), Cardinal Martini—in both of his discussions with Ratzinger on the question of accepting the papacy (2005) and resigning the papacy (2012)—appears to have been disingenuous, to say the least. The St. Gallen group wanted “drastic reform” and “modernization” of the Church—not reform of the Vatican Curia—and it opposed Ratzinger. The evidence on its face suggests Cardinal Martini as a member of the Saint Gallen group was duplicitous on both occasions. It appears Martini played his Machiavellian best with his losing hand in the 2005 conclave (to appear magnanimous in throwing his votes to Ratzinger!) and thereby setting up a plausible pretext (i.e., “reform of the curia”) to push Benedict XVI to resign in 2012 when he had failed to do so. Yet, throughout, Martini’s real goal was not the “reform of the curia” alone as he suggested to Benedict, but rather St. Gallen’s ‘anti-Ratzingerian’ agenda of drastic reform and the election of its candidate (i.e., Cardinal Bergoglio). Yet, even if Martini’s duplicitous suggestion pushed and manipulated Pope Benedict to resign, the resignation would still have been freely decided by Benedict XVI.
The controversy surrounding Pope Benedict XVI’s brother, Fr. Georg Ratzinger, might have played a part in the Bendict XVI’s resignation. Note, I do not believe Fr. Georg Ratzinger is guilty of anything beyond what he has freely admitted—but he would not have to be guilty. In this day of modern media, it is not always the truth which matters, but what is reported as the truth which does. The latter can do as much or more damage than the former. The appearance of this story is bad, whatever the truth of the matter. Plotters could have influenced (without coercing) Benedict XVI through the counsel they gave him, by echoing and egging on his worst doubts and stoking his worst fears about the potential for a media storm to embarrass the See of St. Peter, etc. If this story played a role in his resignation, one could easily see Benedict XVI freely deciding to resign, all for the good of the Church.
In sum, what I believe is possible – though speculative – is that manipulation played a part in Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. Manipulation is more subtle than blackmail, not being immediately recognized or understood by its target. It is also not as messy and leaves fewer clues and fingerprints behind if successful. Cardinal Martini’s conversation with Pope Benedict seems, to me at least, to suggest duplicity was in play at some level. Yet, even so, the choices and decisions made by Pope Benedict XVI, including his resignation, remain his and his alone – without coercion. Manipulation is not coercion.
Unfortunately for the Church, Pope Benedict XVI was favorably inclined toward the idea of a future abdication from the beginning of his pontificate; and the requirements of the papacy apparently did appear to weigh on him. For someone whose default mode was to lean heavily in a certain direction, the effort necessary to nudge and topple him over the rest of the way is not as great. I do wonder if perhaps Benedict XVI might now realize he was nudged and conducted toward the papal exit door via manipulation and false counsel. This might explain the comments he wrote for Cardinal Meisner’s funeral and the prophetic comment (reported in Zenit) he made to the newest cardinals who recently visited him: “The Lord will win in the end.”