Thoughts on Free Will and Hypothetical Papal Plots

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.”

Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives near Atlanta with family. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical-adventure trilogy, set during the time of the Arian crisis. He asks for your prayers for his intentions.  He can be contacted at (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA)






15 thoughts on “Thoughts on Free Will and Hypothetical Papal Plots

  1. “If he did not resign freely, …” Then can he only partially resign? Is he still partially Pope? A “Contemplative” Pope while Francis is an “Active” Pope? Two Popes? Can you be a little bit a Pope like being a little bit pregnant?

    Either B16 IS Pope or he isn’t. The “Active” Pope has not denied this definition from the “Contemplative” Pope.

    Have you noticed that anytime the “Active” Pope has appointed new Cardinals, they are always publicly presented to B16 for Approval? Why does he do that? It’s not necessary unless the “real” Pope needs to approve them.

    I do question whether or not PF is Pope. I do think there was conspiracy and goals set to elect PF prior to the conclaves. That in itself excommunicates those involved and makes PF ineligible for the office. I do think B16 was pressured to resign. I do not think there can be two Popes.

    B16 calls himself B16. He signs his letters the same.
    He continues to live at the Vatican.
    He dresses in White as if he IS Pope. For some reason he has not been provided any other clothes but the Popes!
    He is addressed as the Holy Father.


    1. John, thanks for comment. How he is addressed or signs his name is not the point, it is what he *is* that matters. Obama is still called “Mr. President” as a sign of respect, so too for retired governors, senators, military officers etc.

      My take is, Benedict intends on setting the precedent for future “emireti” – to make it easier for future popes to resign when the office becomes too difficult to fulfill, especially in light of how debilitated JPII was in the last years of his pontificate. To remove the ‘stigma’ so to speak. I am not saying I agree with it…but that is what it seems he intended. The whole “contemplative” thing strikes me as nothing more than signalling his wish to continue serving the whole Church – as he had when he was pope – by praying for it. His service to the Church continues, but only in a manner of speaking – and not as a true or half pope.

      I do not at all see it as a claim to continuing Petrine authority. Ratzinger is too good a theologian to have created such a harebrained thing as a divided papacy (or to ever think he could). He resignation letter was straightforward, and he called for a conclave – something that elects popes, not “active” popes. Yet, IF Pope Benedict thought he could do so, that would make him a ‘heretic.” In the end analysis, you’d only be exchanging one bad pope for another.

      Furthermore, Benedict recently indicated he was in regular contact with Cardinal Meisner up till the end. Meisner was involved in the most recent public letter sent to Francis from the Dubia cardinals. In it, they specifically reject all theories that suggest Francis is NOT pope. Now, that means that Benedict never gave Meisner or the other Dubia cardinals ANY statement or reason at all to suggest his resignation was something less or that he was still pope in any manner of speaking. Thus, if Benedict will not claim he is pope – we should not either.

      Now, I believe you and I probably agree on the significant problems posed by this current pontificate. However, we have had problem pontificates before (e.g., Honorius, John XXII, etc). Unfortunately, Francis may be a combination of ALL these multiplied by 100. Granted. I’ve presented my difficulties on this blog. However, as it is necessary for salvation not to separate from communion with the valid successor of St. Peter – I caution those who would accept the flimsy arguments offered to date which would conclude Francis is NOT pope. IF (and I mean IF) Francis is not a true pope, the hypothetical is not based on any evidence thus far offered. It has yet to come to light – yet, even then, until it does, one must act on the available evidence which clearly points to him being a validly elected pope. While it is understandable to question much of what this pope does, it would be rash to reject him as being the Successor of Peter.

      One last thought, even if – arguendo – Amoris Laetitia is heretical it was never offered as an official teaching. The pope refuses to answer the dubia. The fact Francis asked Schonborn if it is “orthodox” would seem to suggest at worst that Francis would be guilty of material, not formal heresy. Thus, even accepting that….Francis would still be pope.


      1. Many have stated that a formal heretic ceases to be a Pope. Does denying hell “count” ? How about telling people who in adulterous relationship that they are free to receive communion? I could name some other things but using my phone to write this makes it difficult. The point is, I have a hard time agreeing that he is or ever was Pope from an ever growing list. Can the seat be vacant? Certainly. Does that make me less Catholic? I hope not since in my life 4 popes have died. There was one Conclave that took 3 years. The Church kept going.,_1268–71

        I agree with much of what you write, as you suggested, but I fear that it will get worst before it gets better and this nightmare that I see will become clearer to more and more of the faithful. I pray that I’m wrong.


      2. John, I share your fear that it will get worse before it gets better. I am pretty much convinced it will get worse (a lot worse). However, we all know: “The Lord wins in the end!” It will be a glorious victory. Now, to your points above.

        (1) my point (arguendo) in my last note was that given the nature of AL, and pope’s state of mind (see his question to Schonborn) that at worst it appears he would be guilty of material heresy, not formal. But, you are right, a pope who fell into formal heresy would by this fact lose the papacy. However, my “pious” opinion is that a valid pope – while he might be a material heretic – could never fall into formal heresy. I think this is clear from the Formula of Hormisdas and the letter of Pope Agatho to the Emperor and the Sixth Ecumenical Council. So, while there is latitude for popes to screw up things…there are limits set by God.

        (2) Regarding Hell. . .I am aware the pope has made some (many?) questionable/bizarre statements on Hell and or eternal punishment. I have looked closely at his statement in Amoris Laetitia (297) and concluded that this *specific* statement in itself and in context does not deny hell or the possibility of eternal punishment. I wrote a blog article on that ( Take a look when you have the chance – I welcome your feedback on it. But, my article *only* defended the pope on this specific count (i.e., the statement in AL). I haven’t looked as closely at his other problematic statements on Hell/eternal punishment. Your concern has cause – there are prelates who appear to take the Von Balthasar line on eternal punishment (e.g., Bishop Barron). I do think the NEXT pope should explicitly condemn the propositions that Hell (a) does not exist or is (b) empty or nearly so.

        (3) regarding communion for adulterers, I think we all can read between the lines. We “know” that the pope favors it. However, curiously, AL does not explicitly *say* that in my opinion (I have a few blog articles that touch on that) plus the pope refuses to commit and answer the dubia. Thus, it seems to me, the pope has not stepped into formal heresy. The effect of his policy is somewhat analogous to Honorius in the monothelite heresy – i.e., that his position “favors” heresy, which is quite a different thing from either material or formal heresy. I do think if Pope Francis passes away without clearing up this question, a future pope and or council will likely (and need to)condemn him in a similar sense to the condemnation of Honorius (See what Pope Leo II said about him!).

        In summary, yes, things look bleak. But, we know the outcome (the Lord Wins!) even if we do not see what means He will use to achieve Victory. We’ve had bad popes in the past, so we need to pray and soldier our way through this one (and possibly more to come).


  2. I was referring to PF being quoted as saying that souls aren’t punished but annihilated.

    This line of “reasoning” directly contradicts last Sunday’s Gospel where Christ speaks about the tares or weeds. He later explains that the angels will be sent to gather the sinners and evil doers and they will thrown in the fire furnace with wailing and grinding of their teeth.

    To me it sounds like PF was directly contradicting the very words of Christ and revealed Truth in the Gospel and Tradition.

    Of course, you are also correct, the Church teaches that the Holy Spirit will not allow the Pope to teach heresy. You assume PF is Pope. I no longer assume that to be true so I don’t expect that he’ll have that protection.


    1. John, as I said, my article only addressed a statement where PF had committed an opinion to paper – one which could be evaluated. His comments, reported by Scalfari, are things the Pope needs to clarify. I am not in the business of making excuses for him. With regard to Scalfari, one cannot help but suspect that when the Pope goes back time and time again to that writer – one who publishes based on recollection – that the Pope does so for one reason: to float trial balloons while coyly maintaining a degree of plausible deniability. The problem is, IF Scalfari’s reconstruction is accurate, PF has some explaining to do. If Scalfari is inaccurate, PF STILL has some explaining to do. But . . .there has been NO explaining! At a minimum, we can say the Pope is being negligent in not exercising his office with due diligence, perhaps willfully so. We are long since past the time when a large group of cardinals should have met and confronted the pope – audience or no audience – in private on the dubia and other statements that confuse the faithful.

      Regarding your comment about I “assume PF is Pope.” I find that statement inaccurate. An assumption is accepting something as true *without evidence.* Therefore, I find your assertion rather difficult to accept and impossible to concede. Benedict resigned calling for a conclave. He gave no indication to Meisner and the dubia cardinals his resignation was invalid or that he believed himself still pope. The college of cardinals met and elected a pope. An analysis of his Declaratio does not support the notion he intended to divide the papacy into two. No one with credible authority (e.g., a cardinal elector, a bishop, a bishops conference) has suggested a defect in the conclave. No one. John, I am sorry, but ALL evidence supports the view that PF is pope. To hold the contrary, one must reject evidence which is done on the the nature of this papacy. This seems to me to be something of an argumentum ad consequentiam. All visible evidence – which is what we must go on – leads to the conclusion PF is a true pope. That is hardly a mere “assumption.”


  3. Hi, Steven. Great post, as always. Lately, I have been coming around to the position that we are dealing with “Antipope Bergoglio” rather than “Pope Francis.” It’s a confluence of many indicators (rather than a single smoking gun) that leads me in this direction. You mention most, but allow me to catalog them briefly.

    First, that a pope resigned in the first place is highly suspicious (how many centuries has it been since the last one?).

    Second, there are indications that B16’s resignation was unduly influenced if not outright coerced (wolves, St. Gallen’s, etc.). If not made freely, his resignation would be invalid.

    Third, there are indications that B16 erroneously believes that he retains a portion of the Petrine charism and thus his resignation would have been made in substantial error (and thus, it would have been invalid under canon law).

    Fourth, there are strong indications that the election of Bergoglio was orchestrated in contravention of canon law, which would result in automatic excommunication for those involved (including Bergoglio himself? Can an excommunicated man be elected pope?).

    Fifth, the four year reign of Bergoglio has been an uninterrupted series of disasters and errors — errors so grave that most faithful Catholics wouldn’t have thought them possible at the hands of the Vicar of Christ.

    So I agree with you that none of these, taken alone, are completely and overwhelmingly persuasive, but the presence of all of them has turned the tide for me. God Bless.


    1. Zach, thanks for the comments. I do agree with your fifth point – that this papacy has been unique to say the least. If “the end” doesn’t come first, I think it will take decades to dig out from underneath it. That said, that in itself is not a reason to reject the validity of PF’s election, we’ve had problem popes in the past, and there is no reason to think an amalgamation of many of them into one person is theoretically and necessarily outside of what God might allow for His own purposes. If PF were to fall into formal heresy, certainly…all bets are off. However, it would require higher authority (such as Bellarmine suggest), above my pay grade, to determine he in fact is a formal heretic.

      Regarding the St. Gallen mafia, clearly the whole thing stinks. It should be investigated. I think when it came to light, cardinals should have gone to PF and ask him to swear he had no knowledge of their activities. But, while it may strain credulity to say he was not part of it, the truth is, there is no evidence. If there was? My understanding is he would be under the same excommunication. If he were excommunicated what then? Then I think we’d need the canon lawyers to sort through the existing papal legislation on conclaves to determine that. In other words, again, it would not be up to you or me.

      You’ve read what I wrote to JFK on BXVI’s intent when he resigned. Frankly, of all the theories, this seems to me, by far, the weakest. BXVI knew papal history. He knew pope’s can and have resigned. He telegraphed he would do so when he visited the tomb of Pope Clement. I’ve read his resignation and his words from the papal audience. It is clear enough that he speaks ‘in a manner of speaking.’ He says he will not have the power of office, and he says a “new” (not an “additional”) successor will be elected.

      I think I might write an article on the above. The issue is important for at least two reasons. (1) it is necessary for salvation to remain in communion with the valid successor of St. Peter. Sufficient evidence is necessary to determine who we think is Pope X is really Anti-pope X. That evidence has not yet been offered in the case of PF. (2) There is a danger, it seems to me at least, that dismissing the validity of PF may lead one to disengage and become something of an island unto him or herself – perhaps even a bemused outsider of PF’s antics, rather than engaged in doing what one can do to lawfully resist on the “inside.” For example, getting PF to answer the “dubia” is nonsensical if one rejects PF’s validity; i.e., why does it matter what PF thinks of the dubia or what his answer might be if he is an anti-pope? This attitude, right or wrong, would certainly weaken efforts to mount pressure on the pope to answer the dubia – and diminish the likelihood (no matter how remote) the pope might answer them. The point is this attitude will have, in my opinion, the net effect of weakening *lawful* opposition to PF. It will make the overall situation worse.

      Any way, my view is, it is important that we go no further than the facts allow, and tread no further beyond the point where our own authority ends. All evidence points to valid election of PF. I do not have the evidence or authority to “un-pope” him, or “de-pope” him. It would be easy if I did! But, I don’t.


  4. The key of this number one issue lies in the sentence Benedict uttered on the first day of his pontificate: “Pray for me so that I will not flee by fear of the wolves”.
    This sentence, many could hear and many reported it. It was not said randomly by the new Pope.
    One cannot dismiss it so easily as an unimportant thing since, a posteriori, we know it was prophetic: Such words in the Vicar of Christ’s mouth have a weight.
    – Obviously we didn’t pray enough whereas,
    – Benedict fled.
    – He fled because the wolves were ready to bite.
    It is odd enough that nobody ever asked Benedict who were these “wolves”, but given the conditions of his resignation we got some clues:
    – “Benedict resigned under huge pressures (enormi pressioni) from inside and outside the Vatican” (Mgr Luigi Negri)
    – The “Sankt Gallen mafia”
    – The Obama administration that couldn’t withstand the conservative views of Benedict
    – The Democrats. Look at the “Podesta e-mails”
    – The Remnant asked some embarrassing questions which never were answered :
    We may have heavy doubts regarding the freedom of speech of Benedict since every time there is a controversy (for example about Fr Dollinger’s declarations on the 3rd Secret) a press release or Mgr Ganswein (chief of the papal houshold) speaks instead of him. Oddly enough, the revelation of his brother’s involvement in a scandal quickly followed his unwise say about “the Church upon to capsize” leading to think that some among the huge pressures (blackmails?) still remain active to silence him.
    Why did Benedict remain in the Vatican after his resignation instead of ending in prayer in a remote German monastery? In my eyes he looks like Pope Pius VII in a golden cage when he was the prisoner of Napoleon.
    No freedom of speech, therefore no freedom of will for resigning even if he said the contrary.


    1. Jacques, thanks for the comment. I am not denying that there are many things that might warrant investigation. That said, at this stage they amount to “what ifs” and “might have beens”. You are looking at these incidents and interpreting them in light of a hoped for conclusion, it seems to me. That seems something of an argumentum ad consequentiam. That is to say, the horror of the result if your interpretation is wrong – Francis is Pope- is what colors your interpretation of all the oddities you have arrayed. Again, I agree…many odd things. But, we must act on what we *know*. We know being in communion with the Successor of St. Peter is NECESSARY for salvation. We know, from all appearances of procedure and canon law and the law of conclaves, etc., that Pope Francis is pope. It seems to me it is spiritually rash and dangerous to conclude the opposite on suppositions and theories. “IF”, and I mean *IF*, Francis is not really pope – the evidence for it is presently hidden from view. So, even on THAT hypothetical – i..e, not having that evidence – we would still be required to act on what IS known until such time the “evidence” to the contrary comes to light.


  5. Sreven, how can the RCChurch require me to be in communion with, and love, a man who has endeavoured to contradict or reject a great part of the tenets of the Faith I have been taught since my childhood while saying that he wants to make the Church ‘unrecognizable” and that he would probably be the first Pope who will trigger a schism?
    This is far beyond my spiritual forces: I am certain that Jesus will forgive me if puting this man on the Seat of Peter was truly His choice, which I strongly doubt.
    God never tempts us beyond our strength.
    I reached the point where I have shut my eyes and my ears, dismissing all what is coming from the Church’s hierarchy, faithfully following my trad parish priest, often going to confession and receiving the Body of Christ.
    I have become utterly tired being obliged to carefully select what is good from what is evil, the wheat and the chaff being carefully mixed INSIDE the Church. I never believed the Church of Christ would have fallen so low, “on the verge of capsizing” (a recent say of our true Pope Benedict XVI).


    1. Jacques, thanks for the comments. Certainly, these are confusing spiritual times. Not wanting to minimize that all. I would note, as I am sure you are well aware, we’ve had bad popes. Look at Alexander VI from a moral standpoint, or John XXII or Honorius. Folks in their day were tested. Perhaps it is our turn. Hang on, buckle your seat belt…and pray.


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