September 21, 2018 (Steven O’Reilly) – Two letters written by Benedict XVI to Cardinal Brandmüller were recently published in part in the German paper, Bild. Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register has now published these letters in full, and these may be read in their entirety in his article on the subject (see here). The letters were part of correspondence in 2017 between Benedict XVI and Cardinal Brandmüller. Those who first published the leaked extracts of the letters tried to spin them; suggesting that in them Benedict XVI distanced himself from the critics of Pope Francis. A reading of the full letters is sufficient to demonstrate this was not the case.
The particular interest in mentioning them here on Roma Locuta Est is to point out that the letters are further proof – as if any more were really needed(!) – of the utter vacuity of the theories suggesting Benedict XVI is still pope. I did not take delight when Benedict XVI resigned. I do not take delight in a Francis papacy, which may already be rated as combining some of the worst aspects of some, if not all, of the worst popes (e.g., Liberius, Honorius, John XXII, etc) in the history of the Catholic Church. Therefore, understandably, an increasing number of Catholics have a growing unease over Pope Francis – and are looking for an explanation for what is happening in Rome. Indeed, Cardinal Eijk of the Netherlands in a commentary published in the National Catholic Register in May 2018 (see here) speaks with evident distress about the silence of Pope Francis over the question of intercommunion and an “apostasy from the truth.” Cardinal Eijk wrote in concluding his commentary:
Observing that the bishops and, above all, the Successor of Peter fail to maintain and transmit faithfully and in unity the deposit of faith contained in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, I cannot help but think of Article 675 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The Church’s ultimate trial
Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.”
Not surprisingly, in the face of such seeming failures to “maintain and transmit faithfully” the deposit of the faith, Catholics are wondering if there might be something of an ‘escape clause’ or ‘escape hatch’ from this papacy; perhaps a declaration Francis is an anti-pope never properly elected or perhaps that he is a pope who has deposed himself through acts of formal heresy.
Obviously, even in such a truly apocalyptic scenario, Catholics would need to rely on their shepherds, faithful cardinals and bishops – however few in number – to lead the way. But even setting that aside for the moment, any unease with this papacy, however justified, does not relieve one of the responsibility to honestly assess the evidence, even if this assessment yields undesirable conclusions. If we are to comprehend the situation in which the Church finds itself today then we need to assess the evidence and face the facts as they are – and not follow after theories which are contradicted by them. Here I have two theories in mind which are contradicted by the evidence and common sense.
- Pope Benedict XVI’s apparent resignation is invalid because it was forced, and not freely offered. Because Benedict XVI’s resignation was offered under duress – perhaps due to the machinations of the St. Gallen mafia – it is invalid. Therefore, Benedict XVI is still pope and, as a consequence, Francis is an anti-pope.
- Pope Benedict XVI did not have proper intent in his resignation. He believed he could surrender the active ministry of the Petrine office, while holding onto the “contemplative” part of it, i.e., he believed, in essence, there could be two popes. However, it is impossible to divide the Petrine office. Therefore Benedict’s intent to resign on these conditions involved a “substantial error.” Therefore, Benedict is still pope and, as a consequence, Francis is an anti-pope. (NB: A variant of this theory is that Benedict XVI intended to make a defective resignation!).
It is not my intent to go over old ground here, as the dusty, cobwebbed archival vaults of Roma Locuta Est have several articles in them which address and or debunk both these theories (see Thoughts on Free Will and Hypothetical Papal Plots and Benedict is NOT pope and Benedict is STILL not Pope and A Filial Correction of those who believe Benedict is still Pope?). My only intent here – returning to the subject of the recently published letters of Benedict XVI (post abdication) – is only to further demonstrate, as I said, the utter vacuity of the theories. I regret this is necessary, but the adherents of these theories simply will not sign the death certificates – no matter how many stakes have been driven through the theories’ hearts, no matter how many silver bullets have been pumped into the theories’ bodies, and no matter the heart monitors are flat lining.
Here are the letters, as they appeared in Edward Pentin’s article. My comments are in RED. In these letters to Cardinal Brandmüller, Benedict writes:
From the letter dated: 9 November 2017
In your recent interview with the FAZ [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung] you say that I created, with the construction of the Pope Emeritus, a figure that does not exist in the entirety of Church history. Of course, you know very well that popes have retired, even if very rarely. What were they afterwards? Pope Emeritus? Or what instead? [O’Reilly Comments: Benedict XVI attempts to justify his choice of a title post resignation. He calls to the Cardinal’s remembrance other popes have retired, i.e., something Benedict has done, and now he asked the Cardinal “what were they afterwards?” Certainly an admission he has ‘retired’ or resigned]
As you know, Pius XII left instructions in case of being captured by the Nazis: that from the moment of his capture he would no longer be Pope but a Cardinal again. Whether this simple return to the Cardinalate would have been in fact possible, we do not know. In my case it surely would not have made sense simply to claim a return to the Cardinalate. I then would have constantly been exposed to the public in the way a Cardinal is – indeed, even more so, because in that Cardinal one would have seen the former Pope. [O’Reilly Comments: Benedict XVI continues his apologetic for choice of “emeritus” as a post resignation title. Even more, he suggests he had concern over being seen as a Cardinal, one in whom one “would have seen the former pope.” An admission again, Benedict sees himself as a “former” pope.] This could have led, intentionally or unintentionally, to difficult consequences, particularly in the context of the present situation. With the Papa Emeritus I have tried to create a situation in which I am absolutely inaccessible to the media and in which it is completely clear that there is only one Pope. If you know of a better way and thus believe that you may condemn the one I have chosen, please tell me about it. [O’Reilly Comments: Benedict XVI is squabbling with Brandmuller over titles as former pope, not over the fact of whether he is still pope! Further, Benedict states he wanted to be inaccessible to the media so that “it is completely clear that there is only one Pope“! It may also be observed Benedict speak of what “I have tried to create”, i.e., he did this of his own free will, contrary to those who might assert he acted under duress.]
I greet you in the Lord
From the letter dated: 23 November 2017
From your kind letter of November 15th I assume I may conclude that in the future you no longer want to comment publicly on the question of my resignation, and for this I thank you.
The deep-seated pain that the end of my pontificate has caused in you, as in many others, I can understand very well. But the pain in some — and it seems to me also in you — has turned into anger, which no longer regards only the resignation, but increasingly is expanding to my person and to my pontificate as a whole. [O’Reilly Comments: Benedict XVI clearly refers explicitly to the end of his pontificate (“the end of my pontificate”). There is no partial ending. No half ending. His pontificate…has ended!]
In this manner a pontificate is being devalued and fused into a sadness about the situation of the Church today. From this fusion a new kind of agitation gradually results, for which the little book by Fabrizio Grasso, La rinuncia (Algra Editore, Viagrande/Catania 2017) could become emblematic.
All this fills me with worry and, precisely for that reason, the end of your FAZ interview left me so troubled, because it ultimately cannot but foster the same sort of atmosphere.
Let us pray instead, as you did at the end of your letter, that the Lord may come to the aid of his Church. With my Apostolic blessing I am [O’Reilly Comments: I will pass over Benedict’s comments about the “situation of the Church”, as the focus in this article is to address the question of his being still pope or not. Of course, we see, he says he is not. Still, oddly, Benedict gives his “Apostolic blessing”. Certainly, puzzling…but it may be by dint of former habit or perhaps Pope Francis delegated it to him (see here). No doubt, the conspiracy theorists will latch on to this, I suppose. Regardless, the weight of the evidence against the theories is overwhelming, and the content of these recent letters only adds to this.]
The Church teaches to be in communion with the Successor of St. Peter is necessary for salvation (cf. Unam Sanctam and CCC 2089). Therefore, the stakes are quite high for those Catholics who would reject – and lead others to reject – the legitimacy of Francis, who by all outward appearance of canonical form, process and procedure was duly and validly elected pope. But, is there something ‘going on’ with Francis? Ultimately, we must rely on our shepherds – faithful cardinals and bishops – to deal with the situation, whether that be through a formal correction of Pope Francis, or even as some are suggesting now, through an “imperfect council” (see here, here an here), such as in the case of Pope Benedict IX, to perhaps evaluate the evidence of the different anti-pope theories (see here), the role of Pope Francis in the abuse scandals (i.e., Archbishop Viganó’s testimony), as well as potential formal heresies – with the possibility of declaring Francis deposed should the evidence warrant this.
Even if we were to entertain Cardinal Eijk’s hypothesis that we might be living in the days of CCC 675, i.e., a time of a religious deception – and even if we were to further hypothesize (which Eijk does not state, at least no explicitly) that perhaps Francis is part of this deception, the Benedict is still Pope theories are still without any merit in such a moment. The recently published letters we’ve examined above only add to the overwhelming case against both of the “Benedict is still Pope” theories as well as their variants. There is no indication of duress in these letters. In fact, the contrary is evident as Benedict speaks of his decision-making process in choosing the title he would use after his resignation. There is no indication that Benedict intended to retain any portion of his papal office for himself. To the contrary, in the letters he speaks of being seen as the “former pope.” Furthermore, Benedict speaks of his plan to be inaccessible to the media so as to make it “completely clear that there is only one Pope” (and it’s not him!), and he also speaks of the end of his pontificate (“the end of my pontificate“). I will not say this letter evidence put the final nail in the coffin of these “Benedict is still Pope” theories, but only because that coffin was already nailed securely shut – as well as bolted, super-glued, wrapped in chains, and immersed in reinforced concrete.
Benedict is not pope. The only thing to be added to that is to say: Benedict is really, really still not pope! Really! [NB: La Stampa’s Vatican Insider is trumpeting the same letters to show Benedict is not pope (see here). It pains me to say this because I hate to see that Vatican Insider and Roma Locuta Est might be in general agreement on anything. However, the reader may take solace recalling that like the proverbial broken clock perhaps even Vatican Insider might be correct on the rare occasion.]
Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is married to Margaret O’Reilly. He lives near Atlanta with his 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 StevenOReilly@AOL.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA).