Benedict is Still Pope and Other Errors

January 15, 2019 (Steven O’Reilly) – It is unfortunate that the Benedict-is-still-Pope (BISP) theory, for some, has moved beyond a mere “theory” or hypothesis to be now treated as an undeniable fact, known with moral certitude. While I share the concerns over this papacy (NB: concerns that led to the foundation of this blog) which have led some to find the BISP theory an ‘attractive’ explanation of Francis, I just don’t believe there is any credible evidence for the BISP theory.  I wish I could say otherwise. I do. However, the evidence is simply not there.

I have addressed various aspects of the BISP theory in a number of articles (see Thoughts on Free Will and Hypothetical Papal PlotsBenedict is NOT popeBenedict is STILL not Pope; and Benedict is really, really still not pope! Really!, Against the Arguments that Claim Benedict XVI is STILL Pope). Frankly, I am about BISPed out by now…and try to avoid the subject if I can.  This post was prompted by reading a recent article advancing the idea that Pope Benedict XVI–while still theologian Fr. Ratzinger–held heretical opinions about the papacy (e.g., that three man could hold the papacy, as in a triumvirate).  The article in question may be found on Ann Barnhardt’s blog, here.

In this article, Ms. Barnhardt references a theological collection of essays entitled “Dienst an der Einheit.”  As described by Ms. Barnhardt in her words: ““Dienst an der Einheit”, which means, “Service to Unity”, is a collection of papers edited by…wait for it… JOSEPH RATZINGER.” Ms. Barnhardt then goes on to write:

“One of the contributuions (sic) to “Dienst an der Einheit” is a paper written by Joseph Ratzinger himself, titled “Der Primat des Papstes und die Einheit des Gottesvolkes” which is in English, “The Primacy of the Pope and the Unity of the People of God.””

Ms. Barnhardt then goes on to blockquote both the original German and an English translation provided by a “fully bilingual German reader…of the opening section of this paper, found on pages 165-167.”  From the text found on Ms. Barnhardt’s site I provide the English translation below, only taking the liberty to modify some of the formatting (NB: I retained Ms. Barnhardt’s underlining and red highlighting used by for emphases):

The Primacy of the Pope and the unity of the People of God.

(The spiritual basis of primacy and collegiality)

The topic of the papacy is not one of the popular themes of the post-conciliar era. It had a certain measure of implicitness as long as it corresponded to the monarchy in political space. At the present moment, when the idea of monarchy has practically died out and been replaced by the democratic idea, the doctrine of primacy lacks the frame of reference in our general presuppositions. So it is certainly no coincidence that the First Vatican Council was dominated by the primacy idea, but the Second by the struggle for the concept of collegiality.

It should, however, be immediately added that Vatican II sought to rewrite the idea of collegiality, with which it received incentives from today’s attitude to life, in such a way that it contained the idea of primacy. Today, as we have gained a little experience of collegiality, of its value, and also of its limits, we need to start again at this point in order to better understand the unity of seemingly contradictory traditions, thus preserving the richness of the Christian expression.

1  Collegiality as an expression of the we-structure of the faith

In connection with the conciliar debate, theology had tried at that time to grasp collegiality beyond the merely structural and functional, as the expression of a fundamental law reaching back into the innermost essence of the Christian, which therefore presents itself in different ways on the individual levels of the practical realization of the Christian: It could be shown that the we-structure belongs to the Christian in general. The believer, as such, never stands alone: Believing means stepping out of isolation into the We of the children of God; the act of devotion to the God revealed in Christ is always also devotion to those already called.

As such, the theo-logical act is always an ecclesial act that also lends itself to a social structure. The initiation into the Christian is therefore always concrete socialization in the community of believers, is We-Formation, which is beyond the mere self.

This corresponded to the fact that the disciples’ calling by Jesus is represented in the figure of the Twelve, which takes up the cipher of the old conception of God’s people, to whom it is once again essential that God creates a common history and acts on his people as a people.

On the other hand, as the deepest reason for this we-character of the Christian, it has become apparent that God Himself is a We: The God, whom the Christian Credo professes, is not solitary self-thinking of thought, is not absolute and indivisible in a self-contained ego, but is unity in the Trinitarian relation of the I-Thou-We, so that We-Being, as the divine basic form, precedes all worldly We’s, and the likeness of God finds itself referenced from the outset to such a We-being.

In this context, a previously largely forgotten treatise by E. Peterson on “Monotheism as a Political Problem,” again attracted attention, in which Peterson had attempted to show that Arianism was a political theology favored by the emperors, because it provided the divine equivalent of the political monarchy, whereas the triumph of the Trinitarian faith shattered political theology and overturned theology as a justification for political monarchy.

Peterson had broken off his analysis at this point; now it was taken up and continued into a new analogical thought, the basic idea being that the We of God must correspond to ecclesiastical agency according to the We model. This general, multi-faceted approach has occasionally been advanced to the point that according to it, the exercise of primacy by a single man, the pope in Rome, actually follows an Arian model.

According to the triune nature of God, the church must be led by a triumvirate, whose three occupants together are the pope. It was not lacking in resourceful speculation, which (somewhat following Solovyov’s story of the Antichrist) found that, in this way, a Roman Catholic, an Orthodox and a Christian from the Reformation confessions together could form the Pope-Troika.

Thus, directly from theology, the concept of God, the complimentary close of ecumenism, seemed to have squared the circle, through which the papacy, the chief annoyance of non-Catholic Christendom, must become the definitive vehicle for the unity of all Christians.*

*FOOTNOTE (This was occasionally heard in oral remarks, which sought to refer in an unrefined manner to H. Mühlen’s work, especially in his work Entsakralisierung, Paderborn 1971, 228 ff.; 240 ff.; 376-396; 401-440.Although Mühlen’s own expositions are impressive and advanced, they do not seem to me to be free from the danger of a new analogical thought which overstretches the ecclesiological applicability of the trinitarian statement.)


Now, of this English translation of Fr. Ratzinger’s text, Ms. Barnhardt said (emphasis added by me):

“So, he (SIC) we have proof of Joseph Ratzinger, like his German and Nouvelle Theologie colleagues and peers of the day, positing RADICALLY SUBSTANTIALLY ERRONEOUS IDEAS about the Petrine Office, casually referring to it as an “annoyance”, and echoing Kasper’s words that the papacy suffered a “crisis of legitimation”.  The driving point was that the papacy MUST be “radically and fundamentally transformed” by some sort of expansion into a “collegial, synodal office”.  He we see Joseph Ratzinger taking this SUBSTANTIALLY ERRONEOUS MADNESS so far as the say that the Petrine Ministry could eventually include NON-CATHOLICS and thus become the “definitive vehicle for the unity of all Christians.”  But first, it has to be “expanded” into a “collegial, synodal ministry”.

Regarding Ms. Barnhardt’s conclusion above, I would say the following.  First, I would love to see the rest of this essay fully translated into English. That said, as to my second point, unless the as-of-yet translated essay says something quite different from what has already been translated, I see nothing here. Absolutely nothing. That is to say, in fairness to Joseph Ratzinger, it is rather apparent the thoughts of others are incorrectly being attributed to Ratzinger by Ms. Barnhardt in her commentary.  Perhaps this is a quibble over the use and meaning of “posit“….but it is clear Ratzinger is not “positing” his own ideas or theory of the papacy (i.e., he is not positing a multi-person papacy). My response below presupposes this is what Mr. Barnhardt intends, i.e., that Ratzinger is stating his own ideas about the papacy (NB: if Ms. Barnhardt doesn’t believe he is doing that either, my apologies in advance…but in which case, Ratzinger’s essay–as translated thus far–still would not help her BISP argument).

Now, all we have to go on is the portion of Ratzinger’s paper so far provided. But, even in what we have above, it appears Ratzinger’s essay was outlining the spiritual basis for the primacy and collegiality, as the title suggests, by discussing various presuppositions and theories regarding these concepts.  That is to say, he is not necessarily describing his own position–and it does not appear we have his full paper (yet). At the outset, he mentions the impact of various presuppositions impacting the understanding or expression of the primacy or collegiality. He says, for example, “At the present moment, when the idea of monarchy has practically died out and been replaced by the democratic idea, the doctrine of primacy lacks the frame of reference in our general presuppositions.”

His brief discussion then leads into a discussion of the ‘we structure’ of the faith, and of the Christian, i.e., which is based on a Triune rather than an Arian understanding of God. This leads to his discussion of the thoughts of someone else, i.e., E. Peterson. Ratzinger outlines that E. Peterson believed that Arianism was favored by the emperors “because it provided the divine equivalent of the monarchy, whereas the triumph of the Trinitarian faith shattered political theology and overturned theology as a justification for political monarchy.”

But, note, this introduction of Arianism is related to the thoughts of E. Peterson.  It is clear enough that Ratzinger–as a theologian–is describing the thought of E. Peterson whose analysis, Ratzinger notes, had broken off “at this point” (i.e., describing the political Arianism of the emperor) and then Ratzinger says this line of Peterson’s thought now “was taken up and continued into a new analogical thought” which suggested the “We of God must correspond to the ecclesiastical agency according to the We model” (i.e., Trinitarian model). Ratzinger says it was “taken up”…he does not say he–Ratzinger–takes it up.

Ratzinger is describing what others have done in continuing E. Peterson’s analysis, i.e., developing the political Arian analogy of the emperor to suggest a single-man papacy was likewise Arian. At this point in his essay, he is simply tracing one line of thought that led to a conclusion that “According to the triune nature of God, the church must be led by a triumvirate, whose three occupants together are the pope.” Nowhere does Ratzinger say he accepts, agrees or identifies with this analogy!  Even Ratzinger’s translated footnote clearly indicates he sees the danger of overstretched Trinitarian analogies applied to ecclessiology:  “...they do not seem to me to be free from the danger of a new analogical thought which overstretches the ecclesiological applicability of the trinitarian statement.“). I can’t imagine anything more “overstretched” than a papal triumvirate! Therefore, personally, I hope the rest of the document is translated. I am confident it will not bear out Ms. Barnhardt’s conclusion, i.e., that it demonstrates Joseph Ratzinger thought the papacy could be a triumvirate.

But, for now, regarding Ms. Barndhardt’s assertion that in the above quoted material “we have proof of Joseph Ratzinger, like his German and Nouvelle Theologie colleagues and peers of the day, positing RADICALLY SUBSTANTIALLY ERRONEOUS IDEAS about the Petrine Office“, we can say that, based on what Ms. Barnhardt provided in her article, this assertion is (1) without any substantial foundation in fact and (2) an unfair reading of Joseph Ratzinger’s words that incorrectly attributes to him the theories of others.  

Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives near Atlanta with his wife Margaret. 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).


12 thoughts on “Benedict is Still Pope and Other Errors

  1. Mr. O’Reilly: Three points. First (for clarification). At the time of the publishing of “Dienst an der Einheit” in 1978, Ratzinger was the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich, not just Fr. Ratzinger. That being said, it would not have been unusual for then Cardinal Ratzinger, a prominent and highly-respected theologian, to edit a series of articles by some fellow theologians, perhaps providing a forward and/or a synthesis of the arguments being made (only assuming this until the full text of “Dienst an der Einheit” is provided.) Also, the fact that he edited the work does not imply that he provided an Imprimatur. Second, even if in the full text of “Dienst an der Einheit” Cardinal Ratzinger takes a position supporting some or all of the arguments for a triumvirate papacy, this would still have to be weighed against everything else he has written about the papacy and, more specifically, what he actually believed and held to be true at the time of his resignation. To that, I am not aware of anything that Father/Cardinal Ratzinger or Pope Benedict ever said or did that would even remotely suggest that he held anything regarding the papacy other than the full Catholic teaching. (Remember that it is the some of same people that are calling Benedict a heretic that were lauding his orthodoxy when he was still pope.) Third, it would seem to me to be more profitable to build a model for church collegiality/synodality in the context of the patriarchs of the early church. Of course, we know that didn’t turn out well and we still haven’t reunited in 1,000 years.


    1. DownEast, I believe you and me are in agreement. Ratzinger has always held to an orthodox Catholic understanding of the papacy.

      I have in a series of articles, including the one above, argued *against* the claim “Benedict is still pope.” The recent article to which I responded—in my opinion—grossly misinterpreted Ratzinger’s words, attributing to him heretical opinions there is no evidence he held or holds.

      Thanks for reading the blog,


  2. Mr. O’Reilly: Having read all your articles on “Benedict is not Pope”, I agree completely with you that their is no smoking gun, there is absolutely nothing – not in any previous writings of Fr./Cardinal Ratzinger, not in any Latin translations of the letter of resignation, not in the actions or statements of faithful bishops such as Cardinal Burke or Bishop Schneider, nor in anything Pope Emeritus Benedict has said or done since resigning – that would hold up as credible evidence that he did not resign. Unfortunately, this theory seems to be gaining steam among Catholic Traddie bloggers if one is to determine this by the number of comments supporting the theory. Those who have said that no one has refuted Ms. Barnhardt’s or anyone else’s statements have not apparently read your blog.


    1. Thanks DC….your comments are much appreciated. The trend is unfortunate. It is understandable in this sense….the papacy of Francis is really unprecedented–seeming to combine the worst aspects of John XXII, Honorius, etc., all in one papacy….and it is not over yet. It is hard to understand, and make sense of it all. On top of that…in human terms…the next conclave is unlikely yield much better. I think Cardinal Eijk was closest to the mark when he wondered whether this papacy is related to CCC 675.

      Thanks again for reading the blog.




  3. I would like to add that the theory that Pope Benedict deliberately minced the Latin words for “office” and “ministry” as a ploy to “pretend” to resign so as to out the lavender mafia or other nefarious elements within the Church is so outrageous and preposterous, that it hardly deserves comment. This would be such an enormously grave violation of the 8th Commandment and anyone who proposes it simply does not know Ratzinger/Benedict.


    1. DC, I agree 100%.

      I’d also would point out what should have been obvious to those proposing the theory he intended to bifurcate the papacy. Aside from the fact there is no evidence he intended such a monstrosity; it would seem that if BXVI had intended to bifurcate the papacy, he would have taught the possibility of such papacy BEFORE submitting a resignation that accomplished this feat. It is simply not credible that a theologian of his caliber would leave it to some in the Church to puzzle over his words nearly 6 years on as to his intent to radically alter the constitution of the Church. No matter what way one slices it….the theory is (I hate to be so blunt) absolutely absurd.


      1. Another point that you have implicitly made throughout your arguments bears calling out: if there was a problem with the Latin text of the letter of resignation, surely there were plenty of world-class Latinists around that would have immediately pointed out the error. But no one at the time raised their hand. It was only years later, after it became clear that Pope Francis was creating a mess, that someone went back to look at the original Latin and decided it was a error. Seriously? Everyone missed it? No, I’m not convinced.


  4. I would have thought and hoped the recent LifeSiteNews article by Diane Montagna, “Did Benedict really resign? Gänswein, Burke and Brandmüller weigh in”, would have put to rest this whole issue. However, I would be wrong, if the plurality of comments at 1P5 responding to the article are any indication. These sad divisions among faithful, orthodox Catholics who are struggling with the papacy of Pope Francis do not help. Of note, an Italian priest was recently formally excommunicated for denying that Francis is pope. Is that really where good Catholics want to go?


    1. DC…thanks for the comment. I agree with you. While I understand the bewilderment over the Francis pontificate — and the desire to make sense of it; it is unfortunate this theory has arisen to explain things, and has come to dominate much of the conversation in some circles.

      I am shocked at the numbers who apparently believe it. Unfortunate, as it divides the legitimate “resistance” to Francis and weakens it. Personally, I think Francis loves this theory, as it divides his “opposition” — and marginalizes one wing of it as a tinfoil hat brigade.

      Thanks again for the comments.



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