The Testimony of a former Benevacantist

May 3, 2019 (Roma Locuta Est) – The argument that claims Benedict is still pope is sometimes described as “Benevacantism.” Roma Locuta Est has avoided the use of this term. Instead I have used the terms “BIP” (“Benedict is Pope”) or “BISP” (“Benedict is still Pope”) to describe the argument, and “BIPPers” and “BISPers” to describe adherents of the argument.  On rare occasions on Twitter, I have used “Sede Vacationist,” tongue-in-cheek, to suggest Benedict is gone, but only temporarily so – as if on vacation.

We live in confusing times in the Church, and I am fully sympathetic with those – including BISPers – who have grave concerns about Pope Francis.  I share those concerns as well. That said, regular readers of Roma Locuta Est well know that I absolutely reject any suggestion Benedict is still pope. Roma Locuta Est has provided a number of rebuttals  on the topic. Some of the articles deal with questions related to whether Benedict’s resignation was forced  (see Thoughts on Free Will and Hypothetical Papal Plots) or was it a “partial” or bifurcated one (see Benedict is NOT popeBenedict is STILL not Pope; and Benedict is really, really still not pope! Really!).  In addition, articles address other questions as well  (e.g., see Against the Arguments that Claim Benedict XVI is STILL PopeBenedict is Still Pope and Other Errors).

Roma Locuta Est receives emails regarding the positions it takes, both pro and con.  Perhaps the topic which draws the most heated responses is my position on Benedict XVI. These emails either agree with me or try to convince me that I am horribly wrong. However, I recently received an email this week from one reader who, self-describing himself as a former “Benevacantist,” explains how he “found his way back to sanity.”  The last paragraph of this letter suggested to me it might be edifying to share it with others (i.e., BIPPers, BISPers, Benevcantists or Sede Vacationists). Here follows the email in its entirety with the original formatting.  The name of the author has been withheld with his consent.

Dear Mr O’Reilly,

First off, I wish to commend you for maintaining such a perfect balance on your blog between recognising the errors of Pope Francis and still proclaiming the validity of his papacy. I additionally wish to thank you for engaging those who hold to the ideas of ‘Benevacantism’ (or ‘resignationism’ or the ‘Barnhardt Thesis’ or the ‘Benedict-Is-Still-Pope Theory’ or whatever you want to call it) with the degree of charity and compassion that you do.

Speaking as a former Benevacantist myself, who only found his way back to sanity late last year – thanks in part to getting off my high horse and giving your posts on the Francis/Benedict controversy a fair reading – I can safely say that, if everyone were as gentle about it as you are (as opposed to simply insulting people the way some of the big-name commentators are wont to do), the debate would go a lot smoother.

In that vein, I wanted to give you what I consider a ‘pro tip’ in terms of arguing for the validity of Pope Benedict’s resignation. For me personally, the biggest sticking points were his ambiguous language in the Last General Audience of 27 February 2013 – in which he spoke of resigning the ‘active exercise of the Petrine ministry’ and declared that he would ‘remain, so to speak, within the enclosure of Saint Peter’ – and the English translation of the Declaratio of 11 February 2013 itself, where it does indeed seem that he makes a false distinction between the ‘ministry of the Bishop of Rome’ and the ‘Petrine office’, claiming to renounce the latter instead of the former.

Besides your articles and a very pointed sermon on the question by Fr Shannon Collins, the biggest catalyst in my departure from Benevacantism was an article by Ryan Grant at OnePeterFive [] examining the original Latin text of the Declaratio, in which the controversial lines read as follows:

Conscientia mea iterum atque iterum coram Deo explorata ad cognitionem certam perveni vires meas ingraviscente aetate non jam aptas esse ad munus Petrinum aeque administrandum. […] Quapropter bene concisus ponderis hujus actis plena libertate declaro me ministerio Episcopae Romae, Successoris Sancti Petri, mihi per manus Cardinalium die 19 aprilis MMV commisso renuntiare ita ut a die 28 februarii MMXIII, hora 20, sedes Romae, sedes Sancti Petri vacet et Conclave ad eligendum novum Summum Pontificem ab his quibus competit convocandum esse.

From the standpoint of a Benevacantist, that still looks like Benedict is convicting himself of substantial error regarding the nature of the papacy. That is, until you look up what the words munus and ministerium actually mean in Latin. To wit, courtesy of the Oxford Latin Dictionary:

munus ~eris, n., 1. The action demanded of or requisite for a person, a function, task. 2. A duty owed to the citizen by the State or by a community, an official post or appointment. 3. Something given as a duty, a tribute, offering. 4. A public show. 5. Something freely bestowed, a present, gift.

ministerium ~i(i), n., 1. The activity or condition of a servant or attendant, service, attendance. 2. A function exercised on behalf of a superior, duty, employment, a particular task, service, commission. 3. Help given in a subordinate capacity, support, agency, instrumentality. 4. The management or administration (of). 5. A servant, attendant, an instrument, tool. 6. The utensils used at meals, a dinner-service.

Contrary to the violent denunciations of the Benevacantists, while the two terms may not be 100% the same, the plain, simple truth is that ministerium and munus are in fact much closer to each other in Latin than the corresponding terms ‘office’ and ‘ministry’ in English. In fact, just to drive the point home, consider the translations one receives for munus and ministerium when entered in William Whitaker’s Words:

munus, munerisn., service, duty, OFFICE, function, gift, tribute offering, bribes.

ministerium, ministeri(i)n., OFFICE, attendance, service, employment, body of helpers, occupation, work.

Since the original Latin text of the Declaratio is the only one that actually bears ecclesial weight and the Latin terms munus and ministerium are both synonymous with ‘office’, one of the major bases for the theory of Pope Benedict resigning in substantial error comes crashing down. Just to add a little more intrigue, the English translation of the Declaratio at the Holy See website [] actually translates munus Petrinum as ‘Petrine ministry‘ – make of that what you will.

While the exceptionally odd wording of his Last General Audience still bothers me greatly, because he made clear in the same audience that he intended to renounce ‘the office and governance of the Church’ – i.e., his jurisdictional authority as Bishop of Rome, without which he can’t possibly be Pope because the papacy is the top tier of the hierarchy of jurisdiction – and qualified his continued residence in the enclosure of Saint Peter as merely ‘so to speak’, the only logical conclusion is that he was speaking symbolically.

But since someone somewhere will no doubt accuse me of trying to whitewash Pope Benedict’s actions merely on the basis of his resignation being valid, let me state emphatically that such is most definitely not the case. I can understand his desire to remain in the Vatican – who knows what kind of nutjobs might come after him if he went back to Bavaria without a Swiss Guard detail? – but the fact that he continues to wear the papal white and continues to use his papal name and title is nothing short of scandalous and raises serious questions about his powers of judgement. The fact that he appears to see nothing wrong with this arrangement after six years only proves to me that – when it comes to erroneous and destructive ideas – Benedict and Francis are merely different in degree, not in kind.

I hope this email will be to your edification and that of your readers (if you choose to post it), I pray that you will continue to hold the middle ground of Recognising and Resisting in the years to come, and I thank you once again for helping me find my way out of the fog of Benevacantism and back into the light of our Holy Catholic Faith.



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