May 7, 2020 (Steven O’Reilly) – The theory that Benedict XVI is still the pope continues to percolate. For example, there was Sergio Russo’s article on Marco Tosatti’s site (see “Two Impelling Questions which necessitate an urgent answer“). Then there was Edward Pentin’s own article on the debate over Benedict XVI’s resignation on his own website (see “Debate Intensifies Over Benedict XVI’s Resignation and Role as Pope Emeritus“, Edward Pentin, March 6, 2020). Now a new biography of Pope Benedict XVI by Peter Seewald entitled Benedict XVI: A Life is likely to be seen, or at least some quotes from it, as providing additional impetus to the Benedict is Pope movement.
While I do not believe the Benedict is Pope theory (“BiP”) is at all credible, I do believe it is understandable. The pontificate of Pope Francis has been thoroughly confusing and unsettling — from its murky beginnings involving the St. Galen mafia, to questions surrounding the 2013 conclave (e.g., here, here), and to questionable teachings and utterances, e.g., Amoris Laetitia (e.g., here), the Abu Dhabi statement, Pachamama, the Scalfari interviews, etc. Indeed, there are so many problems, it is hard to keep track of them all.
Consequently, it is understandable in the face of all these things that Catholics would wonder about Francis, i.e., how could a true pope say and do such things? Thus, it is almost inevitable that theories — like BiP — arise to explain this unprecedented pontificate. While evidence for BiP is severely lacking in my opinion [NB: Roma Locuta Est provides a series of articles refuting BiP, entitled Summa Contra the BiP Theory], I do believe there are many questions about this pontificate that require the urgent attention of a so-called “imperfect council” (see here, here).
The newly published Benedict biography is written in German, and apparently the English language version will not be available until later in the year. The biography is bound to lead to more questions regarding Benedict resignation and the debate over BiP. Maike Hickson’s LifeSite article on the biography (see Pope Benedict: I resigned, but I kept ‘spiritual dimension’ of papacy) provides some interesting snippets from this biography. Ms. Hickson writes:
He speaks in this book about the “spiritual dimension…which is alone still my mandate.” He shows an understanding of his resignation from the papacy, according to which he gave up any “concrete legal powers” and any role of governance, but at the same time maintained a “spiritual mandate.”
Such quotes from Benedict’s biography are bound to fuel the hopes of those who still believe Benedict is pope (“BiP”). Granted we do not have the book in English as of yet, but as I read Ms. Hickson — who does speak German, I do not see any need to question my long held position that the BiP theory is an exceedingly weak one (at best).
While there are some quotes taken alone which will, no doubt, bolster some BiPPer hopes, I think the overall context further demonstrates Benedict intended to fully resign the papacy — something denied by BiPPers. For example, speaking of the controversy over his use of the title Pope Emeritus, Benedict compares Pope Emeritus by analogy to the title of Bishop Emeritus used by a retired bishop. Ms. Hickson writes:
For, such a retired bishop, he adds, “does not anymore actively have an episcopal seat, but, still finds himself in a special relationship of a former bishop to his seat.” This retired bishop, however, thereby “does not become a second bishop of his diocese,” explains Benedict. Such a bishop had “fully given up his office, yet the spiritual connection with his former seat was now being acknowledged, also as a legal quality.”
Now, my intent in citing the above is not to go into the question of whether Benedict’s analogy is good one or not. That is debatable. However, I cite the section above to underline the fact that Benedict is speaking in this analogy of himself as being — like the bishop emeritus of his example — as someone who has “fully given up his office.” That is, Benedict is stating by implication in this analogy that he fully resigned his office. This refutes those BiPPers who deny Benedict XVI did fully resign his office.
While all this appears clear enough, Benedict does seem to suggest that as a former pope he still has some sort of “spiritual mandate;” or like a retired bishop, he has a “spiritual connection to his former seat…being acknowledged, also as legal quality.” Such quotes might seem at first glance to support the BiP notion Benedict intended to bifurcate the papacy, as if there could be two popes, or that he intended to bifurcate the papacy into “active” and “contemplative” parts. However, the BiP argument is undermined when Benedict in the same analogy says the resigning bishop “does not become a second bishop of his diocese.”
Furthermore, Ms. Hickson describes from the book what Benedict appears to mean by the ‘spiritual mandate‘ or spiritual connection to his ‘former seat’:
Further discussing this matter of a “retired Pope” with Peter Seewald, Benedict makes a comparison with the “change of the generations,” where the father of a family gives up “his legal status,” while maintaining his “human-spiritual importance,” which remains “until death.” That is to say, the “functional” aspect of fatherhood can change, not his “ontological” part.
Here, the former Pope refers to Bavarian farming families, where the father of a family at some point in his life hands over the major farmhouse to his son while staying in a smaller cottage on the same land. The son then becomes responsible for providing the father with his material needs such as food. “Thus,” Benedict argues, “his material independence is given, just as the transition of the concrete rights to the son. That means: the spiritual side of the fatherhood remains, while the situation changes with regard to the concrete rights and duties.”
Again Benedict uses an analogy. Here he compares himself as a former pope to a father who has given up his worldly responsibilities as he grows old. Though Benedict resigned his office as universal pastor of the Church, the bonds of charity he felt and had for the flock (his ‘sons and daughters’ and ‘brothers and sisters’) remain, just like the “spiritual side of the fatherhood” remains for the father in the analogy. This similar sentiment is apparent in Benedict’s last audience as pope. BiPPers often cite this last audience as evidence that Benedict did not mean to fully resign, but as I explain in Benedict is NOT pope, they miss the point of what Benedict is saying about his resignation:
Benedict’s logic, in brief summary, runs as follows: (1) one who is elected pope belongs to the Church and the Church to him, the private dimension of his life in a “manner of speaking” is lost; (2) yet, one receives ones life when one gives it away, i.e., the Pope truly gains brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, throughout the world; (3) a Pope feels secure in their embrace because he “no longer belongs to himself, he belongs to all and all belong to him;” (4) resigning the papacy does not revoke this loving attachment (i.e., that which has been gained by the loss of the private dimension of one’s life), as he will always retain that love for all (i.e., for we the Church), and thus (5) he will pray in service for the Church…
This, it seems to me, is all that Benedict intends as the “spiritual connection” or his ‘spiritual mandate.’ That is, though he left behind the office, he will continue to love and pray for all in the Church whom he came to know and or lead as pope. Though he leaves behind his office, he retains the love and desire to care — through spiritual prayer — for those he no longer serves as pope.
In sum, I don’t see anything in the reviews of the new Benedict biography which lead me to change or amend my views regarding BiP. From the quotes examined above it is clear that Pope Benedict XVI fully intended to resign his office, and that he did not intend to become anything like a “second bishop” of Rome or a ‘second pope’ of the Catholic Church. For those interested in the BiP arguments and refutations of those arguments, I suggest the articles compiled in the Summa Contra the BiP Theory where I go into these questions in greater detail.
Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. A former intelligence officer, he and his wife, Margaret, live near Atlanta with their family. He has written apologetic articles and is author of the recently published Book I of the Pia Fidelis trilogy, The Two Kingdoms. (Follow on twitter at @fidelispia for updates). He asks for your prayers for his intentions. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA)