July 9, 2021 (Steven O’Reilly) – There has been some discussion on various BiP favorable sites on the internet recently about what Pope Benedict XVI meant in his last audience, dated February 27, 2013, when he speaks of an “always and forever.” Granted, the BiP advocates have pointed to this passage going back several years now. However it seems to have bubbled up again over the last few weeks.
For these BiP-ers, this “always and forever” passage in Benedict’s ‘last audience’ is an ironclad proof that Benedict intended to keep a part of the papacy to himself in some fashion. One blog, for example, suggested the individual who reads what this audience says about “always and forever” is ‘forced in conscience‘  to admit or acknowledge that this statement reveals Benedict’s mindset, i.e., that he did not really intend to fully resign the papacy. Because, they say, he had not intended this, his resignation is invalid.
Taking yet another look at “Always and Forever”
Early on in the BiP controversy, I approached the subject of the BiP theory hoping it would be as strong a theory as its leading advocates averred. I am by no means a ‘fan’ of the Francis pontificate as any fair reader of this blog will know (e.g., see here, here, here, and here). So, I certainly entered into the question with an open mind. However, what became immediately evident to me upon investigation of the BiP theory, such as the “always and forever” passage in Benedict’s last audience, was that the leading luminaries of the BiP theory oversold their interpretation.
Still, given this “always and forever” passage has bubbled up again in recent weeks, let’s take another look at it. Here is the portion of Benedict’s last audience which BiP-ers appeal to quite often:
Here, allow me to go back once again to 19 April 2005. The real gravity of the decision was also due to the fact that from that moment on I was engaged always and forever by the Lord. Always – anyone who accepts the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church. In a manner of speaking, the private dimension of his life is completely eliminated. I was able to experience, and I experience it even now, that one receives one’s life precisely when one gives it away. Earlier I said that many people who love the Lord also love the Successor of Saint Peter and feel great affection for him; that the Pope truly has brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, throughout the world, and that he feels secure in the embrace of your communion; because he no longer belongs to himself, he belongs to all and all belong to him.
The “always” is also a “for ever” – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere. My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences, and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter. Saint Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be a great example for me in this. He showed us the way for a life which, whether active or passive, is completely given over to the work of God. (excerpted from the last general audience of Pope Benedict XVI, February 27, 2013)
Some say Benedict’s comments above prove he intended an expanded Petrine office so that it might be comprised of an “active” pope and a “contemplative” pope. It is here, some of these folks suggest, that Benedict XVI exhibited a “substantial error,” i.e., thinking he could somehow bifurcate the papacy in such away. Given he can’t do this, his resignation must be invalid — so the BiP argument goes. As to whether this “substantial error” was intended by Benedict or not seems to be an open question amongst some BiP-ers.
Recently, one blog, as noted above, suggested the individual who reads what Pope Benedict XVI said about “always and forever” is ‘forced in conscience‘  to admit or acknowledge that this statement reveals Benedict’s mindset, i.e., that he did not really intend to fully resign the papacy. The “always and forever” passage is supposed to be decisive evidence in favor of BiP.
However, is that really the case? Is one, upon an honest reading of the passage, “forced in conscience” to accept this interpretation of “always and forever.” Is the evidence that decisive? BiP-ers neglect or refuse to consider or even allow the possibility there are other reasonable and plausible readings of the text that are consistent with the view Benedict intended to fully resign the papacy. I defy the leading lights of the BiP theory to demonstrate the ‘last audience’ cannot be read in a plausible manner consistent with an interpration which says Benedict fully intended to resign the papacy. Or put another way: ‘aside from a BiP interpretation, is it true to say no other reasonable, plausible interpretation of the above passage is possible?
The answer is a resounding, definitive “no.” As I’ve pointed out in other articles (e.g., see here, here, here, here), there is another interpretation of the “always and forever” passage which is as plausible — indeed more plausible — than the one offered by the BiP theory. I have discussed this passage in greater detail in the Summa Contra BiP (particularly here, here, here, here). I point the open-minded reader to those.
Here, I will be brief as to my interpretation of the “always and forever” passage. In the passage above Benedict speaks of the bonds of charity he formed and felt for the flock (his ‘sons and daughters’ and ‘brothers and sisters’) when he became pope, and during his reign as pope. Though he will no longer remain pope after his resignation, he retains these bonds of charity for the members of the Church who had become his sons and daughters when he was elected pope. Therefore, this being the case, he will continue to pray for the Church. As I had argued before:
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 is what Benedict intends, he elsewhere indicated, as the “spiritual connection” or his ‘spiritual mandate’ (see here). That is, though he is no longer pope, he will continue to love and pray for all in the Church whom he came to know and or lead as pope — i.e., he simply just doesn’t forget about us. That is, as Benedict tells us, he retains a sense of love, and a sense of responsibility, as any father should, for those he came to love. 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.
Even though I would say the above theory is more plausible than the one suggested by the BiP theory, the interpretation above is certainly as plausible. As such, the BiP interpretation is not decisive evidence of anything, except perhaps evidence of some BiP-ers own pareidolia.
However, we might say more. For one, Benedict goes on in the same last audience to say:
“I ask you to remember me in prayer before God, and above all to pray for the Cardinals, who are called to so weighty a task, and for the new Successor of the Apostle Peter: may the Lord accompany him with the light and strength of his Spirit.”
Here, Benedict refers to the “weighty task” (i.e., electing the next pope) of the Cardinals, who were even then gathering in Rome for the coming conclave in March 2013, and he prays as well “for the new Successor of the Apostle Peter.” Benedict does not say “another” or an “additional” Successor of the Apostle Peter…but a “new” one.
I will not bother going into the question of whether “ministero” in Latin can be a synonym of “munus” — it is (see Ryan Grant); or whether it is a proper synonym under canon law for “munus.” There is no need to get into the minutiae of that debate to determine the validity of Benedict’s resignation. There is no need to get into the distinction between ministero and munus, real or imagined. The problem for the BiP-ers of whatever stripe is that canon 332.2 does not require the word “munus” to appear in a valid papal resignation. The canon only requires that for a valid resignation of the office/munus the following: it is “required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested.” In this light, we can examine the Declaration and consider what could Benedict possibly have intended (emphasis added):
On which account, well aware of the weightiness of this act, I declare in full liberty, that I renounce the ministry [ministerio] of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, committed to me through the hands of the Cardinals on April 19, 2005, so that on February 29, 2013, at 20:00 Roman Time, the see of Saint Peter be vacant, and it is suitable that a Conclave to elect a new Supreme Pontiff be convened by these same [competit convocandum esse]. (Translation provided on From Rome by Brother Alexis Bugnolo, accessed 11/24 2018)
Reading the above, it seems quite evident from the above that Benedict XVI has renounced the papacy, for how else would the “see of Peter be vacant” or how else would it be “suitable that a conclave to elect a new Supreme Pontiff be convened“? What other sort of renunciation could result in these effects? Thus, it seems sufficiently clear in consideration of what Benedict said, that he intended to fully resign the papacy.
With regard to ministry being a synonym for munus in some cases in the Latin (see Ryan Grant) it is interesting as a side note that in the “last audience” Benedict spoke of his own election and his acceptance of the “Petrine ministry” (emphasis added):
When on 19 April nearly eight years ago I accepted the Petrine ministry, I had the firm certainty that has always accompanied me: this certainty of the life of the Church which comes from the word of God. At that moment, as I have often said, the words which echoed in my heart were: Lord, why are you asking this of me, and what is it that you are asking of me? It is a heavy burden which you are laying on my shoulders, but if you ask it of me, at your word I will cast the net, sure that you will lead me even with all my weaknesses.
Note, Benedict spoke above of how, when he was elected, he “accepted the Petrine ministry.” Per the regulations of Pope John Paul II, when a man is elected pope, he is asked “Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?” (cf Universis Dominici Gregis, 87). Granted, Benedict used the Italian in his last audience, but it’s interesting to see he spoke of accepting the Petrine ministry; suggesting he saw ministry as synonymous to the office of the “Supreme Pontiff” I haven’t seen a BiP-er suggest Benedict was mistaken in either how he accepted or understood his own election.
Now, I will add one more point. BiP-er’s confine the theory of their case — in so far as Benedict last papal acts — to the Declaratio and the Last Audience. Curiously, they pass over in utter silence Pope Benedict XVI’s Normas Nonnullas. I have pointed this out in greater detail in the Summa Contra Dr. Mazza. The importance of this document is the following.
Following the Declaratio, Benedict then promulgated certain changes to the then existing rules governing papal conclaves (i.e., Universis Dominici Gregis). Benedict issued Normas Nonnullas (February 22, 2013) about 10 days after the Declaratio and in anticipation of the coming conclave specified in the Declaratio, which would elect a “new Supreme Pontiff.”
In Normas Nonnullas, Benedict had the opportunity to change or leave in place whatever conclave rules he wished. Therefore, for example, had he intended to retain a portion of the papacy in any real sense, and or intended that the “new Supreme Pontiff” would not be a “Supreme Pontiff” in the hitherto accepted sense, here was his chance to indicate such a change in Church teaching or in canon law. So, what did Benedict do, just 6 days prior to the effective date of his resignation, and only 5 days before his last audience? Keep in mind, both the changed portions (e.g., UDG 87, Normas Nonnullas) and unchanged portions of UDG (e.g., UDG 88) represent Benedict’s official thoughts and teaching on the election of his successor, the “new Supreme Pontiff,” and the papal office in so far as UDG and Normas Nonnullas touch upon them.
So what is the effect of Normas Nonnullas? Benedict’s motu proprio in conjunction with portions of UDG he left unchanged make clear the one accepting his election as “Supreme Pontiff,” if already a bishop, “is immediately Bishop of the Church of Rome, true Pope and Head of the College of Bishops” and thus “acquires and can exercise full and supreme power over the universal Church.” Thus, Benedict’s successor is both the Bishop of Rome and the Supreme Pontiff; having full and supreme power over the universal Church. Remembering Benedict issued Normas Nonnullas specifically for the conclave necessitated by his renunciation, it is clear he expected the “new Supreme Pontiff” to acquire and exercise full and supreme power over the universal Church. Consequently, it cannot be argued Benedict believed he truly retained a portion of something he believed his successor “fully” had…both the office and ministry (‘exercise’) of the Supreme Pontiff.
In summary, I have provided what I believe to be a far more plausible interpretation of the “always and forever” passage in the ‘last audience.’ This interpretation is consistent with the view that Benedict did in fact fully resign the papacy in the Declaratio, which in turn is consistent with the timing, purpose, and meaning of Normas Nonnullas in combination with Universi Dominici Gregis — i.e., Benedict clearly understood the imminent conclave would elect a man who“is immediately Bishop of the Church of Rome, true Pope and Head of the College of Bishops” and thus “acquires and can exercise full and supreme power over the universal Church. If such a man is the Supreme Pontiff by office, and exercises full and supreme power over the universal Church — then clearly, Benedict did not say, intend, or mean that he kept any part of the office or any “exercise” or ministry of it. There is no papal diarchy. There is no shared papacy.
The reader who is inclined toward the BiP theory should ask the leading advocates of the theory how Normas Nonnulllas fits into it.
The truth is…Benedict is not pope.
BiP-ers implicitly argue that the “always and forever” passage in Benedict last audience can only be interpreted in manner they suggest. No other interpretation is reasonable or plausible. To read it, some suggest, is to be ‘forced by conscience‘ to accept it, etc. This is utter nonsense. Such categorical, histrionic suggestions amount to little more than “whistling Dixie.“
The BiP interpretation of the “always and forever” passage is not decisive because other readings are as, and indeed, more plausible. The “always and forever” passage can be interpreted in a manner fully consistent with the view Benedict fully intended to resign the papacy. It is absurd to suggest the contrary. Even if one were to admit, arguendo, the Declaratio is unclear or debatable, it is by no means clear the “always and forever” passage can only mean what the leading BiP-ers interpret it to mean. I have offered one interpretation above that is certainly as plausible as the one the leading BiP advocates would assert; and indeed, I believe the one suggested above is far more plausible. Far more plausible given its context in relation to the rest of the ‘last audience’ in which Benedict references the coming conclave, his ‘acceptance of the Petrine ministry,’ and as well as in the context of Normas Nonnullas issued less than a week before the ‘last audience’ and the effective date of the resignation.
Benedict intended and believed the conclave necessitated by the Declaratio would elect a “new Supreme Pontiff” with full authority to ‘exercise‘ all the powers of the papacy. Thus, in light of Normas Nonnullas, Benedict could not have believed he retained something or anything of the papacy for himself, certainly not in any real sense. Instead, as I argue, in the ‘last audience’, Benedict was speaking of the bonds of charity he formed and felt toward the Church (i.e., his ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’), and theirs toward him. Even though he was resigning, and would no longer have the “power to govern”, he would continue in the service of prayer for the Church because of these bonds of charity. In other words, he simply just doesn’t walk away as might a CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation. He is describing a loving relationship. It is unfortunate that such a beautiful and tender description of Benedict’s love for the Church and desire to continue to pray in service to it has been so completely disfigured by some by the leading BiP advocates.
I reject the “Benedict is pope” theory, certainly in so far as it is said to be based on the Declaratio, Last Audience, or anything Archbishop Ganswein had to say.What then of Francis? Is he definitely pope? I don’t accept the question put that way. If evidence could be produced that Benedict was forced to resign, perhaps as part of a plot to elect Cardinal Bergoglio as his successor, then that would invalidate his resignation. But, we need the evidence. Since February 28, 2013, Benedict has met with, and corresponded with many cardinals, bishops, priests, journalists, etc. Had he been forced out, surely he would have found some way to communicate that by now. However, no one has suggested he said any such thing. While there is evidence of activity by the St. Gallen mafia as well as others to influence the election of Cardinal Bergoglio to the papacy, no evidence has been yet provided to demonstrate a forced resignation. Barring hard evidence, Benedict’s resignation must be accepted — as odious as the option may appear at the moment.
As for Francis, certainly by all outward appearance of Church law, procedure, etc., he was duly elected by the rules governing conclaves. We should accept him as pope unless and until (1) given a reason based on sufficient evidence that he is not pope, and (2) this is confirmed by those with sufficient authority to proclaim he is not. I do believe, and have opined before there are many questions with regard to Francis that should be taken up by an ‘imperfect council,’ or failing that, a future pope. Many have pointed to the influence of and role played by the St. Gallen mafia in the election of Francis as something an ‘imperfect council’ might look at. I agree. Roma Locuta Est, for example, has looked into a number of oddities that indicate clear and other possible attempts by some to influence the 2013 conclave (see The Conclave Chronicles). And, as many Catholic readers are well aware, there are so many other things an ‘imperfect council’ might look at, e.g, the Pachamama controversy, the Scalfari interviews, the Open Letter by 19 scholars, the Abu Dhabi document, etc.
To conclude, one can only go so far as the evidence reasonably allows. Some evidence, such as incidents regarding the St. Gallen mafia or the 2013 conclave, or things Francis has said or done, surely suggest an imperfect council should look into them further, or failing that, a future pope should. Sure, let us throw the question of Benedict’s resignation into the mix as well, if only to put the minds of folks at ease. Perhaps one day information proof Benedict was forced to resign might emerge; but as of now, nothing is in sight. However, to claim that the “always and forever” passage in Benedict’s last audience is somehow decisive evidence that forces one conscience to conclude as the BiP-ers do — is just a case of whistling Dixie.
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 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 StevenOReilly@ProtonMail.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA or on Parler or Gab: @StevenOReilly).
- BiP is a term coined by Roma Locuta Est for the “Benedict is (still) Pope” theory.
- Such a statement found here.
- The same blog elsewhere suggested that to deny the interpretation they favor was “fundamentally dishonest,” a “lie” even. In their words: “To deny the clarity of these words is FUNDAMENTALLY DISHONEST. As in, you have to LIE in order to argue that these words mean anything other than their plain meaning. In my experience, every person who has made this argument is FINANCIALLY DEPENDENT UPON THE INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH IDEOLOGY, be it for a salaried position, paid editorial writing gigs, a pension, or donations/blegging. To deny objective reality is pretty much the textbook definition of having no integrity.“ The link to that blog, as well as my response to it may be found here. But to be clear…I reject that blog’s interpretation because it is nonsense; and not because I am a “liar.” Further, as I indicated, this blog — you may be sure — is not “financially dependent upon the institutional Church ideology, be it for a salaried position, paid editorial writings gigs, a pension, or donations/blegging.” Roma Locuta Est does not request donations. We only request prayers. [NB: Many, many years ago, I wrote a few articles for the old Catholic Answers magazine, This Rock. I did receive a minimal stipend for those articles but this was long before the days of Pope Francis. But again, many, many years ago. Currently, I do have an advertisement/link on my blog for my historical fiction trilogy, book I: PIA FIDELIS: The Two Kingdoms. However, neither my fictional writing nor book sales influence my position on BiP–as for example, I was arguing against BiP prior to the publication of my book].
- I am not a defender of Archbishop Ganswein’s commentary. However, his speech on the occasion of the presentation of Regoli’s book on Pope Benedict’s papacy is greatly mischaracterized by BiP-ers. My reading of Ganswein’s ‘infamous’ speech may be found here: A Response to Dr. Mazza’s BiP Theory Discussion with Dr. Taylor Marshall – Part 3