February 21, 2022 (Steven O’Reilly) – The “Benedict is (still) pope” (BiP) theory seems to have flared up again. On the 9th anniversary of Benedict’s announcement that he would retire, I debated Dr. Mazza at his invitation on the Tim Gordon’s “Rules for Retrogrades” show (see Debate: Is Benedict still pope). That same day, Patrick Coffin, who is himself a BiP-er it seems, posted a video on his site entitled “Seven Pieces of Evidence that Francis is an Anti-pope.” In the days that followed, Taylor Marshall addressed some of Francis’ recent musings that struck Dr. Marshall, and many others, as sounding erroneous, if not strictly heretical in the technical, canonical sense of the word (see HERE). This in turn led Michael Voris to air a program entitled “Is Bergoglio the pope” during which he challenged Taylor Marshall to debate the question. So, indeed, it seems the questions over Benedict and Francis, always simmering, have flared up again. The topic was perhaps destined to become a hotter one both as the Pope Emeritus grows more frail; and as rumors flutter in the wind that Francis may not live out the year.
Consequently, it is not so unexpected that there is a renewed focus and debate around questions like “is Benedict still pope” or “was Francis ever pope, and if so, is he still?” So, I will take this opportunity to restate my position. We must accept Francis as pope, even if only putatively so, until or unless overwhelming evidence proves the contrary — if that be possible; and the Church declares otherwise. For those perhaps new to this blog, Roma Locuta Est has a compilation of articles which rebut various BiP theories (see Summa Contra BiP). Now, given this topic will only draw increasing interest, and given that some beneplenists are becoming more reckless in word and action (see below); I have decided to publish separate articles that specifically address each of four documents which I believe are at the core of the debate:
- The Declaratio: Regarding the Declaratio
- Benedict’s Last Audience: See Regarding Benedict’s Last Audience
- Normas Nonnullas: See new article (Regarding Benedict’s Normas Nonnullas) and also here
- Benedict’s comments to the pilgrims of Albano: Regarding Benedict’s comments to the Pilgrims from Albano
- Ganswein Speech: See Regarding Ganswein’s speech
As I have elsewhere stated, it is understandable that Catholics have come to wonder about the current pontificate of Francis, and the great confusion that has descended upon the Church as a result. So, certainly, in that sense, it is natural that folks might wonder “is Francis a true pope?” or “is Benedict still pope?” Catholics need only think of Amoris Laetitia, Abu Dhabi, Scalfari, Pachamama, and etc., and etc. The list seems almost endless at this point, and it grows on almost a daily basis. As Catholic try to ponder all of what is going on, such musings may be potentially harmless, if those who entertain them understand it is for the Church alone to make any definitive judgment on the question.
Unfortunately, the leading lights of the BiP theory are making absolute statements about the question, such as Benedict is definitely still pope, and that Francis is definitely an anti-pope. Some have even launched a petition for Catholics (see here) to sign, in which the petitioners declare they “remain faithful to Pope Benedict XVI.” In addition, the petition, amongst other things, declares that any future conclave held under certain, specified conditions would be invalid. The specified, invalidating conditions are said to include any conclave held while Benedict still lives, any conclave with the participation of cardinals named by Jorge Bergoglio, or any conclave held under provisions created by Jorge Bergoglio.
To say this is imprudent would be a gross understatement. It is utter folly. One can readily see the potential for schism is very real. One can only imagine the various scenarios that might emerge depending on which of the two, Francis or Benedict, precedes the other to the grave.
One can only hope that some among the luminaries in the BiP movement might try to pull back some of their colleagues from the edge of the abyss that looms before them, and which they, like so many pied pipers, are leading others toward. Some leading beneplenists are painting themselves into a corner — or rather, walling themselves into one; one from which they and their followers may find it difficult to extricate themselves. They behave as if their arguments are strong enough to reasonably attain moral certitude. So much so, that they need not even await the judgment of the Church, as in the case of the aforementioned petitioners.
However, a couple of examples demonstrate that the pretense of certainty is fleeting, and built on shifting sands. Take for the first example the case of respected Vaticanista Antonio Socci. Socci has up to now offered not one, but two ‘Francis is not pope’ theories. His first, described in his book Non e’ Francesco, alleged that irregularities in the conclave balloting invalidated the election of Francis. Then, a few years later, he wrote a book entitled The Secret of Benedict: Is he still pope? which seemed to suggest Benedict is still pope in some way. Yet, even though this moved Socci into the BiP camp, there are now some grumblings that perhaps Socci has moved back to recognizing Francis as pope. [NB: We haven’t had the time to seriously look into this later claim].
Another example which comes to mind is that of Dr. Mazza and his “Benedict is pope” theories. I don’t say this to knock him, but simply to demonstrate my point about the fluidity of BiP theories. His is a ready example. Dr. Mazza came onto the Beneplenist scene in two appearances on the Taylor Marshall program, the first reaching 98K views, and the second, 60K views (see here and here). During these appearances, Dr. Mazza offered his “Mazza Hypothesis” which suggested Pope Benedict XVI in the Declaratio only resigned as Bishop of Rome but — retaining the primacy — remained the true pope. At the time, I wrote a series of rebuttals to his thesis (see Summa Contra Dr. Mazza).
Apparently, some were quite moved by Dr. Mazza’s theory and appearances on Marhall’s and Barnhardt’s respective shows. I recall one blogger, who on the basis of hearing Dr. Mazza’s theory, announced on his site that “I now believe that only Benedict is pope.” The blogger wrote in part:
“But what ultimately convinced me this June was the discussion from Dr. Edmund Mazza on both Taylor Marshall’s and Ann Barnhardt’s shows.”
So, the blogger reached moral certainty on the question of Benedict, certainly in part through Dr. Mazza’s theory. Fine. My point is not to knock the blogger or criticize him. I wish only to point out a curious fact that might not be known by those who reached similar conclusions after Dr. Mazza’s appearances on Taylor Marshall’s show. That fact is, Dr. Mazza no longer appears to believe the theory he once propounded on Marshall’s show. He has moved on from it, and as Dr. Mazza self-deprecatingly joked with Patrick Coffin, he is now up to “Mazza 3.0.”
But even with this theory, Dr. Mazza has left behind something of a potential ticking time-bomb that perhaps few noted. Briefly, Dr. Mazza admitted on Mr. Coffin’s show that the Church has never defined ‘how one is made a bishop’ — a key point in Dr. Mazza’s theory of “substantial error” — and, so, there is a chance, according to Dr. Mazza, that Benedict might be right after all, in which case, his renunciation would be valid. Dr. Mazza says (emphasis added):
“… I have to do more research, I don’t believe he is guilty of heresy per se, as a matter of fact, my research has uncovered is that there is a slight possibility that he might be right, because the Church has actually never come down and defined how the mechanics of how you are made a bishop in the Church. There is an outside possibility that he could be right in which case his renunciation was valid…But the fact of the matter is he could be in just error, in genuine sincere error if that is not the way the mechanics of the Church, if that is not a correct ecclesiology.” (Coffin Show about 44:00 mark. Unofficial transcription by O’Reilly):
What? Wait a second! We have been led to believe that Benedict has made a theological error, only to find out offhandedly that the Church has not even defined the crucial issue at stake in one particular theory (that is, as Dr. Mazza sees it). We also learn there is a chance — even if only an “outside possibility” — that Benedict is correct, in which case “his renunciation was valid.” So, this is but another example of the shifting sands upon which many beneplenists base what they consider moral certainty in the matter of Benedict. Yet, why should one commit with certainty to such a theory, when even Dr. Mazza admits “I have to do more research.” Might Mazza 3.0 go the way of Mazza 1.0, and Mazza 2.0? 
So, this being the case, how can one really commit wholeheartedly to efforts like the aforementioned petition? How can one even declare he or she has moral certainty that Benedict is definitely still pope — and pledge to be faithful to Benedict? Why does one not, even with all their doubts about Benedict and Francis, simply have patience, and await the Church’s judgment?
The presumption is in favor of the validity of Benedict’s Declaratio, and this must be overthrown — if it can be — by overwhelming evidence. According to canon law, only another pope can do so. Furthermore, there is the added problem that Benedict doesn’t even think he is pope! It defies reason and logic that one can be more certain than Benedict on the question while holding the contrary position. No cardinal supports the theory that Benedict is still pope. Cardinals, like Burke and Brandmuller, have stated they accept the validity of Benedict’s resignation. Indeed, all four of the original Dubia cardinals rejected the BiP theory in a letter to Francis a few years back.
Prudence, in my opinion, certainly suggests that BiP-ers need to take a real deep breath, and at least take a half step back, and have a little more skepticism toward the arguments — and examine the foundations of their “moral certainty.” Further, it would certainly help things if the leading lights of the BiP theory would focus on something other than encouraging reckless words and actions such as the aforementioned petition. Perhaps something constructive to their cause, and the cause of others who might be confused on some points about Benedict’s resignation. Here is something I suggested in my debate with Dr. Mazza (see here), and repeat here in a little more detail.
Why don’t the leading beneplenists get together and draft 5-10 key questions for Benedict? It’s up to these beneplenists, but I would probably construct them like a dubia, a very clear “yes” or “no” question so as to avoid any additional ambiguity. Certainly, Benedict has a moral responsibility to put this whole mess to rest to the extent it is possible for him to do so — a mess for which he is partly responsible (along with Francis). Surely, there are folks in the BiP movement can get such a list of key questions to a sympathetic intermediary, perhaps someone like Cardinal Burke, who surely knows someone, who knows someone. Though he is not a beneplenist, he undoubtedly can see the danger looming over the horizon if Benedict dies without clearing up some of the questions that are within his power to answer. Perhaps some of those with larger media platforms can get the questions to someone like a Burke, a Seewald, another cardinal, or someone who knows someone, who knows someone with access to Benedict. I really don’t think it would be that difficult, assuming the approach is handled respectfully and properly. For example, if the intermediary shows Benedict a copy of the petition cited earlier in this article, surely Benedict can be made to see how serious this matter is for some – and that as a consequence, he has a moral obligation to respond. Given the stakes, “it is absurd” cannot be his response in the present environment.
Do this soon. We may not have Benedict much longer, and if the beneplenists delay, some by that point may have already gone too far down the road of schism.
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 GETTR, Parler, or Gab: @StevenOReilly).
 Roma Locuta Est is certain what Mazza 1.0 is, and what Mazza 3.0 is. We missed the apparently short lived Mazza 2.0.