Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio

February 21, 2022 (Steven O’Reilly) – As outlined in “A suggestion for Beneplenists before it is too late,”  Roma Locuta Est will publish over the next week or so a series of articles on some of the key documents in the “Benedict is (still) pope” (BiP) controversy, such as the Declaratio, Benedict’s last audience, and Ganswein’s speech.  These will be additions to the already existing Summa Contra BiP; and some of the already existing articles on the Declaratio (see here), Benedict’s last audience (see here), and Ganswein’s speech (see here). The articles in this series may run a little long as they are intended to be a resource for those interested in the debate, and will include objections and replies.

I’ve recently reiterated my position on the BiP question.  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. Unfortunately, the BiP debate has taken on a greater urgency as some of the leading BiP-ers have become a bit more strident in their rhetoric, as well as in the course of action to which some have committed themselves, e.g., writing/signing a petition declaring their faithfulness to Benedict, their pope.[1] 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. As I said in a recent post. This is utter folly.  Hence, I am revisiting some of my older articles and refreshing them with an objection and reply section.

BiP arguments fall into a number of categories. However, the lines between them are not always black and white, i.e., they may not necessarily be mutually exclusive, and that even within each broad category there might be fine distinctions.  In sum, among committed BiP-ers, there is not one specific accepted theory, only an accepted outcome:  Benedict is (still) pope. The theories generally share the claim that the resignation was invalid because Benedict did not specifically renounce the “munus.” The five broad categories include:

  1. Pope Benedict XVI held erroneous views about the papacy, such as that it could be ‘bi-furcated’ into an active and contemplative component. Given such a bifurcation of the papacy is impossibly, Benedict XVI’s resignation via the Declaratio is  invalid due to “substantial error” per canon 188. [2]
  2. Pope Benedict XVI in his Declaratio attempted to separated from the papacy from the See of Rome  If this is possible to do, Francis would be bishop of Rome while Benedict remains the pope.  However, if this is not possible, then Benedict committed a “substantial error” which would invalid his resignation.  In which case, Benedict remains pope.[3]
  3. Pope Benedict XVI held erroneous views of the ‘Petrine munus’, believing in something of a “sacramental papacy” which meant to him that even after his resignation, as Pope Emeritus, he would continue to retain all or part the “Petrine munus” in some real, ontological sense.  Had Benedict realized he would not be able to maintain any part of the Petrine munus as Pope Emeritus, he would not have renounced the papacy at all.[4]
  4. Pope Benedict XVI intentionally sabotaged his resignation with the purpose in mind of thwarting the wolves within the Church by secretly maintaining the papacy.

Again, there are variations of these theories, and possibly even others passed over [NB: Feel free to contact me with additions]. Below, we will take a look at the Declaratio of February 10, 2013 in which Pope Benedict XVI announced his decision to renounce the papacy. Following some comments on the validity of the Declaratio, the article with then present various objections to its validity, and then the replies to those objections.

The above all said, let’s continue.  In the Declaratio, Pope Benedict declares the following, with the my own parenthentical insertion of Latin words (munus/ministerium/ministerio) key to the BiP argument (emphasis added):

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry (munus). I am well aware that this ministry (munus), due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry (ministerium) entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry (ministerio) of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects.  And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.  (Declaratio, Pope Benedict XVI, February 10, 2013)

The argument for the validity of the resignation is pretty straightforward.  Pope Benedict met all the conditions required by canon 332.2 [5] for a valid resignation. His resignation was “properly manifested” and it was “free.” No formula is specified by canon law for a valid resignation.  Benedict in the line “for this reason” went on to declare that he was renouncing “the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter…in such a way…the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.” If the “See of Rome, the See of Peter” is vacant, then there is no one holding the primacy over the Church as Bishop of Rome, Peter’s successor, in short — there is no pope.

Benedict has rejected theories which doubt the validity of his resignation as “absurd.”[6] No where does he affirm that he remains “true pope” in any of his post-resignation interviews, and in fact, he goes out of the way to say he is not.[7] At the time, Benedict even promised his “obedience” to the future pope. [8] No cardinal has publicly argued or even suggested the resignation was invalid. Even cardinals that have taken exception to various papal acts over the years, such as the Dubia cardinals, rejected the bifurcation theory.[9]  Further, Cardinals Burke and Brandmuller have more recently affirmed the validity of the resignation.[10]  No active bishop of an episcopal see has publicly stated he either doubts or rejects the validity of Benedict’s resignation.

In sum, the case for the validity of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation is very strong to say the least, if not a slam dunk. Papal juridical acts are presumed valid. Papal decrees cannot be appealed. Papal resignations do not require acceptance by anyone. The only one who could review any potential doubts that might be raised, and resolve them, is a future pope.  One should not anticipate a decision for invalidity, as some rashly have with the aforementioned petition. Perhaps it is unsolicited advice, but as recently suggested, the leading beneplenists would do better to spend their efforts on reaching Benedict through an intermediary, and present him with a list of 5-10 questions that might resolve their doubts (see A Suggestion for Beneplenists before it’s too late).

Objections and the Replies to the Objections

Objections (1.1)  Canon 332.2 says “If it should happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office (munus), it is required for validity that he makes the resignation freely and that it be duly manifested, but not that it be accepted by anyone.” In the Declaratio Pope Benedict XVI said “I renounce the ‘ministerio.'” He did not say “I renounce the ‘munus'” as required by canon 332.2. Therefore, Benedict’s renunciation is invalid.

Reply to Objection 1.1:  Canon 332.2 specifically lists two conditions that are “required for validity.”[See Note 5] The first being the resignation is made freely. The second that it be duly manifested.  That’s it.  The use of the word “munus” is not said to be required.

Furthermore, there is no formula for a papal resignation. When we understand that following the resignation of Pope Celestine V, Boniface had both the infallible teaching recognizing the possibility of resignations, and a canon on papal resignations placed into the Liber Sextus.  None of these documents required the word “munus” to be used at all. The teaching document stated a pope may resign the “papacy” and the canon said that the “Roman pontiff may resign freely.” [Liber Sextus (I, VI, I)]. 

Thus, canon 332.2 should be understood in the sense of “if the Roman pontiff resigns the papacy, it is required that…“. The specific use of “munus” in a declaration of renunciation is simply not required.

Objection (1.2):  Okay, granting the truth of the Reply to Objection 1.1, even if “munus” is not a specifically required word, either “munus” or the word “oficium” must remain the object of the renunciation for it to be valid when another expression might be used. Thus, the examples cited in the Reply to Objection 1.1, such as “I resign the papacy freely” can be used. But for a juridical act like the resignation of the Roman Pontiff, it is necessary that munus, understood in its technical sense be used, and not ministerium as understood as a set of activities.[11]

Reply to Objection 1.2: At the heart and core of this objection is that the Objector desires to be judge of which words sufficiently convey – to his/her satisfaction – the sense of “munus” or “oficium” to make a papal act of resignation valid, an office in the Church the Objector assuredly does not hold (cf. 332.2).

The Objector wishes to restrict the freedom of the Roman Pontiff, which is as outrageous as it is absurd on its face (“Papa supra omnes canones“[12]). Papal juridical acts, by their nature, are presumed valid. They cannot be appealed, as per Canon 333.3: “There is neither appeal nor recourse against a decision or decree of the Roman Pontiff.” Further, no one on earth is in a position to accept or reject Benedict’s resignation (cf 332.2), again an office the Objector arrogates to himself/herself.

Even if one grants, arguendo, the words may possibly be deficient, only another pope could judge another pope’s juridical acts. This fact works against the objector’s argument because — given the presumption of validity — one should not anticipate the judgment of the Church to the contrary in such a grave matter, especially when it involves the real potential of schism.  Unfortunately, objectors have certainly violated the letter and spirit of the canons — to which they claim to appeal — by declaring the resignation invalid, Benedict still pope, and setting demands and conditions upon the next conclave (see 3376 CATHOLICS WARN THE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS ON THE IMPENDING CONCLAVE, December 20, 2021).

Now, though the Reply to Objection 1.1 and the comments above are sufficient in reply to the present objection, let us entertain the thought that the phrase “Petrine ministry (ministerio)” – even apart from the context (e.g., “the See of Rome, the See of Peter” becoming vacant) – might not in itself be certain. Even in such a case, the Declaratio in the words used (munus/ministerium/ministerio), the  context, and logic make clear to us that the renunciation is valid.

First, there are the similarities between the definitions of munus/ministerium. Ryan Grant was one of the first, if not the first to my knowledge, to note these similarities in relation to the argument over the Declaratio (see 1P5, Benevacantists, Ryan Grant). In a OnePeterFive article, Grant wrote in part (emphasis added):

 “The argument about a difference between munus and ministerium does not hold water for several reasons. The first is that they are more or less synonymous. Munus can mean a gift, although even there it is not disconnected from the notion that it is a gift that carries responsibility. In ecclesiastical parlance, it typically means an office or duty. Thus, the episcopate, and the papacy, is considered a munus, properly speaking. In this sense, it is roughly synonymous with officium, which is the Roman word for duty. Ministerium can mean a ministry or service, but it also means office or duty, in the sense of the essence of what the munus entails. In fact, Forcellini uses the word munus to describe ministerium in the Lexicon Totius Latinitatis: “MINISTERIUM, -ii, n. 2 (<minister), opera et munus ministri et famuli” (my emphasis) [2].  Cicero shows that munus can mean the very work that is done in an office, just as ministerium does [3].  Stelton’s dictionary of ecclesiastical Latin lists for ministerium: “ministry, service, office, duty” [4].  St. Thomas refers to the use of ministerium to refer to the power and office of the papacy: “[s]ome power was also conferred to ministers of the Church, who are dispensers of the Sacraments, to remove the obstacle, not of itself, but by the divine power and the power of the passion of Christ, and this power is metaphorically called the key of the Church (clavis ecclesiae), which is the key of service (clavis ministerii)” [5].”

[Source:  1P5, Benevacantists, Ryan Grant.  Note:  See Mr. Grant’s article for the footnotes indicated in the above citation.]

So, as Mr. Grant demonstrates, the words may be used interchangeably. He is certainly not alone in this assessment. For example, a theologian quoted by LifeSiteNews offered a similar analysis. As Diane Montagna reported:

“But ‘ministerium’ doesn’t have to mean acts,” he explained. “The first meaning given to it in the Latin dictionary (Lewis and Short) is ‘office.’ I would say that its basic meaning is ‘an office by reason of which one must perform acts to help others.’”

The theologian noted further that ‘munus’ doesn’t only mean a state. “According to the Latin dictionary, it can also refer to the performance of a duty,” he said. “It was used in this sense by Cicero and there is no more authoritative writer of Latin prose than him.”

He said the main difference between the words appears to be simply that ‘munus’ connotes more “the burden which the office puts on its bearer,” and ‘ministerium’ connotes more “the reference to other people which the office establishes.”

“But that doesn’t prevent them from referring to one and the same office or state,” he added.

(Source: Diane Montagna, LifeSiteNews, February 14, 2019: Did Benedict really resign? Gänswein, Burke and Brandmüller weigh in)

In addition, Ms. Montagna in her article cited above, reports: “Regarding Benedict’s Latin declaration, Cardinal Burke said “it seems clear he uses interchangeably ‘munus’ and ‘ministerium.’ It doesn’t seem that he’s making a distinction between the two.” Further, Ms. Montagna adds: “Having considered various aspects of the issue, including the relevant canons, the Latin text of Benedict’s resignation and his final general audience, Cardinal Burke said: “I believe it would be difficult to say it’s not valid.”  To Burke, it is clear that Benedict “was renouncing the munus.”

We might also observe the context and force of the logic within the text of the Declaratio.  In the beginning of the Declaratio, Benedict writes: “…I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry (munus).”  Then a bit further down in the Declaratio, in much the same wording about his weakness but now using the word “ministerium”, Benedict says: “in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry (ministerium) entrusted to me.” In two places Benedict speaks of his lack of strength, and his inadequacy to fulfill the ministry, whether first using “munus” or switching to “ministerium.” The context and logic of the text makes clear he is equating the two words (munus/ministerium), and using them interchangeably. Due to lack of strength, he cannot adequately fulfill the Petrine munus/ministerium, and in consequence of which Benedict thus declares:

For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry (ministerio) of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

The words and context of the Declaratio, and common sense, help us to see that that words munus and ministerium/ministerio are used interchangeably, just as Cardinal Burke, Mr. Grant, and the theologian concluded.

Benedict XVI declares he is acting freely, and then renounces the papacy. The act of renunciation is sufficiently clear. The latin “ministerium/ministerio” can mean “ministry, service, office, duty.”[see Grant] Further, in his Declaratio, Benedict states he is renouncing the “ministry of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. Peter,” in such a way that “See of Rome, the See of Peter will be vacant.” Nothing can be more clear.  Benedict says the “See of Rome,” and “See of Peter” will be “vacant.” If there is no one occupying the See of Rome, there is no one sitting on the Chair of St. Peter — there is no Bishop of Rome, there is no pope.  Not Benedict. Not any one else – until the next conclave.

Objections (2.1):  Pope Benedict XVI held erroneous views about the papacy, such as, that it could be ‘bi-furcated’ into an active and contemplative component. (2.2) Pope Benedict XVI held erroneous views of the ‘Petrine munus’, believing in a “sacramental papacy,” in such a way that he thought he would continue to keep all of the munus, or part of it at least in some real, ontological sense, as Pope Emeritus.  These objections constitute substantial error.

Reply to Objections 2.1 and 2.2:  These objections are similar enough to take as one, although I will comment further in my Reply to Objection 3.0 on some unique particulars in Dr. Mazza’s theory (see here). Before commenting specifically on these objections, it may do the reader well to keep in mind two Roman legal dictums mentioned by Cardinal Brandmuller in his discussion with Diane Montagna on the topic of the controversy surrounding Benedict’s resignation.

The first is “de internis non iudicat praetor,” which as translated in the article is a judge does not judge internal things. The second of the Roman dicta cited by Cardinal Brandmuller was “quod non est in actis, non est in mundo” which was translatedwhat is not in the acts [of the process], is not in the world.” In this LifeSiteNews interview, Ms. Montagna reported:

In judging the validity of any juridical act, Cardinal Brandmüller said we need to consider the “facts and documents” and “not what the people in question might have been thinking.”

“You always have to keep in mind that the law speaks of verifiable facts, not of thoughts,” he said.

(Source: Diane Montagna, LifeSiteNews, February 14, 2019: Did Benedict really resign? Gänswein, Burke and Brandmüller weigh in)

In view of Brandmuller’s observations, one sees the Objectors have ventured from the relevant document, i.e., the Declaratio — wherein Benedict explicitly speaks of his intentions, reasons, and will; departing from them into mind-reading, trying to prove from this or that cherry-picked quote outside the Declaratio that Benedict had an erroneous opinion that may have impacted his resignation.

Now, space will not allow a full exploration of the supposed evidence of supposed errors in Ratzinger’s mind or writings as theologian. We are talking about decades of work and writing by Ratzinger. A grand corpus of work. However, we can say for sure what the objectors have not done. They have not brought forward any document written by Ratzinger that explicitly lays out or deals with either: (1) his (alleged) erroneous thoughts on the Petrine munus and ministerium; or (2) the erroneous conclusions Benedict drew from these erroneous premises that explicitly deal with the questions here in dispute; or (3) any statement by Benedict from some theological work in which he details what a pope emeritus or former pope may retain in terms of the Petrine munus after resigning.  There is none of that. We know the Objectors do not have any such a document that would shed more direct light on the controversy, because if they had it, they would have produced it by now. They have no real evidence of “substantial error.”

Unfortunately, as said, for the BiP theory, no such work has surfaced. Not surprisingly perhaps, beneplenists are constrained to search hither and thither to conscript whatever quotes they might find, no matter how remotely tangential, and cobble them together to support a case of “substantial error.” Sources might include quotes from Ratzinger, other writers, strained interpretations of Benedict’s last audience, selections from the Seewald interviews; and of course, a helping of Ganswein thrown into the mix. Now, we will get to these documents, i.e., the last audience, and Ganswein in articles to be published over the next few days [NB: For those who might not be able to wait, older, but still relevant Roma Locuta Est articles may be found on the Last Audience and Ganswein’s speech].

Now, to address Objections 2.1 and 2.2 more specifically, let us define “substantial error:”

“Substantial error is a mistaken judgment that is not of minor importance and is truly a cause of the consequent resignation(Source: Code of Canon Law, Text and Commentary, Coriden, Green, Heintschel)

One commentary on the Code of Canon Law gives the following as an example of “substantial error”:  “a diocesan finance officer who mistakenly thinks one must resign when a new bishop is named even though one’s term has not expired.”(source: “New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law[NCCL] , Beal, Coriden, Green, p. 222). In an interview with LifeSiteNews (Feb 14, 2019), Cardinal Brandmuller provided the following as an example of “substantial error”: “If a Pope decided to resign because he thought Islamic troops were invading the Vatican, the resignation would be invalid if the Islamic troops weren’t in fact invading.” (Source: Diane Montagna, LifeSiteNews, February 14, 2019: Did Benedict really resign? Gänswein, Burke and Brandmüller weigh in).

As can be quickly observed, these examples certainly do not pertain to the objections posed by the Objector above [NB: we will have more to say on Objection 2.2 in the Reply to Objection 3.0]. Even if we assume Benedict XVI held the errors in question, the errors are not the “true cause” of his resignation. Now, the objectors — at least for Objection 2.1 — might appeal to the “munus” and “ministerium” distinction to claim Benedict XVI bifurcated the papacy into one claimant with the “munus” and the other with the “ministerium.” However, Reply to Objection 1.1 and 1.2 outlined why there is no distinction between “munus” and “ministerium” in the Declaratio which would allow for any such a bifurcation theory.

The answer given in this reply, so far, answers the Objections 2.1 and 2.2. However, I think it would be worthwhile to explore why it is not unreasonable to be dismissive of the evidence adduced by the Objectors, even setting aside their failure to demonstrate a papal bifurcation can be read into the Declaratio.  Let’s examine two bits of evidence offered by two beneplenists. Ann Barnhardt, and the other Dr. Mazza.

In the case of Ms. Barnhardt, she provided what she believed to be “thermonuclear substantial error;” which I suppose is quite a few levels above a “smoking gun” — a veritable “11” of substantial error.  Although I intended this post to go long, to remain a resource for those interested in rebuttals to BiP arguments, I will not go deeply into Ms. Barnhardt’s article. She posted it HERE.  In fairness to her, please read it for full context. Then, please read my rebuttal in an article entitled Benedict is Still Pope and Other Errors.  The lead line of Ms. Barnhardt’s article — and I think its title as well(?) — reads as follows:

“THERMONUCLEAR SUBSTANTIAL ERROR: In 1978 Joseph Ratzinger considered hypothesis that a monarchical Papacy was intrinsically “Arian” in nature, and the Papacy should reflect the Trinity, a “Pope-Troika” consisting of One Catholic, One Protestant and One Orthodox, “through which the papacy, the chief annoyance of non-Catholic Christendom, must become the definitive vehicle for the unity of all Christians.””

Now, again, I don’t intend to go deeply into Ms. Barnhardt’s article. However, it is clear Ms. Barnhart believed she had just presented in the article “…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…”.  However, as I believe my rebuttal at the time (See  Benedict is still not pope, and other errors) shows clearly, and the fair reader will find, Ms. Barnhardt did no such thing with regard to Ratzinger. Rather, and quite obviously, Ms. Barnhardt inaccurately, incorrectly and unfairly attributed the thoughts of others regarding the papacy to Ratzinger. If the article demonstrates anyone’s “substantial error;” it is Ms. Barnhardt’s.

The other example involves Dr. Mazza’s appearance on Patrick Coffin’s show, where Dr. Mazza introduces a key quote to prove Ratzinger had an erroneous view of the papacy, i.e., that in Dr. Mazza’s opinion that is Benedict believed the papacy was something of another sacrament. Dr. Mazza, paraphrasing Ratzinger from his book Principles of Catholic Theology says:

“What does Joseph Ratzinger say? He says, “No, no, no. “I disagree with those people who say the papacy is not a sacrament, that it’s only a juridical institution. That juridical institution has set itself above the sacramental order.”” [Patrick Coffin Show. Time: 30:00; Unofficial transcription by O’Reilly]

Now, here, Dr. Mazza suggests Ratzinger disagrees with those who say the “papacy is not a sacrament,” thus obviously meaning, Ratzinger believes — or so Dr. Mazza tells us — that the ‘papacy is a sacrament.’  Again, in fairness to Dr. Mazza, he is providing his own paraphrase of what Ratzinger wrote during a live podcast. That should be kept in mind. We all make mistakes. Still, we need to examine the original quote from book, as he made it a key to his thesis. When one does, I submit, it bears no correspondence to Dr. Mazza’s paraphrase from the podcast. I provide below an extended citation from the original source.  Ratzinger, speaking on the subject of ecumenism between East and West, writes (emphasis added):

All this, as we have said, is basically true also of the separation between Rome and Constantinople that became the starting point of the division between East and West. Not everyone, it is true, especially on the Orthodox side, would agree with this opinion – which shows how time has served to intensify the gravity of the dispute. For, from the Orthodox point of view, at least according to one interpretation, the monarchia papae means a destruction of the ecclesial structure as such, in consequence of which something different and new replaces the primitive Christian form. Because this aspect of the problem is, generally speaking, more or less foreign to us in the West, I should like to indicate in a few words how this impression has arisen in the East. For such a view, the Church in the West is no longer, under the leadership of her bishops, a nexus of local churches that, in their collegial unity, go back to the community of the twelve apostles; she is seen, rather, as a centrally organized monolith in which the new legal concept of a “perfect society” has superseded the old idea of succession in the community. In her, the faith that was handed down no longer (so it seems) serves as the sole normative rule—a rule that can be newly interpreted only with the consensus of all the local churches; in her, the will of the absolute sovereign creates a new authority. Precisely this difference in the concept of authority grew steadily more intense and reached its climax in 1870 with the proclamation of the primacy of jurisdiction:  in one case, only the tradition that has been handed down serves as a valid source of law, and only the consensus of all is the normative criterion for determining and interpreting it. In the other case, the source of law appears to be the will of the sovereign, which creates on its own authority (ex sese) new laws that then have the power to bind. The old sacramental structure seems overgrown, even choked, by this new concept of the law: the papacy is not a sacrament, it is “only” a juridical institution; but this juridical institution has set itself above the sacramental order.

(Source: Joseph Ratzinger, Principle of Catholic Theology: Building Stone for a Fundamental Theology.  Ignatius Press. 1987  Pages 194-195)

What should be immediately clear from this extended quote is that Ratzinger is not saying ‘he disagrees with those who say the papacy is not a sacrament.’ That is not Ratzinger’s point at all, one way or the other! Ratzinger is offering his understanding of the Eastern Church’s general view of the problem of papal centralization, the declaration of infallibility, etc., i.e., that the West has, in the East’s view, effectively treated the papacy as if it was another sacrament — something the East rejects.  But that is not to say Benedict accepts that the papacy is a sacrament.

Now, Dr. Mazza elsewhere in one of his articles (see HERE) does provide a longer citation (still not as long as the one I cited earlier). However, even at that, the citation, as Dr. Mazza provides it, leaves off the part which would make clear that Benedict is describing the Orthodox view.  Dr. Mazza introduces the citation in his article, referencing Ratzinger: “Expressing his sympathy for the view of the Orthodox churches of the East, Ratzinger writes.” But even here Dr. Mazza’s interpretation seems off the mark. Ratzinger, as the extended quote I provided shows, provides a commentary on the Orthodox view of the West. But this only deepens the puzzlement, because if Ratzinger is “expressing his sympathy for the view of the Orthodox” East as Dr. Mazza avers, would that not mean he agrees with them the papacy is not a sacrament? Isn’t that the very opposite of what Dr. Mazza hoped to prove by the quote during his appearance on Mr. Coffin’s show?

So where does Dr. Mazza’s choice and description of a citation leave us? Clearly, it is not at all saying what Dr. Mazza suggests. Now, perhaps, Dr. Mazza has some other quote somewhere else which says it — who knows, I am not a Benedict scholar. But, I doubt it. Regardless, if he has such a quote, that is the one he should have provided in place of the one he did, as the latter does not bolster his argument.

Anyway, the point is, these are but two examples (Ms. Barnhardt and Dr. Mazza) which show the hazards of cherry-picking quotes over the lengthy career of Ratzinger as a theologian. Nowhere, to my knowledge, have the BiP-ers provided a systematic presentation penned by Ratzinger of his understanding of the munus relative to what it may or may not mean for a man who has renounced the papacy. That is the crux of the matter. Having had five years or so to search the works of Benedict, it really is telling how the BiP-ers have come up so empty handed that the examples above are presented as “thermonuclear” or ‘money quotes.’

The examples above were key quotes offered by the Objectors, and these served to illustrate the weaknesses of the efforts to find a “substantial error” on Benedict’s part which would invalidate the election.  Ultimately, I think, Cardinal Burke sums up these sorts of questions well:

“Whatever he may have theoretically thought about the papacy, the reality is what is expressed in the Church’s discipline. He withdrew his will to be the Vicar of Christ on earth, and therefore he ceased to be the Vicar of Christ on earth…He abdicated all the responsibilities that define the papacy (cf. Pastor Aeternus) and therefore he abdicated the papacy.”

(Source: Diane Montagna, LifeSiteNews, February 14, 2019: Did Benedict really resign? Gänswein, Burke and Brandmüller weigh in)

Objection 3This objection is related in part to Objection 2.2.  The Objector states that had Benedict known there was no such thing as a “sacramental papacy”, and that when you renounce the office that’s it, and you are not papal in any way, he would not have resigned.

Reply to Objection 3:  For those who watched the debate between Dr. Mazza and myself, you will recognize this objection. It is interesting to note that Dr. Mazza does not appear to believe that it is enough to try to prove Pope Benedict XVI had an erroneous view of the papacy, such as it being a “sacrament.” Rather, the “substantial error” is that had Benedict known he was in error, he would not have resigned.  This appears to be something of a tacit admission by Dr. Mazza that Barnhardt’s theory of “substantial error” is fatally flawed. I will not go into the reasons for that here — but if you reread objection 2.1 you may surmise why this might be the case.

It suffices to say, here, that for Dr. Mazza, Benedict’s erroneous opinion regarding a “sacramental papacy” is not the real “substantial error.”  Rather, Benedict’s “substantial error” — per Dr. Mazza’s theory — is that Benedict would not have resigned the papacy had he known that his understanding of the munus or the “sacramental papacy” was in error, and that he would not retain anything papal at all. Yes…kind of complicated. But, as Dr. Mazza puts it in his own words:

Had he known that the truth of the matter is there is no such thing sacramental papacy and that when you renounce the office that’s it … you’re not papal in any way shape or form any more….I honestly believe based on everything he said over the last 60 years, he would not have resigned…”  (Patrick Coffin show: Is Benedict XVI still pope?  Time: 38:00Unofficial transcription by O’Reilly): 

“…he only resigned because he thought he was going to papal…he was still going to share in the shadow of Peter…” (Patrick Coffin show: Is Benedict XVI still pope? Time: 59:39; Unofficial transcription by O’Reilly)

As can clearly be seen in Dr. Mazza’s explanation of the nature of Benedict’s “substantial error,” he is speculating as to what Pope Benedict XVI would or would not do.  This is pure mind-reading, the very thing Cardinal Brandmuller spoke against. In his appearance on Mr. Coffin’s show, and in our debate; Dr. Mazza repeatedly asserted that Benedict ‘stipulated’ he would not have resigned if he had known he would lose the munus as the “pope emeritus.”  Speculation.  We know of no such stipulation.  Indeed, the stipulation is only in Dr. Mazza’s mind, as he himself admitted when he says to Mr. Coffin: “I honestly believe based on everything he said over the last 60 years, he would not have resigned.”  

Dr. Mazza is speculating as to what was in Pope Benedict’s mind, i.e., that he believed the papacy was “sacramental” in some way, and to this he adds a further leap of logic that he would not have resigned at all if he knew that he was wrong, and that he would not really retain anything of the Petrine munus at all.  Pure speculation upon speculation.

The truth is, we know why Benedict resigned.  He told us.  First, in the Declaratio, Benedict cited his weakness and lack of strength. He said so twice, and he said it was “for this reason” he was renouncing the papacy. There is no indication to substantiate the Objector’s assertion of what Benedict may or may not have done — even assuming, arguendo, the Objector is correct in describing Benedict’s understanding of the munus! Further, we know from a Peter Seewald interview done back in 2010, a few years before the resignation, that Benedict believed if he lacked the strength to continue, then he had a moral obligation to resign.  Benedict said (emphasis added):

“Yes. If a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also the obligation to resign.”

(Source:  Peter Seewald. Light of the World. published 2010. p. 39)

After his resignation, Benedict said pretty much the same thing:

Benedict: One can of course make that accusation, but it would be a functional misunderstanding. The follower of Peter is not merely bound to function; the office enters your very being. In this regard, fulfilling a function is not the only criterion. Then again, the Pope must do concrete things, must keep the whole situation in his sights, must know which priorities to set, and so on. This ranges from receiving heads of state, receiving bishops — with whom one must be able to enter into a deeply intimate conversation — to the decisions which come each day. Even if you say a few of these things can be struck off, there remain so many things which are essential, that, if the capability to do them is no longer there — for me anyway; someone else might see it otherwise — now’s the time to free up the chair.

(Benedict XVI:  Last Testament in his own words, Peter Seewald, p. 66, Kindle Version)

So, it is quite clear, Benedict believed he had a moral obligation to resign.  His inadequacy to fulfill the munus/ministerium was the “true cause” of his resignation.  As this was a moral obligation — as with all such obligations; it obliged regardless of any condition or status he believed he may, or may not have after his resignation.  Therefore, the objection fails on this ground.

However, we might add something more. Canon 331 says of the Bishop of Rome that the munus, given in a “special way by the Lord to Peter…and transmitted to his successors,” resides in him uniquely.  Therefore, if one is not the bishop of Rome, one does not hold the Petrine munus in any size, shape, or form.  Given Benedict XVI, as demonstrated in the earlier replies, did in fact resign “the See of Rome, the See of Peter,” it cannot be said that the Petrine munus resides in him any longer (cf. Canon 331).

Finally, with regard to Objection 3.0, there is yet another flaw in the objection.  The objection is something of a Reductio ad Absurdum It would seem, if Dr. Mazza is correct that Benedict XVI’s understanding of the munus was erroneous, then it would seem Benedict XVI could not have resigned the papacy validly even if he had used the correct Latin term, i.e., “I renounce the Petrine munus.”  Moreover, we might wonder, if a man’s understanding of the papacy is so warped, should we then doubt his ability to even accept his own election?

Objection 4: Benedict really and truly separated from the papacy from the bishopric of Rome, therefore, he is still pope even if he is no longer the Bishop of Rome. However, if such a thing cannot really be done, then Benedict’s real attempt to do so represents a “substantial error” which invalidates his resignation, so therefore, Benedict is still pope and the Bishop of Rome.

Reply to Objection 4: The objection above was the original “Mazza Hypothesis” presented first, to my knowledge, on Taylor Marshall’s podcast. As Dr. Mazza no longer appears to hold to this theory, for my reply I will simply post a link to a compendium of Roma Locuta Articles articles wherein the “Mazza Hypothesis” is rebutted (see The Summa Contra Dr. Mazza).

Objection 5:  “Pope Benedict XVI might have WILLINGLY prearranged an entirely invalid resignation to open a new front against his adversaries, causing them to nominate an antipope and arranging that in time the truth above the antichrist objectives of the “Deep Church” and the fact that he is still the sole Pope, be discovered.  This would bring about the definitive cancellation of the “false Church”, along with great purification from heresy and corruption, to open up a new epoch of Christian renewal.” [13]

Reply to Objection 5:  This particular formation of Objection 5 may be found in an article by Andrea Cionci (see Cionci: The Possible Reconstruction of Benedict XVI’s “Plan B”).  This objection is desperately absurd on its face. I will provide some brief comments which appeared in my various rebuttals of Mr. Cionci’s thesis, entitled Benedict’s Plan “B” from Outer Space and Benedict’s Plan B from Outer Space – the Sequel. Those interested in my back and forth with Mr. Cionci’s can repair to his original articles, and my responses to them. However, I think the following briefly sums up all that needs to be said on this objection.

If Benedict XVI intended to fake his resignation, this would mean he allowed a modernist to be “seemingly” elected pope, in which case, this seemingly-elected ‘pope’ would certainly be a true anti-pope, who in turn could potentially lead millions upon millions of Catholics into perdition through his false doctrines. How could Benedict reasonably justify this for any reason? The end does not justify the means.

Benedict would be morally to blame for allowing the wolves to ravage the Lord’s flock without the protection of their chief shepherd here on earth, Benedict himself! It is one thing to suggest a shepherd might lie in wait, hiding in the dark to ambush a wolf when he prowls among the flock before the wolf attacked.  However, it is quite another thing to suggest a good shepherd would allow the wolf free rein to maul, molest, and eat the sheep — and then for nine years! Impossible. Benedict is no such monster.  He is no such idiot.

Furthermore, how can pretending not to be pope be a wiser and more preferable course of action than actually remaining as the visible pope? How can one do more good for the Lord’s flock by pretending not to be its shepherd than by actually ‘tending’ and ‘feeding’ the flock as commanded by the Lord (cf John 21:15-17)? It defies common sense.

Yet, Mr. Cionci asserts in one of his articles that “Benedict allowed the antipope to nominate about 80 cardinals who make the next conclave invalid, precisely: a master’s game.” A master’s game!?  What sort of “master’s game” can that be? How can letting an ostensible anti-pope create 80 something cardinals and counting, as well as countless bishops, be better than simply remaining unambiguously the pope, and naming your own cardinals and bishops, and reforming the Church? For example, if there was a fear a conclave might elect an unworthy successor, Benedict might have tried different tactics.  For example, he might have (1) greatly expanded the College of Cardinals, taking great care in whom he picked; or alternatively, he might have (2) restricted voting eligibility in a conclave to only a select handful of Cardinals in whom he had utmost trust (see The Next Conclave: A Nightmare Scenario for a discussion of this possibility).

In sum, the objection fails.

Final Thoughts

Pope Celestine V, before resigning, issued a document declaring papal resignations were indeed possible for a pope, something that up till then was in question. Had Pope Benedict XVI actually intended to institute something new, like a ‘bifurcated papacy’, or splitting the papacy from the See of Rome, or if intended to keep something of the Petrine munus; we would have rightly expected a great theologian such as Pope Benedict XVI to have done something similar to Celestine V prior to his Declaratio.  We would have expected him to make clear he really intended to change the nature of the papacy as the BiP theorists suggest. However, there was no such decree or declaration from Pope Benedict XVI. This is but another reason we can be confident no such changes were ever intended or enacted by Pope Benedict XVI.

Furthermore, we have examined canon law and seen there is no requirement that the term “munus” be used, or that the words ministerium/ministerio cannot be used to adequately describe or signify the “papacy” when renouncing it. Further, we have seen that even if that be disputed, it is clear Pope Benedict XVI used the words ‘munus’ and ‘ministerium/ministerio’ interchangeably in the Declaratio.

In the final analysis, Pope Benedict’s Declaratio does not support the various BiP theories. It is decisive evidence against them. Benedict made clear he resigned the ministry of the bishop of Rome ‘in such a way’ that the “See of Rome, and the See of Peter” will be vacant.  If the See is vacant, then there is no occupant sitting on the Chair of Peter. There is no one holding or exercising the Petrine munus; there is no one holding or exercising the Petrine ministry.  Benedict’s Declaratio is a valid resignation.

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  or (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA or on GETTR, Parler, or Gab: @StevenOReilly).


[2] Canon 188: “A resignation submitted out of grave fear, which has been unjustly inflicted, or because of fraud, substantial error or simony is invalid by the law itself.” (Source: The Code of Canon Law: Text and Commentary. Commissioned by The Canon Law Society of America. ed. James A. Coriden, et al. p. 109)

[3] This theory, to my knowledge, was first advanced by Dr. Edmund Mazza on Dr. Taylor Marshall’s show.  Roma Locuta Est published a series of article rebutting this theory (here, here, here, and here).  Though not necessarily suggesting causality here, Dr. Mazza appears to have abandoned this theory for what he tongue-in-cheek described as “Mazza 3.0.”  This new theory may be found, as described by Dr. Mazza himself, on the Patrick Coffin show.

[4]  Dr. Mazza describes this theory on the Patrick Coffin show.

[5] Canon 332.2: “If it should happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office (munus), it is required for validity that he makes the resignation freely and that it be duly manifested, but not that it be accepted by anyone.”(Source: The Code of Canon Law: Text and Commentary. Commissioned by The Canon Law Society of America. ed. James A. Coriden, et al. p. 270)

[6]  “There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry,” Benedict wrote to Tornielli. “The only condition for the validity of my resignation is the complete freedom of my decision. Speculations regarding its validity are simply absurd.” (

Now, the Objectors might protest the validity of the quote, perhaps on the basis it comes from Andrea Tornielli.  While Roma Locuta Est has raised questions about Tornielli’s possible role in advancing Cardinal Bergoglio’s chance before the 2013 conclave, the point to keep in mind here is that no one from Benedict’s camp has denied the validity of the quote.

[7] “This legal-spiritual formula avoids any idea of there being two popes at the same time: a bishopric can only have one incumbent.” Benedict (A Life volume 2, Seewald, p 669).  Note: As is clearer in the discussion in the interview, Benedict is justifying his use of the title “pope emeritus”, and at this point he is affirming there are not two pope, i.e., only one and that is Francis, and that there is only one encumbent of a bishopric, i.e., that is Francis, and not Benedict.

[8] “And among you in the College of Cardinals is a future pope to whom today I promise my unconditional respect and my unconditional obedience.” (Benedict XVI: A Life.  Volume 2.  By Peter Seewald, p. 660)

[9] See discussion in

[10] See Diane Montagna, LifeSiteNews, February 14, 2019: Did Benedict really resign? Gänswein, Burke and Brandmüller weigh in

[11] See such arguments offered by Estefania Acosta here:

[12]  “The new law correctly provides for the resignation of a pope even if in a limited measure (c. 332, §2). Such a resignation must be freely submitted and duly manifested. However, its acceptance is not a requirement. The general provisions on resignation of an office are contained in canons 187-189. These legal regulations are only guidelines since, due to his supreme power, the pope can always pass new laws, and stands above already valid laws {Papa supra omnes canones).” (Source: p. 438 of “New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law[NCCL] , Beal, Coriden, Green)

[13] See Cionci: The Possible Reconstruction of Benedict XVI’s “Plan B”.  Mr. Cionci tells us this is a “…thesis that has been proposed by the attorney Estefania Acosta and by other authorative journalists, jurists, theologians and ecclesiastics (many of whom have paid a dear price for their positions).

Note:  Ms. Acosta is the author of Benedict XVI: Pope “Emeritus?”  I may be mistaken, but given he has linked or reprinted some of Mr. Cionci’s articles, it is my understanding that Br. Bugnolo ( is also a supporter of this theory, or is at least sympathetic and open to it. Now, as I note in my Reply to Objection 5, I have responded to this general thesis in a couple of rebuttals to Mr. Cionci’s article regarding Benedict’s “Plan B.”  For these rebuttals, Benedict’s Plan “B” from Outer Space and Benedict’s Plan B from Outer Space – the Sequel.

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