Regarding Benedict’s Normas Nonnullas

February 23, 2022 (Steven O’Reilly) – Catholics following the “Benedict is (still) pope” (BiP) debate are undoubtedly familiar with the documents central to this debate. There is the Declaratio in which Pope Benedict XVI, on February 11, 2013, declared his intent to resign the papacy. BiP-ers, or “beneplenists,” claim deficiences in the wording of the Declaratio make the resignation invalid. Roma Locuta Est recently published an article which addressed such arguments (see Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio). Roma Locuta Est also has a whole series of articles addressing various aspects of the debate, which may be found in the Summa Contra BiP.

Also, there is the text of Pope Benedict XVI’s last general audience on February 27, 2013. In this document we can read Benedict’s parting, and touching reflections on his love for this “sons and daugthers” (i.e., the Church), and his intent, after his resignation, to continue in service to them through prayer. Unfortunately, what was a pretty straight forward reflection has been forcibly conscripted into the service of the BiP theory. Roma Locuta Est will soon post a new article devoted specifically to the last general audience, but previous analyses have been offered HERE and HERE.

Then there was Archbishop Ganswein’s speech of 2016. To a great extent, probably more than anything else, this speech helped launch the BiP movement in earnest. Roma Locuta Est will also post a new article on Ganswein’s speech in the very near future with a section for objections and replies, just like our recent article on the Declaratio. Until then, Roma Locuta Est one may find a previously published analysis of Ganswein’s speech, which may be found HERE.

The Forgotten Document:  Normas Nonnullas

Above, we listed three documents central to the BiP argument. For sure, BiP-ers look high and low for other evidence. They attempt to look at books or articles that Benedict, as theologian Joseph Ratzinger, either wrote or edited decades ago in the hope of discovering some “substantial error” within them that might invalidate his resignation [NB: See Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio, Reply to Objection 3, for a couple of glaring examples of the “thermonuclear” hazards of doing this — offered by two leading beneplenists].

However, there is a ‘forgotten‘ document that Pope Benedict XVI promulgated, on February 22, 2013; only six days before the effective date of the resignation. That document, a motu proprio, was entitled Normas Nonnullas. In it, Pope Benedict XVI made certain changes to the rules for the upcoming conclave necessitated by his resignation. One might think that in a dispute over Benedict’s resignation that the beneplenists would have an interest in what Benedict might have said on the subject of the conclave. After all, in his Declaratio, Benedict speaks of the need for a conclave to elect a new Supreme Pontiff (emphasis added):

For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry 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…. (Declaratio, Pope Benedict XVI, February 10, 2013)

However, the beneplenists have no interest in what Benedict said about this conclave. Odd. Or is it? After all, changes to any section in the existing conclave rules (i.e., Universi Dominici Gregis [UDG]) might reveal something about how Benedict understood the papacy, e.g., regarding munus and ministerium, or the creation of a ‘active’ and ‘contemplative’ diarchy in the papacy. In the exact same way, UDG sections which Benedict left untouched by Normas Nonnullas might likewise reveal to us how he understood the papacy. How so? Because, by leaving them unchanged, we can know he was satisfied with these UDG sections — in his mind. Why wouldn’t the beneplenists want to look at the full record of Benedict’s acts in the days before his resignation, including Normas Nonnullas, for any hint, clue or indication that might help them prove their case that Benedict held erroneous opinions regarding the nature of the papacy — as they claim?  Curious. Or perhaps not so. They do not appear to Normas Nonnullas because it undermines their entire case.

Continuing on, Normas Nonnullas made a number of changes to UDG. One of the key ones was to allow a conclave to be called earlier than previously allowed if all the cardinals were in Rome. Past conclave rules had a waiting period to allow time for mourning, funeral rites for the deceased Roman Pontiff, and travel time for the cardinals. As the provision for funeral rites, obviously, did not apply in the case of Benedict’s resignation, his changes allowed for the possibility the conclave could commence much earlier than would have been previously allowed.

Before looking at one example of a change found in Normas Nonnullas, as well as one example of something left untouched by it; let us remember the timeline.  Benedict announced his resignation on February 11.  Normas Nonnullas was promulgated on February 22.  The last general audience was held on February 27, the day before the effective date of the resignation (February 28).  From this timeline, one can see Normas Nonnullas falls between the Declaratio and the last general audience. So, we see, Normas Nonnullas is contemporaneous to the other key documents — and so, in relation to the BiP debate, it is important to better understanding Benedict’s mind at that time.

Again, the relevance of Normas Nonnullas is that whatever changes are found in it, or whatever was left out of it and thus unchanged, were officially promulgated after Benedict announced his Declaratio (February 11, 2013), and thus go directly to the question of Pope Benedict’s intent, and his understanding of the papal office.  Both the sections that Benedict changed in UDG, as well as those sections he could have changed – but left untouched – reveal his mind as Supreme Legislator in the Church.

The timeline established, let’s proceed to the two examples spoken of above. Among the conclave modifications made by Pope Benedict XVI in Normas Nonnullas was a change to UDG 87. Of particular note, having changed UDG 87, Benedict made no change at all to UDG 88. These two paragraphs — the updated UDG 87 and untouched UDG 88 — read together as follows (emphasis added):

87. “When the election has canonically taken place, the junior Cardinal Deacon summons into the hall of election the Secretary of the College of Cardinals, the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations and two Masters of Ceremonies. Then the Cardinal Dean, or the Cardinal who is first in order and seniority, in the name of the whole College of electors, asks the consent of the one elected in the following words: Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff? And, as soon as he has received the consent, he asks him: By what name do you wish to be called? Then the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, acting as notary and having as witnesses the two Masters of Ceremonies, draws up a document certifying acceptance by the new Pope and the name taken by him.” [NB: as amended by Benedict XVI in Normas Nonnullas, February 22, 2013]

88 . After his acceptancethe person elected, if he has already received episcopal ordination, is immediately Bishop of the Church of Rome, true Pope and Head of the College of Bishops. He thus acquires and can exercise full and supreme power over the universal Church. [NB: Universi Dominici Gregis (UDG)]

Reading these two sections together — the changed and the untouched together — we readily see what Benedict intended, and how he understood himself in relation to his successor. Benedict had the opportunity to change or leave in place whatever conclave rules he wished. Therefore, 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.

Benedict’s motu proprio in conjunction with UDG 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.” In cannot be any obvious, Benedict understood his successor would be the “true pope” (singular in the Latin), and would be both the Bishop of Rome and the Supreme Pontiff; having full and supreme power over the universal Church.

These declarations are devastating to Declaratio-based BiP theories. Benedict’s intent and understanding is abundantly clear. First, in the Declaratio, Benedict intended a conclave and the election of a “new Supreme Pontiff” after he vacated the “See of Rome, the See of Peter. He knew he would no longer be the Supreme Pontiff as of 8pm, February 28, 2013. Second, Benedict understood his immediate Successor would be the Supreme Pontiff (Normas Nonnullas 87), elected by the conclave necessitated by his resignation, who would immediately be the Bishop of Rome, *true pope,* and thus having full and supreme power over the universal Church.

Only the Bishop of Rome, the true pope, holds the Petrine munus (cf canon 331).[1] Benedict renounced the Petrine ministry ‘in such a way’ that the “See of Rome, the See of Peter will be vacant.” Thus, as Benedict resigned the See of Rome, he does not hold the Petrine munus in any way. Benedict did not believe he would be Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. Peter, or true pope following his resignation on February 28, 2013. If he had believed any of the errors the beneplenists claim, he would have needed to have changed UDG 88. This he did not do, and as a consequence, it is obvious the beneplenists are the ones in “substantial error” — not Benedict.

Objections and Replies to those Objections

Objection 1:  Normas Nonnullas has no relevance to the debate over the validity or invalidity of Benedict’s resignation.  Normas Nonnullas does not even address UDG 88, which reads: After his acceptance, the person elected, if he has already received episcopal ordination, is immediately Bishop of the Church of Rome, true Pope and Head of the College of Bishops. He thus acquires and can exercise full and supreme power over the universal Church. What matters is the Declaratio and the last general audience which reveal Benedict’s intent.

Reply to Objection 1: As we have seen in Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio, the Objectors search various writings by Joseph Ratzinger over a 50-60 year period in hopes of finding some sign he believed in a “sacramental papacy,” or some other bizarre theory which would be – for them – a “substantial error” that invalidates Benedict’s resignation. The Objectors would search into the distant past hoping to find this sign of intent, but they will have us ignore a document on the subject of the very conclave necessitated by Benedict’s resignation — directly material to the debate, as well as being contemporaneous to the Declaratio and the last general audience to within a matter of days. However, to the Objectors, this has no relevance as to what Benedict might have believed about the papacy. Preposterous.

Soon before his resignation, Benedict reviewed the then existing papal legislation on conclaves [Universi Dominici Gregis (UDG)]. By my rough count, Normas Nonnullas made changes to fifteen sections of UDG. If Benedict did not change a section, the reasonable and probable conclusion – if not the certain one is that he was sufficiently satisfied with that section. Therefore, what Normas Nonnullas changed or left unchanged in UDG does reveal the mind of the Supreme Legislator of the Church at the time, Pope Benedict XVI.

So, what is revealed?  That Pope Benedict XVI believed that the man elected by the conclave he called for in the Declaratio, and for which conclave he had made special legislative changes (i.e., Normas Nonnullas), would be the Bishop of Rome, *true pope,* and thus having full and supreme power over the universal Church. So, given Benedict was updating rules for a conclave, less than a week before he left office, it is clear Benedict understood he would not be Bishop of Rome.  Someone else would be. Benedict understood he would not be the true pope. Someone else would be. Benedict understood he would not be Supreme Pontiff. Someone else would be.

It is impossible to reconcile such an understanding with the various BiP theories. So…they ignore it.

Objection 2: Benedict in his Declaratio intended to either bifurcate the papacy, i.e., setting up a papal diarchy of an ‘active’ and ‘passive/contemplative’ pope, or he intended to split the Petrine office from the See of Rome. If either one is possible, Benedict is still pope in some way. If both are impossible, then Benedict committed a “substantial error” per canon 188, and his resignation is invalid. Therefore, Benedict is still fully pope.

Reply to Objection 2: The erroneous core assumptions of Objection 1 above were already dealt with in Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio (see Reply to Objections 1.1, 1.2, 2.1 and 2.2). However, now in view of what Normas Nonnullas did not change in UDG, we see in the Latin of the text (UDG 88) that the “Supreme Pontiff” and “Bishop of the Church of Rome” and “true pope” are the same man — the one and the same man; thereby excluding any sort of sharing of office or diarchy as BiP theories imagine to be Benedict’s intent. Such imaginings might be found in the blogs and podcasts of some, but they had no place in Benedict’s documents or thought.

Had Benedict intended a papal diarchy, or intended to remove the Petrine office from the bishopric of Rome, he certainly had the opportunity to change UDG via Normas Nonnullas. However, no such changes were made.  It is clear that Normas Nonnullas (revised 87) still speaks of the Supreme Pontiff (singular).  Likewise, UDG 88 which Benedict left alone, as we’ve seen, speaks of one Bishop of Rome, and one true pope, who has full authority over the Church. There is no daylight here for the beneplenists to manufacture or conjure up either a papal “diarchy” or a separation of the Petrine office from the See of Rome. In sum, Benedict did not intend to separate the Petrine primacy from the See of Rome — even if we assume arguendo this is possible. For that matter, he did not intend to create a papal ‘diarchy.’ If Benedict had ever had these things in mind, he would have made the necessary changes in Normas Nonnullas. This he did not do; demonstrating Benedict did not hold to a “substantial error” as the beneplenists claim.

Final Thoughts

Roma Locuta Est will continue to provide articles on the key documents in question. In addition to the ones we have now provided on the Declaratio (Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio), and now Normas Nonnullas, Roma Locuta Est will soon publish articles on Benedict’s last general audience, and on Ganswein’s speech. Both those articles will have an objection and reply section as well. Should readers like to submit their own objections for any article in this particular series, they may send them to my email address.

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).


[1] Canon 331 — The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office (munus) given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.

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