Regarding Benedict’s Last Audience

February 27, 2022 (Steven O’Reilly) – This is the third in a recent series of articles focusing Pope Benedict XVI’s last documents which touch on questions related to the “Benedict is (still) pope” (BiP) theory. The first in this series focused on the Declaratio (see Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio). The second article looked at Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, Normas Nonnullas (see Regarding Benedict’s Normas Nonnullas). This present article, the third in the series, focuses on Benedict’s last general audience on February 27, 2013 – the day before his resignation became effective. These articles complement Roma Locuta Est’s Summa Contra BiP which rebuts various BiP or Beneplenist arguments. [NB: These articles, as said before, will run long. They are intended to be a resource for those interesting in the subject.]

When the BiP controversy really began in earnest in the 2016 to 2017 timeframe, I was certainly disposed to hearing the evidence, especially following the publication of Amoris Laetitia, the Dubia, etc. I was quite sympathetic to various theories, even taking a look at the Jesuit vow theory — which I still find quite interesting (see Curiouser and Curiouser: Who Dispensed Jorge Bergoglio SJ from his vows?) and to which even Archbisho Vigano seemed to allude (see Vigano: A Jesuit on the Throne of Peter “in violation of the rule established by St. Ignatius of Loyola”).

So, when BiP-ers began to talk about Pope Benedict XVI’s last audience, I wanted them to have a strong case.  We needed something to ‘undo’ Francis, if such a thing is even possible. I first read what the leading BiP-ers at the time said about the last audience, and how they said it proved their theory that Pope Benedict XVI had intended, erroneously, to ‘bifurcate’ the papacy into ‘active’ and ‘passive/contemplative’ parts, while keeping the ‘contemplative’ part for himself.

The BiP-ers pointed to how Benedict in his last audience spoke of an “always” and “forever”, and of his resignation ‘not revoking’ his election; thus proving, they said, that Benedict believed he had received an “indelible mark” of the papacy, which could not be removed. All this meant, we were told, that Benedict believed he would always be pope, at least in some bifurcated way, sharing the ministry with Pope Francis. The BiP-ers said Benedict’s understanding of the papacy was all nonsense because the papacy cannot be bifurcated — and, of course, the papacy cannot be bifurcated. The theory that Benedict XVI believed such nonsense is evidence for the beneplenist that Benedict committed a “substantial error” in his resignation, which per canon 188, would invalidate his resignation. Voila! The Francis problem is solved: Benedict is pope, therefore; Francis cannot be.

An open and shut case? I hoped it would be as I read these claims. So, I decided to read the last audience for myself. Though wanting the BiP-ers to be right, I read it with an open mind. When I had finished reading through it the first time, I read it again, and then again, and again, and many times more since then. My impression from the very first has never changed…never waivered. The last audience says nothing…nothing of what the BiP-ers say it does regarding ‘bifurcation’ and “indelible marks.” I first wrote about my findings here.

So, let’s move on to analyze Benedict’s last audience, Pope Benedict XVI’s last general audience should be read following the Declaratio. The full version of the Declaratio may be found HERE; and if you are new to the whole controversy, I suggest you start there. My last article Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio provides an analysis of the Declaratio, and section for Objections and Replies dealing with various BiP arguments.

Pope Benedict XVI’s Last General Audience

The above said, let’s examine the key part of Benedict’s Last Audience as Benedict reflects on his election to the See of Peter:

“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)

Beneplenists say Benedict’s comments above prove he intended to create an expanded Petrine office comprised of an “active” pope, and a “contemplative” pope. It is here, these folks suggest, that Benedict XVI exhibited his “substantial error” which invalidates is resignation per canon 188.

In order to really understand what Pope Benedict XVI was saying, let’s take a look at each the two pertinent sections of the audience. Again, Benedict starts (emphasis added):

“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.”

Above, Benedict in his final audience speaks of what his life became when he accepted his election to the papacy. First, he talks about “always” and “forever” being engaged “by the Lord.” What does he mean by this? Benedict tells us. By “always” he speaks of anyone who is elected pope losing his “privacy.” As he says of him who is elected a pope: “He belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church.” It is because of this, he says, “in a manner of speaking“, his privacy is eliminated.

In other words, Benedict is speaking of his own privacy being forever lost, but only in a sense – not due to some indelible mark of papal office, munus, or ministry he cannot lose or freely surrender, as the beneplenists wrongly claim. By ‘loss of privacy’ Benedict means “he belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church.” But, how does he belong “always and completely” to everyone, to the whole Church?  Well, again, he tells us. Benedict says when he became pope he ‘truly’ gained “brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, throughout the world.” This is what the “always” refers to, when of being engaged “always and forever” by the Lord. He becomes a “father” to the “sons and daughters” he gains upon becoming pope. As he says, the Successor of Peter is loved by the whole Church: “he belongs to all, and all belong to him.”  He forms a bond of love with his “sons and daughters” which he feels deeply.

Now, we must look at what is, for the beneplenist, their key piece of evidence in the last audience. This is when Benedict speaks of the “‘always’ is also a ‘forever'” and of the “this” not being ‘revoked.’ To the beneplenist, this section — which we will soon address below — is clear proof Benedict is speaking of an indelible mark of the papacy that he will always bear. But is that really what Benedict is saying? Let’s continue with Benedict’s address (emphasis added):

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.”

In the first section we analyzed, Benedict speaks of when he was elected and how the “always” referred to the loss of privacy — i.e., gaining brother and sisters upon his election. He specifically speaks of “belonging always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church” — and not to an indelible mark of the papacyNow, in this second section, Benedict continues with this same theme. He says:

“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.”

Benedict speaks now of a “for ever”, that is, that the “always” we already discussed above is also a “forever” — there is no ‘returning to the private sphere.’  The “always” and the “for ever” reference the same thing, i.e., the bond of love we discussed earlier. Here, Benedict is assuredly not saying there is “no returning” to not being pope — meaning he is indelibly marked with the papacy as the beneplenists claim! Not at all! Rather, Benedict is saying there is no returning to the “private sphere”, which as we saw in our examining of the first section, is his “belonging” to the Church, his belonging to his “sons and daughters”. In other words, he is speaking of his bond of love for his sons and daugthers — it is this of which he says “there is no return.”  There is no forsaking this bond of love….it is the “always” he spoke of earlier, but it is also a “for ever:” There is no return from it. It is a true relationship. One does not simply walk away.  

Yes, Benedict immediately says that his “decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this.” However, contrary to what the beneplenists claim, Benedict is not speaking of an indelible mark. When Benedict says the resignation “does not revoke this,” the “this” — grammatically and in context — necessarily refers to the “no return to the private sphere.” And, by “no return to the private sphere”, we have seen he means there is no going back on, or revoking this bond of love with the “brothers and sisters, sons and daughters” he gained upon his election.  Thus, his meaning is obvious. His bond of love with his “sons and daughters” gained at election is a ‘permanent’ one (i.e., a “for ever”); and, thus, his resignation will not revoke this bond. Again, no talk of an indelible papacy. He is speaking of his love continuing. 

Benedict continues on to explain what this means in practice.  Benedict says “I am not abandoning the cross, but remain in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord.” He is remaining in a “new way“, not the “same way” — i.e., not as pope. He concludes for us: “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.” Here, Benedict tells us he will no longer be pope, and that his life will now be devoted to praying for the whole Church, i.e., to those who became his sons and daughters, sisters and brothers as pope).  It is in this way, Benedict says, that he “so to speak” remains in the enclosure of Peter, praying for the whole Church. But note closely, Benedict says he remains “in the enclosure of Peter” only in a sense (“so to speak”), i.e., not in fact.  He is speaking metaphorically.  Figuratively.  Not literally.  Benedict tells us he is not “abandoning the cross” but remaining in a “new way” – not the same way, i.e., not as pope – “at the side of the Crucified Christ.”

Benedict’s logic may be summarized 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, i.e., the Pope becomes a “father”; (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 bond of love, 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) — just as a “father” would for his sons and daughters, and thus (5) he will continue to pray in service for his “sons and daughters”, the Church; and it is in this qualified sense – “so to speak” – he remains in the “enclosure of Peter,” but not in fact. [NB: As will be seen in the Objections section, a beneplenist objected to this interpretation, saying the “enclosure of Peter” is simply the Vatican.  That’s fine with me…it does make sense…but such an understanding does not help the BiP interpretation of the last audience].

What I suggest above is a rather straightforward interpretation of Benedict’s words in the last audience. There are no leaps of logic. There are no attempts to stretch the meanings of words, or to read into it some hidden intent, or impose — rather concoct — a layer of Benedict’s supposed erroneous theology upon it to explain it — all to prove the last audience bears error within it.

Clearly, Benedict saw that he became a “father” to the Church (i.e, to his “sons and daughters”), and he both felt and welcomed this “belonging”, but he assured us, his decision to resign did not revoke this bond of love. He may no longer be pope but he will continue to pray for his sons and daughters. It is unfortunate, indeed, it is a shame that the beneplenists have so tortured, and so warped the former pope’s words of his last general audience as they were quite beautiful.

Now, my interpretation of Benedict’s last audience preceded my familiarity with various Seewald interviews with the Pope Emeritus. However, the interpretation offered above is consistent with comments Benedict had made in the course of his interviews with Peter Seewald after the resignation. For example, speaking of the origin of the bishop emeritus, Benedict told Seewald:

“…Earlier, bishops were not allowed to resign. There were a number of bishops who said ‘I am a father and that I’ll stay’, because you cannot simply stop being a father; stopping is a functionalization and secularization, something from the sort of concept of public office which shouldn’t apply to a bishop. To that I must reply; even a father’s role stops. Of course a father does not stop being a father, but he is relieved of concrete responsibility. He remains a father in a deep, inward sense, in a particular relationship which has responsibility, but not with day-to-day tasks as such. It was also this way with bishops.  Anyway, since then it has become generally understood on the one hand the bishop is bearer of a sacramental mission which remains binding on him inwardly, but on the other hand this does not have to keep him in his function forever. And so I think it clear that also the Pope is no superman and his mere existence is not sufficient to conduct his role; rather, he likewise exercises a function. If he steps down, he remains in an inner sense within the responsibility he took on, but not in the function. In this respect one comes to understand that the office of the Pope has lost none of its greatness, even if the humanity of the office is perhaps becoming more clearly evident.

(Benedict XVI:  Last Testament in his own words, Peter Seewald, p. 73, Kindle Version)

In Benedict’s remarks to Seewald, he speaks of when a bishop resigns: “Of course a father does not stop being a father, but he is relieved of concrete responsibility. He remains a father in a deep, inward sense, in a particular relationship which has responsibility, but not with day-to-day tasks as such.”  Thus, Benedict echoes what he said in his last audience, his understanding that he is still be a “father” who has an ‘inward sense of responsibility’ to his “sons and daughters” owing to the bond of love. This bond leads him to continue on in the “service of prayer” for the Church, i.e., for the sons and daughters, for whom he first became ‘father’ when he was elected pope but for whom he still feels a sense of ‘inward’ responsibility, even after his resignation.

In Benedict’s mind, there is no idea of maintaining the Petrine munus/ministerium in any real sense. In fact, when Seewald asks about Benedict’s use of the honorific title “emeritus”, Benedict says: “In this formula both things are implied: no actual legal authority any longer, but a relationship which remains even if it is invisible.” Indeed, Benedict told Seewald explicitly this “legal-spiritual formula avoids any idea of there being two popes at the same time: a bishopric can only have one incumbent. But the formula also expresses a spiritual link, which cannot ever be take away.” Here we see again from the former pope, the  expression of the continuance of the bond of love already seen in our discussion of the general last audience above, i.e., the “‘always’ is also a ‘for ever.'”

Objections and Replies to those Objections

Objection 1.1: In the final general audience, Benedict’s erroneous notions of the indelible nature of the papacy is exposed. When Benedict speaks of the ““always” is also a “for ever” – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere” he is saying a Roman Pontiff is indelibly anointed, in a distinct way, which is different from, and more profound than, the priestly or episcopal ordination/consecration.[1]

Reply to Objection 1.1: As seen from the analysis given earlier, the Objector is reading into the text, saying the “always is also a “for ever” is a sign Benedict believes the Roman Pontiff is “indelibly annointed, in a distinct way, which is different from, and more profound than, the priestly or episcopal ordination/consecration.” There is no indication that Pope Benedict XVI ever said or wrote anything about the papacy leaving an “indelible mark.”

There is no mystery surrounding what Benedict means when he says that “always” is also a “for ever.”  He tells us, as I outlined in detail in my article above. Let us first see how Benedict explains the “Always”, as directly found within the text of the last audience: “Always – anyone who accepts the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church.”  What then does Benedict mean by belonging “always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church”?  He tells us (emphasis added):

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.”

Benedict tells us that when he became pope, in a manner of speaking, the private dimension of his life is complete eliminated. As the text goes on to say that what he gains is the love of those who “love the Lord” who “also love the Successor of Saint Peter and feel great affection for him.” As he says, “the Pope truly has brother and sisters, sons and daughters, throughout the world.”  Benedict said when becoming pope, “he no longer belongs to himself, he belongs to all and all belong to him.”

In sum, he says the “always” is that there is a real bond of love between he and the Church, not in some abstract sense, but that he feels love for the people of the Church, his true “sons and daughters,” etc.  He feels himself a father.

So, that brings us to the second paragraph under examination, and the focus of Objection 1.1.  Without explaining the meaning of the first paragraph under consideration and how it might impact the interpretation of the second, the Objector erroneously asserts:

When Benedict speaks of the ““always” is also a “for ever” – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere” he is saying a Roman Pontiff is indelibly anointed, in a distinct way, which is different from, and more profound than, the priestly or episcopal ordination/consecration.

The Objector’s assertion is a misreading of the text and context. In the preceding paragraph Benedict told us what he means by the “private sphere.” Benedict says, when elected, that the pope ‘no longer has privacy,’ this — says Benedict — is in reference to the pope ‘belonging always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church.’ Consequently, Benedict says, “in a manner of speaking, the private dimension of his life is completely eliminated.”

Thus, we see, that “no longer being able to return to the private sphere” is in reference to Benedict’s “belonging always and completely to everyone.” That is to say, his real sense of the ‘fatherhood’ he feels toward his “sons and daughter.” This bond of love he will carry with him always and for ever, and it is in this sense alone, he means he cannot “return to the private sphere.” This bond of love will persist.

This will be further confirmed as below with Objection 1.2 which is but a continuation of Objection 1.1.

Objection 1.2:  Continuing on with Benedict’s text spoken of in Objection 1.1, Benedict immediately adds “My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this.” In saying this, Benedict can’t make it any more obvious than this. That is to say, the indelibility of the papal ministry is irrevocable – Benedict thinks he is pope forever, but now exercising only part of the Petrine ministry. Therefore, in his mind, Benedict remains pope even after he “resigns” the governing office and passes the throne to the next “pope”. This is SUBSTANTIAL ERROR.[2] 

Reply to Objection 1.2: The Objector, again, reads his premise into the text when he claims the words “My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this” proves Benedict is saying the “indelibility of the papal ministry is irrevocable — Benedict thinks he is pope forever, but now exercising only part of the Petrine ministry.”

In response to the Objector, let us recall the full context of the sentence described in Objection 1.2, which is a continuation of that found in Objection 1.1:

“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.

As answered in the Reply to Objection 1.1, we considered the meaning of Benedict words: “The “always” is also a “for ever” – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere.” The Reply to Objection 1.1 demonstrated that “there can no longer be a return to the private sphere” is in reference to Benedict’s “belonging always and completely to everyone.” In sum, he is indicating there can be no return from the real sense of ‘fatherhood’ he has come to feel toward his “sons and daughter” after becoming pope. There will always be this bond of love within him toward his “sons and daughters,” and he carried it within him as pope, “always” — but this is also a “for ever,” as there is no “return to the private sphere” — there is no losing this bond.

How then to understand what Benedict says immediately afterwards: “My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this“? The answer is clear, the “this” refers back to the inability to return to the “private sphere,” in other words, his resignation does not revoke the bond of love of which Benedict spoke; he will carry it “for ever” — and thus the meaning of the “always is also a for ever.”

Although he is resigning, Benedict cannot just walk away as if nothing had “happened”, as if he had never formed a bond of love with his “sons and daughters.” He feels a father’s responsibility, and that although he is resigning, he carries that with him out of love. He explains now what this ultimately means in practice for his life post-resignation:

“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.”

Having explained his resignation does not revoke this bond of love, he explained he will remain by the cross in a “new way,” — not the same way, i.e., not as pope. He is not abandoning the Church but in the “service of prayer” he remains, “so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter.”

Thus we can Benedict’s meaning. “The always is a for ever”, indeed.  He has a true bond of love, like a father, for his “sons and daughters.” His resignation does not “revoke” this bond, as he still loves his “sons and daughter.” Therefore, he will remain — though no longer bearing the power of governance of the Church — in the “service of prayer” to them. That is, he will devote his life after his resignation to prayer for the whole Church.

Objection 2.0:  Benedict has erroneous ideas about the potestas iurisdictionis and potestas ordinis with regard to the Petrine munus, believing he could retain the potestas ordinis of the Petrine munus, even when he surrendered the potestas iurisdictionis.  Thus we can understand when Benedict, in this way, when he says: “My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke thisI 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 [potestas iurisdictionis] of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter [potestas ordinis].”[3]

Reply to Objection 2.0:  The Objector has assumed Benedict, as theologian Joseph Ratzinger, held erroneous ideas about the munus, the papacy as a sacrament, as well as regarding the origin of potestas iurisdictiones. In response to Objection 2.0, I touched upon the difficulties with such theories in the prior article Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio [see Reply to Objections 2.1 and 2.2, particularly the comments on Ms. Barnhardt’s and Dr. Mazza’s misreading of Josef Ratzinger — no need to repeat them here]. There, it was demonstrated that the Objector inaccurately cited Ratzinger to the extent that the Objector had asserted — in an obvious misreading of Ratzinger — that Ratzinger ‘disagreed with those who say the papacy is not a sacrament.’ As this quote was a key component of the Objector’s theory of the case, it is difficult to see how the current objection above can be carried on that fact alone.

That aside, Objection 2.0 also rests on the Objector’s interpretation of the “enclosure of St. Peter,” which the Objector understands to refer to the “potestas ordinis.” His theory of the case rests on this assumption. While I do believe it possible the “enclosure of St. Peter” may refer to the ministry of St. Peter in Benedict’s mind, it should also be remembered that Benedict said he “remains, so to speak, in the enclosure of St. Peter.” That is to say, “so to speak” means one is speaking figuratively, metaphorically, etc. — i.e., not in a literal sense. To say he was figuratively still participating in the ministry of Peter is consistent both with the interpretation first offered in this article, and in the Reply to Objection 1.1 and 1.2. That is to say, Benedict has told us his resignation does not revoke his bond of love for his “sons and daughters”, the Church, and that he will remain “in the service of prayer” to pray for them.  In this mission, Benedict is in an extended, metaphorical, or figurative sense, continuing the ministry of Peter, as his personal ‘mission’ of prayer encompasses the entire Church.

However, here I take note of another interpretation of the “enclosure of Saint Peter.” Long ago, when I first offered my interpretation of the last audience, and the figurative sense (i.e., “so to speak”) of the “enclosure of Saint Peter;” a beneplenist tried to refute my interpretation. The beneplenist corrected me, saying that “enclosure of Saint Peter” referred to the Vatican, where, indeed, Benedict still lives. Yes, the beneplenist could very well be right, and his reading might very well be the probable one. I don’t contest that. However, if it is, that does not help the beneplenist case at all, and certainly, it offers a beneplenist refutation of Objection 2.0 above.

Objection 3.0: Let us note, first of all, that, in the context of the discourse under analysis the words “always” and “forever” appear in the first place linked to the commitment “assumed with the Lord” as a consequence of the acceptance, by Benedict, of the election to the pontificate. But also, let us note that the public dimension and the bond of love with the Church of which Benedict speaks, completely related with the “always,” and only partially with the “forever.” In light of the “forever,” Benedict alludes to something else, the services (function, ministerium), that according to the Declaratio, make up the charge (munus) of the Roman Pontiff:  “acting” (“governing the boat of St. Peter”), “speaking” (“announcing the Gospel”),  “suffering” and “praying,” and this is done to corroborate that he will stop exercising only the first two alluded services, and will keep the rest (which obviously means his “resignation” did not fall on the munus, it was not a total resignation, as it should be). [4]

Reply to Objection 3.0:  The Objector says the “”words “always” and “forever” appear in the first place linked to the commitment “assumed with the Lord” as a consequence of the acceptance, by Benedict, of his election to the pontificate.” I do not wish to deny it. But here we are speaking of their link to the commitment “assumed with the Lord,” and not with what Benedict intended by them in his last audience.  To do this, we must continue to read on. Regarding their meaning, the Objector continues:

But also, let us note that the public dimension and the bond of love with the Church of which Benedict speaks, completely related with the “always,” and only partially with the “forever.”

First, we note, happily, that the Objector agrees with me that the bond of love of which Benedict speaks is “completely related with the ‘always.'”  That is what I have said earlier. However, the Objector says the bond of love is only partially related with the “forever.” Here the Objector is in error. The Objector explains:

In light of the “forever,” Benedict alludes to something else, the services (function, ministerium), that according to the Declaratio, make up the charge (munus) of the Roman Pontiff:  “acting” (“governing the boat of St. Peter”), “speaking” (“announcing the Gospel”),  “suffering” and “praying,” and this is done to corroborate that he will stop exercising only the first two alluded services, and will keep the rest (which obviously means his “resignation” did not fall on the munus, it was not a total resignation, as it should be).

Wishes to minimize the acknowledged link between the “for ever” and the bond of love; the Objector stress Benedict “alludes to something else.” However, here, the Objector seems to wish to quickly pass over, and obscure what is otherwise quite clear. Let us consider the context, again. Benedict says:

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.

Benedict expressly says “The “always” is also a “for ever” – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere” clearly linking the “for ever” to Benedict’s references to the “private sphere”, i.e., the bond of love. This much the Objector was forced to admit. The Objector does so grudgingly, saying the “forever” only “partially” refers to the bond of love. However, Benedict’s text is clear, the “always” and “forever” are both linked fully to his discourse on the bond of love.

Consider the structure of his discussion. Compare the two references:

  1. Always – anyone who accepts the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy
  2. The “always” is also a “for ever” – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere.” 

It is clear in both instances, Benedict means us to understand the “always” and “forever” arebin reference to ‘privacy,’ which, as we have already demonstrated from the text, refers back to the bond of love he feels toward his “sons and daughters” (i.e., the members of the Church). This is clear.

In the first reference above, it is in the context of first accepting the Petrine primacy, and how that acceptance leads to the ‘loss of privacy’, i.e., the gaining of “sons and daughters”, the sense of “belonging,” etc.  In the second reference, Benedict is speaking of resigning the Petrine primacy, and here he speaks of there not being a return to the ‘private sphere’ — in sum, he cannot forsake the bond of love (the “always is a for ever”!).  That is why he says in the very next sentence the resignation does not “revoke this.”

Returning to the Objector’s claim the “forever” only partially refers to the bond of love, but also “alludes to something else,” despite what we have just seen from the sentence structure. The “something else” the Objector wants the reader to focus on is Benedict’s reference to the “active exercise of the ministry” — as if he means to say his resignation does not fully revoke his papacy in some way, i.e., that  he retains the munus in some way. However, such an interpretation is utterly unwarranted in both the text and context, and does violence to Benedict’s clear meaning. Consider Benedict’s words here once more:

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.

Benedict says his “decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this.”  The “this” refers back to the prior sentence, in which, again, Benedict says “The “always” is also a “for ever” – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere.”  That is to say, to summarize, the decision to resign does not revoke the bond of love! No other interpretation makes sense here.  The “this” cannot refer back to anything else.

Objection 4.0:  In his last audience, Benedict speaks of resigning the “active exercise of the ministry,” clearly indicating he does not intend to surrender his entire Petrine ministry, otherwise he would not have qualified “exercise of the ministry” with the word “active.” Further, when Benedict speaks of no longer bearing “the power of office for the governance of the Church,” we are to interpret that to mean that he no longer exercises the ministerium, and not that he no longer bears the munus – the office itself. Finally, Benedict again, further on in the last audience draws the distinction between a way for a life which is “active or passive,” again showing he draws a distinction.  The above demonstrates Benedict bifurcated the papacy in an active and passive (or “contemplative”) component, of which believes himself to be the “contemplative” member of a papal diarchy.  As there can be no real bifurcation of the papacy, Benedict’s attempt to do so manifests he was in “substantial error” per canon 188.  Therefore, his resignation was invalid.  Benedict is still pope.

Reply to Objection 4.0:  The Objector observes that Benedict speaks of resigning the “active exercise of the ministry,” emphasizing his use of the qualifyingactive” as if this implies Benedict retains something of a “passive” exercise of the ministry. However, the Objector forgets that in the Declaratio, Benedict did not split his renunciation into an active and passive component. Benedict literally declared “I renounce the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter,” and did not say “I renounce the active ministry of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter.”  Consequently, Benedict, in his last audience, could not have intended to suggest he retained some sort of ‘passive’ or ‘contemplative’ exercise of the Petrine munus or ministerium (see Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio).

The Objector attempts to further argue that Pope Benedict XVI makes clear he resigned only the “active” Petrine ministry when he says (emphasis added):

“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.”

In response to the Objector, I point out that Pope Benedict XVI is citing St. Benedict as ‘showing us a way of life‘ whether “active or passive” which is given over to the Lord. To be clear, St. Benedict is speaking of a “way of lifewhich is active or passive and not of the papacy. Pope Benedict XVI was speaking of his life that will be devoted to prayer, after he resigns the Petrine ministry.  Benedict XVI is giving up the papacy, the “active” part of his life, and will now devote his post-resignation time to a “passive” life, i.e., prayer.

Finally, when evaluating the beneplenist claims Benedict spoke of retaining the “passive” or “contemplative” ministerium or munus, we should remember canon 331 (emphasis added):

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.

The canon explicitly states the Catholic teaching that it is the bishop of Rome, in whom continues the “office (munus) given by the Lord uniquely to Peter.” Therefore, if one is not the bishop of Rome, one does not have the munus in any size, shape, or formit does not, and cannot “continue” in him.  Not a supposed “active” munus. Not a supposed “passive” or “contemplative” munus. To say that Benedict denied this through his words and actions of the Declaratio and or the general last audience, is to not only accuse him of “substantial error,” but to accuse him of formal heresy. The Objectors throughout this discussion make Benedict into a formal heretic. The Objectors had set out to save the Church from heresy, but have only succeeded in mucking things up, and adding to the confusion in the Church by pushing their theories.

Objection 5: Pope Benedict’s attempted resignation was canonically invalid.

Pope Benedict XVI himself made this perfectly clear in his “last audience” on 27 February, ARSH 2013, and it was reconfirmed WITH HIS APPROVAL on 20 May ARSH 2016 by his personal secretary (and incredibly suspicious character) Archbishop Georg Ganswein in a speech at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome laying out Pope Benedict’s mindset vis-a-vis his failed partial-resignation.  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.“[5]

Reply to Objection 5:  This objection comes from one of the leading lights, if not founding one, of the BiP movement. The objection is ad hominem. I have replied to this objection and its specific accusations (see On the 8th Anniversary of the Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI).

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I believe there are some serious problems with Francis’ pontificate. I suppose nothing would bring me greater joy than to see a slam dunk demonstration that Benedict is still pope, or that Francis is not pope for some other reason.[6] Unfortunately, no such slam dunk has been advanced. The problem with the Objector’s absolute assertions about the “plain meaning” of the aforementioned texts is that she and others fail to consider or address the possibility that more innocent readings might exist, and indeed might be — and in fact are –more probable than their own.

Specifically, with regard to Benedict’s “last audience,” I made the case in this article for a more innocent reading of the last audience, which I honestly believe to be far more reasonable, and for more probable one than the one offered by this Objector, or any other objector for that matter.

Regarding Archbishop Ganswein’s speech, I will address that again in an upcoming article but have written on it before (see A Response to Dr. Mazza’s BiP Theory Discussion with Dr. Taylor Marshall – Part 3).

Final Thoughts

As I said at the outset, I first read Benedict’s last general audience wanting the beneplenist theory to be true. Hoping it to be true. However, from the first, and having read it many times over since then, I have remained firm in my initial conclusion: the BiP theory cannot be reasonably read out of the text of the last audience.

Though I have no doubt of their sincerity, even despite the occasional, vituperative ad hominem; the beneplenists are reading their theory into Benedict’s last audience. That, in itself, might not be so bad if an individual considered beneplenism as just a potential theory to explain our confusing times during the pontificate of Pope Francis; yet, all the while, awaiting the certain, definitive judgment of the Church on the question — should one come.

Unfortunately, there are those among the leading luminaries of the BiP theory who have gone way too far. For example, there are among them those who absolutely profess Francis is an anti-pope, proclaiming it loudly and often on blogs and podcasts. Others have also issued formal declarations and petitions, declaring absolutely that Benedict is still pope, as well as setting demands and conditions upon the next conclave! (see 3376 CATHOLICS WARN THE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS ON THE IMPENDING CONCLAVE, December 20, 2021).

It is to those who might be enticed to join the folly of the latter group above, that Roma Locuta Est addresses the Summa Contra BiP, and these recent articles on the Declaratio (see Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio), Normas Nonnullas (see Regarding Benedict’s Normas Nonnullas), and this article on the last general audience.

This article presented a full review of Benedict’s general last audience; providing a holistic interpretation of it; objections to that interpretation; and, replies to those objections. I have not seen any real beneplenist attempt to deal with this interpretation, as can be seen in the nature of the objections considered above.

Consider our interpretation offered in this article next to the BiP interpretation. The BiP interpretation must must ignore the fact no cardinals have publicly stated Benedict is still pope. Nowhere in his interviews with Seewald has Benedict claimed it. One must ignore the fact that all four dubia cardinals rejected the BiP theory of a bifurcated papacy. One must ignore the fact that Benedict has called such theories “absurd.” And, the list can go on.

Then, aside from the torturous interpretations of the text of the last audience which we’ve seen in the objections earlier, the BiP interpretation requires elaborate mind-reading theories of what Benedict thought about the papacy and the munus; all of which are contradictory to Catholic doctrine and canon lawIt is in the bishop of Rome (singular) in whom the munus — ‘given uniquely to Peter by the Lord’ — “continues” (cf. canon 331).  In other words, only the bishop of Rome has or can have the Petrine munus — it cannot be bifurcated into an “active” and “passive” component. To say Benedict thought he could do so, is to make him guilty of formal heresy. Thus, strangely enough, the beneplenists end up with the very problem they had hoped to solve with their theory, i.e., potential papal heresy.

Unlike the BiP theory, the interpretation offered in this article is a natural, and simpler one, which has the benefit of accounting for — and being consistent with — all the evidence, e.g.., all of Benedict’s final papal documents [Declaratio (see here), Normas Nonnullas (see here), the general last audience], and all of Benedict’s post resignation statements (e.g., Benedict’s letters to Cardinal Brandmuller wherein he refers to himself as a “former pope,” Benedict’s own statements that BiP theories are “absurd,” Benedict’s Seewald interviews addressed earlier, etc.).

The beneplenist explanations of the last audience are overly elaborate and forced — and as the ad hominem objection demonstrates, at times, frantically desperate. They don’t even seem to consider the possibility that everything said in the last general audience can just as easily be read in a reasonable way which is consistent with the conclusion Benedict validly resigned. All that, and without having to jump through so many hoops as the BiP-er must.

Indeed, when confronted with two such explanations, the more natural, and simpler one that accounts for most of the evidence is certainly the more probable one. The beneplenist interpretation fails miserably on this score, and should be rejected with extreme prejudice.

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).

Notes:

[1]  This objection is essentially found on the site NonVeniPacem (see https://nonvenipacem.com/2017/07/22/faq-did-pope-benedict-reveal-his-intent-to-bifurcate-the-papacy-in-the-actual-declaratio/)

[2] [NVP] https://nonvenipacem.com/2017/07/22/faq-did-pope-benedict-reveal-his-intent-to-bifurcate-the-papacy-in-the-actual-declaratio/

[3] (Emphasis Mazza).  Source: https://nonvenipacem.com/2021/04/28/latest-from-dr-edmund-mazza-leave-the-throne-take-the-ministry-the-sacred-powers-of-pope-emeritus/

[4] Estefania Acosta (https://katejon.com.br/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/reply_complete-blqd.pdf)

[5] Source: Eight years ago today, in a packed Piazza San Pietro, Pope Benedict made it clear that he was not validly resigning the Papacy.  Ann Barnhardt, February 28, 2021

[6] Roma Locuta Est has explored — and continues to do so — certain curiosities surrounding Benedict’s resignation (see here, here, and here); as well as mysteries surrounding the 2013 conclave (see The Conclave Chronicles). However, we here at Roma Locuta Est believe that only the Church can ultimately decide on any evidence uncovered; what it may or may not mean regarding the pontificates of Benedict and or Francis; and what, if anything, should be done about it. To anticipate that judgment, as the Objector and others certainly do, is exceedingly rash…to say the least.


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