March 30, 2022 (Steven O’Reilly) – [Updated 5/6/2022] Having recently completed a series of articles addressing the erroneous arguments of the “Benedict is (still) pope” [BiP] theory (see The Case against those who claim “Benedict is (still) pope”); I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at Patrick Coffin’s recent video “Seven pieces of evidence that Francis is an antipope.” A few others have already done so….but I’d like to add some points.
On his website, beneath the video, Mr. Coffin summarizes his “seven pieces of evidence that Francis is an antipope.” I will address the first five of them which question the validity of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. Each “piece of evidence” will be stated with my reply immediately below it.
A Critical Review of Mr. Coffin’s “Seven Pieces of Evidence Francis is an anti-pope”
Piece of Evidence 1) “The term “pope emeritus” has no precedent and is confusing”
Reply: Here the ‘evidence’ offered is underwhelming. While Benedict’s situation has led to confusion for some, that is not a proof that he is still pope, or that Francis is an anti-pope. With regard to “pope emeritus” having “no precedent,” that is certainly true to the extent Benedict is the first former pope to assume that title.
However, it would not be fair to say adoption of “emeritus” is without any basis or precedent. Canon 185 in the Code of Canon Law says the person who loses an office by a resignation may use the title “emeritus.” So, clearly, the title of emeritus is an honorific for a former office. The canon reads:
Canon 185: The title of emeritus can be conferred upon the person who loses an office by reason of age or by a resignation which has been accepted. (see Code of Canon Law…ed. Coriden, Green, et al, p. 109)
Granted, the context in the Code of Canon Law does not explicitly apply this to the Roman Pontiff, as for example, it refers to a resignation “which has been accepted” — something which does not apply to a pope. However, certainly, the example, analogy, or precedent was there for Benedict when looking for a title in his own case. The key point is, the precedent set by canon law is that “emeritus” is conferred upon one who loses an office by resignation — something that does apply to Benedict.
Therefore, the obvious import in Benedict’s case is that he lost his office, pope, and has now has added “emeritus” to the title of the former office he held, but now has lost. Thus, the construction of “Pope Emeritus.” Therefore, Benedict’s use of the honorific “emeritus” is an obvious admission by him that he has lost his office, the papacy, by his resignation.
Now, clearly, Benedict is the first to use this title, but he did not view himself as being the first ‘pope emeritus’ in fact. For example, Benedict as Emeritus exchanged a couple letters with Cardinal Brandmuller after the Cardinal had written an article taking exception to Benedict’s resignation, and among other things, the use of the title “pope emeritus.” Benedict wrote to Brandmuller:
In your recent interview with the FAZ [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung] you say that I created, with the construction of the Pope Emeritus, a figure that does not exist in the entirety of Church history. Of course, you know very well that popes have retired, even if very rarely. What were they afterwards? Pope Emeritus? Or what instead?
(Source: Edward Pentin article in National Catholic Register Benedict XVI Discusses His Resignation in Newly Published Letters, September 19, 2018. Benedict’s letter containing the above citation is dated 9 November 2017)
Above, Benedict complains to Brandmuller about his suggestion the “Pope Emeritus” is “a figure that does not exist in the entirety of Church history.” Benedict’s response is to remind the Cardinal that “of course” popes have retired, then asks Brandmuller, what then “were they afterwards?” Pope Emeritus, or something else? Benedict is essentially saying there were retired popes, and that they were “pope emeritus” in fact if not in name. Thus, Benedict’s intent in choosing “emeritus” was to give a new title to an old reality, i.e., a retired pope. However, as we see in canon 185…there is precedent for applying “emeritus” to an office lost by resignation. Thus, “Pope Emeritus.”
Piece of Evidence 2) “Pope Benedict XVI seems to have resigned only part of the papacy, the active ministerium, not the office or munus of the papacy”
Reply: I reply to this sort of claim in my recent article Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio which reviews the main arguments made by the Benepapists, i.e., those who believe “Benedict is (still) pope.” However, I will briefly say here:
(1) The Petrine munus cannot be resigned “partly,” it belongs uniquely to the Bishop of Rome (cf canon 331). As canon 331 is found in the specific canons most relevant to the Roman Pontiff, it is impossible Benedict was unaware of this fact.
(2) There is no formula for a resignation in canon law. There are only two requirements with regard to a papal resignation: (1) that it be properly manifested, and (2) that it be free (cf canon 332.2). There is no requirement that the word “munus” be used. There are no canonical requirements as to which words are acceptable, or unacceptable. Even so, the words munus and ministerium can be interchangeable, and the force of the logic of the Declaratio demonstrates they were in this case. See Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio on each of these points.
(3) Benedict clearly states that he resigned the Petrine ministry “in such a way” that the “See of Rome, the See of Peter” would “vacant.” Nothing can be any clearer. No Bishop of Rome. No Successor of Peter. No pope.
(4) Benedict changed certain conclave rules just a few days prior to the effective date of his resignation; clearly intending these for the March 2013 conclave necessitated by his resignation. Pope Benedict XVI had the opportunity to amend the rules for a “partial resignation”, etc., but he did no such incredible thing. It was clear he knew his immediate successor in March would be the Bishop of Rome, the Supreme Pontiff (see Regarding Benedict’s Normas Nonnullas).
(5) Finally, in regard to what Benedict understood about what he was resigning, although clear in the aforementioned documents, the cherry on top are his comments to a group of pilgrims from Albano on the day of his resignation (February 28, 2013), just hours before it went into effect at 8pm. Benedict told the pilgrims (emphasis added):
“I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I will be until 8:00 this evening and then no longer. I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth.” (Source: here)
I discuss these words and their obvious import in Regarding Benedict’s comments to the Pilgrims from Albano. No leading Benepapist has offered any credible explanation of how this fits with any of their theories. In fact…no explanation has been offered.
Mr. Coffin on the same webpage, and in his video references his interview of Dr. Edmund Mazza. In that interview, Dr. Mazza presented citations of Josef Ratzinger to prove, or so he said, that Ratzinger believed in a “sacramental papacy” or that the ‘papacy is a sacrament.’ This argument by Dr. Mazza was rebutted in my article A closer look at Mr. Coffin’s evidence: Dr. Mazza’s Thesis 3.0. Mr. Coffin should take down the video accordingly, or provide a defense of Dr. Mazza’s use of Ratzinger’s quotes to justify keeping this video up.
Piece of Evidence 3) Pope Benedict’s longtime personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein has made statements that appear to affirm Benedict’s continued papal identity
Reply: The leading Benepapists have spent little effort to consider whether the words of Benedict in his last general audience might be understood in any sense other than how they interpret it (see here). No real attempt has been made to explain why his words cannot be possibly interpreted in a sense consistent with a valid resignation. While the BiP theorists have spent little such effort on Benedict’s last audience; we may say they have spent zero effort considering whether Ganswein’s speech might be consistent with both Benedict, and a valid resignation.
I provide a detailed explanation of Ganswein’s speech in my recent article: Regarding Ganswein’s speech. I will not summarize it all here, but would like to make one particular point from it. The Benepapists blow up, and take many things out of context from the speech, all the while ignoring the fact Ganswein makes various other statements which make it unmistakably clear Benedict is no longer pope at all. For example, Ganswein affirms Benedict “left the papal throne,” and speaks of him as having “stepped down,” and references Francis as “his successor”, and that Francis is the “legitimate”, i.e., true, pope. He makes other references making it clear Benedict is no longer pope, e.g.: “I was present when Benedict XVI, at the end of his mandate, removed the Fisherman’s ring, as is customary after the death of a pope, even though in this case he was still alive!” Also, Ganswein specifies in his speech that Benedict’s pontificate had beginning and an end: “…Benedict XVI, at the helm of the barque of Peter in the dramatic years 2005-2013.” In other words, after 2013, Benedict is no longer at the helm — he is no longer pope. None of these expressions are accounted for in the Benepapists’ interpretations of Ganswein speech.
Finally, the Benepapists have also grossly misrepresented the phrase “always…and forever” from Benedict’s general last audience — taking it out of context. I go into detail to explain how this is the case in Regarding Benedict’s Last Audience.
Piece of Evidence 4) Pope Benedict’s correct form of address is still “Your Holiness”
I don’t necessarily agree with all the what’s and how’s of the way Benedict resigned. However, this particular ‘piece of evidence’ is particularly weak. It is proof of nothing. The use of “Your Holiness” in the case of a resigned pope should be no more confusing than calling a former president “Mr. President”, or a former senior military officer “Colonel”, “General”; or a former political office holder, “Senator” or “Governor”, etc.
As to Benedict’s wearing of white, I am not here to defend it. But, here too, I would point out things are not as bad as the Benepapists make out. Though Benedict continues to wear white, he wears a simple cassock but without the mozetta, a symbol of authority (see here). Furthermore, he no longer wears red shoes, also a symbol of authority, and as we have already mentioned, Benedict no longer wears the Fisherman’s Ring. In sum, the Benepapists often focus on what appears to be potentially problematic but without addressing points that may counter their position.
Piece of Evidence 5) There are at least three errors in the official Latin “declaratio” read by Pope Benedict on February 11th 2013
First, it should be observed of the three errors cited by the Benepapists, none of them obscure the intent of Pope Benedict XVI to resign. It remains the case that Benedict clearly declared he renounced the Petrine Ministry “in such a way” that the “See of Rome, the See of Peter” would be vacant, and a conclave would be needed to elect a “new Supreme Pontiff.” The supposed Latin errors do not impact the meaning of this declaration.
Second, canonist Dr. Edward Peters has addressed the question of the relevance of errors in the Latin in papal documents, and any impact on their validity (see here). Reviewing history of the matter, Peters notes:
“…granting that Ad audientiam does attach negative canonical consequences to bad Latin, the context of that question was documents whose Latin was so bad it that raised questions of authenticity (this, of course, being a practical concern in an age of ecclesiastical forgeries). Looking lightly at some commentary on Lucius’ decretal (always fun to have an excuse to do that!), it seems that debates arose over how bad ‘bad’ needed to be before it was too bad, over what kind of bad could be ignored or rehabilitated, and so on. Interesting stuff, granted, but it’s all moot.”
(Source: Dr. Edward Peters on his blog In Light of the Law. Lighter fare: can bad Latin save a papacy? 10/1/2014)
And why would Dr. Peters say the question is moot? Well, as Dr. Peters explains in his article, none of these older documents on bad Latin were included in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, nor in the 1983 code. Peter then references canon 10, which states:
“Can. 10 Only those laws must be considered invalidating or disqualifying which expressly establish that an act is null or that a person is effected.” (source: here)
The relevance of their exclusion from Canon Law, as Dr. Peters explains is this:
“Because no canon of the 1983 Code, under which Benedict XVI submitted his resignation (c. 332 § 2), addresses the quality of the Latin used in papal documents, let alone does any canon make the Latinity of papal documents go to their validity, I say, odd question answered: bad Latin does not mean that one must remain pope.”
Thus, in summary, none of the Latin errors in the Declaratio, real or supposed, impact the evident intent of Pope Benedict to renounce the papacy. Further, as Dr. Peters argued, the presence of Latin error in the text of the Declaratio would not invalidate the resignation.
On his site, Mr. Coffin says “This hypothesis is not sedevacantism.” So, there, he calls it a “hypothesis.” However, only a few weeks later, speaking of Francis’ consecration of Ukraine and Russia, Mr. Coffin wrote “Pope Benedict XVI is the true Roman Pontiff because he did not resign the office, or “munus”, of the papacy” (see here).
So what then of the claim Benepapism is not sedevacantism? It is not — at this moment. However, the key Benepapist  luminaries seem to be in danger of leading themselves and others down that path. Some have even launched a petition for Catholics (see here) to sign, in which the petitioners declare they “remain faithful to Pope Benedict XVI.” In addition, the petition, amongst other things, declares that any future conclave held under certain, specified conditions would be invalid. The specified, invalidating conditions are said to include any conclave held while Benedict still lives. Also invalid, the petition declares, would be any conclave after Benedict’s death held with the participation of cardinals named by Jorge Bergoglio, or any conclave held under provisions created by Jorge Bergoglio.
Therefore, in light of the advanced ages of Francis and Benedict, Mr. Coffin’s assurances that Benepapism is not sedevacantism may prove to be quite ephemeral. Perhaps sooner than we think. One can readily see the potential for schism is very real. What will the Benepapists do once Francis and Benedict are both dead, and a papal claimant, elected by Francis’ cardinals, sits on the throne of Peter? It is sheer folly to follow after those leading lights of Benepapism who claim moral certainty that Benedict is still pope.
After reviewing Mr. Coffin’s video, it seems to me the evidence he presents is quite weak, especially when opposing evidence, and proper context of the relevant documents is considered. In another recent article, I pointed to the shifting claims of a couple of Benepapists to underline the fact the theory’s evidence does not give credible grounds to claim such moral certainty (see A Suggestion for Beneplenists before it’s too late).
Rather than follow the leading Benepapists, the prudent course is to await the judgment of the Church — likely made by a future pope — as to what Francis is, or ‘was,’ or ‘was not.' Rather than rash judgment, patience and prudence is required at this moment of history. As far as patience goes, consider…over forty years passed after the death of Pope Honorius before Pope Leo II wrote of him:
“We anathematize the inventors of the new error, that is, Theodore, Sergius, …and also Honorius, who did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of Apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted.”
So. Be prudent. Be patient. Don’t follow Benepapism down the path along which it is most certainly heading — toward a future schism.
For those interested in more replies to the various Benepapist claims, please check out Roma Locuta Est‘s article The Case against those who claim “Benedict is (still) pope”, as well as the Summa Contra BiP.
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).
(1) Roma Locuta Est had coined the term “BiP” as an acronym for “Benedict is (still) pope,” Those who follow this theory, were by convention and ease of use, called “BiP-ers” in line with the acronym. Others, have called them “Beneplenists”, which is probably less accurate of a term. However, some who believe in BiP theories considered each term to be insulting. In this article, I introduce the term “Benepapists”. Another term I considered was “Benesectatores” (“Benedict followers” or “Benedict “adherents”); however, it seemed a bit long.
(2) Canon 331 — Can. 331 The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office 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. (Source: Here)
(3) As a humorous side note, Dr. Peters in a footnote to his article notes the Code of Canon Law had at least 100 typographical errors in its Latin. Would Benepapists say the code of canon law is thus invalidated?
(4) While I think the evidence supports the validity of Francis as pope, putatively at least; I would not exclude the possibility he is not. Roma Locuta Est has certainly not shied away from examining other theories, and or oddities around the conclave and even Benedict’s resignation (see The Conclave Chronicles and Curiouser and Curiouser: Who Dispensed Jorge Bergoglio SJ from his vows?). However, more evidence would be required to make a overwhelming case to overcome the evidence for the validity of Francis; and of course, in the end, we must still wait for the Church’s judgment — and not substitute our own for it in the interim.
(5) Saying “Benedict is definitely still pope,” and declaring one’s adherence to him as pope, as well as setting conditions on future conclaves based on this judgment as some have, especially so as to reject conclaves under certain conditions, is certainly rash — as is saying “Francis is certainly an anti-pope.”