Benedict XVI: strategic genius or theological fool?

May 29, 2022 (Steven O’Reilly) –  Benedict XVI is either a strategic genius or a theological fool.  That is, if you are a Benepapist, that is the choice you must make.  Which is he? That is the ultimate issue at stake in the Benepapist Civil War that has just erupted between the two Benepapist camps. These camps include (1) the Barnhardtian Benepapists who believe Pope Benedict XVI unintentionally or unwittingly committed a “substantial error” which invalidated his resignation, and (2) the Cioncian Benepapists who believe Pope Benedict XVI intentionally sabotaged his own resignation in order to make it invalid.

I first wrote about this emerging Benepapist Civil War in a recent article on this blog (see A Benepapist Civil War?).  At the time, the article was framed as a question. However, subsequent events have made clear this is now a hot war between the two camps across several continents — perhaps qualifying it as the Benepapist World War.  As I watch the salvos flying back and forth between the combatants, I note with some amusement that some of the arguments made by each side against the other, are in fact arguments first offered here on Roma Locuta Est!  Indeed, if the two camps reflected on this, they might understand their arguments against the other side are in fact arguments against Benepapism in general.  I will comment on this later in this article.

A Benepapist Civil War…or Benepapist World War? 

As noted in my last article, the first salvo of the war was fired by Andrea Cionci who in his open letter of May 11, 2022 to Ms. Barnhardt and Dr. Mazza laid out the case for his theory against Barnhardtian Benepapism (see Cionci’s letter; entitled on Coffin’s site as “Andrea Cionci Replies to Ann Barnhardt and Dr. Ed Mazza on Substantial Error vs The Ratzinger Code“). Mr. Cionci’s opening salvo, which I call his First Epistle to the Barnharditians received counter fire from Mr. Mark Docherty of the NonVeniPacem site in an article entitled “Four Questions for the BiP crowd who maintain Benedict knew what he was doing, did it on purpose, and remains the only true pope with his own full knowledge.”

This was followed up by Ms. Barnhardt making a few comments of her own against the Cioncian thesis on her own blog (see Here) as she introduced a reposting of the just mentioned article by Mr. Docherty. Then, Br. Bugnolo got into the act with an article of his own, entitled With a cordial reply by Br. Alexis Bugnolo, wherein he attempts to rebut Mr. Docherty’s reply to Mr. Cionci. In Br. Bugnolo’s “cordial reply” he asked Mr. Docherty to have the “integrity of a gentleman to stop ignoring” Br. Bugnolo’s existence, and earlier in the article he refers to himself as “the Franciscan Friar whom” Ms. Barnhardt “hates with a diabolic passion.

Then, Dr. Mazza, who is up to ‘version 3.0’ of his Benepapist theories by now, and has by now moved more squarely into the Barnhardtian camp and inner circle with his latest proffered theory, offered his own open letter response of May 23 to Mr. Cionci via Marco Tosatti’s site (see Ratzinger’s Attempted Resignation: An Open Letter to Andrea Cionci).

Now, as someone who has closely followed Benepapism as an opponent of it, I have indeed wondered whether the leading Barnhardtians were ignoring Br. Bugnolo as suggested by Br. Bugnolo. I certainly have no idea if Ms. Barnhardt ‘hates’ him with a ‘diabolic passion.’  However, Br. Bugnolo’s comments do seem to reveal the depth of the negative passions felt by each Benepapist camp towards the other, or more accurately, at least between some of the leading Benepapist personalities.

That divide is now only bound to widen with the release of Mr. Cionci’s Second Epistle to the Barnhardtians (see “Benedict XVI and the absurd Substantial Error thesis: “Pope Ratzinger has misconceptions”?  In the very title of his Second Epistle, Mr. Cionci returns blow for blow, calling Ms. Barnhardt’s “substantial error” thesis absurd, even as he hopes to get beyond “derision”!  Mr. Cionci writes:

“We Italians are a bit of xenophiles, and tend to think that, outside our national borders “the grass of the neighbor is always greener.” So I expected that, in a confrontation with American intellectuals, we could go beyond derision and avoidance of the issue, as it’s happening instead in Italy with the demeaning conduct of several intellectuals…”

Now, just when Mr. Cionci calls Ms. Barnhardt’s thesis “absurd,” Br. Bugnolo in a recent video (see here) seemingly throws some shade on Mr. Cionci’s “absurdity” comments. Contradicting Mr. Cionci, Br. Bugnolo asserts the “substantial error” theory is “not absurd.” This was a surprising development as Br. Bugnolo calls himself the first one to propose the “Plan B” thesis, of which Mr. Cionci is now a constant purveyor [NB: As for what to the “Plan B” thesis is, I recommend readers see my first response to Mr. Cionci (see Benedict’s Plan “B” from Outer Space) and my rebuttal of Mr. Cionci’s reply to me (see Benedict’s Plan B from Outer Space – the Sequel)].

While Br. Bugnolo might seem to be throwing his ally, Mr. Cionci, under the proverbial bus, the purpose of his video seems to be an attempt to smooth things over between the two opposing Benepapist camps to some degree. He concedes, that from his perspective, Ms. Barnhardt’s theory is not absurd. Yet, he then also speaks of needing to be open to new information; perhaps tipping a hat to the “Plan B” and “Ratzinger Code” thesis [NB: For a discussion, and brutal critique of Mr. Cionci’s “Ratzinger Code”, see Regarding the “Ratzinger Code”]. Why is Br. Bugnolo perhaps wanting to smooth things over? Who knows for sure. But, what follows may explain it.

Br. Bugnolo’s Suggestion sounds like Roma Locuta Est’s suggestion?

Interestingly, in Br. Bugnolo’s video, he suggests all the leading Benepapists actually stop the arguing, and instead, write an open letter to Benedict in which they ask him to sit down and speak with them.  Br. Bugnolo proposes “an international group from three continents” meet with Benedict, including Don Minutella, Br. Bugnolo, Mr. Andrea Cionci, Mr. Mark Docherty, Dr. Edmund Mazza, Ms. Estefania Acosta, and Ms. Ann Barnhardt.

Readers of Roma Locuta Est might recognize the outline of this suggestion as having first appeared on this blog in February 2022 (see A Suggestion for Beneplenists before it’s too late). However, unlike Br. Bugnolo’s suggestion of an open letter from the leading Benepapists and their meeting with him, I suggested a more subtle approach than the one suggested by Br. Bugnolo, whose suggestion would be doomed to failure.

Is it true only one Benepapist camp is right…or is it rather, BOTH are wrong?

We have briefly reviewed the opening salvos of the Civil War between opposing Benepapist camps.  The central controversy is whether Benedict is still pope because he is a strategic genius or is it because theological fool.  The two theories cannot be reconciled. For the sincere, open-minded Benepapist trying to navigate this Civil War, and come to grips with whether Benepapism is true or not, you may be thankful that the leading Benepapist luminaries — against their own better judgment — have just disproved Benepapism altogether.

That is, the two Benepapist camps by each offering a reasonable argumentum ad absurdum against the opposing Benepapist camp, have thereby demolished a rational basis for believing in any Benepapist theory. Consider:

First, both Ms. Barnhardt and Mr. Docherty correctly argued against Mr. Cionci’s “Plan B” thesis on the grounds it would make Benedict a “monster”, and that Mr. Cionci’s “Ratzinger Code” is indeed gnostic. I don’t often agree with Ms. Barnhardt or Mr. Docherty on Benepapist theories, but here I am happy to note they have adopted anti-Benepapist arguments first published here on Roma Locuta Est and found in the following articles (see Benedict’s Plan “B” from Outer SpaceBenedict’s Plan B from Outer Space – the Sequel,  Regarding the “Ratzinger Code”).

Second, on the other hand, Mr. Cionci in turn offers a powerful argumentum ad absurdum in response to the Barnhartian Benepapists. For example, in his response to Dr. Mazza’s open letter, Mr. Cionci writes:

“Moreover, if Benedict had wanted, by his strange conception of the papacy, to split the office into two, one active and the other contemplative, why did he not first legally arrange the emeritate?”

Again, this argument was essentially first published here on Roma Locuta Est.  For example, in various articles dealing with Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Normas Nonnullas, we have noted that Benedict made no provision for splitting the papacy into two, keeping any portion of it, etc. (see our articles, such as Regarding Benedict’s Normas NonnullasAddendum: Normas Nonnullas explodes Dr. Mazza’s BiP theory).

These are but two examples of MUTUALLY ASSURED DESTRUCTION by which each Benepapist camp has totally obliterated the other.  They have destroyed each other by a reasonable, common sense argumentum ad absurdum. Unfortunately, the leading Benepapist personalities, intent on seeking dominance of their own favored position, just do not yet understand what has just transpired.

There is much more that can be said, but I have addressed the fallacies of both Benepapist camps in the Summa Contra BiP, and the more recently updated The Case against those who claim “Benedict is (still) pope” which include multiple Objections and Replies to the key questions.  But, I would briefly note the following.  The two opposing camps share something of a common error; approaching it from opposite sides.

The Cioncian Benepapists are indeed gnostics who read secret meanings into Benedict’s writings. Roma Locuta Est was the first to point out the gnosticism of Mr. Cionci’s “Ratzinger Code.” This was addressed in articles mentioned earlier, the most amusing example of which is a Roma Locuta Est’s critique of Mr. Cionci’s “Ratzinger Code” (see my article Regarding the “Ratzinger Code”)Still, while Mr. Cionci’s “Ratzinger Code” may be rightly described as “absurd” for the secret messages it “finds” in Benedict’s writings, the Barnhardtian Benepapists, particularly Ms. Barnhardt and Dr. Mazza, may also be roundly criticized for their attempts at their attempts to interpret Ratzinger’s earlier writings.

First, with regard to Ms. Ann Barnhardt, I point the reader to my critique of one of her posts on interpreting Ratzinger’s supposed “errors” (see Benedict is Still Pope and Other Errors). It is quite clear Ms. Barnhardt’s interpretation of Ratzinger  provided in her article is without any substantial foundation in fact, and it is quite clear her interpretation is an unfair and erroneous reading of Joseph Ratzinger’s words which incorrectly attributes to him the theories of others. However, to this day, Ms. Barnhardt has not retracted her article — nor responded to this criticism.

Second, with regard to Dr. Mazza. In his appearance on Patrick Coffin’s show, Dr. Mazza made representations of certain writings of Joseph Ractzinger to support his thesis that Ratzinger supposedly believed the “papacy is a sacrament.”  I specifically addressed his use and interpretations of these Ratzinger quotes in various articles (for example, see A closer look at Mr. Coffin’s evidence: Dr. Mazza’s Thesis 3.0). In my article, I clearly demonstrated Dr. Mazza either misunderstood the Ratzinger quotes he cited, or that he innocently misstated what they said. I have had other Benepapist admit to me Dr. Mazza was wrong. However, Dr. Mazza has not retracted his representation of these quotes to date. Furthermore, Mr. Patrick Coffin has neither edited out Dr. Mazza’s clearly erroneous representations of the Ratzinger quotes, nor taken down his interview with Dr. Mazza. Given Ratzinger’s quotes were wrongly represented in Mr. Coffin’s video…he owes it to his viewers to make a statement about them, or retract the video in question.

Final thoughts

This article has provided “battlefield” reporting from the Benepapist Civil War.  What seems clear is, there are big egos and much pride on both sides. This is unfortunate as the luminaries of both sides seem committed to leading their followers down the path of schism once Francis and or Benedict have passed away. We have already seen the leading lights of the BiP theory are making absolute statements such as ‘Benedict is definitely still pope,’ and that ‘Francis is definitely an anti-pope.’ Some have launched a petition for Catholics (see here) to sign, in which the petitioners declare they “remain faithful to Pope Benedict XVI.”

Incredibly, their petition, amongst other things, declares that any future conclave held under certain conditions contrary to those specified by them would be invalid!  The specified, invalidating conditions are said to include any conclave held while Benedict still lives, any conclave with the participation of cardinals named by Jorge Bergoglio, or any conclave held under provisions created by Jorge Bergoglio. To say this is imprudent would be a gross understatement.  It is utter folly.

One can only hope that the leading Benepapists might pull back from their folly, and admit their error before it is too late. However, failing that, perhaps those faithful who are leaning toward Benepapism, or who are open to reconsidering their Benepapist views, might see in this Civil War the absurdity of it all.

Roma Locuta Est recommends that Benepapists tune out the leaders of their movement. Instead, please consider and focus on the arguments each Benepapist camp makes against the opposing one. I think if one does this, one will see that the arguments ad absurdum offered by each side against the other undermine the whole Benepapist edifice, as shown above. It crumbles into dust upon critical examination.

Thus, we return to the question the title of this article asks: is Benedict a strategic genius who intentionally sabotaged his resignation, or is he a theological fool who unwittingly messed it up?  That the Benepapist Civil War demands an answer of such a question merely demonstrates that Benepapism is self-evidently absurd and ridiculous.

As a resource for those interested in arguments against the Benepapists, whether of the Barnhardtian or Cioncian variety, please take a look at The Case against those who claim Benedict is (still) pope. This series of articles looks at the main arguments of the various, leading Benepapists mentioned in this article.

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 Parler or Gab: @StevenOReilly).

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