November 3, 2022 (Steven O’Reilly) – The central argument of the Benepapists with respect to the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI revolves around Benedict’s use of the word ministry/ministerium instead of office/munus. The key portion of Benedict resignation declares:
For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry (Latin: ministerio) of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is (Declaratio, Benedict XVI, February 10, 2013)
Those following the controversy are no doubt familiar with the canon on papal resignations, which reads:
Canon 332.2 says “If it should happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office (munus), it is required for validity that he makes the resignation freely and that it be duly manifested, but not that it be accepted by anyone.”
Benepapists assert that given Pope Benedict XVI in his Declaratio said “I renounce the ‘ministerio’” and not “I renounce the ‘munus’” as required – as they allege – by canon 332.2; Benedict’s renunciation is invalid. On this blog, Roma Locuta Est, we have provided arguments against various claims with regard to the use of ministerium instead of munus. It is not our purpose in this article to revisit all these counterarguments here. For those interested, these other counter-argument against the Benepapist position on ministerium vs. munus may be found compiled in the The Case against those who claim “Benedict is (still) pope”; particularly in the first article titled Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio. Or, one can find updated and expanded arguments with regard to the ministerium vs. munus in my new book Valid? The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
However, in this article, I’d like to briefly expand on an argument found in my book, in Chapter 1. First, let us consider the two main forms of Benepapism.
- The “substantial error” theories make the claim Benedict had a mistaken notion of the papacy and the Petrine munus, and this is evident to us because Benedict used ministerium instead of munus in the key section of the Declaratio. There are different flavors within the substantial error theory, but the main thrust of them all is that Benedict was in error in that he somehow believed he retained a whole or a part of the munus, but since this is not possible, his resignation was invalid (e.g., Benedict attempted to ‘partially’ resign, Benedict believed the papacy was a sacrament). This theory is held by likes of Ann Barnhardt, Mark Docherty, and Dr. Edmund Mazza.
- The ‘Plan B‘ related theories allege that Benedict intentionally resigned the ministerium in a juridically meaningless act for the purpose of retaining the munus, thereby retaining the papacy. Benedict did this juridically and canonically meaningless act in order to prevent the papacy from falling into the hands of a cabal of modernists, etc. This theory is generally held by the likes of Andrea Cionci, Estefania Acosta, Br. Alexis Bugnolo, and it seems by the likes of Don Minutella and Fr. Paul Kramer.
Both of these Benepapist theories depend upon maintaining the claim there is an absolute distinction between ministerium and munus. Thus, the use of ministerium either (1) points to an error on Benedict’s part that invalidates the resignation as the substantial-error theorists claim, or (2) points to a juridically or canonically meaningless act by which Benedict intentionally retained the papacy, as the Plan B theorists claim. However, if a munus is a ministry, then both these Benepapist theorists collapse into a nonsensical pile of rubbish.
The Benepapist case for an absolute distinction between ministerium and munus essentially boils down to their reading of Canon 17, which reads as follows:
Canon 17: Ecclesiastical laws must be understood in accord with the proper meaning of the words considered in their text and context. If the meaning remains doubtful and obscure, recourse must be made to parallel places, if there are such, to the purpose and circumstances of the law, and to the mind of the legislator.
The Benepapists insist that to understand canon 332.2 and munus we must define munus by canon law, as canon 17 states. Doing this, the Benepapists argue, also appealing to other canons (e.g., Canon 145), that the proper meaning of munus in their canonical analysis “corresponds to commission, charge, office, title, dignity, etc.“ while ministerium “always designates activity, task, mission, objective, function, service, help, intervention, etc.
Again, let us leave aside other arguments found in my articles and book proving ministerium and munus are synonyms, and simply focus on the use of Canon 17 by the Benepapists. We do know that most Benepapists generally concede that other words beside munus could be used to renounce the papacy. They readily admit that resignations that say “I renounce the papacy” would be valid, essentially because the term papacy encompasses or includes the sense of munus .
Okay, fine. But are there other words that might be similarly used, something admitted by the Benepapists? This seems to be quite an important question if the Benepapists are going to throw into doubt a papal resignation over the use of ministerium. The Benepapists have restricted their analysis only to canons, yet they seemingly neglect that Canon 17 also says that ‘if the meaning remains doubtful and obscure, recourse must be made to parallel places.’ They have called the use of ministerium into doubt, as well as what other words might be used in place of munus. Thus, a fair question arises as to whether the Benepapists have fairly surveyed the meaning of munus relative to other terms, such as ministerium, in other “parallel places” as directed by canon 17 [NB: “parallel places” in the Latin text could be translated as “parallel passages” or “relevant parallels“].
So, what other sorts of “parallel places” might we examine? One commentary on canon law provides an example of a “parallel place.” For example, the commentary states “for example, in reference to many canons of Book IV (of canon law), parallel passages exist in the liturgical books, in the Constitution on the Liturgy of Vatican II (NB: Sacrosanctam Concilium), and in post conciliar documents.” Here, for our purpose, a parallel passage is found in a Constitution from Vatican II. Thus, the principle is certainly evident that Sacred Constitutions may be a “parallel place” to look, per Canon 17.
That established, given we are treating of the pope, the munus, and ministerium as they may be used of the hierarchy, we can certainly look to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, as a “parallel place” for guidance, and here we may look particularly in Chapter III, titled On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church and in Particular on the Episcopate.
In this “parallel place” we do in fact find commentary relative to ministry/ministerium, and office/munus which bears directly on our question of interest. In the beginning of Chapter III, Lumen Gentium reads (emphasis added):
18. For the nurturing and constant growth of the People of God, Christ the Lord instituted in His Church a variety of ministries, which work for the good of the whole body. For those ministers, who are endowed with sacred power, serve their brethren, so that all who are of the People of God, and therefore enjoy a true Christian dignity, working toward a common goal freely and in an orderly way, may arrive at salvation.
This Sacred Council, following closely in the footsteps of the First Vatican Council, with that Council teaches and declares that Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father; and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion. And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful. Continuing in that same undertaking, this Council is resolved to declare and proclaim before all men the doctrine concerning bishops, the successors of the apostles, who together with the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the visible Head of the whole Church, govern the house of the living God.[See note 9 for Latin]
From the above, we readily see Lumen Gentium first teaches that “Christ the Lord instituted in his Church a variety of ministries (ministeria)” and that “those ministers (ministri) are endowed with sacred power.” Then the text immediately proceeds to list more specifically — among these “variety of ministries” — what the Lord instituted, e.g., that the “successors of the apostles” should be the bishops, and that in Blessed Peter, set over the other apostles, and in his successors, should be the source of unity in the Church, and all that flows from that, e.g., the Petrine primacy, papal infallibility. The implication should be evident, Lumen Gentium 18 teaches a “variety of ministries” were instituted by Christ the Lord, and these include the episcopate and the papacy. Thus, the papacy is one of a “variety of ministries,” instituted by Christ. Thus we can speak of the Petrine ministry.
If it is not yet clear what significance this has to our consideration of the meaning of ministry/ministerium relative to office/munus, let us consider another portion of the text of Chapter III in Lumen Gentium, which reads (emphasis added):
20. That divine mission, entrusted by Christ to the apostles, will last until the end of the world, since the Gospel they are to teach is for all time the source of all life for the Church. And for this reason the apostles, appointed as rulers in this society, took care to appoint successors.
For they not only had helpers in their ministry, but also, in order that the mission assigned to them might continue after their death, they passed on to their immediate cooperators, as it were, in the form of a testament, the duty of confirming and finishing the work begun by themselves, recommending to them that they attend to the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit placed them to shepherd the Church of God. They therefore appointed such men, and gave them the order that, when they should have died, other approved men would take up their ministry.(6*) Among those various ministries which, according to tradition, were exercised in the Church from the earliest times, the chief place belongs to the office of those who, appointed to the episcopate, by a succession running from the beginning,(7*) are passers-on of the apostolic seed.(8*) Thus, as St. Irenaeus testifies, through those who were appointed bishops by the apostles, and through their successors down in our own time, the apostolic tradition is manifested (9*) and preserved.(10*) [see footnote 10 for the latin]
Now, here, what we discussed above in regard to Lumen Gentium 18 becomes inescapable in Lumen Gentium 20. The text explicitly states here that:
“They therefore appointed such men, and gave them the order that, when they should have died, other approved men would take up their ministry (ministerium). Among those various ministries (ministeria) which, according to tradition, were exercised in the Church from the earliest times, the chief place belongs to the office (munus) of those who, appointed to the episcopate.”
As can be clearly seen, the text is explicitly teaching that among the “various ministries” is the “office (munus) of those” appointed to the episcopate. That is to say, given it is said a munus is among the various ministries, the text is clearly stating a munus is a ministry. Thus, because the munus is a ministry (ministerium), the ministry “entails” or “includes” the munus.
So, let us consider this altogether. We see in Lumen Gentium 20 that a munus is a ministry. In Lumen Gentium 18, we saw the papacy is one of a “variety of ministries,” instituted by Christ, and so we can speak of the Petrine ministry. But note, Lumen Gentium 20 also goes on to speak of “the office (munus) granted (by the Lord) individually to Peter, the first among the apostles, is permanent and is to be transmitted to his successors.” So, among the “variety of ministries” instituted by Christ (cf LG 18), aside from the apostles and the office of their successors (cf LG 20); Christ also instituted the Petrine office (munus). But still, we are speaking of one and the same event, whether of the Lord “instituting” the Petrine ministry/ministerium among a “variety of ministries”, or the Lord “granting” the Petrine office/munus to Peter. It is clear in the case of the papacy, the Petrine ministry/ministerium instituted by Christ logically entails the office/munus granted by the Lord to Peter, and which is “transmitted to his successors.”
The import should be clear to the reader at this point. Given the Petrine ministry logically entails the Petrine munus, then if one resigns the Petrine ministry, one necessarily resigns the Petrine munus. Thus, in the words of the Declaratio, by renouncing the “ministry of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. Peter,” Benedict was necessarily renouncing the Petrine munus. The logic is inescapable.
Bearing the above in mind, we can make following additional conclusions relative to the two Benepapist theories:
- Against the “substantial error” variety of Benepapists, ala Barnhardt, Docherty, and Dr. Mazza, in light of Lumen Gentium 18 and 20, there is no basis to say that by renouncing the “ministry of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. Peter” Benedict did not fully renounce the Petrine munus as well. Consequently, it necessarily follows there is no credible reason to posit any “substantial error” in Benedict’s act of renunciation either in word or intent.
- Against the Plan B variety of Benepapists, ala Cionci, Acosta, Don Minutella, Fr. Kramer, Br. Bugnolo, and Patrick Coffin, in light of Lumen Gentium 18 and 20, there is no basis to say that by renouncing the “ministry of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. Peter” Benedict did not fully renounce the Petrine munus as well. Consequently, it necessarily follows it is false to claim Benedict’s renunciation of the ministry was a juridically or canonically meaningless act which resulted in him retaining the papacy.
Quod erat demonstrandum.
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. He has written apologetic articles, and is author of Book I of the Pia Fidelis trilogy, The Two Kingdoms; and of Valid? The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. (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, TruthSocial, or Gab: @StevenOReilly).
 The following argument was developed based directly on Fr. John Rickert FSSP making this salient point about the meaning of munus relative to ministry within Lumen Gentium 20. Fr. Rickert had pointed me to this important text in personal correspondence.
 Estefania Acosta, Benedict XVI Pope “Emeritus”? “The ‘always’ is also a ‘forever,’” p. 51
 Ibid. p. 50
 That a pope can resign the papacy using words other than munus is obvious. The word was used by Celestine V and is incorporated into subsequent canon law at the time by his immediate successor, Boniface VIII, into the Liber Sextus. See Liber Sextus (I, VII, I), UCLA Digital Library, pp. 197-198, retrieved June 7, 2022, 4:57 p.m.
 See Estefania Acosta, “Adversus Fallacies: A Reply in Defense of the Book ‘Benedict XVI: Pope “Emeritus?”’”, Katejon.com.br, May 13, 2021. Acosta also goes on to provide other examples. See Br. Bugnolo here, for a similar admission. [Update 11/5] Separately, a day after we published our article above, Br. Bugnolo published an argument (see here) on November 5th which the article above has providentially anticipated, and thoroughly rebutted. God does work in mysterious ways.
 John P. Beal, et al, eds., New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law. Commissioned by the Canon Law Society of America, New York NY/Mahwah NJ: Paulist Press, 2000.
 John P. Beal, et al, eds., New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law. p. 74
 For example, the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law has dozens of references to Lumen Gentium in its index.
 The Latin is as follows (emphasis added):
- Christus Dominus, ad Populum Dei pascendum semperque augendum, in Ecclesia sua varia ministeria instituit, quae ad bonum totius Corporis tendunt. Ministri enim, qui sacra potestate pollent, fratribus suis inserviunt, ut omnes qui de Populo Dei sunt, ideoque vera dignitate christiana gaudent, ad eumdem finem libere et ordinatim conspirantes, ad salutem perveniant.
Haec Sacrosancta Synodus, Concilii Vaticani primi vestigia premens, cum eo docet et declarat Iesum Christum Pastorem aeternum sanctam aedificasse Ecclesiam, missis Apostolis sicut Ipse missus erat a Patre (cf. Io 20,21); quorum successores, videlicet Episcopos, in Ecclesia sua usque ad consummationem saeculi pastores esse voluit. Ut vero Episcopatus ipse unus et indivisus esset, beatum Petrum ceteris Apostolis praeposuit in ipsoque instituit perpetuum ac visibile unitatis fidei et communionis principium et fundamentum(37). Quam doctrinam de institutione, perpetuitate, vi ac ratione sacri Primatus Romani Pontificis deque eius infallibili Magisterio, Sacra Synodus cunctis fidelibus firmiter credendam rursus proponit, et in eodem incepto pergens, doctrinam de Episcopis, successoribus Apostolorum, qui cum successore Petri, Christi Vicario(38) ac totius Ecclesiae visibili Capite, domum Dei viventis regunt, coram omnibus profiteri et declarare constituit.
 The latin translation is as follows (emphasis added):
- Missio illa divina, a Christo Apostolis concredita, ad finem saeculi erit duratura (cf. Mt 28,20), cum Evangelium, ab eis tradendum, sit in omne tempus pro Ecclesia totius vitae principium. Quapropter Apostoli, in hac societate hierarchice ordinata, de instituendis successoribus curam egerunt.
Non solum enim varios adiutores in ministerio habuerunt(40), sed ut missio ipsis concredita post eorum mortem continuaretur, cooperatoribus suis immediatis, quasi per modum testamenti, demandaverunt munus perficiendi et confirmandi opus ab ipsis inceptum(41), commendantes illis ut attenderent universo gregi, in quo Spiritus Sanctus eos posuit pascere Ecclesiam Dei (cf. Act 20, 28). Constituerunt itaque huius modi viros ac deinceps ordinationem dederunt, ut cum decessissent, ministerium eorum alii viri probati exciperent(42). Inter varia illa ministeria quae inde a primis temporibus in Ecclesia exercentur, teste traditione, praecipuum locum tenet munus illorum qui, in episcopatum constituti, per successionem ab initio decurrentem(43), apostolici seminis traduces habent(44). Ita, ut testatur S. Irenaeus, per eos qui ab Apostolis instituti sunt Episcopi et successores eorum usque ad nos, traditio apostolica in toto mundo manifestatur(45) et custoditur(46).
 This observation is based directly on Fr. John Rickert FSSP making this salient point about the meaning of munus relative to ministry within Lumen Gentium 20. Fr. Rickert had pointed me to this important text in personal correspondence. My many thanks to him.