Benedict XVI and the missing “Last Testament”?

January 9, 2023 (Steven O’Reilly) – [Updated 1/11/2023] Following the death of Pope Benedict XVI, God rest his soul, the Vatican published Benedict’s “spiritual testament” dated August 29, 2006, a year after he was elected pope (see FULL TEXT: Benedict XVI’s ‘Spiritual Testament’ Shares His Final Thoughts With the Church).

The Lack of a “Last Testament” and its Implication for Benepapism

As those following the Benepapist controversy are likely aware, there are two main theories regarding Benedict’s resignation document, called the Declaratio. The first, peddled by Ann Barnhardt and her allies, claims that Benedict made a “substantial error” in his act of resignation which rendered it invalid. Benedict’s death does not appear to have any impact going forward on the basics of that theory, erroneous though it be. Barnhardt and company will undoubtedly hold to the position that ‘Benedict resigned in error, and in this error he passed away.’  She and those who persist in this error are now sedevacantists.

The second theory, held by the likes of Andrea Cionci, Br. Bugnolo, Estefania Acosta, and Patrick Coffin[*], claims that Benedict’s Declaratio was intentionally constructed by Benedict to be null and void with regard to the papal office or munus. At most, they might admit, he resigned only the doing of the office, and not the office itself; or, that renunciation of the ministerium was only a meaningless canonical act. In either view, Benedict retained the papal office (munus).  Again, these theories are addressed and refutations provided in the links provided earlier.

But why would Benedict intentionally ‘fake’ his renunciation, leaving most of the faithful to believe he had really resigned? It is generally claimed by arch-Benepapists of this variety that Benedict submitted this ‘fake’ resignation as part of his plan to keep the papacy from its modernist enemies within the Church. This theory is called Benedict’s Plan B by some (see our discussion in Benedict’s Plan “B” from Outer Space and Benedict’s Plan B from Outer Space – the Sequel). Further, Benedict, says Andrea Cionci, communicated the reality of this plan following his supposed resignation through a subtle, cryptic manner of speech, Cionci called the Ratzinger Code (see Regarding the “Ratzinger Code” and Summa Contra Andrea Cionci, Plan B, and the Ratzinger Code).

Briefly put, this Ratzinger Code was a manner of speech with two levels of meaning. One level, was the superficial level of meaning intended for the world, which would seemingly be consistent with the view Benedict had resigned the papacy. The second, deeper level of meaning, intended for the faithful, would communicate the underlying “reality,” i.e., that Benedict remained pope. The confusion of many of the faithful, and perhaps a desire for a touch of sensationalism, would propel Cionci’s book on this thesis, The Ratzinger Code, to best-seller status in Italy. In the links offered earlier, and in my book, I have detailed the why and how the Benepapists’ Plan B theory and Ratzinger Code claims are utter nonsense (see, for example, Regarding the “Ratzinger Code”Ratzinger Code: “Don’t believe your lying eyes”A Response to Andrea Cionci and his “Ratzinger Code”).

The death of Benedict XVI could be a mortal blow to the Plan B and Ratzinger Code theory. Why? Well, if we are to entertain the theory that Benedict intentionally submitted a ‘fake’ resignation and communicated via a Ratzinger Code, then we should consider it not only as likely, but probable (if not certain), that Benedict would leave behind some sort of document, a “testament,” that affirms all that is alleged in these Benepapist theories. If Benedict was brilliant enough as to conceive of his Plan B strategy, and to “communicate” it to us, surely he would have provided the Church with a testament after his death to document this, as well one to provide us a path to escape from our current crisis. If such a document does not surface, this is evidence against the Plan B and Ratzinger Code theories, i.e., they were false all along.

What should such a Last Testament contain?

Of course, I do not believe such a document will ever surface — certainly not a bona fide one, because Plan B and Ratzinger Code theories have been utter nonsense the entire time as I have argued in article series like The Case against those who claim “Benedict is still pope,” and Summa Contra Andrea Cionci, Plan B, and the Ratzinger Code and in my book, Valid? The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Quite simply, such theories meant that Benedict’s ‘fake’ resignation left the flock of the Lord unprotected against ravaging wolves for ten years, and against whom Benedict took absolutely no corrective action to protect the faithful — even though he supposedly remained true pope the entire time.  Such a theory essentially entails the absurd notion that Benedict thought he could better protect the faithful by pretending not to be pope, than by actually being the pope — and doing what a pope should do to protect the faithful.

Still, we may rightfully surmise that this theoretical last testament — if it exists — would clearly reveal the fact and purpose behind Benedict’s recourse to a Plan B, as well as confirm to the faithful that his resignation was invalid. Furthermore, under such a scenario, given Benedict over the last ten years as “emeritus” never provided “us” a roadmap out of this mess and confusion in the Church, we should likewise consider it not only likely, but indeed probable (if not certain!) that Benedict would have left behind some thoughts, even a plan for the Church to find its way out of the current mess and confusion. One would certainly hope and indeed expect Benedict would have done so, both for those who believed he was still pope when he died, and for those who ‘mistakenly’ believed in good faith he was not. Consequently, given the Benepapists claim Benedict concocted the brilliant Plan B, we might understandably and reasonably expect that Benedict would have left a message behind for those Cardinals he had appointed (or to a select, trusted few of them) instructing them that they should now proceed upon his death to elect his true “immediate successor”, and that only they are empowered to do so.

If there is such a document, it should have surfaced very soon after Benedict’s death.  Its sourcing would have been beyond reproach. Perhaps there was a “death switch” whereby several cardinals, and or other trusted friends of Benedict would receive a copy of it, with personal notes from him which confirm the authenticity of such a last testament. However, no such document has been produced.  Consequently, this is strong evidence against the Plan B and Ratzinger Code theories, i.e., they were false all along.

An Argument from Silence?

Now, as a quick aside, citing the lack of a such a last testament as a proof against Benepapism is not a fallacious form of the  argument from silence. This is because the Benepapist claims of a Plan B and Ratzinger Code are based on the Benepapist claim and premise that (1) Benedict intentionally submitted an invalid resignation as part of a plan to thwart the enemies of the Church, and that (2) he intentionally communicated his real intent in various ways to the faithful via a Ratzinger Code. Given such supposed intentionality for the good of the Church, and based on the aforementioned Benepapist premises and claims; it is a reasonable inference — if these Benepapist premises were in fact true  — that Benedict XVI would have left behind some sort of documentary confirmation of their theories, as well as documentary guidance for the Church.  Therefore, given no such document has surfaced or been produced, the lack of such document is a significant blow to Benepapism. 

However, the Risk of Forgeries Remains

Given no such document has appeared, or is likely to appear, this should be reason enough for anyone who has held on to the Plan B / Ratzinger Code theories till this moment, to now to ditch Benepapism altogether. But, of course, when such a document does not surface, some bitter-ender Benepapists might claim this document has been suppressed, or give some other ad hoc excuse for its failure to surface. Undoubtedly, they will claim this, forgetting both (1) their own claims as to the  “brilliance” of Benedict, and thus, he must have foreseen the obvious logical, and moral necessity for such a document, and (2) that Benedict had ten years to devise a fool proof means to ensure an authenticatable Last Testament made its way to the public through trusted friends and associates.

I do not believe any such document penned by Benedict, as described above, exists. However, oddly enough, I would not be surprised if a document purporting to be this Last Testament does ultimately appear. The stakes are too high and enticing, whether  for the general mischief maker who simply can’t resist an opportunity to gain notoriety or just to sow more confusion, or for a Benepapist somewhere hoping to keep the movement going. Many folks have invested their public reputations in Benepapism, supergluing their credibility to this or that theory. These folks have many followers, readers, and contributors.  I reckon there have been 7-8 books written in favor of Benepapism, including a best-seller.  There is much resting on the future of Benepapism and its claims. Given human nature is what it is, and the stakes being what they are, I cannot discount the possibility a supposed last testament might surface.

Consequently, I half-expect that a document of dubious provenance, a forgery, will appear. Forgeries have appeared in the history of the Church before, such as the Donation of Constantine, papal letters forged by heretics[3], and the False Decretals (see The False Decretals).  There is already some precedence for a forgery in the current Benepapist controversy. Someone (or someones) already forged a letter, supposedly from Ganswein, a couple to a few months back. The nature and content of the Ganswein forgery, its easy detection, and quick discovery by Benepapists — suggests the forgery originated within Benepapist circles.

Final Thoughts

As bizarre as the Plan B and Ratzinger Code theories truly are, that is where the intellectual center of gravity is for the entire Benepapist movement. For example, while there are 7-8 Benepapist books out there that generally argue Benedict intentionally submitted a ‘resignation’ that was not valid with respect to the munus, there is not one – to my knowledge – that argues the ‘substantial error’ theory.[4]  When one considers the premises of the Plan B / Ratzinger Code theories, i.e., Benedict’s “brilliant” plan, an intentionally invalid resignation, and Benedict’s supposed intentional use of a cryptic code to communicate with the faithful; the lack of an authenticatable Last Testament — that proves all this and more — should be a final nail in the coffin for the plausibility of any of these Benepapist theories. Even with regard to the “substantial error” theory, one might well have expected that Benedict would have left behind some sort of document to explain his understanding of what he meant and intended by his resignation.  Consequently, the failure of any such testament to appears after the death of Benedict is a blow to the “substantial error” theory as well.

For those Catholic following the topic of Benepapism, or who have been tempted by it; Roma Locuta Est has various resources which debunk the false and spurious claims of the Benepapists (see Summa Contra the BiP Theory (Why Benedict XVI is NOT the pope), and The Case against those who claim “Benedict is (still) pope”).  Also, my book which rebuts Benepapism was recently published (see Valid?  The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI).

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  or (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA or on GETTR, TruthSocial, or Gab: @StevenOReilly).


[*]  On 1/11/2023 I corrected a mistake in my article. By mistake I had entered the name of “Patrick Madrid” rather than the name of “Patrick Coffin.” This, as said, was a mistake, and was an error.  I had intended to write “Patrick Coffin” all along but I somehow wrote “Patrick Madrid”. My bad. My error. Patrick Coffin is a Benepapist.  Patrick Madrid is DEFINITELY NOT a Benepapist. This error has now been corrected. My apologies to Patrick Madrid for my error.

[1] By “Arch-Benepapists” I here mean both the originators of a Benepapist theory, or a leading, or public face of the Benepapist cause.  Arch-Benepapists would include the likes of Ann Barnhart, Andrea Cionci, Br. Alexis Bugnolo, Andrea Cionci, Patrick Coffin, and others.

[2]  Ann Barnhardt is notorious for this in my opinion, as is Dr. Edmund Mazza, as detailed in Regarding Benedict’s Declaratio and in my book, Valid?  The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.   Br. Alexis Bugnolo has provided faulty interpretations of canon law, which I pointed out in my article titled Br. Alexis Bugnolo’s Faulty Logic, and Faulty Comprehension with Respect to Canon 17.

[3] “For example, the sixth ecumenical council, Constantinople III (680), examined heretical letters said to have been written by Pope Vigilius, but it rejected them as frauds.” (Source:  The False Decretals, Catholic Answers/This Rock, Steven O’Reilly, 10/1/1998)

[4] That said, I understand one might be on the way.

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