Is Benedict Still the Pope? (Guest: Steven O’Reilly)

Crisis Point

Interview Transcript

A small but vocal number of Catholics are convinced not only that Francis is not the pope, but that Benedict XVI is still the valid pope. What are their arguments? Are they right—is Joseph Ratzinger still the pope?

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Transcript:

Eric Sammons:

A small but vocal number of Catholics are convinced not only that Francis is not the Pope, but that Benedict XVI is still the valid Pope. What are their arguments? Are they right? Is Joseph Ratzinger still the Pope? We’re going to talk about that today on Crisis Point. Hello, I’m Eric Sammons your host and the editor in chief of Crisis Magazine. Before we get started, I encourage you to like and subscribe to the channel, let other people know about it, help grow the channel. I really appreciate it if you do that. It really does help bump us up in the algorithms, the magic algorithms of YouTube and other podcast platforms if you subscribe to the channel and like this episode. Also, you can follow Crisis Media on the various social media channels, Twitter, GETTR, Gab, MeWe, Facebook, all of them. Usually just @CrisisMag is the best way to find us.

Today our guest is Steven O’Reilly. He is a former intelligence officer. He’s a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He’s had articles published in the old This Rock Catholic Answers magazine, OnePeterFive and LifeSiteNews. He’s the founder of the Roma Locuta Est blog which provides commentary on topics related to Catholic current events and apologetics. He’s also the author of an upcoming book called Valid, The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, which is expected to be out in August. That’s really what we’re going to talk about today. Welcome to the program, Steve.

Steven O’Reilly:

Thanks, Eric. Thanks for having me.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Before we get started, let’s just say what the situation is, how odd it is. Currently there are two men living in the Vatican, at the Vatican, each wearing white papal robes, each being called Your Holiness and each maintaining the title in some form of Pope. Obviously this is confusing imagery at the very least. A lot of people are asking the question is Francis really the Pope? Online, this is probably a lot more vocal, a lot more strong than you would get in a regular parish. I don’t think there’s much discussion at your regular Catholic parish about whether or not Francis or Benedict is the Pope, but if you go online, Catholic Twitter or wherever, you see there’s a lot of people arguing, or it seems like a lot of people, they’re at least very vocal, that Benedict is still the Pope.

To be honest, it is a confusing situation. I do think there are a lot of sincere and well-meaning Catholics who are honestly unsure about the status of Francis and about whether or not Benedict is still the Pope. Now, those who don’t think that Francis is the Pope, they generally fall into two categories. One is the Sedevacantists who believe that there is no valid Pope. That just means the seat is vacant, no Pope. We’re not going to talk about that today, that’s a whole different discussion. What we’re talking about is that group of people who believe that Pope Benedict, for whatever reason, his resignation wasn’t valid, it didn’t happen, whatever the case may be, so he is still the Pope. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. First, to clear it up at the beginning, the first question I want to ask is what do we call the people or the view that Benedict is still the Pope? I’ve seen a lot of different names and I’ve seen people get upset at the various names. Let’s first clarify what should we call this theory?

Steven O’Reilly:

Sure. Well, when I first started writing on this subject back in 2017 on my blog I coined the term BIP which just stood for Benedict is Pope, quite literally, even though occasionally some folks have taken exception to that, somehow I’m being dismissive of them. It was not, it was just a way of naming them. Other folks have used Benevacantist and Beneplenist. In my book I decided, recently in my blog I’ve opted to use Benepapist or Benepapism. Again, not to be pejorative, just to be descriptive. I thought that Benedict is Pope or BIP as an acronym probably … long live Benedict but he is up there in age and, when he passes, Benedict is Pope, it will obviously no longer be an accurate name so I just thought Benepapism and Benepapists would be the terms I use on my blog and book.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I think that’s good because it’s not trying to be demeaning or anything like that. Benevacantism was kind of a silly term. I know I used that at first too because it was jokingly connecting to Sedevacantists, but of course that makes no sense, the actual term, that Benedict is vacant or something like that. I think though Benepapist is good because it’s just simply the idea that Benedict is still the Pope right now. In just a few sentences, give the overall view of the Benepapist position other than just the fact that he’s obviously still the Pope. How would you describe that position?

Steven O’Reilly:

I think going back to the origins, I think that Benepapists, as you mentioned, they’re sincere folks. Like, I think, many Catholics, traditional Catholics, conservative Catholics, they’ve looked at the course of this papacy almost from its very beginning and all the odd things that have happened. We can go to 2016, Amoris Laetitia, there’s Pachamama, the Scalfari interviews and so many other things you kind of lose track. You have this situation where people wonder how could a Pope do this? How could a true Pope do this? Folks have cast about looking for theories. I mean, obviously you have things like the open letter which accused Francis of a delict of heresay. Some folks might say Francis was a true Pope but then maybe he fell or maybe he’s just a material error or maybe he might even be a heretic and they can’t do anything about it.

The Benepapist view is that they looked back at the original documents of the resignation and some of the oddities around the Saint Gallen Mafia. Did they somehow force Benedict out? Was there something wrong with his actual resignation statement? Then they looked at that overall situation and determined that his resignation was invalid. Therefore, if you can say Benedict’s resignation is invalid, he’s still Pope. If he’s still Pope, obviously Francis is not, problem solved and we can forget about things like Amoris Laetitia and all that. We just have to wait for the rest of the Church to catch up to us or to them. That’s how I think it originated. We can obviously go into some of the documents and some of the specific theories that they have.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Before we do that, it sounds to me though, I mean, this is how it appears to me as well, we have a problem and I think a lot of Catholics, good Catholics do acknowledge the problem and that is Francis is doing things that a Pope probably shouldn’t be doing or at least is scandalous. There’s our problem so what is the solution? I think there’s a lot of different answers that people have come up with. One is Sedevacantism, that Francis isn’t the Pope and there is no Pope. Either he was never a Pope and neither was Benedict or JP II or Paul VI going all the way back to maybe Pius XII, or that he was elected valid Pope and then he fell through heresy, some public heresy that they determined. That’s one idea.

Another idea is the view that I think a lot of people watching this and myself, I hold, is that he is a true Pope but, yes, these are problematic elements. They don’t invalidate his papacy but they do show, like in the past where Popes have done things that are bad, he’s a Pope that’s done things that are bad. Others have just tried to gloss over it saying, “Oh, it’s not really that bad. You’re misinterpreting him,” or something like that. Then of course this view of, “Well actually Benedict is still Pope,” the question becomes when did the idea that the papal resignation of Benedict was not valid, when did that originate? Was it right after in 2013 or did it take some time before it originated, before people started really promoting it?

Steven O’Reilly:

Well, I think some of the seeds are back there from the beginning. I think there were some canonists who had looked at how he had worded his resignation. I think that raised some eyebrows early on. There might have been two or three canonists who might have said something. Then of course, to my recollection, some of the earlier concerns were about the Saint Gallen Mafia, the illegal campaigning. Then, with regard to Benedict, was there any assassination attempt? I mean, there had been a Cardinal or a Bishop who had made some reference that he’d be dead within a year. There were concerns that the ATMs at the Vatican had been shut off I think in January 2013. Maybe this might have been something to push him out. I think those were some of the earlier theories.

As early as 2014 I think it was, Andrea Tornielli had interviewed Benedict and at that point he was even saying theories that his resignation was invalid were absurd. It does go back pretty far. I think, to my mind, what really launched Benepapism was the Gänswein speech in 2016. That’s when he did make some kind of … when you read it, on the surface at least that really raised a lot of eyebrows talking about an expanded papal ministry and that type of stuff. I think it was Ann Barnhardt who was the first to call that out. That’s when she came up with the theory, the substantial error theory that there was a substantial error in Benedict’s resignation, in his Declaratio. Then they found some evidence for that also in the last audience of Pope Benedict on February 27th, 2013, the day before his resignation. That became, I think, the basis for substantial error theory which has become one of the two major theories since that time.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Yeah. Let’s get actually into it now. Within Benepapism there is multiple views of what is happening, what happened and why his resignation was invalid or didn’t happen or whatever. I would say that, within those, there’s even breakdowns. One major view is the invalid resignation theory, that basically his resignation for various reasons, one or more, it was invalid. Another one is that, the other major theory is that, yeah, the resignation was invalid, but it was almost done on purpose. Whether or not Benedict meant to do it or didn’t mean to do it is somewhat debated within Benepapism.

Let’s first give the invalid resignation, the idea … Canon 188 says a resignation made out of grave fear that is inflicted unjustly or out of malice, substantial error or simony is invalid by the law itself. For example, let’s just give an example, if somebody puts a gun to Pope Francis … let’s just use Pope Francis, let’s say he’s Pope, puts a gun to his head and says, “You must announce your resignation or I will pull the trigger,” and then he announces his resignation, the law would say that’s an invalid resignation because he made it out of grave fear.

Steven O’Reilly:

That’s right.

Eric Sammons:

Another example, obviously simony, if somebody said to him, “Pope Francis, I’m going to give you a million dollars to resign,” and then he does, he announces his resignation, he gets a million dollars, that’s another case of an invalid resignation. Nobody’s accusing, by the way, Benedict or anybody of simony here, but they are saying both it’s potentially grave fear and the substantial error. First explain why some people would say that Pope Benedict’s resignation was made out of grave fear.

Steven O’Reilly:

Well, I think to go back to the Saint Gallen Mafia, we know they’ve existed from the mid ’90s and I think they expressed their reason to be was to oppose Cardinal Ratzinger at the time and then later to oppose his election in the 2005 conflict. You do have a group of people who were anti-Ratzinger from the beginning so you have that going on. Then you have, like I said, as I mentioned before, these rumors of a possible assassination. I think that surfaced around 2012. You have the financial shutdown of the ATMs for a period of time, I think in early 2013. The suggestion was that maybe there was something that pushed him out. When you look at all these theories, there’s no smoking gun that you can say, “This event is what led him to resign.”

You could say, if the Saint Gallen Mafia did it, you’d still need proof that it happened. Then of course, even if you found proof, today nine years later the question is would that now invalidate the resignation? That’d be probably a debate for the canon lawyers and theologians to go after, but my sense would be it probably would not invalidate it because, as Athanasius Schneider would say, situations like that would be healed in a route that the church has accepted this man as Pope Francis for the last nine years for the most part so therefore he is the true Pope.

Eric Sammons:

It sounds like there is some smoke when it comes to the grave fear theory in that there was definitely some funny business going on. Now personally I’ve read enough history of papal elections in the past, there are a lot of cases, in Medieval times particularly, where a lot of threats, I mean, Emperors and lots of stuff going on where Popes resigned. I mean, Popes were basically forced to resign by Emperors and things like that yet the church recognizes those resignations as valid. I feel like there have been cases of Popes who have resigned out of grave fear and the church has accepted them. This canon that states a resignation made out of grave fear is invalid by the law itself, I mean, how do we actually reconcile this with the fact that historically … I mean, it does seem like there have been cases where Popes were pushed out the door and the church now just recognizes, “Yeah, that all worked out and we’re fine.”

Steven O’Reilly:

That’s right. The other thing too I’d point out with regard to Benedict’s case is, if you look at the things he said in his Peter Seewald interviews which he did actually before he resigned and then afterwards, it’s clear that he recognizes that a Pope cannot leave under duress. The question was did the WikiLeaks scandal, which erupted in early 2012 … he said no, in fact he waited, he deferred his resignation until the gentleman was arrested and then they had a trial and the trial ended in October, late October, early November 2012. I think his resignation was, he really, I think, settled on it in December even though there’s strong indications that he told Petroni and he told Gänswein as early as June or July 2012 that he was going to resign. He deferred his resignation because of WikiLeaks. There’s no indication that he submitted to fear. Even though there might have been the smoke out there, there’s no indication that he understood himself to be under any kind of duress that led him to resign.

Eric Sammons:

Right. I think that, I mean, it’s almost like … you brought up what Bishop Schneider had mentioned about the church accepting Francis as Pope for the past nine years and the idea is that’s almost what happened historically when you had Popes who were pushed out of the papacy. The church accepted that and they accepted the next Pope. That, in a way, seems to almost trump canon law. I feel like when I’ve dealt with, talked to people who are the most adamantly for the Benepapist position, everything is very much centered around canon law. I don’t want to dismiss canon law as unimportant, but it does seem to be something a little bit greater than canon law working here when we’ve had cases in the past where stuff like this has happened and the church has said, “Okay, but we’re just going to move on with this person as Pope.” Am I right there or am I dismissing canon law too much in this case?

Steven O’Reilly:

No, I agree, man. I’ve done a lot research in my blog looking into the conclave. I do think there are a lot of oddities involved in that. This might not be the place to go into all that, but as you look into these oddities and you start looking at the canon, and I’m no canon lawyer, but it’s almost like, “Don’t do these things. Don’t get caught or don’t get caught too soon. If enough time goes by, you’ll be accepted.” I mean, it doesn’t say that, but I think the canon law is not intended there to create a legal case to knock down a papacy nine years later. Going to what you were saying, what Athanasius Schneider was saying, I mean, we can’t be nine years later going through some old textbooks, dusty canon law books from 300 years ago to say, “Ah, here’s this little thing here, B and C, it’s an invalid resignation,” and we undo nine years of everything. You just can’t do that. I mean, it is move on.

I mean, I do think Francis is Pope. I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow there was something that said he wasn’t, but I think that, when you look for a solution, you want a solution that’s a good theory. Benepapism, and we’ll get more into this, Benepapism is a bad theory and a bad theory is never a good substitute for a good theory.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Okay. Let’s move on from the fear motive to the one that’s probably the more substantial. That is that his resignation includes substantial error and that’s part of the Canon 188 that says if it’s made out of substantial error. I can’t think right off the top of my head of an example, but if a Bishop were to resign thinking one thing and actually doing another, being mistaken about something perhaps, I don’t really know the example in there, but this is the big point for the Benepapists, that Benedict resigned incorrectly, invalidly, specifically when it comes to understanding the office and ministry of the papacy. Why don’t you break down … and this is where people start taking notes maybe because I do think this gets a little bit confusing, a little bit in the weeds, but I think it’s very important because this is really where the Benepapist argument stands or falls, this whole idea of was it in substantial error? Why don’t you break down what they’re saying here?

Steven O’Reilly:

Yeah. Well, first, the commentaries I’ve seen on Canon 188 that talk about substantial error, there it seems like the intent is that the error is the true cause of one’s resignation. For example, in fact I think Cardinal Brandmüller gave it as an example in an interview with Diane Montagna where he said that, if the Pope thought that there was a Muslim army at the gates of St Peter’s or Rome and he submitted his resignation out of that false belief, that would be invalid. That would be an example of a true cause. Let’s say you take for example … if you look at the substantial error theories, I guess there’s two in a sense. One I believe Anne Barnhardt would say is that he made an error that Benedict thought he could partially resign, bifurcate the papacy, be a passive member of the Sonotal papacy and Francis, who was his successor, would be the active Pope. Obviously that’s an error, you really can’t do that, therefore his intent in what he was doing in his resignation letter would invalidate his resignation. That, I think, would be her view.

Dr. Mazza I think would share that. I debated him on Tim Gordon’s show and his view seemed to go a little bit further. I think he recognized … I’m putting words in his mouth. He seemed to recognize more the true cause part, that you had to have, what was in your mind did matter. He would say that Benedict had, at least in my view of what he was saying, Benedict had an erroneous view of the papal munus. I guess we could maybe talk about that word a little bit, the munus, the office, the papal office, he thought that he could retain it after the resignation in some way. Of course he couldn’t, but if he had known that he could not retain the munus, he would not have resigned. It’s actually a couple more steps. His error in thinking he could retain it would be the cause of the substantial error. I think that’s it in a nutshell for the substantial error.

Eric Sammons:

Break down this difference between the munus and ministerium I think it is. Yeah, right. I wrote it down. Munus and ministerium, those are two words that are often used in this debate. Why don’t you explain what each one means and why it’s important for this discussion?

Steven O’Reilly:

Sure. Well, first you go to the canons that regulate, or the canon that regulates papal resignations. Canon 332.2 says if the Roman Pontiff resigns the munus, well, resigns the office but obviously in Latin they resign the munus, for it to be valid what is required is that it be free, properly manifested and it says need not be accepted by anyone. The substantial error-ists we’ll call them would say, “Okay, well he has resigned the munus but, if you look at the Declaratio,” that is the document that Benedict, it was the instrument of his resignation and he read it to the existing Cardinals, in that Declaratio, even though he uses the word munus in a couple of different spots, he then overlays that with ministry and in his actual sentence where he says I declare, what he’s going to do, he says I declare that he resigns the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, he does not say the munus of the Bishop of Rome. He uses the Latin word ministerium.

Those who’d say there’s a substantial error there would say … munus is a more technical term and there’s various meanings to it, but they would say it means office, it means gift, it means prodigy, a few other things, whereas ministry or ministerium to them is more the practical exercise of the papacy. It’s the function of doing it. You have the office and you have what the office does. In a sense Benedict resigned what the office does erroneously but he still has the munus, he still has the charge of St. Peter. That would be the argument that they have.

Eric Sammons:

Why is that wrong? Why is it that him using the word ministerium doesn’t invalidate his resignation? Why are the Benepapists wrong about that distinction?

Steven O’Reilly:

Well, not all Benepapists would necessarily agree with that, but from their standpoint there is no formula for papal definitions even though of course the canon says the munus. You would read that just generally speaking. If one was to resign the papacy you’d do X, Y and Z, there’s no declaration of what word or words could be used. Ministerium in the Latin, Father John Rickert of FSSP wrote a series of articles also on Benepapists and he points out that in the Latin, I think it’s Lewis and Short’s Latin dictionary, ministerium is specifically stated to be a synonym of munus. In other books, other Latin dictionaries you’ll find that too. The Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin, the two definitions overlap. You’ll find office in the definition of ministerium so there is a synonym aspect there. There’s no requirement for a certain formula. I think in this case the Benepapist argument just doesn’t work.

Furthermore, even if he were to say that he intended to resign only the ministry, the active ministry, again, looking at Rickert, to follow Rickert, in one of his articles it said, it points to Canon 331 where it talks about that it’s in virtue of the office that the Pope receives the power to do X, Y and Z. If you resign the doing of it, that entails resigning the office itself too. I mean, I guess the analogy I would make would be if someone told you, “I’m not going to play second base on your baseball team anymore,” you wouldn’t say, “Well, are you still going to be the second baseman though?” I mean, if you stop doing you stop being in that sense. I think the Benepapist argument fails.

Eric Sammons:

Right. I think Ed Feser also wrote something about how they’re essentially used synonymously, those two terms.

Steven O’Reilly:

Yeah. Then if you look at too, I mean, others have commented. Ryan Grant had written a nice article for OnePeterFive on that a few years ago. Cardinal Burke said he’s looked at it and the words are used interchangeably in the Declaratio. Again, I just don’t see that argument as working.

Eric Sammons:

Now, that being said though, why is it that Benedict Ratzinger still wears the white papal robes, he still is called Your Holiness, he calls himself Pope Emeritus which is a term that I don’t think was ever used before, he still lives at the Vatican? All those things do seem to be visual or other symbols of he still thinks that he’s, on some level, the Pope or something. What do you take from all those actions?

Steven O’Reilly:

Well, we’ll go back to each of those specific things in a second. I think to step back, what was Benedict trying to do? I mean, he was doing something that really hadn’t been done at least since Celestine, Celestine V who resigned. He was a hermit before and decided after five or six months, “Man, I don’t really want to be Pope anymore.” In a way he’s kind of like that, he’s also different. I mean, he resigned because of, he said, his weakness and incapacity to fulfill the office.

I think what he wanted to do, especially after having seen John Paul’s legacy and his waning years as a Pope where he was just debilitated for the last several years and probably people were making decisions around him, he thought he would resign and make it an attractive option for a future Pope, be a trailblazer in a way. He couldn’t do the job anymore and he wanted to give it some structure that wasn’t there so he gave it a title, Pope Emeritus, and created the style of dress. We’ll go into those specifically in a minute. I think that’s what he was trying to get at.

Gänswein in his speech talks about this being a courageous act that strengthened the papacy. How has it strengthened it? The Benepapists will look at that and say, “Ah-ha, that means he’s still Pope.” No, I think what Gänswein meant was, by recognizing his own weakness and leaving, he allowed a stronger, younger, more energetic Pope to come in and revitalize the office instead of having the church languish for a few years when you have a sickly or ill Pope. I think that was Benedict’s intent. I’m not saying I agree with it, I think that’s what he set out to do.

Like I said, the visuals are certainly not good, but let’s take them one at a time. Pope Emeritus, it is the first time that word or title was used. Gerhard Müller went after Benedict for that and that led to a series of letter exchanges between them. In it Benedict said, because in the interview Gerhard Müller said there’d never been this before but Benedict said, “Well, there are other resigned Popes, what were they?” Essentially if not Pope Emeritus. He’s essentially saying they were in fact what I am now in name. He’s just saying that the word didn’t exist so it wasn’t applied back then for that but the reality was there and Pope Emeritus is just giving it a name.

If you look at why he chose Emeritus, I mean, I know his thought process there, but if you look at canon law, Canon 185 talks about if someone loses an office due to a resignation they can use this honorific title Emeritus. Benedict lost his office. Now of course, again, to be clear, that canon did not apply to the Pope because it specifically talks about resignations that need not be or didn’t have to be accepted which does not belong to the Pope, but at least the analogy was there for Benedict to look at using Emeritus. Loss of office, use of Emeritus, I think that’s where that came from.

Wearing of the white though, again, this is something that Benepapists will look at and say, “Ah-ha, he’s still Pope. He thinks he’s still Pope. He’s wearing white.” What they don’t look at is he’s changed some things too. He doesn’t wear the mozzetta, that’s a symbol of authority. He doesn’t wear the red shoes, that was a symbol of authority. He no longer wears the fisherman’s ring. I mean, Gänswein talked about this in his speech, he saw him take it off. Those things go on. Of course Your Holiness, again, confusing admittedly, but we refer to presidents, former presidents as Mr. President. People might know a friend who served in the military, you still call him Colonel or General though he hasn’t been for quite a number of years. I think that’s what’s going on there.

Again, I think in Benedict’s mind he was just trying to give some framework, make it a little more attractive so a man considering resigning the papacy doesn’t think, “Oh, some Pope’s going to lock me away in some cold hermitage in the mountains, somewhere in a cave,” when you can live in the Vatican and have some comfort and be able to entertain people. I think it’s understandable. I think when you really look at it closely and think about it I think folks will see that there’s nothing really there.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. It’s an interesting thing because I was a huge fan of Joseph Ratzinger’s writings. When I studied in the ’90s, theology, that was my favorite theologian. I’ve read just about everything he wrote, at least that had an English translation, I don’t read German. I followed him and when he was elected Pope in 2005 I literally jumped up and screamed. I mean, I was like a little school girl. I was so excited because I just loved him so much.

The truth is, and this I’ve seen over the years, he’s brilliant first of all, I mean, I don’t think anybody denies the man is a brilliant man, but he does have some kind of funny loosey-goosey theology at times. If you look back at all his writings, he’s definitely got influenced by some of the more modern theology. He had this reputation of being this super traditionalist, he never was. I think what you’re saying is correct in his decisions to make these … wear the white, the Pope Emeritus, it’s his effort to try to understand, to live out something that is not unique because there have been papal resignations before, but almost in practice unique because we’ve never had a situation where a Pope resigned and it’s a worldwide office that everybody is looking at at all times.

Personally I think, for example, if he goes back to being Cardinal, let’s say if he did that, does that mean he can go in the conclave? That would be weird if a former Pope was affecting the election of the next Pope. If he’s elected, if he was named Cardinal can he actually lose that? Does he go back to being a Bishop? You can’t lose being a Bishop. Everybody agrees once you’re a Bishop you’re always a Bishop. It seems to me that the smart thing to do for Benedict would’ve been to go back to being called Ratzinger, actually go live in a hermitage somewhere in the cold mountains or whatever. It doesn’t have to be totally aesthetic, he’s an old guy and stuff, but I think that would’ve led to a lot less confusion. It does lead to confusion but I would say … just use the Pope Emeritus title as an example. Ed Feser brought this up and I think others brought it up, the whole point of the title Emeritus means you’re not that anymore.

Steven O’Reilly:

That’s right.

Eric Sammons:

If I’m a Professor Emeritus I’m not a practicing professor anymore. That’s the whole point of the title Emeritus, you’re not that anymore. A Bishop Emeritus, he’s no longer the Bishop of that diocese. I mean, that’s the whole point. He no longer has that office as the Bishop of that diocese. I mean, the Pope Emeritus title, actually I think it’s problematic but at the same time it does actually say I’m not Pope anymore when you say I’m Pope Emeritus. I mean, is that right?

Steven O’Reilly:

I agree. Again, going back to the Canon 185, again it doesn’t apply to the Pope, but as an analogy it talks about the loss of office due to resignation and that’s Benedict’s case. Right there the definition of Emeritus signifies I’ve lost this office. As the example of the Professor Emeritus or someone who has given up the office, I think it is quite clear. Again, I don’t see that … when someone really takes the time to look at that and think about it hopefully they’ll see that it’s not ultimately a problem. Visually and certainly to the ear it is problematic. If you imagine it was Francis resigning, I think if I were Pope you’re not staying in the Vatican, I’m sending you to the peripheries, to the Amazon jungle with no phone or anything, we’re not going to see or hear from him again. I think that’s for the best. It doesn’t help having Francis bring Cardinals to see Benedict because it just leads to confusion. Some of the Benepapists were saying, “Well, he’s doing that because he’s trying to give him his Benedict blessing on him.” It is confusing.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Now there’s another … we’ve mostly been talking about people who say his resignation is invalid almost by accident. He was being a little too cute with how he did things talking about the contemplative and active life, the munus and the ministerium and stuff like that, but there are some who say that actually this was intentional in the sense he knew this was not really possible. He knows he’s Pope right now. What is the basic … how is that different from what we’ve been talking about so far? What’s the basic argument, what’s the whole point of this? Why did Benedict do this on purpose, to retain the papacy but not retain it somehow?

Steven O’Reilly:

To me this is the strangest of the two theories. I mean, the substantial error theory, at least they suggest that Benedict had these strange theories about the papacy. They try to point to certain documents in his past or other documents, but if you look at those in turn very closely they don’t say what the Benepapists say they do. This other theory that you talked about is that, yes, they look at the resignation and they would disagree with Ann Barnhardt or those types who say that you have to use the word munus for it to be a valid resignation. They say no, the word munus is not necessary. They would read it the way I suggested, just as you’re talking about the word papacy, but you would still need a word that is an appropriate synonym that still conveys the idea of munus or officium to be valid.

You could say something like, “I resign the papacy. I resign being Roman Pontiff,” or something like that and that would be perfectly acceptable, but he didn’t do that so they would say that he resigned the ministry, he resigned the functioning of the papacy. It wasn’t an error. Since there is no juridical situation for that in canon law to do that it’s a really meaningless act when you think about it. He resigned doing it de-facto, there’s no legal component to this, so why would he do that? Well, one, it allows him to keep the munus, keep being Pope and that’s the point I think they would say. He resigned the doing, remained being the Pope, because his plan was that he saw how bad the church was, that people, the monitors, Cardinals and Bishops are out to seize the papacy and the church. Therefore, by retaining this faux resignation he’s able to protect the papacy and keep it from the enemy. That’s, I think, their idea in a nutshell.

The problem with that of course is that essentially though Benedict’s been lying to the world. I mean, he hasn’t been a true pastor. He’s a pastor, he’s supposed to be the pastor of a billion souls. If you accept the thesis that Benedict’s a true Pope and that does mean that Francis is an anti-Pope and then you have to say, “Okay, this anti-Pope is doing all these evil things and leading people astray,” how could Benedict justify doing that? That’d be gravely sinful to do that, to let the Lord’s sheep be ravaged by the wolves in such a manner. That’s, I think, the downfall of that theory. I just don’t see that theory as workable anyway.

Eric Sammons:

The people who advocate for that, what do they think is Benedict’s endgame? I think he’s 93 or something like that, he’s obviously going to die before too long I would think, before or after Francis, what happens then when he dies? Do they argue for an endgame here?

Steven O’Reilly:

I don’t think … they may. I don’t want to be dismissive of it. Maybe they do. There’s a new book that just came out, Andrea Cionci who’s an Italian journalist just wrote a book called the Ratzinger Code which is … now the Ratzinger Code goes hand-in-hand with this master plan theory. They call it plan B, that’s the coined term for it. This is Benedict’s plan B to hold onto the papacy, keep it from the bad guys. He has a code, he communicates what’s really going on to those who know the code, how to interpret words that he does say in public or to explain them away, that’s called the Ratzinger Code. Cionci recently wrote a book called the Ratzinger Code. It just came out. It’s in Italian. I’m trying to get a copy of it. I’m sorry, what was your question? I don’t know-

Eric Sammons:

Is there an endgame?

Steven O’Reilly:

There may be an end game in that. I don’t think … I mean, I’ve looked through his writings and I may have missed it, but I don’t think there necessarily is an endgame.

Eric Sammons:

How about for any … I mean, I know Ann Barnhardt, for example, she basically … okay, let me take a step back for a second. It seems to me that we talked about at the beginning that there was a problem, and that’s Francis, so here’s a potential solution. If nothing else, it seems like this solution is far, far worse than the actual problem we have. I will give Ann Barnhardt credit, she kind of admits this, that Benedict is a terrible person for screwing all this up, but it does seem like, if Benedict accidentally screwed up, he’s one of the biggest idiots ever to hold the papal office so that’s a problem, or if he did it on purpose that seems to make him incredibly evil. Like you just said, he’s the actual pastor of a billion souls yet he’s letting some other guy run things and people think he’s the Pope when he’s really not the Pope. I mean, that seems incredibly evil.

It seems to create more problems than it solves because now we not only have a situation where, okay, we can just somehow dismiss everything Francis has done somehow, but it’s not so easy because we have Bishops who are named, we have Cardinals, we have all this stuff, how do you ever clean this up outside of a completely divine intervention, miraculous intervention? That’s not how God normally works. I mean, that’s just not … if you look at the history of the church that’s not what he does. How do you clean all this up? Doesn’t it seem like this is a far worse problem than it’s trying to solve?

Steven O’Reilly:

Yeah. I mean, basically with the substantial error theory, I mean, it was set out as a theory to have a solution for one heretical Pope but you’ve created another heretical Pope. You’ve created basically a heretic in Benedict who had all these papal errors. My question would be, if he so misunderstood the papacy that he can’t resign it, how could he have accepted it? How could he have validly accepted it? It’s kind of funny that you point that out, the plan B theory folks would say of course he’s not evil, they’d view him as a strategic genius, in fact that’s some of the words used, it’s a strategic rouse, a strategic retreat that he engaged in. Your two choices though really if you’re a Benepapist, because those are the two main theories, either you believe Benedict is a strategic genius or he’s a theological fool, that’s kind of it.

The amusing thing is that the two sides over the last two months or so, two, three months have started to go at each other. It’s kind of funny because some of the articles that the plan B people would say are probably things I could write or have written, or some of the types of arguments I’ve made against the Ann Barnhardt theory. Then of course Ann Barnhardt and Mark Docherty and others on their side look at the plan B people and say, “Your stuff is absurd.” They’re each calling each other’s stuff absurd. You end up that the reality is, if you take those two halves of their arguments and put them together, you have an excellent argument against Benepapism. Hopefully maybe some Benepapists will actually read that, I have an article on my site talking about that very fact. They make some valid points against the other and if you put that together maybe one day some folks will realize that this thing ultimately is not a valid theory.

Eric Sammons:

Right. I’ll make sure I link to your blog by the way on the show notes so everybody can find it easily. I asked you what the endgame is for somebody who thinks he’s a strategic genius, what’s the endgame for any Benepapist, even one who thinks he was a theological fool? Have they ever offered a suggestion of how we do eventually resolve this? Like I said, Benedict eventually dies, do they think Benedict’s going to take over before he dies over Francis? I mean, how do they see the eventual resolution? Is it just a divine intervention?

Steven O’Reilly:

Again, I don’t want to misrepresent your views, I have not seen that type of detail in their writings. It might be there. I think in terms of endgame what is practically there is, I think back in November I believe it was, 2011, a group of Benepapists published a declaration. In this declaration they declare … there’s a petition. Right now it has about 3,500, maybe up to 4,000 signatories up to this point I would think. This declaration says we declare our faithfulness to Benedict XVI, the one true reigning Pope. Then they go on to mention, they set conditions that if there is a future conclave, if Francis were to die or if Benedict were to die, in what condition they basically would accept or reject a conclave.

Basically they would not accept any conclave while Benedict is still alive. That means they’ll call Francis’ successor in that instance an anti-Pope. They say if they were both miraculously dying on the same day you still have a problem with the conclave because they would not accept any of Francis’ electors, Cardinal electors that he’s chosen. Then again you would have an anti-Pope. I don’t know where they go from there in that. I think that movement is … I didn’t see who the folks were who started that, but looking at some of the signatories I think it probably is more the plan B people who were behind the push for that. I see Estefanía Acosta who is on that side of things, she’s written a book on Benepapism and she’s the first signee of that thing. I think they’re doing that. I haven’t seen Barnhardt or some of the other names in the US on that list so I don’t know if they’re supportive of that initiative or not.

I think that at least one segment of Benepapism is basically going down that route. That’s going to be being Sedevacantist once Benedict and/or both the Popes die.

Eric Sammons:

It sounds like they would need a conclave that only has the Cardinals that are appointed by Benedict or JP II. That conclave alone they would consider valid, which realistically we know that’s probably not going to happen and so therefore, like you said, eventually it’s just Sedevacantism because there’s no way to elect a new Pope. That takes me to something, an important point that I want to address, which is the people who hold Benepapism, I’m not necessarily talking about the leaders, I’m talking about just the rank and file Catholics, are they … I mean, I’m going to ask you a question, I know you can’t really answer it but I want you to at least talk about it, are they in schism? Are they jeopardizing their salvation? How serious is it for your rank and file Catholic to think, “I think Benedict’s actually the Pope, not Francis.” Why does this matter in other words?

Steven O’Reilly:

Well, I’m hesitant to do that because I’m not a pastor of souls. I mean, I would certainly counsel anyone don’t follow a theory until you have to, until the contingencies of the moment force you to make a choice. No one has to make any choices right now to be so committed to some of these theories. Wait and see when you have … there are no active Ordinaries or Cardinals who are supporting any variety of Benepapism. You’re really out there on a limb following this. I mean, I don’t know how the Lord looks at it this time. I would hope that … I mean, clearly there’s reason to question what the heck’s going on. In that sense it’s certainly natural, though you have to try to reign yourself in, not let yourself go too far. You’ve got to wait for evidence.

When I first started looking into Benepapism I was hoping it was true. On my blog I’ve looked at, certainly back in the 2017 period I looked at some oddities about Francis or the conclave and a lot of stuff in the conclave since then, but back in 2017 I had written an article with just some research actually suggested to me by Jesuit sources looking at the Jesuit vow thing. Obviously Francis was a Jesuit and amongst their vows is a vow that they would not accept election or higher office, that type of thing. I looked into that, did a lot of research. It’s an interesting subject. I mean, I didn’t come to a conclusion that yes, this is true, because it wasn’t for me to do.

I think that’s the important thing to keep in mind when we look at these theories, we have to think along with the church. The church has the authority, the Bishops and the Cardinals obviously together with the Pope, to come to judgements on these matters. Even though we might try to wonder what’s going on with Francis, which is normal, have our own theological opinions about where he is on some of these things, ultimately it’s going to have to be a future Pope or Pope and council to look at papacy over the last nine years or so or however more are yet to come and come to a judgment as to what actually happened.

Unfortunately I think, at least what can happen with Benepapism right now is that they’re coming to a decision point. Again, like we talked about that declaration, I mean, on both sides, whether the folks have signed the declaration or not there’s lots on the substantial error side like Ann Barnhardt just saying Francis is definitely an anti-Pope. I mean, the logic of that conclusion is not going to lead you to a good place. I mean, you end up being in that camp of saying any future Pope with Francis’ electors or whatever in certain circumstances, you’re going to be a Sedevacantist. They always say, “Well, we’re not Sedevacantists.” Well, you will be, you’re not yet. You can give it a few years. I mean, they say Francis might be gone in a year, I don’t know if I buy that, but I saw an article I think this morning or last night that Gänswein’s saying that Benedict’s talking very low now so who knows how much longer we have?

Back to your question though, I think it can’t be separated from the Roman Pontiff. That’s just Catholic theology, the canon and its teaching. You’ve got to just go with what appears to be the case. Francis went through a conclave, there haven’t been any formal objections ever made. He’s been Pope for nine years so from all outward appearances, processes and procedures he’s Pope. That’s just common sense. To be looking through old Ratzinger things he wrote 50 years ago and saying this and that thing, I think that’s not going to put you in a good place in a few years. I suggest to people prayer, prudence and patience. We’ve got to wait and see. It’s not for us, ultimately, to decide this. If the Bishops and Cardinals don’t get it right next time, God will certainly step in at some point.

Eric Sammons:

I think, I mean, personally I don’t want to demean the sincerity or the intentions or anything like that of those who hold the Benepapist arguments. Online it can get a little bit rough because there are some Benepapist advocates online who are just very uncharitable, very aggressive and just not people you want to be around, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about just the regular person. I personally do think it is very spiritually dangerous to really accept the Benepapist view. I think it has a certain gnostic quality to it that we have this certain knowledge that’s not available to most and we had to dig through all this to find it. Then we got it so we have a knowledge that the average Catholic does not have and that puts us aside from them in a sense that we have the truth and your normal Catholic does not have the truth.

The fact is Catholicism is almost the diametrical opposite. Revelation is public, the church is visible and we can know certain things with a certainty because we trust the visible church. The fact is that the visible church, meaning all the Bishops, essentially all the Bishops, all the active Bishops, all the Cardinals, they accept Francis as Pope. In a billion member Catholic church I would say it’s probably 99.99% that accept Francis as Pope. Now that doesn’t mean we’re a democracy, that’s not what we’re saying. What we’re saying though is that this is how God lets us know what’s going on, that we have this visible church we can all see. We can point to who the Holy Father is. We can say, “That guy right there, he’s the Pope.” If we can’t say that, we really get in a spiritually dangerous place because we’re veering away from some of the fundamentals of the incarnational nature of Catholicism.

I think ultimately the reason, another reason it’s spiritually dangerous is because, like we’ve said, where does it go? It will lead to Sedevacantism and it will lead you eventually into schism with the actual Catholic church. I mean, I think you can make an argument, maybe even somebody who really thinks Benedict is Pope, especially if a priest uses the name Benedict in the mass, that itself is an act of schism because that’s how we know who you’re in union with, the Pope you mention and the Bishop you mention. I do think there’s a lot of danger.

Like you said, I think, yes, we can acknowledge that there’s lots of problems with Pope Francis. We can acknowledge that freely. We can even say maybe one day a future Pope or a council or something will declare that Francis’s papacy was, I don’t know, invalid, something, whatever. You can even think that but you don’t want to put yourself in that position where you’re making that judgment because the whole point of being Catholic is that the Pope or the Bishops or some actual authority makes that decision and declares it so the whole world knows it. I don’t have to figure it out, you don’t have to figure it out, we just trust that’s how God is leading the church. Even through these very fallible sinful men who are leading the church, we still can know certain things with moral certainty at least for now.

Steven O’Reilly:

That’s right. I think patience is key. The church is 2000 years old, you don’t expect an instant answer tomorrow. I guess that’s the appeal to Benepapists, “I’ve got my solution now.” If you look at church history, you know your church history, look at something like Pope Honorius, he was essentially … well, I guess Leo II basically condemned him for being … a favor of heresy I guess is what the conclusion was at the time. There had been 40 years between the death of Honorius and until Leo II and the council condemned Honorius. Look at John XXII, it took a few years even after his death before Boniface VIII clarified matters on the beatific vision. Wait and see, it will come around. Things are bad but we’ve had bad times before. Certainly not as bad as this time, I think I’ll give Benepapists that. I probably agree with maybe 99%, maybe 100% of their diagnosis of the church right now, but I think the solution they’ve chosen is not going to lead to a good end unfortunately.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. I think we’ll wrap it up there. Your book is coming out pretty soon. We’re in July …

Steven O’Reilly:

I’m hoping it’ll be out in August. Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

August. Okay, great. We’ll definitely look for that. Just for now though I encourage people to go to your blog. You write about this pretty frequently and keep up with the latest of what’s going on. I’ll link to that also in the show notes. Also, I think you’re on Twitter, is that right?

Steven O’Reilly:

I am. I am.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. I’ll put the link to the Twitter as well so people can follow you there if they want to. Okay, well, I appreciate it again, Steve. Thanks for coming on the program. Everybody else, just God bless you and God love you.

Steven O’Reilly:

Thanks.

By

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