Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Benevacantism is scandalous and pointless

In his book The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies, David Stove observes that an argument once given by philosopher of science Imré Lakatos “manages to be scandalous and pointless at the same time” (p. 8).  He was referring to Lakatos’s having made use of certain historical examples, some of the details of which Lakatos admitted he had made up himself.  The idea is that, as bad as dishonest scholarship is, worse still is defeating the whole purpose by admitting that that is what you are doing.  I put aside for present purposes the question of whether Stove’s characterization of Lakatos was actually fair.  What I’m interested in here is the general idea of a position that is simultaneously scandalous and pointless.

I can’t help but think of Stove’s remark when I consider the growing fad in some conservative Catholic circles for “Benevacantism” – the theory that Benedict XVI is still pope, so that Francis is an antipope.  (The word is a portmanteau derived from “Benedict” and “sedevacantism.”  Which doesn’t really make much sense, given that the view does not claim that there is currently no pope, as sedevacantism does.  Some people prefer other labels, such as “resignationism” or “Beneplenism,” for reasons you can google if you’d like.)

You might think the view too silly to be worth commenting on.  But there are two reasons for doing so, namely that it is scandalous and that it is pointless.  It is scandalous insofar as those promoting it are leading Catholics into the grave sin of schism, i.e. refusing due submission to the Roman Pontiff, who (like it or not) is in fact Francis.  And while it is the view of only a small minority, some of them are influential.  I make no judgment here about the culpability of those drawn to this error, many of whom are well-meaning people understandably troubled by the state of the Church and the world.  But that it is an error, there can be no reasonable doubt.

That brings me to the other reason for commenting on Benevacantism, which is that it is pointless.  In particular, the view is incoherent, and indeed self-defeating, but in a way that seems to me to be philosophically interesting.  To see how, let’s begin by calling to mind the motivation people have for wanting Benevacantism to be true (as contrasted with the arguments they give for it – I’ll come to those in a moment). 

It is not news that Pope Francis has, over the years, made a number of theologically problematic statements (about Holy Communion for those living in adulterous relationships, capital punishment, and other matters) and done a number of problematic things (such as reversing Benedict’s motu proprio on the Latin Mass).  I’ve addressed these controversies many times before and am not going to rehash it all here.  The point to emphasize for present purposes is that Benevacantists suppose that the problem posed by Francis’s questionable statements and actions can be dissolved if it were to turn out that Benedict is still pope.  For in that case, the problematic statements were not made by a true pope, so that there is no need to explain how a pope could commit such errors.

Now, one problem here is that this “solution” is simply unnecessary.  The Church has always acknowledged that popes can err when not speaking ex cathedra, and whatever else one thinks of Francis’s controversial statements and actions, they all would, if erroneous, fall into the category of possible papal error.  Francis may have said and done more theologically dubious things than the best-known popes of the past who have done so (such as Honorius and John XXII), but they are dubious statements and actions of the same basic kind.  The problem is extremely serious, but again, it’s within the boundaries of what the Church and her faithful theologians have always acknowledged could happen, consistent with the clearly defined conditions for papal teaching being infallible.  (I’ve addressed this issue in detail elsewhere, such as here and here.)

But that’s not primarily what I’m talking about when I say that Benevacantism is pointless.  To understand that we need to understand the arguments for the view.  In 2016, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, personal secretary to Benedict XVI, gave a now-famous speech wherein he said that the pope’s resignation had created an “expanded” Petrine office with two members, an “active” one and a “contemplative” one.  The Petrine “munus” – which can mean “ministry” or “service, duty, guide or gift” – is, the archbishop said, therefore something Benedict still participates in even after resigning.  Indeed, his acceptance of the office of the papacy in 2005 was “irrevocable.”  This, Gänswein said, is why it is appropriate that he retains his papal name, still wears papal white garments, and remains within the Vatican.

Given how close Gänswein is to Benedict, these remarks were widely understood to reflect the Pope Emeritus’s own views.  And it is completely unsurprising that they raised everyone’s eyebrows – and, as it happens, a few people’s hopes.  For they seem to imply that, despite his resignation, Benedict may in some sense think of himself as still holding the papal office, at least in part.  And this has given rise to at least two different versions of Benevacantism, which rest on two different theories about how the views conveyed by Gänswein purportedly cast doubt on the validity of Benedict’s resignation.  They go as follows:

Theory 1: Benedict didn’t really intend to resign.  According to this theory, Benedict distinguishes the munus of the papacy (in the sense of the office itself and its duties), from the ministerium or actual exercise of the powers of the office.  What Benedict renounced, according to this theory, is only the latter and not the former.  That is to say, he retains the munus of the papacy, but decided to turn the ministerium over to another, who ended up being Francis.  Francis, for this reason, is said by Gänswein to be the “active” member of this expanded papal office.  But Benedict, who now retains only a “contemplative” role, is still the one who in the strict sense holds the munus and thus the papacy.

Theory 2: Benedict did intend to resign, but failed.  According to this alternative theory, Benedict did indeed intend flatly to resign the papacy.  But since he holds the views reported by Gänswein, he did not succeed in validly doing so.  The reason is that the functions of the papal office simply cannot be divided in the way Benedict, according to the theory, supposes they can be.  Hence his resignation was predicated on a false understanding of what he was doing, and that invalidates it.  He is therefore still pope.

Now, I don’t think either of these theories is plausible for a moment.  But let’s pretend they were.  Would they solve the problem they are intended to solve – that is to say, the problem of having to deal with a genuine pope who says and does theologically highly problematic things?  Not in the least, which is why I say Benevacantism is pointless. 

Suppose theory 1 were true.  Then Francis would be something like Benedict’s viceroy, acting on his behalf and with his authority.  His words and actions would have whatever authority they had precisely insofar as he acts in Benedict’s name, and in effect would therefore be Benedict’s words and actions, especially if Benedict did nothing to correct them.  (Call to mind here Aquinas’s teaching in Summa Theologiae II-II.182 that the active life “serves rather than commands” the contemplative, which is superior to it.  Hence, if the papacy really were divided into “contemplative” and “active” members, the latter would be the instrument of the former.)

Surely the difficulty here is obvious.  It would follow that Francis’s problematic words and actions too would, in effect, be Benedict’s problematic words and actions.  Hence this first version of Benevacantism would do nothing at all to solve the problem of how a pope could say and do the problematic things Francis has done.  It would merely relocate responsibility for these problematic words and actions from Francis to Benedict.  Indeed, it would make the situation worse, because you would not only have a pope who is ultimately responsible for the problematic words and actions in question, but one who also, on top of that, allows the faithful to be confused about who exactly the pope really is.  Benevacantists think of Benedict as a better pope than Francis, but in fact this first version of their theory would entail that he is a worse pope.

Suppose instead we went with theory 2.  This is hardly better; indeed, it may even be worse still.  For one thing, on this scenario too, Benedict does not turn out to be a better defender of orthodoxy than Francis is.  Rather, the theory would make him out to be such an incompetent and unreliable defender of orthodoxy that he would not even understand the nature of the papacy itself, which is supposed to be the ultimate bulwark of orthodoxy.  Indeed, he would be so incompetent and unreliable that he would not even know who the pope really is, and that it is precisely he himself who is still pope.  He would, in effect, be in schism from himself, and guilty of subordinating himself and the rest of the faithful to an antipope!

This would be a superior guardian of orthodoxy than Francis?  Seriously?

But it gets worse.  Suppose one of these two versions of Benevacantism were true.  What is the Church supposed to do?  Presumably, on the best case scenario, Benedict himself would publicly endorse some version of the theory.  But that would be a disaster.  If he endorsed theory 1, he would in effect be saying that he has silently allowed the Church to be gravely misled and misgoverned for almost a decade – that he has been pope all along but has failed to carry out his duties as pope, and done so on the basis of a novel theological theory that has no ground or precedent in the historical teaching of the Church.  Why, in that case, should any Catholic trust him or his magisterium ever again?  And of course, millions of Catholics would not trust him, nor would they accept this shocking claim, and would continue to recognize Francis as pope.  This would entail a schism unprecedented in Church history, with no clear means of resolution.

Suppose instead that Benedict came to endorse theory 2, and made an announcement to that effect: “Hey, listen up everyone, it turns out I am still pope after all!  No one is more surprised about this than I am, but there it is.  I hereby immediately resume my duties and command Francis to step aside.”  Why should anyone regard this judgment as any more sound than the earlier judgment he made to the effect that he was no longer pope?  In which case, again, why should any Catholic ever trust him or his magisterium again?  And here too, millions of Catholics would not accept this announcement, but would judge that he had gone crazy and continue to follow Francis.  Again, we’d be stuck with an unprecedented and irresolvable schism.

Or suppose – as, it goes without saying, is the far more likely scenario – that Benedict goes to his grave without endorsing any version of Benevacantism.  What then?  If he dies before Francis, how are we ever supposed to get a validly elected pope ever again, given that so many of the current cardinals have been appointed by Francis, whom Benevacantists claim to be an antipope?  We would be stuck with all the problems facing sedevacantism.  And things would hardly be any better if Francis dies before Benedict while Benedict continues to maintain that he is no longer pope.

To call Benevacantism half-baked would be too generous.  It is a complete theological mess.  It offers no solution whatsoever to the problems posed by Pope Francis’s controversial words and actions, and in fact makes things much worse.  And on top of that it leads Catholics into the grave sin of schism.  Hence, as I say, it is both scandalous and pointless at the same time.

It is also a non-starter even apart from all that, because there can be no reasonable doubt that Benedict validly resigned.  Canon 332 §2 of the Code of Canon Law tells us:

If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.

Now, Benedict publicly and freely resigned his office, and has publicly reaffirmed that his decision was taken freely, in answer to those who have speculated otherwise.  He has also explicitly acknowledged that there is only one pope and that it is Francis.  His resignation thus clearly meets the criteria for validity set out by canon law.  End of story.

Some have suggested that the resignation cannot have been made freely because, they say, it was done under the influence of an erroneous theory of the papacy, namely the one described by Gänswein.  But this is a non sequitur, as any Catholic should know who is familiar with the conditions for a sin to be mortal – grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent.  My point isn’t that Benedict’s resignation was sinful, but rather that these conditions illustrate the general point that the Church distinguishes acting with full knowledge and acting with deliberate consent or freely.  And canon law makes only the latter, and not the former, a condition for the validity of a papal resignation.  Hence, even if Benedict’s resignation was made under the influence of an erroneous theological theory about the papacy, that would be irrelevant to its having been made freely and thus validly.

Some will nevertheless insist that Benedict did not act freely, because they speculate that he was being blackmailed or otherwise acting in fear.  But he has publicly denied this, and after nine years no one has offered any evidence that it is true.  Note also that canon law says that it is not necessary that a resignation be “accepted by anyone” in order for it to be valid.  Hence neither Benedict nor anyone else is under any obligation to prove to the satisfaction of Benevacantists that his resignation was valid in order for it actually to be valid.

But what about the views reported by Gänswein?  If they really are Benedict’s, don’t they cast at least some doubt on his resignation?  No, not at all.  They are merely the personal opinions of a man who is now just a private theologian, who apparently believes that his novel office of “Pope Emeritus” is in some respects analogous to, and even inherits some of the dignity and functions of, the separate office of the papacy – an office he no longer holds, and which he has acknowledged he no longer holds.  One might accept his theory about the nature of the office of “Pope Emeritus” or reject it, but that is irrelevant to whether Benedict validly resigned.  And it remains irrelevant even if Benedict believed this theory prior to resigning, for then too it would have been nothing more than Benedict’s private theological opinion rather than an official teaching of the Church.

Francis, and Francis alone, is the pope.  You may lament this, but it is reality.  And the first step in dealing with some reality you don’t like is to face it, rather than retreating into fantasy.

101 comments:

  1. This is the first time I've ever heard of "Benevacantism" before.

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    1. It is the first time I heard the term, but not my first encounter with the idea. That would be Ann Barnhardt.

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  2. What is the best way to respond to those who cite St. Robert Bellarmine in arguing that Pope Francis has been automatically deposed because he has said heretical things (such as apostates being in the communion of saints or contraception being permissible in the context of the zika virus)?

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    1. Two things...

      1) The Church's teaching on contraception, while authoritative and likely infallible. Opposition to it is likely not heresy in the strict sense. It would require some lower censure.

      2) I think Bellarmine would hold that the Pope would have to be *judged* by representatives of the Church (imperfect council of cardinals?) to be to be a manifest heretic and to have been deposed by Christ. Given that no such public process has taken place, Francis is to be treated as pope.

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    2. @Kyle

      If the Pope becomes a formal heretic he automatically looses his office. For example if Allah forbid( :D) the Pope woke up one day and ran down to the local Mosque an said the Shahada in front of two male witnesses with the intention on joining Islam that act would be the same as a resignation as well as an apostasy.

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    3. The papal bull Ex Cum Apostolatus Officio by Pope Paul IV would (on its face) deprive any cleric who has fallen into heresy OR has "deviated from the Catholic Faith" of his office, and this applies even to a pope, if the deviation occurs before his elevation "if it shall have been uncontested and by the unanimous assent of all the Cardinals". http://www.dailycatholic.org/cumexapo.htm

      This is, admittedly, a gravely difficult thing to consider HOW to administer. And, for that reason, it has in effect never really been put into practice. But (as far as I have been able to find out) this has not been removed from the law of the Church. If anyone has information about that, I should like to hear it.

      Although Bellarmine's opinion about what would be necessary - i.e. some official judgment by the Church about the pope's heresy, is sensible on the one hand (so that certainty can be had), it is (equally) impossible to ever actually achieve, for there are no "representatives of the Church" who have the power to sit in judgment on a pope. Cardinals are appointed by the pope to his curia, and he can un-appoint them. And, in any case, he can order them not to confer, and not to sit in judgment on such a case, and declare any such session null. But in any case, the phrasing of the bull does not render it obvious that this public judgment is needed.

      Part of the difficulty is this: there is a SIN of heresy, and an ecclesiastical CRIME of heresy, and while they overlap, the latter is smaller set than the former. A person can commit a sin of heresy purely by internal acts alone, which never become manifest to others, but he cannot be found guilty of the ecclesiastical crime of heresy without some public manifestation of the interior act. Further, a conviction of the ecclesiastical crime of heresy not only requires outward manifestation, but outward manifestation that makes the case (of the inward offense) morally certain to others, whereas (obviously) there are many cases where a person has said things that are almost sufficient to establish the case for moral certainty...but not quite - even though they have in fact committed the sin. Heretics have a vested interest in saying confused things that are not manifestly heretical, but are meant to promote the heretical position.

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    4. The question of a Pope being a heretic was one that was heavily debated and about which there is no such certainty as would lead to moral certainty about Sedevacantism - which would require moral certainty in order to be upheld, given the stakes.

      For the views and debates back in the day:

      https://lumenscholasticum.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/bouix-on-the-pope-heretic/

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    5. @ Tony

      "The papal bull Ex Cum Apostolatus Officio by Pope Paul IV would (on its face) deprive any cleric who has fallen into heresy OR has "deviated from the Catholic Faith" of his office, and this applies even to a pope, if the deviation occurs before his elevation "if it shall have been uncontested and by the unanimous assent of all the Cardinals". http://www.dailycatholic.org/cumexapo.htm

      This is, admittedly, a gravely difficult thing to consider HOW to administer. And, for that reason, it has in effect never really been put into practice. But (as far as I have been able to find out) this has not been removed from the law of the Church. If anyone has information about that, I should like to hear it."

      This site offers a response:
      http://www.trueorfalsepope.com/p/blog-page_19.html

      I don't endorse everything on that site, but it seems to make some strong points. If one is in a hurry and does not want to read the whole page, this excerpt says much:

      "If Sedevacantists are going to argue that the penal sanctions in this Bull are still in force today, and that they take effect without an authoritative judgment by the proper authorities, they will have to explain how Cardinal Manning was elevated to bishop and then Cardinal during the reign of Pius IX, and Newman elevated to Cardinal during the reign of Leo XIII, in the face of irrefutable proof that he had “deviated from the faith” prior to their elevation.

      The reality is that the penal sanctions in Cum Ex Apostolatus were never enforced, and consequently the legislation had slipped into obsolescence even before it was derogated when the 1917 Code of Canon law was enacted. The case of Cardinals Manning and Cardinal Newman proves that someone who publicly defects from the Faith is not barred by “Divine law” from being elevated to the episcopacy (or the papacy) at a later date.

      We conclude by noting that at the time of the First Vatican council, the opponents of papal infallibility unearthed the Bull Cum Ex Apostolatus (which had all but disappeared from the mind of the Church), and used its problematic penal sanctions to defend their heresy (denial of Papal Infallibility), to "prove" that the Church had defected, and to justify their separation from the Church, "outside of which there is no salvation". These heretics went on to form the Old Catholic sect, which was condemned by Pius IX in Esti Multa, 1873)."

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  3. Great article, thanks Ed! I'd be interested to hear your take on Medjugorje, especially since Cardinal Robert Sarah seems to like it, despite many traddies being opposed...

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  4. It's upsetting watching well informed and influential Catholics, who have provided years of solid work helping Catholics and others understand Catholic doctrines, helping bring many in to the fold, to now be arguing for such a position, and so vehemently, that is so destructive to the Church.

    I worry that some may be too prideful to turn away now that they have dug themselves in.

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    1. Billy,
      I would be interested to know who you are talking about. I don't know of any such people. But maybe you are better informed. (I am not being snide. This is a genuine enquiry.)

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    2. Patrick Coffin explicitly argues for it and Taylor Marshall hints at it.

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    3. Dr. Edmund Mazza, Ann Barnhardt, Antonio Socci, Estefania Acosta.

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    4. Highland,

      Yea, Patrick Coffin is the primary one I have in mind.

      He is now accusing Feser of writing this case against benevacantism purely for money.

      https://twitter.com/CoffinMedia/status/1515397066721148933

      There is a difference between recognizing a possible incentive to do something and making the accusation that this possibility IS the actual incentive. Coffin knows this because he first makes the accusation, then when called out on it, reverts to claiming he's just pointing out the incentive is there. That isn't even getting in to the fact that it's just a fallacious appeal to motive and doesn't actually address the arguments.

      It's just really sad to see, given what Coffin has achieved over the years.

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  5. Dear Prof Feser

    These clarifications are masterful and highly useful for me. As a lawyer, philosopher and catechumen about to enter the Catholic Church (with the Dominicans in Bordeaux) this week, I had been urged by traditionalists to give my professional opinion on the interesting narrow procedural arguments distinguishing "munus" and "ministerium" and was admittedly somewhat swayed. In my ecclesial naïveté, I lost sight of the broader implications vis-à-vis Benedict and Francis' mutual responsibilities under an invalid resignation.

    You are right to demonstrate that both theories of the argument are, at least, pointless for those wishing to destitute the Francis papacy's actions of all validity, because the weight of the criticism would merely be validly shifted upon a purportedly continuing, and thereby far more infamous, Benedict papacy.

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  6. Excellent discussion, Prof. Feser. I don't know what a benevacantist could reply except to dismiss what you say as "ad consequentiam" argumentation.

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  7. How do we address the charge from those who maintain that the St. Gallen Mafia conspired to elect Francis against the norms of Pope John Paul II in Universi Dominici Gregis, thereby nullifying Francis' election?

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    1. There isn't a solid reason to think that conspiracies would invalidate the election. UDG even provides that if a cardinal were to commit simony in relation to his vote, it would not impede him from voting.

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    2. Right, I think that JPII meant by his provision that such a conspiracy does not invalidate the election:

      78. If — God forbid — in the election of the Roman Pontiff the crime of simony were to be perpetrated, I decree and declare that all those guilty thereof shall incur excommunication latae sententiae. At the same time I remove the nullity or invalidity of the same simoniacal provision, in order that — as was already established by my Predecessors — the validity of the election of the Roman Pontiff may not for this reason be challenged.23

      79. Confirming the prescriptions of my Predecessors, I likewise forbid anyone, even if he is a Cardinal, during the Pope's lifetime and without having consulted him, to make plans concerning the election of his successor, or to promise votes, or to make decisions in this regard in private gatherings.


      The "I likewise forbid..." in #79 implies that his intention is not any more stringent than his specification in #78, and he is explicit in #78 that simony would not invalidate the election. In #81 he also forbids any cardinal to form any pact, agreement, or promise toward a vote, and imposes an automatic excommunication on it, but again pointedly does not say this would invalidate the election.

      By the way, while I am mostly against latae sententiae excommunications, I have to admit that they do seem to have their place in this context, for (1) it would be nearly impossible to ever prove the event, and (2) it would be completely impossible for a pope to levy the sentence from sufficient remove as to constitute an impartial judge in the matter.

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    3. The problem with the campaign theory is that it 1 must be a particular kind of campaign (there's always talk about who should be elected), 2 even excommunicated cardinals vote validly (albeit illicitly) in a conclave unless the excommunication is made by imposition or is manifested by declaration by the proper authority.

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    4. See Canon 1331. Dr. Ed Peter's has a good article on this.

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  8. Funny thing is if ye dinny care much for Pope Francis' reign or are critical of the job he is doing there is no reason to become a Benevacantist.

    If the motivation is a belief Benedict was a better & more orthodox Pope well if Benevacantism is true in anyway it makes Benedict a worst Pope than Francis is presumed to be.

    It is like critics of Pope Francis who go overboard and unfairly & unjustly criticizes him or hate on him or leave the Church over him.

    In the later case if hypothetically Francis is almost as bad as the Devil Himself doing that will send you to the same Hell.

    Cheers.

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    1. If the motivation is a belief Benedict was a better & more orthodox Pope well if Benevacantism is true in anyway it makes Benedict a worst Pope than Francis is presumed to be.

      Yak, this would be plausible if Benedict knew that his attempt to resign could not work, but if he was mistaken in his theology about the papacy, it might not be so - that is, he would not be subjectively guilty of a great wrong.

      One might well argue that he SHOULD have known that trying to "split" the papal chair between two people cannot be done, and indeed its true that he should know that. However, it appears to be true that Archbishop Gänswein does not recognize that you cannot split the papacy that way. And not only is he an archbishop, he is extremely close to Benedict, so...who knows whether Benedict does or does not think that crazy stuff?

      I have not been going around saying that Benedict is pope, because I have not thought that. But I would like the arguments brought against the idea to be sound, and so I try to clarify when possible.

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  9. Certain prominent trad and trad sympathizing podcasters seem obsessed with this idea. I can understand the dismay surrounding the reversal of Benedict's motu proprio and the confusion Francis has introduced into the Church. I, too, dislike the credence that Francis appears to give to doomed progressive hopes for the Church. These are concerning to say the least. But I cannot understand the obsessive desperation. Where is the faith and the humility? Or the charity? There's something borderline gnostic/Manichean about this tendency toward doom-and-gloom and melodrama.

    Perhaps the reversal of the motu proprio is a legitimate hedge against schism. As beautiful as the Tridentine mass is, its practice is not worth schism. Many trads seem more interested in defecting than sticking with it and contributing to the discussion within the Church.

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    1. There is also a chicken little element. In the beginning I kneejerk defended Pope Francis because I remember extremist trad criticisms of Pope St John Paul II. So more sober loyal criticism was sometimes in my mind lumped in with that.

      BTW a future Pope can reverse the latest motu proprio(& I believe that will happen) and Francis did say the motu proprio did not apply to the FSSP or similar organizations that have in their constitutions the celebration of the Old Rite of the Mass.

      So it is not good these days but it is not the end. I have hope for the Church always.

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    2. Certain prominent trad and trad sympathizing podcasters seem obsessed with this idea.

      In my experience, it seems to be conservatives rather than trads who are most drawn to the Benevacantist position. Most trads can point to scandalous or doctrinally problematic things that Paul, JP, and Benedict said, so Francis, whilst worse than the rest, isn't different in kind.

      But I cannot understand the obsessive desperation. Where is the faith and the humility? Or the charity?

      Because the (comparative) sanity and orthodoxy of the Popes themselves played an important psychological role for conservatives, enabling them to take comfort in the thought that, even if the Church in their country (and most other countries) was self-destructing, Rome itself was still doing fine. Now that's no longer possible.

      There's something borderline gnostic/Manichean about this tendency toward doom-and-gloom and melodrama.

      No, there really, really isn't. Gnosticism and Manichaeism are specific heresies (or in the case of Manichaeism, arguably a separate religion altogether) with specific, highly complex sets of beliefs. They aren't just "a tendency towards doom-and-gloom and melodrama". You might as well say there's something Pelagian about people who take an optimistic approach to things, or something Pneumatomachian about theologians who don't write about the Holy Spirit as much as about the other two Persons of the Trinity.

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    3. Anon,

      Conservatives of, say, the Weigel stripe? I'm not so sure. Perhaps we should speak of a range of attitudes because it certainly appears to me that plenty of trads are constantly flirting with these sorts of Francis conspiracy theories (like the Taylor Marshall types, to name just one) and will sometimes quietly walk back some of their more outrageous and comical claims with cringe-worthy pieties about needing to remain loyal to Rome or whatever. And you basically make my point. They indeed *do not* reserve their conspiratorial flights of fancy to Francis (though they certainly reserve for him their harshest condemnations). Oh, no, every pope from Paul VI onward is seriously suspect in grave ways.

      I think one must admit that the Latin mass, which I myself appreciate and attend on occasion, *can* attract a certain kind of contrarian who overstates things like the prevalence of liturgical abuse and fixates hysterically on frankly inconsequential liturgical differences, going so far as to suggest that the Novus Ordo is a masonic invention.

      While conservatives may view Francis with some concern, my general impression is that they are too invested in the status quo and the common conservative sentiment that all is well in the Church to launch into anything resembling a conspiracy theory about the papacy.

      W.r.t. the second point, I think that's unnecessarily pedantic. Naturally, I realize Gnosticism goes beyond merely a propensity for doom and gloom. However, this doom and gloom, and black and white thinking, can run pretty deep to the point that they, I suggest, begin to resemble the spirit of Gnosticism from the psychological point of view. The dualism, the blanket suspicion of "the world", a sense of the overwhelming power and dominion of the truly diabolical, and so on. Ed has himself made comparisons or quoted those who make such comparison (like Voegelin). Are these comparisons invalid because they doesn't strictly conform to historical examples of Gnosticism? I don't think so. I don't think it is invalid to draw some kind of meaningful comparison between the Gnostic mindset and those who have a weakness for conspiracy theories, ominous sensationalism, and a perverse obsession with things not being as they seem. The Gnosticizing mindset is quite active on both the far left and right, with CRT and QAnon as the most prominent examples.

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    4. (Part 1)

      Conservatives of, say, the Weigel stripe? I'm not so sure.

      The kind of Conservatives who saw themselves as the sensible, mainstream part of the Church, whose loyalty to whatever the current Pope wanted enabled them to chart a middle course between the Scylla of liberalism and the Charibdis of traditionalism. Now that the Pope has jumped head-first into Scylla's maw, such a self-conception is no longer tenable. Benevacantism is one response to this.

      And you basically make my point. They indeed *do not* reserve their conspiratorial flights of fancy to Francis (though they certainly reserve for him their harshest condemnations). Oh, no, every pope from Paul VI onward is seriously suspect in grave ways.

      If you compare official Church documents from the mid-20th century onwards, you'll find that they are much more concerned with worldly goods like peace and prosperity compared to documents from previous periods, and that various aspects of Church teaching (e.g., on the necessity for salvation of belonging to the Catholic Church, or on the social kingship of Christ), have been downplayed or distorted. This isn't a "conspiratorial flight of fancy", it's a simple exercise in reading.

      I think one must admit that the Latin mass, which I myself appreciate and attend on occasion, *can* attract a certain kind of contrarian who overstates things like the prevalence of liturgical abuse and fixates hysterically on frankly inconsequential liturgical differences, going so far as to suggest that the Novus Ordo is a masonic invention.

      Sure, it *can* attract those sorts of people. So what?

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    5. (Part 2)

      W.r.t. the second point, I think that's unnecessarily pedantic. Naturally, I realize Gnosticism goes beyond merely a propensity for doom and gloom. However, this doom and gloom, and black and white thinking, can run pretty deep to the point that they, I suggest, begin to resemble the spirit of Gnosticism from the psychological point of view. The dualism, the blanket suspicion of "the world", a sense of the overwhelming power and dominion of the truly diabolical, and so on. Ed has himself made comparisons or quoted those who make such comparison (like Voegelin). Are these comparisons invalid because they doesn't strictly conform to historical examples of Gnosticism? I don't think so. I don't think it is invalid to draw some kind of meaningful comparison between the Gnostic mindset and those who have a weakness for conspiracy theories, ominous sensationalism, and a perverse obsession with things not being as they seem. The Gnosticizing mindset is quite active on both the far left and right, with CRT and QAnon as the most prominent examples.

      First of all, the purpose of language is communication, and by cheapening words like "Gnostic" until they mean nothing more than "pessimistic" you make communication harder.

      Secondly, since Gnosticism is a heresy, by accusing people of being "borderline gnostic" you are, in fact, accusing them of being borderline heretics. This is a very serious accusation, and one which really needs more support than just "Well, they're both given to doom-and-gloom thinking" -- particularly since one of your complaints about these people is that they're too ready to doubt others' doctrinal orthodoxy.

      Thirdly, whilst I'm open to correction on this point, I'm not aware of any ancient source (i.e., written by a contemporary of actual Gnostics) suggesting that Gnostics were actually given to pessimism or conspiracy-mongering. So this "Gnosticising mindset" doesn't seem to have been typical of actual Gnostics.

      Fourthly, being pessimistic, or having a propensity to believe in conspiracies, isn't particular to any one set of beliefs. All sorts of people are gloomy or think secret cabals exercise an inordinate amount of power, and many of them have nothing else in common. So even the real Gnostics were characterised by these traits, it would be completely arbitrary to claim that people with these characteristics had a "Gnosticising mindset". You might as well say that the Gnostics had a "QAnon-ising mindset".

      Fifthly, the Catholic tradition has always called on people to reject the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the Devil, from New Testament times right down to the twentieth century (see my above point about modern Church documents being much more worldly in outlook). By dismissing these concerns as "Gnosticism", you end up denigrating part of Catholic teaching and encouraging people to needlessly expose themselves to temptation, in much the same way as the people who dismiss any concern with sin or morality as "Jansenist" or "Pelagian".

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    6. I have come to believe we are in the midst of the
      'Fatima Paradigm' which is in essence a doom-and-gloom cult within The Church. In addition to the foolish 'secret-searching'(quasi-gnostic) we have this obsessive Pope vetting. It turns The Church and all its great and real blessings into some kind of folklore void of reality. Sad really.

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    7. For those who are down about "doom and gloom thinking": have you read the book of Revelation. There WILL be a horrific time. Not maybe. And while there will be only one "end of the world" time, there can be others that are almost as bad.

      Of course, we need to remember: Christ will win. In fact, he has already won.

      But what we don't know is "will I be among the elect when push comes to shove?" I hope so, and not just with human hope. But St. Paul says to work out you salvation "in fear and trembling", and Christ intimated that when the bad goings-on within the Church that "even the elect" are at risk of being deceived. So, arguably, even if I myself come through such trials, many won't - people who, but for the bad leaders in the Church, might have been saved, and we should be concerned for those too.

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  10. Ed, you are a model thinker for those who are troubled by what is going on in the Church yet cannot bring themselves to endorse some of the more radical tendencies one finds amongst some corners of internet traditionalism. You're a man I don't have to second-guess about when referring others to your writings on these matters, so thank you for your solid and even-tempered work here.

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  11. Unknown,

    Saying heretical things and being a heretic are two different things.

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  12. The most telling thing is that these theories would certainly not have come from these individuals had Francis not said any weird things. The theories only arrived after people felt motivated to look for a way out.

    As for "free" being inhibited by some kind of blackmail or other pressure, etc., one has to realize that every pope ever has been under tons of pressure, whether they all realized it or not. So that can't possibly amount to the canonical meaning of the word. It would seem to be something like "not actively being tortured to procure a resignation" - as one could more easily imagine having happened in centuries past.

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    1. every pope ever has been under tons of pressure, whether they all realized it or not. So that can't possibly amount to the canonical meaning of the word.

      No, I fear that does not follow. They are under tons of pressure...to do various things. Pressure to promote my nephew to a high office. To appoint a certain kind of bishop to this or that see. To pass some legislation or other. Yes, there are all kinds of pressure. The specific pressure we are talking about here is pressure to resign, that act and no other. Furthermore, we are not just talking about "pressure" in the sense of people asking, pleadingly, urgently, etc. We are talking about threats of some further nefarious, grave chicanery "if you don't". It could be anything from "we'll release those records you hoped were destroyed" to "we'll kill your cousin, his wife, and their children." That, I am afraid, is a far cry from the pressure all popes are under, and it certainly qualifies for the kind of thing that would place a pope (or anyone) in a position where their act is "not free" in the relevant sense.

      Interestingly, once a threat like that is tendered, arguably the pope's act is no longer free in the relevant sense if he goes along with the demand, EVEN IF he were to decide the act not on account of the threat, but on other grounds. For example, suppose Francis were to have secretly decided last month "I am going to resign on the day after Pentecost", and tomorrow someone tells him to resign and threatens him secretly with some gravely evil thing that he (or anyone) would fear . And suppose he decides "well, I was going to resign anyway, so I will go ahead with that plan." And then suppose that the college of cardinals finds out about the threat the week after his resignation. Because it would be literally impossible to establish as a fact that the threat did NOT have any causal influence over Francis (even Francis could not be certain of that), the cardinals would have to assume that the resignation was not free.

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    2. I think you are making my case.

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  13. The question of the legal details of Benedict's abdication aside, I don't quite get the "scandal of schism" deal.

    How do you avoid the pollution and complicity in its propagation without putting some physical and institutional distance between you and them?

    And without going into the issues of private revelations in the modern era, it looks pretty plain to any layman whose last steady encounter with the institutional Church was a generation and more ago, that the present prelature is by any classic standard, significantly, if not largely, openly composed of homosexual, or, feeble and emasculated if nonetheless giddy, apostates.

    I don't know in what sense many of them could validly claim even to be Christians following either the apostolic tradition, or the Jesus of the Scriptures, much less to be "Catholic" and in accord with the Church's teaching as it was promulgated for centuries.

    The sheer vertigo inducing deconstructive monstrousness of this infestation of chirppy, mutual arse sniffing, pansexual pagans, is enough to set anyone with a normal gag reflex back on his heels.

    It is a bizarre stroke of good fortune for them, that compared with the carnivalesque caricatures which, say, mitered Episcopalian Priestesses present, that they almost look normal ... until, that is, they start simpering and looking longingly at the camera with their "welcoming eyes" ... to borrow a phrase from Rembert Weakland or possibly one of the dozens of other queens who eventually became bishops.

    It seems the present pope is doing absolutely everything in his power to prevent any resurgence of traditional Catholic worship by eliminating all options for it. Nothing, and no place seems to escape either his or his commissar-like emissaries as they seek to ferret out every last trace of transcendentally directed worship.

    "Horizontal worship"? With these braying, prancing idolaters, and on their terms?

    It seems that Francis is determined to give one no choice at all: join the Legion, or decamp the precincts.

    Not very charitable, I would say.

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  14. Great article, Ed.

    Here's a compilation of arguments against the Benepapists.

    https://romalocutaest.com/2022/03/21/the-case-against-those-who-claim-benedict-is-still-pope/

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  15. My understanding is that the Pope is the Pope because he is the bishop of Rome, not the other way around. If he stops being the bishop of Rome, then he is no longer the Pope.

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    1. That is also what i think is the case. When you turn into the pope you do not get a fourth ordination and them "bam!", you got a new character on your soul, it just is being the bishop of a certain place but with more authority and obligations. Can anyone point out any reason why it would not be possible to a pope to stop being a pope?

      The pope has a very important task, of course, but he is still a bishop. This tendency to mystify the job is quite strange.

      It reminds me of when we were talking about ordination on catechesis and when i asked about who is the higher bishop a certain smart altar girl who normally knew these things seemed suprised to learn that i was talking about the pope, like she never had thinked of the pope as a bishop but as a diferent thing.

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  16. A few points.
    1)Catholics have to be ok with having awful popes. We have certainly had immoral ones and awful bishops and cardinals, it would be a strange ecclesiology that makes every pope a saint.
    2) it seems many of Feser's criticisms boil down to, if it were true, then there would be a helluva mess. See which cardinals are real, etc. That seems a weak counter- somehow apostolic succession in Rome can't be a mess?
    3) that its a mess is what leads some Beneplenists like Barnhardt,I think, to support this position Even Though she thinks Benedict to have been wrong. From here it is easy to make the jump that the problem is ultimately a related one to Vatican 2 and even Vatican 1. Maybe the problem wasn't in 2012 but long before that.

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  17. Theory 1: Benedict didn’t really intend to resign. According to this theory, Benedict distinguishes the munus of the papacy (in the sense of the office itself and its duties), from the ministerium or actual exercise of the powers of the office.

    Suppose theory 1 were true. Then Francis would be something like Benedict’s viceroy, acting on his behalf and with his authority. His words and actions would have whatever authority they had precisely insofar as he acts in Benedict’s name, and in effect would therefore be Benedict’s words and actions, especially if Benedict did nothing to correct them.

    I am afraid this is not necessarily the case, and it is almost certainly not the sense intended by Gänswein and others. First, because a viceroy, legate, or delegate would be someone Benedict choose, and would be able to replace at will - and clearly he did not choose Francis (or have a hand in that selection), nor could replace at will.

    Secondly, if you posit that Benedict was attempting to bifurcate the munus by allocating the "contemplative role" to himself and the "active ministerium" to the new guy, then (theoretically) we would have TWO people having (sharing) the munus, with distinct roles WITHIN that one munus. This is, almost certainly, the sort of thing Gänswein was trying to urge.

    If it were possible, then it would be notionally reasonable to refer to this by saying "Benedict didn't really intend to resign from the munus, but did really intend to resign from the active ministerium."

    It is a separate question as to whether the assertion that this really is what Benedict intended has any plausible support. The difficulty is that the evidence readily available at the time was negligible, but the evidence since then is...almost negligible, but not quite. Certainly very troubled evidence, not something you would want to rest a court case on.

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  18. At the end of Seewald's biography of Benedict there is a short interview where Benedict explains his theology of being bishop emeritus (which seems like a legitimate development). He reasons that although a bishop must be attached to a place an emeritus bishop is still attached to his former diocese in a mystical way, as a sort of spiritual grandfather, even if he in fact holds no real position and has no formal authority over the faithful. I think this is how he thinks about his relationship to the papacy as a former Pope. Francis and only Francis is Pope, but Benedict retains a spiritual connection to the office because he held it, like a Grandfather retains a connection to his son's family even after the son is grown and independent.

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  19. https://www.fromrome.info/2022/03/28/cionci-all-your-questions-answered-why-benedict-xvi-is-still-the-pope/

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  20. And the first step in dealing with some reality you don’t like is to face it, rather than retreating into fantasy.

    Good quote.

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  21. Some will nevertheless insist that Benedict did not act freely, because they speculate that he was being blackmailed or otherwise acting in fear. But he has publicly denied this, and after nine years no one has offered any evidence that it is true.

    I feel like this "no one has offered any evidence" is overstating the case a bit. There are indeed claims out there that members of the St. Gallen Mafia had indeed conspired to "permit" his election on a condition of it being for a limited period (8 years), and there are further claims out there that they took steps to "call in" that "debt". I am not saying or pretending that these claims have been proven, for they haven't - far from it. But there are indeed elements of evidence offered in support. Are they sufficient evidence? No, naturally not. But saying they are far from proof is not the same as saying they aren't evidence at all.

    Unfortunately for this particular track, the reason Benedict gave for resigning is decidedly thin as a basis for resigning the papacy. I am NOT saying it wasn't "the real reason", but even if you grant that it was the real reason, it still stands rather thin for THIS act, resigning from the papacy. There have been over 260 popes who have died in office, and after the first 3 centuries none died from direct martyrdom. So, vastly many died from illness / old age, and vastly many of those died from these conditions lasting years and years before they finally took the pope. They could have, almost any one of these long-suffering popes, reached a moment where they could rightly say "I am no longer fit for the duties" if the job was CEO of a major corporation. But "the duties" of the papacy aren't really those of a CEO, and God can accomplish the tasks he needs from a pope with ANY NUMBER of ways that allow the pope to succeed even in spite of weakness and exhaustion. After all, success comes from God, not from us (as primary cause). So, if dozens and dozens and dozens of other popes were in very similar position of weakness but could not see fit to resign, how could Benedict say the opposite, say "no, I really am too done in for the role"?

    (Some have argued that unlike being a CEO, being pope is not a matter of "I don't want to do it any more (even for very good reasons)", once the cardinal accepts the election and the papacy, he isn't morally free to just hang up his shoes because of what he wants. I don't think this argument quite works, but there is a true kernel in there: the papal role is not a job, it's a calling, and it's hard to come up with a sound basis for knowing "God is no longer calling me to this" that actually could be sufficiently known. Not impossible, I think, but very unusual, and very difficult. And "weakness" or "exhaustion" is, just, thin for the kind of assurance one would look for.)

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  22. Very good and timely article. I have just one caveat. The Church's teaching that the Pope can not err on matters of faith and morals when speaking ex cathedra does not amount to professing that he CAN err on such matters when not speaking ex cathedra. Tthis is nowhere affirmed. The definition of papal infallibility at Vatican I is not exclusive per se.

    No doubt great theologians of the Church have had various opinions on what happens when the Pope doesn't speak ex cathedra, but in doing so they are in the realm of opinion, not the faith.

    Benevacantism is going to be a bigger problem for the Church than sedevacantism because it's roping in so many conservative Catholics and assorted believers in the parallel Church of the Great Reset (still waiting for that). Now they're carrying on about Moscow the Third Rome (Vigano/Siffi). A kind of traddie Church of England,in league with anyone that hates Rome and subservient to foolish political agendas is the Royal Road out of Christ's Church for these poor people. Sad.

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    1. No doubt great theologians of the Church have had various opinions on what happens when the Pope doesn't speak ex cathedra, but in doing so they are in the realm of opinion, not the faith.

      Miguel, since there have been popes who tried to teach error, (e.g. John XXII), I am not sure why we need to have "opinion" about whether it is possible.

      Benevacantism is going to be a bigger problem for the Church than sedevacantism because it's roping in so many conservative Catholics and assorted believers

      How many are actually departing for other shores? I talk to a fair number of people who are seriously unhappy with the Francine papacy, and who make noise about "maybe Benedict is really the pope", but none of them actually DO anything about it, to speak of. The closest I see of this would be a smattering of people who had been going to TLM masses at ordinary diocesan parishes, now going to mass at an SSPX parish because their local bishop implemented TC with an over-the-top nasty hand, and closed down TLM masses that he didn't need to close down. My sense is that many of these DON'T try to justify this as "well, Francis isn't even pope", but more like "Francis, like the prior popes, didn't abrogate the TLM, so it's still good." Or something along those lines.

      I am just not seeing anything significant in terms of acting on their (generally still nascent, not-definitive) thinking that Benedict might be pope. Other than yammering about it.

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    2. Tony, the idea that there have been heretical Popes surely belongs to the realm of opinion. The Church most certainly doesn't teach such a thing, and its definition of infallibility specifies a circumstance when it is engaged, but without excluding other circumstances.

      The words of Christ used by Vatican I to justify infallibility "...that your faith should not fail...". describe a Pope who can never lose the faith, despite wavering. Unlike us, the Pope may waver, but he can't renounce the faith.

      History till now backs this up and cases of Popes allegedly teaching heresy don't stand up under close scrutiny. Even the airplane magisterium of the present Pope always ends up being clarified. It's not Luther and his theses nailed to the door.

      You're right in saying that Benevacantism won't be a huge problem for the Church; being a bigger poroblem than that total joke, sedevacantism, is no great achievement. But the end-times garbage taught by Vigano and others has risen to the level of doctrine for a certain type. It can't "do" anything of course, but that's only for lack of a catalyst. Vigano/Siffi can't lead it because he is intellectually incapable (in front of as live audience asking questions) of even regurgitating the verbiage that has gone under his name during five years of invisibility. Others may appear though. The problem is subjection of religion to WASP politics.

      Those who leave Ecclesia Dei churches for those of the SSPX will be disappointed if they are looking for anti-Roman hysteria. That's to be found principally where they came from, in many cases (the Pope DID have some bad excuses for Traditionis custodes - YES!) For the SSPX, the problems of this pontificate have their origin in that of Paul VI. Those silly enough to believe the Pope is the "antichrist" are to be found hanging around institutes and churches with "full" canonical status, like those on the other side - the outright modernists.

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    3. John XXII denied the beatific vision while he was pope. He was forced by the cardinals to retract. So yes there has been at least one heretical pope.

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    4. The Church's teaching that the Pope can not err on matters of faith and morals when speaking ex cathedra does not amount to professing that he CAN err on such matters when not speaking ex cathedra.

      Tony, the idea that there have been heretical Popes surely belongs to the realm of opinion.

      Miguel, I was responding to your point about the notion of whether a pope could ERR on a matter of faith and morals, not whether a pope could be a heretic. Manifestly, a pope has erred on a matter of faith. I was not proposing he was a heretic. The fact that the pope in question eventually listened to the Church (in the persons of various teachers) and bowed to their explanation implies that he did not steadfastly reject the Church's teaching.

      Nor did I say that John had "taught heresy", as the issue had not been defined at the time. Still one can be IN ERROR without being in heresy.

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    5. All the same Tony, Catholics are not required to believe any Pope has taught even error concerning the Faith, or that such a thing is possible. In speaking of such a thing, we are in the realm of opinion, not Church teaching.

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    6. Cervantes,

      But John XXII literally denied the beatific vision. It's not opinion, it's historical. A pope taught error.

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    7. All the same Tony, Catholics are not required to believe any Pope has taught even error concerning the Faith, or that such a thing is possible.

      Miguel, I am having trouble understanding this comment. It seems, to me, you must affirm one of the following statements:

      (1) John XXII, during his papacy, did not propose for belief - as his opinion - that the souls of the just, even after their perfect purification in Purgatory, did not enjoy the Beatific Vision of God, but only would attain that after the Final Judgment; or

      (2) The that the opinion proposed is not erroneous.

      Have I missed something?

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    8. Tony, I would say that many historical facts are not quite what they appear to be a first sight, especially when it comes to accusations against Papal orthodoxy. The importance of such "facts" is not in the same category as what the Church teaches us concerning Papal infallibility ex cathedra. Apart from this infallibility, we remain in the realm of opinion.

      As to the solidity of the "history" concerning Pope John XXII, I prefer the opinion of Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize in this article:
      https://sspx.org/en/news-events/news/question-papal-heresy-part-2

      His conclusion is that "At most one could acknowledge that there might have been in Jacques Duèse a lack of temperance in his intellectual research, let us say a certain eccentricity resulting from an unbridled theological curiosity. But Pope John XXII had the wisdom not to present this research as a formally magisterial teaching, and above all not to persist stubbornly in these risky views."

      He quotes from an article in the Dictionary of Catholic Theology by Xavier le Bachelet S.J.:

      "John XXII presented himself in his sermons not as Pope speaking ex cathedra but as a private teacher who is giving his opinion (hanc opinionem = this opinion) and acknowledges that it is debatable while seeking to prove it. In his second speech we read these words: ‘I say, like Saint Augustine, that if I am mistaken here, let the one who knows better correct me. This is how it seems to me, nothing else; unless someone shows me a contrary decision of the Church or an authoritative argument from Sacred Scripture that would express this matter more clearly than the above-cited authorities.'"

      This is not even the ordinary magisterium of the Pope.

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    9. Miguel, I am fine with presenting this under a rubric of the man, who is John XXII and who also is a theologian, presenting an opinion on a subject of which the Church had not yet rendered a definitive decision, and was thus technically "reformable" in its stance as "a Church teaching."

      This still means that he HELD (as an opinion) a thesis that was, in fact, erroneous. Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize's depiction does not escape that result: he held error, on a matter of faith.

      But Pope John XXII had the wisdom not to present this research as a formally magisterial teaching,

      The notion that a bishop (whether pope or not) is "not teaching" a thesis except when he "formally" presents the thesis as "magisterial" is just not tenable. The documents of the Church make it clear that the range of "teachingness" of a teaching that applies to what a bishop says is on a continuum, ranging from the 0 weight of "I have a question whether..." through the virtually 0 weight of "hmm, here's an idea I have had..." through the somewhat more weight of "it is the widely-held opinion of the Church that..." through an infinite variety up toward the quite strong "this we have heard consistently from the Church" through the near-definitive "it has been the constant teaching unchanged for over a thousand years..." up to infallible-by-the-universal-magisterium of bishops throughout the world in "while not a defined dogma, it is the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, constantly reiterated by papal teachings, approved by the entire body of the Doctors, and taught universally by the bishops, that..." To argue that ONLY the last 2 of these counts as "a magisterial teaching" is just NOT how the Church has operated for 2000 years in its college of bishops, including the apostles. The “magisterial” office is being employed when a bishop teaches, and he teaches any time he speaks out on faith and morals UNLESS he declines to employ his magisterial office, by various signs (like, “this is just my personal opinion, but…”

      This is why, just for example, there are SEVERAL DEGREES of opprobrium attached to different kinds of pushing back against Church teachings, below that of "heresy", such as "temerariuous" and "offensive to pious ears": just as there are DEGREES of insistence by which a bishop intends his teaching “to be held”, there are degrees of opprobrium attached to not conforming. Lack of “formality” doesn’t mean “not magisterial”, it typically means “with less insistence.” (This is virtually a necessity for all bishops other than the pope, since other than the pope, a bishop cannot define a teaching as “to be held definitively” on his own authority, but he CAN participate in the magisterial office by which the whole body of bishops can make a teaching irreformable, by teaching the thesis as “to be held” but without adding “definitively.” The fact that the pope CAN define a dogma doesn’t deprive him of the bishoply power of teaching non-formally.

      The easier defense of John XXII is that he taught (informally) an error, as an opinion, discovered he was out of line, and retracted his erroneous opinion (which proves he was not heretical in his opinion); meanwhile, the teaching did not comprise “grave error” and thus did not fall afoul of the protection by which the papacy is protected from grave error.

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    10. Tony, I think the gist of Fr Gleize's article was that John XXII proposed the opinion, not in the name of Christ (which would have put it in the category of teaching) but as an opinion about something which was not de fide. To teach implies both an authority (Christ) and a subject matter (the faith) to which correspond obedience and acceptance. John XXII doesn't seem to have put his views in those terms at all.

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    11. I think that Fr. Gleize, wanted to portray that John was proposing the opinion as as his own personal opinion that people could consider or not, as they wished, and not as a teaching. In order to do so, he relies on the assertion in the Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, that:

      John XXII presented himself in his sermons not as Pope speaking ex cathedra but as a private teacher who is giving his opinion (hanc opinionem = this opinion) and acknowledges that it is debatable while seeking to prove it. In his second speech we read these words: ‘I say, like Saint Augustine, that if I am mistaken here, let the one who knows better correct me. This is how it seems to me, nothing else; unless someone shows me a contrary decision of the Church or an authoritative argument from Sacred Scripture that would express this matter more clearly than the above-cited authorities.”

      Even if we take these words at face value, this does not establish that John was not "teaching" the erroneous position, it only establishes that he was "not teaching it as ex cathedra". That's fine, I agree he was not teaching it ex cathedra. The Dictionnaire refers to John giving it

      but as a private teacher who is giving his opinion (hanc opinionem = this opinion)

      A private teachers is, indeed a teacher, and the proper act of "teacher" is to teach. Sometimes they teach by giving their opinion. The intent behind "not as Pope teaching ex cathedra" is perfectly fine, and probably well established from the pope's actual words in the sermons, but the following comment "as a private teacher" is THEIR OWN characterization, not John's. In fact, John who teaches "not as pope" can still teach "as bishop", because he was consecrated a bishop long before he was elected to the papacy and retains that office. It only signifies that John was unwilling to BIND DEFINITIVELY. Bishops all over the world, who teach the very same teachings they received, teach them without intending to bind in the manner of an ex cathedra statement because they don't have that power. But they still TEACH.

      It matters not one whit that the pope held it "as an opinion" and even that he called it "an opinion". The fact is that he gave it in sermons (not in theological disputation papers), and did so 4 times - sermons are not (typically) where you engage in theological debates with other theologians, it's where you TEACH. Even if non-bindingly.

      but as an opinion about something which was not de fide.

      We owe "religious submission of mind and will" to the ordinary teachings of the bishops, and we owe it in respect to which they propose their teaching. There are infinitely many different degrees of submissiveness, because there are infinitely many different degrees by which bishops express themselves in the firmness and insistence on what they teach. The different degrees are signified first by their express statement (if any) about the "level" of the thesis, but secondarily by such things as (a) the tone in which they issue it, (b) the venue in which they teach it, and (c) how often they repeat the teaching. If John said, in only ONE of the 4 times he delivered in in a sermon, that "this is an opinion, it's debatable, and I am open to better arguments" that is not sufficient to establish that he "did not teach" the thesis, because (1) if he didn't say that in the other 3 sermons, he then clearly failed to reserve the level below that of a teaching; (2) "opinions" can still "teachings" when given by bishops; and (3) a bishop giving an opinion can "teach" the opinion even while expressing an openness to a better argument.

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    12. Thanks for your thoughts, Tony. There is quite a distance between teaching ex cathedra and voicing opinions. The teachings of a parish priest, even, when he preaches what is de fide, would be more binding on the faithful than those opinions of Pope John XXII because of their content and the authority invoked (again, both lacking in Pope John). The problem with Pope John, which Fr. Gleize alluded to, was to have used sermons (or any public forum) as a vehicle for his musings. Actually, this is a common fault, often witnessed on a Sunday. This can bore or amuse us, but is foolish when done by a Pope. In this case, the Pope didn't give signs that he expected from his listeners the acquiescence reserved for the Church's teaching on what is de fide - again, such acquiescence is not the case only with ex cathedra pronouncements, but every time the Faith is proclaimed by the Church's pastors. There might be degrees of submissiveness, but they all go out the window as soon as the given notion is presented as opinion.

      Of course there are matters which are not de fide where we often defer to or treat with respect the opinions of some, or most, of the Fathers of the Church, or majority theological opinion. But this only seems to back up Gr. Gleize's opinion, as that was exactly what Pope John XXII was trying to do with his mistaken invocation of Saint Augustine.

      Catholics would be concerned by an instance of the Pope teaching error AS de fide (even if it was not done ex cathedra). His personal musings, publicised or not, thought up after breakfast and forgotten by lunchtime, are annoying but not the substance of his mission. Sermons are definitely not the place for them, which surely must be the moral of this story.

      Delete
  23. Say whatever critical or equivocal you want about Benedict, but picture the good he could have done during the near decade since he "fled from the wolves"by just being there; good which he could have done for those whose faith in the Church as a path to grace and transcendence and sound moral guidance was being slowly restored.

    Even as a man stymied, perhaps compromised, functioning mainly as a lame- duck, doing not much more than protecting his early days' pronouncements, he would have given the restoration trend years in which solidify and bloom.

    Instead, the Church got Bergoglio, and the Pachamama idol in the Vatican. The Church got a Pope with sly eyed Marxist and sex pervert advisers; a pope who seems often enough to take his marching orders from Whoopie Goldberg's nasty daytime TV kaffeklatsch for morally deranged females, "The View".

    It might even have gotten a Church or a Vatican at least, presently in the pocket of the Chinese communist party; if income reports which the Vatican refuses to deny, are true.

    Imagine what tremendous good Benedict's merely doddering along, nurturing only that which he had already managed to plant, would have accomplished.

    Bergoglio and Biden. Almost seems to be a parallel.

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    1. Imagine what tremendous good Benedict's merely doddering along, nurturing only that which he had already managed to plant, would have accomplished.

      Yes. Oh, and don't forget: all those ruddy awful cardinals Francis has elevated, imagine instead 30 to 50 more of the kind of cardinal Benedict would have elevated. With the same in bishop's miters.

      Although, if Benedict had stayed in the seat, he probably would be dead by now, from the stress.

      Delete
  24. I believe Francis is pope, but I disagree that we can rule out any possibility Benedict is pope or that the conversation is pointless. I think you lack imagination in your post as to how Benedict could have been operating in the best interest of the Church.

    For instance lets say he resigned under duress, and purposefully resigned in a way that was invalid. Justifications for this act are of a wild nature, but I do not think you can argue it is impossible there could be a justification that would make it so you couldn't say Benedict was operating for the Church's best interest. Any justification just begins to sound like something you might have expected to read in the book Fr. Elijah or the plot of a thriller movie.

    Your propensity to give any credence to one of those scenarios being possible will depend on the level to which you think the Church has been infiltrated by enemies and the level of malice and power you think those who may have infiltrated have.

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  25. Hi Dr. Feser, Thanks for the thoughtful article; you've been a "go-to-guy" for me since I first saw your material on Capital Punishment; in my teaching and working with folks as a priest I've referred many to it. Color me "agnostic" on this question, though. I just can't get past how arguably one of the most brilliant theological minds ever to occupy the Chair of Peter could make such a sloppy gaffe as to explicitly repudiate the ministerium, but not the munus in his resignation without the distinction being intentional or the result of mental incapacitation (perhaps brought on by extreme stress). Add to that that although Benedict XVI is quoted by a hopefully a reliable source (cf. your link above) as saying, "The Pope is one" (he doesn't say WHO the Pope is here), it's not clear that he said, "The Pope is one, he is Francis" as your linked article points out. Please permit me one last observation: Is the intention & meaning of Canon 332 §2 really that a Pope need not know what he's doing to resign validly, only do so "acting with deliberate consent or freely"? With all due respect, that seems absurd.

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  26. But it gets worse. Suppose one of these two versions of Benevacantism were true. What is the Church supposed to do? Presumably, on the best case scenario, Benedict himself would publicly endorse some version of the theory. But that would be a disaster.

    While there are several scenarios that come out horrible, there are other scenarios that don't. For example, suppose that Francis dies first, and Benedict becomes convinced (say, during the consistory to elect a new one) that he is still the pope. So, he goes through a NEW resignation, in which he explicitly mentions the difficulty that invalidated the first attempt, and corrects it. And explicitly affirms the standing of the consistory to elect a new pope validly and licitly. So then the consistory is free to go on with a new election.

    Or, suppose that Benedict is "really" the pope, and dies first, before Francis. When Francis dies, the cardinals elect a new pope. There are elements of historical precedent that suggest this NEW election would be valid, even though Francis was not the real pope.

    None of these scenarios are perfect, mind you. But they don't imply disaster, either.

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  27. Conspiracy theories abound. It has been rumored that Pope John Paul I was murdered.

    https://www.pillarcatholic.com/p/was-pope-john-paul-i-murdered?s=r
    And a book about gay priests in the Vatican

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/mar/03/in-the-closet-of-the-vatican-frederic-martel-review

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  28. If only someone could find that poor man a black cassock somewhere in Rome, we could all put this to rest....

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  29. Well thought out post Prof.Feser, I completely agree. All your points hit the nail in the head. My only point of contention would be with the need to engage with such theories. Like Is it really worth the effort ? How can you tell if you are dealing with an honest good faith argument or people who are just looking to boost their brand, likes and views. Especially since a lot of people probably weren't even aware of this new trend and may come to know about it through you. Especially with figures like Patrick Coffin who tend to resort a lot to question begging even in general.
    For example recently he tweeted this
    "Guilty conscience.Hope that even Judas will be a-okay forever. If he's saved, all that sodomy & dissent = no biggie."
    Notice that he doesn't attempt to present any coherence argument and even tries to bring out a false equivalence by comparing the question of someone's being saved to the question of gravity of sin. Sodomy is undoubtedly very grave but irrelevant to the point. Even Peter denied Jesus as we shall find out in the approaching Good Friday but he repented. The good thief repented. The point has always been about whether Judas repented or not. I think it's very unlikely that he repented. But the
    thing to note is that Coffin fails to engage with the argument. Moreover he has nothing to say about the fact that Pope Benedict XVI himself once said.
    "Even though he went to hang himself (cf. Mt 27: 5), it is not up to us to judge his gesture, substituting ourselves for the infinitely merciful and just God."
    http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/audiences/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20061018.html
    He still maintains that
    "The bottom line: Pope Benedict XVI is a wise and holy man."
    Even though Benedict maintains a position that his vastly different from his on the issue. He does not met out the same harsh criticism towards him.
    This is symbolic of the fact that he is trying to reach a specific gullible audience. Also the fact that his twitter feed of late seems to reflect more of merchandising and his obsessive crusade against the vaccines then any genuine catholic issue even though almost everyone has moved on from covid warfare. It makes him more akin to Dr.Fauci in trying to resurrect a dead issue for the sake of attention. I honestly prefer the Hart vs Feser debate, atleast that is relevant to an issue in the church that actually need to be discussed by its finest scholars.

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  30. Ed: Thanks for a well-reasoned look at these questions.

    It always has struck me that anyone who thinks that Benedict failed to resign must consider him to have been, at the time of his attempted resignation, thoroughly incompetent.

    If Benedict--one of the most intelligent scholars of his generation--didn't have the wits to effect a simple resignation, then what public figure could effect one? What private figure could effect one?

    Are we to re-examine Richard Nixon's resignation? Certainly he was under duress. Certainly there were many who were conspiring against him. Are we to conclude that Nixon couldn't pull off a valid resignation, that he in fact remained president and that the swearing in of Gerald Ford was nothing more than empty show?

    And what about commenters here, many of whom, no doubt, at one point or another of their working lives have quit their jobs? Were their resignations effective if done under duress, under misinformation, or under misunderstanding of some surrounding fact?

    What does it take to resign, whether from a regular job or the presidency or the papacy? Isn't "I resign" enough, whether screamed at a boss, sent in a letter to the Secretary of State, or read out to a gathering of cardinals?

    All the arguments against the validity of Benedict's resignation come down to disapproval of Francis. It's little more than excuse-finding.

    If Benedict had been succeeded by, say, Robert Sarah or Raymond Burke, none of these people would be alleging that Benedict still remained pope.

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    1. While the vast majority of the motivation behind the "search" for a basis for saying Benedict's resignation was invalid is, indeed, from the Francine disaster, not all is. There were, even before the election of Francis, some elements of dismay and concern over both the sheer fact of Benedict's resignation, and (distinctly) the manner of it. Some of those concerns were raised at the time.

      What does it take to resign, whether from a regular job or the presidency or the papacy? Isn't "I resign" enough,

      It doesn't follow from the fact that it is easy to resign from a job, that it is JUST AS EASY to resign from the papacy. For one thing, there are express rules prepared in advance for resigning from the papacy. In those rules, duress invalidates the attempt, whereas there is no such rule for your job or the presidency.

      What does it take to resign, whether from a regular job or the presidency or the papacy? Isn't "I resign" enough,

      While it can be fairly easy to resign from most positions, the papacy itself is a complex thing and this makes it easy to muddle it. The papacy comprises being the supreme (Earthly) head of the Church, but it's source rests in being the Bishop of Rome. It is not obvious, for example, whether in order to properly resign he should say "I resign from the papacy" or "I resign being Bishop of Rome" or both or...

      Furthermore, while a "normal" understanding of the Church and the papacy glosses over many aspects of these, theologians try to distinguish these many aspects and NOT gloss over the details. In the effort to come up with these distinctions, it is easy to make an error or two without being obviously non-orthodox: the Church's understanding develops, and not without effort. Until the Church herself speaks definitively about such distinctions, these to-and-fro discussions among theologians are not held to represent someone who is positively "heterodox", but there are various degrees of being "not with" the standard thinking of the Church, not all equally problematic.

      Benedict had, particularly but not solely in years before his election, dabbled in the Nouvelle Theologie playground of new ideas about the Church, and there had been any number of people who had expressed misgivings, from mild to severe, about some of his opinions, well before his resignation. It turns out that one of those opinions had presented some fairly novel ways of talking about the papacy, ways that fall in quite well with the famous Ganswein comments that brought out the thinking (among some) that "maybe he didn't intend to resign". Thus it is a bit facile to claim that he would have to be either an idiot or a gravely degenerate bishop to fail to understand "how to resign" his "job".

      I wish it weren't so, but Benedict's expressed reason for resigning - exhaustion - is questioned as whether it can constitute a valid basis for resignation. I think that the people who raise this need to think through the issues more fully, because we can't hold out that the pope has to have a GOOD reason, in our judgment, to resign. But I think that underneath that question (is this a valid basis for resigning) they are actually considering a more problematic one - whether he really had some other reason besides exhaustion - like duress.

      Delete
  31. If anyone would like a concrete example of what this Benevacantism gibberish looks like, see: https://www.fromrome.info/2021/12/28/looking-forward-to-2022-a-d/
    Note the complete lack of evidence to support the “prediction” this person makes.

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  32. The Council of Constance elected Martin V and ended the Great Western Schism. He was elected by the council participants organized by language speaking groups, with each of the 5 groups having 1 vote. So the cardinals were irrelevant in the face of a sitting council.

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  33. Like most traditional Catholics, I've been troubled by Francis. The best advice I've had so far has been from a priest in confession: where he is OBJECTIVIVELY wrong (and he emphasised that word), do not hesitate to call him out; otherwise keep your mouth shut. You cannot challenge his sincerity or his motivations because you're not inside his head or his heart. Only God is qualified to do that. Works for me.

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  34. The natural conclusion to your reasoning in this post is not that Francis is Pope, but that neither Bergoglio nor Ratzinger is Pope. Sede Vacante! And that's where I'm heading . . .

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    1. Believing Pius X (or whoever) was the last good pope before the Whore of Babylon hid away the true gospel is not much different than John Calvin's belief that Gregory the Great was the last good pope before the Whore of Babylon hid away the true gospel.

      Just become a Protestant already. Or start your own denomination of Protestantism that prays the Rosary. What you believe is sola scriptura with the traditional writings of the saints, encyclicals, etc... constituting a lesser canon with lesser degree of inspiration.

      Delete
    2. Well, that's a charitable response. Where did I say that Pius X was the "last good Pope"? You can add rash judgement to uncharity to your list of sins for your next confession.

      To be the leader of Catholics you must be Catholic yourself. His many contradictions to the faith (on a near weekly basis) show that he clearly is not. Francis lacks anything resembling the papal charism. He is a Destroyer, not a true Shepherd.

      Ratzinger is a coward - that's manifest. But a coward can still be Pope. But Dr. Feser's arguments show that Ratzinger is scarcely better than Bergoglio. His cowardice, which is ongoing and not just a one-time act, subjects the Church to Bergoglio, a man of relentless evil. What true Shepherd would give the wolves the run of the flock?

      Bergoglio is a heretic but he's not a coward - he has at least that going for him.

      So NEITHER is Pope and the Chair is empty.

      I make no judgement as to JPII or Paul VI - much more complicated. Your assumption that I do is rash and unwarranted by anything I have said.

      Repent, "Infinite Growth" (how ironic!), you miserable evil-doer!

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    3. @CorneliusG there is only one thing that I am absolutely certain of, and that is that socialism and communism are incompatible with science and equality.

      Delete
  35. Part of the issue with Francis is the media. While he sure isn't a clear speaker and the weird things he's said are real, people are also too eager to take the media's out of context words about him and simply believe them (and I'm including Catholic Media as well as Mainstream Media in that). For instance, did you know he's publicly stated that gay men should not become priests? You certainly wouldn't ever hear that in the media. Personally, I prefer to pray about it, trust in God, and then tune out and stop listening to news about stuff like this. It does wonders for my nerves. Besides, everything I've worried about in the past has turned out fine (huh, it's almost as if God is in control or something).

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  36. Very good post. I've seem a certain sorta-heretic from here defending the position before, and a few right-wingers here seem to be close to the position thanks to the example of a certain philosopher who recently died. The rejection of pope Francis seems mostly thanks to his supposed socialism that any type of trad complain, though.

    I had not thought much deeply about the position before and i must say: it seems to suck. I had not thought of these objections to it.

    But i may ask: why not just ask Pope Benedict? I suppose that some of these more influential catholics could do it, perhaps united. If you do think that the guy is still pope, why not talk with him? Even if there is a conspiracy there then you could still get a few hints from him.

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    1. Good idea. Go ahead and make an appointment and ask him.

      Oh, wait, it's not that easy, is it? I don't know the details, but apparently Pope Francis got pretty hot under the collar when the Vatican bureaucracy tried to say, only slightly obliquely, that Benedict had approved some theologian's work, and Benedict came out after and repudiated it. Was that around 2017 or so? Anyway, apparently after that the Francine apparatus has tried to control Benedict's public presence to some degree or other, at least that's what I have heard.

      And then there are comments he has made where he was quoted saying "The Pope is one, it is Francis" but it turns out that the "it is Francis" was added by the newspaper who quoted him. This added second clause is, for any honest inquirer, only a gloss that adds very little, because the context can only be taken to mean "and it is Francis".

      The underlying problem seems to be (I am extrapolating here) that Benedict is too wrapped up in this notion of some kind of extended or "spiritual" arm of papal relationship that continues to apply to apply to him so that he remains some kind of a mystical papal figure, not with any authority but with with a sort of spiritual fatherhood he continues to have for the whole Church here on Earth. And because of this, he is unwilling (again, I am guessing) to give up on ALL of the trappings of a papal aspect, even the accidental ones that are entirely optional - wearing white, going by "pope emeritus", and so on. He thus incidentally gives continuing energy to the theory that sprung forth with the Ganswein comments, that he thinks the papacy can be distinguished into 2 parts with 2 men holding it, even if he doesn't hold that theory at all.

      He could have defeated the whole theory by - from the days after Francis was elected - asked to become incardinated to the diocese in which he had been bishop (Munich), and gone to live in a monastery there under the oversight of the current Munich bishop, given up papal white, and asked to be called bishop emeritus instead (a title that is already provided for in canon law and practice, to which he is clearly entitled, which holds no papal significance or concerns). And not claimed some kind of spiritual or mystical ongoing "papal" connection to the whole Church. But even if he did that now, he probably would dispel the theory that cooked up in the light of his ambiguous comments (and Ganswein's). Now the only thing that would dispel them would be his saying explicitly "I am IN NO WAY the pope, in no sense, in no aspect, in no degree, part, element, or facet. By my resignation I intended to renounce every facet, every aspect, every part and every element of the papacy and of the bishopric of Rome, its office, is ministry, and its munus, all together and utterly, in every sense." But I doubt he will do so - not because he secretly wants to still be the pope, but because he (not secretly) thinks things that - to us simple folk - just plain muddle the issues.

      Delete
    2. Yea, Tony, i agree that Pope Benedict did make things a bit confusing and i did not know that he was hard to contact today, i assumed that he was silent mostly thanks to wanting to rest. Thanks for the informations.

      Tought situation indeed.

      Delete
  37. Many happy returns Dr Feser. Good post on your birthday twin Benedict XVI.

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  38. Totally unrelated and off-topic, but... Happy birthday Profesor Feser (that Wikipedia thing can not keep a secret!)

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  39. So Feser, bit selective about which off topic posts we reject arn't we? Why are you censoring Papilinton now? Your birthday is clearly far more important though.

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    1. I should ignore this, but since you asked, Papalinton hasn't posted anything in a long time. No idea why.

      And the reason I allowed those posts to stand is that it seemed churlish simply to delete what were nothing more than kind personal wishes (as opposed to something that might totally derail the discussion).

      I can see why a churl wouldn't understand that, though.

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  40. Brave and Valiant Culture Warrior:-
    We should aggressively resist the attempts at mass formation psychosis that have been inflicted upon us by the mainstream media.
    Also Brave and Valiant Culture Warrior:-
    @P_BenedictXVI was aged, weakened, & surrounded by mortal enemies (still is); he expertly designed a resignation minus a proper object; for the last 9 years, has been communicating in what
    @CionciAndrea
    calls "the Ratzinger Code."

    It always amuses me how the phrase "The *insert any name* code"
    always seems to capture the attention and ascent ot the masses.

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  41. This whole thread is futile, but the original post by Dr. Feser, is the height of futility.

    You have a wonderfully incisive, disciplined mind, Dr. Feser, but when you assert that Bergoglio's many contradictions to the Faith (including his despicable idol worship in the heart of the Vatican, which you do not mention) all "fall into the category of possible papal error", then you've lost it. You've fallen into the Jimmy Akin category.

    You're an interesting instance of how high intellect can be coupled with gross error . . . a bit like Stephen Hawking.

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  42. A Happy and Blessed Easter to all. I am surprised no one has said that yet.

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    1. Yes, I am surprised and bothered that some of the regular bloggers here who are avowed Christians did not publicly extend Easter greetings, but instead on Easter Sunday,just posted their comments on Benevacantism. And yes, I'm sure the regulars attended church, but still, why was I the only person to even acknowledge that Sunday was Easter Sunday?

      Delete
    2. To be fair, when i got to the blog after you posted it was already monday here. I could still proclaim that it was Easter but that would involve agreeing with the american hour instead of my own. Yea, naa.

      Now that you say it, it is quite strange. Dr. Feser did acknowledge it on Twitter, so there is that.

      Delete
    3. where are you from, Talmid?

      Delete
    4. Good and old Brazil. Our Terra de Santa Cruz is not exactly the most pious place(there are exceptions, of course, ainda bem), but i would not commemorate Easter after it ended* here.


      *it is still going own, of course, Easter still lasts quite some time

      Delete
  43. The fact remains that the voluntary resignation of any bishop from his see is irregular and scandalous. The ideal is that a bishop dies in his chair, wedded to his diocese for life. Nothing Francis has done or said come close to the injury perpetuated on the Church by Benedict for resigning.

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    1. I think that the new (ish) rule that bishops must tender their resignation at age 75 is truly an awful rule, and should be done away with: there are WAY too many men capable of ruling a diocese after age 75 (who were capable of ruling at all, that is) to make it the right age EVEN IF a top age were appropriate.

      I tend to agree that a bishop dying "in harness" is more-or-less the ideal. But as our old-age medical practices have improved, we have extended the foreseeable length of time an old person is likely to be alive but not sufficiently composed of mind to rule a diocese - where they would in effect be a mere figurehead behind whom someone else makes all the significant decisions. That's got to be even worse than resigning. Or the prospect that there ISN'T a "power behind the throne" (well, bishop's seat), and the bishop's (no longer mindful) decisions go on damaging the diocese for years and years.

      I don't have a good solution to offer, but here's one I think is plausible: the bishop at age 75 appoints a board of 5 people who interact with him on a regular basis, and who can, by a vote of at least 4 of them, (a strong super-majority) inform the pope "our bishop is no longer mentally competent for the responsibilities of running a diocese". Since the bishop appoints them himself, he knows that they will have his interests at heart.

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  44. I must retract, or at least qualify, my blunt characterizations of BXVI's "resignation" as the act of a coward.

    There may be things that I'm not aware of that compelled that bizarre act. It's even possible that his act, which seems to be cowardly, was in fact an act of courage. We will only know at the General Judgment, when everything will be revealed.

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  45. I know that this thread is winding down, but I am going to add this anyway. It struck me from the beginning that Prof. Feser's comment

    It is scandalous insofar as those promoting it are leading Catholics into the grave sin of schism, i.e. refusing due submission to the Roman Pontiff, who (like it or not) is in fact Francis.

    might be a little over-the-top, but I had not quite put my finger on it. Now I have: it is indeed a schismatic act to separate yourself from communion with the Church, or from the pope who is the sign of unity of that Church. But, like with heresy, a person can fall into this failing either materially or formally. With heresy, you are a material heretic if you hold to a thesis that is contrary to what the Church teaches, while not KNOWING that it is contrary to what the Church teaches. You have not committed the sin of heresy if the manner in which you hold it is such that you give it up and reverse yourself upon discovering that the Church teaches the opposite.

    Similarly, a person can be materially out of communion with the pope if he is materially in error about who the pope is, but is "in communion" with the wrong guy, whom he believes is the pope. This happened IN FACT during a time we had 2 claimants to the papacy, where different saints held for different claimants. We don't need to have settled which one was the real pope to know that ONE of the saints was materially in error. Yet we do not assert that that saint was "in schism" from the Church, for they were in communion with the man they thought was the pope.

    That said, there would have to be sufficient basis for a judgment that "X is the pope" that a person could make such a judgment and not be morally deficient about it, and so be free of all blame. So, people could not claim that the guy who is the self-proclaimed "Pope Michael" is the pope without fault. And that's where the rest of Feser's comments come in: the evidence is inadequate for making such a judgment against Francis and for Benedict. But it is feasible that somebody who has more knowledge of facts than we have, could, at least in theory, have enough in hand to constitute a sufficient basis at least to place the judgment for Francis in doubt. In such a case, their TRYING to make the case more public would not necessarily be a schismatic act in the formal sense. It might be imprudent, possibly even gravely so, but that's a different problem.

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  46. Without any motivation other than seeking the Truth of the matter, I find there to be merit enough in the arguments over the resignation of Pope Benedict to be examined by church authorities. One can say it's pointless. But is Truth ever pointless? I'm just a little guy. No big degree. I am a nobody. But I do find Benedict's resignation, from the wording of ministry or office to the projected date of his resignation, (it's odd that he announced the date of it in the future, has not he resigned when one decided to do so, and announced it, if you are really doing so. This isn't a political office.), to this being the first time in 2000 years a pope resigned yet stuck around, and still dresses as a pope, and still is called pope, and is still called by his papal name, and still gives papal blessings, and still has his ring, and still lives in Rome. All of these are firsts. By their fruits you shall know them. My sheep know me. My sheep hear my voice and know me. Everything in the church has to follow form and matter. Law is important. Facts are important. Intent is important. But all must work together. Priests had intent to Baptize but used wrong form, so it was invalid. It violated the theology of the Sacrament. Is Benedict's theology wrong on the papacy and his resignation? Just seeking the Truth of the matter based upon fact. I think it (they) are legitimate question(s). Is it wrong for a little one to ask such a question and expect the CHURCH to answer these questions directly? I am not saying anything one way or the other. But I think there are enough issues to at least expect it to be examined by the Church and let the chips fall where they may. Back in the day Saints argued over who the pope was. Did that make them evil or bad, or nuts? Some saints were wrong but they still were saints.

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  47. It all goes to back to what does it mean to manifest something? Don't the people who one is shepherd to matter when it comes to manifesting something? Can you manifest something in secret? I see two men dressed in white, wearing the ring of the fishermen, called pope in one form or another, giving blessings, in the Vatican at the same time. This is a manifestation. Of what I am not sure. Two different types of being pope? This needs cleared up. Benedict is manifesting something, but the sheep like me are not sure what that is. Don't we who being shepherd have a right to know and understand this?? Are my questions causing scandal? I am not the one who created this confusion. So how I am causing division and scandal when something is being manifested yet it is not clear.

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  48. Prof. Feser's refutation of benevacantist theory (1 and 2) is right, but incomplete. There are more 'benedict is still pope' theories: two popes theory and plan B.
    This is a summary:
    -Theory 1: Benedict didn’t really intend to resign and decided to give the ministerium to Bergoglio: absurd.
    -Theory 2: Benedict did intend to resign, but failed. He is pope unknowingly and he recognizes Bergoglio (antipope) as pope: absurd.

    -Theory 3: there are two real popes, one is active (munus + ministerium) and one is contemplative, 'emeritus' (munus only), see Cavalcoli and Socci): absurd.

    -Theory 4: Plan B. Benedict is still pope. The Declaratio is not an abdication, nor a failed abdication (error), but a declaration of Sede Impedita. Bergoglio is an antipope. This is the only consistent benevacantist theory and explains many weird things about the 'pope emeritus'.
    (see --> https://www.patrickcoffin.media/reply-to-edward-feser/ )

    If plan B is false, the conclusion is not that Bergoglio is the pope, but the sede vacante, because a non-catholic pope can't exist.
    Various arguments supporting the 'non-catholic pope theory' (pastoral error; ambiguity; private theologian; universalis ecclesiae adhaesio; a pope can teach heresy or other religions outside ex cathedra) are used as sophisms or do not apply to Bergoglio, because his errors are more severe and manifest than previous popes. For example: the intronization of a pagan idol in St. Peter.

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