Thursday, May 5, 2022

Benedict is not the pope: A reply to some critics

Patrick Coffin has posted an open letter by Italian writer Andrea Cionci, replying to my recent article criticizing Benevacantism.  What follows is a response.  In his introduction to the letter, Patrick objects to my use of the label “Benevacantism,” calling it a “nonsensical devil term”(!)  I can understand why he doesn’t like the word, because it is an odd one and doesn’t really make much sense.  But I didn’t come up with it.  I had to use some label to refer to the view, and chose “Benevacantism” simply because it seemed to be the one most widely used.  But Patrick prefers the label “Benedict is Pope” or “BiP” for short, so in what follows I’ll go along with that.

In addition, Patrick says: “Feser also tweeted a seven-point criticism of my evidence VIDEO that Pope Benedict XVI is still the true Pontiff of the Catholic Church.  Which I answered, point by point.”  I don’t know why Patrick would make such a bizarre claim, but whatever the reason, it isn’t true.  I have written nothing, on Twitter or anywhere else, about his video.  All I did on Twitter was object to his false and gratuitous accusation that Catholic World Report and I were acting out of a financial motivation.  And since I never wrote any “seven-point criticism” of his video, Patrick naturally could not have written a “point by point” response to it.  Perhaps he has me confused with someone else?

The “emeritus” red herring

Anyway, let’s move on to Cionci’s reply.  He opens with what he presents as merely a secondary argument in favor of the BiP position, even acknowledging that it is “very trivial.”  That’s a good thing, because the argument is extremely weak indeed, even if some BiP advocates (like Patrick in his video) try to make hay out of it.  Cionci writes:

If Pope Benedict had really wanted to abdicate, as the official narrative would [sic] – given the discretion, modesty, and correctness of the man – he certainly would not have made all those messes: to remain with the pontifical name, dressed in white, in the Vatican, under a canonically non-existent papacy emeritus. What good is it? Out of vanity? For the sake of throwing a billion or more faithful into confusion?

End quote.  To see what is wrong with this, consider that if I were to retire and then take the title “Professor Emeritus,” no one would think: “Gee, this is confusing!  Is he really retiring or not?”  And they would not think this even if I asked people to continue calling me “Professor Feser,” wore a tweed jacket, kept hanging around campus, kept writing books, etc.  A “Professor Emeritus” is not some unusual kind of professor, but rather a former professor.  The title is honorific and implies no continuing status as a faculty member.  Everyone knows this, of course. 

But the same thing is true of the title “Pope Emeritus.”  A “Pope Emeritus” is not an unusual kind of pope, but rather a kind of former pope.  That’s all.  And the continued use of the papal name, the white garments, living in the Vatican, etc. are analogous to a former professor’s still being called “Professor,” still coming to campus from time to time, etc. 

Hence the facts cited by Cionci and other BiP advocates are no evidence at all for the BiP thesis, not even “very trivial” evidence.  Indeed, they constitute powerful evidence against the thesis.  If you were wondering whether someone was still a professor, and then you heard that he has taken the title “Professor Emeritus,” you would hardly conclude from that that he is still a professor.  On the contrary, you would conclude that he must not be.  Why would he call himself “Emeritus” if he was?  In the same way, the fact that Benedict calls himself “Pope Emeritus” is, all by itself, compelling evidence that he is not the pope, and that he “really wanted to abdicate,” to use Cionci’s words.  Cionci speaks of the “confusion” that the “Pope Emeritus” title and other papal trappings have caused, but the only confusion here is on the side of the BiP advocates.  Everyone else realizes that “Benedict is Pope Emeritus” logically entails “Benedict is not the pope.” 

Much ado about “munus”

Cionci’s main argument, though, is the business about the purportedly momentous distinction between “munus” and “ministerium” that BiP advocates are always on about, as I noted in my previous article.  To be sure, he appeals to more than just this distinction.  Indeed, there is much (frankly bizarre) heavy going about the allegedly grave significance of the precise moment of Benedict’s post-resignation helicopter ride, of the “ancient papal time system” (whatever that is), of “German dynastic law,” of the “German Carnival Monday” celebration, of St. Malachi’s prophecy, of whether the phrase “Supreme Pontiff” is written in caps, and other esoterica and minutiae.  And we are told that we must discern, between the lines of official statements, what Benedict is subtly trying to convey to us through a “communicative system” that Cionci calls the “Ratzinger Code.”  All of this has been pieced together by Cionci by collating “the contribution of numerous specialists: theologians, Latinists, canonists, psychologists, linguists, historians etc.” 

Hence, despite Cionci’s insistence that Benedict would never want to cause “messes” or “confusion,” he still somehow concludes that the Pope Emeritus signals his true meaning to the faithful only through the painstaking efforts, over many years, of a diverse group of independently operating scholars, as assembled by and filtered through Italian writers who get Patrick Coffin to post their stuff on his website. 

Because I don’t want to be uncharitable, I don’t want to call all of this nuts.  But I do want to make it clear that that is absolutely the only reason I do not want to call it that.

In any event, it is still the munus/ministerium distinction that is doing the heavy lifting, so (mercifully) we can just focus on that and leave “Ratzinger Code” adepts to their labors.  Here it is useful to bring to bear a recent exchange at Matt Briggs’ website between Fr. John Rickert, a critic of the BiP theory, and historian Edmund Mazza, a prominent defender of the theory.  It must be said at the outset, in fairness to Prof. Mazza, that he is a much more sober-minded advocate of the view than the folks I’ve been talking about so far in this post.  All the same, Fr. Rickert decisively refutes Mazza’s position, and in particular the arguments based on the munus/ministerium distinction.

Recall that the distinction is that between the office of the papacy (which is what “munus” is said to connote) and the active exercise of the powers of the office (which is what “ministerium” is said to convey).  BiP theorists like Mazza try to make a big deal out of the fact that in the declaration of his resignation, Benedict referred at first to the “munus” of the papacy, but then goes on to say that he is renouncing the “ministerio” of the bishop of Rome.  What this means, they claim, is that he gave up only the active exercise of the office of the papacy, but not the office itself.

To see what is wrong with this, imagine that Joe Biden read a statement wherein he first referred to the “presidency” and then a little later on said he was resigning as “chief executive” of the government of the United States.  Would you think: “Hmm, it seems that he might be giving up only the active exercise of the presidency, but not the presidency itself!  Would we be faced with the puzzle of whether it is still really Biden rather than Kamala Harris who is now president?  Of course not, because everyone knows that to speak of the “presidency” and to talk about being “chief executive” of the U.S. government are two ways of saying the same thing.  There would be absolutely no significance to the use of different terms at the beginning of the statement and the end of it.

But the same thing is true of Benedict’s statement.  For as Fr. Rickert emphasizes, “munus” and “ministerium” too can mean the same thing.  Indeed, Mazza and Cionci themselves admit that it can mean the same thing.  They admit that it is only context, and not the words considered in isolation, that can tell us whether the speaker means to use them in different senses.  So what is the relevant context in this case?

Mazza answers by trying to tease out significance from something Benedict said in an interview years after resigning, and something else he said in a book years before becoming pope.  Cionci answers by appealing to the “Ratzinger Code” exotica referred to above.  What they ignore is what most readers might naturally suppose to be the most important bit of context – namely, what else he said in the course of declaring his resignation. 

Fr. Rickert, however, does not ignore this.  He notes that Benedict stated at the time that “the See of St. Peter will be vacant… and a Conclave for electing a new Pope…must be called.”  That shows that he believed himself to be renouncing precisely the office of the papacy itself, and not merely its active exercise.  In reply to Mazza, Fr. Rickert also points out that in the very title of his declaration of his resignation, Benedict speaks of the munus in the genitive singular, and of its “abdication,” or disowning of the office in an unequivocal sense.  Mazza himself quotes Benedict’s statement that he has given up “the power of the office for the government of the Church.”  And as Fr. Rickert notes, in canon law the office of the papacy and the right to exercise its powers go hand in hand.  To give up the latter entails giving up the former. 

Hence the immediate context of Benedict’s use of “munus” and “ministerium” makes it crystal clear that he meant to use them as synonyms.  Nor, of course, did he say anything whatsoever at the time to indicate otherwise.  It is only later on that people started trying to tease out some remarkable, hidden significance to the use of the two terms.

I think it is worth adding that, as anyone who has read his work knows, Benedict does not write like a Thomisic philosopher or canon lawyer, but has a more literary style.  Hence, where a dry, plodding Scholastic (like me) might just repeat “pope” or “papacy” several times in a single paragraph, Benedict prefers to mix it up with more colorful phrases like “Petrine ministry.”  It is fallacious to infer some hidden meaning lurking behind what are really nothing more than stylistic flourishes.

The (unmeetable) burden of proof

Amazingly, in what purports to be a reply to my article, neither Cionci nor Patrick say a single thing in response to the arguments I gave there!  In particular, they have nothing to say about what I argued are the theologically catastrophic implications of the BiP position, which are far worse than the problems with Francis’s pontificate (which BiP advocates delude themselves into thinking they are solving by claiming Francis to be an antipope).  They simply rehash standard BiP talking points (and, in Patrick’s case, he repeats the third-rate debater’s trick of insinuating that I have some financial motivation).

This illustrates the unseriousness of much BiP argumentation.  But the unseriousness is not merely intellectual.  It is moral.  For a Catholic publicly to accuse a sitting pope of being an antipope is not merely to entertain some eccentric theological opinion.  It is (if the accusation is false) potentially to lead fellow Catholics into the grave sin of schism.  Moreover, the very foundations of the day-to-day governance of the Church – the binding force of papal directives, the validity of ordinations (and thus of the sacraments), and so on – depend on knowing who the pope really is.  The BiP thesis calls all of that into question.  Canon law famously declares that marriages are presumed valid unless proved invalid.  This makes sense given how much in the lives of men, women, and children rides on being able to know that one is validly married.  How much more must a papal resignation be presumed valid, when the basic governance of the entire Church rides on it?

Nor, if such a resignation were invalid, do laymen have any business proclaiming it such – say, by confidently declaring from their Twitter accounts that we have a “fake pope,” on the grounds that some academic one has interviewed for one’s podcast has said so.  Even if there were a serious case for the BiP position (which, as we have seen, there is not), it is for the Church alone to decide the matter. 

But even this is merely academic.  For it’s not just that the burden of proof is on BiP advocates, and not on their critics.  It’s not just that it is for the Church, and not for BiP advocates, to settle the question.  An even more fundamental problem for the BiP position is that the matter has already been settled.  The relevant jury is not still out on this.  It came in with its verdict years ago.  The matter was settled when Francis was elected and the Church (including Francis’s predecessor Benedict himself, and including Catholics who were not happy with the results) accepted that he was pope. 

Now, as I and others have shown, the arguments claiming to establish the invalidity of Benedict’s resignation are no good.  And as canon lawyers like Ed Peters have shown, the arguments claiming to establish that Francis’s election was invalid are also no good.  But these are not the considerations I primarily have in mind here.  For even apart from the specifics of those debates, and a priori, we can know from the very nature of the papal office that the BiP position is simply a non-starter.  The reason is that, for the Church as a whole corporate body to accept as pope a man who is not in fact the pope would be contrary to her indefectibility, and thus contrary to Christ’s promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against her.  This is just standard, traditional Catholic theology.  (Robert Siscoe provides a useful overview of the main points here and here.)  Hence the morally unanimous acceptance of Francis as pope in the years immediately following his election is by itself enough to ensure that he really is pope.

As Aquinas observes, though schism is distinct from heresy, they are closely related.  Quoting St. Jerome, he notes that “there is no schism that does not devise some heresy for itself, that it may appear to have had a reason for separating from the Church.”  In the present case, though denying that Francis is pope is not itself heretical, it does presuppose the doctrinally erroneous proposition that the Church can err even when morally unanimous in accepting a man as pope.

Hence, though some of them mean well and are understandably anxious about the state of the Church, those peddling the BiP position are on extremely dangerous ground, doctrinally and spiritually.  It is not only a gigantic time-waster (which would be bad enough when the Church and the world are faced with serious problems as it is), but something much worse.


  1. While I agree with you that Benedict XVI is not the pope, I don't believe universal acceptance proves that Francis is the pope, because Francis is not being accepted in the relevant sense.

    Billot says that the whole Church cannot adhere to a false pope, because this would mean she is adhering to a false living rule of Faith.

    But in the case of Francis, the Church ISN'T adhering to him as her living rule of Faith - therefore, the argument falls.

    1. "But in the case of Francis, the Church ISN'T adhering to him as her living rule of Faith"

      As far as I know, the Church at large recognise Francis as the Pope. I know that because he lives in the Vatican City, the Swiss Guard does not bar him from entering nor have they extradited him back to Argentina; he attend meetings and visit churches in Rome as the Pope (Bishop of Rome); he signs Encyclicals that get published by the Church and (the vast majority, at least, of) Cardinals and Bishops recognise him as the Pope, etc.
      In general, he performs all of the activities and responsibilities that a Pope would.

      Now, I might not like him (which I don't) and I may think that he's not one of the best Popes we've had (which I do), but he's still the Pope.

      Can you substantiate the assertion that that's not the case? With facts, not opinions.

    2. Fr. Rickert's articles on this topic from 2017, also on Briggs, apply the canonical provision of Common Error. Moreover, Fr. José Fortea observes that only one body can tell us who the pope is, the Roman College of Cardinals, and they are unanimous.

    3. Sure, everyone CALLS Francis the pope, but hardly anyone is adhering to him as his proximate rule of Faith, which is what would need to be happening for this argument were to work.

      Here are Wilhelm and Scannell on the meaning of the rule of Faith. Notice how it talks about the rule of Faith “promulgating and enforcing” the Faith, extracting a docile Faith in the truths of Revelation, and uniting the Church in perfect unity of Faith.

      Francis and his predecessors haven’t done any of that - in fact, they have done the opposite. Ergo, they have not been the Church’s living rule of Faith, and the universal acceptance argument doesn’t apply.

      “I. THE nature and dignity of the Word of God require that submission to it should not be left to the choice of man, but should be made obligatory. The Church should put it forth in such a way as to bind all her members to adhere to it in common, and with one voice and in all its fulness, as a public and social law.

      II. The Rule of Faith was given to the Church in the very act of Revelation and its promulgation by the Apostles. But for this Rule to have an actual and permanently efficient character, it must be continually promulgated and enforced by the living Apostolate, which must exact from all members of the Church a docile Faith in the truths of Revelation authoritatively proposed, and thus unite the whole body of the Church, teachers and taught, in perfect unity of Faith. Hence the original promulgation is the remote Rule of Faith, and the continuous promulgation by the Teaching Body is the proximate Rule.

      III. The fact that all the members of the Church actually agree in one Faith is the best proof of the efficiency of the Catholic Rule of Faith. This universality is not the Rule of Faith itself but rather its effect. Individual members are indeed bound to conform their belief to that of the whole community, but this universal belief is produced by the action of the Teaching Apostolate, the members of which are in their turn subject to their Chief. Hence the Catholic Rule of Faith may be ultimately reduced to the sovereign teaching authority of the Holy See. This was asserted long ago in the Creed drawn up by Pope Hormisdas: “Wherefore following in all things the Apostolic See and upholding all its decrees, I hope that it may be mine to be with you in the one communion taught by the Apostolic See, in which is the true and complete solidity of the Christian Religion ; and I promise also not to mention in the Holy Mysteries the names of those who have been excommunicated from the Catholic Church — that is, those who agree not with the Apostolic See.””

      Source: Joseph Wilhelm, D.D., PHD. And Thomas B. Scannell, D.D.
      With A Preface By Cardinal Manning

      Vol. 1. The Sources Of Theological Knowledge, God, Creation And The Supernatural Order
      Third Edition, Revised, London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Lt.
      New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, Benziger Bros.
      [Pp. 85-110]

    4. Miguel CervantesMay 7, 2022 at 6:14 AM

      The universal recognition of Pope Francis is the sign, not the cause of his legitimacy, which was his election by the clergy of Rome, his cardinals. Please don't quibble your way out of the Church. There are already some who think they are traditional Catholics that have made it out into outer darkness, while Pope Francis remains the sign of Catholic unity, for all his faults.

    5. Catholicism isnt a democracy, so the Pope does not need universal acceptance by the lay people or the clergy below the cardinals (or cardinals after the election) to be Pope.

    6. This is unfortunate but true.
      There is no recourse from the first See. No one has the right to appeal decisions of the first See. Essentially the pope.can do whatever he wants. Mt 16:18 does not.mention this. The papacy as it has "developed" is contrary to the Gospels and Tradition.

  2. Chicken of bristolMay 5, 2022 at 5:10 PM

    I motion that "benevacantists" and BiP advocates to be henceforth known as "Bippers." All in favor?

    1. sorry! Beat you to it. :-)

      Coined "BiP" and "BiP-ers"

  3. Catholic dioceses often have retired bishops hanging around. A retired bishop is called a "bishop emeritus". Those bishops hanging around, saying masses, preaching and being involved in the community do not seem to create any confusion or uncertainty.

  4. I read the Ratzinger Code article before I read this post, and it just strikes me as very odd. The validity of Pope Francis is not in dispute with me, so this observation of the oddity of the "code" is not in any way to contemplate them as if they were valid alternatives but just observing their strangeness.

    It strikes me as a kind of gnostic heresy. Who in the history of the Church has ever communicated in such a way? God does not communicate to us in ways that are confusing or hard to understand. All the prophets, Moses, Abraham, none of them were given hidden coded instructions from God. It is just not how God does things. If He wants us in a certain place at a certain time He will smack us in the face with it such that there is no avoiding it. Look at Jonah!

    Do we believe the Church was instituted by God or not?

  5. It’s so strange and ridiculous that you even have to spend energy writing something like this. Sadly, it lends credence to the notion in the current pontificate that the Traditional community is in dire need of pastoral correction.

  6. Nice Post Professor Feser! Very charitable! And it lays out the crucial points bare for everyone to see especially the moral aspect. The "Prof Feser" part was kinda funny. It gives the impression that there is someone out there who is waiting for you to retire and was going on like "Finally I can call him Mr Feser and Not Prof Feser" and then you come along and request to be called Professor and that person goes like "Crap, I was so close". Also your writings aren't dry! Your, humour ,love for thomism and efforts to bring it to bear on issues like the Ship of Theseus and Time Travel, make your writings anything but dry. Infact you could be called "The Wet Thomist":)

    1. While Cionci's remarks are outlandish and largely empty, Feser could have responded better about the "Emeritus" issue.

      And they would not think this even if I asked people to continue calling me “Professor Feser,” wore a tweed jacket, kept hanging around campus, kept writing books, etc. A “Professor Emeritus” is not some unusual kind of professor, but rather a former professor.

      The problem is that "Emeritus" is not normally something that "I ask people to continue calling me", it is normally a title conferred by someone else, either an official of the organization, or by society itself as a customary title of respect. It is in being conferred by someone else that it carries the notion of respect. It's connotation is that "we would have like this person to continue in his office, but recognize his need to be released from his normal work." It also frequently carries a connotation of "and he may be called back for individual acts for assistance and support on an ad hoc basis". This latter implies that he retains some live relationship with the organization, even if not formally defined. Attorneys sometimes retain a title of "counsel emeritus". Professors do. And a few others. Bishops who are the ordinary of a diocese and who then retire from being the ordinary are accorded the title of "bishop emeritus", but there are limits to that (see below).

      This is almost, but not quite the same thing as the courtesy title that is culturally allowed in informal settings for political leaders in our country such as governors, senators and presidents: All of the currently former presidents are accorded the same courtesy, and they all USE that courtesy, informally. They are quite typically introduced as "President Clinton" and "President Bush", not always as "former President Clinton" etc. This courtesy title is used even when the former office-holder was ousted from office by vote, rather than by voluntary retirement, and this notes a distinction from the "emeritus" title.

      For former bishops who were the ordinary of a diocese, there seems to be a difficulty if the bishop was ousted by removal (by the pope), for the term "emeritus" CLEARLY denotes a situation of merit, and being ousted for malfeasance is obviously a situation of demerit. Canon law does not seem to speak to this explicitly but I suspect that nobody would think that an ousted bishop can run with the title "bishop emeritus of X" when he was kicked out of X. Note that the "of X" is an essential aspect of being a bishop emeritus, because (a) a bishop, once consecrated, is ALWAYS a bishop no matter what, he doesn't cease to be that, and (b) if a bishop had been appointed to X, and then was transferred to be the ordinary of Y, and then to Z (like the current bishop of Chicago), I don't think he can call himself "the bishop emeritus of X" anymore. It is, precisely, the resigning in good standing for permanent age/health reasons, not "moving on to better assignments" that elicits the meritorious distinction in "emeritus". And, by the way, the bishop emeritus (unless some other arrangement is made) remains incardinated to the city of which he is now the emeritus bishop, which means (i) he has a right to be supported by it, and (ii) he is under the authority of the new ordinary bishop of X.

      While this would seem to explain Benedict remaining in the Vatican, that's too facile: he could easily have arranged to become incardinated to any diocese, such as his former diocese, and lived there, if he had thought of it. Also, while "pope emeritus" is a logical extension (of the canon about emeritus bishops) of his resigning the papacy for age/health reasons, it would ALSO have been logical for him to take the title "Bishop Emeritus of Rome", since that what the canon provides, and since it is BY being the bishop of Rome that he became the pope.

    2. Why waste all this time on a few weirdos who need to make money for their "ministries". Patrick should keep to magic tricks, Marshall to his conspiracy theories and all the other Bippers spend this wasted time in prayer and good works.
      Enough, why should time be wasted on invincible ignorance?
      All these "Catholic apologists" are actually out to make money for their crazy causes and half baked theology at the expense of gullible Catholics.

    3. Marshall is not a BiP adherent.

  7. The article you linked to by Robert Siscoe was for me decisive, especially the Q&A he included in part II.

  8. Dr. Feser, thank you taking the time from what must be a very busy schedule to respond to these inane arguments. That Francis is the pope, however terribly and obviously defective his reign has been, is evident to anyone with eyes to see. Yet claims to the contrary, foolish and dangerous, must be challenged in a reasoned way, if only to prevent some of the faithful from falling into schism.

  9. Let us for the sake of argument say Francis is in his heart of hearts a devil and should nor be Pope(for the sake of argument. A thought experiment. I make no accusation against the successor to Peter.). Schism is intrinsically evil and all the Church Fathers with one voice say there is no excuse for Schism even upon the admission the Church is now being ruled by wicked and sinful men. So what is to be gained here promoting Bip nonsense? Yer not gonna get rid of Pope Francis and if ye cause schism by denying he is Pope then assuming the Pope is a devil in his heart you risk going to the same Hell as himself. Then ye will never be rid of him. Better ye should accept Francis is Pope and pray his reign ends either by him resigning or if ye pray fur his death at least do so with the intention that is nor come about unless the Holy Father dies in a state of grace(note I don't presume upon his salvation. Only God is fit to judge). God's Providence always protects the Church with St Pius V or St Pius X or Pope St John Paul II or Benedict XVI or Francis or even freaking Alexander VI.

    Stop havering ye Bib Yobs. Yer bum's oot the windie. Dinny make me go the full Scottish. I am nor in the mood.

    Cheers all.

  10. Mr. Feser, Great article. I recently wrote an article on the "Ratzinger Code" here, and critiqued an example of Mr. Cionci's use of it.


    Bizarre stuff.

    Steve O'Reilly

    1. Thanks, Steven, I've just been reading through some of your articles on this. Good stuff.

  11. Here is an easy refutation. I once said to a pious Baptist while I was debating him on the Real Presence & the Eucharist "If Jesus himself told ya 'this is my Body' was meant to be taken literally would you believe him?". He replied "Well of course! Jesus is the interpreter of His own words.".

    Checkmate! Benedict has said Francis is the Pope. Ergo he intended to resign his office. Reading yer own dosh into his words falls in the face of his own clarifications. Benedict is the interpreter of his own words and he has said Francis is Pope. If ye believe otherwise ye nor being rational.

    Sorry but this dosh is wrong.

    1. Not to derail the discussion, but the copula “is” is ambiguous: it often does, but need not, signify that X & Y, when joined by it, are ontologically identical. “Is” can be a slippery word, because it is equivocal. We need no President Clinton to tell us this.

  12. Dr. Feser,
    With all due respect, this is much ado about nothing.. Sunday is Mother's Day. I wish your wife a Happy Mother's Day. I just placed flowers on the grave of my saintly mother.

    1. With all due respect, this is much ado about nothing

      You know that and I know that, but unfortunately, this idea seems to be spreading like a kind of mind virus in certain Catholic circles. Hence it seems to me worth commenting on. Anyway, thanks for the good wishes.

  13. This salvo misses the mark.

    Emeritus is a term referring to a bishop that no longer exercises his office but is STILL BISHOP. It’s not academia. It cannot apply to a pope because the only difference between a pope and a bishop is his jurisdication: a pope without jurisdiction is merely a bishop (or bishop emeritus). Benedict and John Paul II had discussed this long ago and agreed there can be no such thing as an emeritus pope. He knew better. The question was settled. Why then did Benedict choose this title? Was it to reflect the reality as he wrote his friend, Cardinal Brandmuller?

    No, Benedict does not write like a Thomist or canonist. However, he did distinguish ministerium and munus himself, in his style. Just look to that. He is precise in his language and it’s evident not only in his Declaratio but all his subsequent acts and choices, as he wrote to Cardinal Brandmuller. He was extremely precise in all he did; it is his way. Moreover, since the “resignation” Benedict has repeatedly commented on how precisely he has done just what he has done and not what, say, Celestine V did (though he did place his pallium on Celestine’s grave years ago). If Benedict’s distinction is “crystal clear”, Feser offers no proof and seems to resort to Special Pleading, whereas it’s clear (though not “crystal clear”) to me that he makes a distinction within the Declaratio itself between the two. This is to say nothing of the distinction maintained in canon law.

    Feser references Siscoe’s argument on “dogmatic fact” which does NOT apply to a resignation (only an election). A true red herring: which is the entire argument of the host of SSPX mouthpieces. A resignation need not be accepted by anyone. True. However, a non resignation cannot be accepted by anyone. An election falls under a dogmatic fact if accepted by all, not a resignation. Before that Feser invokes matrimony as an example, and that is appropriate. If afterwards we find that one party did not say the words (Benedict did not say “resigno” merely “declaro me resignare) or intend the essentials, it is null.

    As to laymen having no authority to say anything, that too is untrue. Every baptized Catholic has less a right than a duty to adhere to the true pope. If all the hierarchy have lost their tongue or mind or Faith, we can look to many precedents in history where laymen saints spoke up and not in a mere whisper. Indeed Catherine of Sienna is one such, but there are other examples too.

    Feser misapplies schism and heresy here since Aquinas is not speaking of those many times the Church has had schism with a true pope and an antipope, which until now did never involved heresy.

    But the RESOUNDING error of Feser, as with all who deprecate and cast out of hand the possibility of an invalid resignation, is the fallacy of Special Pleading. Thus he says, there is “no evidence at all for the BiP thesis, not even “very trivial” evidence.” Balderdash: caeci caecos ducentes. He provides himself "evidence": had Ganswein not said what he said, many would never have noticed. Had Benedict simply said "resigno" or set aside the white or stopped giving Apostolic blessings and signing as the pope, there would be no debate. Certainly, I would never have been able to conclude as I do, except for what is overwhelming evidence, ignored. It would never have occurred to me. I had no horse in this race before I read insane articles from Rome about a papal diarchy and then read the Declaration in the Latin myself, with all its errors and ambiguities.

    1. Well said John R. The professor needs to reply to this.

    2. You make Benedict out to be worse than Francis through all this (that he would lead to a literal schism, casting souls into uncertainty and lying about who the true Vicar of Christ on earth is), but still want to claim him pope. Good luck with that.

    3. A Pope with jurisdiction is also "merely" a bishop - he happens to be bishop of Rome and successor of St. Peter with all that entails. Pope emeritus means Bishop emeritus of Rome. What difficulty is there in that?

    4. Easy refutation to this nonsense by John R.

      >Emeritus is a term referring to a bishop that no longer exercises his office but is STILL BISHOP.

      You are equivocating between the efficacy of the Sacrament of Orders which by definition is always perminant vs the authority a reigning Bishop has over his See. Benedict is still a valid sacramental bishop with the sacramental powers of a Bishop(he could ordain Priest and or Consecrate other Bishops, hear confessions etc). But he has not authority over any Episcopal See. The Pope's powers are connected to the See of Rome. If a Bishop is lawfully deposed from his See he no longer may exercise those powers. The Pope has the power depost any bishop from his See including himself which is what he has done. Benedict is still a Sacramental Bishop but he is no more the Bishop of Rome by the authority of the Bishop of Rome having deposed himself by resigning.

      Prof Feser does not need to reply to this. It is beneath him as it is silly.. Good thing I am here.

      Benedict is no longer Bishop of Rome ergo he is no longer Pope. That he is still sacrementally a Bishop and Priest is trivial and has nothing to do with his office other than it is a prerequisit to take authority.

      Sorry but yer wrong John R. Totally wrong.

    5. If the Archbishop of New York City Resigns he is no longer the reigning Bishop of New York City but he is called the Bishop Emeritus of New York City. He no longer has the authority of the Bishop of New City. The Pope is Bishop of Rome etc.. So calling yerself Pope Emeritus is saying you are the Emeritus Bishop (past bishop) of whatever See you once controlled.

      BIP is nonsense. Benedict has resigned and has openly said Francis is Pope. To believe otherwise ye might as well haver about Flat Earth'ism.

    6. Son of Ya'kov,

      You simply restate and agree with what I said as regards the term emeritus.

    7. John R,

      1. Re: “emeritus,” what I was addressing was the question of whether the act of taking the title “Pope Emeritus,” just by itself, gives at least some evidence that Benedict did not intend to resign (as Cionci claims at the beginning of his article). And my point was that given how the term “emeritus” is used in general, not only would that not follow, but rather it would follow that he did intend to resign. But if you don’t like an appeal to general usage, then consider the term’s use in canon law. Canon 185 says that the title “emeritus” can be given to a person who “loses an office,” such as by resignation. Hence even if we just stick to canon law usage, adopting the “emeritus” title by itself points to the giving up of the office, and away from the keeping of it in some attenuated way.

      2. You are confusing “being extremely precise” with “nitpicking over irrelevant minutiae that no one would think significant unless they were question-beggingly reading things through the BiP lens.”

      3. You miss the point of the Siscoe reference. The question isn’t whether the Church as a whole corporate body accepts a resignation, specifically, or an election, specifically. The question is whether the Church as a whole corporate body accepts a certain man as pope. Resignations and elections per se are of secondary significance. (To forestall irrelevant objections, I’m talking about moral unanimity here. The fact that this or that guy in a combox somewhere never accepted that Francis is pope wouldn’t falsify the claim that Francis was accepted by the Church as a corporate body in the years immediately following his election.)

      4. The rights of laymen end where the competence and power of laymen end, and the very possibility of the Church’s operating as a hierarchical and legal entity presupposes that laymen have no right to settle these matters. It is quite ridiculous to say both that every Catholic must be subject to the Roman Pontiff but also that just any Catholic has the right to determine for himself whether so-and-so really is the Roman Pontiff. The second effectively nullifies the first. This is just common sense and more fundamental than whatever minutiae BiP types want to trot out, the forest that must never be lost for this or that tree (munus this and munus that, the fact that Benedict wears white, etc.).

      5. You claim that I said that there is “no evidence at all for the BiP thesis, not even ‘very trivial’ evidence.” That is not what I said. As anyone can easily verify by scrolling up and re-reading the beginning of my article, what I was referring to there was, specifically, the evidence that Cionci himself characterized as “very tirivial” in the paragraph I quote from the beginning of his own article (viz. the fact that Benedict dresses in white, calls himself “Pope Emeritus,” still lives in the Vatican, etc.). It is that, specifically, that I was saying provided “no evidence at all for the BiP thesis, not even ‘very trivial’ evidence.” I wasn’t referring to other arguments (such as the munus/ministerium stuff), which I go on to address later. (For someone who claims to care about precision, you did not read what I wrote very precisely!)

      6. You say that what Ganswein said forces us to take the BiP position seriously. But Ganswein has also explicitly affirmed: “There is only one pope, and his name is Francis.” Hence, whatever he meant by all the stuff about an active and contemplative member, etc., he clearly did not mean it in a way that would imply that Benedict is still pope. You can’t have it both ways, appealing to Ganswein’s statements when they seem to give credibility to the BiP position and ignoring them when they undermine it.

    8. 1. The matter of emeritus is a settled question. Benedict and John Paul II settled it. You may insist on your point of view, but that is not the Church's. And precisely to avoid any ambiguity the title is not to be used. However, Benedict used it, he said, because "it reflects the reality", the same expression he used in answer to his friend Cardinal Brandmuller, which letter he also signed as Supreme Pontiff and gave his friend his Apostolic blessing: and that was years after the resignation. Riddle me that.

      2. A great many DO think these significant. In fact if the pope retain all the appearances of the papacy, we can assume he did not resign. This is the traditional view of the matter. An ambiguous or doubtful resignation is an invalid resignation. This is simply how the Church has always interpreted such. And no. It was not these insignificant matters that I, a BiPer, clung to. The opposite: these led me to that conclusion. MORE importantly is the great care with which Benedict has explained these details to Cardinal Brandmuller, Seewald, and others, and was insistent on maintaining them because he could see no other way. He is the one being precise. So too in his Declaratio. Even from early renowned canonists such as Stefano Violi here noted his precision.

      3. No. I've read both Siscoe and many others on this matter. They conflate resignations and elections. Again it refers only to elections. Of this I am certain. It is the only argument of the SSPX sect, or at least the main by far. Were it otherwise, no Canonists would take up the matter at all; yet many have. It's a red herring.

      4. As I said, it's not a right so much as a duty. The Church has been here many times before. Moreover, many never accepted the resignation or election. They have been squashed to silence. Most of the arguments were brought to light very early, even within a day in some cases. In the end and to be clear: I do NOT think any simple layman will be judged by God whether they got this right or wrong. Still, it is not an unimportant matter. Again, St Catherine of Sienna did not think as you here. Also to be clear: the hierarchy has completely failed in its duty to investigate this. There are even now many who remain silent. Vigano finally and much belatedly called for an investigation, but others (not many, true) still say nothing.

      5. I quoted your very words. Still, those are not trivial matters at all. All prior popes who resigned were very careful to set aside all such perrogatives to avoid such confusion. Benedict wrote to Cardinal Brandmuller saying he had to do so because they "reflect the reality." They are not trivial to Benedict nor traditionally. So, I'll cast the weight of neither Benedict's word nor tradtion aside for your own mere opinion.

      6. Indeed, I am well aware of Ganswein's partial walk back. That hardly does away with his changes of mind in that very walk back, nor with the marvelous strange speech he gave (which I can only hope was never Benedict's mind).

      In sum, you are too hasty in your judgements here and are little acquainted with the points of controversy, both those you address and the weightier which you do not address. A good beginning is the link above. I had read Stefano Violi back in 2014.

      It is certainly not so simple a case as you think. Moreover, I've always taken any counter argument seriously, now for some eight years. I was never motivated from the first by some desire to dissolve the Francis problem since at that time at least I saw no difference between Francis and Benedict.

    9. John R. wrote:
      >You simply restate and agree with what I said as regards the term emeritus.

      You didn't read a word I wrote did you? Begone troll.

    10. Why do you spend much of your time replying to those you consider to be trolls Ya'kov, and attempting to pick fights with them? To the extent that you diagnosis of 'troll' is accurate - and this is rare - you simply feed them and they grow obese. You are the reason that Prof Feser has to spend so much time moderating these comments, lest you precipitate a monsterous fire storm.

    11. Follow yer own advise laddie and dinny feed me.


    12. I think this John R is on to something ! There seems to be errors & so much confusion with Pope Francis as Pope. Could it be that Pope Benedict was surrounded by so much evil his intention was to expose it, in order to save the Catholic Church. I recently read a book by Father John Recarrdo in which he called Our Lord, as He hung dying on the Cross, an ambush predator. Why ? Because he out smarted Satan. Christ died that we all might have Eternal Life ! Now maybe Pope Benedict (Vicar of Christ) found away to be an ambush Predator to save the Church ! He would bow out & let all the evil be exposed. Pope Francis has brought so much evil & confusion into the teaching of Divine Revelation, one can not help but wonder. Maybe it's the only way Pope Benedict could expose the evil & give us back Christ Catholic Truths !

  14. Ed, I read your post carefully, followed all the links to other posts and read them carefully, and then followed the tertiary links in those posts and also read them carefully. I also viewed Patrick's latest video on the issue.

    I've used a good part of an evening doing this, and the conclusion I drew long ago hasn't been modified in the least:

    The notion that Benedict still is pope and that Francis is an anti-pope is hopeless: logically, historically, literarily, canonically, interpretationally, and in every other adverbial way.

  15. 1) Benedict XVI said: "No Pope resigned for a thousand years and even in the first millennium he was an exception"
    Given that 6 popes abdicated in the first millennium and 4 in the second, he necessarily makes a precise historical reference to the “exception” of the medieval pope Benedict VIII who, in the first millennium, was expelled from Rome by an anti-pope.

    Ratzinger writes in “Ein Leben”: “Celestine V’s situation was extremely peculiar and cannot in any way be invoked as a precedent (at my resignation)”.

    Can Feser explain why Ratzinger links his renunciation to the impeded See (sede impedita) and not to regular abdications?
    There are many other objective references discovered by Cionci.
    Why avoiding the analysis?

    2) Salza and Siscoe's theory of universal peaceful acceptance is a fraud.
    The real doctrine is used for a conclave with errors, not to legitimize any situation.
    They created an ad hoc ideological interpretation that coincides with: 'the necessary and sufficient condition to be pope is to be believed so by the majority'.

    3) The theological consequences of a real pope performing pagan rites, teaching error and immorality and wanting to destroy the church are very serious.
    'Not ex cathedra' argument cannot justify a situation like this. The very concept of papacy is ruined.
    A church where the pope follows other religions and persecutes the true faith is an abomination.
    A presence of an antipope in Rome and an impeded See (or a period of sede vacante), on the contrary, is not against the indefectibility of the church.

  16. The 'emeritus' argument is especially peculiar. 'Emeritus' in Latin just means 'honorably discharged'; it's literally the word you use for veterans once they've been honorably discharged from the military (if you were going to translate 'Veterans' Affairs' into Latin, it would be 'Negotii Emeritorum'), and it's this that's the basis for both the academic title and the episcopal title. There's no question what the 'Emeritus' *means*: it means he's honorably discharged from the office.

  17. Since 1962 there has been no "promulgating and enforcing" of the faith by conciliar popes. Why is this not an issue for most Catholics? Perhaps many see the pope as a type of political party leader. Has the Church as Mystical Body of Christ been forgotten?

  18. Here is a straightforward question and answer with a canon lawyer on the validity of resignation. You can skip to the bottom. It leaves no doubt that it was invalid. Many other discrepancies in the resignation and subsequent actions of Benedict RAISE doubts, but the judgement is fairly straightforward, and anyone can make it. Pretty nuts and bolts, and it doesn't involve any speculation (but the arguments presume familiarity with the speech of the Declaratio itself and the words Benedict chose to use, regardless of his intent).

  19. The question isn’t whether the Church as a whole corporate body accepts a resignation, specifically, or an election, specifically. The question is whether the Church as a whole corporate body accepts a certain man as pope.

    Plus, canon law does not require anyone to accept the resignation of a Pope.

    1. The Pope is the supreme authority from whom there is no appeal to his judgement. If the Pope said tomorrow the Archbishop of NYC is now fired and no longer Bishop that would be the end of it.

      Thus if the Pope resigns there is no appeal to his decision. So our acceptance is nor needed. The Pope can rule on a matter of Faith and Morals and or practice and discipline and nothing we can means dosh.

      Now on yer bike.

  20. Why don't the Bippers send one of their representatives to Benedict himself, record their conversation, bring him the good news that at long last they have finally discovered his "master plan to outsmart the devil" , instead of relying on nothing but Mass Formation Psychosis to relay their findings to the general public. Atleast he will get a good laugh of it and advise you to go for confession. The Bippers deserve that confirmation from the man himself atleast, for suspending so much of their disbelief. Benedict as well as Ganswein have on numerous occasions confirmed that Francis is the one True Pope. I don't see how that qualifies as a "partial walk back". If that's partial, what would it take to be a "Complete Walk Back". A court proceeding in which they refer to every aspect of your nonsensical theory and disown it, something which they probably haven't even heard about . At this point the Bippers response whenever they are cornered is to reply that Benedict and Ganswein never denied it. That's like coming up with something completely absurd and wondering why nobody is denying it. Reminds me of the days when people were trying to convince everyone that we are in the Matrix. All those peddling this false theory, should just take a step back and listen to themselves in their head just for once. Like Ratzinger Code seriously ? What satisfaction do ya'll get from preying on the poor gullible soul who subscribes to this, that too when the Church requires it's unity, when the Church is under threat of it's services being disrupted on Mother's day! Get out of your bubble and go play some baseball or football, take a break from social media. Reconnect with the beauty of the world we live in , Get out of the despair that has made this theory so plausible to your mind!

  21. Bip'ers are basically flat Earthers at this point. Benedict said Francis is Pope. End of Story.

  22. The sad result of all of this private judgement is that those who are members of The BISP cohort are in a schism that is rapidly annealing and will become permanent.

  23. I find it amusing that there appears to be some out there who assert that Francis is, without any doubt, the currently reigning pope, because ("manifestly") Benedict intended and stated that he was giving up the exercise of the ministry of the papacy while remaining within the papacy with respect to its prayer&contemplation aspect. So (they say) there is no doubt about Francis being the pope with all authority to rule. See here, for example: .

    That author seemingly is utterly confident that Francis is pope, precisely because Benedict manifested his intention to split the papacy in two, and hand off the part with the power to a successor.

    It's funny because this means that there are two sides claiming that "it's clear" on the basis of diametrically opposed claims of "the facts": on the one hand, it's "clear" that Benedict meant to cease being pope because he meant to (AND DID) hand over the reigns to whomever was voted in by the cardinals, and yet it's "clear" that he meant to remain "within the papacy" because of what he said and did to not remove himself from every aspect of the papacy.

    SOMEBODY's "facts" have to be not factual, or at a minimum some of these claims about what is "manifest" have to be non-manifest, i.e. open to interpretation.

    1. Back in the day. Nobody thought Nickon was POTUS when Ford was sworn in.

      If Benedict wants to hang oot at the Vatican after he quits to be avalible to advise his successor hey even he serves in that capacity at the pleasure of Francis.


    2. Right. The "fact" (as these people seem to think it is a fact) that Benedict wanted to and meant to bifurcate the papacy is not determinative, because the papacy cannot be bifurcated. And since it cannot be bifurcated, then the attempt to do so failed, and he cannot have retained the papacy in some respect when he chose to give it up.

      Except that if he attempted to give up only part of it - the exercise of authority part - and failed, then his resignation is invalid, because his resignation can only be valid if he said and intended to give up ALL of the papacy. Which (these people claim) he "clearly" did NOT. So we get opposing claims about what is "clear" from "the facts". That's what has me amused.

    3. This is meaningless dosh since how can you know Benedict's subjective state? So how can that be a standard? He resigned.

      "with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is."END QUOTE.

      He resigned. He is not coming back. Francis is Pope. To believe otherwise is flat Earther Catholicism and I am nor having it.

    4. BTW Tony I am just havering. I am nor accusing you of anything...just to be clear.

  24. I take Benedict’s retention of certain forms related to his former office as affirmations that he was once the true Successor to Peter. That is why he speaks of conforming his resignation to reality.

    He really was the pope and he really did resign. Thus, he lives on in the rare reality of a Pope Emeritus.

    My judgment of BiPs is that they have an ego problem that leads them to believe they and they alone are the preservers of the “True Faith”.

  25. Certainly we laity would not be subject to a religious deception good enough to fool the elect! A deception complete with faux sacraments, and perfidious prelates no less! Alas, SOMETHING altered the One True Faith in an unprecedented way that we can yet barely perceive. It would not be so if good men were not fighting on the wrong side. God bless you all. Jesus is Lord.

  26. I agree with your arguments & conclusion, but disagree on munus vs. ministerium being just "stylistic flourishes". Using ministerium in the central clause of the declaratio was at the very least a precise theological construct. The munus Petrinum, which BXVI mentions at the beginning, is the divine gift by Christ (i.a. through the conclave), afaik a terminology introduced in the 1980s by JPII and (by extension) probably by Ratzinger himself. ("Munus" can mean gift, present etc., too.) This is why the CIC speaks only of the munus in relation to the Papal office. You could make a theological argument that no human can ever give back this divine gift. Therefore, BXVI had no other choice but to use ministerium instead of munus in the central clause. Using munus in that sentence might have seemed like blasphemy to him. This is also supported by the direct meanings of these Latin terms: both can mean both office *and* the execution and functions of an office. So they are in fact interchangeable. But munus also means duty, obligation, destination, so its meaning also tends slightly toward religio, and especially in the context of munus Petrinum and "divine gift", it definitely enters the spiritual realm. Ministerium, on the other hand, like the related term officium, has none of these latter connotations: on the contrary, its meanings emphasize more the aspect of service, for the Pope the servitude in Christ. So in the end this might also have been BXVI being a humble servant of God, a man of sacred fear, naturally unwilling and (at least in his view) logically incapable of using terminology that might suggest that he was in fact abdicating the divine munus Petrinum.