In addition, Patrick says: “Feser also tweeted a seven-point criticism of my evidence 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 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? that Pope Benedict XVI is still the true Pontiff of the Catholic Church.
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 , a critic of the BiP theory, and historian , 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. 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. , 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 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 and .) 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 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., though schism is distinct from heresy, they are closely related.
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.