Was Benedict XVI the True Pope the Whole Time?
No, no, definitely not. From 2013, Francis was pope, and Benedict was pope emeritus. This is crucial to understand.
Given that we’ve already addressed this argument elsewhere, why bring it up again? For two reasons. First, Benedict’s death clarifies something that Coffin and others misunderstood. In his final general audience, Benedict asked for prayers “for the new successor of the apostle Peter” and then again asked “each of you to pray for me and for the new pope.” That Benedict was declaring himself no longer the pope was unambiguous. But he also said something else, which has led to a great deal of confusion:
The “always” is also a “for ever”—there can no longer be a return to the private sphere. My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences, and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter.
This line is supposedly the key proving that Benedict didn’t really resign. But this gravely misconstrues what the pope meant.
In the year 451, after Pope St. Leo the Great intervened at the Council of Chalcedon to clarify the orthodox understanding of the natures of Christ, the assembled bishops cried out, “Anathema to him who does not thus believe. Peter has spoken thus through Leo.” Were the bishops at Chalcedon trying to claim that there were two rival popes, Leo and Peter? Not at all.
They were acknowledging that Jesus had entrusted Peter with the care of the whole flock of Christ (John 21:15), and that this entrustment still mattered even after Peter’s martyrdom. (The idea of “patron saints” is rooted in this same spiritual reality. St. Patrick, for instance, didn’t suddenly stop caring about the Irish once he went to heaven.) This is recognized in the liturgy as well: popes on the liturgical calendar are listed as “Saint X, pope,” and there are special prayers for honoring saintly popes.
In other words, when Benedict XVI said that “the ‘always’ is also a ‘for ever,’” he meant just that: forever. Something is gained in becoming pope that is never lost, not by resignation and not even by death. Ironically, this is clearer in Benedict’s death than in his life. We’re now free from the cumbersome term pope emeritus and can return to calling him simply “Pope Benedict XVI,” since it’s now clear what is (and isn’t) meant by that title.
This spiritual reality—which he perceived but which so many Catholics missed—also stands behind so many of his other decisions. Many thought that “the term ‘pope emeritus’ has no precedent and is confusing.” But in a letter to Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, Benedict clarified that he had opted against going back to being called Cardinal Ratzinger because he didn’t want to be “constantly exposed to the media as a cardinal is—even more so because people would have seen in me the former pope.”
Instead, “with ‘pope emeritus,’ I tried to create a situation in which I am absolutely not accessible to the media and in which it is completely clear that there is only one pope.” Benedict wanted us to hear emeritus, while so many people insisted on hearing only pope. But this is the real key: facing relatively uncharted territory, Benedict tried to find a way of expressing both that his resignation didn’t undo his papacy and that he was no longer the reigning pontiff.
The second reason to return to Benevacantism is more distressing. Upon hearing of Benedict’s death, Coffin announced that he had become a sedevacantist, saying, “The pope has entered eternity, RIP. The impeded See is now vacant. May the pre-2013 cardinals do the right thing, and avoid yet another antipope.”
Why is that so alarming? Because this line of reasoning makes for a clear collision course for schism and heresy. Here’s why.
Only cardinals under the age of eighty can vote, and Benevacantists don’t accept the legitimacy of the cardinals created by Pope Francis, since they don’t accept the legitimacy of Pope Francis. That leaves only forty-four of the 224 cardinals in the College of Cardinals who are old enough to have been made a cardinal by John Paul II or Benedict, but young enough still to be voting age.
Under the rules laid out by Universi Dominici Gregis, a papal conclave must be called within twenty days of the death of the pope. So if you think Pope Francis is an antipope, the only way out of that situation is if, by January 20 of this year, those forty-four cardinals (a) conclude that Pope Francis is an antipope, and that none of the cardinals he appointed is really a cardinal, and (b) somehow form a papal conclave to begin the process of electing a new pope. We’ll leave aside all of the implausible logistics of such a suggestion (like where such a conclave would even convene, since Pope Francis presumably won’t offer the Sistine Chapel).
Imagine for a moment that, despite its implausibility, this occurred. Would that bring peace and unity to the Catholic Church? …
For the rest of the insightful article and response, click HERE.