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Substantial error on Barnhardt’s part…

Benedict XVI’s Mysterious Resignation:
A Reply to Ann Barnhardt

On Nov. 17, 2018, the colorful blogger Ann Barnhardt, a Resignationist since 2016, released a video presentation in which she tries to convince her audience that “Pope” Benedict XVI’s resignation in 2013 was invalid because he is, so she argues, in “substantial error” about the Papacy, and substantial error renders a resignation invalid according to Canon 188 of the 1983 Novus Ordo Code of Canon Law (this same law is also found in the 1917 Catholic Code of Canon Law; see Canon 185). Ergo, Barnhardt reasons, the resignation was not valid and Benedict XVI is the Pope, albeit, so she says, the worst Pope in history.

A lot of what Barnhardt says about Catholic teaching and principle in her video presentation is quite reasonable and correct, and in this she refreshingly distinguishes herself from her recognize-and-resist co-religionists such as Steve Skojec, Hilary White, Christopher Ferrara, or Michael Matt, whose chief objective seems to be to complain about but never question what is considered to be the status quo.

Even though mistaken on a few things, nevertheless Miss Barnhardt is quite reasonable throughout her presentation, with one single exception, namely, when she touches on the subject of Sedevacantism. Don’t misunderstand: It’s one thing to be wrong about something or to have a different position, but it’s another thing to be unreasonable about it. On Sedevacantism, Barnhardt’s presentation suddenly turns manifestly unreasonable, as we will demonstrate later in this post. For now, we must focus on her main thesis, that Benedict XVI is “still the Pope.”

Barnhardt holds that Joseph Ratzinger was validly elected Pope on April 19, 2005, taking the name Benedict XVI. On Feb. 11, 2013, Benedict announced his intention to resign from the office of the Papacy he claimed to hold, effective at 8:00 pm local time on the 28th of the same month. It is this resignation Barnhardt says was not valid, on the grounds that (1) Ratzinger labored under substantial error regarding the nature of the Papacy, and (2) acted under grave fear unjustly inflicted. According to Novus Ordo (and Catholic) church law, either one of these points — substantial error and unjust infliction of grave fear — renders a resignation invalid.

Barnhardt passionately makes her case in this video:

Assuming for the sake of argument that Benedict XVI had ever been a valid Pope — an absurd idea, considering his many public and manifest heresies, one of which he just reaffirmed once more — we will now test Barnhardt’s claims regarding the substantial error and unjust grave fear that supposedly prevented a valid resignation.

(1) Substantial Error

Precisely what constitutes the substantial error Benedict XVI has supposedly been laboring under that rendered his 2013 resignation invalid? Barnhardt says that it is his belief that he can resign “partially” from the Papacy, that there can be a “Pope Emeritus”, one who, although he has laid down the active ministry of the Petrine office, nevertheless retains some kind of irrevocable “anointing” to the Papacy. The day before his resignation was to take effect, during his last General Audience, Benedict stated:

I have taken this step with full awareness of its gravity and even its novelty, but with profound interior serenity. Loving the Church means also having the courage to make difficult, painful decisions, always looking to the good of the Church and not of oneself.

Here, allow me to go back once again to 19 April 2005. The real gravity of the decision was also due to the fact that from that moment on I was engaged always and forever by the Lord. Always – anyone who accepts the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church. In a manner of speaking, the private dimension of his life is completely eliminated….

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. Saint Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be a great example for me in this. He showed us the way for a life which, whether active or passive, is completely given over to the work of God.

(“Pope” Benedict XVI, General Audience, vatican.va, Feb. 27, 2013)

Whether or not these remarks must be understood in the sense of a bifurcated Papacy is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is the craziness of an “expanded papacy” proposed by “Abp.” Georg Ganswein in a lecture on Benedict’s resignation at the Pontifical University in Rome on May 20, 2016:

He has left the papal throne and yet, with the step made on February 11, 2013, he has not at all abandoned this ministry. Instead, he has complemented the personal office with a collegial and synodal dimension, as a quasi shared ministry (als einen quasi gemeinsamen Dienst); as though, by this, he wanted to reiterate once again the invitation contained in the motto that the then Joseph Ratzinger took as archbishop of Munich and Freising and which he then naturally maintained as bishop of Rome: “cooperatores veritatis,” which means “fellow workers in the truth.” In fact, it is not in the singular but the plural; it is taken from the Third Letter of John, in which in verse 8 it is written: “We ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers in the truth.”

Since the election of his successor Francis, on March 13, 2013, there are not therefore two popes, but de facto an expanded ministry — with an active member and a contemplative member. This is why Benedict XVI has not given up either his name, or the white cassock. This is why the correct name by which to address him even today is “Your Holiness”; and this is also why he has not retired to a secluded monastery, but within the Vatican — as if he had only taken a step to the side to make room for his successor and a new stage in the history of the papacy which he, by that step, enriched with the “power station” of his prayer and his compassion located in the Vatican Gardens.

(source; italics given.)

It goes without saying that Ganswein, who is Benedict’s private secretary as well as the prefect of the “papal” household for Francis, would not have been able to say these things without first getting them vetted by Ratzinger himself. And indeed, in her video Barnhardt says that her Vatican connections have confirmed to her that this is exactly what happened.

It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that Benedict XVI — even if we assume he was a true Pope — has no authority and no ability to bifurcate the Papacy into a de facto diarchy. The Papacy was instituted by Jesus Christ as a monarchy, and only one man can be the successor to St. Peter at a time, only one man can hold the Papal Primacy. Whether this specific error of Ratzinger rises to the level of heresy is not entirely clear, but it is certainly a grave error and in direct conflict with Pope St. Pius X’s teaching that “with no less falsity, one is invited [by the Oriental schismatics] to believe that the Catholic Church was not in the earliest days a sovereignty of one person, that is a monarchy” (Apostolic Letter Ex Quo; Denz. 2147a; italics added).

Thus Ratzinger’s idea of a quasi-“two-member” Papacy is at least erroneous, possibly heretical, and clearly subversive of the orthodox teaching. That much is clear. But is this what is meant by the “substantial error” in Novus Ordo canon law that would prevent a valid resignation from office?

No, it is not. Error prevents a valid resignation from office only if the error is the substantial reason for the resignation, such that the Pope in question would not have resigned if he did not hold this error. Barnhardt would have seen as much if she had simply consulted an authoritative commentary on the Novus Ordo Code of Canon Law, which explains: “Substantial error is a mistaken judgment that is not of minor importance and is truly a cause of the consequent resignation. This would be the case in which the officeholder judged that he or she had caused serious injury to someone when this was not objectively correct” (James A. Coriden et al., eds., The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary [New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1985] p. 109; underlining added).

In other words, for Barnhardt’s argument to have any merit even in theory, she would have to prove — not merely suspect but prove — that Benedict XVI abdicated his putative pontificate because he believes in a bifurcated Papacy. But of course this is sheer nonsense and has never been asserted by anyone, least of all by Ratzinger himself.

The official reason given for the resignation was an inability or, at any rate, an unwillingness to continue to exercise the office. In his declaration of Feb. 11, 2013, Benedict spoke of the “strength of mind and body” he believed he no longer had “to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me”. One may speculate that the true reason was a different one — whether fear of a real or imagined evil, the desire to cause great confusion among Novus Ordos, the intent to enable Jorge Bergoglio to succeed him, succumbing to undue pressue by secret powers, etc. — but it was most certainly not his belief that the Papacy can be abdicated in a partial way.

If one wanted to argue invalidity of resignation due to substantial error that actually caused the resignation, one would have to show that Benedict was mistaken regarding his “strength of mind and body”, that he was in error about his “incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.” That would constitute substantial error that was causative of the resignation.

However, we will humor Miss Barnhardt and assume for the moment that Ratzinger was incapable of resigning from the Papacy because he was in substantial error about what the Papacy is. If that were so, then, by the same token, Ratzinger could never have validly accepted the Papacy either, back in 2005; for if one cannot validly resign an office one does not know or believe in, neither can one validly accept it in the first place.

The reason for this is that any juridical act is rendered invalid by substantial error, not just a resignation. Hence Canon 126 of the Novus Ordo Code says: “An act placed out of ignorance or out of error concerning something which constitutes its substance or which amounts to a condition sine qua non is invalid.” (The corresponding canon in the Catholic Code is 104.) What’s good for the goose is good for the gander here — and the same Novus Ordo canon law commentary we used earlier backs this up: “Ignorance or error about the essential elements of a juridic act, such as what marriage is or which rights are being transferred by a contract, of its nature invalidates the act — which must always be an informed action” (Coriden et al., The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary, p. 90).

Therefore, if Barnhardt wishes to argue that Benedict’s act of abdication was invalid because he was in substantial error about what the Papacy is, then she must likewise admit that his acceptance of the office to which he had putatively been elected seven years before was likewise invalid. Therefore, this is a pyrrhic victory for Barnhardt at best: Even if she wins, she loses.

However, let’s also keep in mind that in his actual declaration of resignation, Ratzinger stated rather plainly: “…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…” (underlining added). Whatever ideas he may entertain about the Papacy, he declared that he was resigning “in such a way that” the office he claimed to hold would “be vacant.”

A final consideration we must not forget is that of course Ratzinger’s bizarre idea about a two-member expanded Papacy can hardly be said to be a mistake in judgment in the first place. If anything, it is a deliberate denial of the truth about the Papacy, not a genuine “mistake.” This need not surprise, because Ratzinger is already a known denier of the dogma of the Papacy as defined by Vatican I.

(2) Grave Fear unjustly inflicted

Barnhardt also argues that Benedict’s resignation was invalid because it was made out of grave fear unjustly inflicted. Our response to this argument will be very short: While it may very well be true that Ratzinger’s resignation was extorted out of him, that he may have been threatened with all sorts of harm either to his own person, to his family, or to the “church” at large, none of this is relevant unless it can be proved that it was the cause of the resignation. Barnhardt would have to prove that, not simply conjecture about it or make assertions she believes to be true. In her video presentation, however, she does not present any concrete evidence, she only offers speculation or hearsay.

(3) Barnhardt on Sedevacantism

As we said earlier with regard to her video presentation, when the issue turns to Sedevacantism, Barnhardt suddenly leaves the field of reasoned logical discourse. Defending herself from the “accusation” of being a Sedevacantist or promoting Sedevacantism — which she obviously isn’t and obviously doesn’t do — she suddenly goes into a tirade about things that have nothing to do with theology.

Have a look at what she says in response the objection that she is promoting Sedevacantism:

…This is 100% an attempt to smear people’s reputations by trying to associate them with Holocaust deniers and schizophrenic conspiracy theorists — period, full stop. Just hurl that mud at anyone that you disagree with: “You’re a Sedevacantist!” Hurl that mud! Even if it makes absolutely no sense at all, just to try to character-assassinate people and get them lumped in with this bad problem that these schismatic sects — Society of St. Pius V and then, you know, they have a fight and then there’s a Society of St. Pius Two-and-a-Half, and then they have a fight and then there’s a Society of St. Pius One-and-a-Quarter, etc., etc. It’s Protestantism, it’s just over on the other ditch. Protestantism went off the road on one side, these people go off on the other side.

Among these people there is a massive problem — there’s no denying it — with Antisemitism (“We don’t want to convert the Jews! We want to kill them all! And then everything would be fine, if we could just get rid of the Jews!”). Oh, believe me, my email box fills up with this all day every day. Holocaust denial — and a lot of them are also into schizophrenic conspiracy theories — flat earthers, I mean — it just gets cuckoo-pants really, really fast when you go into schism from Holy Mother Church. That’s what this is about: people just calling me, because of my position, a Sedevacantist? It’s all about this. Just try to lump me in with those people — that’s all they’re trying to do.

(Ann Barnhardt, “The Bergoglian Anti-Papacy”, YouTube, Nov. 17, 2018; at 1:26:10-1:28:00 mark.)

These words are coming from a woman who, at the beginning of the very same presentation, says: “If I say anything that seems to you illogical, irrational, detached from reality, that does not conform to objective, observable reality or just even seems … ‘dippy’ … let me know” (3:22 min mark).

Well, we’re happy to oblige.

Talk about character assassination. Talk about smearing people’s reputations. Talk about lumping people in with others that have nothing to do with each other. Talk about not making sense. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. What Barnhardt says here is at once dishonorable, gratuitously insulting, intellectually dishonest, unreasonable, impertinent, fallacious, hypocritical, silly, and rude.

Frankly, we don’t care what emails Miss Barnhardt’s inbox gets filled up with every day. She is not exactly known to be a mainstream character herself, so perhaps certain people simply gravitate toward her. The claim that Sedevacantism is “Protestant” is as old and worn-out as it is absurd. It is because we reject Protestantism that we have nothing to do with the Vatican II Church, which has blasphemously declared at an ecumenical council that Protestantism is used by the Holy Ghost as a means of salvation and holds up Martin Luther as a “witness to the Gospel”! That there is some accidental division among Sedevacantists is not an indication that the position is false but is simply the consequence of the truth of its central thesis: that there is currently no Pope reigning in the Church, who is the principle of unity. The real question is why Miss Barnhardt’s sect is such a divided mess even though it has a “Pope”!

With regard to the accusation of “Antisemitism” which Barnhardt leaves convenienty undefined, it must be stated that our position regarding the Jews is exactly that of the Catholic Church until 1958 when the last (known) Pope, Pius XII, died. We pray and work for the conversion of all who are not yet Catholics, and that includes the Jews. As Pope Pius XI noted when he suppressed the Amici Israel association in 1928:

…the Catholic Church has always been accustomed to pray for the Jewish people, who were the depository of the divine promises up until the arrival of Jesus Christ, notwithstanding their subsequent blindness, or rather, because of this very blindness. Moved by that charity, the Apostolic See has protected the same people from unjust ill-treatment, and just as it censures all hatred and enmity among people, so it altogether condemns in the highest degree possible hatred against the people once chosen by God, viz., the hatred that now is what is usually meant in common parlance by the term known generally as “anti-Semitism.”

(Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, Decree Cum Supremae; underlining added.)

This is our position, too. Genuine hatred — enmity — of another is a mortal sin (see McHugh & Callan’s Moral Theology, n. 1312). We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Mk 12:31), even if he is our enemy. That means desiring his good, especially the good of his soul and his eternal good in Heaven. Perhaps Miss Barnhardt is confusing opposition to the wicked works of Judaism — which is anti-Christian in nature and origin — with “Antisemitism.” That would say a lot… about her.

And then there are those “schizophrenic conspiracy theories”, among which Barnhardt numbers the idea that the earth is not a globe but a convex disc. Again, what this has to do with Sedevacantism is anyone’s guess, but of course it does its intended job really well: It scares people away. In the words of a wise blogger: “Even if it makes absolutely no sense at all, just to try to character-assassinate people and get them lumped in with this bad problem”! She definitely knows what she’s talking about!

Are there really people who call themselves traditional Catholics and believe in a flat earth? Yes, there are. They are the “Flat Earth Trads” and exist as a group on YouTube and Facebook, for example. They also have their own web site. The amusing thing, however, is that they are not Sedevacantists but recognize-and-resist trads! In other words, they are essentially of the same theological persuasion as Ann Barnhardt, even if they don’t share her recently-acquired belief that Ratzinger is the Pope rather than Bergoglio! Judging from what they have published so far, the “Flat Earth Trads” seem to be SSPX-Resistance people of the Bp. Richard Williamson stripe. Sorry, Ann!

So, let’s recap: We note that in the lengthy video presentation in which she tries to make the theological case for the idea that Joseph Ratzinger is the currently-reigning Pope, all Barnhardt can say about Sedevacantism is hurl gratuitous insults and engage in guilt by association: blah blah schismatics; blah blah Protestantism; blah blah Antisemitism; blah blah Holocaust denial; blah blah schizophrenia; blah blah flat earth. Did she leave out any cliché that has nothing to do with anything?

One thing is clear: When it comes to Sedevacantism, Barnhardt doesn’t want to go there. And another thing is clear as well: The reason why she doesn’t want to go there is not a theological one.

At some point in her video, Barnhardt recommends an essay by “Fr.” Brian Harrison, an Australian-born Novus Ordo priest who used to teach theology at the so-called Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico. The essay in question argues that a heretical Pope would govern the Church illicitly but validly. In other words, such a “Pope” would not be allowed to be Pope but he would nevertheless be Pope. This creative but dangerously flawed attempt by Mr. Harrison to provide a worst-case-scenario defense of the Modernist “popes” is refuted here:

It is truly amazing to see the lengths to which people will go in order not to have to conclude that the Vatican II Sect is a fraud and its apostate hierarchy is not the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

All this kerfuffle about whether we have one Pope, two Popes, or two half-Popes, is meant to distract from the mounting evidence that we have no Pope at all. Tragically, it is easier to deceive people than to convince them they’ve been deceived.

Ann Barnhardt is no exception.

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License: Fair use