The “Pope Emeritus” drama continues…

Benedict XVI says he retains “Spiritual Dimension” of Papacy

Still identifies as Pope, but only “spiritually”: Fr. Joseph Ratzinger

For someone who promised to withdraw in prayer so as to be hidden from the world for good, the 93-year-old “Pope Emeritus” Benedict XVI certainly continues to have a lot to say.

Vatican journalist Peter Seewald has just published a comprehensive biography of Joseph Ratzinger in his native Germany. The book will be released in English in November under the title Benedict XVI: The Biography, apparently in more than one volume. It includes a type of appendix in which Benedict, once again, answers numerous questions posed to him by Seewald.

Benedict’s adoring fans are surely eating up the individual tidbits from the book being shared by Life Site‘s Maike Hickson. For those sick of “Pope” Francis, reminiscing about his supposedly conservative and orthodox predecessor is like having balm poured into one’s open wounds. And if the word “Antichrist” is part of Ratzinger’s reported words, ecstasy is all but assured.

Today Life Site released another juicy story from the book, and it concerns Benedict’s status as Pope Emeritus.

More than seven years after it took place, we can say that the resignation of Benedict XVI in 2013 is the gift that keeps on giving. It is a veritable never-ending drama of affirmations, actions, theories, rumors, clarifications, and denials.

By making up the concept of Pope Emeritus as he departed from the scene, and by retaining most of the external papal trappings, Benedict ensured that he would have people guessing about his “real status” for years to come. Ridiculous reasons given as to the motive for the resignation didn’t help, and when his personal secretary, the heretical “Archbishop” Georg Gänswein, explained in a lecture that his boss had “expanded” the Papacy, all hell broke loose:

He vacated his chair, but he did not renounce this ministry with the step he took on February 11, 2013. Instead, he augmented the personal office with a collegial and synodal dimension, as a shared ministry so to speak….

Thus, there have not been two Popes since the election of his successor Francis on March 13, 2013, but there is de facto an expanded ministry — with an active and a contemplative member. That’s why Benedict XVI did not take off his white cassock, nor did he give up his name. That’s why even today the correct way to address him is, “Holy Father” (in Italian: Santità [Holiness]), and that is why he did not retire to a secluded monastery but to the inside of the Vatican — as though he had only stepped aside in order to make room for his successor and for a new stage in the history of the papacy, which, by means of this step, he enriched by the power of his prayers and his shared suffering in the Vatican Gardens.

(“Abp.” Georg Ganswein, in “Das Ende eines Alten und der Beginn eines Neuen”,, May 23, 2016; our translation.)

This theological poppycock is to the supernatural order what transgenderism is to the natural: Ratzinger gets to identify as Pope, or ex-Pope, or a little bit of both, or neither, or contemplative member of a double-Papacy, or whatever he chooses, and his choice creates the reality. Or so he likes to think. (Ganswein, by the way, later relativized his remarks, emphasizing “that there is only one Pope, one legitimately elected and incumbent Pope, and that is Francis.”)

When “Cardinal” Walter Brandmüller expressed his exasperation about the Pope Emeritus idea in a German newspaper in 2017, the “papal” contemplative half, clearly irritated, dropped his prayer books and responded by sending him a letter: “With the Papa Emeritus I have tried to create a situation in which I am absolutely inaccessible to the media and in which it is completely clear that there is only one Pope,” he wrote. Riight.

So today we find out that in the new biography of Benedict XVI, Ratzinger gives a lengthy answer concerning the peculiar retirement status he chose for himself. For copyright reasons, Hickson cannot quote his entire response, and we in turn can quote Hickson only briefly.

Having explained how the retirement of bishops works in the Vatican II Church,

…Benedict then draws a comparison with the papacy. For, such a retired bishop, he adds, “does not anymore actively have an episcopal seat, but, still finds himself in a special relationship of a former bishop to his seat.” This retired bishop, however, thereby “does not become a second bishop of his diocese,” explains Benedict. Such a bishop had “fully given up his office, yet the spiritual connection with his former seat was now being acknowledged, also as a legal quality.” This “new relationship with a seat” is “given as a reality, but lies outside of the concrete legal substance of the episcopal office.” At the same time, adds the retired Pope, the “spiritual connection” is being regarded as a “reality.”

“Thus,” he continues, “there are not two bishops, but one with a spiritual mandate, whose essence it is to serve his former diocese from within, from the Lord, by being present and available in prayer.”

“It is not conceivable why such a legal concept should not also be applied to the bishop of Rome,” Pope Benedict explicitly states, thus making it clear that according to his own ideas, he fully resigned his papal office while maintaining a “spiritual dimension” of his office.

(Maike Hickson, “Pope Benedict: I resigned, but I kept ‘spiritual dimension’ of papacy”, Life Site, May 6, 2020)

Cutting through all the conceptual fog he creates, we note that his Pope Emeritus creation is simply the result of his personal theological musings. While still “Pope”, he decided his ideas to be fact — who could challenge him on it anyway? — and now we have the mess.

So he claims that he has resigned the Papacy but retains its “spiritual reality”, or whatever. Once more it is — is anyone surprised? — a clarification that clarifies nothing but gives plenty of food for additional controversy.

For example, there is no question that the dyed-in-the-wool “Resignationists” — those who believe that Benedict’s resignation announced on Feb. 11, 2013, was invalid and he never ceased being Pope — will either dismiss this new testimony by Ratzinger as being fake or offered insincerely, or else will claim that it proves that he didn’t validly resign just the same. It’s not like that hasn’t happened before.

And indeed, Ratzinger’s theology here is false, as usual. Hickson goes on to quote “Mgr.” Nicola Bux, a Vatican theologian consulted by Life Site on this issue. Bux rightly points out the fundamental flaw in Benedict’s argument:

The comparison of the papal office with the episcopal office in what regards the abdication of the papal office is not correct. The episcopal office is conferred by episcopal ordination or consecration, imprinting an indelible character on the soul of the bishop. Thus, while he may be relieved of a particular pastoral responsibility, he remains always a bishop [even if he is excommunicated or becomes a pagan]. The papal office is conferred by the acceptance of the election to the See of Peter, that is, by an act of the will of the person elected, accepting the call to be the Vicar of Christ on earth. From the moment that the person elected consents he has the full jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff.

Benedict seems to regard the Papacy as a kind of sacrament that imprints an indelible ontological character on the Pope’s soul. But it does no such thing — especially not in his case (since he was never actually Pope for even an instant).

Predictably, then, Benedict’s latest “clarifying” remarks muddy the waters further still. What that means is clear: The drama about the status of the “Pope Emeritus” will continue unabated.

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