If you follow the world of radical Catholic traditionalism at all, then certainly you’ve come across people who believe the resignation of Pope Benedict wasn’t legitimate. Their case is usually based upon a strict reading of Canon Law, and it goes something like this:
- Canon 332 §2 of the Code of Canon Law says, “If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.”
- In his official declaration announcing his resignation, Benedict stated, “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.”
- Since the canon says that the pope must renounce the office of the papacy, and Benedict said he was resigning the ministry of the papacy, he did not, in fact, resign from the papacy.
While this is a somewhat simplistic summary of the argument, the rest of the case typically flows from this basic premise. Proponents will dig into the Latin terminology, they will argue why it is so important to use the word “office” in a papal resignation, how Benedict’s later actions and statements contain evidence that proves he’s still the pope, etc. It’s all very tedious. If you are interested in learning more about these arguments, they are very easy to find via an internet search.
Of course, it would be absurd to think that Benedict is still the pope because he accidentally got the formula wrong, so advocates of this idea suggest that he deliberately botched the resignation, he “knows” he is still the pope, and he has been dropping little clues to reassure us that he’s still in charge. Apparently some believe this is all part of an elaborate plan by Benedict with (according to at least one person) an endgame of saving the Church from freemasons.
Notwithstanding Benedict’s support and praise for Pope Francis (much of which was summarized back in May by my friend Greg Daly for Catholic Voices), these conspiracy theorists analyze virtually every new story or rumor about the pope emeritus and argue that it further substantiates their theory.
One fairly recent (and particularly absurd) example of this train of thought was back in June when Benedict traveled to Germany to visit his dying brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger. Several of these websites ran headlines suggesting that this was not his real reason for leaving Rome, and that he was never going to come back. One site called From Rome, for example, wrote in an article dated June 19, “POPE BENEDICT XVI HAS BEEN EXILED.” The story explained:
It has been confirmed by multiple sources that Pope Benedict XVI has been driven from the Vatican and placed under conditions which appear to be imprisonment and exile.
The German press has been told that Pope Benedict will not be allowed to give interviews in written or video format.
The Bild has confirmed, not only that the Pope has no plans to return immediately to the Vatican, but has announced that he will NOT return to the Vatican again. (emphasis added)
Some followers of a condemned and long-debunked internet visionary known as “Maria Divine Mercy” echoed this theme, invoking one of her alleged prophecies from 2013:
“The reign in the House of Peter will be short and soon My Beloved Pope Benedict will guide God’s children from his place of exile. Peter, My Apostle, the founder of My Church on earth, will guide him in the last difficult days, as My Church fights for its Life.”
To these conspiracists, there is always a deeper meaning behind every story involving the papacy. Benedict wasn’t simply visiting his ill 90-something brother one last time before he died, he was the victim of wicked machinations of an antipope to drive him away from the Vatican forever. Of course, when Benedict’s impending return was announced two days later, From Rome posted the headline, “Bergoglian Nuncio demands that Benedict return to Prison tomorrow!” The writer explained:
I think we can conclude that the German Nuncio demanded that Gänswein hall [sic] his prisoner back to the Vatican, or else. There is just too much risk to the Bergoglian house of lies if he should begin to speak freely to the public.
I ask, “What ever happened to leaving Benedict alone so that he and his brother could spend the final days of his brother’s life in peace?”
The way Pope Benedict XVI is being forced back so quickly demonstrates just one thing. Everyone in the Vatican knows that he is the true pope and Bergoglio is the fake. And Bergoglio has recognized that his own grasp on power demands that he keep the true pope under lock and key where NO ONE can talk to him.
Apparently Benedict wasn’t exiled from Rome at all, he was fleeing! And the evil Bergoglio had him tracked down and dragged back to his Roman prison, where he could keep an eye on him. While I must give them credit for their ability to adapt so quickly, this about-face demonstrates how they are more determined to advance a narrative than to make a reasonable assessment of the situation.
All of this would simply be amusing if ordinary Catholics weren’t being duped by this nonsense. Recall that the popular, charismatic, recently excommunicated Fr. Jeremy Leatherby has openly embraced the theory that Benedict is still pope. Taylor Marshall recently did two YouTube broadcasts with a former Church history professor who is a proponent of this idea (one received over 83K views and the other more than 54k views on YouTube alone). You may recall that last year, Cardinal Burke openly entertained the possibility that Francis is an antipope in an interview with former Catholic Answers radio host Patrick Coffin last year. Edward Pentin, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Register, has given platforms to people with these views on his website. And, as Deacon Bill Ditewig pointed out earlier this week, the hero of the anti-Francis movement, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, refuses to refer to the Holy Father as Pope Francis.
All of these figures are influential, and sadly, ordinary Catholics get sucked in by their arguments.
Quickly, however, I would like to address one of the “clues” that is often cited by those who claim that Benedict is still pope:
He still wears his papal ring.
This is false. Benedict’s papal ring was rendered unusable shortly after his resignation took effect on February 28, a fact that was reported by Carol Zimmerman of Catholic News Service and other outlets back in March 2013.
The claim that he still wears his papal ring has been made by the traditionalist website GloriaTV (using a low-resolution photo as “evidence”) and by the alleged visionary, Fr. Michel Rodrigue, about whom DW Lafferty wrote recently. Rodrigue does not deny that Francis is pope, but considers him a heretic. He makes the claim as part of his apocalyptic “prophecy”:
“The Antichrist is in the hierarchy of the church right now, and he has always wanted to sit in the Chair of Peter. Pope Francis will be like Peter, the apostle. He will realize his errors and try to gather the Church back under the authority of Christ, but he will not be able to do so. He will be martyred. Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, who still wears his papal ring, will step in to convene a council, attempting to save the Church. I saw him, weak and frail, held up on either side by two Swiss guards, fleeing Rome with devastation all around. He went into hiding, but then was found. I saw his martyrdom.”
A simple Google image search for high-resolution photos of Benedict puts this one to rest. But I’ll do your homework for you.
Virtually any high-res photo of Benedict during his papacy that includes his right hand clearly shows the large, ornate signet ring that he wore during his time as pope.
His papal ring (each image is linked to the original source of the photo):
He still wears a ring, but he now wears a much simpler gold episcopal ring:
Dear conspiracy theorists, in light of this evidence, can we please put this one to rest?
Main image: License Some rights reserved by Catholic Church (England and Wales)
Ring images (fair use):
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.