SOCCI: Did Pope Benedict really resign? Was it valid? Reeeeeally?

Italian journalist Antonio Socci has opined HERE that perhaps Benedict XVI’s resignation was not canonically valid.

Kindly put, this is a stretch and a half.

Let’s see what he has to say.

The first part of his piece is mostly about how he, Socci, was right and others were wrong when he predicted that Benedict might resign.  Blah blah.  But, being right before means that he is right now.  Get it?

Then he brings up that after the 2005 conclave during which Ratzinger was elected, some cardinals violated the oath they swore with their hands on the Gospel about revealing anything about the conclave.  So!  There was Vatican intrigue!  Imagine.

Benedict was essentially forced to resign, you see.  That means that some canonists call the validity into question.  Socci wonders: Did Benedict resign interiorly?  That is, did he really mean it?  If not, well… then… who knows if he really resigned.

I dunno, I remember watching the video of him reading in perfectly intelligible Latin (the official language of the Church) in a consistory with cardinals that he was going to resign on a specific date and time.  I remember him then stopping being Pope, too.

And his peroration:

Beyond the language of the words, there is that of gestures.  What we see is that he chose to continue to remain “within the enclosure of Peter”, to dress in the white habit, to identify himself as “Pope Emeritus” and to continue to call himself Benedict XVI (he signs his name that way).

Moreover, he refused to change his coat-of-arms to that which he had as a cardinal, keeping still the keys of Peter.  The Vatican made it known that Benedict “prefers not to adopt a heraldic emblem expressing the new situation that was created with his resignation of the Petrine Ministry.”

We know that in the Church there is also a “voiceless/implicit magisterium” (magistero tacito).  Maybe this is the case.  And certainly Benedict is in agreement with Francis.  It’s a real mystery.

PS: I want to underscore, citing it, yesterday’s very beautiful and meaningful tweet from Pope Francis: “Today I invite you to pray for HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI, a man of great courage and humility”.

Vatican intrigue!

Forced resignation!

Ghost writer Pope and secret Magisterium!

This is sooooo Italian.

A more interesting argument might have been the lawful right of cardinals to vote in the conclave if it could be demonstrated that they violated their oaths about the previous conclave and, thereby, incurred the traditional penalty.

I am not going to lose sleep over this…. except to write my novel, of course!   I need to travel to Rome to do research about the Roman restaurants in which the plot was worked out.   All I need to do is fill in the part about the super-secret Vatican Vampire Assassin Squad and the outline is nearly complete.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Bosco says:

    Gold medal to you, Father Z. in the ‘sacerdotal sarcasm’ event at the Socci games.

    [“Do ut des.” It’s a Roman tradition.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  2. LarryW2LJ says:

    It appears the Italians love conspiracy theories even more than Americans. I didn’t think that was possible.

  3. Priam1184 says:

    @LarryW2LJ Italy was born out of conspiracies.

    Father, if you’d like an assistant for your in depth research on those Roman restaurants I would be happy to apply…

  4. anilwang says:

    Let’s assume the more extreme case, namely, the papacy is like the priesthood, and no Pope past or present can ever resign.

    What happens if the “presumed Pope” makes a theological statement? Given that every “real Pope” past and present has submitted to it, it is in effect an endorsement of that theology. So regardless on whether any papal resignation is valid or not, it’s irrelevant theologically.

    In other words, it’s an irrelevant question.

  5. Anchorite says:

    I noticed, Father, that it is your natural tendency to adopt “sacerdotal sarcasm” when you might actually be wrong. [Boy! You really got me there. Good one!] Now, Socci might not be correct on all the suggestions, but HIS view events surely is supported by the bizarre and untraditional behavior of the Bishop of Rome: refusal of the mozzetta, signs of authority, omission of the papal titles, call-me-Jorge stuff, etc. If Francis knows he is not really Pope, then he continues to act as a NGO’s CEO that he really is. [There it is… Francis knows he’s not the Pope. That’s it!]
    Surely this whole situation is highly irregular and unheard of, and it definitely doesn’t call for dismissive relegation of it to the level of “conspiracies,” nor does it call for sarcasm.
    Confusion of the faithful is not a laughing matter. And there is plenty of it, not due to Socci’s articles, but to Bergoglio’s interviews.

    [I think everyone should read this comment, so I’ll leave it be.]

  6. Geoffrey says:

    The reasons for continuing to wear the white cassock, sign his name “Benedict XVI”, and not alter his heraldic achievement are understandable. It is almost as though His Holiness Benedict XVI created a new office or role in the Church: that of the Pope Emeritus, who, because he was once the reigning Supreme Pontiff, continues to utilize some of the elements as a courtesy.

    A year ago, I had thought that perhaps Benedict XVI would be known as Joseph Benedict, as Celestine V is listed in the 1962 Missale Romanum as Saint “Peter Celestine”.

  7. Robbie says:

    I’m not persuaded Benedict’s resignation was invalid, but I think there’s good reason to believe he was encouraged to do so or felt the efforts undertaken by some of his own people to undermine him left him no option. The stories about a forced resignation aren’t anything new though. They’ve been percolating since Benedict’s announcement on February 11, 2013. In my opinion, stories like this are just the byproduct of novelty not seen in 600 years and should be expected.

  8. amenamen says:

    I wonder about the super-secret Vatican Vampire Assassin Squad. Does the squad consist of vampires? or do they assassinate vampires? or is that a secret, too?


  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    1. Considering that Benedict XVI made a Very Big Point of making sure that the rules say that a pope can resign, and considering that he bugged the heck out of Pope JPII to try to get him to resign and just didn’t succeed because Poles have as much stubborn as Bavarians, I think it’s pretty sure that Benedict XVI thinks a pope can resign.

    2. Dude. Seriously? B16 was sending up smoke signals like a chimney, in retrospect. Our mistake was in assuming that he was only concerned about his predecessor not resigning, and thus wanted to make sure that future popes could resign if need be. We failed to anticipate that a really good scholar includes himself in the subset of people affected by his theories, and is willing to be the one who tries it out first.

    3. Socci clearly is sure that B16 won’t show up at his house and beat him up for doubting his word. This is a fairly safe bet, and most second-guessers use it. However, it didn’t work for the man who doubted the word of Buzz Aldrin. Conspiracy theorists, beware!

  10. Suburbanbanshee says:

    4. And when I say “sending up smokesignals like a chimney,” I mean from Day One of his pontificate. Just as a good Ratzinger book plants all the clues to its conclusions in the first chapter, so did the B16 pontificate. Just because we got distracted by all the interesting discussions that were also in the book doesn’t mean that the writer was forgetting it. So no, the Vatican butler didn’t do it.

  11. Supertradmum says:

    A tempest in a teacup. But, such articles, sadly, fan the flames of conspiracy prone people who do not want to admit that there has been conspiracy in the Vatican since the days of Arius. Such articles may amuse us, (imagine-Vatican intrigue), but some people have a pie-in-the sky idea that the Church of the past did not include anyone who read or acted on Machiavelli.

    The Italian press corp is so unprofessional and loves soap operas….

  12. David Zampino says:

    You mean THIS Vatican Vampire novel?

    Apparently, volume 2 has just been published!

  13. The Masked Chicken says:

    “I wonder about the super-secret Vatican Vampire Assassin Squad.”

    Abbreviated Blood

    (a poem by TMC)

    are all about vampires, I guess,
    but what if SSVVAS really means:
    Silver-Staked Vigillanties Venting Ancient ‘Sylvanians (are you impressed)?

    The Vatican has not weighed in,
    to let us know if killing vampires is a sin,
    but vampires on spires
    somehow, inspires,
    but so does a gallon of gin.

    It’s SSVVAS against SSVVAS
    and the outcome could rock Trans-sylvania
    and maybe
    even make it Cis-sylvania?

    I suppose in the end,
    We leave it up to God,
    on who the last triumph depends:
    the Squad of Assassins or the assassination squad.

    The Chicken

    [Okay, it ain’t a love poem, so sue me – where’s the post on St. Valentine?]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  14. Thanks, David Z, for that invaluable reference. From the book’s blurb:

    “Here is a novel that is explosive in its revelation of a secret history. Why do Catholic priests wear pectoral crosses? Why are they sworn to celibacy? Why do the monks hide their countenances under hoods? And why does Catholicism insist that the consecration of wine during Mass results in its transformation to Christ’s own blood? The answers to all go back to a secret sect within the Vatican, one whispered as rumor but whose very existence was painted for all to see by Rembrandt himself, a shadowy order known simply as the Sanguines.”

    Truly, inquiring minds want to know!

  15. Nancy D. says:

    I would love to take Pope Benedict to dinner and ask him.

  16. majuscule says:

    @ Henry Edwards–

    Not…certainly not…oh, I can hardly bear to say it…Opus Dei …?

  17. HighMass says:

    Valid or not….Benedict XVI is not longer on the Chair of St. Peter. Just as sad today as on 2/11/13. He will most likely go down in the History of the Church as the Greatest Pope of the 21st Century.

    The ache never seems to go away….what a wonderful Pope…..the progressives couldn’t be happier to see him swept away…..Wish we could all meet with Him and Tell Him HOW MUCH WE LOVE AND MISS HIM, And THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR YEARS OF SERVICE TO CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH…..

    Viva Santita! :)

  18. LarryW2LJ says:

    @ David Zampino and @Henry Edwards

    I’m a big fan of James Rollins and his Sigma Series. The Sanguine series is a fairy tale, and is hardly believable, just entertainment – pure and simple.

    A prominent character in the Sigma Series is Monsignor Vigor Verona – an archaeologist who works from inside the Vatican. Again – pure entertainment. If you’ve never read any of Rollins’ work, I highly suggest starting out with “Map of Bones”. It may not be your cup of tea, but then again, you might find them a harmless diversion, and an entertaining read.

  19. paul_leone says:

    I’m also curious about the Vatican Vampire Assassin Squad. Are its members tormented victims of the curse of undeath (a la Angel) striking out at their more sinister vampiric brethren or are they Jack Crow types ridding the world of the monstrous hordes?

    [Ummm…. I really can’t say…]

  20. Sonshine135 says:

    Like a Dan Brown novel, I think this is another situation where people are trying to find things that aren’t there. If I’m sitting in a bar drinking a beer, it may be construed that I am looking to find a date, looking to get drunk, or looking to view a sports event on the big screen; when really all I wanted was to have a beer.

    [Or, just maybe, all three?]

  21. The Drifter says:

    “Dietrologia” at its best

    [YES! Well done.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  22. Nan says:

    A much as I love Pope Benedict, he stepped down out of love; whatever his reasons were, it was for the good of the Church. His presence in the convent in the Vatican gardens and life of prayer is a deliberate act, so we understand the importance of prayer for the Church at this time. The conspiracy started long ago, when an angel fell from heaven.

  23. tcreek says:

    Pope Francis does not live in the Papal Apartments but in guest quarters in the St. Martha House. Why? Is it because Pope Benedict was forced to resign and Francis fears the staff in the papal apartment? Benedict looks better every day now that he has recovered from the toxin. Pope Francis is 78 and could go any day. Who is planning the next conclave? What about the shifty monsignors in 1978 when John Paul I suspiciously met his fate. I hear they are still around. Can a pope shed the emeritus title? So many questions! Can the end be near?

    [I sense that you are not treating this very seriously.]

  24. robtbrown says:

    Suburbanbanshee says:

    1. Considering that Benedict XVI made a Very Big Point of making sure that the rules say that a pope can resign, and considering that he bugged the heck out of Pope JPII to try to get him to resign and just didn’t succeed because Poles have as much stubborn as Bavarians, I think it’s pretty sure that Benedict XVI thinks a pope can resign.

    I have never heard that Cdl Ratzinger tried to get JPII to resign.

    [I think that was on Art Bell’s show.]

  25. Bosco says:

    Grazie for the gold, Father . Socci does tend to be effusive and self-congratulatory at times. In fairness however, and in peril of having my gold star revoked, I offer a contribution made by Louie Verrecchio in his blog ‘Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II’ . The analysis is entitled “A Tale of Two Pontiffs” and has a more concrete rationale for what perhaps poor Antonio Socci was striving to articulate.
    The link is here, and with your gracious indulgence, I offer it as it may help round out this topic a bit:
    Even a broken clock shows the correct time twice a day.

  26. jbas says:

    Perhaps a revived Holy Roman Emperor could serve as third umpire in papal elections. Pius X, pray for us.

  27. steve jones says:

    The wiki leaks scandal suggests that the CIA use an American journalist based in Rome as their source. The issue is whether he sought to influence the 2005 conclave in the interest of the “American Century” project (to borrow a phrase from Henry Luce)? Said correspondent’s biography of Cardinal Ratzinger suggests that he did but failed.

    I find it typically American (or Anglo-Saxon) to suggest that Italians are obsessed with conspiracy theories when the American intelligence services have been an active presence throughout the World since the war. There is credible evidence that Luce’s Time/Life publishing empire (now part of Warner Communications which owns CNN) exercised influence at the Second Vatican Council. We easily forget that J23 was their “man of the year” back in 1962.

  28. paul_leone says:

    “Ummm…. I really can’t say…”

    Well, if and when you do write your epic VVAS story, I’ll buy a copy.

  29. Robbie says:

    It seems I’m somewhat of an outlier on this issue, but, while I think Benedict’s resignation was valid, I think he was encouraged to resign by a cabal working against him and his goals. I suppose it’s always going to be supposition that aids my belief, but the best evidence we have that some in the Vatican wanted him gone is the vocal crowing we saw after his resignation and especially after the election of his successor. Cardinal Mahoney took thinly veiled shots at Benedict on his Twitter account and Archbishop Marini talked a dark cloud being lifted. And within the last week or so, Cardinal Hummes suggested people started to have faith in the Church again after the election of Francis. None of this means anything illegal occurred, but I think there’s reason to believe Benedict received some nudging.

  30. BobP says:

    Valid but illicit maybe?

  31. Could this not be a situation of both/and. Understanding the personality type of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI…his not wanting to make things about his own person and abdicate makes sense. That said, I do believe that he both freely resigned, and had a little nudging thanks to events in particular. While I’m not willing to say the abdication was invalid, there are times when I’m left questioning….

  32. Uxixu says:

    This reminds me of the Cardinal Siri conspiracy rumors. As much as I am saddened by his resignation and wish he hadn’t done it, I believe Benedict XVI voluntarily resigned.

  33. Katylamb says:

    Pope Benedict said his conscience told him to resign because of infirmity and old age- not that some cabel wanted him too. He said he renounced his ministry “WITH FULL FREEDOM.”
    I believe it.
    For never in a million years would I accuse dear Pope Benedict of being a liar!
    As for it being valid- must it not be valid since he was the supreme head of the Church when he declared his resignation?

  34. Ceile De says:

    If only, if only.

  35. Ben Kenobi says:

    A book! Great! Now all you have to do is work in some famous early-modern pioneer connected to the CHurch that everyone has heard about and you’ll have a best seller. Is Da-Vinci taken?

  36. Gratias says:

    The novel by Fr. Malachi Martin called Windswept House was about a Vatican cabal to force the Pope (a fictitious JP2) to resign. It seems to me he was prophetic, and that Benedict’s resignation was forced. But who am I to judge?

  37. anna 6 says:

    Some of these crazy conspiracy theories are based on the notion that Benedict resigned because he was horrified at the results of the cardinal’s investigation into “Vatileaks”, which allegedly revealed, clericalism and a gay lobby in the Curia (as if B16 would be shocked by that).

    The reality is the opposite.

    Benedict called for the investigation because he was planning to abdicate and he wanted things in order for the next pope. Vatileaks actually delayed his (long planned for) resignation rather than caused it.

    The dear Pope Emeritus was old and tired. Period.

  38. Father Z: “[I think everyone should read this comment, so I’ll leave it be.]”

    I agree. And I agree with Anchorite. Not about whether Pope Francis really thinks he’s pope, but that “Confusion of the faithful is not a laughing matter.” And that there is plenty of it, resulting from too many easily exploited off-the-cuff remarks about serious matters.

  39. LadyMarchmain says:

    Gratias: thanks, that made me laugh. And I also think there was something prophetic there.

    Let’s not be naive about this. The situation is unprecedented; you don’t have to be a novelist or paranoid UFO-watching conspiracy nut to detect that there was considerable internal opposition in the Vatican to Holy Father Emeritus’ efforts, sufficient to wear out a much younger man.

    Benedict XVI was the first to become Pope who had read the Third Secret of Fatima. I believe he knew he would have take the helm at a very challenging time in Church history, that there were so many wolves that he especially asked our prayers to help him face them with courage, and that he planned from the start that he would resign if he felt he was not up to the task. He did face them with courage. He gave us Summorum Pontificum, he lifted the ex-communications from the SSPX, he established Anglicanorum caelorum, he almost succeeded in bringing the SSPX back into the Church. When we think back to John Paul II, the contrast is miraculous.

    I consider Benedict XVI’s pontificate to be the greatest in at least the second half of the 20th century, if not more. When the historical data is sifted and properly presented, I think we’ll see that it was under Benedict XVI that the noted surge in vocations took place. Gloria Olivae.

    I don’t believe we have been sufficiently grateful and I wish there was some way we could express our gratitude. I wish all the faithful could connect somehow and create something to send to him that would show how much we still love him and appreciate all he did for us and for our Church.

  40. LadyMarchmain says:

    (correction: coetibus, not caelorum)

  41. David Zampino says:


    I have read the Sigma Force series by Rollins, and enjoy those books very much.

  42. Priam1184 says:

    @Henry Edwards So it wasn’t Da Vinci and the Priory of Sion? It was Rembrandt and the Sanguines? Got it.

  43. anna 6 says:

    Lady M. said: “I don’t believe we have been sufficiently grateful and I wish there was some way we could express our gratitude. I wish all the faithful could connect somehow and create something to send to him that would show how much we still love him and appreciate all he did for us and for our Church.”

    This most certainly true!! Perhaps Fr. Z, or another clever reader could come up with a creative way for us to properly recognize and thank the Pope Emeritus in a very public way. The first anniversary of his last day is February 28. Ideas, anyone??!!

  44. Bea says:

    “Strike at the shepherd and the sheep will scatter”

    And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said vehemently, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. {Mark 14:26-31 RSV}

    I love your surgical analysis.

    I think that since the beginning “That I not flee for fear of the wolves” Pope Benedict was tempted to “flee”.
    I believe his battle fatigue came from fighting that temptation to “flee” from the “filth that has entered the Church”: Good Friday Meditations 9th Station, March 24, 2005.

    I believe his “health” has recuperated since he fled because he no longer is fighting the temptation to “flee” from the filth that has entered the Church.
    “before the cock crows twice”
    How about: before the lightning strikes twice? (alluding to the 2 lightning strikes at the dome of St. Peters the night that he abdicated).

    But Peter came back. Could Pope Benedict come back? If the abdication was not valid could he still actually still be the pope? If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, and I am a beggar, wishing that Benedict would return and continue naming the good bishops that he called upon for the USA while he was still Pope. And my heart is still breaking.

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