ASK FATHER: If in letters Benedict XVI imparts still the Apostolic Blessing…

Debates about the true status of Benedict XVI could root the stuff of novels.

There are those who say that Benedict XVI is still really Pope.  There are different reasons given.  One is that his abdication was under duress and is, therefore, void.  Another is that he himself did not intend to resign: why else would he remain in Vatican City, retain the papal name Benedict XVI and dress in the classic white cassock with white zucchetto, but not the simarra which, with its pellegrina or cape, is a symbol of jurisdiction?  Some wonder if there isn’t a way in which Benedict remains Pope but with a solely contemplative role, while Francis is pope with an active role which includes potestas, such that the munus Petrinum is now shared.

Here is another bit of information to toss into the speculation ring.

I received an email from a reader…


Can Benedict XVI impart an apostolic blessing if he has ceased to be the Pope?

In the Bild article leaking excerpts of Benedict XVI’s letters to Brandmuller, he ends one with:

Beten wir lieber darum, wie Sie es am Ende Ihres Briefes getan haben, daß der Herr seiner Kirche zu Hilfe kommt. Mit meinem apostolischen Segen bin ich


Benedict XVI

My translation:

Let us pray, as you did at the end of your letter,  that the Lord will come to the help of His Church.  I am with my apostolic blessing


Benedict XVI

It may be that His Holiness B16 dashed that off as a matter of habit.  Heck, I know an older priest or two who still mention John Paul in the Eucharistic Prayer.

It may be that His Holiness is using the term somewhat loosely.

That said, the Apostolic Benediction is given by the Pope.   They do so solemnly on occasions such as the Urbi et Orbi blessing.  It is done at audiences (except when Francis chooses not to bless at all).  They do so also in writing for some occasions.

A few others in limited circumstances impart the Apostolic Blessing.  A priest can give it with an indulgence when someone is dying.  Bishops could give the blessing three times a year on solemn feasts.

However, in general Popes give this blessing and Popes customarily end special letters with an expression that they impart the Apostolic Blessing.

It is possible that Benedict XVI was using terms loosely, and really meant his pontifical blessing, his episcopal blessing as a bishop.

Finally, I suspect that Benedict, who by all reports is still as sharp as a scalpel, knows very well what he can and cannot do, none better.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I’ve searched high and low but am unable to find an explanation as to who and why these letters were made available to the media. These were private communications. Either the writer or the recipient would appear to be the only ones privy to them. What’s the story? The covert appearance of this correspondence is more of a story than their actual content.
    Given the doctored photos of Benedict’s correspondence regarding the pamphlets on Bergoglian theology earlier this year, one can’t help but wonder who and what purpose the release of this private correspondence is meant to serve.
    Or did that evil butler come back and start leaking again?

  2. chantgirl says:

    Just when I thought it was safe to come out from under my tin foil hat, lol. Benedict is sending out some mixed signals. I’d like to read the rest of the letters for context.

    These letters were spun by the NY Times to say that Benedict was criticizing Francis’ critics, but I don’t see anything to indicate that. We didn’t get the full texts, so I guess we won’t know until they are released, but it sounds more like Benedict chiding his own critics than Francis’.

    I doubt this was leaked by any Francis cronies, because Benedict makes it pretty clear that he is aware of the disastrous papacy that has followed his.

    So my wish list now includes:

    Release the full Benedict/Brandmuller letters.
    Release the answers to the Dubia.
    Release the Lavender Mafia dossier.
    Release the Kolvenbach report.
    Release diocesan abuse files.
    Release the files related to the Vigano expose.
    Release everything to do with the Third Secret of Fatima.

  3. Clayton says:

    I wish we heard more often from Benedict. For myself, in these times, I feel a certain comfort just knowing he is still around.

  4. Charles E Flynn says:

    The date of one of the letters has been overlooked by many journalists.

    From , by Phil Lawler:

    As we do so, however, let’s bear two things in mind: First, these were private letters, written to an old friend. How they came into the possession of a German tabloid newspaper is, at least for now, an unsolved mystery. In any case they were not public statements. Second, the more recent letter was written nearly a full year ago—in November 2017—and so it cannot be read as a commentary on the current crisis at the Vatican. (More on that point below.)


    We don’t know what Pope-emeritus Benedict thinks of the Vigano testimony; he has been conspicuously silent. But I feel quite confident in saying this much: In a letter dated November 2017, Benedict was not rebuking conservative Catholics for how they have behaved in September 2018.

  5. exNOAAman says:

    “…still as sharp as a scalpel…”

  6. mburn16 says:

    “These letters were spun by the NY Times to say that Benedict was criticizing Francis’ critics, but I don’t see anything to indicate that. We didn’t get the full texts, so I guess we won’t know until they are released, but it sounds more like Benedict chiding his own critics than Francis'”

    Agreed. The Miami Herald had an article on it as well – to the effect of “Benedict reprimands Francis’ critics”

    But the perception I got was more along the lines of “don’t blame me for this mess”

  7. If there is or was a concession of the Apostolic Benediction to the local ordinaries three times in the year, might it not be reasonable to suppose that, given the unusual circumstances, such a concession was made to Benedict XVI? but who knows, of course.

  8. Malta says:

    Out of respect to Fr. Z, who I greatly respect, I’ll keep this comment short and respectful. I believe Pope Benedict XVI to be the true Pope in Rome.

  9. Imrahil says:

    I’ve heard that Pope Benedict still “blesses apostolically”, as it were, on the grounds that he still is a successor of St. Peter – even though no the current successor of St. Peter.

  10. iPadre says:

    I used to think it was so wonderful to have a “Pope Emeritis.” I no longer think so. If you abdicate, you loose all titles and vesture. A former Pope should not be called “Your Holiness, ” he should not dress in a white cassock, and he should not live in the Vatican. A retired Pope should dress in a black cassock and return to, not Cardinal, but a simple Bishop, with all of the rights and privileges, but no more and no less. This is nothing against Benedict. I love and respect the man, but this is only a source of confusion and and anger for some. And this thing of Ganswein talking about a “dual Papacy.” Nonsense!

  11. Elly says:

    If Francis is not really the pope then would that mean those he ordains as bishops and cardinals are not really bishops and cardinals? And the priests ordained by these men are not really priests?

    Please help me to understand this. I am very worried.

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Somebody in the office found a stack of old form letters and is determined to use them up; or they pulled up the wrong boilerplate on the computer. I have been a secretary, and that is the sort of thing that happens. Having a mostly blind boss would make it happen more.

    Wake up, non-secretarial sheeple!

  13. Imrahil says:

    Dear Elly,

    1. Francis is the Pope.

    2. The validity (or if you will, the “reality”) of episcopal consecrations celebrated by Pope Francis (in person) does not have to do with his being Pope at all, but with the validity of his own episcopal consecration (by Cardinal Quarracino in 1992) – and, among other things “for safety”, he will have at least two coconsecrators, and it suffices that only one of them is validly a bishop.

    3. A fortiori, if we look at those who are commissioned bishops by Pope Francis because he’s the Pope, but not consecrated by him but by somewhom else: whether they are really bishops has nothing to do with anything about the Holy Father at all.

    4. The reply concerning the priests is clear from what has been said.

  14. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Of course, since the German article shows the phrases in isolation, with no letter, no date, and no signature, the whole paragraph could have just been photocopied out of letters from B16’s pope days.

    I mean, if you are going to get all conspiratorial, the news media is the last group you trust.

  15. cengime says:

    I agree with Imrahil’s analysis, but he did not address the creation of cardinals (as well as the legality of Francis’ appointment of bishops to particular dioceses, dissolutions of marriages by the Petrine privilege, absolution of censures reserved to the Apostolic See, and so on).

    This is a non-sacramental act of Church governance. It requires jurisdiction for validity. However, if Benedict is still the pope, this is a textbook case of the kind of common error of fact referred to by c. 144: everybody thought that Francis became pope, but he did so invalidly because the office was still filled.

    This may seem like a rare and exotic case rather than a “textbook” one, but the exact same thing can happen in ordinary life for a variety of reasons. Suppose Bishop McButterpants decides to remove Fr Z as pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus with 600 parishioners and ship him out to St Joan of Arc with 45 parishioners. Bishop McButterpants appoints Fr Lovebeads as pastor of Sacred Heart as of July 1, but, due to his ignorance of the law, neglects to make provision for c. 191 § 1, which says that when someone is transferred to a new office, their old office only becomes vacant when they take possession of the new office (unless competent authority prescribes otherwise). Fr Z moves out of Sacred Heart on June 30, but goes in for a psychiatric evaluation [HEY! Wait just a doggone minute!] and does not take possession of his new parish until August 1. C. 153 § 1 says that an office must be vacant before it can be filled. The office of pastor of Sacred Heart is not vacant when Fr Lovebeads takes charge, yet everyone thinks he is the pastor.

    Here, there is a common error: a mistaken judgement by the community. Common error is not simply ignorance. People who ought to know think that someone is the pastor even though he is not. In such cases, c. 144 exists to uphold the intentions of authorities against legal technicalities: “In factual or legal common error and in positive and probable doubt of law or of fact, the Church supplies executive power of governance for both the external and internal forum.” Though he does not possess executive power of governance in virtue of office, the law itself supplies him with the power necessary to safeguard the common good of the Church by protecting against repeated acts being invalid.

    [This was interesting. I would remind you, however, that I in The Little World I reference in these electronic pages, McButterpants is Bishop of Libville, while Msgr. Z is in the Diocese of Black Duck posted at St. Ipsidipsy in Tall Tree Circle. And I remind the readership that I have discerned in my conscience that I am now an “internal forum” Monsignor. You are all obliged now to accompany me. If you don’t, you hate mercy.]

  16. OrdoMilitaris says:

    Dear Cengine,

    Recourse to canon 144 does not however make an false claimant to the Papacy a true claimant. There can only be 1 pope, and as during the great schism, when such principle was no doubt used to justify what the other antipopes had done, it nevertheless did not confer legitimacy upon them.

    Seems like no one is remembering that the Office of Pope is of Divine, immediate and direct institution by the Incarnate Son of God, and that therefore, the authority to duplicate it or share any of its dignity or grace or status or office among more than 1 person is an alteration ultra vires of any Pontiff. On that basis, considering what B16 says about creating a status which would be different from a Cardinal, as part of his intention to resign, it seems reasonable to hold that its probable that he did not resign. As I believe one previous pope remarked, you have to resign the whole office, not just some parts of it, or the resignation is invalid. That the Vatican is worried about this is shown that in their translations of the act of abdication, they render the Latin “munus” the same as all the other occurrences of “ministerium”, which in my opinion as a Latin translator, is a fraud on the people of God.

    If we look at the first reading from today’s Gospel in the NO, Ephesians 14: 1ff., you can see from the Vulgate text that there is a “donatio” of grace for each “opus ministerii” which cannot be signified by the Latin “ministerium”, but can be by the good old Latin “munus”, which B16 admits at the beginning of his letter of resignation.

    In summation, there are 3 things required for a valid resignation right intention, freedom from coercion, and a valid formula of complete resignation of the office and its ministry. B16 has publicly affirmed his liberty, but of his intention he admits the desire to create 2 offices, and in his formula of resignation speaks only of laying down the ministerium, not the munus.

    I personally think this question deserves to be appealed to another Synod like that held in Sutri in 1046.

    Br. Alexis Bugnolo

  17. JabbaPapa says:

    I agree with Imrahil.

    Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus remains a successor of St Peter.

  18. chantgirl says:

    Edward Pentin has updated the coverage with photocopies and a translation of both letters from Benedict. We still don’t have the letters from Brandmuller.

  19. MrsMacD says:

    I want to stay in Holy Mother Church no matter what, until death. I must admit that the arguments in favour of Benedict still being Pope are not from the mind of people who have gone mad. This seems a very real possibility, and so I feel a certain moral relativism in regard to the whole rigamarole. I will act as if Francis is pope until I know otherwise, which includes praying for him as if he’s the pope. If Benedict is indeed still the pope then I beg Holy God to let us know. Only the truth with set you free.

  20. Antonin says:

    Clearly Benedict’s resignation was made with full freedom. He said “For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter”

    He said “full freedom” – end of conspiracy around being forced out.

  21. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Totally beside the point unless I’m Dan Rather… But what font is Benedict using in those letters? Is that an Apple font?

  22. JabbaPapa says:

    Suburbanbanshee :

    Totally beside the point unless I’m Dan Rather… But what font is Benedict using in those letters? Is that an Apple font?

    Looks like a Garamond variant, I think ?

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