German Church Historian Fears “Antipope” Benedict

As Kathweb reports, Hubert Wolf, professor of church history in Munster, calls for a clearer distinction between pope and “pope emeritus” in Thursday’s edition of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. According to Wolf, there have been fears that “around Francis and Benedict XVI two competing power centers could come into being in the curia, with pope and antipope at the top of each.”

The church historian notes that when Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415, he became member of the college of cardinals again and traded his papal clothing for the purple of a cardinal. He was no longer addressed as “Your Holiness.”*

The professor suggests that instead of the title “pope emeritus,” more appropriate would be “cardinal bishop emeritus.”

There is currently much discussion about the recently-released fourth volume of the collected works of Joseph Ratzinger. In this volume, he altered decisive passages about those divorced and remarried which he originally wrote in 1972. Wolf writes that with this publication, the former pope “clearly” positions himself “in the current debate, which surely does not fit with the claim to withdraw from public life.”

On the other hand, Wolfgang Beinert, retired professor of dogmatics and kindred spirit to Benedict XVI, told it is likely a coincidence that the book by the former pope appears now. He said,

The fact is that the publication of the collected works of Ratzinger was prepared long beforehand. There is a publication timetable which specifies exactly when each volume is to appear. And secondly, one must consider that between editorial reworking and then possible interventions of the author and the appearance of the volume, some time is required for purely technological reasons. I presume that the changes which Benedict made already took place before one knew about the bishops’ synod and its issues.

*The original post stated that he traded his white papal clothing, seemed to suggest that the council ended in 1415, and said he was then addressed as “Your Eminence.” The post has been changed because of comment #15 below. The original post faithfully translated the Kathweb story; because the full article in FAZ is not accessible, it is very possible that the error is on the part of the linked story rather than the respected historian.






22 responses to “German Church Historian Fears “Antipope” Benedict”

  1. Hal Weidner Avatar

    What about Bishop Emeritus of Rome? Ditch all that other papal stuff.

  2. Ed Nash Avatar
    Ed Nash

    While I appreciate all this from Professor Beinert, when you step down from being Pope and you choose to keep your white clothing because you said tongue in cheek that it’s the only color you have… then your books articles, and talks stop for this reason precisely. You’ve got bloggers out there now carrying the torch for Benedict’s orthodoxy and it is not the headache anyone needs right now. It is time for Benedict to write his followers and say “I am praying for the Pope because I am not he. Thank you.” After reading the reflections on marriage and the Sacrament, my sense is that Benedict is blessed that Francis is so kind because if a living ex Pope would have done that to him, he, like Napoleon would have been exiled to Elba (Malta already being occupied).

  3. Francesco Poggesi Avatar
    Francesco Poggesi

    “Pope emeritus” seems about right. “Cardinal bishop emeritus” seems like the title of a person who was a cardinal bishop and then retired without achieving a more significant position. Is “being pope” something we are so used to considering a life sentence that we would rather pretend someone was never the Pope than admit that he was once but is no longer?

    1. James Harvey Avatar
      James Harvey

      @Francesco Poggesi – comment #3:
      In think that is the idea. Some would prefer to airbrush Benedict out of history and out of the Church, I suspect this is behind the German theologian’s proposal. After all, many German theologians and bishops were uncomfortable with Benedict’s fidelity to the Gospel.

      1. Sean Whelan Avatar
        Sean Whelan

        @James Harvey – comment #4:

        Uncomfortable with Benedict’s fidelity to the Gospel? Really? Let me guess – in your book, Francis is not being as faithful?

  4. Alan Johnson Avatar
    Alan Johnson

    Former pope, or ex-pope or even dowager pope would seem to be as far as you can go with the “p” word. He did, after all, retire and lay the office down.
    My personal preference would be Cardinal Ratzinger.

  5. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

    I must admit that I would have preferred that he return to the black cassock, resume the name Josef, and be known as Bishop of Rome emeritus. Unfortunately for everyone, no one consulted me.

  6. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    Although I appreciate Professor Beinert’s irenic intention, and grant the point that these revisions do not happen overnight, I think it’s important at the same time to point out that the editor of Ratzinger’s collected works is none other than Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, of the CDF, whose own position has been made clear over the past months, and especially in the recent book he collected with several other like-minded churchmen. If we regard the revision of Ratzinger’s conclusions as a political statement, could it not be traced as easily to Mueller’s intervention as to Benedict’s? He was able to get his own book published in very short order, and it would not have been impossible for him to actualize a revision to the Opera Omnia in a short time, given that he was aware months ago that a storm was brewing over just this issue. Responsibility for the final revision rests with Benedict of course, for I find it hard to believe he did not take a close interest in the revisions. But it would not be the first time that an aging prelate was positioned by others to approve of something, with political intent on their part.

    1. Winston Lewis Avatar
      Winston Lewis

      @Rita Ferrone – comment #7:
      Quite correct remember Ottaviani, but I doubt they would try thus on BenXVI

  7. Fr William R Young Avatar
    Fr William R Young

    The title Emeritus Bishop of Rome would surely be entirely correct. There can be no harm in his retaining the honorary title “Pope”. The problem arose probably because at his election Francis wanted to stress that he was Bishop of Rome. He is THE Pope, THE Bishop of Rome. I suppose that if a man resigned from the papacy at a younger age, it could make sense for him to re-join the College of Cardinals. It would depend on what the Pope were to decide.

  8. Philip Endean SJ Avatar
    Philip Endean SJ

    The Wolf article is not to be found on the FAZ website, which seems pretty generous in what it reproduces. Is there a mistake here?

    1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
      Anthony Ruff, OSB

      @Philip Endean SJ – comment #10:
      Philip – I couldn’t find it at FAZ either, so I didn’t link to it. I’ve encountered this before. I linked only to the Kathweb site because I only have access to what they excerpt from FAZ.

  9. Mary Carney Avatar
    Mary Carney

    The name would be a problem no matter what. One cannot airbrush out that he was Pope no matter how much some might want to. I doubt Benedict is inserting himself into debates as much as those for and against are inserting him into the debates. Even if he had died these debates would still be happening. He did after all change his position long before 2014 on the issue of marriage. He has a long enough paper trail to really see this is really a non-argument.

  10. Aaron Sanders Avatar
    Aaron Sanders

    There will always be a fringe, no matter which direction one pushes toward the edge of the Church. So there will indeed be a few people who believe Benedict’s resignation invalid, just as there will always be some who believe in Pope Joan. But the fact of the matter is that no serious disciple of Benedict XVI would foment a schism simply because they think the current pope is doing a poor job – that intellectual school typically involves a bit too much insistence on obedience and fidelity to the pope to be likely to install an antipope, and Ratzingerians aren’t typically prone to conspiracy theories (those folks tend toward Lefebvrianism). So this seems more like hand-wringing over the possibility of Joseph Ratzinger continuing to exercise ANY influence in the Church. Have we seriously reached the point where a theologian removing a passage from a decades-old work makes us fear an antipapal cabal? What brazen impudence! O tempora! O mores!

  11. Will Natson Avatar
    Will Natson

    There is no real difference between the orthodox positions of Benedict and Francis. There are only money-obsessed people irritated by the anti-greed social justice words of Francis and Catholic-hating, anti-life media (both secular and religious) that distort whatever Francis says for their own benefit.

  12. Gerard Flynn Avatar
    Gerard Flynn

    A few anomalies about the posting: The Council of Constance didn’t end until 1418 at which stage Gregory XII was dead. Secondly, though he resigned in 1415, his successor, Martin V, wasn’t elected until after Gregory had died in 1417 so there was no Roman Pope (although there was a so-called ‘antipope’ in Avignon) between the time Gregory died and Martin was elected. It seems that the cardinals waited deliberately until he died before electing a successor.

    Secondly, about Gregory’s exchanging a white cassock for a red one, it is generally assumed that white didn’t become the papal colour until the Dominican, Pius V, some one hundred and fifty years later.

    Thirdly, referring to Cardinals as ’eminence’ seems to come from the time of Urban VIII (1623-1644). Prior to that date they were referred to as ‘Illustrissimi’ or ‘Reverendissimi’.

  13. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
    Jordan Zarembo

    It’s important to remember that Pope Emeritus Benedict is of very feeble health. I suspect that Benedict might not even be able to stand the entire time to offer Mass — I have heard that other priests have offered Mass for Benedict while he prays. For all we know (and I would hope), Pope Francis might say Mass for Benedict when he visits Benedict’s hermitage.

    I say this only because it is clear that Benedict cannot make a viable antipope. He does not, from what is known, have the physical capabilities to execute the office of a papacy. Also, it would be logistically implausible and quite absurd to provide antipope Benedict with a coronation. Many traditionalists ardently desire a return to the papal coronation, despite its glaring anachronism.

    If Pope Emeritus Benedict provides spiritual or intellectual inspiration to conservative and/or traditionalist intellectuals, that’s fine. He was a locus of conservative thought as a cardinal. I don’t see how a theological/liturgical movement centered around Benedict-thought could partially or fully obscure the intellectual and charitable work of Pope Francis.

  14. Steven Surrency Avatar
    Steven Surrency

    One note. Benedict isn’t as conservative as most of his “followers.” Yes, he was very liturgically conservative- though he regularly said a pretty normal Ordinary Form German mass as Cardinal and rarely celebrated the Extraordinary Form for himself back then. Moreover, he kept bringing up this issue about the divorced receiving communion even as prefect of CDF. He made the argument that if they can receive spiritual communion, why can’t they receive sacramental communion. He opened up to non-Marxist liberation theology against the advise of more conservative opponents (and JP2). He is by no means economically a conservative. In fact, he has written some stuff that would give Pope Francis a run for his money. Ratzinger seemed somewhat open to the possibility of Catholics voting for a pro-choice candidate. He clearly endorsed the idea of gradualism in his comment about prostitution and condoms. Look at his Encyclicals- all about love and social justice. While none of this makes him a “liberal” Catholic, he is certainly not the uber-rightwinger that many people use him to be.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      @Steven Surrency – comment #17:
      Gold star answer. I’ve had a sense that one reason B16 renounced the papal office was, among the things that obviously disheartened him, how many of his most voluble enthusiasts cherry-picked and distorted his remarks and actions, and that from this he realized he didn’t have a sufficient base of “successors” to cultivate for future generations.

  15. Joseph Anderson Avatar
    Joseph Anderson

    The original article by Dr. Wolf in the Frankfurter Allgemeine is found at:

    The article is not well written. Dr. Wolf is still debating the way that Benedict XVI resigned, stating that he should have followed the model of Gregory XII at the end of the Great Western Schism by readmitting himself to the College of Cardinals. At the same time, he complains that the Pope Emeritus is interfering in matters like the Family Synod by publishing a revised conclusion to a 1972 article on communion for the remarried. One wonders what Dr. Wolf thinks a readmitted Cardinal would do in terms of speaking and writing. Perhaps Joseph Ratzinger could attend the 2015 Family Synod as Cardinal.

  16. Christopher Mc Camley Avatar
    Christopher Mc Camley

    I think Pope Benedict has managed the change with great grace and consideration. It’s meaningless to suggest “emeritus bishop of Rome” would be better – who is the bishop of Rome but the Pope. And he isn’t a cardinal and couldn’t appoint himself a cardinal.

    1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
      Anthony Ruff, OSB

      @Christopher Mc Camley – comment #21:
      I agree on all counts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *