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Estefanía Acosta, Colombian attorney and leader in the “Benedict is Pope” (BiP) movement, has written a meticulously detailed five-part series refuting the “Substantial Error” theory suggested by Ann Barnhardt, Mark Docherty, and my friend Prof. Ed Mazza.
I am honored to publish the case against “Substantial Error” here. To get a copy of her outstanding book Benedict XVI: Pope “Emeritus”? The Always Is Also a Forever, click HERE.
The ever-growing BiP movement agrees that Pope Benedict is the true Pope, but some are needlessly divided over the reasons why that is so. We hold that the evidence is clear and convincing that His Holiness intended to resign the ministerium (the external functions of the papacy) but retain the munus (the office or gift of the papacy)—not that the Holy Father has held a modernist or otherwise heterodox view of the papacy for decades—the “Substantial Error”—that caused him to mistakenly resign the wrong way.
The following Introduction sets forth Acosta’s very detailed objections to this “Substantial Error” theory, which purportedly invalidates Pope Benedict’s resignation. I will post the remaining analyses here later this week. Each post builds upon the previous, delving more deeply (and from different angles) into why “Substantial Error” is itself an error that can be refuted by a close look at Ratzinger’s own writings in context, and at the Declaratio that the Holy Father read on February 11, 2013.
More and more Catholics around the world are opening their eyes to the fact that the famous Declaratio publicly communicated by His Holiness Benedict XVI on February 11, 2013 did not constitute a valid resignation from the pontificate[i]. An objective, verifiable, documented fact: the Pope explicitly stated that he resigned “the ministry of bishop of Rome“, and not the Petrine munus, that is, he resigned from performing (some of) the functions inherent to the Pope, but not from being the titular of the ecclesiastical charge or office of Roman Pontiff[ii]. This fact, as is known, was followed by the rigorous and generally silent self-exile of the Holy Father in the Vatican, so that the Apostolic See was paralyzed, in a certain way impeded[iii], and at the same time materially exposed to the attacks of the enemies of the Church. And so it happened that ecclesiastical Freemasonry, embodied in the Satanist conspirators who led the infamous St. Gallen mafia, managed to install one of their own as usurper of the throne of Peter: Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known with the offensive and burlesque entelechy of Francis[iv]. Nine years later, “the two Popes” apparently continue their peaceful coexistence.
So far everything is clear: at the canonical level, we have a legitimate Pope but materially retired from his functions (H.H. Benedict XVI), and an anti-Pope who, de facto, intends to “govern, sanctify and teach” the Universal Church without having an iota of authority for it (Francis). Now, the panorama begins to get complicated, and the disputes to arise, as we delve into the reason for the situation: what was Benedict XVI thinking when drafting his Declaratio? Did he know, prior to its public reading, that the text contained a non-existent/invalid resignation from the pontificate, or did he mistakenly believe that he was resigning on a juridical level? Did the Shepherd abandon his sheep? Has the Holy Father lied about the reasons for his “resignation”, or when supposedly recognizing Francis as Pope? Is Benedict XVI a heretic (formal or material) as regards the essence of the Papacy?
Naturally, we do not intend here to answer all these questions – which, incidentally, we have already done to some extent elsewhere[v]. Specifically, we propose to dismantle the so-called “theories of substantial error”, which proclaim that Benedict XVI ignores the canonical invalidity of his resignation, since his misconception about the nature and essential characteristics of the Papacy led him to think that it was possible for him to give rise to a valid “successor” in the pontificate and at the same time continue to be Pope.
As we shall see, these theories are, at best, lacking in sufficient evidence, and at worst, openly contradicting existing evidence. In any case, they accentuate the already harmful traditionalist[vi] positions that, seeing in the post-conciliar Popes hopeless heretics and modernists, or at least fifth-class theologians, only contribute to deepening the wounds of division in the Church, and to hinder the filial and loyal adherence to Peter. We will try to undermine them, then, as part of our service to The Rock: our Lord Jesus Christ and His Vicar on Earth.
To fulfill this purpose, we will begin by defining “substantial error” in the context of the juridical act. Then we will address the two theories of substantial error that, due to their great diffusion and their at least internal coherence[vii], deserve consideration. We will address both theories separately: we will briefly expose their postulates, and immediately we will present the respective counter-arguments. Finally, we will offer our conclusions on the assessment that these theories deserve in terms of truthfulness, necessity and convenience.
“Substantial error” as a vice of consent in the juridical act
Like almost all words in natural language, the term “error” has multiple meanings. Let us take, for what concerns us here, the first two definitions offered by the Royal Spanish Academy (Real Academia Española – RAE): “Wrong concept or false judgment / Misguided or wrong action”[viii] [and by “misguided” is meant, lacking sanity, prudence, or accuracy[ix]]. As an example of “mistake,” the dictionary presents us the following sentence: “When writing the address, I have mistaken the number of the hallway”[x].
Let us now enter the context of the juridical act. Let us remember that a juridical act is nothing more than a socially recognizable decision (expression of will or consent) relevant to the law, that is, accepted by the pertinent regulations as a source generating juridical consequences. Thus, for example, the juridical consequences of a contract are the reciprocal obligations between the contracting parties, the juridical consequences of an act of adoption correspond to the parentage relationship between adopters and adoptees etc.
Logically, for the effective arrival of the juridical consequences that each juridical act is conceded to generate, it is necessary that the act meets all the requirements provided by the law itself. These requirements are aimed, on the one hand, at guaranteeing clarity, security, and freedom for those who participate in the act; and on the other, at safeguarding certain demands related to public order (public safety, morality and good customs, publicity of particular transactions etc.).
What does all this have to do with the notion of “substantial error”?
“Substantial error,” understood in the first meaning that the RAE provided us—or, in the more elaborated words of the canonists, as “a defect of the act of understanding by which there is a false judgment or wrong estimate of an object”[xi]—is a phenomenon that excludes the freedom of the parties in juridical acts, and therefore is generally provided as a ground for their nullity. Indeed, how could someone freely make the decision that the juridical act consists of, if his intelligence is affected by a mistaken appreciation of the circumstances that in one way or another influence such act?
If the correct understanding of the reality on which to decide is lacking, the will in this decision will not be free (it will be vitiated), and consequently, the act in question may be annulled. In the canonical context, such nullity is provided for in canons 126 and 188 of the Code of Canon Law (CCL).[xii]
These theoretical considerations are necessary because, in the case of the presumed juridical act of “resignation from the pontificate” carried out by His Holiness Benedict XVI in February 2013, there have been pointed out (under the heading of supposedly invalidating errors) a number of circumstances that in no way fit into the concept of “substantial error” as a vice of consent.
Thus, for example, there are those who have tried to analyze the grammatical errors of Latin[xiii], or even the typing errors,[xiv] present in the Declaratio, from the perspective of this class of vices[xv]. But, what does a grammatical or typing error have to do with a mistaken appreciation of the reality that surrounds the act and, therefore, with a vice of consent? Obviously nothing.
It has also been said that “the Holy Spirit guided Benedict XVI to make AN INTENTIONALLY ERROR ON PURPOSE”[xvi] (sic). We do not know what specific “error” the commentator is referring to here, but, although in certain cases the presence of “errors” deliberately inserted in the text of a juridical act would be conceivable—such as the aforementioned grammatical and typing errors–the truth is that deliberation automatically excludes the defect of understanding that constitutes the “substantial error” as a vice of consent.
Still others have pointed out that, despite the fact that, for the valid renunciation from the papal office (and the consequent vacancy of the Apostolic See), canon 332.2 of the CCL expressly provides for the renunciation from the munus, Benedict resigned from the ministerium, and therefore, his assertion that the See would remain vacant was “erroneous.” This would be, they continue, a “substantial error” in terms of the effects of the act. The defenders of this position explain it in a simple way by comparing what the Pope affirmed in his Declaratio—in the sense that, by renouncing the ministerium, the See would remain vacant—with the absurd hypothesis that it would be said: “I renounce eating bananas, in such a way that the See will remain vacant.”[xvii]
The problem with this explanation is that it does not offer proof of the “substantial error” (understood as a vice of consent) that it advocates. What this position evidences is a deficiency related to the object of the supposed juridical act contained in the Declaratio: if the Pope intended to resign from the Papacy, he should have precisely indicated the Papacy (or its synonyms: pontificate, primatial office, charge of Roman Pontiff etc.) as the object of his resignation; having pointed to a different object (ministry, bananas, etc.), it was logically impossible for the act of resignation from the Papacy to arise. But the fact that an object other than the one required for the emergence of the act has been indicated does not allow us to know, per se, the reason why the author has acted in this way, and therefore, the affirmation that this reason would have been necessarily a “substantial error” is simply gratuitous and unjustified. Is it not possible that Pope Benedict had been fully aware that his “resignation from the ministry” would in no way produce, juridically, the vacancy of the See, and even then he had expressly alluded to it for reasons of convenience? Could not this behavior correspond to a deliberate and subtle use of ambiguity?
What we want to highlight here is: a juridical act does not meet the necessary requirements for its existence and validity (that is, to produce the juridical effects that are inherent to it) is not necessarily due to a “substantial error,” to poor knowledge or misjudgment on the part of its author. Thus, for example, I could, in the text of an alleged sales contract of one of my properties, mix correct data and erroneous data about its identification (location, area, license plate number etc.), and this could be due either to the fact that I mistakenly think that all the data entered is correct (and it would even be possible that I had a wrong judgment about the identity of the property that I am supposedly selling), or to the fact that I know and accept the inaccuracy of some of such data, since for some reason I am interested in causing confusion in the object sold so that, tomorrow, I can obtain a declaration of non-existence or nullity of the act.
Let us take an even simpler example. Suppose someone declares: “the rotational movement of the earth takes 48 hours.” This proposition is clearly and objectively false, but, in terms of the “psychological perception” of its author, the possibilities are multiple. Thus, it is possible that the author is lying (and deliberately trying to teach a false doctrine), or joking, or that he is in fact “in error.” Or, finally, that he is trying to send his recipient(s) certain message (linked, for example, to the 48/24 ratio).
What we want to explain with the previous hypotheses is that “substantial error” cannot be recognized only from the very words of the act in question. The “substantial error” is a psychological phenomenon, and as such requires further evidence to reconstruct the author’s assessment of the reality to which the act refers. These proofs could be linked, for example, to the intellectual level of the subject, his motivations, the circumstances in which he was when performing the act, etc.
None of the aforementioned complaints about the alleged “substantial errors” in Benedict XVI’s Declaratio—linked, respectively, to grammatical and typing errors, to “an intentional [or] purposeful error” and to “an error as to the effects of the act”—fulfills this necessary burden of proof in terms of the psychological, and therefore all of them are dismissible without further ado.
However, there are two theories of “substantial error” that effectively start from an adequate understanding of the need to satisfy this burden of proof, and in fact attempt to satisfy it. We turn to an individual examination of these two theories below.
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[i] Patrick Coffin being perhaps, until now, the most prominent voice in defense of this reality. Cf. https://www.patrickcoffin.media/seven-pieces-of-evidence-that-francis-is-an-antipope/, https://www.redvoicemedia.com/2022/05/anti-pope-catholic-writer-says-francis-has-assumed-invalid-authority-over-catholic-church/
[iii] Truthfully, the situation in which Pope Benedict XVI has been during these nine years does not fit technically and precisely in what canons 412 to 415 of the Code of Canon Law (CCL) understand and regulate for “impeded episcopal See” – moreover, we do not even have a specific canonical regulation of the “impeded apostolic See.” And this is obvious: the current situation of the pontificate is completely unprecedented in the history of the Church, and escapes the juridical provisions that have existed up to now. We are not in a “vacant See,” since we still habemus Papam (Benedict XVI), but this Pope is not in the “normal” exercise of his functions. The concept of “impeded See,” whose relevance has been proposed by the Italian journalist Andrea Cionci (cf. https://www.byoblu.com/2022/01/07/papa-e-antipapa-linchiesta-fango-di-40-anni-fa-contro-papa-ratzinger-il-tragico-boomerang-dei-pro-bergoglio-parte-60/), is the one that, at least provisionally, comes closest to the adequate description of the crisis that the Papacy is going through at the present time.
[iv] Cf. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/cardinal-danneels-admits-being-part-of-clerical-mafia-that-plotted-francis; https://www.hispantv.com/noticias/europa/58849/iglesia-catolica-mafia-cardenal-danneels-papa-francisco-benedicto-xvi; https://www.infocatolica.com/?t=noticia&cod=24945; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuzV4zdAgpU; PIQUÉ, Elisabetta. Francisco: Vida y Revolución. Una biografía de Jorge Bergoglio (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2013); 315p; IVEREIGH, Austen. El Gran Reformador: Francisco, relato de un Papa radical. Buenos Aires: Ediciones B, 2015. 567p.
[vi] Make no mistake: by definition, every true Catholic must be traditional (not traditionalist) and modern (not modernist) at the same time. We follow the Risen Christ, always the same and always new!
[vii] By “internal coherence,” we mean that the two theories in question start from an adequate understanding of the concept of “substantial error.”
[xi] CÓDIGO DE DERECHO CANÓNICO. 6ª ed. Pamplona: Ediciones Universidad de Navarra S.A., 2001; comment on c. 1097.
[xii] “An act performed out of ignorance or of error when it affects what constitutes the substance of the act or falls on a sine qua non condition is null; otherwise, the act is valid, unless law establishes otherwise, but the act performed due to ignorance or error may give rise to the rescission action in accordance with law” and “The resignation made due to grave fear unjustly inflicted, malice, substantial error or simony is null by virtue of law itself.”
[xiii] Commissum vs. commisso, vitae vs. vita.
[xiv] Hora 29 vs. hora 20.
[xv] Cf. Josephmaryam, Análisis de la renuncia del Papa Benedicto XVI. [consulted May 04, 2022] Available on: https://josephmaryam.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/analisis.pdf.
[xvii] Cf. https://www.fromrome.info/2018/11/19/the-validity-of-pope-benedict-vxis-resignation-must-be-questioned/; https://abyssum.org/2018/03/21/much-has-been-written-about-benedicts-resignation-and-francis-election-here-is-the-best-analysis-i-have-read-up-to-now/.