His Holiness Benedict’s Declaratio and the Myth of Substantial Error – Part V

His Holiness Benedict’s Declaratio and the Myth of Substantial Error – Part V

His Holiness Benedict XVI’s Declaratio
and the Myth of “Substantial Error”

Part V

By Estefanía Acosta


This is Part V, the final installment of the analyses and arguments against the “substantial error” theory held by Prof. Edmund Mazza, Ann Barnhardt, Mark Docherty and a few others. The author is Estefanía Acosta of Medellin, Colombia, whose work on the Benedict Is Pope conclusion I am honored to publish here.

If you want a full account of the evidence that His Holiness Benedict is still the Roman Pontiff, I highly recommend her book, Benedict XVI: Pope “Emeritus”? The Always Is Also a Forever.

Accepting the substantial error theory comes down to believing that Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger, did not resign properly on February 11, 2013 because of some interior or subjective modernist mistake in his thinking (hence the error). And that’s why he remains Pope.

Attorney Acosta takes pains in this five-part series to explain why this theory grossly misunderstands the facts, involves apparent mind-reading, and adds needless confusion and division into an already confused and divided Church.




The myth of substantial error clouds the canonical analysis of the Declaratio and perpetuates a fallacious, incoherent, and harmful narrative about the current crisis of the pontificate

The conclusion that Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation from the pontificate is canonically non-existent/null derives directly from the document of the Declaratio itself, from the meaning that the words used there have in their canonical context: Benedict never renounced to be the Pope, to hold the titularity of the pontificate, of the Petrine munus, of the ecclesiastical charge or office of Roman Pontiff – but only to exercise some of the functions associated with it[i].

A “resignation from the pontificate” that, like the Declaratio, does not have the pontificate itself as its object, can only be logically unthinkable, juridically impossible, and non-existent/invalid.

Thus, the cause of said non-existence/nullity is situated at the level of the minimum, essential or structural requirements of the juridical act (cf. canon 124 § 1 of the CCL[ii]), is verifiable from a mere documentary confrontation, and completely indifferent to the subjective or psychological situation of its author, to his perception of the surrounding factual and/or juridical reality, and to his motivations or specific purposes.

Now, it is precisely this clarity and objectivity that the theories of “substantial error” come to cloud, by making the nullity of the Declaratio depend on an alleged defect of understanding, on a pretended false judgment on the part of J. Ratzinger / Benedict XVI in theological matters, as regards the nature and immutable characteristics of the papacy; a defect or false judgment that, supposedly, would have undermined the decision-making freedom of the Pope in the face of his “resignation” and, therefore, vitiated his consent in the terms of canons 126 and 188 of the CCL[iii]. By introducing these postulates, the proponents of such theories unnecessarily raise the burden of proof of the Declaratio‘s invalidity, for they shift the canonical debate from the firm ground of the document’s words to the quicksand of the perceptions and intentions of its author, thus sowing juridical doubts where there shouldn’t be any, and reducing to the level of a mere “HYPOTHESIS” the palpable and decisive REALITY of the Magna Quaestio, namely: the continuity and actuality of Benedict XVI’s pontificate[iv].

Here, then, is the first shortcoming of the theories in question: they introduce the contextual aspect. That is, the why and what for of the Declaratio, in the canonical sphere, in the analysis of the validity or invalidity of the act, when such an analysis can well be developed, and yield diaphanous conclusions, in purely objective, documentary, linguistic terms.

But besides, even in the merely contextual field, these theories offer a totally incoherent, fallacious and harmful narrative about the current crisis of the pontificate. Let us see:

In the first place, they establish an illogical link of necessity or causality, and sometimes a complete identification, between what could be interpreted as externally incorrect/heretical behaviors/statements –e.g., some of Pope Benedict XVI’s words and actions in the last nine years–, or what is a juridical act objectively contrary to the (divinely instituted) reality of the Papacy, and therefore null –v.gr., the Declaratio– (falseness/nullity in the objective sense), and the psychological approval of such heresies or deviations on the part of the author of the behaviors/affirmations/acts in question (“substantial error”, intrinsically subjective)[v]. This, evidently, constitutes an anti-scientific attitude: the “substantial error”, instead of emerging as a point of arrival or investigative conclusion, is situated from the outset, immovably, as the only possible psychological explanation of the pertinent external reality[vi], and is thus assumed in the manner of a true prejudice, to which the “evidence” is attempted to be forcibly accommodated. What can result from such an attitude, if not the contamination and distortion of the process of investigation, demonstration, and argumentation?

But to this initial prejudice another one is added: the great traditionalist myth, whose central mantra proclaims the presumed rupture between the Catholic Church and the (mis)called “Conciliar Church”, the pretended total incompatibility between the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and the previous magisterium of the Church, the supposed “failure” of the post-conciliar Popes in terms of preserving the deposit of faith and fighting against anti-Christian powers. Inseparably linked to this great myth is the classification of Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI as a hopeless “modernist”, constantly inclined (to say the least) to heresy, exponent of a “Hegelian dialectic” of deceitful reconciliation of mutually exclusive ideas.

That this cataloging is in itself ideological, prejudiced, fallacious, is demonstrated by the fact that, in the attempt to “demonstrate” the alleged heresies or theological errors of Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI, his accusers are forced to ignore the literality of the pertinent citations, twist their interpretation, turn again and again to speculation, present fragmentary and decontextualized citations, and resort to the theological thought of third parties.

All this occurs, undoubtedly, in the case of the defenders of the “substantial error” theories.

Let us recall, for example, the answer given by Cardinal Ratzinger to Peter Seewald’s question about the possible changes that the papacy would face in the future: “I cannot anticipate anything, nor do I want to do so with respect to the variations that may occur in the future. We cannot foresee what may happen in the future.” This answer is forcibly interpreted from the first theory of “substantial error”, linked to Ratzinger’s alleged defense of a “collegial or synodal Papacy”, in the sense that the cardinal was “prophesying” his supposed later creation, through the Declaratio, of such “papal college”[vii]. Here we find ourselves before a case, not only of “mind reading”, but of direct contradiction with the preceding words of Ratzinger, according to which the Papacy “in its core, will remain the same“, with “a man who is the successor to Saint Peter, and the person holding the ultimate responsibility” (in the singular), “as it was defined in Vatican Councils I and II[viii].

Something similar occurs with the second theory of “substantial error”, referring to Ratzinger’s alleged conception of “the Papacy as a sacrament”. The supposed annulment of the conceptual distinction between “power of order” and “power of jurisdiction”, the pretended denial of the immediate papal origin of the latter power, the claimed minimization of the juridical aspect of the episcopal ministry, the presumed conception of the Papacy as “a second episcopal consecration” with its consequent indelibility… As we have shown[ix], none of this can be found in the words of Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI (much less in the Vatican II texts).

The examples would be endless. No matter how many quotes are scrutinized, the theological thought of Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI fails to fit the label of “modernism” / “substantial error” that his accusers have preconceived for him.

What can derive from this traditionalist myth, and from the theories of “substantial error” associated with it, if not greater ecclesial division, resistance towards the recent pontifical magisterium and an arrogant and unjustified contempt for the person of the Roman Pontiff? Is this what we want for our Holy Mother the Church?

But, as if the above were not enough, we find that the theories of “substantial error” completely leave aside the context in which the Declaratio was issued, and offer absolutely implausible explanations about the reason for said act.

It is said that Benedict XVI sought to “appease his Lutheran enemies[x], or to achieve unity with the “Orthodox”[xi], or that he was simply a coward or a quitter[xii], or that, in short, he made a “mistake” of a magnitude comparable to that of Lucifer and the other rebellious angels[xiii] – as if in Lucifer’s case it had been a “mistake”. But, in the moments immediately preceding the Declaratio, was unity with the Lutherans and the “Orthodox” really a pressing problem, one that could also be reasonably resolved by a “resignation” from the pontificate that was only partial, and therefore invalid? Can someone who worked tirelessly and uninterruptedly as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for more than 20 years be sensibly labeled a “coward” and a “quitter”?

Let us now ask ourselves: how do the Papacy and the Catholic Church may stand, towards the outside, in the face of such (false) interpretations of the Declaratio? How, the very Holy Spirit that sustains them both? Are we to believe that Pope Benedict XVI is a formal heretic –if the idea of ​​a formally heretical Pope were conceivable–, that he was not only unable to validly resign from his charge, but also perceives himself as the “passive cooperator”, in the Petrine ministry, of the most destructive anti-Pope of all time? Was it then pure chance, a “modernist deviation”, that set in motion the supreme religious imposture[xiv], the final purifying schism, the definitive separation of the wheat and the tares? Is not this vision a true caricature of the Church and the Papacy?

What do we make, for the rest, of the tremendous harassment that Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, suffered and faced for decades due to his defense of the Faith? Where do we leave his clear knowledge of the growing influence of ecclesiastical Freemasonry, of the corruption and moral degradation of the Curia, of the evident machinations and attacks from the powerful of this world, of the hindrance of his functions of government, of the death threats against him and a long et cetera of storms around the boat of the Church?[xv] Where, his staunch defense, in both official and academic documents, of the essential and immutable characters of the Papacy?[xvi]

What do we make, finally, of the behavior assumed by Pope Benedict in these nine years after the Declaratio? Hasn’t he had enough time and opportunities to “amend his error”?

Is he not aware of all the criticism that has been leveled at him –even from high-ranking officials such as Cardinals Walter Brandmüller and George Pell[xvii]– for all those elements of his verbal and non-verbal language that suggest an apparent “Papal diarchy”?

Has he been foolish enough not to notice his “error”, or arrogant enough to persist in it, at the cost of the extreme confusion of the Universal Church regarding the identification of the true Pope?

Is The Rock really as fragile, as incompetent, as impotent, as the theories of “substantial error” describe it to us? Is it not rather that the Pope has not had the necessary freedom, and/or has not discerned the right opportunity, to openly reveal the whole truth about his “resignation”? Would not the Vicar of Christ, assisted by the Holy Spirit, be fulfilling a divinely inspired mission, in response to the current apocalyptic onslaught of anti-Christian powers?

All of these questions are simply ruled out by “substantial error” theories, whose advocates unfortunately cling to a canonically unnecessary and confusing elaboration, as well as to a fallacious, incoherent, and highly destructive narrative.

We will find the reason for this obstinacy, not in the academic, but in a particular inclination of the will. The “substantial errors” attributed to Ratzinger / Benedict XVI are demonstrably non-existent, and the factual reality that the Declaratio constituted a deliberately non-existent/invalid “resignation” is more than documented from the careful and systematic monitoring of the cryptic, but at the same time coherent and understandable messages that the Pope has being issuing since then[xviii].

However, as, for the substantial-errorists, such a reality –the deliberate nature of the non-existence/invalidity of the “resignation”– is unbearable, due to moral considerations, they have simply decided to deny it, ignoring all the evidence that supports it at the factual level, and embrace, with both greater impetus and less rationality, the fanciful narrative of “error”[xix].

Of course, the moral considerations put forward by the substantial-errorists do not withstand the slightest objections. According to them, if Benedict had deliberately invalidated his resignation, he would be nothing less than a “liar”, a “monster”, morally responsible for the perdition of the many souls who, considering Francis as Pope, have accepted and obeyed his false magisterium.

But how does one equate Benedict’s ambiguity (or even his irony) with lying? How can one fail to see the pertinence, in his concrete situation –and in that of the Church–, of the moral teaching on “mental reservations”?

How to hold Pope Benedict responsible for the massive deception and scandal caused by Francis, when we believers have been warned over and over again of the final religious imposture, and instructed about the prohibition of heeding anyone who proclaims a Gospel other than our Lord Jesus Christ’s (Gal 1: 8-9)?

How to ignore that Benedict has spoken as much and as best as he could, and that it is up to us, believers, to have eyes to see and ears to hear?

How can the communication system adopted by Benedict be labeled as “Gnosticism”, when it has been precisely this system –body language included– that has allowed the substantial-errorists themselves to recognize him as the only, true and current Pope? On the other hand, how is it that, for the substantial-errorists, their own theories are morally acceptable, when they caricature the Pope as a poor modernist, or else, as the person responsible for an error comparable to that of Lucifer?

Brothers, let us honor both Truth and Justice. The theories of “substantial error” represent a great disorientation for the faithful, and a dangerous factor of ecclesial division and dissidence. H.H. Benedict XVI has not made any “substantial error”: he deliberately invalidated his “resignation” to juridically and spiritually safeguard the Papacy against the attacks of the imminent usurper, and he remains, in a new way, interceding for the Church at the side of the Crucified Lord[xx].

Let us, for our part, remain united to The Rock, and glorify God.



[i] On February 11, 2013 the Pope spoke in this way: “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strength, given my advanced age, are no longer suited to a proper exercise of the munus Petrinum. I am well aware that this munus, given its spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by acting and speaking, but also and not to a lesser degree by suffering and praying. However, in today’s world, subject to rapid transformations and shaken by issues of great relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and announce the Gospel, the vigor of both the body and the spirit is also necessary, vigor which in the recent months has decreased in me in such a way that I must acknowledge my inability to exercise well the ministerium entrusted to me. For this reason, very conscious of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I resign from the ministerio of Bishop of Rome […](https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2013/february/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20130211_declaratio.html, the bold is ours).

[ii] For a juridical act to be valid it is required that the act has been performed by a capable person and includes the elements that essentially constitute that act, as well as the formalities and requirements imposed by law for the validity of the act” (the bold is ours).

[iii] An act performed out of ignorance or of mistake 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“. The freedom of consent (absence of force/fear, malice and substantial error) falls within the scope of the external requirements of the juridical act. To delve into the difference between the internal and external requirements of the juridical act, with particular reference to H.H. Benedict XVI’s “resignation”, see: https://katejon.com.br/wordpress/?p=3788#.Yqo5DP3MLIU.

[iv] Note that even dr. Mazza, defender of the second theory of “substantial error”, analyzed in parts III and IV of this document, expresses his own uncertainty regarding the canonical invalidity of the Declaratio: “As a matter of fact, what my research has uncovered is that there’s a slight possibility that he [J. Ratzinger/Benedict XVI] might be right, because the Church has actually never come down and defined the mechanics of how you are made a bishop in the church. There’s an outside possibility that he could be right, in which case his renunciation was valid. […] But the fact of the matter is he could be in just error. You know just genuine sincere error; if that’s [the ecclesiology that J. Ratzinger/Benedict XVI defends] not the way the mechanics of the Church, if that’s not a correct ecclesiology“. Cf. interview with Patrick Coffin: https://www.patrickcoffin.media/is-benedict-xvi-still-the-pope/ (emphasis added).

[v] Thus, for example, there are those who try to evidence such a “substantial error” from a photograph of the “two Popes” in apparent peaceful coexistence (cf. https://www.barnhardt.biz/2022/05/06/the-present-crisis-of-the-papacy-is-one-of-legitimation-miller-quoting-walter-kasper/). Again, we insist: an objective situation does not constitute any proof of the specific subjective perception of those who participate in it; and furthermore: the objective falsity of a certain proposition is not necessarily explained by the subjective situation of “error” on the part of its author (we explained this, using the pertinent examples, in Part I of the present document: https://www.forhumchristi.com/post/la-declaratio-de-s-s-benedicto-xvi-y-el-mito-del-error-sustancial-parte-i).

[vi] Recall De Mattei’s (erroneous) statement, quoted approvingly by Dr. Mazza, in the sense that “the only explanation possible” for Benedict XVI’s adoption of the title “Pope Emeritus” is his belief “that the pontifical election has imparted an indelible character, which he does not lose with the resignation“. Cf. https://www.edmundmazza.com/2021/04/21/leave-the-throne-take-the-ministry-the-sacred-powers-of-pope-emeritus/.

[vii] Cf. https://www.barnhardt.biz/2022/05/31/full-crosspost/.

[viii] See, in this regard, Part II of the present document: https://www.forhumchristi.com/post/la-declaratio-de-s-s-benedicto-xvi-y-el-mito-del-error-sustancial-parte-ii.

[ix] Cf. Parts III and IV of the present document: https://www.forhumchristi.com/post/la-declaratio-de-s-s-benedicto-xvi-y-el-mito-del-error-sustancial-parte-iii; https://www.forhumchristi.com/post/la-declaratio-de-s-s-benedicto-xvi-y-el-mito-del-error-sustancial-parte-iv.

[x] https://www.barnhardt.biz/2017/03/09/more-sound-reasoning-on-the-antipope-situation-coercion-and-lies/; https://www.barnhardt.biz/2018/12/27/german-ecclesiastics-like-cardinal-walter-kasper-want-to-destroy-the-papacy-in-order-to-appease-the-lutherans-and-annex-the-lutheran-german-church-tax-kirchensteuer-revenues/.

[xi] https://www.barnhardt.biz/2019/01/13/thermonuclear-substantial-error-in-1978-joseph-ratzinger-posited-that-a-monarchical-papacy-was-intrinsically-arian-in-nature-and-the-papacy-should-reflect-the-trinity-a-p/. Also Dr. Mazza refers to the insinuation of the SSPX in the sense that the “substantial error” of the supposed conception of the Papacy as a sacrament may obey the desire of the Nouvelle Théologie to heal the wound of division with the “orthodox” (cf. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeTnTN6h1yI&t=5044s).

[xii] https://www.barnhardt.biz/2018/06/.

[xiii] https://nonvenipacem.com/2022/05/25/substantial-error-god-is-so-good-he-shows-us-from-the-beginning-of-time-how-the-biggest-intellects-make-the-biggest-mistakes/.

[xiv] Numeral 675 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Before Christ’s second coming, the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh“.

[xv] Some of this is referred to in our book Benedict XVI: Pope “Emeritus”?

[xvi] We invite readers to familiarize themselves more and more, as objectively as possible, with the thought and works of Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI. A good start would be to track not only his main pontifical documents, but also those documents issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under his prefecture (1981-2005). Of course, the official website of the Vatican presents this documentation free of charge.

[xvii] Cf. http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1351340bdc4.html?eng=y; https://onepeterfive.com/letters-from-pope-benedict-reveal-frustration-concern/; https://www.bild.de/politik/ausland/politik-ausland/controversial-letters-pope-benedict-xvi-concerned-about-his-church-57358166.bild.html; https://www.affaritaliani.it/cronache/vaticano-duro-attacco-a-ratzinger-non-deve-piu-indossare-l-abito-bianco-710846.html.

[xviii] Again we refer to the excellent work of the Italian journalist Andrea Cionci: Codice Ratzinger.

[xix] In fact, one of them speaks literally in such way: “I confess, I wanted this idea of intentional obfuscation [that is, of deliberate nullity of the “resignation”] to be true for quite some time, before the Code Theory even existed [meaning, the theory according to which Pope Benedict has been expressing himself in code after the issuance of the Declaratio]. I wanted Benedict to be the 15 dimensional chess player, the brilliant Bavarian who outsmarted all the traitors. But the practical consequences on the ground these nine years later are too much to bear“. Cf. https://nonvenipacem.com/2022/05/22/four-questions-for-the-bip-crowd-who-maintain-benedict-knew-what-he-was-doing-did-it-on-purpose-and-remains-the-only-true-pope-with-his-own-full-knowledge-and-consent/ (The bold and underlined, and the texts in square brackets, are outside the original).

[xx] Cf. Last General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI, February 27, 2013: https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/es/audiences/2013/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20130227.html

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