Yes, I know the headline is click bait, but it’s actually the sub title of a book I was sent for review. The Secret of Benedict XVI – Is He Still the Pope is by Italian journalist Antonio Socci and published in English by Angelico Press.

Happily the book’s content is not quite as sensationalist as the title. Some Catholics who are displeased with Pope Francis have retreated into what some have called the “resignationist” position. That is to say, for detailed legal reasons, Pope Benedict’s resignation was invalid. Other theories are that the resignation of Benedict was valid, but Francis’ election was not valid because certain cardinals manipulated the conclave to get him elected. Consequently, Benedict must still be the true pope. Then there are the sedevacantists who don’t believe Benedict was ever a true pope anyway…and for that matter neither was Pope St John Paul II and everybody else back to Pius XII. Then there are the sedeprivationists who believe the pope is a valid pope, but unless he repudiates the Second Vatican Council he has no authority to teach. Then there is Pope Michael in Kansas…

Antonio Socci doesn’t suggest that Pope Benedict XVI is still the true pope. However, he does say that Pope Benedict XVI is sort of maybe still the pope just a little bit perhaps. To be fair he does recognize that we are in a historically unique situation. Benedict has resigned, but he still dresses as the pope, still lives in the Vatican, still signs himself as Pope Emeritus, still uses the papal coat of arms and has said that his acceptance of the papacy was “irrevocable.” Socci says Pope Benedict did not, therefore, resign the papacy completely, but only the active ministry of the papacy, and that he has established a situation without precedent.

Benedict’s position therefore is just what he says it is–a pope who has withdrawn into an enclosed ministry of prayer for the church. To state Socci’s position succinctly, “Pope Benedict is no longer THE pope, but he is A pope.” I can’t see that this viewpoint is particularly controversial.

Socci’s book doesn’t stop there however. In three parts he dissects the current crisis of Benedict’s abdication and the Francis papacy. In the first part Socci analyzes what he sees as two warring factions in the church: those favoring the reforms of Francis and those resisting the reforms and quietly rallying behind Benedict. He politicizes this division and believes the Bergoglians are part of a “neo-capitalist globalization that is ideologically anti-Catholic”. He thinks these forces are secular atheistic and politically correct. Their agenda was spearheaded by the Obama-Clinton presidency and they were striving for “the planetary dominance of the United States and of financial globalization” and Benedict XVI was in their way. He had to go and Bergoglio was their man.

So, if you are looking for conspiracy theories you’ve got Taylor Marshall’s Infiltration which sees the Francis papacy as the result of decades long subterfuge and skullduggery on the part of Freemasons, international conspiracies, Communists, the St Gallen Mafia and black magic and you can add to that a vast left wing conspiracy headed by Obama and Hillary Clinton plotting to topple Benedict and place the Argentinian on the throne of Peter, but is that conspiracy communist or capitalist or just globalist?

It doesn’t end there. Socci also supposes that the same global players are working for the ascendency of Islam as a more suitable world religion and for the exclusion of Russia from the globalist, USA dominated table. The Christian doctrines and virtues will be replaced with environmentalism, immigration compassion, World Council of Churches type ecumenism and inter faith worship and the embrace of liberal Protestantism. Benedict’s rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox and critical position against Islam was once again, batting for the wrong team.

Hmmm. Like all conspiracy theories there is just enough truth to make you stop and scratch your chin. It’s certainly juicy stuff, but when you press it, the whole edifice becomes wobbly. It’s true that Hillary’s lackey John Podesta sent an email about plans to undermine the Catholic Church, but it was an insignificant thing. Sure, Francis is pro-immigration, but so was Benedict. Is Francis part of a USA led globalist neo capitalist program? He doesn’t seem too keen on the USA or capitalism as far as I can make out. I’m dubious.

In the second part of his book Socci explains his position on Benedict’s present situation. He is what he says Benedict is: Pope Emeritus. He has stepped away from active ministry, but remains involved. Socci sees him as a bulwark and defender of orthodoxy in the face of radical reforms of the Bergoglian party. Perhaps. Certainly there have been some enigmatic explanations and statements about Benedict’s role from Archbishop Ganswein, but then again those who are looking for mysterious secrets, hidden meanings and subtle signs will find them most anywhere.

It is in the third section of his book that Socci gets down to the really juicy stuff. He’s an expert in the events at Fatima and he ties Benedict’s resignation into the secrets of Fatima and the more obscure revelations to the visionaries. This reviewer sums it up:

Socci sees in Benedict a figure similar to the pope in the children’s vision: “half tremulous, with faltering steps, afflicted with pain and sorrow, crossing a large, half-ruined city” (p. 182). Socci undertakes a detailed examination of overlooked words of the children of Fatima, stating that the Blessed Virgin told them that if humanity did not do penance and convert, what would happen was “the end of the world” (p. 195). Sister Lucia declared in an interview in 1957 that “Russia will be the instrument chosen by God to punish the whole world, if we do not first obtain the conversion of that wretched nation” (p. 198). Implicit in Socci’s analysis and reflection is the sense that the outcome of the present crisis is of the utmost importance for the fate not only of the entire Church, but also of the entire world.

To complete his apocalyptic warnings, Socci reflects on the fact that in the medieval prophecy of St Malachy Pope Benedict XVI is the final pope in the list. He struggles to identify Francis as “Peter the Roman” and finds an obscure link between the author of the Malachy prophecy and the Italian town of Bergoglio. This is a stretch.

How much of it is true? With Benedict’s resignation and current status as Pope Emeritus are we in totally new territory? Obviously. Was Benedict under some pressure from “the wolves”? If not explicit, conspiratorial pressure, he certainly had cause for considerable stress. Was Bergoglio’s election engineered by the St Gallen Mafia? They have said as much themselves, so no big secret there. Was there an international neo capitalist conspiracy to oust Benedict? I doubt it. Have communists and Freemasons infiltrated the church? Probably. Are there two factions in the church–modernist and orthodox? Obviously. Are they in battle against one another? Sure.

What do I think of the whole thing? Much the same as I think about Taylor Marshall’s Infiltration and the other books by conservative authors criticizing this pope and lamenting the current crisis in the church. Firstly, step back from conspiracy theories of all kinds. Why? Because they’re really not that awesome. There are three problems inherent in conspiracy theories. The first is that they are presented as some big terrible secret, but are they? So rich, powerful, corrupt people get together and plan how they can get richer and more powerful and try to control the world. Big deal. That’s the way the world turns. Rich powerful people always do that. So that’s news? The second problem is that it shifts your attention away from what really matters. Staying close to Jesus and Mary matters. Preaching the gospel matters. Living the sacramental life matters. Ministering to the needy matters. Loving your family and friends matters. The third problem is that focussing on conspiracy theories invariably makes us self righteous. “Oh have you heard? Bad people are doing bad stuff. They’re getting together to corrupt the church and change things and do sinful stuff!!!” and this makes us feel good because the unspoken subtext is always, “I thank you Lord that I am not like those sinners there.”

Not good.

Secondly, welcome to the Catholic Church. Listen to my podcast series Triumphs and Tragedies or read any good church history book and you’ll learn that intrigues, conspiracies, power struggles, theological struggles, corruption, immorality and heresy have always been part of Catholic history.

Third, as you read the history of the Catholic Church and come across the tragedies remember the triumphs. In every age the Holy Spirit has not been asleep. Instead at grass roots level he is always at work purifying, teaching, guiding and directing the church. At grass roots level you find the faith alive and functioning. That is where the saints are nurtured and do their work. That is where souls are saved and the world is really changed. Do you want to learn more about what the Spirit is doing in the church in our most epoch shifting century? Listen to my analysis of John Allen’s The Future Church. The abridged version is free at BreadBox Media. The full length version is here for Donor Subscribers.

Fourth, (as I keep repeating) ask yourself what you can do about it where you are with what you have. If it is your role to expose the bad guys or your responsibility to discipline the bad guys, then you do that. But if it is your role to be the best Catholic you can within your family, your parish, your diocese, your community, your school, then get on and do that.

Is Pope Francis the last pope before the end of the world? Who knows. Not me.

But what I do know is that if the world ends this afternoon I hope to be found at my post striving to be the saint I’m called to be by God’s grace. It’s the old, old story. When the master of the house comes we should be found watching and waiting and faithfully doing our job. When the whole thing caves in, they pull the curtain and put out the lights will you be found at your post or will you be biting your nails over some conspiracy theory?