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Question 15
What should we think of sedevacantists?

NB: Some of the examples are in reference to the late Pope John Paul II

In the face of the scandal of a pope who can sign Dignitatis Humanae, radically change the liturgy of the Mass, codify a new ecclesiology, or make himself the protagonist for an aberrant ecumenism, etc., some have concluded that the last popes cannot have been true popes, or else that they have lost the pontificate because of such scandals. They refer to the discussions of the great counter-Reformation theologians on the loss of the pontificate (through abdication, insanity, heresy, etc.) and argue thus:

Pope Benedict XVI

  1. he who is not a member of the Church can’t be its head.

  2. but a heretic is not a member of the Church,

  3. now, Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI are heretics,

  4. therefore, they are neither members nor head of the Church,

  5. and so all their acts are to be completely ignored.

But then again, the argument continues, the same scandals are true of all the world’s diocesan bishops, who are also consequently non-members without authority; and the Catholic Church must be identified only with those who have not compromised the Faith and who refuse communion with these “popes” or “bishops.” A minority of these will elect their own “pope” (e.g. the communities at Palmar de Troya, Spain, or Saint Jovite, Canada).

The argument’s strength is in the real scandal of the Conciliar authorities’ impetus given to the Church’s “new direction”; its weakness is in not being able to prove that any of these authorities are formal heretics.

  • You are a “material” heretic without knowing it if you objectively contradict what God has said but through no fault of your own;

  • you are a “formal” heretic if you do pertinaciously contradict what God has said, i.e., knowing that you’re denying what God has said and wanting to do this anyway.

Now, the ordinary way for the Church to ascertain pertinacity and enforce the consequences of one’s heresy by either excommunication and/or loss of office, is through authoritative monitions* to the delinquent which he spurns (1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 2314, §1). But nobody can authoritatively admonish the pope (canon 1556), and the bishops can only be admonished by their superior, the pope (canon 1557), who has not done so.

*To have canonical force, they must come from one's superior (cf., canon 2233). The point is not only the crime but also its imputability must be notorious (canon 2195; 2197).

Therefore, pertinacity, and so formal heresy, cannot be proven.

But could pertinacity not be presumed from the insistence of these popes on the new ways, and this in the face of all tradition and its present-day witnesses? Perhaps; but not socially i.e., as regards loss of office, etc., which must not be presumed but proven, otherwise societies would collapse.

The argument does not prove its point, and becomes less probable when you consider that there are other explanations for the “material heretic” pope [see section a below], and it becomes quite improbable when you consider its dangers [b] or consequences [c].

  1. The liberal mind-set of a Pope Paul VI or a Pope John Paul II can be an explanation of their wanting to be Catholics and their simultaneous betrayal in practice of Catholicism. They accept contradictions; with a subjective and evolutive mentality, this is to be expected.* But such a frame of mind can be convinced of heresy only by way of authority....

*A little example: "At the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church committed herself irrevocably to following the path of the ecumenical venture, thus heeding the Spirit of the Lord, who teaches people to interpret carefully the 'signs of the times'" (Ut Unum Sint, §3). If it is because of the "signs of the times" that the Conciliar Church has launched herself into ecumenism, how are we to know that the venture will be irrevocable? What does a Pope John Paul II mean by such absolute terms?

  1. The Church is indefectible (principle 3) not only in her faith and means of sanctification, but also in her monarchical constitution (principle 4), comprising governing power i.e., jurisdiction, hence Vatican I’s profession that Peter will have perpetual successors.

Now, we can understand a break in the line of popes from the death of one to the election of the next, and that it may drag on.

But is indefectibility preserved if there is no pope since 1962 or if there is no one with ordinary jurisdiction whom the sedevacantists can point out as such?

The Church is visible (principle 3) and not just a society composed of those who are joined by interior bonds (state of grace, same faith,...). A society is recognized and maintained as such by its authority (its efficient cause).

  1. If the Church has not had a pope since the days of Vatican II, then there are no more cardinals legitimately created. But then how is the Church to get a pope again, as the current discipline grants only to cardinals the power to elect a pope?

The Church could have ordained that non-Cardinal “electors of the pope” be capable of doing it, but we cannot go by any other way than the current discipline which ordains that cardinals elect him.

A few sedevacantists hold that he has been or will be directly designated by private revelation from heaven.

There are spiritual consequences of sedevacantism:

  • sedevacantism is a theological opinion, and not a certitude. To treat it as a certitude leads to condemning with temerity traditional Catholics who disagree;

  • and invariably it leads to one’s recognizing no spiritual superiors on earth. Each becomes, in practice, his own little “pope,” the rule of faith and orthodoxy, the judge of the validity of sacraments.*

*Consider the arguments from "Bishop" Vezelis, the Schuckardt movement, etc.: It is said that Cardinal Lienart, who ordained Archbishop Lefebvre a priest and consecrated him a bishop, was Freemason, and so all his ordinations were invalid; and so we must consider invalid all the sacraments of those he ordained, and of those they ordained...

In fact, whereas that Lienart was a Freemason is only an unproven allegation of one writer; and Church teaching is that we must accept as valid his sacraments anyway, if he used the correct external rite (unless he revealed a contrary internal intention, which he did not).

Moreover, Archbishop Lefebvre was consecrated by three bishops in 1947, which sacrament was surely therefore valid. Cf. On rumors and their source for more information on this matter.

This being so, we ought not to associate with, or, receive the sacraments from them, most especially if they set up sedevacantism as a certitude which all have to accept.

More on this topic
A Little Catechism on Sedevacantism

Is Sedevacantism Catholic?

Concerning a Sedevancantist Thesis

Pray much for the Holy Father
Why we should pray for the pope and his intentions

Validity is not enough
The vocation and suitability of candidates for holy orders. Explains why the issue of validity is not the only concern with "independent ordinations"

The Validity of the New Rite of Episcopal Consecrations
The English-language article from Angelus Press originally printed in the Avrille Dominicans French quarterly, Sel de la Ter © 2003