The Sedevacantists

Regarding the Theory that the Chair of St. Peter is Vacant

by Wayne Nichols


The term sede vacante, Latin meaning "the chair being vacant," is used to refer to the interregnum between the death of one pope and the election of his successor (1). Today, however, it has come to mean that the See of Rome has been vacant since the death of Pius XII, or at least since Paul VI approved the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

Some maintain that John XXIII incurred the wrath of God for calling the Council. Others take the view that Paul VI left Mother Church when he implemented the Novus Ordo Missae. Some say that John Paul II was invalidly elected. Others assert that he left the Church sometime into his pontificate. So by whatever road, the See of Rome is vacant, they say.

To remedy this state of affairs, some would have the cardinals elect a new pope. Others, claiming that all the cardinals are either invalidly appointed by a heretical pope, or that they have all likewise fallen into heresy, would have an ecumenical council of newly-consecrated traditionalist bishops meet to elect a new successor to St. Peter.

I delayed entering this controversy, considering others more qualified to argue the case than myself. Nevertheless, God seemed to have disposed things so that I did write on this matter by early 1985. Unfortunately, this problem has not abated in the last 13 years, rather the reverse. I here present my revised paper for consideration, making the usual protestation of Catholic authors: If I should in anything be found in error, I submit all I say here to the future judgement of the Holy Roman Church.


This argument involves several of the doctrines that the Church places before us to believe. I shall take them up, one by one.

A. Indefectibility

The Church "was to last to the end of the world, teaching, governing, and sanctifying men."(2) Our Lord said, "...behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world." This the Church has always understood to mean that she would continue, as she was founded, to the end.

Now, the Church has always taught, and I maintain, that in order to teach till the end of time, the Church must have an infallible teacher at all times: the pope. In order to govern, she must have her one shepherd. In order to sanctify lawfully, all bishops and priests must maintain communion with Rome.

Concerning this attribute of the Church of Christ, the Fathers taught thus:

For this cause did the Lord take the ointment on His head, that He might breathe incorruption upon the Church. (3)

"Thou art Peter," and the rest, down to "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." What does "it" refer to? The rock upon which Christ built His Church, or the Church? For the phrase is ambiguous. Or is it that they are, as it were, one and the same thing, "the rock and the Church?" This, I think, is the real fact, for neither against "the rock upon which Christ built His Church" nor against "the Church" shall the gates of hell prevail..." (4)

St. Cyprian:
The Church is one, which having obtained the grace of eternal life, both lives forever, and gives life to the people of God. (5)

St. Alexander:
We also confess one, and one only Catholic, the Apostolic Church, which is always incapable of being overthrown, even though the whole world choose to war with it...(6)

The Savior prophesied...that the Church...should be invincible, incapable of overthrow, and never overcome by death...firmly established and embedded on a "rock" that could not be moved nor broken!(7)

St. Ephrem, Syrian:
Thou hast also built a Church on earth...that, in fine, its treasures, filled with every kind of wealth, fail not, and be not exhausted. Fulfill, O Lord, what Thou didnt promise to Peter, the Prince of the Apostles.(8)

St. Ambrose:
The Church is buffeted, but is not overwhelmed by the waves of worldly care; she is stricken, but is not weakened...(9)

St. John Chrysostom:
Nothing, O man, is more powerful than the Church..."Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."(10)

St. Leo I:
By no kind of cruelty can the religion founded by the mystery (sacrament) of the Cross be destroyed. By persecution, the Church is not lessened, but increased...(11)

Further, the mind of the Church can be found in the first draft of the Constitution on the Church of Vatican Council I. Since it did not come up for a vote at that Council, it is not, of itself, infallible. However, it does embody the constant teaching of the Church...: everlasting and indefectible society...Consequently, His Church...will last until the end of the world ever unchangeable and unchanged in its constitution...although it evolves in a variety of ways according to changing times and circumstances...nevertheless, it remains unchangeable in itself and in the constitution it recieved from Christ. Therefore, Christ's Church can never lose its properties and its qualities, its sacred teaching authority, priestly office, and governing body...(emphasis mine).(12)

I must conclude that, in order to maintain indefectibility, the Church must necessarily and always have a pope.

B. Unity

The Church, as we know, is one in faith, government, and worship. Here I shall deal solely with unity of government.

The people are subject to their priests, the priests and people to their bishops, and all are subject to the pope, the center of authority, the bond of Apostolic unity.(13)

I submit that, in order for the Church to be ever one, and to maintain her identity as the true Church by the mark of Unity, she must always have a pope.

Concerning this mark of the Church, the Fathers wrote thus:

But where the shepherd is, thither follow ye as sheep...For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ, these are with the bishop...(14)

St. Ireneaus:
For they (schismatics) are not based upon the one rock, but upon sand -- and who, on account of slight and exaggerated causes, rend and divide...who truly strain at a gnat, but swallow a camel...(15)

St. Cyprian:
God is one, and Christ one, and the Church one, and the chair one, founded by the Lord's word, "upon a rock"...Certainly the other Apostles also were what Peter was, endowed with an equal fellowship both of honor and power, but the commencement proceeds from unity, and the primacy is given to Peter, that the Church of Christ may be set forth as one, and the see (chair) as one.(16)

St. Athanasius:
As for you, remaining on the foundation of the Apostles, holding to the traditions of the Fathers, pray that now at length all contention and emulation may cease...(17)

St. Optatus of Milevis:
You have said that with heretics the marks of the Church cannot be, and you say truly...Since it has been shown...that through the Chair of Peter, which is ours, that through it the other marks (gifts) are also with us...for the good of unity, blessed Peter...merited both to be preferred to all the Apostles, and he alone recieved...the keys...(Peter's) errors are therefore seen under one head, that it might be shown that, for the good of unity, everything ought to be endured for God...There stand so many without guilt, and a sinner recieves the keys, that there must be a pattern in the matter of unity...(emphasis mine).(18)

St. Augustine:
(T)here is no just necessity for severing unity, since the good may therefore tolerate the wicked, who will be of no spiritual injury to them...(19)

St. Leo I:
(T)he most blessed Peter, the prince of the Apostolic order, is assigned to the capital of the Roman empire, that the light of truth...might more effectually diffuse itself from that head throughout the whole body of the world...(20)

Furthermore, Vatican Council I taught:

In order that the whole host of the faithful may remain in unity of faith and communion, He (Christ) placed St. Peter over the other Apostles and instituted in him both a perpetual principle of unity and a visible foundation (emphasis mine).(21)

This was repeated by Leo XIII. I am forced to conclude that the Church cannot be united in every age, as plainly Our Lord intended, unless in every age she has a pope. As this is the constant teaching of the Church, as evident from the foregoing, it would be rash indeed to assert that the Catholic Church could maintain her unity without a pope.

C. Apostolicity

The Apostles, with St. Peter their head, "rule the Church, and will ever continue to rule it through their lawful successors."(22) I submit that, in order always to possess the mark of Apostolicity and so to be identified as the true Church, the Church must ever have a Successor to St. Peter, a pope. Thus taught the Fathers regarding Apostolicity:

St. Irenaeus:
But as it would be a very long talk to enumerate...the successions of all the churches, (I point) out that tradition which is the greatest and most ancient, and universally known, Church of Rome...derives from the Apostles...For to this Church, on account of more potent principality, it is necessary that every church...resort...(He then enumerates the popes who succeeded St. Peter down to Eleutherius.)(23)

But if thou art near to Italy, thou hast Rome...That Church, how happy! on which the Apostles poured our all their doctrine with their blood; where Peter had a like Passion with the Lord...She (the Roman Church) unites the law and the prophets with the evangelical and apostolical writings...and so recieves no one in opposition to this teaching...(24)

Lucifer of Cagliari:
The Lord says to blessed Peter, "Feed my lambs," and again, "Feed my sheep"; and thou, coming as a wolf, willest those to play the part of hirelings who are found to have been the successors of blessed Peter...(25)

St. Ambrose:
Not wihhout cause...does the Church of the Lord rest immovable, as being built upon the Apostolic rock, and continue with an unshaken foundation against the assaults of the raging ocean...(26)

St. Jerome:
Whosoever thou art, that art a broacher of new dogmas, I beseech thee spare the ears of Romans...Why bring forward what Peter and Paul would not make known?(27)

St. Augustine:
For if the order of bishops succeeding to each other is to be considered, how much more securely, and really benefically, do we reckon from Peter himself, to whom, bearing a figure of the Church, the Lord says, "Upon this rock..." For to Peter succeeded Linus, to Linus, Clement...In the Catholic Church -- the succession of priests from the very chair of the Apostle Peter...down to the present bishop keeps me...(28)

Council of Chalcedon:
"Going, teach all observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you"; which thou (Leo), who hast been appointed the voice of blessed Peter unto all men, hast preserved...(29)

Lest what has been quoted should be mistaken, I affirm that all Apostolicity in priests and bishops is derived from jurisdiction granted to them by the Holy See. As all know, no one can lawfully exercise his orders who has no ordinary or extraordinary jurisdiction.(30)

Further, "the Catholic Church's Apostolicity has never suffered, and will never suffer, interruption."(31) If it were to be interrupted, how shall the words of Christ, "...I am with you all days..." be true? If the Apostolic succession has failed, then Christ is proved a liar, and all religion falls. Such is not the case.

Yet, the only Apostolic See which has remained steadfastly within the Catholic Church is the See of Rome. The sees of the other Apostles have fallen away at one time or another, though some have since been reunited. If Apostolicity cannot fail, and if the See of Rome is the only see with unbroken Apostolic succession, then the succession in that See can never fail.(32) Thus, there must always be a pope.

D. Primacy of St. Peter and His Successors

It is the teaching of Holy Church...

...that Peter was appointed by Christ visible Head of the Church; that he received from Christ a Primacy, not only of honor, but of jurisdiction...that he has...a perpetual line of successors in the Primacy; that his successors are the Roman Pontiffs...(emphasis mine).(33)

Prescinding from the proofs of the institution of the papacy, I pass on to extracts of the Fathers proving its perpetuity:

St. Irenaeus:
The blessed Apostles, therefore, having founded and built up that Church, committed the sacred office of the episcopacy to him succeeded Anacletus, and after him -- Clement obtains that episcopate...Evaristus...(He enumerates the popes to Eleutherius.)(34)

(I)f thou art near to Italy, thou hast Rome, etc.(35)

St. Julius, Pope:
(A)re you ignorant that this has been the custom first to write to us, and thus what is just be decreed from this place?...For what we have received from that blessed Apostle Peter, the same do I make known to you...(36)

St. Damasus, Pope:
It does with reason concern us, who ought to hold the chief government in the Church...(37)

St. Ambrose:
It is that same Peter to whom he said, "Thou art Peter," etc. Therefore, where Peter is, there is the Church...(38)

St. Siricius, Pope:
I bear the burdens of all who are heavy laden: yea, rather in me that burden is born by the blessed Apostle Peter, who has regard to us who are the heirs of his government...(39)

St. Jerome:
I speak with the fisherman's successor...Following no chief but Christ, I am joined in communion with your holiness, that is, with the chair of Peter. Upon that rock I know that the Church is built.(40)

St. Innocent I, Pope:
Wherefore, we do, by the authority of the Apostolic power, declare Pelagius and Caelestius...deprived of the communion of the Church.(41)

Council of Ephesus: Philip, the papal legate, said inter alia:
(O)ur holy and most blessed Pope Caelestine, the bishop, the canonical successor and viceregent of this Peter, has sent us as represenatives of his person.(42)

St. Augustine:
(Carthage) had a bishop...united by letters of communion...with the Roman Church, in which the primacy (principality) of the apostolic chair has always been in force...(43)

St. Zosimus, Pope:
(T)he tradition of the fathers has assigned so great an authority to the apostolic see...and the discipline of the Church...still pays to the name of Peter, from whom that see descends, the reverence due...(A)n equal state of power (is) bestowed upon those who...should be found worthy to inherit his see...(44)

St. Boniface I, Pope:
The institution of the universal Church took its beginning from the honor bestowed on blessed Peter, in whom its government and headship reside...Assuredly...the apostolic see holds the primacy for this...(45)

St. Leo I, Pope:
The solidity of that faith which was commended in the prince of the Apostles is perpetual; and as what Peter believed in Christ is permanent, so what Christ instituted in Peter is permanent...blessed Peter, continuing in his acquired firmness of "the rock," has not abandoned the entrusted helms of the Church...whose dignity fails not even in his unworthy heir...(emphasis mine).(46)

These testimonies taken together, as passing the primacy one to the other, as also the words of some singly (e.g., St. Leo), prove the perpetuity of the papacy. In addition, Vatican Council I infallibly defined:

If anyone denies that in virtue of the decree of Our Lord Himself (or by divine institution) Blessed Peter has perpetual successors in his Primacy over the Universal Church, let him be anathema.(47)

I submit that this definition alone is sufficient to prove that the See of Peter is not vacant at this time; nor at any other time has it been vacant; nor will it ever be vacant in the manner proposed by sedevacantists. Adding to this definition the proofs I have put forward under indefectibility, unity, and apostolicity, the proof is overwhelming. The See of St. Peter is not vacant.


A. History

Before entering the dispute on papal heresy, it is always useful in arguments such as this to point out examples from the history of the Church. I shall now cite some of the more noteworthy episodes.

1. St. Paul vs. St. Peter

In Galatians, chap.2, it is related that St. Peter gave scandal regarding Judaisers, who wished to impose the Mosaic law upon the Church. Indeed, this error may have been material heresy, which I shall treat later. St. Paul, recognizing that Cephas was in the wring, "withstood him to his face." So corrected, Peter amended his conduct.

Note well, it is nowhere recorded that on account of his error that St. Peter lost his place in the Church. I find no reference to an election being held, such as the one held to replace Judas with St. Matthias, in order that a new pope might be chosen. St. Paul treated St. Peter with the utmost respect, both before and after his rebuke. St. Peter still presided at the Council of Jerusalem. Hence, though Peter fell into error, he continued to be pope.

2. Liberius vs. St. Athanasius

Some historians relate that Pope Liberius (352-366) signed an erroneous statement of faith after having been exiled by Emperor Constantius. Others deny this.(48) In any event, his conduct may have caused scandal to any who did not know all the circumstances.

St. Athanasius, although exiled several times for his defense of orthodoxy, never acceded to the Arian position. Some authors relate that Constantius even forced Liberius to excommunicate Athanasius. Athanasius has left us nothing in his numerous writings to indicate that he considered Liberius to have fallen into heresy or to have lost the papacy.

Cardinal Newman believed that Pope Liberius did indeed condemn St. Athanasius. He based this belief on many old authors who recorded the events of the fourth century in their writings. These include Baronius, Tellemont, N. Alexander, Coustant, Mansi, Zaccharia, Petavius, Montefaucon, and Valesius. These authors do not agree on which creed of Sirmium Liberius signed (i.e., whether he actually signed a heresy); but all agree that he subscribed to the excommunication of Athanasius in 357 or 358.

Newman quotes Baronius:
There is nothing, whether in historians and holy fathers, or in his own letters, to prevent our coming to the conclusion, that Liberius communicated with Arians, and confirmed the sentence passed by them against Athanasius; but he is not at all on that account to be called a heretic (emphasis mine).(49)

The fact that he did not malign the Pontiff, but that he refused to observe any of the sanctions imposed against him by Liberius, should speak volumes to us today. It is probably unnecessary to note that there is a striking parallel between the actions of St. Athanasius and those of Archbishop Lefebvre.

3. Honorius Primus

The case of Pope Honorius I (625-638) is often cited by those who believe that a pope who falls into heresy can be condemned.

Honorius wrote letters to the combatants in the Monothelite heresy, stating that there was but one will in Christ. For this, he was condemned as a heretic by the Council of Constantinople. Be it noted:

A) His words bear an orthodox sense. They were written to contradict the false doctrine "that there are two conflicting wills in Christ."(50)

B) The Council was condemning the negligence of Honorius, not any positive heresy. This is manifest from the words of Pope St. Leo II that Honorius had failed to stem the tide of heresy.(51)

C) The judgment passed on Honorius was not passed during his pontificate, but long after. To be exact, St. Leo II reigned ten pontificates, or 43 years, later. Thus it would be unwise (to speak by understatement) to expect swift, official condemnations of current or recent popes.

B. Heresy

Heresy is defined as an

error of judgment in consequence of which a baptized person obstinately denies or doubts a truth revealed by God and proposed by the Church for belief.(52)

Heresy is of two kinds, material and formal.

1. Material heresy is denial of faith as expressed in actions or words, but performed by one not conscious of a ban of the Church.

He sins against faith, gravely or venially according to the degree of negligence but is not a formal heretic who through sinful ignorance does not know that the Church proposes a given truth as divinely revealed.(53)

Examples of material heresy are legion and need not detain us here.

Suffice to say anything that one sees a person do or hears a person say publicly contrary to the Faith is material heresy.

Liberals, socialists and communists are heretics or not, depending upon the extent in which they confess the principles of these parties...Because of their ignorance such people are often in good faith...(54)

Material heresy can be observed and judged in itself, separated from the person performing materially heretical actions. In other words, without presuming any authority in such cases, we can judge the act itself if it flies in the face of religion. This we can do because we must be able to protect and defend our own faith.

2. Formal heresy is a voluntary and pertinacious denial of the faith, accompanied by ipso facto excommunication.

For a true or formal heresy, the rejection of truth must be internal, that is, deliberate, and also conscious, namely, with full knowledge...(55)

A) The heresy must be deliberate and conscious, i.e., pertinacious. This means that the heretic must persist in what he erroneously believes even after becoming aware of the sanction of the Church. According to Sacred Scripture(56), a warning should be repeated two or three times. Canon Law normally enjoins these warnings on the superior(s) of the transgressor. However, in the case of heresy, punished as it is by a sentence which is latae sententiae, warnings may be omitted since they are considered part of the law itself (cf. Canon 2242:2).(57) Still, there must in this case be a declaratory sentence, which I shall now treat.

B) Canon 2223:4 enjoins that the excommunication of a heretic latae sententiae must be accompanied by a declaratory sentence.

As a rule it is left to the discretion of the superior to declare that a penance has been incurred, i.e., to issue a declaratory sentence. However, this sentence must be issued...if the public welfare demands it, for instance, in the case of a corruptor, or briber, or dangerous heretic (emphasis mine).(58)

We may conclude that, unless such a declaratory sentence is forthcoming from the Church, no one could possibly know who is a formal heretic. That is to say, latae sententiae excommunication is not presumed without this sentence.

C. Judgment

1. Many sedevacantists seem to believe that the Code of Canon Law applies itself to heretics of whatever rank, without the necessity of an intervention by the lawgiver. This is dangerously similar to the attitude of Protestants toward Sacred Scripture.

(L)aw is not a mere contractural order of things, but a participation in the will of God or Divine Providence, and a breach of it therefore requires the intervention of the lawful custodian and guardian of the law...Only the legitimate authority, as the founder of law and the represenative of the supreme Ruler, is entitled to demand justice and inflict the necessary penalties on transgressors. (59)

Hence, it is the Church through the competent authority alone which can issue a declaratory sentence. The above quote shows that canonists automatically assume a living authority, that is, no sede vacante.

2. Those who have the legitimate authority to judge are the bishops, by virtue of their office as successors of the Apostles, and the pope, by virtue of the fullness of Apostolic auhority which resides in him.(60) Since, humanly speaking, it is impossible for the pope and bishops to hear all the cases which are submitted to them, they can delegate this authority to others in all save the most important cases.(61)

3. It seems superfluous to note that the laity can only judge what falls within its province. Even in extraordinary circumstances, neither the laity nor the lower clergy may presume to judge prelates, superiors or the Roman Pontiff. St. Thomas teaches that one may resist the commands of superiors which deviate from faith or morals.(62) However, this does not extend to judging the superiors themselves. St. Robert Bellarmine teaches:

Just as it is licit to resist the Pontiff who attacks the body, so also is it licit to resist him who attacks souls...or above all, tries to destroy the Church. I say that it is licit to resist him by not doing what he orders and by impeding the execution of his will; it is not licit, however, to judge him, to punish him, or depose him, for these are acts proper to a superior (emphasis mine).(63)

Sedevacantists who sit in judgment of the pope would do well to remember this rule.

4. Regarding the Roman Pontiff, there is no superior authority to his on earth. Vatican Council I condemned the theory that a general council was superior to the pope.(64) This action only confirmed what previous popes had ruled, e.g., Execrabilis of Pope Pius II, which condemned appeals to councils over the pope.(65) It follows inerrantly that no one on earth has authority to judge the pope (cf. Bellarmine).

5. We may conclude that, since only a declaratory sentence makes a person a formal heretic, and since a declaratory sentence must be issued by a superior to the transgressor (Canon 2223:4), and since there is no superior to the pope on earth, therefore the pope cannot be a formal heretic.


A. History

When the Roman See is actually vacant, how is a successor to St. Peter chosen? Again, it will be found useful to examine ecclesiastical history for precedents before proceeding to any positive definition by the Church.

1. Apostolic Tradition

St. Cyprian:
Cornelius was made bishop (of Rome) by the judgment of God and His Christ, by the testimony of almost all the clergy, by suffrage of the people who were present...when the place of Fabian, that is, when the place of Peter, and the rank (grade) of the sacerdotal chair, was vacant...(66)

Cornelius was elected Pope by the clergy and people of Rome. Was this an exception to the rule? It is hard to imagine that St. Cyprian would have remarked upon an innovation, writing, as he was just after Apostolic times. In fact, all authors point to the election of the Bishop of Rome, as any other bishop, by the clergy of his diocese. It is the fact that St. Peter died at Rome that makes the Roman bishop the pope.(67)

2. The Cardinalate

In 1059, Pope Nicholas II decreed that the pope would only be elected solely by the cardinals. This removed it completely from lay suffrage, of which the secular princes had taken an unfair advantage.(68)

Was Pope Nicholas breaking with the long-standing tradition by creating a new body of electors? By no means, for the cardinals are the Roman clergy.

Cardinal bishops, the six cardinals living in Rome, are bishops over seven small dioceses adjoining that of Rome...Cardinal priests, who are usually bishops or archbishops...are given titles to one of the major churches of Rome. In these churches, the cardinal titular exercises the authority that he has in his own diocese. Cardinal deacons...who act as deacons when the Holy Father pontificates solemnly...are assigned to a church of Rome, called their "deaconry," by title. Today according to canon law only ordained priests may be elevated to the cardinalate.(69)

It must be understood that it makes no difference whether a cardinal of the Roman Church has an archdiocese in another part of the world or actually resides in Rome. His title, given to him by the pope, legally makes him part of the Roman clergy. Thus, the tradition continues.

3. The Schism of Anacletus

Following the death of Honorius II in 1130, two factions arose to contest the papacy within the College of cardinals. Cardinal Peter di Leone had already insured himself of a number of his cooleagues votes.

The more prudent members of the College of Cardinals were in great apprehension of an election, which they were aware would at once give a fatal preponderance to the temporal power; and, foreseeing the success of the intrigues which they knew were at work, they met together before the Pope's death was made public, and although they were in the minority, they elected, with an unanimous voice, Cardinal Gregory...under the title of Innocent II. This election was made in private: many of the cardinals were absent, and the usual forms could not be observed. Therefore, as soon as it was made known, those cardinals who were of Peter di Leone's party declared the election null; and, assembling together, 30 in number, in the church of St. Mark, they proclaimed him Pope who had long held the suffrages of the Roman princes and people. Peter took the name of Anacletus II, admist the acclamation of the multitude, and recieved the tiara at the Church of St. Peter. In the meanwhile, the Bishop of Ostia consecrated Innocent II, and gave him the pontifical insignia...

Hostilities broke out. Christendom began to take sides, and Innocent was obliges to flee to France. This was during the lifetime of the great St. Bernard of Clairvaux, whose life it itself the story of his times. The French king did not know which claimant was the real pope.

Louis VI was unwilling to trust his own decision, and before he pronounced his opinion, he was desirous of submitting the affair to the investigation of a national council. To this end, he convoked the bishops, prelates, and abbots of the kingdom, in the town of Etampes.

And St. Bernard was summoned to this council.

After all had celebrated a solemn fast, they began their sitting, and it was unanimously agreed that the solution of this important question should be left to the man whose word would be to all a testimony of the Divine will. St. Bernard, as the historians of the council relate, accepted, with fear and trembling, the awful commission which the august assembly had imposed upon him. He dared not refuse. He impartially examined the titles of the two elections, the quality of the electors, and the merit of the elected. He spoke in the name of all; and all present heard him as the organ of the Holy Ghost. But when he proclaimed that Innocent II was the real pope and the sovereign head of the Church, the whole assembly rose, and confirmed by acclamation the choice of St. Bernard, and the rights of the legitimate Pontiff.(70)

The schism of course did not end so easily. Anacletus caused untold grief to the Church and to Christendom.

From this example, it will be noted that the electors of the legitimate pope were the cardinals, i.e., the Roman clergy. The decision of the Council of Etampes did not require infallibility, but merely the unbiased examination of the credentials of both parties. This was ensured by their deputizing St. Bernard for the task. The holy abboy of Clairvaux disqualified Anacletus, although the number of cardinals supporting him was greater, because the Sacred College had already voted. Thus, it is proven that all of the cardinals need not take part in the election.

4. The Great Western Schism

St. Catherine of Siena had finally convinced Gregory XI to return to Rome, after a 70-year papal residence at Avignon. He accomplished only that and expired the following year, 1378.

The cardinals elected the Archbishop of Bari, who took the name of Urban VI. They acclaimed him to the people, had him crowned, and sought favors from him. However, when they saw how rigorous the new pope was in his reforms, and that he intended to remain in Rome and not return to France as was their ardent desire, they regretted their decision. Most of the cardinals then left Rome and elected one more inclined to their way of thinking. This man took the name Clement VII. All Christendom was confused about the identity of the real pontiff, since evidence of the conclaves was not generally available. Even saints took sides, notably St. Vincent Ferrer for Clement, and St. Catherine for Urban.

From the vantage of history, it is easy enough to see that the first election was valid, since all the cardinals accepted and acclaimed Urban. This meant that all the successors to Urban were the real popes, while those to Clement were antipopes. It was not so easy to ascertain at the time.

By 1409, Gregory XII reigned at Rome and Benedict XIII at Avignon. In desperation, many bishops of the Church met at Pisa, and professed to hold a general council without the pope. They deposed both the Roman and French claimants and elected Alexander V. While Rome and Avignon condemned the council, Alexander died and was succeeded by John XXIII.

At this juncture, the emperor petitoned the Pisan claimant to call a general council. Since Gregory, the Roman claimant consented, this council was licit. It was called to Constance in 1414.

To allow the free election of an undisputed candidate, Gregory agreed to resign the Roman See. John also freely resigned, but Benedict needed to be deposed. Finally, the cardinals who had gathered there elected one of their number, Otto Colonna, as Pope Martin V.(72) The schism was healed.

This episode demonstrates, again, that only the cardinals can elect the pope. Once they have carried out that duty, even they cannot undo it. Also, it can be seen that a general council, which cannot even be called without the pope, can certainly not elect him. That at Pisa failed, while that at Constance only asked for resignations, and then left the cardinals to perform their legitimate function.

B. Papal Election

As I previously stated, some sedevacantists maintain that a "general council" of traditionalist bishops must convene to elect a successor to the See of Peter. This opinion cannot be allowed.

1. Vatican I decreed:
If anyone says that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of Blessed Peter in the same Primacy, let him be anathema.(73)

Thus, only the Bishop of Rome can be pope.

2. As manifestly demonstrated above, the unbroken tradition of the Church has been that the Roman clergy, the cardinals, elect the Roman Bishop.

3. As shown by the decision of St. Bernard, all the cardinals need not vote in a conclave. Thus, the regulation of Paul VI disqualifying cardinals over 80 years of age from voting does not invalidate the process.

4. Once a candidate is elected, the cardinals cannot rescind the election of a pope.

5. General councils are disbanded at the death of the pope, not convened. Without the pope, a general council has no power, and can bind no one.


A. The Church is indefectible. Therefore, the papacy shall never cease.

The Church is one. Therefore her government must ever be united in the pope. The Apostolicity of the Church can never suffer interruption. Therefore there shall always be a pope. St. Peter must perpetually have a successor in the Primacy. Therefore the papacy continues.

Since only formal heresy excludes one from the Church, and since no power on earth can judge the pope, the popes reigning since the death of Pius XII cannot be outside the Church.

The only traditional papal electors are the Roman clergy, the cardinals. As the papacy is pereptual, so are the papal electors.

B. In view of the foregoing evidence on the papacy, it would seem that what I am proposing is not my own opinion, but rather the constant tradition of the Catholic Church. I have tried to make my argument complete by means of thorough documentation. It is my hope that those who wish to remain truly Catholic will accept what the weight of evidence supports.

Let us therefore pray for the pope. Let us beg Our Lady to convert him to the true path before time runs out. Let us pray our Rosaries for his intentions, that he may "hand down that which he has received."

1. Felician A. Foy, O.F.M., Ed., Catholic Almanac (Huntingdon, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1981), p. 353.
2. Michael Sheehan, D.D., Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, Part I: Apologetcis (Dublin: M.H. Gill and Son, 1948), p. 131.
3. J. Berington and J. Kirk, The Faith of Catholics (3 vols.)(New York: Fr. Putset & Co., 1885), Vol. 1, p. 200.
4. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 203.
5. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 208.
6. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 212.
7. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 212.
8. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 220.
9. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 223.
10. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 230.
11. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 244.
12. John F. Clarkson, S.J. et al., The Church Teaches (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1973), p. 92.
13. Sheehan, p. 155.
14. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, pp. 122-123.
15. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 127.
16. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 133, 141.
17. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 154.
18. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, pp. 156, 159-160.
19. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 175.
20. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 185.
21. Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1974), p. 302.
22. Sheehan, p. 158.
23. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, pp. 248-249.
24. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 261.
25. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 270.
26. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 276.
27. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 276.
28. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, pp. 278-279.
29. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 1, p. 281.
30. W. Devivier, S.J., Christian Apologetics: A Rational Exposition and Defense of the Catholic Religion, Vol. II (New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1924), pp. 36-38.
31. Sheehan, p. 159.
32. Sheehan, pp. 159-160.
33. Sheehan, pp. 180-181.
34. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 2, p. 61.
35. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 2, p. 63.
36. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 2, pp. 67-68.
37. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 2, p. 71.
38. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 2, p. 25.
39. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 2, p. 74.
40. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 2, p. 75.
41. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 2, pp. 79-80.
42. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 2, p. 81.
43. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 2, pp. 81-82.
44. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 2, p. 83.
45. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 2, pp. 85-86.
46. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 2, pp. 91-92.
47. Ott, p. 282.
48. Sheehan, p. 193.
49. J. Cardinal Newman, Arians of the Fourth Century (1871), p. 476.
50. Sheehan, p. 193.
51. Sheehan, p. 193.
52. Rev. Heribert Jone, O.F.M., Cap., J.C.D., Moral Theology (Westminster, MD: Newman Bookshop, 1946), p. 71.
53. Jone, p. 72.
54. Jone, p. 72.
55. Henry Davis, S.J., Moral and Pastoral Theology, Vol. 1: Human Acts, Law, Sin, Virtue (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1935), p. 292.
56. Titus 3:10 57. Rev. P. Charles Augustine, O.S.B., A Commentary on the New Code of Canon Law (St. Louis: Herder, 1924), Vol. 8, p. 118.
58. Augustine, Vol. 8, p. 91.
59. Augustine, Vol. 8, p. 69.
60. Robert C. Broderick, ed., The Catholic Concise Encyclopedia (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957), p. 52.
61. Broderick, p. 43.
62. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, IIa, IIae, Q.33, A.8.
63. Michael Davies, Liturgical Revolution: Vol. III: Pope Paul's New Mass (Dickenson, TX: Angelus Press, 1980), p. 602.
64. Ott, p. 285.
65. Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma (St. Louis: Herder, 1957), p. 232.
66. Berington and Kirk, Vol. 2, p. 64.
67. Henri Daniel-Rops, The Church of Apostles and Martyrs, Vol. II (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1962), p. 259.
68. Rev. George Johnson, et al., The Story of the Church (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1980), p. 208.
69. Broderick, p. 74.
70. M. l'Abbe Ratisbonne, The Life and Times of St. Bernard (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1845) pp. 162-165.
71. Johnson, pp. 275-276.
72. Charles Pichon, The Vatican and Its Role in World Affairs (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1950), p. 67.
73. Ott, pp. 282-283.