What are we to think of the Sedevacantist Position?
A detailed look at some of the more common objections put forward by Sedevacantists.
By Raymond Taouk
What is a sedevacantist?
Sedevacantists are those who claim that that the "Conciliar popes", that is to say Pope John XXIII and his successors, were heretics and therefore forfeited the papacy. Although they do hold to the definition of the papacy as taught by the Catholic Church but openly Proclaim that Pope John Paul II is not Pope as they belief him to be a heretic and thus to have lost his seat as Pope . Thus they claim that we have no pope and that therefore the Holy See is vacant, sedes (seat) - vacante (vacant), which is why such people are referred to as "sedevacantists".
"Since both Paul VI and John Paul II have publicly acted and spoken as heretics, and have ignored all protests by Catholics against their heresy, they are rightly presumed to be formally guilty of heresy, and therefore incapable of being popes."
One can't defend the Popes scandalous actions no matter what ever their intention may have been. However whether the Pope is orthodox in his personal theology is not the issue as Churches Magisterium teaches us clearly that popes can personally stray from the truth, far more the average Catholic would believe. The history of the Church, as handed down to us by the Catholic Popes and Councils, Fathers and Doctors, clearly indicate that. Some popes just barely were kept, by the protection of God for His Church, from the ultimate error, since their error was personal, even though public, but they did not formally and unequivocally teach error in the name of the Church. It is undeniable, however, that several came quite close to the edge.
Nevertheless the only issue to be considered is that none of the Pope's subjects has the right to pass judgment on the Pope with respect to his office (Canon 1556), since he cannot be authoritatively admonished (Canon 1558), and thus deprived by a superior (since he has none) nor by any Law since "the Pope is Superior to Canon Law and because of this no Bishop Exists who is not his inferior" (Pope Benedict XLV. Constitution Magnae Nobis. 1748).
"Now if these new forms of worship, "laws," and doctrines which are evil, have been given to us by Holy church then she has defected and we are forced to the conclusion that these so-called "popes" were nothing of the sort, but were in fact impostors, masquerading as popes."
This is a huge and unjustified mental leap in thinking, since non of the Popes innovations in these matters have been guaranteed by the Churches infallibility. Vatican II, the New Mass etc, are not instances were the Holy See has engaged her infallibility. Cardinal Newman affirms "a Pope is not infallible in his laws, nor in his commands, nor in his acts of state, nor in his administration, nor in his public policy" (Cardinal Newman, Difficulties of Anglicans, London, 1876, p.256).
As regards bad laws, Archbishop Lefebvre himself explains that 'ecclesiastica laws, if they command things contrary to the good of the Church and the salvation of souls, they are no longer (true) laws, and we cannot submit to them.' (Against the heresies, pg. 147).
St. Francis De Sales States, "Everything the Pope says is not canon law or of legal obligation . . . And again we must not think that in every thing his judgment is infallible, but then only when he gives judgments on matters of faith in questions necessary to the whole Church" - The Catholic Contraversy, Pg. 307
Further we see a minute parallel in the fourth Century, were Pope Liberius signed the Semi heretical Arian Creed (AFC, pp.319 - 320), yet Newman is of the opinion that "he is not at all on that account to be called a heretic" (J. Card. Newman, Arians of the Fourth Century (1871). P.476). Again not even St. Athanasius took the view that Pope Liberius was not Pope. St Athanasius did not set himself up against Pope Liberius and nor do you hear of his any of his statements condemning Pope Liberius as a heretic.
If Canon Law affirms that Bishops and Cardinals are not subject to ipso facto suspensions or interdicts (Canon 2227 § 2) and that they may only be punished or declared so by the Pope (Canon 2227 § 1) , we can see why its also affirms that the Primary See (the Roman Pontiff) can be judged by no one ( Canon 1556 Cf also Dz 330, Dz 352).
Further we must note that this is a theological opinion rather than a fact, we must realize that that even some Church fathers (e.g. Tertullian) have fallen away from the faith by holding to their opinion over and above that of the constant teaching Magisterium of the Church. Although St. Thomas More disobeyed Henry VIII when he refused to take the oath, yet he did not thereby deny the authority of the King to run the realm, but rejected his command as it conflicted with the divine will. We may reject the personal beliefs of the Person of PJ2, but we do not reject his authority as Pope.
" The Conciliar Popes are heretics , even if only some recognize the heresy for what it is, because only some are sufficiently alert and well-educated, then that is sufficient to constitute "manifest" or "public" heresy."
The Problem with the heresy of Modernism is that it is disguised so well, their writings and works are ambiguous. So why do people not see it? As Pope St. Pius X said of the Modernists :
"in their books one finds some things which might well be approved by a Catholic, but on turning over the page one is confronted by other things which might well have been dictated by a rationalist." (Pascendi)
Contrary to what some may want to assert this in no way means that we hide the errors of the current pontiff and those who hold to the same novelties but rather in the words of Pope St. Pius X "we must interrupt a silence which it would be criminal to prolong, that we may point out it to the whole Church" (Pascendi Dominci Gregis) by unmasking modernism for what it really is (nothing but a novelty that leads to apostasy from God) while ourselves holding to "that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all. For this is truly and appropriately Catholic"(St.Vincent de Lerins Commonitorium).
Heresy is a very "heavy" word to toss around and calling a person heretical should be done with some hesitation: we should not be too quick to judge. We would not be so bold to say that the entire hierarchy is in heresy. But then we must admit that the vast majority of the hierarchy is in formal heresy in one form or another. Formal heresy is that which is deliberate denial of Catholic teaching. Material heresy is that which is the outcome or result of ignorance; Protestants are material heretics, because they are ignorant of the truth. Once exposed to the truth, and rejecting it with obstinacy, the heresy would become formal and then to them can be attributed the law in this regard.
However when attempting to accuse the Pope of formal Heresy one must keep in mind that such a canonical conclusion (the accusation of "Heretic") logically requires canonical terms and definitions. A heretic is not merely one who rejects anything related to the Catholic faith but one who "pertinaciously denies or doubts a truth of divine and Catholic faith" (Canon 1325 § 2). Further pertinacity must be proven and not simply supposed, since for this reason does the church often has recourse to monitions (Canon 2223 § 4) and inquiries (Canon 1939) in order to admonish those suspected of heresy.
“A heretic who pertinacious disbelieves one article is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all matters. If he is not pertinacious he is not in heresy, but only in error”. St. Thomas Aquanis, Summa Theologica, 2a-2ae. V. 3.
Since Canon Law presumes the guilt of an offender (Canon 2200, section 2, states: When an external violation of the law has been committed, malice is presumed in the external forum until the contrary is proved.) who needs to "prove" that these men are formally guilty in the internal forum (i.e. before God)?
Catholic must not fail to keep in mind that "Law is not a mere contractual 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 representative of the supreme Ruler, is entitled to demand justice and inflict the necessary penalties on transgressors" (Augustine, Vol. 8, p. 69.). Hence, it is the Church through the competent authority alone that can issue a declaratory sentence. The above quote shows that canonists automatically assume a living authority, that is, no sede vacante.
Further what necessity would there be for an infallible Magisterium if it could be replaced by the "opinions" of private theologians? John of St. Thomas (disp. II, art III 26) in summing up the teaching of St. Jerome on judging heresy affirms that:
" St. Jerome---in saying that a heretic departs on his own from the Body of Christ---does not preclude the Church's judgment, especially in so grave a matter as is the deposition of a pope. He refers instead to the nature of that crime, which is such as to cut someone off from the Church on its own and without other censure in addition to it---yet only so long as it should be declared by the Church...So long as he has not become declared to us juridically as an infidel or heretic, be he ever so manifestly heretical according to private judgment, he remains as far as we are concerned a member of the Church and consequently its head. Judgment is required by the Church. It is only then that he ceases to be pope as far as we are concerned"
And so Catholics must not take upon themselves a teaching authority, which does not belong to them.
In any case, according to Catholic principles "the condition of the possessor is better" (St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Confess. Dirett. cap. 1, n. 11). This principle teaches us that when is a doubt as to who is the rightful possessor of something, the one law favors the one who is in fact in possession of the of this good or right. Thus a Pope is to be considered the rightful Pope for as long as the certain loss of his papacy cannot be proved beyond all reasonable doubt. But since the Church has never given a final decision in the case of a Pope favoring heresy, those who doubt this right to be Pope are obliged to acknowledge him as such until such time as the competent authority has passed a final judgment in the matter. And the only authority competent to judge the successor of Peter is a future Pope. Yet even then this will only be to declare the fact.
In this case it is clear that Pope John Paul II has possession of the papacy and is thus pope by that very fact.
St. Robert Bellarmine teaches:
"Just as it as it is licit to resist the [Roman] Pontiff who attacks the body, so also it is licit to resist him who attacks souls, or who disturbs civil order, or, above all, him who 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, punish or depose him, since these are acts proper to a superior."
Pope John Paul II was a notorious heretic before his so-called election to the papacy. Since the promulgation of the infallible Bull Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio in 1559 no one can question that a manifest heretic cannot be elected to the papacy.
This was in force before 1917 Code of Canon Law and so all legislation prior to the Code of 1917 binds only to the extent that the code assumes to itself that legislation. However "Cum Ex apostolatus" is not taken up by the code in its entirety as Canon 2265 § 2 gives validity to an election and all consequent acts of those who had been previously been under ecclesiastical interdict.
Taking it one step further Pope Pius X in his Constitution "Vacante Sede Apostolica" says: "By reason or pretext of any kind of excommunication, suspension, or interdict or any other ecclesiastical impediment, no Cardinal can be excluded, in any manner, from an active or passive (papal) election”. Again the same is affirmed by Pope Pius XII in "Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis" (AAS 38 , p. 76).
We also add that for Bishops and Cardinals to be canonically declared as "heretics" it would have had to have been declared by the Pope alone (Canon 1557 & 1558). But this was not the case for Bishops Roncalli, Montini and Wytola.
"It would seem that people couldn't ever know if the Pope were a formal heretic until Holy Church declared the fact."
Perhaps a restorer Pope/Council will simply judge the Conciliar Popes only to have been gravely mistaken and guilty of endangering the true dogmas of Faith, as was the case with some previous Popes such as Pope Honorius I (625-638), who after his death was excommunicated and condemned by the 6th Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, as well as by his successor, Pope St. Leo II. In fact Fr. Sylvester J. Hunter states on this point that “Those writers who believe it to be possible that the Pope should fall publicly into open heresy commonly hold that the vacancy in the Holy See must be declared by the Bishops gathered together at the summons of the Cardinals, or of some one from among their own number who takes the responsibility; and the same course would perhaps be lawful if an insoluble doubt arose as to the rights of two rival claimants to the Papacy, or if the Cardinals absolutely refused to hold an election to fill a vacancy.” Outlines of Dogmatic Theology (1896),Volume I, Pg. 460, by Fr. Sylvester J. Hunter, S.J.
The Church may one day set about its work of determining, with all due process, to what degree the Conciliar Popes have deviated from Catholic dogma and what the implications are, juridical or otherwise. This is consistent with the Code of Canon Law # 2264, which states that a heretic loses jurisdiction only when declaratory sentence is passed. All of this is consistent with what we would call due process. Thus the Church alone can bindingly determine and declare if---and the precise moment--- a Pope is deprived of office or not.
The excommunication of a heretic latae sententiae must be accompanied by a declaratory sentence (Canon 2223:4) . Although 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 (Augustine, Vol. 8, p. 91.).
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.
"During the Arian crisis 80% of the bishops were heretics, and the Catholics cut off communion with the heretics. Were they wrong to do so?
During this period (the 4th Century) "In order to be safe from this contagious plague, the true faithful and disciples of Christ had to prefer the ancient beliefs rather than all these false novelties." (St.Vincent of Lerins Commonitorium). Yet such a rejection on part of the those faithful Catholic (from a heresy infected hierarchy) during this period should allow us to understand precisely the reason why we affirm that although " they say that we (Catholics) have distanced ourselves from the See of Peter and from the Church. Yet is we who are the best defenders of both, we who are the most ready to defend the Holy See and the bishops in so far as they the successors of the apostles and the representatives of the church; but not the liberalism they profess." (Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Against the Heresies Pg. 120)
The actions of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre which were similar to those of St. Athanasius (A bishop who stood up against the Arians) convey a deep understand of the notion of authority and nature of the Church. The only tenable position given the current circumstances are those taken by Archbishop Lefebvre as his determination to let the Church make binding pronouncements (as opposed to the non-binding hunches of Sedevacantists) is the not only Catholic, but is one that is consonant with the most profound humility as well as Catholic realism.
It may be added that all acts, which question or undermine the office of a reigning pontiff can be judged schismatical (if not in fact at least in tendency).
Lefebvre warned in 1979 saying that: " The visibility of the Church is too necessary to its existence for it to be possible that God would allow that visibility to disappear for decades. The reasoning of those who deny that we have a pope puts the Church into an inextricable situation. Who will tell us who the future pope is to be? How, as there are no cardinals, is he to be chosen? The spirit is a schismatical one. . . . And so, far from refusing to pray for the Pope, we redouble our prayers and supplications that the Holy Ghost will grant him the light and strength in his affirmations and defense of the Faith."
"If the Pope lays down an order contrary to right custom, one does not have to obey him; if he does something manifestly opposed to justice and to the common good, it would be licit to resist him; if he attacks by force, he could be repelled by force, with the moderation, characteristic of a just defense". - De Fide, Disp. X. Sect. VI, N. 16.
John Henry Cardinal Newman commenting on the Arainism says that during this period : There was a the temporary suspense of the function of Ecclesia Docens [teaching Church] as about 80 percent of the bishops fell into heresy. The body of bishops failed in their confession of the faith.... The Catholic people, in the length and breadth of Christendom, were the obstinate champions of Catholic truth, and the bishops were not. Of course, there were great and illustrious exceptions; first, Athanasius, Hilary, the Latin Eusebius, and Phoebadius; and after them, Basil, the two Gregories, and Ambrose;... This is a very remarkable fact; but there is a moral in it.
Perhaps it was permitted in order to impress upon the Church at that very time passing out of her state of persecution to her long temporal ascendancy, the greatest evangelical lesson, that, not the wise and powerful, but the obscure, the unlearned, and the weak constitute her (the Church) real strength. It was mainly by the faithful people that Paganism was overthrown; it was by the faithful people, under the lead of Athanasius and the Egyptian bishops, and in some places supported by their Bishops or priests, that the worst of heresies was withstood and stamped out of the sacred territory.
From the above we can only say that we hope to do the like wise and that is to stand firm in this current crisis with those faithful bishops (and priests) who continue to profess the true faith in order that heresy may be stamped out and that Christ may once more reign as King!
" If they have forfeited their Papal seat by heresy why should we pray for them/him (the Pope)?"
The act of omitting the name of the Pope from the Mass (Una Cum Famulo Tuo Nostro-----) before a determination of the Church were to publicly manifest a Pope to have been a formal heretic, is schismatical and mortally sinful and endangers ones communion with the Catholic Church. Catholics are even asked to pray for those who are outside the Church, how much more for the Roman Pontiff if he has fallen into error?
It is our duty to pray for the Pope, as our Lord said of St Peter " I prayed for thee that thy faith fail not, and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren. (Luke 22:32). No matter how bad a pope is, one is bound to recognize him as Pope, though one is bound to resist the evils he wants to impose (Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 104, Art 5). We do not communicate with his errors, but recognize him as successor of St Peter.
For this reason states St. Thomas Aquinas, "we pay no regard to the successors of the Apostles except insofar as they proclaim to us those things which the Apostles left behind in their writings." - De Veritate Q.14
Let us note that St Peter denied our Lord, but later repented of his sins, and strengthen his brothers, as our lord requested of him. We must not forget that the Pope is human and that he is subject to fall. Bishop Fulton Sheen says that of all the Catholic Popes, the first was the weakest, which is why the Catholic Church by the grace of God has continued. People must not just look to the Pope in order to evade their responsibility of defending the faith.
However the error made by the greater number of sedevacantists on this point is to assume that we pray "with the Pope". We do not pray with the Pope in the Mass, we pray for the Pope. The problem is often the english translation. Any standard commentary on the history of the prayers for the Pope in the liturgy makes this point evident. The "Una Cum Famulo" is referred to as "the commemoration of the Pope" - The Sacramentry by Ildefonso Schuster, Vol I (London, 1924, Burns Oats and Washbourne limited), pg. 272 -3.
Further Pope Pelagius I states that "to omit it (Una Cum Famulo) would be equivalent to declaring oneself outside the Church, while according to Ennodius of Pavia it would render the sacrifice mutilated and incomplete." - Ibid, pg, 273
"The above is a despicable attack on St. Peter's integrity."
In no way is it an attack on Peter's integrity, our Lord had forewarned him (Peter) of his failure, Matt 26: 33 , (a warning for all Pontiff's) and Peter openly denied our Lord, he unlike many witnessed the miracles of Our Lord and was their at the transfiguration (Matt 17:2) . He fell into the sin of human respect, (like many of the Conciliar Popes) thus to save face he denied Our Lord, however by his errors he was only strengthened to see the weakness of human efforts.
By holding to the belief of the Sedevacantists, the enemy of mans salvation (the Devil) leaves you with a Church with no Pope (not from what I can see), no Bishops, no priests: this is not the Church established by Christ. An invisible Church is Not the Church that our lord Jesus Christ built: He came visible in this world, and the Church continues His mission, it is a visible Church. All the Saints insist on this truth. See for instance Pope Pius XII in Mystici Corporis.
This time of dark disorder is a time for standing fast and fighting. In the darkness on Calvary, Mary and John remained standing beside the cross. Many of Christ's disciples including the first pope fled. Dark disorder, then, is a challenge to fidelity, to take our stand beside Mary and John beneath the cross of the dying Christ. The devil and his antichrists never give up, nor will ever give up, as long as the time of man's trail and pilgrimage on earth lasts. Soldiers of Christ must match this determination for evil with their own determination for sanctity. Although our Lord upon the cross of Calvary appeared all disfigured, yet contrary to all appearance not one bone of his body was broken (John 19:36). We compare to the Church, which although today bitterly disfigured, nevertheless remains substantially intact, with it's hierarchical structure no matter how defective it may seem to all human appearance.
St. Francisl De Sales (doctor of the Church) states, "We do not say that the Pope cannot err in his private opinions, as did John XXII; or be altogether a heretic, as perhaps Honorius was. Now when he is explicitly a heretic (what we call formal heresy) he falls ipso facto from his dignity and out of the Church, and the Church must either deprive him, or as some say, declare him deprived, of his Apostolic See, and must say as St. Peter did: Let another take his bishopric (Acts 1). When he errs in his private opinion he must be instructed, advised, convinced; as happened with John XXII., who was so far from dying obstinate or from determining anything during his life concerning his opinion, that he died whilst he was making the examination which is necessary for determining a matter of faith, as his successor declared in the extravagantes which beings Benedictus Deus. But when he is clothed with the Pontifical garments (Speaks Ex Cathedra), I mean when he teaches the whole Church as Shepard (to which they would be bound to hold), in general matters of faith and morals (which conform to the deposit of faith), then there is nothing but doctrine and truth" - The Catholic Controversy, London, 1886, Burns and Oats, pg. 306 (also available from Tan Books).
"Nonetheless, the spiritual head of the Church IS physically invisible during an interregnum, and thus we would have not defection if the Church had no pope"
Although it is true to say that the ministerial (visible) head of the Church is the Pope, while Christ is the invisible head. Yet the Church ultimately has only one head as Christ rules through Peter (the Pope). Thus during an interregnum the human agent is simply not present until another be elected. Yet this is suppose that the Church will elect a Pope or is in the process of doing so. In such cases the visibility of the Church is not impaired in any way as the Cardinal Chamberlain of the papal court, who administers the properties and revenues of the Holy See, and during a vacancy those of the entire Church, administers the Holy See. Among his responsibilities during a vacancy are those of verifying the death of the Pope and organizing and directing the conclave.
Thus, even when the Chair of Peter is not occupied, the visible, hierarchical nature of the Church is maintained (Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1917), vol. III, p. 217). Thus the situation during such an interregnum cannot be compared to the situation that the Church would be in if Pope John Paul II were not the legitimately reigning pontiff as there would be no visible source of authority capable of convoking a conclave to elect a new pope.
The longest interregnum in Church was a vacancy of two years nine months between the death of Clement IV in 1268 and the election of Gregory X in 1271. Yet this is nothing compared with the claim made by Sedevacantists who hold (according to their varying beliefs) that the Church has been without a Pope for over 30 years or more! Although it is objected that the length of time makes little to no difference, it seems contrary to Catholic teaching to hold such a view as it goes against the very nature of the Church, which is Visible, Apostolic and indefectible.
Further, "the Catholic Church's Apostolicity has never suffered, and will never suffer, interruption."(Michael Sheehan, D.D., Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, Part I: Apologetcis (Dublin:, 1948)p. 159. If it did the Church would have defected, yet Christ has affirmed, "that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it" - Matt 16:18
If the Popes since Vatican II are not popes, then neither are the Cardinals they created actually Cardinals. This being the case how will the Church get a new Pope again? Yet we know that the indefectibility of the Church demands that the Church have a Pope.
Those who claim it could happen by divine intervention fail to realize that ecclesiastical ministers are given by the Church and not directly by God and would this divine intervention not be a re-founding of the Church? Which would mean that the Church has defected (at least for a period of time) which we know as is not possible (de fide).
Vatican Council I infallibly defined that:
"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." - Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 282
The Church being indefectibility (Matt 16:18) means that it will continue as a visible society until the end of time (Matt 28:18), continuing the same mission of Lord Jesus Christ (John 20:21). Thus the Church must have an infallible teacher: the pope. In order to govern, she must have her one shepherd.
Authority is efficient cause in any society as it gives it unity. Yet to what extent can a society united together only by a common faith and other supernatural bonds be said to be visible?
"The one Church of Christ is visible to all, and will remain, according to the Will of its Author, exactly the same as He instituted it" - Pope Pius XI, Mortalium Animos § 15
Further it’s undeniable that communication in the same sacraments, obedience of the same prelates and other social bonds are necessary. Since without authority a society disintegrates and for this reason we affirm that those who distort the Churches notion of an interregnum in order to help bolster the Sedevacantist position truly attack the Churches teaching that she is to always remain visible and indefectible.
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 " - Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Tan Books, 1974), p. 302.
What is more is that “If the Church was to continue as Christ had established it, the rock also on which He had built it, and the Supremacy of a head which he Himself had ordained to govern it, were to continue; and if a visible Head was necessary when the Church was still small, and there were none, or but few heresies, it was much more necessary afterwards when the Church was spread and heresies and schisms were multiplied”. – Fr. John Fander, A Complete Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1908 (New York), Pg. 135
What then are we to think of the words of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerick (1774-1824) " Even if there were only one person left who held the right Catholic Faith, there would be the Catholic Church."
The Catholic interpretation to this text is simply that the Church is not based on numbers as we have seen from the Churches history, great parts of the Church can defect from her without effecting her divine constitution (i.e. The Apostasy on part of almost the entire Clergy in England during the so called English reformation).
Yet those who use this to affirm that the remnant Church will become so small as to exist in the heart of "one" or a few individuals affirm the error of the rationalists. This error was condemned by Pope Pelagius II (DzB 247), Pius XII in his encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ (Mystici Corporis) and Leo XIII in Satis Cognitum (DsB 1960) as it denies Christ founded a structured and visible Church (Act 20:28).
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...:
"an 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 circums
Shortly after St. Catherine of Siena had 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.
While Urban VI and Clement VII claimed to be legitimate popes, the Western Church divided into two camps, each supporting one or the other, in what is known as the "Great Western Schism."
Yet is must be maintained according to Catholic teaching and Church history (see any standard Catholic Apologetics text book) that although there was during this period of confusion, two or even three claimants to the papacy, yet in actual fact there was only one Legitimate Pope, the others being antipopes. In such cases of common error, no matter how they are created, the Church supplies the jurisdiction for the benefit of the people (Canon 209. Practical Commentary of the Code, Law. Woywod. Vol. 1. p. 80.) . Thus we can understand why there was really no schism, for the majority of the people desired unity under one head and intended no revolt against papal authority. Everywhere the faithful faced the anxious problem: where is the true pope? Even saints and theologians were divided on the question.... Unfortunately, led by politics and human desires, the papal claimants launched excommunications against each other" (The New Catholic Dictionary 1929).
Further during this same period their was also a warning sounded that "no mere human being has any right to judge him (the reigning Pontiff of the time) . . . nor has an assembly of bishops, and still less, one of the Cardinals . . . They are trying to force the hand of the Holy Ghost" (The New Catholic Dictionary 1929, P. 471).
"And yet almost ALL theologians hold that a manifest heretic loses the papacy by the very fact of his manifest heresy."
Let us not forget that this is a theological opinion, and that some Church fathers and Church doctors did not hold to it. Let us keep in mind that "we may limit our assent, but not their authority" (Summa Theol. Mor. Vol.1.p.601. (Merkelbach) since there is no office above that of the Pope, he may not be judged thus, as to judge superiors personally is coming close to the Protestant notion of "private judgment", and ultimately results in disregard for all authority. To resist is a different than to judge or to punish.
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange basing his reasoning on Billuart, explains in his treaties De Verbo Incarnato (pg. 232) explains that “a heretical Pope, while no longer a member of the Church, can still be her head. For, what is impossible in the case of a physical head is possible (albeit abnormal) for a secondary moral head. The reason is that whereas a physical head cannot influence the members without receiving the vital influx of the soul, a moral head, as is the Roman Pontiff, can exercise jurisdiction over the Church even if he does not receive from the soul of the Church any influx or interior faith or charity.”
Further Billuart affirms that “According to the more common opinion, Christ by a particular providence, for the common good and the tranquility of the Church, continues to give jurisdiction to an even manifestly heretical pontiff until such time as he should be declared a manifest heretic by the Church”- Billuart, De Fide, Diss. V, A. III No. 3, Obj. 2.
In short the Pope is constituted a member of the Church by his personal faith, which he can lose, but he is head of the visible Church by Jurisdiction and authority which he has received, and these can co exist with his own heresy. This understanding of things seems also to conform to the canonical understanding of things as canon 2264 affirms that: "An act of jurisdiction carried out by an excommunicated person, whether in the internal or the external forum, is illicit; and if a condemnatory or declaratory sentence has been pronounced, it is also invalid, without prejudice to c. 2261, §3; otherwise it is valid". These last four words are highly significant. Let us assume that this Pope - the validity of whose election nobody is disputing - refuses to admit that he has now fallen into heresy. Then, since no other earthly person or authority, would be competent to pass a condemnatory sentence against this Pope, it follows from the Church's law that, if he refuses to resign, all his acts of jurisdiction remain valid, even though they are illicit. So while, on this hypothesis, this Pope will be offending God gravely by stubbornly exercising his office while under an (undeclared) excommunication, all his official acts are still juridically valid.
What is more is that a "automatic excommunication" is something that applies to the internal forum, while an ipso facto excommunication has no effect upon the status of it's recipient in the external forum until the legitimate authorities of the Church have established and certified that the censure has been truly incurred.
If these modern canonizations are to regarded as acts of the Roman Pontiff, how do you explain some of the doubtful canonization of Pope John Paul II?
Fr. Gregory Hesse, answers this fact, by affirming that in the papal formula used in the canonization itself merely affirms that that the mentioned person is in heaven, this is all that is strictly guaranteed by the infallibility itself (from a legal aspect). Speaking on this st. Thomas states that the veneration that we display towards the saints is "that by which we believe that they share the glory of the saints." (Quodlib. 9, a. 16 in Zubizarreta, heologia Dogmatico-Scholastica, Vol. I, §§487-489). Thus strictly speaking the object of the canonization is then the saints vision of God in heaven, and only indirectly the sanctity of their life and its value as a model for us. These are consequently not the object of the infallible definition, and although they would not normally be questioned in a canonized saint, in such a particular case it would seem possible to seriously doubt these, whilst still accepting that the canonized saint is in heaven.
But beyond this it is also important to keep in mind that on January 25, 1983, in Divinus Perfectionis Magister, Pope John Paul II gutted the long-standing tradition of the Church with respect to a rigorous process for canonization's used since at least Pope Sixtus V.
Instead, he instituted a new system of canonization that has been challenged as leading to treatment of candidates not so much for their individual spiritual merit (in the past proven by an often centuries-long process of investigation, miracles, and cultus) as for their "political correctness" for modern times. The role of the Advocatus Diaboli (Devil's Advocate) was eliminated, and the number of meticulously substantiated miracles have been reduced to practically nothing. The new norms eliminated any way that objections could be freely and fairly raised and allow the postulator (who is appointed by the petitioner for the cause) to present the case both for and against the candidate. In other words, one man may act as both lawyer for the plaintiff and defendant, but is in fact appointed by the plaintiff. What is worse, and even more damaging to the cause of truth, the postulator, using a clause that allows him to eliminate "unsuitable" witnesses, is able effectively and selectively to bar the most damaging eye- witness testimony negating the candidate. This vague "unsuitability" clause was not a part of the traditional norms.
In addition, John Paul II is turning out beati and sancti in numbers unprecedented in the history of the Church and has thereby depreciated the cultus of the saints. And this at a time when Novus Ordinarians have become thoroughly ignorant of the most important saints of the Church's history, such as St. Augustine and St. Dominic.
There is now serious question whether these rushed-through modern candidates have been scrutinized sufficiently or whether mistakes been made because of rushed investigations (which used to take centuries) in most cases anyway. The post-conciliar Vatican itself opened the Pandora's box by "de-canonizing" St. Philomena, who had been publicly venerated by several modern saints and popes. St. Christopher and St. Barbara, venerated from ancient times as Auxiliary Saints, were demoted in the New Order in 1969. Fortunately, Catholic theologians through the centuries have provided a bailout for such a situation.
St. Robert Bellarmine holds that it is quite possible for the pope "to err in particular controversies of fact which depend chiefly on human information and testimony."
Further it seems that, Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI themselves did not consider canonization infallible. Otherwise, they would not have tampered with the Catalogus Sanctorum in the cases of St. Philomena and the 14 Auxiliary Saints venerated since the early Church, including St. Christopher and St. Barbara. There is the possibility that factual errors may have been made in some of these cases and that a future traditional pope will have to sort the cases out at some point in the future, when the Church is returned to Tradition. In the meantime, there are many thousands of traditional Saints, whose cultus are well established and whose intercession with Our Lord Jesus Christ may be prayed for by the Roman Catholic faithful with confidence and faith.
" How can a Church so filled with evil be the Church that Our Lord has built?
Our Lord used human beings, that are fallible and can fall into sin; and sin can go very far in the Church, it is still the Mystical body of Christ. We must be good members in the Body, but if we sever ourselves from the Body, we shall surely wither and die. An error that some hold is that whatever the Pope does the Holy Ghost assists him. The conservative Catholics conclude that since Pope JP2 is Pope, therefore we must accept all what he does and follow all what he wants; they say that even if the Pope errs we do not err by following him; this is not good Catholic doctrine, this would lead us to an unacceptable ecumenism and humanism contrary to the Catholic faith and morals (these people often are unable to distinguish between the Pope as a person and his office). On the opposite side there are those who conclude that either we have no pope or that if we do Pope JP2 isn't that Pope, since what Pope JP2 tries to impose on the faithful cannot come from the Holy Ghost, being detrimental to the Faith, therefore he cannot be the Pope.
The error on both sides is an exaggerated notion of the infallibility of the Pope while also over simplifying the matter at hand. No one denies that the arguments appear logical, yet the very grounds these views are based upon are false and so its seems nothing except large towers of thought are built upon false foundations.
There are truly dark disorders in the Catholic Church today and in the darkness many souls become disoriented and tend to lose their way. They become confused, unable to put events into their proper perspective; they become irritated when there is no sign of light and are tempted to panic; they become angered when led astray by false shepherds and are tempted to bolt from the flock of Christ, to go off to their own way (that is to separate themselves from the little help they do have by no longer attending even the Latin Mass chapel that are available to them simply because the particular priest of that chapel refuses to deny the authority of the reigning pontiff).
St. Francis De Sales states that "Theologians have said, in a word, that he (the Pope) can err extra Cathedram, outside the Chair of Peter, that is, as a private individual, by writings and bad example" - The Catholic Contravesy, Pg. 307
Wernz and Vidal maintain that a Catholic who questions the validity of a pope on the basis of a defect in his election is not to be considered a schismatic.
Sedevacantists don't merely question the Pontiffs election, they simply reject (thus asserting) that he indeed is not Pope.
Nevertheless the fact that a universally accepted Pope is Pope, is generally affirmed by all standard Catholic Apologetics textbooks as de fide. St. Alphonsus says: " It is of no importance that in past centuries some Pontiff was illegitimately elected or took possession of the Pontificate by fraud; It is enough that he was accepted afterwards by the whole Church as Pope, since by such an acceptance he would become the True Pontiff" (Verita della Fede. Vol VIII. p720). The same is affirmed by Cardinal Billot (Tract. De. Eccl. Christi. Tom 1,pp612-613).
"Can the Pope Err so much and still be pope?"
Indeed for if infallibility is not engaged, it is possible that the Pope errs. The Pope can err, when not using the charisma of infallibility and we cannot put limits to such errors beforehand. For example Pope John XXII (1316-1334) in three sermons during 1331 preached against the common opinion of theologians that the souls of the just do not enjoy the beatific vision immediately after death, nor are the wicked at once eternally damned, but that all await the final judgment of God at the Last Day. However In 1334 in the presence of the cardinals, he made a retraction of what he had taught and died the next day.
Further history shows us that, Pope Honorius I (625-638) encouraged the Monothelite heresy. Pope Liberious Signed a statement of Faith that could be given a heretical meaning. Pope Sixtus issued an Edition of the Septuagint, which was withdrawn after his death due to many errors. Pope Alexander VI bribed his way to the Papacy by the rankest simony, yet he has always been considered a legitimate Pope. These are just a few of many examples. All of these Popes are still officially listed as Popes.
The Pope only when he speaks Ex Cathedra is infallible, as also under certain conditions of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Magisterium. Infallibility is a de fide statement, a truth of the faith defined at Vatican I. When the Pope speaks outside of this specific function, when he speaks as a private Doctor, in order to express a personal opinion, he can make a mistake.
Let us note that just as Christ's own body suffered so much physical evil, so to does his mystical body (The Catholic Church). Sin can become so widespread that the Mystical Body becomes "unrecognizable" (see Is. 53), yet it remains the Mystical Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ, outside of which there is no salvation (this is not to say that the visibility of the Church has not continued "we" rather assert the contrary. Thanks to the efforts of many faithful bishops and priests who have resisted the modernism being imposed on faithful Catholics, today there are a great number of parishes that offer the Traditional Latin Mass were true Catholic doctrine is taught) .
It is further interesting to note that there were some heretics who said: it is impossible for the Son of God to suffer so much, therefore Our Lord did not have a real body that could suffer, it was just an appearance; others said; that Jesus who suffered so much could not have been God; both these errors were denounced and anathematized as heresies. In the same way today, some say: The Church is holy and the Pope is the "Holy Father" and therefore he could not possibly do anything wrong. This is bad theology.
Has all that I must believe been defined as such?
Although there is no such book in which all things are defined and set out we may thank God it doesn't as it would not be enough, as there would be the issue of how to interpret it. Just look at how controverted the interpretation of just the four words "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" is. Volumes could be written (and have been written) on each of these words. It never ceases to amaze me how laymen, let alone priests, think that they can pick a phrase out of context and know the depth of its meaning in Catholic theology. That is why there is so much theological nonsense being propagated these days by claimant theologians. One should not look, like the Pharisees, for some kind of itemized rulebook, but rather see the doctrine of the Church more in the analogy of American constitutional law. If one simply had the text of the First Amendment, would one know what it meant without understanding its origins, philosophy, and court interpretations through the centuries? Of course not.
What of Christ's words then "Think you that the Son of Man will find faith on the earth when he returns ?"
This a true statement but it must be understood in its proper context, as Our Lord himself made it clear that he would remain with us until the end of age saying thus: " And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Matt 28:20). St. Augustine answering this question to the adversaries of his day refers to the words of out Lord "but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened" (Matt 22:24) from which we can affirm that indeed the Church shall continue unchanged in her divine constitution until the consummation of the world for “By the divine constitution of the Church, there is in it a distinction of Teachers and taught, Governors and Governed; and that the teaching and governing body is constituted by the Episcopate, under the primacy of the Pope. Catholic Bishops, therefore, who are known by their communion with the Holy See, have authority to teach, and from the assured perennity of the Church, we know that this teaching body will never wholly fail; individual Bishops may lapse into heresy, as we know to have happened from time to time, but the body at large will never lapse. Should such a lapse of the whole occur, the whole Church, which is bound to obey the teaching authority, would be led into error and ruined, which is impossible.” – Outlines of Dogmatic Theology (1896),Volume I, Pg. 455, by Fr. Sylvester J. Hunter, S.J.
The Church fathers have always held that the Church will remain until the end of age even if it were only a remnant professing that faith. Let's not forget the words Our Lord speaks to St Peter, Saying: " That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt 16:18). Thus the Church can never be overcome, and history is the best example of this. Pope St. Pius X confirms this saying:
"Powerful men of the world have attacked her. They have vanished, yet she remains. Countless philosophical systems, of every possible form, have taken sides against her, claiming to be her masters, boasting to have destroyed her teaching and demolished her dogmas of faith by proving their absurdity. One after the other, however they have passed into oblivion. But all the while the light of truth shines forth . . . " (Iucunda Sane, 12/3/1904).
What are your concluding thoughts on the Sedevacantist view?
Ultimately we must never loose sight of the fight for the restoration, always having before our eyes the bigger picture, namely the restoration of the faith. Yet nevertheless if the great theologians and minds of the Church were not able to agree on what Catholics would do given that a pope falls into heresy or how to remedy the situation in a time of moral peace when the faith was not being undermined from within, it should not be surprising then that we should differ in our "opinions" in these times of confusion and apostasy. Hence the Sedevecantist thesis is an a "opinion" and not a religion and so charity above all, with those of the house hold of faith ought to be manifest in all our endeavors to bring about a greater understand of the current crisis of faith and so that we may work together united for the restoration reign of Christ the King.
The Sedevacantists positions is one that has always been held as the least probable theological opinion and yet we fail to understand how one would base their salvation on a debatable theological opinion which in itself is not even the most probable according to Catholic teaching.
NB. All reference to Canon Law are taken from the 1917 Code.