THE INDEFECTIBILITY OF THE CATHOLIC
Compiled by Pauly Fongemie
The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917 gives the following definition of the Church's indefectibility:
"By this term is
signified, not merely that the Church will persist to the end of time,
but further, that it will be preserved unimpaired in its essential
characteristics. The Church can never undergo any constitutional
change, which will make it, as a social organism, something different
from what it was originally. It can never become corrupt in faith or in
morals; nor can it ever lose the Apostolic hierarchy, or the Sacraments
through which Christ communicates grace to men."
Jesus chose Peter to
be the first Pope: he was impetuous, vacillating, courageous and
cowardly all at the same time. He was probably the strongest and,
paradoxically, the weakest of all the Apostles, yet even though he
denied our Lord three times he ended by being crucified upside down in
contrition. Peter in the end proved that he truly was "the Rock". Peter
is the perfect example to demonstrate that Christ meant what He said,
His Church is indefectible.
The Daily Catholic,
October 2, 1999
Christ meant His Church to endure to the end of the world. It is to be indestructible and unchanging, - to possess indefectibility. Christ, God Himself, could scarcely have come, and with such incredible pain and labor have founded a Church which would die with the Apostles. He came to save all men. Those to live in future ages needed salvation as much as the people of Apostolic times.
Christ said too Peter: "Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). By the "gates of Hell", He meant all the power of the devil - all kinds of attacks, physical violence as well as false teaching. Christ promises here that the Church would be assailed always, but never overcome. This promise of Our Lord has been proved for almost 2000 years by the facts of history. Not one of the persecutors of the Church has prevailed over it. On the contrary, many of them have come to a fearful end. There will always be Popes, bishops, and laity, to compose the Church; the truths taught by Our Lord will always be found in His Church.
3. After telling His Apostles to teach all nations, Christ said: "Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world" (Matthew 28:20). As the Apostles were not to live to the end of the world, Christ must have been addressing them as representatives of a perpetual Church.
The Apostles themselves understood Christ to mean that His Church should endure. After organizing Christian communities, they appointed successors in their place, to live after them and carry on the Church. The Apostles instructed these successors to ordain in turn other bishops and priests. All these acts were to assure the perpetuity of the Church.
Christ intended the Church to remain as He
founded it, to preserve the whole of what He taught, and the shining
marks which He gave it in the beginning. If the Church lost any of the
qualities that God gave it, it could not be said to be indefectible,
because it would not be the same institution. Indefectibility implies
unchangeability. Our Lord promised to abide by the Church, to assist
it, and to send the Holy Spirit to remain in it. God does not change:
"Behold I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the
world" (Matthew 28:20).
There is also the question of whether the anti-Jansenist popes would also have been excluded from the papacy on this basis as they contradicted the Augustinian doctrine of grace that was defined in the patristic age of the Church. Indeed the resistance to those popes was far greater than what we see today, particularly to Clement XI who issued the bull Unigenitus (1713). Rome was informed that the opponents in France of the bull included "all the fathers of the Oratory, the Benedictines, nearly all the monks of Citeaux and of St. Bernard, canons regular, the Dominicans, and a great number of other monks and religious of other orders, together with almost all the secular priests."
The Jansenists argued that the Church was bound to go the perfidious way of the synagogue as the centuries wore on and that the doctrine and practice of the Church had been in decline since the golden age of the patristic era. The true faith and practice would largely be confined to a small elect who are motivated by the love of God while the institution of the Church would be submerged ever deeper in worldly vanity. The Jansenists would have felt vindicated if they could have seen the compromise with the world that the modern Church delights in but very few today know enough of Church history to perceive this. Traditionalists today claim that almost all of the Church is sunk in heresy and irreligion.
The approved canonists said that a heretic cannot be validly elected to the papacy if his heresy is public in the canonical sense.
Some recent polemicists have argued that the law of the Church does not exclude a heretic from election to the papacy.
Pius X: "None of the Cardinals may be in any way excluded from the active or passive election of the Sovereign Pontiff under pretext or by reason of any excommunication, suspension, interdict or other ecclesiastical impediment." (Vacante Sede Apostolica, 1904)
Pius XII: "None of the Cardinals may, by pretext or reason of any excommunication, suspension, or interdict whatsoever, or of any other ecclesiastical impediment, be excluded from the active and passive election of the Supreme Pontiff." (Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis, 1945)
It is replied that this legislation concerns only such impediments as are ecclesiastical and thus the texts say, "or other ecclesiastical impediment". That is, it does not concern impediments that are of Divine law.
This is borne out by the canonists who stated that a public heretic is excluded by Divine law from election to the papacy.
Austin Dowling: “Though since Urban VI none but a cardinal has been elected pope, no law reserves to the cardinals alone this right. Strictly speaking, any male Christian who has reached the use of reason can be chosen, not, however, a heretic, a schismatic, or a notorious simonist.” (Conclave, 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia)
William H. Fanning: “A layman may also be elected as pope, as was Celestine V. Even the election of a married man would not be invalid. Of course the election of a heretic, schismatic, or female would be null and void.” (Papal Elections, 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia)
Caesar Badii: “The law now in force for the election of the Roman Pontiff is reduced to these points: […] Barred as incapable of being validly elected are the following: women, children who have not reached the age of reason, those suffering from habitual insanity, the unbaptised, heretics and schismatics.” (Institutiones Iuris Canonici,1921)
Maroto: “Heretics and schismatics are barred from the Supreme Pontificate by the divine law itself, because, although by divine law they are not considered incapable of participating in certain type of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, nevertheless, they must certainly be regarded as excluded from occupying the throne of the Apostolic See, which is the infallible teacher of the truth of the faith and the center of ecclesiastical unity.” (Institutiones Iuris Canonici, 1921)
Matthaeus Conte a Coronata: “Appointment to the office of the Primacy. What is required by divine law for this appointment: The person appointed must be a man who possesses the use of reason, due to the ordination the Primate must receive to possess the power of Holy Orders. This is required for the validity of the appointment. Also required for validity is that the man appointed be a member of the Church. Heretics and apostates (at least public ones) are therefore excluded.” (Institutiones Iuris Canonici, 1950)
It seems that the law of the Church has not changed on this count since the bull of Paul IV which excluded heretics from election to the papacy. (Nor could it change where it represents Divine law.) Indeed, the bull was cited as a reference in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Paul IV decreed as follows.
“In addition, if ever at any time it shall appear that any Bishop, even if he be acting as an Archbishop, Patriarch or Primate; or any Cardinal of the aforesaid Roman Church, or, as has already been mentioned, any legate, or even the Roman Pontiff, prior to his promotion or his elevation as Cardinal or Roman Pontiff, has deviated from the Catholic Faith or fallen into some heresy:
“(i) the promotion or elevation, even if it shall have been uncontested and by the unanimous assent of all the Cardinals, shall be null, void and worthless;
“(ii) it shall not be possible for it to acquire validity (nor for it to be said that it has thus acquired validity) through the acceptance of the office, of consecration, of subsequent authority, nor through possession of administration, nor through the putative enthronement of a Roman Pontiff, or Veneration, or obedience accorded to such by all, nor through the lapse of any period of time in the foregoing situation;
“(iii) it shall not be held as partially legitimate in any way;
“(iv) to any so promoted to be Bishops, or Archbishops, or Patriarchs, or Primates or elevated as Cardinals, or as Roman Pontiff, no authority shall have been granted, nor shall it be considered to have been so granted either in the spiritual or the temporal domain;
“(v) each and all of their words, deeds, actions and enactments, howsoever made, and anything whatsoever to which these may give rise, shall be without force and shall grant no stability whatsoever nor any right to anyone;
“(vi) those thus promoted or elevated shall be deprived automatically, and without need for any further declaration, of all dignity, position, honour, title, authority, office and power.” (Cum Ex Apostolatus, 1559)
It was recognized in this decree that a heretic could be invalidly elected to the papacy by the unanimous consent of all the cardinals and that he would not be pope even if he were enthroned, acted as pope and was recognized as pope by all of the Church and for any length of time. His appointments and his acts would all be entirely void.
The canonists state that heresy must be public to invalidate a papal election. A full and detailed discussion is needed from the canonists to establish what the conditions are for the heresy to be considered to be public.
Benedict XVI has been one of the most high profile advocates and enforcers of the Second Vatican Council. He was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 until his election in 2005. Would this not be public? We shall consider this below.
The number and the weight of the theological authorities support the contention that a pope who committed a public and notorious act of heresy would automatically cease to be pope. The authors tell us that it is the “most common” teaching of the canonists and theologians; three doctors of the Church have taught it, none have taught contrary; the canonized theologians are unanimous; Bellarmine wrote that “this is the opinion of all the ancient Fathers”. We shall consider the conditions for public and notorious heresy below.
Saint Antoninus (1389-1459): “In the case in which the pope would become a heretic, he would find himself, by that fact alone and without any other sentence, separated from the Church. A head separated from a body cannot, as long as it remains separated, be head of the same body from which it was cut off. A pope who would be separated from the Church by heresy, therefore, would by that very fact itself cease to be head of the Church. He could not be a heretic and remain pope, because, since he is outside of the Church, he cannot possess the keys of the Church.” (Summa Theologica. Quoted in Actes de Vatican I.)
Saint Robert Bellarmine, Doctor (1542-1621): “Therefore, the true opinion is the fifth, according to which the Pope who is manifestly a heretic ceases by himself to be Pope and head, in the same way as he ceases to be a Christian and a member of the body of the Church; and for this reason he can be judged and punished by the Church. This is the opinion of all the ancient Fathers, who teach that manifest heretics immediately lose all jurisdiction, and outstandingly that of St. Cyprian (lib. 4, epist. 2) who speaks as follows of Novatian, who was Pope [i.e. antipope] in the schism which occurred during the pontificate of St. Cornelius: ‘He would not be able to retain the episcopate [i.e. of Rome], and, if he was made bishop before, he separated himself from the body of those who were, like him, bishops, and from the unity of the Church.’ According to what St. Cyprian affirms in this passage, even had Novatian been the true and legitimate Pope, he would have automatically fallen from the pontificate, if he separated himself from the Church.
“This is the opinion of great recent doctors, as John Driedo (lib. 4 de Script. et dogmat. Eccles., cap. 2, par. 2, sent. 2), who teaches that only they separate themselves from the Church who are expelled, like the excommunicated, and those who depart by themselves from her or oppose her, as heretics and schismatics. And in his seventh affirmation, he maintains that in those who turn away from the Church, there remains absolutely no spiritual power over those who are in the Church. Melchior Cano says the same (lib. 4 de loc., cap. 2), teaching that heretics are neither parts nor members of the Church, and that it cannot even be conceived that anyone could be head and Pope, without being member and part (cap. ult. ad argument. 12). And he teaches in the same place, in plain words, that occult heretics are still of the Church, they are parts and members, and that therefore the Pope who is an occult heretic is still Pope. This is also the opinion of the other authors whom we cite in book I De Ecclesia.
“The foundation of this argument is that the manifest heretic is not in any way a member of the Church, that is, neither spiritually nor corporally, which signifies that he is not such by internal union nor by external union. For even bad Catholics [i.e. who are not heretics] are united and are members, spiritually by faith, corporally by confession of faith and by participation in the visible sacraments; the occult heretics are united and are members although only by external union; on the contrary, the good catechumens belong to the Church only by an internal union, not by the external; but manifest heretics do not pertain in any manner, as we have already proved.” (De Romano Pontifice, lib. II, cap. 30.)
Saint Frances de Sales, Doctor (1567-1622): “Now when [the Pope] is explicitly a heretic, he falls ipso facto from his dignity and out of the Church, and the Church must either deprive him, or, as some say [better], declare him deprived, of his Apostolic See.” (The Catholic Controversy.)
Saint Alphonsus Maria Liguori, Doctor (1696-1787): “If, however, God were to permit a pope to become a notorious and contumacious heretic, he would by such a fact cease to be pope, and the apostolic chair would be vacant.” (Verita della Fede, III, VIII. 9-10.)
Cardinal Billot (1846-1931): “Once the hypothesis that a Pope can become a known and public heretic is conceded as a possibility, it would follow that it must be admitted without hesitation that such a Pope would ipso facto lose his papal authority since, in betraying the faith, he would by his own will, have separated himself from the body of the Church.”
J. Wilhelm: “The pope himself, if notoriously guilty of heresy, would cease to be pope because he would cease to be a member of the Church.”(Heresy, 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia)
Code of Canon Law of 1917. Canon 188: “Through tacit resignation, accepted by the law itself, all offices become vacant ipso facto and without any declaration if a cleric: … #4) has publicly forsaken the Catholic faith.”
Caesar Badii: “Cessation of pontifical power. This power ceases: [...] (d) Through notorious and openly divulged heresy. A publicly heretical pope would no longer be a member of the Church; for this reason, he could no longer be its head.” (Institutiones Iuris Canonici. Florence: Fiorentina 1921. 160, 165.)
Dominic Prummer: “The power of the Roman Pontiff is lost. [...] (c) By his perpetual insanity or by formal heresy. And this at least probably. [...] The Authors indeed commonly teach that a pope loses his power through certain and notorious heresy, but whether this case is really possible is rightly doubted.” (Manuale Iuris Canonci. Freiburg im Briesgau: Herder 1927. 95.)
F.X. Wernz, P. Vidal: “Finally, there is the fifth opinion - that of Bellarmine himself - which was expressed initially and is rightly defended by Tanner and others as the best proven and the most common. For he who is no longer a member of the body of the Church, i.e. the Church as a visible society, cannot be the head of the Universal Church. But a Pope who fell into public heresy would cease by that very fact to be a member of the Church. Therefore he would also cease by that very fact to be the head of the Church. Indeed, a publicly heretical Pope, who, by the commandment of Christ and the Apostle must even be avoided because of the danger to the Church, must be deprived of his power as almost all admit.” (Ius Canonicum. Rome: Gregorian 1943. 2:453.)
Udalricus Beste: “Not a few canonists teach that, outside of death and abdication, the pontifical dignity can also be lost by falling into certain insanity, which is legally equivalent to death, as well as through manifest and notorious heresy. In the latter case, a pope would automatically fall from his power, and this indeed without the issuance of any sentence, for the first See is judged by no one. The reason is that, by falling into heresy, the pope ceases to be a member of the Church. He who is not a member of a society, obviously cannot be its head.” (Introductio in Codicem. 3rd ed. Collegeville: St John’s Abbey Press 1946. Canon 221.)
A. Vermeersch, I. Creusen: “The power of the Roman Pontiff ceases by death, free resignation (which is valid without need for any acceptance, c.221), certain and unquestionably perpetual insanity and notorious heresy. At least according to the more common teaching, the Roman Pontiff as a private teacher can fall into manifest heresy. Then, without any declaratory sentence (for the supreme See is judged by no one), he would automatically fall from a power which he who is no longer a member of the Church is unable to possess.” (Epitome Iuris Canonici. Rome: Dessain 1949. 340.)
Matthaeus Conte a Coronata: “2. Loss of office of the Roman Pontiff. This can occur in various ways: [...] c) Notorious heresy. Certain authors deny the supposition that the Roman Pontiff can become a heretic. It cannot be proven however that the Roman Pontiff, as a private teacher, cannot become a heretic - if, for example, he would contumaciously deny a previously defined dogma. Such impeccability was never promised by God. Indeed, Pope Innocent III expressly admits such a case is possible. If indeed such a situation would happen, he would, by divine law, fall from office without any sentence, indeed, without even a declaratory one. He who openly professes heresy places himself outside the Church, and it is not likely that Christ would preserve the Primacy of His Church in one so unworthy. Wherefore, if the Roman Pontiff were to profess heresy, before any condemnatory sentence (which would be impossible anyway) he would lose his authority.” (Institutiones Iuris Canonici. Rome: Marietti 1950. I:3I2, 3I6.)
Donald Attwater: “A pope can only be deposed for heresy, expressed or implied, and then only by a general council. It is not strictly deposition, but a declaration of fact, since by his heresy he has already ceased to be head of the Church. […] An heretical pope necessarily ceases to be head of the Church, for by his heresy he is no longer a member thereof: in the event of his still claiming the Roman see a general council, improperly so-called because without the pope, could remove him. But this is not deposition, since by his own act he is no longer pope.” (A Catholic Dictionary 1951)
Eduardus F. Regatillo: “The Roman Pontiff ceases in office: [...] (4) Through notorious public heresy? Five answers have been given: 1. ‘The pope cannot be a heretic even as a private teacher.’ A pious thought, but essentially unfounded. 2. ‘The pope loses office even through secret heresy.’ False, because a secret heretic can be a member of the Church. 3. ‘The pope does not lose office because of public heresy.’ Objectionable. 4. ‘The pope loses office by a judicial sentence because of public heresy.’ But who would issue the sentence? The See of Peter is judged by no one (Canon 1556). 5. ‘The pope loses office ipso facto because of public heresy.’ This is the more common teaching, because a pope would not be a member of the Church, and hence far less could be its head.” (Institutiones Iuris Canonici. 5th ed. Santander: Sal Terrae, 1956. 1:396.)
Serapius Iragui: “For this reason, theologians commonly concede that the Roman Pontiff, if he should fall into manifest heresy, would no longer be a member of the Church, and therefore could neither be called its visible head.” (Manuale Theologiae Dogmaticae. Madrid: Ediciones Studium 1959.)
In addition to the foregoing authorities, we cite the following to support the possibility that the pope is an antipope and that there is no true pope.
Saint Hippolytus of Rome (died about 236) was a sedevacantist, believing that Callistus was a heretic and therefore no pope. Hippolytus’ followers elected him pope.
“When Callistus, to whom he showed a strong personal enmity, was elected Pope, Hippolytus, who had become Bishop of Pontus, set himself to oppose him, and ‘declaring that a heretic could not be Pope, and that those who adhered to him were not the faithful, but formed “a school” and not the Church, he came to the conclusion that he himself was Pope, and that such as remained to him of his flock in the Tiburtine Way were the true Church.’” (Jesus, Peter and the Keys, p.217)
This is the man whose canon is supposedly the basis of Eucharistic Prayer no. II in the Novus Ordo. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “Hippolytus was the most important theologian and the most prolific religious writer of the Roman Church in the pre-Constantinian era.” He is remembered in the Roman Martyrology on August 13th.
Pope Liberius is said by some of the early Fathers to have subscribed to the Aryan heresy. The Church went over to Felix II (355-358) who the Church recognizes as pope and martyr. He died before Liberius and could only have been pope if Liberius had ceased to be. The claim of Saint Felix to rank among the popes was discussed during the reign of Gregory XIII (1572-1585) and his sarcophagus was opened to see whether any miraculous help might aid. The words ‘Pope and Martyr’ were found inscribed on his body as a supernatural testimony.
St. Robert Bellarmine: “In addition, unless we are to admit that Liberius defected for a time from constancy in defending the Faith, we are compelled to exclude Felix II, who held the pontificate while Liberius was alive, from the number of Popes: but the Catholic Church venerates this very Felix as Pope and martyr. [...] Then two years later came the lapse of Liberius, of which we have spoken above. Then indeed the Roman clergy, stripping Liberius of his pontifical dignity, went over to Felix, whom they knew to be a Catholic. From that time, Felix began to be the true Pontiff. For although Liberius was not a heretic, nevertheless he was considered one, on account of the peace he made with the Arians, and by that presumption the pontificate could rightly be taken from him: for men are not bound or able to read hearts; but when they see that someone is a heretic by his external works, they judge him to be a heretic pure and simple, and condemn him as a heretic.” (On the Roman Pontiff.)
Felix is commemorated as “pope and martyr” in the Roman Martyrology on July 29.
“At Rome, on the Aurelian Way, the burial day of holy Felix the Second, pope and martyr, who was cast out of his see for his defence of the Catholic faith by the Arian emperor Constantius, and died gloriously, being secretly slain by the sword at Cera in Tuscany. His body was taken thence by the clergy and buried on the same road, but having been afterwards taken to the church of SS. Cosmos and Damian, it was found there under the altar by Pope Gregory XIII, together with the relics of the holy martyrs Mark, Marcellian and Tranquillinus, all together buried in the same place again on July 31.”
Three ecumenical councils posthumously anathematized Pope Honorius (625-638) as a heretic. The ecumenical council Constantinople III (680-681) excommunicated him from the Church. All newly elected popes had to profess his condemnation before they could assume their office until the eleventh century and all Latin priests recited it in their breviary until the sixteenth. We give a brief summary from the acts of Constantinople in his regard.
“We find that these documents [including those of Honorius] are quite foreign to the apostolic dogmas, to the declarations of the holy Councils, and to all the accepted Fathers, and that they follow the false teachings of the heretics…there shall be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius who was some time Pope of Old Rome, because of what we found written by him to Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines…To Honorius, the heretic, anathema!… [The devil] has actively employed them [including Honorius]…we slew them [including Honorius] with anathema, as lapsed from the faith and as sinners, in the morning outside the camp of the tabernacle of God. &c.”
The condemnation of Honorius is discussed further here.
It was recognized in the Papal Oath used from the time of Pope Saint Agatho (678-681) until the eleventh century that a pope could go against the tradition of the Church and therefore be excommunicated from her.
“I vow to change nothing of the received Tradition, and nothing thereof I have found before me guarded by my God-pleasing predecessors, to encroach upon, to alter, or to permit any innovation therein;
“To the contrary: with glowing affection as her truly faithful student and successor, to safeguard reverently the passed-on good, with my whole strength and utmost effort;
“To cleanse all that is in contradiction to the canonical order, should such appear; to guard the Holy Canons and Decrees of our Popes as if they were the divine ordinances of Heaven, because I am conscious of Thee, whose place I take through the grace of God, whose Vicarship I possess with thy support, being subject to severest accounting before thy Divine Tribunal over all that I shall confess;
“I swear to God Almighty and the Savior Jesus Christ that I will keep whatever has been revealed through Christ and His Successors and whatever the first councils and my predecessors have defined and declared.
“I will keep without sacrifice to itself the discipline and the rite of the Church. I will put outside the Church whoever dares to go against this oath, may it be someone else or I.
“If I should undertake to act in anything of contrary sense, or should permit that it will be executed, Thou willest not be merciful to me on the dreadful Day of Divine Justice.
“Accordingly, without exclusion, We subject to severest excommunication anyone - be it ourselves or be it another - who would dare to undertake anything new in contradiction of this constituted evangelical Tradition and the purity of the orthodox Faith and the Christian religion, or would seek to change anything by his opposing efforts, or would agree with those who undertake such a blasphemous venture.” (Liber Diurnus Pontificum.)
Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) recognized the possibility that a pope could fall into heresy and be “cast out”.
“The pope should not flatter himself about his power, nor should he rash glory in his honour and high estate, because the less he is judged by man, the more he is judged by God. Still the less can the Pontiff glory, because he can be judged by men, or rather, can be shown to be already judged, if for example he should wither away into heresy, because he who does not believe is already judged. (John 3:18) In such a case it should be said of him: ‘If salt should lose its savour, it is good for nothing but to be cast out and trampled under foot by men.’” (Sermon 4)
Shortly before he died, St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) called together his followers and foretold the reign of an antipope.
“The time is fast approaching in which there will be great trials and afflictions; perplexities and dissensions, both spiritual and temporal, will abound; the charity of many will grow cold, and the malice of the wicked will increase. The devils will have unusual power, the immaculate purity of our Order, and of others, will be so much obscured that there will be very few Christians who will obey the true Sovereign Pontiff and the Roman Church with loyal hearts and perfect charity. At the time of this tribulation a man, not canonically elected, will be raised to the Pontificate, who, by his cunning, will endeavour to draw many into error and death. […] Sanctity of life will be held in derision even by those who outwardly profess it, for in those days Jesus Christ will send them not a true Pastor, but a destroyer.” (Works of the Seraphic Father St. Francis Of Assisi, Washbourne, 1882, p. 248)
Fra Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) was a sedevacantist regarding Alexander VI. Numerous popes and saints have been devoted to Savonarola. St. Philip Neri attributed miracles to his intercession.
“The Lord, moved to anger by this intolerable corruption, has, for some time past, allowed the Church to be without a pastor. For I bear witness in the name of God that this Alexander VI is in no way pope and cannot be. For quite apart from the execrable crime of simony, by which he got possession of the [papal] tiara through a sacrilegious bargaining, and by which every day he puts up to auction and knocks down to the highest bidder ecclesiastical benefices, and quite apart from his other vices - well known to all - which I will pass over in silence, this I declare in the first place and affirm it with all certitude, that the man is not a Christian, he does not believe any longer that there is a God; he goes beyond the final limits of infidelity and impiety.” (Letter to the Emperor)
Pope Julius II (1503-1513) and the V Lateran Council decreed that papal elections are invalid if obtained through simony. As in Cum Ex Apostolatus of Paul IV, it was recognized that someone could be invalidly elected to the papacy by the unanimous consent of all the cardinals and that he would not be pope even if he were enthroned, acted as pope and was recognized as pope by all of the cardinals for any length of time. His appointments and his acts would all be entirely void.
“Julius, bishop, servant of the servants of God, for an everlasting record. From a consideration that the detestable crime of simony is forbidden by both divine and human law, particularly in spiritual matters, and that it is especially heinous and destructive for the whole church in the election of the Roman Pontiff, the vicar of our lord Jesus Christ, we therefore, placed by God in charge of the government of the same universal church, despite being of little merit, desire, so far as we are able with God’s help, to take effective measures for the future with regard to the aforesaid things, as we are bound to, in accordance with the necessity of such an important matter and the greatness of the danger. With the advice and unanimous consent of our brothers, cardinals of the holy Roman church, by means of this our constitution which will have permanent validity, we establish, ordain, decree and define, by apostolic authority and the fulness of our power, that if it happens (which may God avert in his mercy and goodness towards all), after God has released us or our successors from the government of the universal church, that by the efforts of the enemy of the human race and following the urge of ambition or greed, the election of the Roman Pontiff is made or effected by the person who is elected, or by one or several members of the college of cardinals, giving their votes in a manner that in any way involves simony being committed by the gift, promise or receipt of money, goods of any sort, castles, offices, benefices, promises or obligations by the person elected or by one or several other persons, in any manner or form whatsoever, even if the election resulted in a majority of two thirds or in the unanimous choice of all the cardinals, or even in a spontaneous agreement on the part of all, without a scrutiny being made, then not only is this election or choice itself null, and does not bestow on the person elected or chosen in this fashion any right of either spiritual or temporal administration, but also there can be alleged and presented, against the person elected or chosen in this manner, by any one of the cardinals who has taken part in the election, the charge of simony, as a true and unquestionable heresy, so that the one elected is not regarded by anyone as the Roman Pontiff. A further consequence is that the person elected in this manner is automatically deprived, without the need of any other declaration, of his cardinal’s rank and of all other honours whatsoever as well as of cathedral churches, even metropolitan and patriarchical ones, monasteries, dignities and all other benefices and pensions of whatever kind which he was then holding by title or in commendam or otherwise; and that the elected person is to be regarded as, and is in fact, not a follower of the apostles but an apostate and, like Simon, a magician and a heresiarch, and perpetually debarred from each and all of the above-mentioned things. A simoniacal election of this kind is never at any time to be made valid by a subsequent enthronement or the passage of time, or even by the act of adoration or obedience of all the cardinals. It shall be lawful for each and all of the cardinals, even those who consented to the simoniacal election or promotion, even after the enthronement and adoration or obedience, as well as for all the clergy and the Roman people, together with those serving as prefects, castellans, captains and other officials at the Castel Sant’ Angelo in Rome and any other strongholds of the Roman church, notwithstanding any submission or oath or pledge given, to withdraw without penalty and at any time from obedience and loyalty to the person so elected even if he has been enthroned (while they themselves, notwithstanding this, remain fully committed to the faith of the Roman church and to obedience towards a future Roman pontiff entering office in accordance with the canons) and to avoid him as a magician, a heathen, a publican and a heresiarch. To discomfort him still further, if he uses the pretext of the election to interfere in the government of the universal church, the cardinals who wish to oppose the aforesaid election can ask for the help of the secular arm against him. Those who break off obedience to him are not to be subject to any penalties and censures for the said separation, as though they were tearing the Lord’s garment. However, the cardinals who elected him by simoniacal means are to be dealt with without further declaration as deprived of their orders as well as of their titles and honour as cardinals and of any patriarchal, archiepiscopal, episcopal or other prelacies, dignities and benefices which at that time they held by title or in commendam, or in which or to which they now have some claim, unless they totally and effectively abandon him and unite themselves without pretence or trickery to the other cardinals who did not consent to this simony, within eight days after they receive the request from the other cardinals, in person if this shall be possible or otherwise by a public announcement. Then, if they have joined themselves in full union with the said other cardinals, they shall immediately stand reintegrated, restored, rehabilitated and re-established in their former state, honours and dignities, even of the cardinalate, and in the churches and benefices which they had charge of or held, and shall stand absolved from the stain of simony and from any ecclesiastical censures and penalties. Intermediaries, brokers and bankers, whether clerical or lay, of whatever rank, quality or order they may have been, even patriarchal or archiepiscopal or episcopal, or enjoying other secular, worldly or ecclesiastical status, including spokesmen or envoys of any kings and princes, who had part in this simoniacal election, are by that very fact deprived of all their churches, benefices, prelacies and fiefs, and any other honours and possessions. They are debarred from anything of that kind and from making or benefiting from a will, and their property, like that of those condemned for treason, is immediately confiscated and allotted to the treasury of the apostolic see. If the aforesaid criminals are ecclesiastics or otherwise subjects of the Roman church. If they are not subjects of the Roman church, their goods and fiefs in regions under secular control are immediately allotted to the treasury of the secular ruler in whose territory the property is located; in such a way, however, that if within three months from the day on which it was known that they had committed simony, or had part in it, the rulers have not in fact allotted the said goods to their own treasury, then the goods are from that date considered as allotted to the treasury of the Roman church, and are immediately so considered without the need for any further pronouncement to the same effect. Also not binding and invalid, and ineffectual for taking action, are promises and pledges or solemn engagements made at any time for that purpose, even if prior to the election in question and even if made in any way through persons other than the cardinals, with some strange solemnity and form, including those made under oath or conditionally or dependent upon the outcome, or in the form of agreed bonds under whatever inducement, whether it be a deposit, loan, exchange, acknowledged receipt, gift, pledge, sale, exchange or any other kind of contract, even in the fuller form of the apostolic camera. Nobody can be bound or under pressure by the strength of these in a court of justice or elsewhere, and all may lawfully withdraw from them without penalty or any fear or stigma of perjury. Moreover, cardinals who have been involved in such a simoniacal election, and have abandoned the person thus elected, may join with the other cardinals, even those who consented to the simoniacal election but later joined with the cardinals who did not commit the said simony, if the latter are willing to join with them. If these cardinals are not willing, they may freely and canonically proceed without them in another place to the election of another pope without waiting for another formal declaration to the effect that the election was simoniacal, though there always remains in force our same current constitution. They may announce and call together a general council in a suitable place as they shall judge expedient, notwithstanding constitutions and apostolic orders, especially that of pope Alexander III, of happy memory, which begins Licet de evitanda discordia, and those of other Roman pontiffs, our predecessors, including those issued in general councils, and any other things to the contrary that impose restraint. Finally, each and every one of the cardinals of the holy Roman church in office at the time, and their sacred college, are under pain of immediate excommunication, which they automatically incur and from which they cannot be absolved except by the canonically elected Roman pontiff, except when in immediate danger of death, not to dare, during a vacancy in the apostolic see, to contravene the aforesaid, or to legislate, dispose or ordain or to act or attempt anything in any way, under whatever alleged pretext or excuse, contrary to the aforesaid things or to any one of them. From this moment we decree it to be invalid and worthless if there should happen to be, by anyone knowingly or unknowingly, even by us, an attack on these or any one of the foregoing regulations. So that the meaning of this our present constitution, decree, statute, regulation and limitation may be brought to the notice of everyone, it is our will that our present letter be affixed to the doors of the basilica of the prince of the apostles and of the chancellery and in a corner of the Campo dei Fiori, and that no other formality for the publication of this letter be required or expected, but the aforesaid public display suffices for its solemn publication and perpetual force. Let nobody therefore… If anyone however… Given at Rome at St Peter’s on 14 January 1505/6, in the third year of our pontificate.”
We have seen Paul IV foresee, in Cum Ex Apostolatus, “the lapse of any period of time in the foregoing situation” of a sede vacante that is due to the invalid election of an antipope. Fr. James Edmund O’Reilly wrote regarding the Great Western Schism (1378-1417), that it is not impossible that there should have been an interregnum throughout the entire period, of around forty years. At this time, all of the cardinals went over to an antipope, an antipope ruled from Rome, most theologians recognized an antipope and the true pope was the weakest of three concurrent claimants. The schism of competing claimants continued through the pontificates of four successive popes.
“If we inquire how ecclesiastical jurisdiction has been continued, the answer is that it in part came and comes immediately from God on the fulfilment of certain conditions regarding the persons. Priests having jurisdiction derive it from bishops or the pope. The pope has it immediately from God, on his legitimate election. The legitimacy of his election depends on the observance of the rules established by previous popes regarding such election. [...]
“We may here stop to inquire what is to be said of the position, at that time, of the three claimants, and their rights with regard to the Papacy. In the first place, there was all through, from the death of Gregory XI in 1378, a Pope – with the exception, of course, of the intervals between deaths and elections to fill up the vacancies thereby created. There was, I say, at every given time a Pope, really invested with the dignity of the Vicar of Christ and Head of the Church, whatever opinions might exist among many as to his genuineness; not that an interregnum covering the whole period would have been impossible or inconsistent with the promises of Christ, for this is by no means manifest, but that, as a matter of fact, there was not such an interregnum. [...]
“The great schism of the West suggests to me a reflection which I take the liberty of expressing here. If this schism had not occurred, the hypothesis of such a thing happening would appear to many chimerical (absurd). They would say it could not be; God would not permit the Church to come into so unhappy a situation. Heresies might spring up and spread and last painfully long, through the fault and to the perdition of their authors and abettors, to the great distress too of the faithful, increased by actual persecution in many places where the heretics were dominant. But that the true Church should remain between thirty and forty years without a thoroughly ascertained Head, and representative of Christ on earth, this would not be. Yet it has been; and we have no guarantee that it will not be again, though we may fervently hope otherwise. What I would infer is, that we must not be too ready to pronounce on what God may permit. We know with absolute certainty that He will fulfill His promises. We may also trust that He will do a great deal more than what He has bound Himself by His promises. We may look forward with cheering probability to exemption for the future from some of the trouble and misfortunes that have befallen in the past. But we, or our successors in the future generations of Christians, shall perhaps see stranger evils than have yet been experienced, even before the immediate approach of that great winding up of all things on earth that will precede the day of judgment. I am not setting up for a prophet, nor pretending to see unhappy wonders, of which I have no knowledge whatever. All I mean to convey is that contingencies regarding the Church, not excluded by the Divine promises, cannot be regarded as practically impossible, just because they would be terrible and distressing in a very high degree.” (The Relations of the Church to Society – Theological Essays, 1882)
Archbishop Lefebvre declared in 1976 that it was uncertain that Paul VI was the pope.
“On the other hand, it seems to us much more certain that the faith taught by the Church for twenty centuries can contain no errors than it is absolutely certain that the pope is truly pope. Heresy, schism, ipso facto excommunication, invalidity of his election are all causes from which it may sometimes result that a Pope has never been or is now no longer Pope. In this case, a very exceptional one of course, the Church would be in the situation she experiences after the death of a soveriegn Pontiff. For a grave problem does, after all, confront the conscience and faith of all Catholics since the beginning of Paul VI’s pontificate. How can a pope, true successor to St. Peter, assured of the assistance of the Holy Ghost, preside over the destruction of the Church, the deepest and most excessive in Her history, in so short a space of time, what no heresiarch has ever succeeded in doing? All those enter into schism who cooperate in this realization of this upheaval and adhere to this new Conciliar Church, as His Excellency Bishop Benelli designated it in the letter he addressed to me in the Holy Father’s name last June 25th.” (Declaration of August 2, 1976.)
In 1986, with the approach of the first Assisi interfaith prayer meeting, Lefebvre announced that he thought the time may have come to say that John Paul II was no pope but an antipope.
“Ever since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, society has revolted more and more against God. The apostasy is growing year by year, and slowly, slowly, all society has been coming under the influence of the freemasonic principles of liberty and independence from God - no more law, no more authority, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion. At the beginning of the 20th century, Pius X warned that these errors were penetrating inside the Church, into the clergy. At Vatican II we saw a conspiracy between churchmen and freemasons, and now the Pope, Cardinals and nearly all Bishops accept man’s independence of conscience, the principle of religious liberty and its consequence, the ecumenism whereby all religions are good. This is absolutely against Jesus Christ Who taught us He is the door of heaven, and there is no other way to get into heaven.
“For twenty years since the Council, we have waited for the Vatican to realize the error of its ways. The Society has waited for the Pope to realize that the result of these false principles is the self-destruction of the Church. However, we are bound to recognize that the situation is only getting worse, that the false ecumenism is escalating, that since last year’s Synod in particular the crisis is merely advancing faster and faster towards the total destruction of the Church.
“Since the Council we have been seeing the situation get graver and graver, year by year, but the Synod was gravest of all because there they said, “We are continuing! Despite all difficulties, the Council was the work of the Holy Ghost, a second Pentecost. We must continue in the spirit of the Council. There will be no restrictions, no reprimands, no return to Tradition.” So now we see them saying, ‘Let’s go even faster!’ Naturally, since there were no objections at the Synod to the spirit of the Council put into practice over 20 years, and since all agreed with the changes in the Church, then there is no reason not to continue even faster, and we are arriving at the total destruction of the Church!
“The escalation of this Church-destroying ecumenism is taking place in broad daylight. In Morocco last year the Pope told a crowd of Mohammedans that they pray to the same God as Catholics do. But it is not true. Mohammedans teach that to kill a Christian is good because he is an idolater, worshipping the man Jesus Christ as God. Also last year, in Togo, the Pope poured out on the ground a pagan sacrifice to the god of the animists or African spirit-worshippers. Early this year, in India, he let some Hindu “priestess” mark him on the forehead with the sign of her sect!
“Incredible! ‘All gods of the pagans are devils,’ says Scripture (Ps.95,5). How can the Pope receive the sign of the devil? Whatever god is not Jesus Christ is not the one and only true God. And most recently, the Pope has been into the synagogue of the Jews in Rome. How can the Pope pray with the enemies of Jesus Christ? These Jews know and say and believe that they are the successors of the Jews that killed Jesus Christ, and they continue to fight against Jesus Christ everywhere in the world. At the end of the Pope’s visit, the Jews sang a ‘hymn’ that included the line ‘I believe with all my heart in the coming of the Messiah,’ meaning they refuse Jesus as the Messiah, and the Pope had given permission for this denial of Christ to be sung in his presence, and he listened, with head bowed! And the Holy See announces that in the near future he will visit Taize to pray with the Protestants, and he himself said in public at St. Paul Outside of the Walls that later this year he will hold a ceremony gathering all religions of the world together to pray for peace at Assisi in Italy, on the occasion of the Feast of Peace proclaimed by the United Nations due to take place on October 24.
“Now all these facts are public, you have seen them in the newspapers and the media. What are we to think? What is the reaction of our Catholic Faith? That is what matters. It is not our personal feelings, a sort of impression or admission of some kind. It is a question of knowing what our Faith tells us, faced with these facts. Let me quote a few words - not my words - from Canon Naz’s Dictionary of Canon Law, a wholly official and approved commentary on what has been the Catholic Church’s body of law for nineteen centuries. On the subject of sharing in the worship of non-Catholics (after all, this is what we now see Pope and bishops doing), the Church says, in Canon 1258-1: ‘It is absolutely forbidden for Catholics to attend or take any active part in the worship of non-Catholics in any way whatsoever.’ On this Canon the quasi-official Naz Commentary says, and I quote, ‘A Catholic takes active part when he joins in heterodox; i.e., non-Catholic worship with the intention of honouring God by this means in the way non-Catholics do. It is forbidden to pray, to sing or to play the organ in a heretical or schismatic temple, in association with the people worshipping there, even if the words of the hymn or the song or the prayer are orthodox.’ The reason for this prohibition is that any participation in non-Catholic worship implies profession of a false religion and hence denial of the Catholic Faith. By such participation Catholics are presumed to be adhering to the beliefs of the non- Catholics, and that is why Canon 2316 declares them ‘suspect of heresy, and if they persevere, they are to be treated as being in reality heretics.’
“Now these recent acts of the Pope and bishops, with Protestants, animists and Jews, are they not an active participation in non-Catholic worship as explained by Canon Naz on Canon 1258-1? In which case, I cannot see how it is possible to say that the Pope is not suspect of heresy, and if he continues, he is a heretic, a public heretic. That is the teaching of the Church.
“Now I don’t know if the time has come to say that the Pope is a heretic; I don’t know if it is the time to say that. You know, for some time many people, the sedevacantists, have been saying ‘there is no more Pope,’ but I think that for me it was not yet the time to say that, because it was not sure, it was not evident, it was very difficult to say that the Pope is a heretic, the Pope is apostate. But I recognize that slowly, very slowly, by the deeds and acts of the Pope himself we begin to be very anxious. I am not inventing this situation; I do not want it. I would gladly give my life to bring it to an end, but this is the situation we face, unfolding before our eyes like a film in the cinema. I don’t think it has ever happened in the history of the Church, the man seated in the chair of Peter partaking in the worship of false gods.
“What conclusion must we draw in a few months if we are confronted by these repeated acts of partaking in false worship? I don’t know. I wonder. But I think the Pope can do nothing worse than call together a meeting of all religions, when we know there is only one true religion and all other religions belong to the devil. So perhaps after this famous meeting of Assisi, perhaps we must say that the Pope is a heretic, is apostate. Now I don’t wish yet to say it formally and solemnly, but it seems at first sight that it is impossible for a Pope to be publicly and formally heretical. Our Lord has promised to be with him, to keep his faith, to keep him in the Faith - how can he at the same time be a public heretic and virtually apostatise? So it is possible we may be obliged to believe this Pope is not Pope.
“For twenty years, Msgr. de Castro-Mayer and I preferred to wait; we said it was more prudent and more in conformity with Providence to wait because it is so important, so tragic, when it is not just a bishop, archbishop or cardinal, but the man in the chair of Peter. It is so important, so grave, so sad, that we prefer to wait until Providence gives us such evidence, that it is no longer possible to refuse to say that the Pope is a heretic. So, to say that I think we are waiting for the famous meeting in Assisi, if God allows it! Maybe war will break out, and here I take the opportunity to congratulate America and its President on their resolute action in Libya against an enemy of all civilization. In Europe they are all afraid, afraid, afraid of the Communists. Why? Until the Communists occupy all Europe. But President Reagan’s action may have delayed war by making the Communists afraid; we don’t know, because they are fanatics and could start war any time just to take power.
“Now some priests (even some priests in the Society) say that we Catholics need not worry about what is happening in the Vatican; we have the true sacraments, the true Mass, the true doctrine, so why worry about whether the Pope is a heretic or an impostor or whatever; it is of no importance to us. But I think that is not true. If any man is important in the Church, it is the Pope. He is the centre of the Church and has a great influence on all Catholics by his attitudes, his words and his acts. All men read in the newspapers the Pope’s words and on television they see his travels. And so, slowly, slowly, many Catholics are losing the Catholic Faith by the scandal of the Pope’s partaking in false religions. This ecumenism is a scandal in the true sense of the word, an encouragement to sin. Catholics are losing faith in the Catholic Church. They think all religions are good because the Pope in this way befriends men of all religions. When the scandal comes from so high in the Church, from the man in the chair of Peter and from almost all the bishops, then poor Catholics who are thrown back on their own resources and who do not know their Faith well enough to keep it despite all, or who do not have priests by their side to help them to keep the Faith, these Catholics are completely at a loss what to do. They are no longer practicing their Faith, or they give up praying, or they are losing the Faith altogether and are joining some sect or other. I ask, what people are keeping the Faith? Where are they? Where are they? And I ask even the Traditionalists!
“For I think that many Traditional Catholics enjoy the traditions; they like the old Mass, they like the old sacraments, they like the old teaching of the Church, but they do not really believe in Jesus Christ as the one and only Saviour, God and Creator. That is the bad influence of all the modern errors coming through television and the media - they are so bad, so pagan, so opposed to Jesus Christ and the Catholic Faith that few people remain true Catholics wholly faithful to Jesus Christ. That is why we can’t be indifferent to these scandalous events in Rome, we must judge them in the light of our Faith and help Catholics, traditional Catholics, to see that this bad example of the Pope is a great scandal, very dangerous for their souls.
“It is very sad. Never in my life did I think I could be saying, the scandal of the Pope, but it is true. What can I do about it? I think we must pray, and pray, morning, noon and night and study our Catholic doctrine very deeply to stay true Catholics and keep the Faith.
“Someone may say, I am on the way to saying the Pope is not Pope, in order to consecrate a bishop. That is not true. They are two different problems. Ever since the Council, year after year, I have been praying to God that Providence by the facts and the unfolding of events should show us what we must do. I pray for it to be clear beyond doubt, wholly evident. and I think that now we are in this time, I think that it is the answer of God. I would much prefer Providence to be showing us the Vatican returning to Tradition, but instead we see the Vatican plunging into darkness and error. And so it is sure that now it is not as difficult to see as it was one or two years ago, it is more clear and evident that they are no longer truly Catholic. No persecution or revolution in as these years since the Council, because today the Faith is being destroyed by men of the Church, by the Pope himself, by Cardinals, by bishops, priests and nuns. It is the wholesale, worldwide and radical destruction of the Faith.
“Yet it is a great grace for us to live in this time. From before the destruction, we were chosen by God to continue the Catholic Church. Even if we are condemned by Rome, even if we are persecuted by the bishops, that is not important. What is important is to stay Catholic, to keep the grace we received at baptism, to save our souls. Nobody can say we are heretics or schismatics for believing as the Popes, Saints and Church of old believed for twenty centuries. It is a great grace of God to have been chosen to continue the Faith and the Church, but it is a great responsibility ,and we must pray and remain very humble in order to be faithful to the grace that we receive.
“You seminarians especially, future priests, must study the true Faith to become true missionaries of Our Lord, even if you have to shed your blood, as the martyrs did in olden times. Then young girls would suffer heroic deaths rather than make one sacrifice or breathe one prayer to the pagan gods of ancient Rome, but now, no problem! You want me to say a prayer to your god? Sure! And so they are abandoning Jesus Christ and the true Faith in order to be friends with the enemies of the Church!
“We refuse. Instead we resolve to follow the non-ecumenical martyrs, the Saints. Tomorrow at Ridgefield the Church will have three more priests. That is very important. It is not a question of numbers, it is a question of quality, it is a question of true priests. Jesus Christ began with twelve apostles so we need not feel bad that we are so few. Our work is really nothing compared with the world’s needs. But that is not our problem, it is God’s problem. He asked us to work and to believe in Him and to have confidence in Jesus Christ and in the grace of Jesus Christ. Success lies in God’s hands. You know we have much to suffer, many, many sufferings, even in the Society. But we must carry the Cross of Jesus Christ and with the courage and resolution He gives us, we must have a great hope that one day the kingdom of Jesus Christ will return to this world.” (Address to Seminarians, March 30 and April 18, 1986)
Canonists have told us that sedevacantists are not schismatic, even when they are mistaken, if they recognize the papacy, do not intend to reject a true pope and act with good reason.
F.X. Wernz, P. Vidal: “Finally they cannot be numbered among the schismatics, who refuse to obey the Roman Pontiff because they consider his person to be suspect or doubtfully elected on account of rumours in circulation.” (Ius Canonicum, 7:398, 1943)
Rev Ignatius Szal: “Nor is there any schism if one merely transgress a papal law for the reason that one considers it too difficult, or if one refuses obedience inasmuch as one suspects the person of the pope or the validity of his election, or if one resists him as the civil head of a state.” (Communication of Catholics with Schismatics, 1948)
De Lugo: “Neither is someone a schismatic for denying his subjection to the Pontiff on the grounds that he has solidly founded ['probabiliter'] doubts concerning the legitimacy of his election or his power [refers to Sanchez and Palao].” (Disp., De Virt. Fid. Div., disp xxv, sect iii, nn. 35-8)
We may note that several saints have been famous sedevacantists. As well as Sts. Hippolytus (August 13) and Felix (July 29), there is Savonarola, to whom numerous popes and saints have been devoted.
We have seen that public heresy is said to exclude the heretic from either receiving or retaining the papacy.
We are not ready to discuss the conditions for candidates to be excluded from obtaining the papacy.
In the following, we shall show that for a pope to lose his office, a large proportion of the Church would; i) have to know not only of his heretical statement, but ii) also recognise it as heretical, and iii) recognise it as imputably heretical, that is, as pertinacious. In canonical terms, his heresy would have to be “notorious with a notoriety of fact” – which would in practice require an intervention of the cardinals.
There are certain requirements in Canon Law for a crime to be “public”. Canonists tell us that a crime, such as an act of heresy, would have to be known by a large proportion of the people comprising the community in which it has its context.
Before we see what the canonists have said on this point, let us first hear what Cekada has said, in order to get a clear idea of what sedevacantists are claiming. He teaches canon law at the sedevacantist seminary in Michigan. Speaking specifically to the objection that “none of the post-Conciliar popes could be called guilty of heresy, because only a “tiny” minority of Catholics believed them to be so, and this would not constitute “public” heresy or defection from the faith”, he wrote in a letter to The Remnant newspaper in which he claimed that an act of papal heresy is public even if it is witnessed by “only a few”, if those are talkative.
“This is also incorrect. First, no special number of witnesses is required for heresy to qualify as “public.” The canonist Naz says simply: “External heresy is public if it is manifested before a sufficient number of witnesses; it is occult if it is manifested without witnesses, or before a small number of discreet persons.” (Dictionnaire du Droit Canonique, [Paris: 1953], 5:1105). Second, even a few witnesses would suffice: “[I]f even only a few loquacious persons witnessed the defection from the faith, … the delict [crime] would be public in the sense of canon 2197.1.” (McDevitt, The Renunciation of an Ecclesiastical Office, CU Canon Law Studies 218, [Washington: 1946], 139.)” (The Remnant, August 15, 2001)
Canonists on the requirements for a publicity of crime
It is true that canonists teach that a crime can be public if witnessed by only a few people, but the number of witnesses required increases as does the size of the community in which the crime has its context. And even in a larger community a few talkative witnesses will suffice but only if they are such as to make it likely that the crime will become well known amongst the community at large.
Let us see what canonists commentating on the 1917 Code actually said on the matter.
“In the first place, the number of people who were witnesses to an offense and the number of inhabitants of the place where the offense was committed, must be taken into consideration to determine whether an offense may be said to be public. It is maintained by many canonists that at least six persons in a small town or community must know of the offense before it can be called public, and more persons in proportion to the greater number of inhabitants before it can be called public in larger places. However, canonists consider, not only the relative number in determining whether an offense is occult or public, but also the character of the perhaps few persons who witnessed the commission of the offense- whether they are reserved and taciturn or talkative and eager to make known what they have witnessed. The Code calls an offense public when knowledge of it has been spread among the people (divulgatum), or when it was committed under circumstances which make it practically impossible to keep the offense secret.” (A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Woywod Smith (1943))
So a crime is public if it has been “spread among the people” of a community or it is “practically impossible to keep the offense secret”. According to the Code, all crimes are “secret” if they are not “public”: “Every crime which is not public, says our text, is occult or secret” (Augustine, A Commentary on Canon Law (1931)); and so when Woywod said that a crime is public if it is spread abroad or if it is “practically impossible to keep the offense a secret”, his latter condition means that it is at least in practice impossible to stop it from becoming widely known amongst the community.
“Classification as to Publicity. A crime is: 1. Public, if it is already commonly known or the circumstances are such as to lead to the conclusion that it can and will easily become so; [...] “Commonly known” (divulgatum) means known to the greater part of the inhabitants of a place or the members of a community; but this is not to be taken mathematically, but in prudent moral estimation. A crime may remain occult though known to a number of persons who are likely to keep it quiet, whereas it may be public though known to only a few who are sure to divulge it. (Bouscaren and Ellis, Canon Law: A Text and Commentary (1951))
So, a crime is “public” in canonical terms if it is “commonly known”, that is, “known to the greater part of the inhabitants of the place”, or is committed in circumstances in which “it will easily become so”, such as if a few witnesses would easily “divulge it” which we are told means that they would easily make it “commonly known (divulgatum)”.
“A delict [crime] is public when it is already known to the people of a community or, considering the circumstances of place and persons, will surely be divulged. The original witnesses may have been few, but if they are talkative, the fact will be made known to many.” (Ayrinhac, Lydon, Penal Legislation in the New  Code of Canon Law (1944))
We are told that a crime is public only if it is “already known to the people of a community” or will “surely be divulged”, while “divulged”, in canonical terms, means “commonly known” to the community: it “will be made known to many.” Again: “Divulgatio is knowledge which has spread among the greater part [in maiore parte] of the town, neighbourhood, college, etc.” (Vermeersch & Creusen, Epitome Iuris Canonici (1928))
We shall now begin to see how the conditions for a crime to be “public” apply to a pope.
The papal community – “public” as “widely publicised”
Now, as the Pope is, as such, the Universal Pastor of the entire Church and the teacher thereof, his communal context is not a tiny town or a small religious community, but the entire body of the Faithful. According to what the canonists have told us, for an act of papal heresy to be “public”, it would have to be either:
· Already “spread among the people” of the universal Church; be “commonly known” to them, that is, “known to the greater part of the inhabitants” of the Church; be “already known to the people of [the] community” of the Church;
· “It was committed under circumstances which make it practically impossible” to stop it from being “spread amongst the people” of the universal Church; “the circumstances are such as to lead to the conclusion that it can and will easily become” “commonly known” to them, that is, “known to the greater part of the inhabitants” of the Church; “considering the circumstances of place and persons, [it] will surely” “be made known”, that is, “known to the people of [the] community” of the Church.
So, according to the canonists, for an act of heresy by a pope to be “public”, the knowledge of it would either have to be either already widely spread amongst the people of the universal Church, being known to most of them, or at least such as that it will be in practice impossible to stop it from becoming so known and it certainly will. That is, it would have to be widely publicised.
We have seen the canonists state that heresy would have to be notorious to effect a loss of office. It would be public only if notorious. We cite the canonists quoted by Fr. Cekada in his booklet “Traditionalists, Infallibility and the Pope” (1995).
J. Wilhelm: “The pope himself, if notoriously guilty of heresy, would cease to be pope because he would cease to be a member of the Church.” (1907 Catholic Encyclopedia (1913))
Caesar Badii: “Cessation of pontifical power. This power ceases: […] (d) Through notorious and openly divulged heresy. A publicly heretical pope would no longer be a member of the Church; for this reason, he could no longer be its head.” (Institutiones Iuris Canonici (1921))
Dominic Prummer: “The power of the Roman Pontiff is lost: […] (c) By his perpetual insanity or by formal heresy. And this at least probably. […] The authors indeed commonly teach that a pope loses his power through certain and notorious heresy, but whether this case is really possible is rightly doubted.” (Manuale Iuris Canonici (1927))
Wernz-Vidal’s: “Through notorious and openly divulged heresy, the Roman Pontiff, should he fall into heresy, by that very fact [ipso facto] is deemed to be deprived of the power of jurisdiction even before any declaratory judgement by the Church. […] A pope who falls into public heresy would cease ipso facto to be a member of the Church; therefore, he would also cease to be head of the Church.” (Ius Canonicum (1943))
Udalricus Beste: “Not a few canonists teach that, outside of death and abdication, the pontifical dignity can also be lost by falling into certain insanity, which is legally equivalent to death, as well as through manifest and notorious heresy. In the latter case, a pope would automatically fall from his power, and this indeed without the issuance of any sentence, for the first See [i.e. the See of Peter] is judged by no one.” (Introductio in Codicem (1946))
A. Vermeersch, I. Creusen: “The power of the Roman Pontiff ceases by death, free resignation (which is valid without need for any acceptance, c.221), certain and unquestionably perpetual insanity and notorious heresy. At least according to the more common teaching, the Roman Pontiff as a private teacher can fall into manifest heresy. Then, without any declaratory sentence (for the supreme See is judged by no one), he would automatically [ipso facto] fall from a power which he who is no longer a member of the Church is unable to possess.” (Epitome Iuris Canonici (1949))
Matthaeus Conte a Coronata: “Loss of office of the Roman Pontiff. This can occur in various ways: […] c) Notorious heresy.” (Institutiones Iuris Canonici (1950))
Eduardus F. Regatillo: “The Roman Pontiff ceases in office: […] (4) Through notorious public heresy? Five answers have been given: […] 5. ‘The pope loses office ipso facto because of public heresy.’ This is the more common teaching, because a pope would not be a member of the Church, and hence far less could be its head.” (Institutiones Iuris Canonici (1956))
We may also note that the doctor St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori († 1787) also taught that papal heresy would have to be “notorious” before a loss occurred.
“If, however, God were to permit a pope to become a notorious and contumacious heretic, he would by such a fact cease to be pope, and the apostolic chair would be vacant.” (Verita della Fede)
“Notorious” as widely known to be an imputable crime
For a pope’s heresy to be “notorious”, not only would the heretical act have to be widely known of, as we have seen, but it would also have to be an act whose criminality had been legally recognised. But, for the criminality of a pope’s heresy to be legally recognised, such as that his heresy would be canonically “notorious”, not only would a knowledge of his heresy have to have spread widely through the Church, but it would also have to have been widely recognised as a morally imputable crime. Indeed, the doubt or denial of a Catholic dogma is only a heretical crime at all if it is committed stubbornly, with the knowledge and intent that one does not accept a Catholic dogma (canon 1325 of the 1917 Code; canon 751 of the 1983 Code).
“Heresy consists in a stubborn denial of truths which have been defined and proposed by the Church as divinely revealed doctrines.” (A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Woywod Smith (1943))
It would have to be so recognised because a crime is termed “notorious” in canon law only if it is either notorious with a notoriety in law or notorious with a notoriety in fact. It is notorious with a notoriety in law only if it has been judged by a competent judge or its guilt has been admitted in a juridical confession.
“Delicts [crimes] may be notorious in law or in fact. They are notorious legally after a judicial sentence rendered by a competent judge in a matter which has become adjudged (res judicata) in any of the three ways outlined in canon 1902; they are legally notorious also by a judicial confession of guilt according to the norm of canon 1750.” (Ayrinhac, Lydon Penal Legislation in the New Code of Canon Law (1944))
However, a pope has no superiors and no one has juridical competence to judge him; as the 1917 Code of Canon Law simply says: “The first see can be judged by no one” (Canon 1556 (Canon 1404 in the 1983 Code)). But neither has there been made a juridical confession of heresy, which is not to be confused with an ordinary sacramental confession. Hence any heretical crime of John Paul II cannot be notorious with a notoriety of law.
That being so, an act of papal heresy could be legally notorious only with a notoriety of fact. But for it to be so, it would have to be widely recognised as both heretical and morally imputable – as pertinacious. That is to say that it must not only be materially notorious, the heretical act being widely known, but also formally notorious, the act being widely recognised as a morally imputable crime of formal heresy. If the act is known but is not known to be morally imputable, then it is formally secret and not notorious with a notoriety of fact.
We may see this from the comments of the canonists.
“An offense is notorious by notoriety of fact, if it is publicly known and committed under such circumstances that it cannot be concealed by any subterfuge, nor excused by any excuse admitted in law (i.e., both the fact of the offense and the imputability or criminal liability must be publicly known); an offense is occult if it is not public; it is materialiter occult [materially secret], if the offense itself is not publicly known; it is formaliter occult [formally secret], if the offense is public, but its imputability is not public (Canon 2197). [...] In order that a crime may be called public, it is necessary that the fact be publicly known as a criminal or morally imputable act--in other words, that the act is known as a crime. Thus, if a person has been dangerously wounded or killed, it is not enough that the fact is known, but it must also be known that the act was a criminal one, and not committed by accident or in self-defence.” (A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Woywod Smith (1943))
So a papal act of heresy would be notorious in fact only if both the act were “publicly known” – which would require the knowledge of it having been spread through the universal Church, as we have seen – and the “imputability or criminal liability” were “publicly known”: “both the fact of the offense and the imputability or criminal liability must be publicly known”; “it is necessary that the fact be publicly known as a criminal or morally imputable act”. There is no competent judge who could rule of a pope that guilt was involved, and so the guilt could be “notorious” only by being widely publicly known – it would have to be widely known that the act was morally imputable. And it would be necessary that it could not be excused by an appeal to an “accident”, some sort of “self-defence”, or some other legally admissible excuse; it would also be necessary that “no subterfuge”, no evasive device, could possibly conceal it.
“A crime is notorious notorietate facti [with a notoriety of fact] when it is publicly known and has been committed under such circumstances that it cannot be concealed by any artifice or be excused by any legal assumption or circumstantial evidence. […] The second clause refers to imputability, which may be lessened by extenuating circumstances, according to can. 2201-2206. Hence not only the fact itself must be notorious, but also its criminal character. […] Every crime which is not public, says our text, is occult or secret. The Code distinguishes a twofold secrecy, viz.: merely material (materialiter occultum), which exists when the fact is unknown, or known only to the perpetrator and a few reticent persons; and formal (formaliter occultum), when the moral and juridical guilt is unknown.” (Augustine, A Commentary on Canon Law (1931))
So for the act to be notorious with a notoriety of fact, it must be publicly known and have been committed in circumstances in which “it cannot be concealed by any artifice or be excused by any legal assumption or circumstantial evidence”: “not only the fact itself must be notorious, but also its criminal character”. Its “imputability”, its moral culpability and legal inexcusability must be notorious amongst the people of the Church. Otherwise it is not notorious with a notoriety of fact but is, canonically speaking, formally secret.
Thus it would have to be necessary not only that knowledge had spread through the universal Church of that the pope had committed heresy but it would also be necessary that knowledge of guilt on his part of formal, of pertinacious heresy, had likewise spread through the Church. Even if the crime could not be covered up and there were no legally admissible defence or excuse for the act, nevertheless the greater part of the Church would still have to know of his moral guilt and that the act was legally inexcusable. Otherwise heresy is formally secret in canonical terms, regardless of how clear it might seem to the occasional Traditionalist: his acts have been widely recognised neither as heretical nor as morally imputable and legally inexcusable. Then heresy is not legally recognised as notorious in fact; accordingly it is not notorious; and the legal conditions have not been fulfilled which canonists have specified for a pope to lose his office by heresy.
The need for a declaration from the cardinals
One can envisage that before a pope would actually lose his office, a council of the cardinals or of the bishops would have to be convoked to instruct and warn him of his deviation from the Faith, so as to ascertain and then make public to the Church that he was pertinacious in his deviation even after having been given sufficient instruction and warning; they would establish and publicise that his heresy was morally culpable and legally inexcusable. The ordinary people of the Church would, of themselves, be in no position to ascertain whether a heretical act was morally imputable and legally inexcusable, and so such knowledge could not spread through the Church without the action of the cardinals. Thus the moral imputability and legal inexcusability would be made widely known – as is required before there could be any notoriety of fact – by those competent to establish and publicise it. The cardinals would not thereby judge the pope, sentencing him in a court as his superiors; they would not make his heresy notorious with a notoriety of law. Rather they would ascertain and widely publicise the moral culpability and legal inexcusability of his pertinacity and thus bring it to pass that his guilt be notorious with a notoriety of fact, being widely known to the Church. Then the conditions for the automatic loss of the papal office would have been fulfilled and the loss would have occurred.
This is like unto the explanation of the famous theologians Cajetan, John of St. Thomas, Suarez and others, as we shall see below. It is not contrary to the canon law or the opinions of the others, but is rather to pursue the canonical principles to their practical application: to be sufficiently “public” the heresy would have to be notorious in fact and that notoriety would be established by the wide publicity given to the heresy and its moral culpability and legal inexcusability by the action of the cardinals.
This publication would not be a declaratory sentence - nor a juridical sentence rendering his heresy notorious in law - it would be a simple declaration of fact as to what they had ascertained and his heresy would then become notorious in fact. Hence this is not contrary to canon 188, which says that no “declaration” is required for loss of office, as that refers to a declaratory sentence, not to the sort of simple declaration of fact to which we here refer.
A declaratory sentence is a sentence which declares a punishment which has already been effected ipso facto; it does not effect the penalty but makes it publicly known.
“In the declaratory sentence, the law itself has already inflicted the penalty on the breaking of the law, and the court in which the offender is arraigned merely declares that it has found the person guilty, and that therefore he has incurred a certain penalty of the law. These penalties are called latae sententiae (sentence already pronounced.)” (A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Woywod Smith (1943))
“Censures latæ sententiæ (of sentence pronounced) are incurred ipso facto by the commission of the crime; in other words, the delinquent incurs the penalty in the very act of breaking the law, and the censure binds the conscience of the delinquent immediately, without the process of a trial, or the formality of a judicial sentence. The law itself inflicts the penalty in the moment when the violation of the law is complete. This kind of penalty is especially effective in the Church, whose subjects are obliged in conscience to obey her laws. If the crime be secret, the censure is also secret, but it is binding before God and in conscience; if the crime be public the censure is also public; but if the secret censure thus incurred is to be made public, then a judicial examination of the crime is had, and the formal declaration (declaratory sentence) is made that the delinquent has incurred the censure.” (1907 Catholic Encyclopedia: Ecclesiastical Censures, Leo Ganz)
So a declaratory sentence merely makes public that the law has already inflicted a penalty. Canon 188 says that no such declaratory sentence is required. But that is not what we are speaking of here. We are not speaking of where a penalty has already been inflicted and must now be declared with a declaratory sentence. Rather we are speaking of where a penalty, the loss of the papal office, has not yet occurred, and can occur ipso facto only if a simple declaration of fact is first made by the cardinals or bishops of the pertinacity of the crime, that it might be notorious in fact.
Once the fact of pertinacious heresy had been declared, it would be notorious with a notoriety of fact; the heresy would then be a legally recognised criminal fact, as the law requires, and then the ipso facto loss of office would occur as the Code foresees. The Church would then issue a declaratory sentence to inform the Church that the papacy had been vacated - not that a declaratory sentence would be required to make the loss effective, but rather to make the loss known, for the good of the Church.
This is akin to the solution historically upheld by the famous theologians Tommaso Cardinal de Vio Gaetani Cajetan (1534) in his De Auctor. Papae et Coro and Suarez (1617), who wrote of the deposition of a heretical pope that, “by the consent of Christ, the Church would declare him a heretic and therefore unworthy of pontifical honours; he would be then, ipso facto, and immediately deposed by Christ, and once deposed he would become inferior and would be able to be punished.” (De Fide, disp. X) Once the Church had declared his heresy, the loss would automatically occur and a declaratory sentence could then be issued to inform the Church: “he would then […] be able to be punished”.
Our solution has been stated clearly by more recent canonists and theologians.
Rev. S. B. Smith, D.D.: “Q. Is a Pope who falls into heresy deprived, ipso facto, of the Pontificate? A. - 1. There are two opinions: one holds that he is, by virtue of divine appointment, divested, ipso facto, of the Pontificate; the other, that he is, jure divino, only removable. Both opinions agree that he must at least be declared guilty of heresy by the Church - i.e., by an oecumenical council of the College of Cardinals.” (Elements of Ecclesiastical Law (1887))
The cardinals would declare his guilt, his heresy would then be notorious in fact, and the loss of office would occur: “he must at least be declared guilty of heresy by the Church - i.e., by an oecumenical council of the College of Cardinals.”
Charles Journet, Professor at the Major Seminary of Fribourg wrote as follows.
“Others, such as Cajetan, and John of St. Thomas, whose analysis seems to me more penetrating, have considered that even after a manifest sin of heresy the Pope is not yet deposed, but should be deposed by the Church, “papa haereticus non est depositus, sed deponendus”. Nevertheless, they added, the Church is not on that account above the Pope. And to make this clear they fall back on an explanation of the same nature as those we have used in Excursus IV. They remark on the one hand that in divine law the Church is to be united to the Pope as the body is to the head; and on the other that, by divine law, he who shows himself a heretic is to be avoided after one or two admonitions (Tit. iii. 10). There is therefore an absolute contradiction between the fact of being Pope and the fact of persevering in heresy after one or two admonitions. The Church’s action is simply declaratory, it makes it plain that an incorrigible sin of heresy exists; then the authoritative action of God disjoins the Papacy from a subject who, persisting in heresy after admonition, becomes in divine law, inapt to retain it any longer. In virtue therefore of Scripture, the Church designates and God deposes. God acts with the Church, says John of St. Thomas, somewhat as a Pope would act who decided to attach indulgences to certain places of pilgrimage, but left it to a subordinate to designate which these places should be.” (The Church of the Word Incarnate: An Essay in Speculative Theology: The Apostolic Hierarchy (1955))
The cardinals would first admonish him to return to the integral profession of the Faith and if he were to persevere in heretical depravity, his pertinacity would have been ascertained; the Church would then declare his guilt – his moral culpability and legal inexcusability – with a simple declaration of fact and God would effect the deposition ipso facto, because the crime would then be notorious in fact: “The Church’s action is simply declaratory, it makes it plain that an incorrigible sin of heresy exists; then the authoritative action of God disjoins the Papacy” from the heretic.
The fundamental notion
of indefectibility is that the Church must endure until the end of time
with the essential nature and qualities with which Christ endowed it at
its foundation. In other words, it is impossible that the Catholic
Church undergo a substantial change. It may, indeed it must, undergo
many accidental changes, especially in its laws, in order to prudently
react to differing circumstances in diverse ages, but these accidental
changes must never touch the substance of Christ's foundation. This
indefectibility is a certain sign of the Church's supernatural origin
and character, for no human organization could traverse two thousand
years and remain essentially the same. Its indefectibility is ever more
a sign of its divine origin and assistance when one considers how many
times and with what force the enemies of the Church have tried to make
her change essentially.
What is this essential nature? What are these essential qualities?
The primary indefectibility of the Catholic Church is in doctrine. Faith objectively considered, i.e., the deposit of sacred revealed doctrine, is the foundation of the entire structure of the Catholic Church. Similarly faith subjectively considered, i.e., the virtue of faith, is the basis of the entire supernatural life of the soul. Hence the most important way in which the Catholic Church cannot defect is in teaching true doctrine. Since God is changeless, the doctrine of the Church is therefore forever changeless, and it is a testimony of Christ's assistance to the Church that her teaching has remained the same and consistent throughout the two thousand years of her existence. A single contradiction or inconsistency in her ordinary or extraordinary magisterium would be sufficient to prove that the assistance of God was not with her.
But her indefectibility is not limited to doctrine, but rather extends to all those things which have been endowed to her by the Divine Founder. We know that Christ endowed the Church with both structure and power. He established the Church as a monarchy, placing all power in the hands of Saint Peter. He also instituted bishops who, in union with and subject to Saint Peter, would rule the Church in diverse localities. To this structure He endowed the power to teach, to rule, and to sanctify the entire human race. This power derives from the apostolic mission, i.e., the act of being sent by Christ for the purpose of saving souls. Therefore this structure and this mission to the souls of mankind must endure throughout all ages unchanged. In addition, the Church is endowed with the power of orders, by which human beings are made into supernatural instruments of divine power to effect the supernatural sanctification of men through the sacraments, in particular the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Therefore the Church would be defective if:
(a) it ever changed its doctrine;
(b) it ever altered or abandoned a monarchical and hierarchical structure;
(c) it ever lost, substantially changed, or abandoned the apostolic mission of teaching, ruling and sanctifying souls;
(d) it ever lost, substantially changed, or abandoned the power of orders.
The teaching of indefectibility is confirmed by ecclesiastical documents. The first is the Bull Auctorem Fidei of Pope Pius VI (28 August 1794), which condemns as heretical the following proposition of the Council of Pistoia:
The proposition which asserts "that in these latter times there has been spread a general obscuring of the more important truths pertaining to religion, which are the basis of faith and of the moral teachings of Jesus Christ." (Denz. 1501.)
The second is of Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical Satis Cognitum. Having first explained in what the Church is spiritual and in what she is visible, and emphasizing the fact that these two things are absolutely necessary for the true Church, analogous to the necessity of union of body and soul for the human being, he then says:
Since the Church is such by Divine will and institution, she must remain such without any interruption until the end of time.
Furthermore the Vatican Council of 1870 states:
The eternal Pastor and Bishop of souls decreed to establish a holy Church to perpetuate the saving work of salvation. (Denz. 1821.)
By Brother André Marie, M.I.C.M.
II. Visibility and Indefectibility of the Church
III. Valid Elections
IV. Papal Sovereignty
V. The Problem of An Heretical Pope
VI. The Problem of an Evil Pope
VII. Some Practical Problems
The Holy Roman Catholic Church has for its earthly head the Sovereign Pontiff, the Bishop of Rome. So important is this office, that one of its greatest holders, the elect of God, Boniface VIII infallibly stated, "Indeed we declare, say, pronounce, and define that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff." But there exist in our day many radically different opinions regarding the present Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as of his immediate few predecessors.
Among Catholics who would label themselves in any way "conservative," "orthodox," or "traditional" there are these two divergent assessments: One view says that the Holy Father is a living saint, he can do no wrong, and that we as Catholics should obey him in all things and not criticize anything he says or does. After all, he is infallible, and, under the direct influence of the Holy Ghost, he is leading the Church on to even greater conquests.
Another viewpoint takes the opposite stance. The Pope is not leading the Church back to her former prominence but is in fact destroying the Spouse of Christ before our very eyes! How can he do this? The Pope is infallible, but what he is doing a Pope can’t do, therefore he isn’t the Pope! The Chair of Peter is vacant!
This last view is known as the sedevacantist position and it is the subject of my present talk. (A small digression is appropriate here for an etymology lesson. The words "sede vacante form in Latin what’s called an ablative absolute. This grammatical construction functions in a sentence as if it were borrowed from another sentence. Literally, it means "the throne being vacant." It is found in Church law, where the canons give the proper procedures for action during the vacancy of any bishopric, including a Papal interregnum, the period of time in-between the death of one pope and the election of another. Those who think that the Chair of Peter is currently in a state of sede vacante are called sedevacantists.)
How can two such vastly different viewpoints about the Pope arise? Given the present situation in the Church, rampant liberalism everywhere, perverse degeneracy in the clergy and religious life, the general decline of morals in the world, and a general increase of wickedness of all sorts, is it a surprise to anyone that the devil, the father of lies, can deceive even those who are in possession of the truth; that is, even Catholics? I say from the outset that sedevacantism would not be with us today were there not a scandalous mess in the Church caused, in large part, by the pastors whom we sinners have deserved to have over us; but I take exception with the sedevacantist position, because it is a problem, not an answer.
In doing so, I take umbrage with many fellow traditionalists who are sedevacantists. This is done in the spirit of fraternal charity.
At the crux of the matter is the nature of Christ’s Church. Two attributes of that nature are the Church’s Indefectibility and her perpetual Visibility. As we shall see, these two are related. The Church’s indefectibility is based on Her visibility, for Her very foundation is a visible one.
In Pastor Aeternus, the First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, promulgated at Vatican I, we are taught about this Indefectibility and perpetual Visibility. Please excuse the length of the following passage, but in the interest of thoroughness, I present to you this teaching in the words of the Council:
"The Eternal Shepherd and Guardian of our souls [I Pet. 2:25], in order to render the saving work of redemption lasting, decided to establish His holy Church that in it, as in the house of the living God, all the faithful might be held together by the bond of one faith and one love. For this reason, before He was glorified, He prayed to the Father not for the Apostles only, but for those also who would believe in him on their testimony, that all might be one as the Son and the Father are one [John 17:20]. Therefore, just as He sent the Apostles, whom He had chosen for Himself out of the world, as He Himself was sent by the Father [John 20:21], so also He wished shepherds and teachers to be in His Church until the consummation of the world [Matt. 28:20]. Indeed, He placed St. Peter at the head of the other apostles that the episcopate might be one and undivided, and that the whole multitude of believers might be preserved in unity of faith and communion by means of a well-organized priesthood. He made Peter a perpetual principle of this two fold unity and a visible foundation, that on his strength an everlasting temple might be erected and on the firmness of his faith a Church might arise whose pinnacle was to reach into heaven. But the gates of hell, with a hatred that grows greater each day, are rising up everywhere against its divinely established foundation with the intention of overthrowing the Church, if this were possible. We, therefore, judge it necessary for the protection, the safety, and the increase of the Catholic flock to pronounce with the approval of the sacred council the true doctrine concerning the establishment, the perpetuity, and the nature of the apostolic primacy. In this primacy, all the efficacy and all the strength of the Church are placed."
In this introduction we see the visible foundation of the Church directly connected to the perpetual principle of the Roman Pontiff. The visible nature of the Church is inextricably tied to the existence of the Pope as head of the Church.
The Canon following Chapter I of the same decree reads as follows:
"Therefore, if anyone says that the blessed Apostle Peter was not constituted by Christ the Lord as the Prince of all the Apostles and the visible head of the whole Church militant, or that he received immediately and directly from Jesus Christ our Lord only a primacy of honor and not a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction: let him be anathema."
Chapter I and its Canon define that the Pope is the visible head of a visible Church, and that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Her. This last phrase forms the basis of the attribute of indefectibility that the Church possesses. And, this means that the Church as a visible organization will stay a visible organization to the end of time. Consequently, she will have a visible head of the Church leading her to the end of time. This is a defined doctrine of the faith that all Christians are required to profess and to hold integrally. Chapter II of Pastor Aeternus and its Canon make this teaching 'De Fide.' I quote the canon:
"Therefore, if anyone says that it is not according to the institution of Christ our Lord Himself, that is, by divine law, that St. Peter has perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole Church; or if anyone says that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of St. Peter in the same primacy: let him be anathema."
Summarizing then: The visibility of the Catholic Church is tied to the visible foundation of the Roman Pontiff. If the Pope disappears so does the Church, and therefore the gates of hell have prevailed over her. The Church has defined for our belief and adherence the dogma that the Papacy shall never fall because it is such an integral part of the nature of the Church. Therefore, any idea or suggestion that does not take this infallible premise into account is by default untenable. One aspect of sedevacantism is the belief that the Papacy has, de facto disappeared for around 39 years (depending upon which reckoning you use). Therefore, in this aspect, sedevacantism is erroneous.
However, the claim is made: "We are still in the period of 'sede vacante'; no valid pope has been elected since Pope Pius XII."
To this statement a few things can be said. First, a question: Who has the responsibility of saying that the pope’s election was doubtful? The layman in the street? A Bishop? The College of Cardinals? A Council? There is no clear answer to this question. So, just because someone says an election is invalid, this does not make the election invalid. Have there been elections to the papacy since Pope Pius XII? Yes, there have been 4 elections to the Chair of Peter.
How can we look at these elections? Certain sedevacantists say that they are invalid because the person elected was not a legitimate candidate for the office. For argument’s sake, let us briefly entertain this possibility to show why it in no way would jeopardize the last four pontificates. I defer to the theologian Cardinal Billot, the Doctor St. Alphonsus De Liguori, and the great Benedictine Abbot, Prosper Guéranger. They give the following rule: "The peaceful and universal acceptance of a pope by the whole Church is a sign and effect of a valid election."
Cardinal Billot (the great Jesuit theologian of the first half of this century) states:
"Finally, what one may think of the possibility or the impossibility of an heretical pope, there is at least one point absolutely clear which no one can put in doubt, and it is that the acceptance, the adherence, of the Universal Church to a pope will always be, by itself, the infallible sign of the legitimacy of such-and-such a pontiff; and consequently of the existence of all the conditions required for legitimacy." And this is based on the Church’s attribute of Indefectibility as defined by "the promise of the infallible Providence of Christ [that] ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ and ‘Behold, I am with you all days even unto the end of the world.’ For the adherence of the Church to a false pontiff would be the same thing as its adherence to a false rule of Faith, since the pope is the living rule of the Faith that the Church has to follow, and that in fact, She always follows."
"God some times can allow that the vacancy of the Apostolic See be for a certain time. He can allow also that a doubt may come concerning the legitimacy of such-and-such an election, but He cannot allow that the whole Church accept as a pontiff one who is not really legitimate. Therefore, from the moment that the pope is accepted by the Church and is united to Her as the head to the body, we can no longer raise the doubt on the possible bias of election or the possible lack of the necessary conditions for legitimacy. Because this adherence of the Church heals in its root all faults committed at the moment of election, and proves infallibly the existence of all the conditions required."
For example, if a Cardinal would have "bought" the papacy (by simony), and the Church accepts the election, that person would be validly pope. There is strong evidence to suggest that this, in fact, did happen with the election of Pope Alexander VI.
St. Alphonsus states that:
"It doesn’t matter that in past centuries some pontiff has been elected in an illegitimate fashion or has taken possession of the pontificate by fraud: it suffices that he has been accepted after as pope by all the Church, for this fact he has become the true pontiff."
St. Alphonsus follows the principle that if the whole Church, and mainly the clergy of Rome accept this man as pope, the man is the pope.
Another authority to which we will refer is Dom Prosper Guéranger, the Abbot of Solemnes, and the great 19th century authority on the Papacy, whose study, Pontifical Monarchy, helped Pius IX to make the definition of Papal Infallibility. In his Liturgical Year, for the feast of Pope St. Silverius, whose election to the pontificate was doubtful, Dom Guéranger writes,
"The inevitable play of human passions, interfering in the election of the Vicar of Christ, may perchance for a while render uncertain the transmission of spiritual power. But when it is proved that the Church, still holding, or once more put in possession of, her liberty, acknowledges in the person of a certain Pope, until then doubtful, the true Sovereign Pontiff, this her very recognition is a proof that, from that moment at least, the occupant of the Apostolic See is as such invested by God himself." (Abbot Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year, Vol XII, pg. 188)
Silverius’ pontificate was doubtful because it was forced by the hand of an Arian Emperor. Abbot Guéranger holds that the Roman Clergy would have been free to reject the pope elected as an impostor, since he was thus put in office; but because Silverius was a good and worthy man, and because he was unaware of the violence and evil which brought about his election, they accepted him — and by that acceptance, he was the true Pope.
Therefore, by this principle and the doctrine of the Perpetuity of the Papacy, John XXIII, Paul VI, John-Paul I, and John-Paul II, have been elected to the Chair of Peter, regardless of their supposed illegitimacy. Because they were accepted by the Visible Church as pontiffs, they became true popes.
A proper understanding of Authority is of absolute necessity to our subject. This idea has lost its true meaning because of philosophies that have cropped up since the Reformation. It seems the world today has a false notion of authority, which is based upon the thinking of the Enlightenment. I don’t want to sound anti-American here (since I’m not), but the ideas inherent in our Constitutional Republic have completely changed the common thinking on what authority is. Everything from the source of that authority to how the state wields that authority has been changed. When Catholics today look at the Papacy and "see" the Pope violate canon law and scandalize the faithful, it is easy to say that he can’t be the pope because he is violating the law, and nobody is above the law!!! These Catholics base this thinking not upon a proper understanding of sovereignty and authority, but upon a modern conception of how authority operates. A true understanding of authority and sovereignty can be found in St. Thomas. I quote from the Summa:
"The sovereign is said to be 'exempt from the law', as to its coercive power, since, properly speaking, no man is coerced by himself, and law has no coercive power save from the authority of the sovereign. Thus then is the sovereign said to be exempt from the law, because none is competent to pass sentence on him if he acts against the law… Again, the sovereign is above the law in so far as, when it is expedient, he can change the law and dispense with it according to time and place." (Summa Theologica, Ia IIae, Q. 96, Art. 5)
I give you the example of the Paula Jones civil case against President Clinton. The arguments presented to the Supreme Court by the plaintiff (Paula Jones) stated that the President should be liable to a lawsuit even if he is in office because he is not above the law. They argued that if he were considered so, it would be changing the essence of the Presidency to that of a Monarch. The Justices agreed and have stipulated that Paula Jones can sue the President while he sits in office. But the Pope is not the President of the United States. He is a sovereign, and therefore very much above the law.
A case in point is the promulgation of a new rite of Mass by Pope Paul VI. Some would say that, in light of Quo Primum, Pope Paul had no right to do this. They would then conclude that he was an anti-Pope. They would hold this: "Since in Quo Primum, Pope Pius V forbade Latin Rite priests to celebrate any other Missal than his, Paul VI was out of his bounds to institute a new rite." Strictly speaking, this is not so. No pope can bind a future pope in a matter of Church Law. (This does not mean that I in any way like the Novus Ordo or encourage attendance at it. I don’t go to it. I won’t go to it.) My simple point is that the pope has the right to amend, obrogate, or downright abrogate the Bull Quo Primum. To say otherwise is to diminish his prerogatives as supreme legislator of the Church. Anyone who doubts this should realize that his stance falls under Alexander VIII’s condemnation of the third Gallican Article, which claimed that the Pope could not change previously established law.
Now let us discuss a few problem situations. We begin with the problem of an heretical pope. Regarding a pope who, while in office, may become heretical, Saint Robert Bellarmine posits five opinions for consideration:
1. The pope cannot be heretical.
2. The pope, falling into heresy, even purely internal heresy, ipso facto loses the papacy.
3. Even if the pope falls into heresy, the pope would not lose the papacy.
4. An heretical pope is not removed ipso facto, but must be declared deposed by the Church.
5. An heretical pope is deposed ipso facto at the moment that his heresy becomes manifest — that is, public and widely known.
Various theologians have chosen their favorite opinion, but no one consensus is reached by all. St. Robert prefers the fifth postulate.
For argument’s sake, let’s say that St. Robert’s opinion is the definitive teaching in the matter of a Pope falling into heresy. Have Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, and John Paul II exhibited a manifest, public, and formal heresy? The sedevacantist would say yes, and therefore the Pope has fallen from his office and a False Shepherd is leading the Church. Or more precisely, the whole hierarchy have lost their offices since they are heretics and were appointed by a non-pope; therefore, the Church is completely decapitated in Her government. We know by De Fide teaching (the visibility of the Church, and the primacy of Peter) that this is impossible. (If the Church is now without a visible leader, the Church then becomes invisible. We know that the very essence of the Church depends on her being a visible organization, so the idea that she can exist in the world in an invisible sense is a contradiction of defined teaching.) Therefore, the contrary must be true. That is, these popes are true popes and haven’t manifested formal heresy.
The Code of Canon Law defines a heretic as one who after baptism, while remaining nominally a Catholic, pertinaciously doubts one of the truths which must be believed by divine and catholic faith. A "truth that must be believed by divine and catholic faith" is one that has been infallibly declared by the Church to be revealed by God — a doctrine that is "de fide divina et catholica". Pertinacity is defined as the conscious and intentional resistance to the authority of God and the Church; it is the obstinate adhesion to a particular heretical tenet. As long as one remains willing to submit to the Church’s decision he remains a Catholic Christian, and his wrong belief remains material only. If the quality of pertinacity is missing, there is no formal heresy.
So, based on this definition of a heretic then, can we say that the last four popes have manifested formal heresy? No, we cannot. Formal resistance to the teaching authority of the Church, which resides in the Pope is hardly possible when the man in question is the pope himself. I propose that the note of pertinacity is, therefore impossible in a pope (unless he’s a schizophrenic). If the note of pertinacity is impossible, then so is formal heresy.
Perhaps someone could criticize this argument as being too subtle, hinging as it does on the note of pertinacity. Even then, the judgment of formal heresy is a serious one, and one which must be established by a competent authority. To be a formal heretic, one’s will must be set against God and his Church. One must make a conscious act of the will to reject Catholic dogma. For someone to be excommunicated in public forum as a heretic the judgment must be made by a competent bishop; not even a priest can accuse a person of such a thing. All a priest can do, and all that you or I can do, is tell a person he is wrong; he is erring; and he is committing a sin against Faith. As a missionary, I can tell a person, in very strong language, "look man, you are wrong, and your error will lead you to hell." In that respect, I can make a judgment of truth and error based on the evidence put before me. But I cannot declare a person formally excommunicated from the Church. And I thank God that it’s not within my competence to do so.
And neither is it in the competence of anyone to so accuse the Pope of formal heresy.
Regarding the possibility of an heretical pope and his consequent loss of office, I would like to present another argument. Supposing we were to follow the opinions of certain authors that if a pope were to fall into heresy, he would then lose his office. Then suppose that we were to apply that opinion to a certain pope. At best, what we have accomplished is to establish, based upon theological speculation, the possibility that the See of Peter could be vacant. That is all we could do, given the uncertain nature of this situation. At this point, the individual Catholic is at a moral juncture: Either accept a man as the Roman Pontiff whom he thinks might not be pope, or reject him. If he realizes that the claimant to the Apostolic See might be the pope — and he has to admit that he might be — then rejecting the claimant constitutes a schismatic act.
Let me explain. This is what is known in moral theology as a "practical doubt." About this "practical doubt" the Jesuit moralist, Father Slater, says the following. "If I eat meat with a practical doubt as to whether it is not forbidden on that day by the Church, I commit a sin of the same kind and malice as if I ate meat knowingly on a day of abstinence." Apply this to the pontificate. If I refuse my subjection to the Roman Pontiff with a practical doubt as to whether or not he is the pope, I commit an act of schism. It’s a form of spiritual Russian Roulette.
Have these popes said things that are obviously erroneous and scandalous to the faithful? Yes, they have. Have recent popes acted in a manner opposed to the way they should be acting as supreme pastors of the Church? Yes, they have. But just because sinful and scandalous actions emanate from a priest, bishop, or pope, does not mean that they are outside of the Church! Have these Popes violated the Church’s attribute of Infallibility? No, they have not. Can the pope act in a manner which is harmful to the faithful? Yes, he can. Is he to be resisted for so acting? Absolutely! Are the faithful to pray that his "diabolical disorientation" is dispelled and he works to correct the wrong that has been done? Absolutely! "Pray for the Pope", as Venerable Jacinta of Fatima has told us.
I would like to point out something else concerning the thinking of some Catholics on this issue. One man, after criticizing Saint Benedict Center for not being sedevacantist, and claiming that "only the sedevacantists have the courage to call a heretic a heretic" said the following: "I wonder what position Christ would have taken. Can we get a hint out of Scriptures? Maybe he should have 'dialogued' with the Pharisees more and ignored the moneychangers in His Father’s House — they were there with the approval of authority, after all."
My answer, I admit, was not without sarcasm: "Yes, and we all know what our Lord did. He deposed the high priest and declared the Seat of Moses vacant! Didn’t He?" The point is simply this: If the Man-God himself had enough respect for the sovereign pontiff of the law of types and figures as to say of the heretical Jew who was soon to murder Him, that he sat "in the seat of Moses," how does anyone in the present law, the more perfect law, dare to do the opposite?
Let me spell this out. Our Lord was not a sedevacantist. The evil deicide heretic who had authority over the "church" of Israel, was still the head of the true Religion. The religious society of the Old Law was still intact. Anyone wishing to save his soul could look to this office for leadership. Its sacrifices were accepted by God, and despite the abusive use to which it was put, the prophetical office was even maintained by this man. What did St. John say about Caiphas’ prophesy of our Lord’s death? "And this he spoke not of himself: but being the high priest of that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation." No matter how you view it, the present Pope’s actions come nowhere near the iniquity of Caiphas.
Next after the problem of an heretical pope we have that of an evil pope. I’m not saying that any of these popes are "evil," but merely for the sake of argument, let’s assume that they are (after all, it is possible for a pope to be evil, and the whole Catholic world has recognized certain historical popes — like the notoriously immoral John XII — to have been evil.) An evil pope could be one who changes canon law for the worse, thus introducing laxity and possibly poor morals. An evil pope could be one who gives scandal to people. He could be a Freemason; he could introduce new and even protestantized liturgical rites. Is he still a pope, despite these evils?
Yes! As far as changing Church law, the pope is supreme legislator of the Church and is above the law, as we mentioned before. The Pope’s infallibility is over Faith and Morals only. Law is not the proper subject of infallibility, and therefore bad laws can come into the Church.
What if a Pope is a Freemason?
May God forbid it, but it is a possibility. I don’t wish to give any credence to any of the various lists which exist — lists that incriminate this cardinal or that bishop or such-and-such a pope of having been a Mason. I certainly would not want to be guilty of either calumny or detraction leveled at the person of the pope. Just entertaining the possibility for the sake of argument is all I’m trying to do.
A Freemason or any other person is deprived of his office by due canonical process. When it comes to the Roman Pontiff, there is no such process.
Indeed the possibility of an evil pope, an unworthy or vicious pope has never been ruled out by the Church. Yet the literature of many sedevacantist partisans is filled with explicit or implicit accusations that the pope’s behavior has somehow dethroned him. If any of you are handed sedevacantist books, look at the pictures. If there are any pictures, I could probably describe to you what they will be: The pope hiking in alpine shorts, the pope making a funny face at newspaper photographers, some overweight man that looks like the pope picnicking with a family, the pope at one of his ecumenical affairs. There are probably a dozen stock photographs that you can see in their literature. The implication, stated or unstated, is this: "Look at this picture! This man can’t be the pope! This is evil!"
Personally, I thought the mocking of irritating newspaper photographers was pretty funny, so I applaud the Holy Father’s sense of humor. But I won’t defend the syncretic ecumenical fiascoes. These are truly scandalous, and I am very sensitive to this scandal. I have spoken with Jews, Pagans, and Protestants who have pointed to the Holy Father’s actions as an apologetic for why they don’t have to be Catholic. If I tell them, "you must be a Catholic to save your soul"; I am met with, "but your pope called Luther a ‘profoundly religious man,’ or "your pope is a good man, he doesn’t think like you do; he prayed with my guru" or "The Pope likes us Jews, He called us your ‘elder brothers in the Faith.’" I can repeat these instances ad nauseam, but I would rather not. The only reason I bring it up is to show that, while these actions are indefensible, they do not make him an anti-pope.
The Council of Constance defined against this notion of loss of papal office due to sin, even publicly manifest scandal. The heretic was John Hus, one of the precursors of Protestantism, whose ideas about the Church militant helped form the basis for Protestant ecclesiology. (I will be speaking tomorrow of the doctrine of the Mystical Body, and how the Protestants destroyed the notion of a visible, hierarchical Church. Hus paved the way for these errors.) [See this article in Issue #39 of From the Housetops. – Ed.] The council listed thirty errors of Hus, which they condemned as "Not Catholic… heretical….erroneous,…audacious and seditious, … [and] offensive to pious ears." Number twenty of these thirty errors reads verbatim as follows:
"If the pope is wicked and especially if he is foreknown, then as Judas, the Apostle, he is of the devil, a thief, and a son of perdition, and he is not the head of the holy militant Church, since he is not a member of it." (Denz. 646. See also Denz. 661)
Remember, what I have just read is infallibly condemned as an error. The authority of an ecumenical council teaches us that even if the pope is foreknown to be a son of perdition, he is still the pope.
I refer you all to Volume 5 of Dr. Ludwig Pastor’s History of the Popes from the close of the Middle Ages (drawn from the Secret Archives of the Vatican and other original sources), pp. 381-386. Here, a detailed description of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia’s purchasing of the Papacy is exposed. This immoral act is called simony. Regarding simony in the Church, Pope Callistus II speaking authoritatively at Lateran Council I, held about 500 hundred years previous to Borgia’s actions, stated the following in Canon I on Simony, Celibacy, Investitures and Incest:
"'Following the examples of the Holy Fathers' and renewing the duty of our office 'we forbid in every way by the authority of the Apostolic See that anyone by means of money be ordained or promoted in the Church of God. But if anyone shall have acquired ordination or promotion in the Church in this way, let him be entirely deprived of his office.'" (Denz. 359)
Yet Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia was elected pope! And he became the Pontiff as Alexander VI!
Alexander VI was not alone. There have been other simoniacal popes throughout history. This shows that, no matter what canons exist about heretics or others under certain ecclesiastical censures being deprived of their offices, the rule we established from the beginning has been the operating norm throughout the Church’s history: "The peaceful and universal acceptance of a pope by the whole Church is a sign and effect of a valid election."
I said above that sedevacantism is a problem and not an answer. Here are a couple of reasons why. First, if we have no pope, how is one to be elected? According to most sedevacantists, there has not been a pope since Pius XII. Since this is the case, there are no valid cardinals. The College of Cardinals must be vacant too, since anti-popes have been appointing these men to their positions. It is recognized that, after the College of Cardinals, the Roman clergy have authority to elect the pope. Let’s say the whole college was blown up by some Muslim during an extraordinary meeting they were holding. In that extreme circumstance, the Roman Clergy could elect the pope, since he is their Bishop. But alas there is another problem. You see, the Roman Clergy is also vacant. Only Bishops can lawfully appoint clergy, and if there were no valid popes, there are no bishops with jurisdiction, therefore no lawful diocesan clergy. It’s a ruthless catch-22.
There are those who answer this objection by saying that God will intervene directly and appoint a Pope. Besides the fact that this would be a first in Church history; and the fact that it contradicts God’s established order for running the Church, this presents yet another problem: Who will know if it has been accomplished? What objective criteria are there? Will the miracle of the sun accompany such a prodigious papal election? Will there be miraculous white smoke coming out of St. Peter’s? Will a choir of angels place the tiara on the new pope’s head? I don’t know how it could be done, and neither do the adherents of this position. This practical problem is best illustrated by the fact that there are some sedevacantist groups who already have their own Popes: Popes who were elected in irregular, and yes, sometimes miraculous ways. Thus we presently have the mystic, stigmatist, Pope Gregory XVII in Palmar de Troya Spain, Another Pope Gregory XVII in St. Jovite, Canada, Pope Michael, somewhere in the American Midwest, and a small host of others all of whom claim to be the divinely appointed Vicar of Christ.
Other sedevacantists have resolved this problem with a more careful, theological approach. They have said that, while the Holy See is not materially vacant, it is formally vacant. As soon as the Pope does the right thing, then he will formally assume the office. But other practical considerations enter here. How will we know? What competent authority is there to declare the Holy See once more formally occupied? And is this the same authority that was competent to declare the Pope deposed in the first place? Once more, we are down to the subjects of authority and visibility. There is no "balance of powers" in the Church as there is supposed to exist in our Republic. There is no Judicial Branch of the Church comprised of canonists who wait to see if a Pope is real or not.
Among the theologians of the past who speculated on a pope losing his office, this issue of who declares the See vacant is a point of disagreement. Some say that it would be an ecumenical Council. They are careful to note that the ecumenical council can neither judge nor depose the pope, but at most can examine the case, and declare to the Catholic world what has already happened, that is, that the pope has lost his office. But, there is a big problem with this position; notably, that for a council to be ecumenical it has to be convened and ratified by the Roman Pontiff. There being no Roman Pontiff, how can the council be valid? All the bishops could do is deliver their sentence to the dubious pope and ask him to please ratify it. Others are of the opinion that the college of Cardinals can declare the See vacant. But what procedure will they take? Will a simple majority decide? Will two-thirds? And suppose a faction rises up within the College of Cardinals and declares the pope’s deposition invalid? This will set us up for another Avignon Papacy.
I would like to point out that even if an ecumenical council had the authority to declare the pope deposed, or even if the College of Cardinals had that authority, the fact remains that neither has happened. No ecumenical council has passed such a declaration any of the last four popes, and the College of Cardinals seems rather content with the present status quo. So we fall right back into the situation of Father so and so, declaring from his independent chapel that the Roman See is vacant and has been for x number of years. No priest has this authority. Priests aren’t part of the hierarchy. They have nothing to do with the government of the Church, except at a very limited, local level, that is, within their parish, if they are duly appointed pastors.
I would like to wrap things up with a brief review what has been said. The Visibility of the Church is directly linked to the Roman Pontiff. This has been taught at the Church’s highest authority, and cannot be contradicted by the opinions of any theologians, past or present, of whatever reputation for orthodoxy or holiness. And while during an interregnum the church is "Popeless," for a short period of time, this is not a part of the ordinary constitution of the Church and must necessarily be of short duration. The longest interregnum in the Church to date is less than three years. If the sedevacantists are right, then the present interregnum is ten times greater than that one. Thus the visibility of the Church, embodied in the person of the Roman Pontiff is non-extant. In this awful scenario, the only true Church is constituted of individual priests and bishops in their respective chapels, none of whom have valid jurisdiction, and none of whom report to anyone higher than themselves as authorities. This is not a visible Church; it is a Protestant Church.
At this point, I would like to give a very brief summary of each of our major points. The Indefectibility of the Church means that the Church cannot defect in her constitution. She cannot fail in her function of leading people to heaven. No matter how you examine it, the sedevacantist idea — the idea that the Church has been decapitated for almost 40 years, thus producing invalid sacraments, a false priesthood and an ecclesiastical structure totally devoid of grace — this idea is contrary to the Church’s indefectibility.
Next, we discussed papal elections. All four of the past popes were validly elected. But even if they weren’t, according to the weighty authorities cited above, the moral unanimity of the Catholic world in recognizing in them the true Roman Pontiff is, in itself, a sound argument for their validity.
Not only were they validly elected, but, according to our next point, we established that they are sovereign in matters of Church discipline and that they are "above the law" in all matters not pertaining to the natural moral law, or the divinely revealed law. Thus, while they are capable of sinning in breaking the natural moral law or the divinely revealed law, they are monarchs in their own right when it comes to ecclesiastical discipline. Therefore, if they "break the law," they incur no ecclesiastical censure, least of all, that of excommunication.
Then we discussed the two problems of an heretical pope and an evil pope. The practical difficulties involved here rule out a papal vacancy. The realistic impracticality of determining a pope’s formal heresy, coupled with the fact that no one is competent either to declare this sentence, or to depose him, assure us that the Roman See cannot be vacant on this account. Given the speculative nature of such a vacancy, the Catholic who refuses his submission to the pontiff is in grave danger of the mortal sin of schism.
Finally, the numerous practical problems associated with the idea that we have been popeless for forty years confirm us in our position that this alleged vacancy is an impossibility.
"Pray for the Pope!" This is what little Jacinta of Fatima told us to do. I can’t agree with her more. Will God refuse to hear our prayers? Will he turn a deaf ear to us who have been faithful to Him in his teaching Church? Let us, with confidence, approach the throne of Grace, and with the help of our Lady, humbly beg the Trinity for special graces to be shed on the Roman Pontiff, and the whole flock of the Church.
I would like to conclude with a prayer for the Holy Father. It’s an oration from the Mass for the Coronation of a pope, found in our beloved Roman Missal:
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
God, the shepherd and ruler of all the faithful, look propitiously upon Thy servant John Paul, whom Thou hast been pleased to appoint pastor over Thy Church, grant, we beseech Thee, that both by word and by example he may edify those over whom he is placed, and, together with the flock committed to his care, may attain unto life everlasting. Amen.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church, pray for us.
Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!
Radio Replies Volume Two: Indefectibility of the Church
435. You claim, then that your Church is indestructible?
Yes. She can never fail in existence, in doctrine, in continuity of worship, in her unity or in any other of her properties. She is indefectible and unconquerable.
436. Do you imagine that your Church is unassailable?
She is not unassailable, for men do assail her. But no enemies will ever succeed in exterminating her. As the political cartoonist made the devil say to Bismarck, "Well, old man, if you do succeed in smashing the Catholic Church, you'll accomplish what I have failed to do despite my 2000 years' effort."
437. The present state of the world scarcely justifies your confidence in the perseverance of your Church till the end of time.
The present state of the world has nothing to do with it. If not all the forces of hell, certainly not all the forces of this world will prevail against her. Our confidence is not based upon the fluctuating conditions of human society. It is based upon the promise of Christ that He will be with His Church all days till the end of the world. And since Christ is God, He can and will fulfill His promise.
438. Are not all the Christian Churches decaying and dying?
For other Churches I do not speak. As for the Catholic Church, not only does she offer no signs of decay—she is full of life. Never has the position been more favorable and more full of hope for her. In 1874, but four years after the Pope was rendered a prisoner in the Vatican, and when the world might be expected to discount the prospects of the Catholic Church, Disraeli said in the British Parliament, "I cannot disguise the fact. The Catholic religion is a powerful organism; and, if I may say so, the most powerful today." Yet the position now is immensely stronger than when Disraeli spoke. All this, of course, is from the merely human point of view. From the aspect of her divine protection, the Catholic Church is never weak.
439. What of the persecutions in Russia, Germany, Mexico, and elsewhere in the modern world?
What of them? Such things have come and gone all through history. The Church can scarcely have worse things to survive in the future than she has survived in the past. Her enemies die, but she goes on; they a memory, she a fact.
440. I have heard even Catholics admit that things look bad for their Church.
They may say such things at times. Catholics can quite easily have depressing views even whilst they believe in the future of their Church. But I think such Catholics praise the past, forgetting its miseries; and despise the present, forgetting its greatness. It is a tribute, at least, to our ideals of what the Church should be.
441. History is not in favor of your Church by the mere fact that it records so much opposition against her.
History is in favor of the Church, though "historians" have not always appreciated her. The Church is always suspect to someone. But history records what the Church has done, and faith tells us what she will do. She will last till the end of time, ever bringing forth fruits of holiness and virtue, and contributing as no other force towards the welfare of mankind. That men are and have been opposed to her is no fault of the Church. It is the fault of the prejudices and passions of men. Again, the Church differs in her outlook from the ordinary human viewpoint. She judges from the aspect of eternity; and to men she seems always behind the times, or else ahead of the times. There is bound to be opposition, until men can rise to her level.
442. Is it any argument to say, "I am persecuted, therefore I am right?"
Not in itself. But it is, when the Church is persecuted because she vindicates right moral principles, imposes duties, and refuses to condone those vices in which men want to indulge. Once men develop a fever of anti-religion, their first thought is the suppression of the Catholic Church. But by shooting down Catholics for going to Mass, these men give one of the strongest arguments for Catholicism. These persecutors say, "Be quiet about the Catholic religion, or we will kill you." The martyr replies, "My death will be my strongest speech." If they say, "Then all of you will die, except that!" the martyr proudly replies, "Then I shall not die." One thing, however, is certain. Whatever persecutions may arise in this world, the Catholic Church will not die. Christ predicted, "As they persecute Me, they will persecute you." But He also said, "I will be with you all days till the end of the world." He will keep His promise.
443. When you appeal to the past you forget that the very antiquity of your Church is only an additional reason against her being able to continue.
There you are wrong. The antiquity of the Catholic Church does not mean that she is antiquated. As a matter of fact, she is only just beginning. She perfected her constitution only yesterday. Her concentrated organization, the prelude to a vast expansion, is only now coming to maturity. Her recent territorial emancipation from Italy by the Concordat between Mussolini and Pope Pius XI. has but intensified in the eyes of the world her incomparable spiritual prestige. Spirituality and holiness within the Catholic Church are more ardent than ever. And her civilizing influence is so clear that political powers most opposed to her seek her help and use her methods. The future is most promising for the Catholic Church; and whatever her antiquity, she will never be old. Eternal beginnings is the law of that which does not die.