Is Francis a Valid Pope?
—Why It Does Matter
In a blog post published on October 25, 2014 by The Remnant, pseudonymous author ‘Megaera Erinyes’ tries a new approach to the issue of Sedevacantism, the question of whether Francis is in fact a valid Pope or an illicit usurper: She says it doesn’t matter.
Now that’s just rich for a publication that has spent considerable amounts of ink opposing Sedevacantism over the decades. What is going on here?
In what follows, we will look at some salient points made in the Erinyes article and contrast them with traditional Catholic teaching to explain why it really does matter if Francis is the Pope.
I suppose it is possible, and has probably happened in the past, that a pope has been brought out of illicit elections who really is pope, and has gone on to do his duty as perfectly as any pope. I don’t think that the nature of the election process is so crucial, though given our situation I can see why it is an attractive answer. We have a serious problem with Bergoglio, and it is one that an irregular election would solve, if it could be proved. What a relief it would be to simply shrug off his strange speeches by saying, “Oh, just more anti-pope talk.” Tempting indeed.
But I think there is a more generally useful answer that can be taken on board by any Catholic who still believes: If the pope is not a Catholic, and is pursuing goals contrary to those of Christ, does it matter if he is canonically an anti-pope? Does it matter if the election process was violated in this or that way?
(Megaera Erinyes, “It Just Doesn’t Matter Anymore”, The Remnant, Oct. 25, 2014)
While we can sympathize with people’s theological struggles and confusion in these difficult times, a response of “it doesn’t matter if so-and-so is the Pope” is simply absurd. Even Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, someone whose theological position of “recognize-but-resist” we most certainly do not endorse but whom The Remnant holds in highest esteem, said:
Now some priests … 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.
Our Blessed Lord Himself rejected those who were apathetic towards Him. To the church in Laodicea, He said: “because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth” (Apoc 3:16). If we cannot be indifferent towards Christ, why should we be indifferent towards His Vicar, even to the point of not caring who His Vicar is?
We often refer to those who espouse this “recognize-and-resist” position as Neo-Traditionalists. We do so because, while trying to remain faithful to the Tradition of Holy Mother Church, they are nevertheless introducing novel concepts, ideas that are unheard-of in Catholic history and theology, such as the notion that one can “resist” the teaching of the Pope in the exercise of his Magisterium, the idea that the Church can give us error, impiety, bad morals, and evil liturgical rites, or the claim that universality in time is a necessary precondition, carefully verified by each individual believer, for the Catholic Magisterium to be truly ordinary and universal and hence infallible.
It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss each of these Neo-Traditionalist errors in detail; we point them out only to show that these pseudo-traditionalists truly adhere to novel ideas, and that their motivation for doing so is only one: their unrelenting insistence on the Vatican II “Popes” and episcopal hierarchy as being the legitimate Catholic authorities. It is this factor alone which forces them to dream up these new ideas, these errors (errors at least bordering on heresy if not outright heretical), that completely twist and distort the true and traditional Catholic teaching on the Church and on the papacy.
The idea that it does not really matter if Francis is a valid Pope or not was already propagated by the former SSPX bishop Richard Williamson in early 2014. We soundly refuted him in a lengthy article here, but we shall gladly explain again why this is not an issue a Catholic can dismiss or be indifferent about.
The Significance of the Papacy
Quite simply, the traditional Catholic teaching on the papacy makes it easily apparent that it is of the utmost importance to know who is the Pope, and perhaps even more so, who isn’t:
“The vigilance and the pastoral solicitude of the Roman Pontiff … according to the duties of his office, are principally and above all manifested in maintaining and conserving the unity and integrity of the Catholic faith, without which it is impossible to please God. They strive also to the end that the faithful of Christ, not being like irresolute children, or carried about by every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men [Eph 4:14], may all come to the unity of faith and to the knowledge of the Son of God to form the perfect man, that they may not harm one another or offend against one another in the community and the society of this present life, but that rather, united in the bond of charity like members of a single body having Christ for head, and under the authority of his Vicar on earth, the Roman Pontiff, successor of the Blessed Peter, from whom is derived the unity of the entire Church, they may increase in number for the edification of the body, and with the assistance of divine grace, they may so enjoy tranquility in this life as to enjoy future beatitude.”
(Pope Benedict XIV, Apostolic Constitution Pastoralis Romani Pontificis, March 30, 1741; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 31; underlining added.)
“The Holy Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff have primacy in the entire world. The Roman Pontiff is the Successor of Blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, true Vicar of Christ, Head of the whole Church, Father and Teacher of all Christians.”
(Pope Benedict XIV, Apostolic Constitution Etsi Pastoralis, May 26, 1742; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 32; under-lining added.)
“To the shepherds alone was given all power to teach, to judge, to direct; on the faithful was imposed the duty of following their teaching, of submitting with docility to their judgment, and of allowing themselves to be governed, corrected, and guided by them in the way of salvation. Thus, it is an absolute necessity for the simple faithful to submit in mind and heart to their own pastors, and for the latter to submit with them to the Head and Supreme Pastor.”
(Pope Leo XIII, Letter Epistola Tua to Cardinal Guibert, June 17, 1885; underlining added.)
“Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”
(Pope Boniface VIII, Bull Unam Sanctam, Nov. 18, 1302; under-lining added.)
It should be immediately clear how absurd the idea is that it does not matter if Jorge Bergoglio is the Pope of the Catholic Church (or, by extension, his predecessors Benedict XVI, John Paul II, Paul VI, and John XXIII). In fact, we challenge any Neo-Traditionalist to produce a Catholic magisterial statement or an approved theologian or dogmatic manual stating that the identity of the Pope is of no great importance, or that the status of a particular claimant as either a valid Pope or an impostor need not really trouble us.
The Pope is the cornerstone of Catholic unity. No one is a Catholic who is not united to the See of Peter (insofar as it is validly occupied, of course), nor can anyone call himself a Catholic who does not hold the same Faith as that professed and taught by the Roman Pontiff. All Catholics must look to Rome, to the Holy See, as the beacon of orthodoxy and truth, and one cannot be misled if one adheres faithfully to this Roman See, which was established precisely for our salvation.
We’re not making this up. Pope Leo XIII taught forcefully: “Union with the Roman See of Peter is … always the public criterion of a Catholic …. ‘You are not to be looked upon as holding the true Catholic faith if you do not teach that the faith of Rome is to be held’” (Encyclical Satis Cognitum, n. 13). The same Pope likewise taught that “the strong and effective instrument of salvation is none other than the Roman Pontificate” (Allocution of Feb. 20, 1903; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 353). Can the resisters at The Remnant, The Fatima Crusader, Catholic Family News, The Angelus, etc., say this of the Novus Ordo Vatican? Of course they can’t. (John Vennari has even stated that he wouldn’t let Francis teach religion to his children, and Michael Matt is on record saying he is now hiding ‘papal’ statements from his children.)
If John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis were true Popes, then Pope Leo’s statement would be false, because since Vatican II, the “Roman Pontificate” has been nothing but a strong and effective instrument of damnation, disseminating the most noxious errors and heresies to the point where all of Christendom has virtually collapsed, all the while the “Pope” says things have never been better. It follows that if the Novus Ordo Sect is the true Catholic Church, then the Church established by Christ has failed and is a fraud and Christ a liar. But this is impossible!
On this point, we recommend everyone watch the excellent 2-hour conference given by Bp. Sanborn on the topic of the heresies of Vatican II, which you can watch free of charge here. His Excellency explains that while we know it is impossible for the Church to fail, nevertheless it is possible for individuals to defect and for false papal claimants to arise and deceive people. This is a crucial consideration in coming to understand why only Sedevacantism can be accepted as a Catholic position, not the resistance position of the Neo-Traditionalists. (See also the clip Historical Precedents of Papal Impostors.)
Only if we say that the Vatican II Church is not the Catholic Church of Pope Pius XII and his predecessors, and the papal claimants since 1958 have not been true Catholic Popes, only then can we say that the Catholic Church has not failed, because while the Church can be eclipsed, as Our Lady of La Salette said she would be, and while a true Pope can be prevented or delayed, we have the divine guarantee that the Church can never teach error or lead the faithful who adhere to her to damnation. That’s the whole point of the Church!
But instead of these thoroughly Catholic and commonsensical ideas, the resisters prefer to teach a different doctrine. Why? Because they do not want to embrace the conclusion that the papal claimants since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958 have been fraudulent and the religion they have headed is not the Roman Catholic Church. Yet the decision to reject Sedevacantism in favor of a twisted and distorted doctrine on the Church and the papacy has come at a terrible price for souls, because, as it is woefully apparent now, the “recognize-and-resist” position is proving to be a dead-end.
All this terrible confusion, this distorted theology, would vanish completely if they would only agree to remove its sole cause: the tenaciously-held idea that the papal claimants after Pius XII are true Catholic Popes and the Vatican II Sect is the Catholic Church founded by Jesus Christ. Take this absurd idea away, and everything falls into place. There is no need at all to do such injury to Catholic doctrine as the resisters do; we must simply rid ourselves of this apriori rejection of the Sedevacantist conclusion, this frantic insistence, from the outset, that Sedevacantism is simply not allowed to be true, regardless of the evidence.
The Resistance Position contradicts Catholic Doctrine
One corollary of the resistance position has been the dissemination of another egregious but popular and widespread error, namely, the view that magisterial or papal teachings that are not proposed under the strict conditions of infallibility, are not binding on the faithful and can even contain the most outrageous heresies.
Yet, this is not at all pre-Vatican II traditional Catholic teaching. Rather, as Pius XII taught, when the Pope exercises his teaching office by issuing, for example, an encyclical letter, all the faithful have the obligation, under pain of mortal sin, to assent to the Pope’s teaching:
Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: “He who heareth you, heareth me” [Lk 10:16]; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine.
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Humani Generis, n. 20; underlining added.)
This only stands to reason. What is the alternative, anyway? That the Pope can no longer really teach but only offer opinions which the faithful are free to take or reject? (Imagine this scenario in a classroom at school.) Or that each time the Pope issues an encyclical, every Catholic gets out his copy of Denzinger to check and make sure the Pope is teaching the True Faith? (In that case — think about it — there would be no Denzinger.) Or, alternatively, each individual Catholic checks with “Fr.” Nicholas Gruner, Michael Matt, John Vennari, John Salza, or Chris Ferrara to see if they give their approval? In that case, who is really teaching whom? What kind of bizarre society is this, in which the student is the final arbiter of what to accept from the teacher?
So, let’s ask the obvious question: Do the resisters, whether clergy or laity, render the assent to Francis’ encyclicals that Pius XII required of all Catholics regarding papal teaching? Or to the encyclicals and other doctrinal documents of Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and Paul VI? Obviously, the answer is no.
The whole point of the institution of the papacy is to provide Christ’s Church with a safeguard in matters of faith and morals, precisely so that the faithful are not “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14), as are the Protestants and other heretics and schismatics. In other words, our Lord endowed His Church with the institution of the papacy so that each Catholic does not have to watch Remnant TV instead of listening to the Church to understand what the true Catholic teaching is, or in order to be safely guided in all matters pertaining to the salvation of his soul.
Pope Pius IX emphasized that it was this unity of Faith throughout the whole Church, guaranteed and enforced by the Pope, that distinguishes the Catholic Church from Protestant sects:
Now, whoever will carefully examine and reflect upon the condition of the various religious societies, divided among themselves, and separated from the Catholic Church, which, from the days of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles has never ceased to exercise, by its lawful pastors, and still continues to exercise, the divine power committed to it by this same Lord; cannot fail to satisfy himself that neither any one of these societies by itself, nor all of them together, can in any manner constitute and be that One Catholic Church which Christ our Lord built, and established, and willed should continue; and that they cannot in any way be said to be branches or parts of that Church, since they are visibly cut off from Catholic unity.
For, whereas such societies are destitute of that living authority established by God, which especially teaches men what is of Faith, and what the rule of morals, and directs and guides them in all those things which pertain to eternal salvation, so they have continually varied in their doctrines, and this change and variation is ceaselessly going on among them. Every one must perfectly understand, and clearly and evidently see, that such a state of things is directly opposed to the nature of the Church instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ; for in that Church truth must always continue firm and ever inaccessible to all change, as a deposit given to that Church to be guarded in its integrity, for the guardianship of which the presence and aid of the Holy Ghost have been promised to the Church for ever. No one, moreover, can be ignorant that from these discordant doctrines and opinions social schisms have arisen, and that these again have given birth to sects and communions without number, which spread themselves continually, to the increasing injury of Christian and civil society.
(Pope Pius IX, Apostolic Letter Iam Vos Omnes ; underlining added.)
Do the Neo-Trads believe that the Vatican II Sect, which they acknowledge to be the Catholic Church, has continued “firm and ever inaccessible to all change”, integrally guarding the deposit of Faith with the “presence and aid of the Holy Ghost” until the end of time?
Of course they don’t. Yet, this is the true and traditional Catholic teaching on the Church and the papacy. Now you know why we sometimes call the resisters “Semi-Traditionalists”, because their adherence to Tradition is quite selective and does not embrace the whole of it but only a part.
The First Vatican Council, ratified by the same Pius IX, taught most eloquently:
To satisfy this pastoral duty, our predecessors always gave tireless attention that the saving doctrine of Christ be spread among all the peoples of the earth, and with equal care they watched that, wherever it was received, it was preserved sound and pure. Therefore, the bishops of the whole world, now individually, now gathered in Synods, following a long custom of the churches and the formula of the ancient rule, referred to this Holy See those dangers particularly which emerged in the affairs of faith, that there especially the damages to faith might be repaired where faith cannot experience a failure. The Roman Pontiffs, moreover, according as the condi-tion of the times and affairs advised, sometimes by calling ecumenical Councils or by examining the opinion of the Church spread throughout the world; sometimes by particular synods, sometimes by employing other helps which divine Providence supplied, have defined that those matters must be held which with God’s help they have recognized as in agreement with Sacred Scripture and apostolic tradition. For, the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the apostles and the deposit of faith, and might faithfully set it forth. Indeed, all the venerable fathers have embraced their apostolic doctrine, and the holy orthodox Doctors have venerated and followed it, knowing full well that the See of St. Peter always remains unimpaired by any error, accord-ing to the divine promise of our Lord the Savior made to the chief of His disciples: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren” [Luke 22:32].
(Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, n. 4; Denz. 1836; underlining added.)
Which teaching shall we accept? That of the First Vatican Council, or that of The Remnant or the Society of St. Pius X?
The Catholic Church is spotless in her teachings. She is infallible and indefectible. In his beautiful encyclical on our Lord Jesus Christ the King, Pope Pius XI wrote in 1925: “Not least among the blessings which have resulted from the public and legitimate honor paid to the Blessed Virgin and the saints is the perfect and perpetual immunity of the Church from error and heresy” (Encyclical Quas Primas, n. 22). Precisely how does the Neo-Trad position square with this papal teaching? It doesn’t. If their church were free from error and heresy, there would be nothing to resist.
The Sedevacantist Conclusion is Possible and Necessary
The only way to keep from endorsing the heretical idea that the Catholic Church has defected is to insist that the Vatican II Sect is not the Catholic Church. It is a necessary conclusion based upon divine revelation and the facts of history. True, this is a bewildering and perplexing conclusion, but surely no more bewildering or perplexing than the Crucifixion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ after He had proven His claim to be divine. And though bewildering and perplexing it may be, it is at least possible that a usurper be sitting on the Chair of St. Peter and a foreign body be eclipsing the Catholic Church, whereas we know it is impossible that the Catholic Church should cease to be the beacon of truth and orthodoxy.
Let us take some instruction here from Fr. Edmund J. O’Reilly, who warned that any situation may arise in the Church, no matter how absurd or bewildering it may seem, that is not strictly excluded by Christ’s promises:
The great [14th-century] 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. 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 Catholics should be divided on the question of who is Pontiff, 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 fulfil His promises; not allow anything to occur at variance with them; that He will sustain His Church and enable her to triumph over all enemies and difficulties; that He will give to each of the faithful those graces which are needed for each one’s service of Him and attainment of salvation, as He did during the great schism we have been considering, and in all the sufferings and trials which the Church has passed through from the beginning. We may also trust He will do a great deal more than what He has bound Himself to by His promises. We may look forward with a cheering probability to exemption for the future from some of the troubles and misfortunes that have befallen in the past. But we, or our successors in 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.
There you have it, folks: It’s time to man up. Just because the situation in the Church today causes us physical, financial, spiritual, or emotional difficulty, doesn’t mean diddly-squat. It doesn’t permit us to twist Catholic teaching on the Church, the papacy, or the Magisterium, just so we can continue to live in a comfortable fantasy world.
Commenting on this most instructive passage for our times, sedevacantist author John Daly writes:
While Fr. O’Reilly himself disclaims any status as a prophet, nevertheless a true prophecy is clearly exactly what this passage amounts to. Moreover it is the kind of prophecy which, provided it is advanced conditionally, as in this case, both can and should be made in the light of the evidence on which he is concentrating his gaze. In respect of much that lies in the future there is no need for special revelations in order that we may know it. As Fr. O’Reilly indicates, except where God has specifically told us that something will not occur, any assumptions concerning what He will not permit are rash; and of course such assumptions will have the disastrous result that people will be misled if the events in question do occur. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” (Isaias 55:8)
(John S. Daly, “A Long-Term Vacancy of the Apostolic See”, cmri.org; underlining added, italics removed.)
In fact, if we take into account the following divinely-inspired words of St. Paul, we can see quite clearly that such a frightening situation in which we find ourselves today, which can justly be named an “eclipse of the Church”, is not only not excluded by a divine guarantee but virtually predicted to happen:
And now you know what withholdeth, that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity already worketh; only that he who now holdeth, do hold, until he be taken out of the way. And then that wicked one shall be revealed whom the Lord Jesus shall kill with the spirit of his mouth; and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming, him, whose coming is according to the working of Satan, in all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish; because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying: That all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity.
(2 Thess 2:6-11)
Here it is very apropos to point out that sundry biblical commentators identify the man described by St. Paul as “he who now holdeth” and will be “taken out of the way,” precisely as the Pope: It is the Pope who, being the Vicar of Christ, restrains “the wicked one”, the Antichrist, for as long as there is a Pope, Satan cannot work his final deception, the “operation of error”, to mislead the masses into apostasy, as beautifully expressed by Pope Pius IX:
Now you know well that the most deadly foes of the Catholic religion have always waged a fierce war, but without success, against this Chair [of St. Peter]; they are by no means ignorant of the fact that religion itself can never totter and fall while this Chair remains intact, the Chair which rests on the rock which the proud gates of hell cannot overthrow and in which there is the whole and perfect solidity of the Christian religion.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Inter Multiplices, n. 7; underlining added.)
Let’s be honest: Does the Novus Ordo Church represent and guarantee “the whole and perfect solidity of the Christian religion”? Can anyone truly say that the gates of hell have not prevailed against this sorry Modernist sect that spews blasphemy, heresy, and impiety throughout the globe? Dare anyone assert that under the Vatican II “Popes”, the true religion has neither “tottered” nor “fallen”? Would it be true to say that the Holy see is “intact” under Francis or any of his five ignominious predecessors? Do the Neo-Traditionalists believe this?
OF COURSE NOT! Erinyes herself suggests this:
But apparently we look to Rome in vain, for we have now seen, before all the eyes of the world in the first two weeks of this month, that these [false] beliefs are not held only by the vast masses of Catholic laity, but are equally the belief of a plain majority of the men who attended the Synod as successors of the Apostles! What kind of precedent do we have for a Church, in the person of its most senior ministers, which has lost its own reason for existence, its own Faith? What does God say is to be done with salt that is no longer salty?
So Erinyes believes in a church that can lose “its own Faith” and “its own reason for existence.” There’s only one way to reconcile this with traditional Catholic teaching on the Church: The Vatican II Sect is not the Catholic Church because it cannot be. Deal with it.
Which brings us to another popular argument advanced by Neo-Trad “resisters” — that of a lack of competence.
But who’s to say?
When it comes to the question of whether the “Popes” since Pius XII have been legitimate, the typical Neo-Trad will at some point assert that this is a matter beyond his competence to decide, all the while continuing to go about his “resistance” quite happily. In this way, he thinks himself justified in his refusal to embrace Sedevacantism. However, why is it that Neo-Trads consider themselves unable to determine whether someone is a true Pope who is manifestly not a Catholic, or who has done things a true Pope is divinely protected from doing, yet in the same breath have no doubts about their competence to sit in judgment on (putative) papal and conciliar teachings and papally-approved legislation, saints, and liturgical rites?
Which makes more sense? To say, “I cannot accept this man’s claim to be the Pope because, as far as I can tell, he has done and taught things a true Pope could not possibly do or teach”, or to say, “I acknowledge this man as the Vicar of Christ, but I refuse to adhere to the religion he professes, to the teachings he issues, to the saints he creates, to the liturgy he imposes, etc.”? Why is the question of “competence” being brought up only when it comes to embracing a conclusion that follows with logical necessity but not when it comes to rejecting the teachings, laws, and liturgy of a man recognized as the highest authority in the Church?
A Catholic is most certainly competent to tell a heretic from a Catholic — he is not, however, competent to sit in judgment on the Pope’s magisterium or question his jurisdiction, which is emphasized quite clearly in Canon Law: “The First See is judged by no one” (1917 Code of Canon Law, can. 1556). On the competence of any educated Catholic, even a layman, to determine who is a heretic, see Fr. Felix Sarda y Salvany’s excellent treatment of this subject matter in his Vatican-endorsed book Liberalism is a Sin:
During the Great Western Schism in the fourteenth century, people had to make up their minds about which of the two (later three) papal claimants was the true Pope. If there was ever a time to question one’s competence, it was then. Yet while God obviously did not require people’s decision on this to be infallible, He most certainly did require each and every believer to act in accordance with his acceptance of whichever papal claimant he had chosen, in good faith, to adhere to. It was not an option to acknowledge one claimant as Pope but then refuse him submission, as the resisters habitually do.
At the Heart of the Resistance Position: The Sin of Schism
The only reason why “recognize-and-resist” traditionalists could even entertain the silly idea that it doesn’t matter if Francis is the Pope or not is because they do not submit to him anyway. As far as they are concerned, of course, Francis might as well not be Pope. It makes no difference to them because nothing Francis says or does determines anything for them: not what he teaches, not any rules or decisions he enacts, not saints he canonizes, not liturgical laws he puts in place, nothing. For the resisters, Novus Ordo “Popes” only exist for show — they only have as much authority as each individual believer is willing to concede to them at any point in time. Don’t like what the latest papal encyclical says? Not to worry — it’s “not infallible.” Is the Pope threatening an excommunication? Doesn’t matter, there’s this “diabolical disorientation” going around. Got a “saint” you know isn’t a saint? No big deal — it’s just a “Vatican II” canonization. Does the “Pope” impose a heretical or impious rite of Mass? Don’t get upset — just “resist”, read Michael Davies, and subscribe to Catholic Family News. Don’t have a “Latin Mass” offered in your diocese? No problem — just go to the unapproved Masses of the Society of St. Pius X instead and tune in to Remnant TV.
Such is the pathetic state of mainstream “Traditional Catholicism” in the United States.
For those who object that Sedevacantism has its own share of difficulties, we readily acknowledge that it is so, yet there is an essential difference: Our problems are due to the absence of a reigning Pope, whereas Neo-Trad problems exist in spite of a Pope and a functioning hierarchy. Sedevacantist difficulties exist because the authority that can resolve them and is acknowledged as valid is absent, whereas Neo-Trads oppose and contradict the authority they acknowledge as valid and functioning. All sedevacantist problems are resolved, in principle, as soon as a true Pope is once again reigning. On the other hand, the resisters’ difficulties can never really be resolved because any solution is dependent, in principle, upon each resister’s personal agreement with the resolution. (For more on this particular issue, please see our powerful response to Fr. Francois Chazal, “You Can’t Have It Your Way”, and the article “When the Shepherd Is Struck”.)
But such refusal of submission to the man one acknowledges as the true Pope of the Catholic Church should be a big problem for anyone who calls himself a Catholic, because it constitutes the sin of schism.
What is schism exactly? Church law defines it as follows: “After the reception of baptism, if anyone … refuses to be under the Supreme Pontiff or refuses communion with the members of the Church subject to him, he is a schismatic” (1917 Code of Canon Law, can. 1325 §2). Some further light is shed on this definition by the canonist Fr. Ignatius Szal, who clarified that to be considered a true schismatic, the person in question “must recognize the Roman Pontiff as the true pastor of the Church, and he must profess as an article of faith that obedience is due the Roman Pontiff” (Fr. Ignatius Szal, The Communication of Catholics with Schismatics [Catholic University of America, 1948], p. 2).
This definition fits Neo-Trads to a tee, except that the person they publicly recognize as Pope is not in fact the Supreme Pontiff. This does not make a difference, however, to the fact that they become guilty of the sin of schism (even if not, technically, the ecclesiastical crime, since Francis is not in fact the Pope), inasmuch as they refuse submission to the person they believe to be the Roman Pontiff. Sin exists in the will, so the sin of schism is definitely there.
Now schism, as much as heresy and apostasy, expels one from the bosom of the Catholic Church; that is, one ceases to be a member of the Body of Christ if one is a schismatic. Pope Pius XII taught: “For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy” (Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 23; italics added). Schism is an offense against the unity of the Church and therefore in itself incompatible with membership in her.
On this matter, let us recall the teaching of Pope Pius VI:
Our desire is to maintain unity in the bond of peace; and We have no other motive, in exposing the deceits of those who abuse the names of the [Church] Fathers to give false meaning to their words. Let all understand that there is no teaching which the Fathers have more at heart than that all should be kept in unity, attached to this Chair [of St. Peter] which alone Christ has made mother and mistress of all the others.
So yes, it is of more than little consequence to know whether Jorge Bergoglio validly holds the office “which alone Christ has made mother and mistress” of all dioceses throughout the Catholic world. Obviously, this is all very serious business, and one can only shake one’s head at this new position, enunciated now by The Remnant, that the validity of the occupant of the papal office is not important. To a real Catholic, it is important, because a real Catholic submits to the Pope, apart from which submission he cannot inherit Eternal Life. But the true Catholic position has long been jettisoned by the resisters who wanted to have their cake and eat it: They wanted no part in unpleasant Sedevacantism; they wanted it both ways, have their Pope and beat him too. Now they are reaping the fruits of their forlorn position, and the cop-out that “it doesn’t matter anymore” is not going to work if Catholic teaching has any meaning.
Let’s take a closer look one sentence Erinyes penned that we already quoted, that should make everyone scratch his head: “If the pope is not a Catholic, and is pursuing goals contrary to those of Christ, does it matter if he is canonically an anti-pope?” Yes, you read that right: “If the Pope is not a Catholic…” Could the Neo-Trads show us a single example from pre-Vatican II magisterial documents that speak of the possibility of a Pope not being a Catholic, or a non-Catholic being Pope, who then must be “resisted” by each believer?
If a papal claimant is manifestly not a Catholic, then we know his claim to being Pope is false. The reason is simple: Unity is one of the marks of the Church; that is, her unity in Faith and government is one of the infallible signs by which she can be recognized in the world. If the “Pope” publicly professes (in words or actions) a faith different from the Faith of the Church, that is, from the Catholic Faith, then he cannot be her head, for if he were, then the Church would not possess unity in Faith; but it is an infallible dogma that the Church is visibly one in Faith. On this matter, the First Vatican Council taught:
“The eternal Pastor and Bishop of our souls” [1 Pet. 2:25], in order to render the saving work of redemption perennial, willed to build a holy Church, in which, as in the house of the living God, all the faithful might be contained by the bond of one faith and charity. Therefore, before His glory was made manifest, “He asked the Father, not only for the Apostles but also for those who would believe through their word in Him, that all might be one, just as the Son Himself and the Father are one” [John 17:20 f.]. Thus, then, as He sent the apostles, whom He had selected from the world for Himself, as He himself had been sent by the Father [John 20:21], so in His Church He wished the pastors and the doctors to be “even to the consummation of the world” [Matt. 28:20]. But, that the episcopacy itself might be one and undivided, and that the entire multitude of the faithful through priests closely connected with one another might be preserved in the unity of faith and communion, placing the blessed Peter over the other apostles He established in him the perpetual principle and visible foundation of both unities, upon whose strength the eternal temple might be erected, and the sublimity of the Church to be raised to heaven might rise in the firmness of this faith. And, since the gates of hell, to overthrow the Church, if this were possible, arise from all sides with ever greater hatred against its divinely established foundation, We judge it to be necessary for the protection, safety, and increase of the Catholic flock, with the approbation of the Council, to set forth the doctrine on the institution, perpetuity, and nature of the Sacred Apostolic Primacy, in which the strength and solidarity of the whole Church consist, to be believed and held by all the faithful, according to the ancient and continual faith of the universal Church, and to proscribe and condemn the contrary errors, so pernicious to the Lord’s flock.
(First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus ; Denz. 1821; underlining added.)
How can anyone read this exposition of Catholic dogma and say, “It doesn’t matter if Francis is the Pope”? Sorry, but if we’re going to be traditional Catholics, maybe we should actually believe what the Church has traditionally taught, and act accordingly. Try to re-read this quote from Vatican I and see if you can fit Erinyes’ idea of a “non-Catholic Pope” into it.
…Didn’t think so. Of course, no public non-Catholic is a member of the Church, as Pope Pius XII, quoted above, taught authoritatively, and certainly he who is not a member of the Church cannot be the head of the Church.
A true Pope is divinely guaranteed to shepherd the Catholic faithful according to the true doctrine, whereas an apostate usurper leads souls to hell — again, we see how crucial the question of the validity of anyone’s claim to the Catholic papacy is.
Our Blessed Lord’s metaphor of the shepherd and the sheep is also very instructive here:
Amen, amen I say to you: He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up another way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he hath let out his own sheep, he goeth before them: and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. But a stranger they follow not, but fly from him, because they know not the voice of strangers.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep. But the hireling, and he that is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and flieth: and the wolf catcheth, and scattereth the sheep: And the hireling flieth, because he is a hireling: and he hath no care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know mine, and mine know me.
(John 10:1-5,11-14; underlining added.)
These are beautiful words. By contrast, Erinyes is telling us that it doesn’t matter if the shepherd is the hireling or if he is even the wolf, that there is not necessarily any real difference between them! How can anyone say something so outrageous? Notice that our Lord doesn’t say: “Sometimes the sheep can’t follow the shepherd, or sometimes the shepherd will sound like the hireling, or sometimes the shepherd can be the wolf”, etc. This is what The Remnant may want you to believe, but it isn’t what our Lord taught, nor what Holy Mother Church teaches.
If you must have a bride for the wedding, but you cannot find her, it will not do to substitute a prostitute instead and try to make everyone believe she’s the bride, or declare that it “just doesn’t matter” if she’s the real bride or not.
Concluding Thoughts: Whither the “Resistance”?
In her post, Erinyes makes the question of Francis’ validity into a matter of (real or imagined) defects in an election procedure. However, this misses the point entirely. We’re not concerned here with conclave rules but with much more basic matters: There is a “Pope” in Rome who is an obvious non-Catholic, an apostate of the worst sort. We really don’t care how many votes he got in a conclave, because the conclave has nothing to do with the invalidity of his claim to being the Pope of the Catholic Church. The man isn’t a Catholic and he cannot be the head of the Catholic Church. He has declared a fellow-apostate (John Paul II) a “Catholic saint”, when we know that a true Pope would be divinely protected from doing such an evil thing, lest the whole church venerate and imitate a man who was a disciple of hell, as John Paul II most definitely was. Conclave rules have nothing to do with this, but Erinyes’ focus on this is a typical symptom of another malady often encountered among Neo-Traditionalists: the failure to distinguish knowledge of a fact from knowledge of the cause of that fact.
We must very much distinguish knowledge of the fact that Francis isn’t Pope, from knowledge of the reason why he is not the Pope. We can know the former even without the latter, just as we can know that the barn door won’t close even if we don’t know why it won’t close. Unfortunately, too often this distinction is overlooked, and people think that simply because they cannot figure out why Francis isn’t the Pope, they must accept him as a valid successor of St. Peter — all the while, however, conveniently refusing him submission.
This seems to be exactly the position Erinyes is taking, though adding to that the new-found idea that “it just doesn’t matter anymore”. None of this jibes with Catholic teaching, which is why none is cited.
Erinyes asks: “But if precedent is not helping us with any of the other strangenesses of the modern Church why do we look to it for the answer to this pope?” The question is fair enough as far as precedent is concerned — but here’s another suggestion: How about looking at and applying Church teaching, instead of coming up with false analogies totally devoid of any theology?
We cannot allow a desired conclusion to dictate our premises. We cannot start with a conclusion we like and then try to find arguments that lead to this conclusion. That’s what lawyers do, not followers of the Truth. We must begin with what we know and then embrace the conclusion that follows with necessity, whether we like it or not.
Erinyes asks further: “Do such canonically defined categories, dependent upon longstanding precedent, apply to this? How can they?” This has nothing to do with canon law or with precedent. This has to do with basic Catholic doctrine on the church, the papacy, and the Faith. Maybe we should just accept the Catholic truth and ditch Bergoglio? Just what is the problem? Francis cannot be the Pope. If this causes people great consternation and raises other questions, that’s fine, but we do not solve the conundrum by ignoring the facts and pretending that he is the Pope. It solves nothing, no matter how emotionally satisfying it may be. In fact, it makes everything worse because you are never farther from finding a cure than when you refuse to accept the correct diagnosis.
Considering all this evidence, how can Neo-Trads think of themselves as being faithful to Catholic Tradition? You cannot uphold Catholic Tradition if at the same time you are making up completely novel concepts that are at odds with that very Tradition. Sure, on occasion there are attempts at justification of this position, but they usually amount to no more than a false analogy (“a bad father is still your father”), or a quote here or there that supports their position but is taken from a single theologian, or an apparition, or a Doctor of the Church quoted out of context. John Vennari, for example, still has to explain why we should accept as dogma a statement of Cardinal de Torquemada when at the same time we’re being asked to reject an entire ecumenical council, papal encyclicals, canonizations, church law, liturgical rites, etc. Why is it that official teaching and universal disciplinary decrees are being junked, but then when there is one cardinal’s statement found that isn’t even part of the Magisterium, we are being asked to accept this as the great dogmatic refutation of Sedevacantism?
Catholicism has consequences, and one such consequence is that Jorge Bergoglio can be a lot of things but the head of the Catholic Church isn’t one of them.
We’ve said this before: Have no fear to investigate Sedevacantism. If the position is false, it doesn’t become true just because you’re looking into it. On the flip side, however, if it is true, then it doesn’t become false just because you refuse to investigate it. So what do you have to lose? Is the eternal salvation of your soul not worth this quest? Don’t be afraid of the consequences of this reality: Have trust in God — hope in Him firmly! He will give you all the graces you need to suffer through whatever you may have to endure as a result of the sede vacante state of our beloved Church (see 1 Tim 2:4).
To get started, watch this clear and calm presentation of why we must conclude that the Vatican II Church is not the Catholic Church. Take it from there, see the related links at the bottom of this post, then get some helpful advice, and then contact us if you have questions.
The Remnant’s publication of the Erinyes post is a sign that they’re all freaking out in Resistance Land. As well they should, because they are now being faced with the fruits of their false position. A church in which the true teaching does not come from the Chair of St. Peter but from the desk chair of a lawyer in Virginia or a journalist in Minnesota is not the Catholic Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Oh, how powerful a force we could be against the Novus Ordo Sect if only all who seek to be true, traditional Roman Catholics could unite in calling the Modernists’ bluff and openly profess that the Vatican II Church in Rome is not in fact the Church of Pope Pius XII, not the Catholic Church founded by Jesus Christ the Lord! We could put a huge dent in the credibility of the Modernist Sect and their apostate revolution.
Think about it. Why does anyone care, for example, what Mr. Timothy Dolan thinks about Catholicism and society? Because of his claim to being the “Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York”. No one would give a hoot about what he says on these matters if he were a mechanic, a barber, or an accounting clerk (no offense to these professions).
All the strength of the Modernist revolution lies in people’s acknowledgement of these charlatans as the legitimate Roman Catholic authorities. Take that away from them, and the whole thing collapses like a house of cards. It is their Achilles heel. They really do not care how many “traditionalists” try to “resist” them — it matters little to them, because, as is clearly visible now, the Revolution blasts ahead at full steam with or without “resistance” by a few on the side. Francis doesn’t care if 300 people come together for some “Conference for Tradition” once a year in New York, or if Michael Voris gives a few talks on a cruise ship to the Bahamas.
There is only one thing they care about: Whether you resist them or not, you must acknowledge them as the legitimate Catholic authorities. That’s why in any discussions and negotiations with the Society of St. Pius X, Rome has always insisted on them accepting all the papal claimants since 1958 — an odd requirement to begin with, since the SSPX has never taken the position that the papal claims of John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, or Francis are of dubious validity. That is the cornerstone of the Modernist revolution, and we must kick it away as hard as we can, and then the whole thing will finally collapse. No matter how well-intentioned they may be, the resisters are only perpetuating the problem, are only keeping the Revolution alive and adding more fuel to it.
An immemorial Catholic rule of thumb is: Ubi petrus, ibi ecclesia. Where Peter is, that is, where the Pope is, there is the Church. But where Francis is, there is chaos. Where Francis is, there the Church is not. For she cannot be where the Faith is not, and Francis does not have the Faith.
It’s time for the Neo-Trads to stop complaining and instead man up and embrace the logical consequences of their practical Sedevacantism. Won’t you join us?
Megaera Erinyes asked if it still mattered whether Francis is the Pope.
Let’s answer her this way: It matters to a Catholic.