Do Popes Have To Be Perfect?
“The Most Misused Catholic Words.” That’s the title of a blog post at the National Non-Catholic Register by Pat Archbold of Creative Minority Report. The author intends to clarify three terms he says are being used in the wrong way by many in his church, one of them being “Sedevacantist.”
Unfortunately, Archbold does such a poor job “clarifying” the term that it will surely now continue to be misused, though perhaps in a different way than before. Here is an excerpt from the post:
Sedevacantists hold that, because modern (recent) Pope’s have said or done things that seem to be in contradiction to the Tradition of the Church AND that Popes, by virtue of their infallibility, must be perfect [sic] in such matters, therefore these Popes must not really be Popes. Therefore, sedevacantists believe that the see of Peter is empty or sede vacante. As a group, sedevacantists are the smallest of subsets of the smallest of subsets. You probably have never met one and you should be glad for that fact.
Misuse: So if these misguided folks represent such small real numbers, why do we regularly hear the term? Simply, many people use the term to derisively describe Traditionalists in the Church that publicly hold to the first part of the formula I put forth above. If someone holds to the notion that Pope’s have said or done things that seem to be in contradiction to the Tradition of the Church, well then they must be sedevantists. They want you to believe that such people are a fringe of a fringe and to be discounted. But they miss the other critical element necessary to the moniker, that these sedevacantists must also believe that the Pope must be perfect [sic] or he is not a Pope….
[discussion of Ultramontanism]
…In reality, sedevacantism and ultramontanism are two sides of the same coin. Both believe the Pope must be perfect [sic]. The sedevcantist excoriates the imperfection by denying the chair is occupied while the ultramontanist embraces the man and excoriates anyone who points out imperfection. In that, they both fail to be fully Catholic.
(Patrick Archbold, “The Most Misused Catholic Words”, National Catholic Register, March 31, 2014)
This “explanation” of Sedevacantism is so poor that it is hard to believe it is given in a post supposedly clarifying the true meaning of the term. Will anyone fall for it? Is there anybody who thinks that Sedevacantists believe all valid Popes have been perfect? Seriously?
Understanding Sedevacantism in its basics is not very difficult, as it is based entirely on Catholic principles. Sedevacantists reject the claims to the papacy of Jorge Bergoglio (Francis), Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II), Albino Luciani (John Paul I), Giovanni Montini (Paul VI), and Angelo Roncalli (John XXIII), because each of these has demonstrated in one way or another that he cannot possibly be a valid Pope.
To use just two very clear examples: Paul VI demonstrated he could not have been a true Pope by promulgating an invalid, harmful, and impious rite of Mass on the whole church — the Novus Ordo Missae in 1969 — as well as an invalid rite of episcopal consecration. John Paul II promulgated heretical, harmful, and impious disciplinary laws on the entire church in 1993 (see one example here and another example here), which is likewise impossible for a true Pope to do according to Catholic teaching. And in a few more days, Francis will declare John Paul II a “Saint” — again, absolutely impossible for a valid Pope to do (see here).
Here we must be careful, however, to distinguish two things: knowing that someone is not the Pope from knowing why he is not the Pope. I need not know the reason why as long as I can know the fact that a particular claimant is not the Pope. When your car won’t start, is it necessary for you to know why it won’t start to be able to know that it won’t start? Hardly. So just because you may not have a satisfactory answer as to why any particular Novus Ordo Antipope was not a real Pope, does not mean you cannot know they were false claimants if that is what the evidence shows.
Of course, there is also the fact that a public heretic — one who pertinaciously doubts or denies the Catholic Faith in any way — cannot be a valid Pope because a public heretic is not a member of the Church and the Pope has to be a member of the Church by definition. The evidence that most of the Novus Ordo “Popes” have been public heretics is so voluminous that our entire web site is practically dedicated to it.
So, are we saying that a Pope needs to be perfect? By no means. But he does have to be a Catholic, and this requires profession of the true Catholic Faith. Sins against Faith are different from sins against morals, as sins against Faith sever one automatically from the Body of Christ, at least when they are public. Sins against Faith make you a Non-Catholic, whereas sins against morals make you a bad Catholic.
Thus we see that Archbold’s introduction of the concept of “perfection” is entirely misleading, as perfection has nothing to do with it. Certainly, the author says he is trying to explain things “in the most basic terms possible,” but his explanation isn’t just simplified — it’s wrong. It seriously and essentially misrepresents the Sedevacantist position.
Just recently we published a post explaining the Catholic teaching on the difference between a bad Pope and a Non-Pope:
All the points laid out above have been explained and illustrated on Novus Ordo Watch many times. There is no need to restate all of the arguments or the magisterial sources — it will suffice simply to share once more the most important links for all who are interested in this information:
- Sedevacantism: A Quick Primer
- Traditionalists, Infallibility, and the Pope [PDF]
- The Syllogism of Sedevacantism (Video)
- Why Sedevacantism? A Priest Explains & Answers Objections (Video)
- Bp. Sanborn responds to Bp. Williamson on Sedevacantism
- Opinionism – Is the Pope Question just a Matter of “Opinion”?
- Did Vatican II Teach Infallibly? You might be surprised at this one…
- Rejoinder from the “Rad Trads” – Response to Catholic Answers
- Resistance and Indefectibility: Where is the Church?
- The Impossible Crisis
- Concerning an SSPX Dossier on Sedevacantism
- The Chair Is Still Empty: A Response to John Salza on Sedevacantism
- “The Ordinary Magisterium and Devotion to the Pope” (Audio)
The evidence for the sedevacantist position is simply overwhelming. How tragic that so many people cannot even correctly repeat the basics of it.