The Party is over…
Stuck in a Rut:
Anti-Sedevacantism in the Age of Bergoglio
Over the past two years or so, a veritable barrage of anti-sedevacantist articles has appeared in online and offline publications of the recognize-and-resist camp, penned mostly by lay authors who have dabbled in various pieces of Catholic theological and canonical literature but who have no genuine grasp of the subject matter they are pontificating about. Their approach to the question of whether Francis is a valid Pope is often not deductive — applying Catholic principles to the evidence before us and then drawing the conclusion that follows — but inductive instead, beginning with the desired conclusion that Francis is a valid Pope and then attempting to come up with “evidence” that seems to necessitate this conclusion.
Even though these authors pull out all the stops they possibly can in order to defend the idea that Jorge Bergoglio is truly the Pope of the Catholic Church, at the same time they insist that this man’s valid-at-all-costs “papacy” nevertheless doesn’t mean anything — it cannot have any practical impact on your life, under pain of endangering the health and salvation of your soul. In other words, as far as your Catholicism is concerned, he might as well not be the Pope — in fact, he better not be.
By analogy, one may say that while the sedevacantist argues that a wolf cannot be a shepherd precisely because he is a wolf, the “resistance” position by contrast asserts that a wolf can be a shepherd but then the shepherd doesn’t matter — or rather, the sheep have an obligation to protect themselves from the shepherd. Guess which of these two ideas alone is compatible with Catholic doctrine.
St. Robert Bellarmine put it beautifully when he said, “it would be the most miserable condition of the Church, if she should be compelled to recognize a wolf, manifestly prowling, for a shepherd” (On the Roman Pontiff, Bk. II, Ch. 30). Apparently this great saint and doctor of the Church forgot to take into consideration that there would be self-appointed “we protect you from the evil shepherd” quasi-sheep around to ensure that the wolf is rendered harmless. Oh well.
And indeed, it seems that the only thing exceeding the gargantuan efforts by the semi-traditionalists to defend Francis’ claim to the papacy is their tireless work in enforcing the idea that this supposedly genuine and valid Pope must be resisted, ignored, contradicted, and neutralized in every way possible, lest his teaching, his disciplinary laws, his “saints”, and his rules of worship actually influence the faithful in any way. In other words, he can and must be your “Pope” — but don’t you dare actually apply any of the Catholic doctrines regarding the papacy to him. He is, as Fr. Anthony Cekada so aptly put it years ago, a “cardboard Pope – for display purposes only” (source).
Those who would object that Francis must be the Pope, or else we’d be forced to conclude that the Church has defected or been abandoned by God, must realize that a manifest heretic (or apostate) obviously does not and could not provide any sort of guarantee or protection for the Church. This they themselves tacitly admit by their most fierce resistance to the man. Obviously he doesn’t protect or guarantee anything and in fact leads you to hell. (In the near future, we will have more blog posts and podcasts on the “Have the gates of hell prevailed?” question. For now, start here: The Pope and the Antichrist.)
Quite simply, a man who does not profess the Faith of St. Peter cannot be the successor of St. Peter. No one, in fact, can even be a member of the Catholic Church who does not profess this same Faith, much less could he be her head: “Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed” (Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 22; italics added).
Our Lord Jesus Christ guaranteed the Faith of St. Peter: “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren” (Lk 22:32). The objection that St. Peter denied Christ three times is beside the point, because he did not actually become Pope until after the Resurrection of Christ. In fact, the First Vatican Council used the very Bible passage just quoted as proof for its teaching that the Holy See cannot be impaired by any error, making clear that our Lord granted the papacy to St. Peter after His Resurrection: “And upon Simon Peter alone Jesus after His resurrection conferred the jurisdiction of the highest pastor and rector over his entire fold, saying: ‘Feed my lambs,’ ‘Feed my sheep’ (John 21:15 ff.)…. [T]he See of St. Peter always remains unimpaired by any error, according 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 I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus; Denz. 1822,1836; italics added).
In response to the recent and very popular flurry of articles against Sedevacantism by authors such as Bp. Richard Williamson, Robert Siscoe, John Salza, Brian McCall and others, Fr. Anthony Cekada has now produced a video response that lays out the facts concerning the Catholic teaching applicable to a heretic claiming to be Pope, and refutes step by step the various errors advanced by the pundits in the recognize-and-resist camp:
The following text is a brief summary and introduction to this video, published on Fr. Cekada’s blog Quidlibet:
THE ELECTION of Jorge Mario Bergoglio by the March 2013 conclave was a turning point in the ongoing dispute among Catholic traditionalists over the question of the pope: Do we “recognize” the post-Vatican II popes as true popes, but “resist” them? (The “R&R” position held by the Society of St. Pius X, Bp. Williamson, The Remnant, Catholic Family News and many others) Or do we treat them as public heretics who are not true popes at all? (The sedevacantist position)
Francis’ outrageous public statements and madcap antics have led more and more traditionalists to embrace sedevacantism, and many more to consider doing the same.
This has caused consternation in the R&R camp, which has felt obliged to produce a good number of anti-sedevacantist critiques over the past two years.
I’ve received many requests to answer these critiques, and this video will serve as my response.
The first rut for R&R is following the wrong theologians — Suarez, Cajetan and John of St. Thomas — who maintained that a heretical pope had to be put on trial before he lost his office. This teaching:
- Was subsequently abandoned by theologians, who adopted the position of St. Robert Bellarmine instead.
- Superseded by Paul IV’s Bull Cum ex Apostolatus Officio.
- Results in absurdity, because in our own days, heretical cardinals would be expected to judge a heretical pope.
The second rut for R&R is that they are still arguing the wrong issue — loss of office by a heretical pope — while sedevacantists now argue that Bergoglio could not have become a true pope in the first place. Here we discuss:
- The teaching of canonists that a public heretic is barred by divine law from becoming a true pope.
- R&R’s confusion of the sin of heresy with the canonical crime of heresy.
- R&R’s creation of the “orthodoxy buddy” rule — you can’t become a heretic unless someone warns you.
- Formal vs. material heresy, and how Pius XII’s 1943 Encyclical Mystici Corporis providentially closed R&R’s last escape route.
We conclude by answering six common R&R “pope by default” objections, and by offering an analysis of the underlying problem which forces Catholics to debate these issues.
UPDATE: Fr. Cekada responds to some initial objections to his video Stuck in a Rut (June 28, 2015)