Change of position in favor of Sedeprivationism…

Theological Earthquake at Virginia Trad Chapel: Fr. Ronald Ringrose abandons Recognize-and-Resist Position

St. Athanasius Church in Vienna, Virginia, established in 1968

Let’s cut right to the chase: Fr. Ronald Ringrose, the pastor of St. Athanasius Church in Vienna, Virginia, has publicly repudiated his long-time theological position of recognizing the papal claimants since Vatican II as valid but resisting them in their magisterium and their government of the church (commonly known as the “recognize-and-resist” position).

Realizing that the position is plainly contrary to the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church, Fr. Ringrose began to disavow it publicly in three of his parish bulletins in January 2018. The excerpts can be downloaded in a single file here:

Together with his rejection of the recognize-and-resist position, however, Fr. Ringrose also came out against Sedevacantism, which he believes to be erroneous as well. Instead, he cautiously proposes a third option which seems very similar, if not identical in all its nuances and details, to what is typically called “Sedeprivationism” (alternatively, it is referred to as the “material-formal theory” or the “Cassiciacum Thesis”), which was first enunicated by the Dominican theologian Bp. Michel-Louis Guerard des Lauriers and is today maintained by Bp. Donald J. Sanborn in the United States and Fr. Francesco Ricossa in Italy, among others.

Before we comment on what Fr. Ringrose says, let us first allow him to speak in full. For our readers’ convenience, we have merged together the texts in question from the three separate bulletins into one whole, which reads as follows:

The Chair of St. Peter at Rome (January 18) — This feast reinforces the unique role of the pope as vicar of Christ, and that as universal pastor, he cannot err when he teaches on matters of faith and morals. How then, are faithful Catholics to explain the appearance that the pope has erred since Vatican II? Here are some of the attempts that have been made over the years. Some of you old timers will no doubt remember them.

– It is the liberal bishops and not the pope who are responsible.
– The council was ambiguous and the wrong interpretation has been given.
– The real pope is being held captive and a look-alike imposter has taken over.
– The pope didn’t speak ex cathedra.
– The council was only a pastoral council.
– Nowadays it seems that it can sometimes happen that the pope teaches error. When he does, we must continue to recognize his authority, but hold fast and resist whatever erroneous teaching or evil commands he may give.
– The pope and bishops have embraced the apostasy of the new religion and have thereby lost their offices. All the seats are empty, including that of the pope and we are today without any hierarchy whatsoever.

We understand that as glaring as some of these errors may seem today, they were the best answers that were available at the time. Only in time and with further reflection, did the error of these answers become apparent.  Let us consider today this last error, which many now call sedevacantism (Latin for “the see being vacant”). The popular name for this error is borrowed from the term that is used between the death of one pope and the election of a new one. Good Catholics, who believed the idea that all the seats are vacant, did so only to be faithful to the promise of Christ that the religion any pope would teach the Universal Church would be guaranteed by His own word and the power of the Holy Ghost. However, while defending this one truth of Christ, they unwittingly fell into an error contrary to another teaching of the Church, that the Hierarchy is perpetual, that it will last to the end of time, and that Peter will have perpetual successors. The pope and the Hierarchy cannot simply be gone! Therefore, this explanation must be rejected by Catholics.

The Chair of St Peter at Rome (continued) – This feast reinforces Catholic teaching that Christ has given to Peter and his successors a unique role in the Church as Universal Pastor. In this role as teacher Our Lord has promised that he who hears Peter hears Him. Recognizing this promise, the Church has infallibly taught that Peter and his successors cannot teach error to the Universal Church any more than Christ can. So Christ guarantees that Peter will never teach error and Peter has the special assistance of the Holy Ghost to carry this out.

Last week we considered the error of sedevacantism, which holds that there is no pope, and that there is no hierarchy. Today let us consider another error, referred to by some as “Recognize and Resist.” In a nutshell, R&R holds that sometimes the pope teaches error or imposes evil or harmful practices or laws.* When he does, we must recognize his authority but resist his erroneous teachings or evil commands. Good Catholics have mistakenly fallen into this error in their attempt to protect the teaching of the Church that the pope must have perpetual successors and that somehow there must always be a hierarchy. The R&R position cannot be held because it ignores the clear teaching of the Church that the pope cannot teach error or impose evil or harmful practices and laws by virtue of the guarantee of Our Lord and the special assistance of the Holy Ghost. If we recognize the pope’s authority to teach and rule the Church in matters of faith and morals, we have no choice but to assent and obey, for not to do so would be to fail to assent to Christ Himself, by Whose authority and in Whose name the pope speaks. So R&R cannot be the answer, and like sedevacantism, it too must be rejected.

(*Some have said that the pope taught error at the time of St. Athanasius, but a closer examination of the facts shows this not to be true.)

Chair of St. Peter at Rome … conclusion) – We have been considering the past few weeks this feast, which reinforces the teaching of the Church that the office of the Chair of St. Peter (Peter and his successors, the popes) is indefectible, that is it is always free from error and must be perpetual. Its teachings are the standard and rule of Faith, despite the worthiness or unworthiness of the successor. In light of this and what we have said before, what is a faithful Catholic to do? Join or re-join the Novus Ordo? By no means! It is a false religion and to do so would be to abandon the Catholic Faith.

We have considered some answers to the question: How is it that the New Order popes have attempted to impose on the Church erroneous teachings and harmful or evil laws or practices? We gave particular attention to two of the most widely-held erroneous explanations: sedevacantism and recognize and resist (R&R). In light of what has been said, the following become apparent:

Contrary to the teaching of the Church: The pope can teach error sometimes and impose harmful or evil practices and laws on the Universal Church.
Contrary to the teaching of the Church: There is no hierarchy whatsoever. (It is de fide that the hierarchy must be perpetual.)
Contrary to the teaching of the Church: We may resist the authority of the pope.
– That since it is obvious that the Vatican II popes have imposed teachings and practices contrary to Faith and morals, it must be concluded that the infallible and indefectible teaching power promised to Peter’s successors is absent.
– It may be held that since the Vatican II popes possess a legal and valid election, they have a certain legal status as popes.
– It may be held that this legal status is sufficient to maintain the succession to Peter and the perpetuity of the hierarchy.

It would appear, then, that the Chair is not totally vacant, nor is it completely full. The new order popes possess some legal aspect as popes but lack the authority to teach and rule on matters of faith and morals. In the face of this situation, the proper response of all faithful Catholics is to believe what Catholics have always believed and to do what Catholics have always done. We cannot go wrong doing that!

(Fr. Ronald Ringrose, St. Athanasius Church Bulletins of Jan. 14, Jan. 21, Jan. 28, 2018; bold print and italics given.)

Thus far the text Fr. Ringrose published in the three January parish bulletins. In the most recent one, dated Apr. 29, 2018, the pastor of St. Athanasius Church again touches upon the same topic and writes:

We must as Catholics believe these truths revealed by Christ and taught as dogma by the Church:

1. We know the things we are to believe from the Catholic Church. It is the pope with the bishops, through whom God speaks to us. (Baltimore Catechism #3 q. 10 also q. 157)

2. The Church (pope & bishops) certainly can never teach us falsehood because the Holy Ghost abides with it forever. (BC #3 q. 445)

3. Infallibility means that the Church (pope & bishops) cannot err when they teach faith and morals. (BC #3 q. 526)

This is all nicely summarized in a Youtube video entitled, “Archbishop Lefebvre Speaks Frankly About the Pope” [accessible HERE]. It is a recorded conference of the Archbishop in which he clearly states that it is impossible for a pope to impose heresy and evil practices on the Church and that he who would do so certainly cannot be pope. Look up these questions in the Baltimore Catechism for yourself and listen to the Archbishop’s own words.

(Fr. Ronald Ringrose, St. Athanasius Church Bulletin of Apr. 29, 2018; italics given; view scanned image here.)

Notice that the truths Fr. Ringrose summarizes here are so basic to the Catholic Faith that they are contained in the Baltimore Catechism, the fundamental catechetical tool used in the United States in the 20th century for educating youth in the Catholic Faith (it is called “Baltimore Catechism” because it was commissioned by the three national plenary councils held in Baltimore, Maryland in the second half of the 19th century). The recognize-and-resist traditionalists are contradicting Church teaching on so elementary a level that even properly catechized youth can see the position is wrong!

Fr. Ronald Ringrose

Some Background

Originally “ordained” for the Archdiocese of Baltimore in the invalid Novus Ordo rite, Fr. Ringrose was conditionally ordained a priest by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1982. He has been at St. Athanasius Church ever since.

Although Fr. Ringrose had already publicly voiced his rejection of the recognize-and-resist position before, it was not until earlier this year that he noticeably eliminated the name of Francis from his liturgical prayers (such as the Good Friday intercessory prayers and the Exsultet hymn on Holy Saturday) and dropped his usual weekly request for prayers for the intentions of the Sovereign Pontiff. He has also discarded the missalettes in his parish that had Francis’ name in them.

A question that must be asked is: Where does this leave Fr. Juan Carlos Ortiz, who is Fr. Ringrose’s subordinate and assists his work but has always been vocal in condemning public and dogmatic Sedevacantism and Sedeprivationism? Fr. Ortiz has always said that any Mass that publicly and dogmatically drops Francis’ name from the Canon cannot be attended because it is schismatic. Is he now leaving St. Athanasius to be consistent, or has he changed his position so it aligns with that of the pastor? Or is he engaging in cognitive dissonance, saying one thing while doing another?

Interestingly enough, Fr. Ringrose is joined in his repudiation of the recognize-and-resist position by other former resistance priests: Fr. Pierre Roy, Fr. Olivier Rioult, Fr. Nicolas Pinaud, and even Fr. Francois Chazal have all recently modified their theological position to where they now hold that recognize-and-resist is doctrinally erroneous and that the Vatican II “popes” do not possess the infallible and indefectible teaching authority of the Vicar of Christ.

On the other hand, the former SSPX bishop Richard Williamson, a man who advocates the recognize-and-resist position ad absurdum, is still trying to defend the indefensible, as a recent post on Dr. Peter Chojnowski’s blog shows. It remains to be seen how he reacts to the recent defections from the R&R camp into a quasi-Sedevacantism.

Commentary on Fr. Ringrose’s Assessment

As we proceed now to comment upon what Fr. Ringrose has written in his bulletins, we must first point out that obviously he is only providing a rough sketch of the different positions and his own and is not meaning to write a theological treatise. In other words, we must not look for nuance where nuance is obviously not intended.

Overall, we commend Fr. Ringrose for abandoning the false recognize-and-resist theology and publicly declaring it to be contrary to the Catholic Faith. Changing one’s stance in the face of so much opposition, and against what is admittedly a very popular and comfortable best-of-both-worlds position, is not easy. Besides, it takes humility, courage, and personal integrity to abandon a position one has held for multiple decades. Kudos to you and God bless you, Fr. Ringrose!

With regard to Sedevacantism, Fr. Ringrose says that he believes it denies the perpetuity of the hierarchy and in particular the perpetual succession of Popes. Without engaging now in a full-fledged discussion of the issues involved in this controversy, we must reiterate clearly that obviously no position may be held by a Catholic if it is contrary to Faith or if it involves denial of a doctrine that must be held under pain of mortal sin. If the sedevacantist position were to do that, then it could not be embraced, naturally.

But here we must distinguish strictly between what is directly affirmed and what merely seems to follow but does not in fact follow with necessity. We can and must leave certain things to mystery, as apparently it has pleased God to keep them hidden from us, perhaps in punishment of our sins (cf. Mt 11:25); but at no point are we permitted to deviate from what the Church teaches, even if this means we cannot put all the pieces of the puzzle neatly together and must acknowledge that we do not have all the answers. God does not expect us to know all things, but He does expect us to believe His Truth: “…be not faithless, but believing” (Jn 20:27).

The Church certainly teaches that she must continue to exist until the end of time, and that she will remain unchanged in her essential constitution:

…[T]he mystical body of Christ is the true Church, only because its visible parts draw life and power from the supernatural gifts and other things whence spring their very nature and essence. But since the Church is such by divine will and constitution, such it must uniformly remain to the end of time. If it did not, then it would not have been founded as perpetual, and the end set before it would have been limited to some certain place and to some certain period of time; both of which are contrary to the truth. The union consequently of visible and invisible elements because it harmonizes with the natural order and by God’s will belongs to the very essence of the Church, must necessarily remain so long as the Church itself shall endure.

…But the mission of Christ is to save that which had perished: that is to say, not some nations or peoples, but the whole human race, without distinction of time or place. “The Son of Man came that the world might be saved by Him” (John iii., 17). “For there is no other name under Heaven given to men whereby we must be saved” (Acts iv., 12). The Church, therefore, is bound to communicate without stint to all men, and to transmit through all ages, the salvation effected by Jesus Christ, and the blessings flowing there from. Wherefore, by the will of its Founder, it is necessary that this Church should be one in all lands and at all times.

(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, nn. 3,5)

“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, prologue; Denz. 1821)

Condemning the so-called Old Catholics who repudiated the First Vatican Council’s definition of papal infallibility, Pope Pius IX wrote in 1873: “Therefore they deny also the indefectibility of the Church and blasphemously declare that it has perished throughout the world and that its visible Head and the bishops have erred” (Encyclical Etsi Multa, n. 22).

All this puts us before a great deal of mystery. We know what the Church requires us to hold, and this we must affirm most loyally. It cannot be, and it is not, a question of the Church perishing. The Catholic Church is indestructible and indefectible. She will last until the end of time, or, in any case, for as long as there are human beings, for she is the Ark of Salvation for them. God Himself guarantees it! Yet what exactly this means with regard to the hierarchy is a separate question. For example, does it necessitate that at least one office is always actually occupied or does it only require that the Church is at all times capable of filling her hierarchical offices? If the latter, precisely in what does this capability consist? Etc.

These are important questions that deserve an answer. Insofar as there can be legitimate debate about details, we are not going to take a firm position one way or another. In any case, it is evident that this calls for very competent, very nuanced, and very careful theological work, and we must resist the temptation to think we can easily and quickly answer all of these questions by flipping through Denzinger. In his phenomenal work on ecclesiology, the Jesuit theologian Fr. Joachim Salaverri presents and discusses Church teaching on the perpetuity of the Church’s hierarchy in depth (see nn. 286-329). Thankfully, this work is now available in English, as Sacrae Theologiae Summa IB: On the Church of Christ, translated by Fr. Kenneth Baker (original Latin published by BAC, 1955; English published by Keep the Faith, 2015).

We must firmly believe that the Church cannot perish, any more than she can lead souls astray. Therefore, Fr. Ringrose is entirely right in rejecting any notion according to which the Church has ceased to exist or has defected. The precise theological explanation that can reconcile all the empirical facts with all of Catholic teaching would no doubt have been a very challenging task even for the Church’s greatest theologians prior to Vatican II — let’s not forget that — but this consideration, of course, does not permit us to deviate from the Faith.

The beauty of the gift of Faith is that we can affirm our belief in dogma even if we do not fully understand it or cannot fully reconcile it with certain things that appear to be the case. The truth of what God has revealed is absolutely certain, and Divine Revelation, at least insofar as it has been proposed by the Church, demands every bit of our assent. Yet where clarity of teaching, clarity of empirical fact, or simply our own understanding are lacking, we can at least express our loyal adherence conditionally:

  • If (note the condition!) we must believe that there will always be at least one man who is part of the Catholic hierarchy and possesses ordinary jurisdiction, then we most certainly do, even if we do not know who or where these individuals are.
  • If we are required to hold that the Church can restore herself to her former glory even without divine intervention, then we unquestioningly do, even though we do not have a clear answer as to how this should be accomplished.
  • Whatever God requires of us to believe, we firmly believe, in accordance with the Act of Faith: “…I believe these and all the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them, Who canst neither deceive nor be deceived.”

It is a great temptation for us humans to refuse to accept something until its truth has been demonstrated to us rationally. We cannot do that with Divine Revelation because that is not how Faith works. On the contrary, the Roman Catechism issued after the Council of Trent teaches: “Faith, therefore, must exclude not only all doubt, but all desire for demonstration” (Article I). The virtue of Faith, without which we will never see God (see Heb 11:6), disposes us by the help of divine grace to accept what God has revealed because He who cannot lie and cannot be mistaken has revealed it, and for no other reason. We have a divine guarantee that what God has revealed can never conflict with reason, although it may infinitely surpass it. For the author of the Faith is also the author of reason, hence any contradiction between the two is utterly impossible.

Genuine Faith results in untold blessings. As Christ the Lord told us: “…blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed” (Jn 20:29; cf. Mt 24:24). God has a strict right to demand from us a sincere Faith, not a pseudo-faith that we only uphold for as long as we can make rational sense of everything: “For we walk by faith, and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). And so our Lord tells us today, as He once did to Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue: “Fear not, only believe” (Mk 5:36).

Perhaps (perhaps!) the best theological answer given for our current state of affairs is indeed Sedeprivationism. In essence, this complex theory holds that although the “Popes” after Pius XII are not true Popes, they nevertheless possess a valid election to the Roman pontificate, and, for this reason, would automatically become pope if they should renounce their heresies and convert to Catholicism. They are, in a sense, “Pope-elect” — validly chosen and designated to be Pope, but unable to actually be Pope because of an obstacle they have placed in the way (the lack of objective intention to promote the good of the Church). This thesis, which is often misunderstood and therefore quickly dismissed out of hand by people who have little understanding of what it actually asserts, rests on considerable theological and philosophical grounds.

One of the distinct advantages of Sedeprivationism is that it can explain cogently how it is that a legitimate conclave (as most certainly the one held in 1958 was and probably also that of 1963) could produce a “Pope” who is not actually Pope; and, more importantly, it can answer how the interrupted papal succession can once again resume because it cleanly and clearly safeguards the Church’s power to produce her own visible head.

For those interested in understanding Sedeprivationism in greater depth, here are some links which explain it:

Since the position espoused now by Fr. Ringrose is akin to Sedeprivationism, Bp. Sanborn has welcomed this development:

A step in the right direction. We are told on good authority that, in St. Athanasius Chapel in Vienna, Virginia, the priest in charge there, Fr. Ringrose, posted a notice on the bulletin board that recognize and resist is contrary to the teachings of the Church and must be rejected, and that the chair of Peter may not be completely vacant, but it is certain that the Novus Ordo “popes” do not possess the authority of Peter and his successors.

Fr. Ringrose, formerly a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, was conditionally re-ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1982. He has been saying the Mass in the Washington D.C. area since that time. I am naturally happy to see progress in his position regarding the new religion and the Modernist hierarchy.

(Bp. Donald J. Sanborn, Most Holy Trinity Seminary Newsletter for March 2018 (see pp. 541-548); bold print and italics given.)

At Novus Ordo Watch, we take a very clear position against the Novus Ordo Sect and its false shepherds, for we know by Faith that they are not legitimate, else the promises of Christ would be void, and this is impossible. With regard to those things that are legitimately disputed among sedevacantists, however, we typically take no firm position one way or another. And this includes the question whether Sedeprivationism is a better alternative to what is sometimes called the “Totalist” Sedevacantist position.

That this need not threaten Catholic unity is shown, for example, by the fact that Fr. Anthony Cekada, who takes a Totalist position, teaches theology at Bp. Sanborn’s seminary, who adheres to Sedeprivationism and argues in one of his essays that in his view, Totalism “deprives the Church of the means to elect a legitimate successor of St. Peter [and] ultimately destroys its apostolicity” (“Explanation of the Thesis of Bishop Guerard des Lauriers”, p. 8).

Let each side produce the evidence for its position; let each side demonstrate that it can best explain the situation in the Catholic Church after the death of Pope Pius XII without contradicting Church teaching. We need not have figured everything out; oftentimes it is through such debate that clarity is obtained and new insights are discovered.

In these extremely difficult times, we must never forget to pray. Prayer is the key to Heaven, and if we do not make it to Heaven, then all our Faith will have been in vain: “And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2).

The attitude which we must always maintain in these dark times is best summed up by St. Augustine: “In certain things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.”

A follow-up article to this post has been published here.

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