Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Reply to Jason Morgan…

Missing the Forest for the Trees:

The Remnant on Schism and Sedevacantism

The pseudo-traditionalist flagship publication The Remnant has once again graced the world with the full depth of its theological wisdom. This biweekly American newspaper promotes what is perhaps best called a “pop traditionalism”, a distortion of traditional Catholicism that emphasizes certain popular elements or emotionally satisfying aspects — such as the Latin Mass, traditional practices, and rejection of whacky Novus Ordo ideas — but without any commitment to (or even regard for) sound Catholic theology, knowledge of which would have to be acquired through laborious effort and might lead to undesirable consequences.

This is particularly evident in a new post published on Nov. 8 by one Jason Morgan, entitled “Sede-Vacationism”. (Notice it says vacationism, not vacantism.) The post is written somewhat tongue-in-cheek but its message is fundamentally serious.

Unfortunately, the author does not appear to take any real interest in Sacred Theology but is content to base his argumentation on a typically American pragmatic way of doing things. This is ironic because he begins his post by predisposing the reader against Sedevacantism by trying to associate it with American politics: “Secession is thus an increasingly popular remedy. There is no more middle ground anywhere, and one side or another is going to have to win the whole game at some point, or else balk and quit the premises before the land war commences”, Morgan writes before proceeding to ridicule shortly thereafter:

Before 2013, “sedevacantism” was whispered mainly in the fever swamps of the conspiracy theorists. The See of St. Peter is really empty, one sometimes heard mentioned in hushed tones. The real pope is in hiding in Monaco, or is working undercover at a gas station in Monterrey. Whoever the fellow in the white hat walking around the Vatican is, he isn’t the legitimate successor of the Apostle.

Those nutty sedevacantists! How dare we suggest that the blaspheming Modernists in Rome — whether they go by the name John Paul II, Benedict XVI, or Francis, to name just a few –, to whom our critics themselves refuse submission because they don’t want to be tainted with their religion, are not in fact the Vicars of Jesus Christ who must be submitted to under pain of eternal damnation!

Moving beyond rhetoric, the simple fact of the matter is that any real Catholic hiding in a lagoon off the coast of Fiji would have an infinitely better chance at being a true Pope than any of the Novus Ordo “popes” because the very first requirement for any potential Pope is that of being a Catholic, as a quick look at the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia shows: “Of course, the election of a heretic, schismatic, or female would be null and void” (s.v. “Papal Election”). That’s because to be the head of the Church, you have to actually be a member, and one of the requirements to be a member is the profession of the true Faith: “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; underlining added).

But then that just doesn’t work for the pseudo-traditionalists at The Remnant. Morgan says, “Whatever floats your boat”, and this apparently doesn’t float theirs. It doesn’t because, as we never cease to be reminded, it’s not “complex” enough, it’s just “too simple” for the master theologians on the editorial board in Forest Lake, Minnesota: “Sedevacantism sure would be easier than dealing with a man who apparently learned theology from Bazooka gum wrappers and organizational management from Don Corleone”, Morgan quips. But, of course, whether something is considered to be easy or difficult is irrelevant to the question whether it is true, and that’s what we ought to be concerned about: “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice” (Eph 6:14); “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:32).

No, the “it’s too simple an answer” argument is simply a cop-out. If Sedevacantism were too complex, they would be telling us that it cannot be the right answer because the simple faithful could never be expected to figure all of this out, and hence God could not require it of us. This line of argumentation is purely pragmatic and distracts from the truth of the matter.

Back to Morgan. He writes:

But whether one subscribes to the sedevacantist position or not, one has to admit that the word is being used a lot more these days than just five years ago. Serious theologians (and, yes, by “serious theologians” I exclude all Jesuits) and Church historians are wondering what, exactly, one is supposed to do when a papacy has gone off the rails, plowed through the town, knocked over the water tower, blown up the power plant, sent a whole flock of chickens skedaddling in a tizzy of feathers and frenzied clucking, and plunged over the cliff in a spectacular, elegant free fall down, down into the icy deep below.

Here taking a close look at the traditional Catholic teaching on the Papacy — instead of coming up with your own ideas — pays off a hundredfold. It’s not like in 2,000 years no one ever thought of that possibility. What does happen when a pontificate goes off the rails?

Quite simply, the answer is: It cannot happen. Although the Church does not definitively exclude the possibility that a Pope may become a heretic as a private person and thereby automatically and immediately lose the Pontificate without the need for a declaration, the Church teaches authoritatively (i.e. bindingly) that as long as there is a valid Roman Pontiff occupying the Chair of St. Peter, the Papacy cannot fail in its purpose. The following list of magisterial quotes proving that is by no means exhaustive (all underlining added):

Pope Pelagius II

(For) you know that the Lord proclaims in the Gospel: Simon, Simon, behold Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat: but I have asked the Father for thee, that thy faith fail not; and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren [Lk 22:31-32].

Consider, most dear ones, that the Truth could not have lied, nor will the faith of PETER be able to be shaken or changed forever. For although the devil desired to sift all the disciples, the Lord testifies that He Himself asked for PETER alone and wished the others to be confirmed by him; and to him also, in consideration of a greater love which he showed the Lord before the rest, was committed the care of feeding the sheep [cf. Jn 21:15ff.]; and to him also He handed over the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and upon him He promised to build his Church, and He testified that the gates of hell would not prevail against it [cf. Mt 16:16ff.].

(Apostolic Letter Quod ad DilectionemDenz. 246)

Pope St. Leo IX

The holy Church built upon a rock, that is Christ, and upon Peter or Cephas, the son of John who first was called Simon, because by the gates of Hell, that is, by the disputations of heretics which lead the vain to destruction, it would never be overcome; thus Truth itself promises, through whom are true, whatsoever things are true: “The gates of hell will not prevail against it” [Mt 16:18]. The same Son declares that He obtained the effect of this promise from the Father by prayers, by saying to Peter: “Simon, behold Satan etc.” [Lk 23:31]. Therefore, will there be anyone so foolish as to dare to regard His prayer as in anyway vain whose being willing is being able? By the See of the chief of the Apostles, namely by the Roman Church, through the same Peter, as well as through his successors, have not the comments of all the heretics been disapproved, rejected, and overcome, and the hearts of the brethren in the faith of Peter which so far neither has failed, nor up to the end will fail, been strengthened?

(Apostolic Letter In Terra PaxDenz. 351)

Pope Leo XII

But if one wishes to search out the true source of all the evils which We have already lamented, as well as those which We pass over for the sake of brevity, he will surely find that from the start it has ever been a dogged contempt for the Church’s authority. The Church, as St. Leo the Great teaches, in well-ordered love accepts Peter in the See of Peter, and sees and honors Peter in the person of his successor the Roman pontiff. Peter still maintains the concern of all pastors in guarding their flocks, and his high rank does not fail even in an unworthy heir. In Peter then, as is aptly remarked by the same holy Doctor, the courage of all is strengthened and the help of divine grace is so ordered that the constancy conferred on Peter through Christ is conferred on the apostles through Peter. It is clear that contempt of the Church’s authority is opposed to the command of Christ and consequently opposes the apostles and their successors, the Church’s ministers who speak as their representatives. He who hears you, hears me; and he who despises you, despises me [Lk 10:16]; and the Church is the pillar and firmament of truth, as the apostle Paul teaches [1 Tim 3:15]. In reference to these words St. Augustine says: “Whoever is without the Church will not be reckoned among the sons, and whoever does not want to have the Church as mother will not have God as father.”

(Encyclical Ubi Primum, nn. 22-23)

Pope Pius IX

All who defend the faith should aim to implant deeply in your faithful people the virtues of piety, veneration, and respect for this supreme See of Peter. Let the faithful recall the fact that Peter, Prince of Apostles is alive here and rules in his successors, and that his office does not fail even in an unworthy heir. Let them recall that Christ the Lord placed the impregnable foundation of his Church on this See of Peter [Mt 16:18] and gave to Peter himself the keys of the kingdom of Heaven [Mt 16:19]. Christ then prayed that his faith would not fail, and commanded Peter to strengthen his brothers in the faith [Lk 22:32]. Consequently the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, holds a primacy over the whole world and is the true Vicar of Christ, head of the whole Church and father and teacher of all Christians.

Indeed one simple way to keep men professing Catholic truth is to maintain their communion with and obedience to the Roman Pontiff. For it is impossible for a man ever to reject any portion of the Catholic faith without abandoning the authority of the Roman Church. In this authority, the unalterable teaching office of this faith lives on. It was set up by the divine Redeemer and, consequently, the tradition from the Apostles has always been preserved. So it has been a common characteristic both of the ancient heretics and of the more recent Protestants — whose disunity in all their other tenets is so great — to attack the authority of the Apostolic See. But never at any time were they able by any artifice or exertion to make this See tolerate even a single one of their errors.

(Encyclical Nostis et Nobiscum, nn. 16-17)

This chair [of Peter] is the center of Catholic truth and unity, that is, the head, mother, and teacher of all the Churches to which all honor and obedience must be offered. Every church must agree with it because of its greater preeminence — that is, those people who are in all respects faithful….

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; 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. Therefore, because of your special faith in the Church and special piety toward the same Chair of Peter, We exhort you to direct your constant efforts so that the faithful people of France may avoid the crafty deceptions and errors of these plotters and develop a more filial affection and obedience to this Apostolic See. Be vigilant in act and word, so that the faithful may grow in love for this Holy See, venerate it, and accept it with complete obedience; they should execute whatever the See itself teaches, determines, and decrees.

(Encyclical Inter Multiplices, nn. 1,7)

Pope Leo XIII

the Church has received from on high a promise which guarantees her against every human weakness. What does it matter that the helm of the symbolic barque has been entrusted to feeble hands, when the Divine Pilot stands on the bridge, where, though invisible, He is watching and ruling? Blessed be the strength of his arm and the multitude of his mercies!

(Allocution to Cardinals, March 20, 1900; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 349.)

Pope Pius XI

For the teaching authority of the Church, which in the divine wisdom was constituted on earth in order that revealed doctrines might remain intact for ever, and that they might be brought with ease and security to the knowledge of men, and which is daily exercised through the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops who are in communion with him, has also the office of defining, when it sees fit, any truth with solemn rites and decrees, whenever this is necessary either to oppose the errors or the attacks of heretics, or more clearly and in greater detail to stamp the minds of the faithful with the articles of sacred doctrine which have been explained.

(Encyclical Mortalium Animos, n. 9)

Wherefore, let the faithful also be on their guard against the overrated independence of private judgment and that false autonomy of human reason. For it is quite foreign to everyone bearing the name of a Christian to trust his own mental powers with such pride as to agree only with those things which he can examine from their inner nature, and to imagine that the Church, sent by God to teach and guide all nations, is not conversant with present affairs and circumstances; or even that they must obey only in those matters which she has decreed by solemn definition as though her other decisions might be presumed to be false or putting forward insufficient motive for truth and honesty. Quite to the contrary, a characteristic of all true followers of Christ, lettered or unlettered, is to suffer themselves to be guided and led in all things that touch upon faith or morals by the Holy Church of God through its Supreme Pastor the Roman Pontiff, who is himself guided by Jesus Christ Our Lord.

(Encyclical Casti Connubii, nn. 103-104)

Pope Pius XII

The Pope has the divine promises; even in his human weaknesses, he is invincible and unshakable; he is the messenger of truth and justice, the principle of the unity of the Church; his voice denounces errors, idolatries, superstitions; he condemns iniquities; he makes charity and virtue loved.

(Address Ancora Una Volta, Feb. 20, 1949)

You get the idea. The Catholic Church cannot defect because the Roman Pontiff cannot defect, at least not for as long as he is the valid Roman Pontiff. That is the Catholic teaching; and now we find out who really believes that the gates of hell shall not prevail.

This truth about the Papacy does not only exist theoretically, however, it can also be verified historically. For example, take one of the absolutely worst Popes in history: Pope John XII (reigned 955-963). Prince Octavian (his birth name) was only 16 years of age when elected, and he was a complete moral reprobate. However, God’s promises did not fail even in him:

Nothing in his life marked him for this office, and everything should have kept him from it. He was rarely seen in church. His days and nights were spent in the company of young men and of disreputable women, in the pleasures of the table and of amusements and of the hunt, or in even more sinful sensual enjoyments. It is related that sometimes, in the midst of dissolute revelry, the prince had been seen to drink to the health of the devil. Raised to the papal office, Octavian changed his name and took the name of John XII. He was the first pope thus to assume a new name. But his new dignity brought about no change in his morals, and merely added the guilt of sacrilege.

Divine providence, watching over the Church, miraculously preserved the deposit of faith, of which this young voluptuary was the guardian. This Pope’s life was a monstrous scandal, but his bullarium is faultless. We cannot sufficiently admire this prodigy. There is not a heretic or a schismatic who has not endeavored to legitimate his own conduct dogmatically: Photius tried to justify his pride, Luther his sensual passions, Calvin his cold cruelty. Neither Sergius III nor John XII nor Benedict IX nor Alexander VI, supreme pontiffs, definers of the faith, certain of being heard and obeyed by the whole Church, uttered, from the height of their apostolic pulpit, a single word that could be an approval of their disorders.

At times John XII even became the defender of the threatened social order, of offended canon law, and of the religious life exposed to danger.

(Rev. Fernand Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, Vol. 3 [St. Louis, MO: Herder Book Co., 1946], pp. 510-511; underlining added. Available online here.)

That’s the Catholic position concerning the immoral (but not heretical) Popes of history. Morgan knows that Francis doesn’t fit this bill in the least: “Francis is the Milli Vanilli of the apostolic succession. We thought we were getting one thing, but it turns out it was all a charade. We thought Francis was a Catholic. Nope.”

Nope is right, in more ways than one. What makes Morgan think that even though Francis isn’t a Catholic, he is nevertheless the head of the Catholic Church, we are not told. Some people simply can’t get past the fact that he’s wearing a white cassock and living in Vatican City, so he must be the Pope — although there are currently two individuals who fit even that description (and neither of them is Pope).

The Remnant contributor then emphasizes again that Sedevacantism cannot be right because the solution is just too “obvious” — and therefore much too simple — although he immediately points out that “this creates all kinds of problems. Let’s sum up the bad things in one word: Avignon. Enough said.” There! It’s so simple that it’s actually too difficult. Because there would be problems, and we can’t have that. Just look at the Avignon Papacy (1309-1376) and the consequent Great Western Schism (1378-1417), where first two, later three bishops all claimed to be the legitimate Pope (one of them, interestingly enough, had taken the name John XXIII).

But yes, let’s look at this turbulent period in Church history for a moment. Let’s see what lessons we can learn from it, such as: Not everyone who parades around Rome claiming to be the Pope, actually is the Pope. No wonder Morgan doesn’t want to go there. Antipope Nicholas V, for example, was installed in Rome while the true Pope, John XXII, lived at Avignon, France. (A similar thing had taken place 200 years prior, when the man in Rome was Antipope Anacletus II, whereas the true Pope, Innocent II, ended up in France.)

Another thing we can learn from the Great Western Schism is what was expressed by the Jesuit Fr. Edmund James O’Reilly in his 1892 book The Relations of the Church to Society. It is very relevant to what we are discussing:

The great schism of the West suggests to me a reflection which I take the liberty of expressing here. If this schism had not occurred, the hypothesis of such a thing happening would appear to many chimerical. They would say it could not be; God would not permit the Church to come into so unhappy a situation. Heresies might spring up and spread and last painfully long, through the fault and to the perdition of their authors and abettors, to the great distress too of the faithful, increased by actual persecution in many places where the heretics were dominant. But that the true Church should remain between thirty and forty years without a thoroughly ascertained Head, and representative of Christ on earth, this would not be. Yet it has been; and we have no guarantee that it will not be again, though we may fervently hope otherwise. What I would infer is, that we must not be too ready to pronounce on what God may permit. We know with absolute certainty that He will 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.

(Rev. Edmund J. O’Reilly, The Relations of the Church to Society [London: John Hodges, 1892], pp. 287-288; underlining added. Available online here.)

How about that!

But it gets better still. A few pages before this passage, Fr. O’Reilly specifically states that even if during the Western Schism none of the three papal claimants had been the true Pope and the Chair of St. Peter had been vacant all that time, this too would not have been contrary to the promises of Christ:

We may here stop to inquire what is to be said of the position, at that time, of the three claimants, and their rights with regard to the Papacy. In the first place, there was all through, from the death of Gregory XI in 1378, a Pope — with the exception, of course, of the intervals between deaths and elections to fill up the vacancies thereby created. There was, I say, at every given time a Pope, really invested with the dignity of Vicar of Christ and Head of the Church, whatever opinions might exist among many as to his genuineness; not that an interregnum covering the whole period would have been impossible or inconsistent with the promises of Christ, for this is by no means manifest, but that, as a matter of fact, there was not such an interregnum.

(O’Reilly, The Relations of the Church to Society, p. 283; underlining added.)

Thus we see that just because a situation is highly distressing or perplexing — or, in Morgan’s lingo, if it “creates all kinds of problems” — this doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. The real question is whether a particular interpretation of the facts squares with what God has revealed, with what He has promised — not with whether or not it creates problems we would rather not think about.

Simply put: God has not revealed that Jorge Bergoglio (Francis) is the Pope; God has revealed that the Papacy cannot fail. By saying that Francis is not a valid Pope, we are merely affirming something that is entirely compatible with God’s promises and therefore possible; and we do so in order not to affirm something that is incompatible with God’s promises and therefore impossible. The following meme expresses this in a simple illustration:

Morgan’s casual and flippant approach to the whole matter indicates that he thinks he can just toy around with Catholic theology like a child in a sandbox. In fact, that is exactly what he does when he says:

If we balk at sedevacantism, then St. Peter’s is still under the thrall of a man who is about as papabile as Big Bird. What do we do?

I propose here a new, hipper form of sedevacantism: sedevacationism. It’s like sedevacantism, only that it conceptually splits the pope from his pronouncements. Doing so allows us to cancel the papacy at whatever point the pope announces his firm and considered adherence to heresy. Once he does this, then, yes, he is still pope, but in permanent lame duck mode. Everything he says and does from the moment he affixes his seal to heresy is null and void, written on the wind, written on the running waves.

(Jason Morgan, “Sede-Vacationism”, The Remnant, Nov. 8, 2018; italics given.)

We are no strangers to satire and humor here and do not object to their use in principle. However, here the wit is used to make palatable to the unsuspecting reader a very serious error — indeed, a heresy. What Morgan smugly proposes as “Sedevacationism” is nothing but the denial of the dogma of Papal primacy.

The First Vatican Council defined dogmatically:

If anyone thus speaks, that the Roman Pontiff has only the office of inspection or direction, but not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church spread over the whole world; or, that he possesses only the more important parts, but not the whole plenitude of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate, or over the churches altogether and individually, and over the pastors and the faithful altogether and individually: let him be anathema.

(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 3; Denz. 1831)

Before Morgan, a few others in Church history had already had the glorious idea to say someone is Pope but not to act like it. Pope Pius IX had this to say about it:

What good is it to proclaim aloud the dogma of the supremacy of St. Peter and his successors? What good is it to repeat over and over declarations of faith in the Catholic Church and of obedience to the Apostolic See when actions give the lie to these fine words? Moreover, is not rebellion rendered all the more inexcusable by the fact that obedience is recognized as a duty? Again, does not the authority of the Holy See extend, as a sanction, to the measures which We have been obliged to take, or is it enough to be in communion of faith with this See without adding the submission of obedience, — a thing which cannot be maintained without damaging the Catholic Faith?

…In fact, Venerable Brothers and beloved Sons, it is a question of recognizing the power (of this See), even over your churches, not merely in what pertains to faith, but also in what concerns discipline. He who would deny this is a heretic; he who recognizes this and obstinately refuses to obey is worthy of anathema.

(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Quae in Patriarchatu [Sept. 1, 1876], nn. 23-24; in Acta Sanctae Sedis X [1877], pp. 3-37; English taken from Papal Teachings: The Church, nn. 433-434; underlining added.)

The same Pope had proclaimed in his encyclical letter Quanta Cura, n. 5:

Nor can we pass over in silence the audacity of those who, not enduring sound doctrine, contend that “without sin and without any sacrifice of the Catholic profession assent and obedience may be refused to those judgments and decrees of the Apostolic See, whose object is declared to concern the Church’s general good and her rights and discipline, so only it does not touch the dogmata of faith and morals.” But no one can be found not clearly and distinctly to see and understand how grievously this is opposed to the Catholic dogma of the full power given from God by Christ our Lord Himself to the Roman Pontiff of feeding, ruling and guiding the Universal Church.

Apparently Pius IX had failed to consider the Sede-vacation-ist scenario, in which we “conceptually split the pope from his pronouncements.” Like Nancy Pelosi or Fr. Richard McBrien maybe? This “allows us to cancel the papacy”, Morgan informs us, once the sheep have relegated the shepherd to “lame duck mode.”

Cancel the Papacy! Ladies and gentlemen, these are the people who claim that we sedevacantists cannot say that a manifest heretic like Francis is not the Pope — but they reserve to themselves the right to cancel the Papacy! Their obsessive-compulsive refusal to countenance Sedevacantism has driven them to the point of utter insanity, while thinking themselves brilliant in the process.

What Morgan proposes here is essentially the same thing Steve Skojec had proposed last year under the label “practical Sedevacantism.” You say Francis is Pope but act like he’s not. Another word for that would be hypocrisy but it doesn’t sound as hip.

It is also no different from what The Remnant put forward some years ago, the idea that it doesn’t matter if Francis is the Pope. But the only way it does not matter to you is if you do not submit to him either way, and that non-submission is the essence of schism. The Remnant‘s editor-in-chief Michael Matt and senior polemicist Christopher Ferrara are likewise on record saying that whether we call Francis a Pope or an Antipope is of no consequence because it is just a “label” (source; see 6:45-6:57 min mark).

Such absurdity shows quite vividly that there is indeed a veritable “Sedevacantophobia” out there — an irrational fear of Sedevacantism. Ask them about it directly, and they will vehemently deny it. But as is evident, Morgan’s proposal does not even pretend to be based on Catholic theology — he makes no attempt to document or justify his strange new doctrine. Rather, his approach is entirely pragmatic: “Whatever floats your boat.” And the boat that needs to be floated consists of the following two ideas, neither of which is negotiable for him:

  1. Francis is a heretic.
  2. Francis is Pope. (=Sedevacantism is false.)

The first of these is so obvious at this point that Morgan is not able or willing to deny it. He could not take himself seriously if he did, and so he has no choice but to concede: The “Pope” is not a Catholic. However, the second of these is, if you will, Morgan’s revenge for having to admit the first one. Fine, so Francis is a heretic, but that doesn’t mean he’s not the Pope. No matter what, Sedevacantism cannot be admitted.

Because Morgan refuses to countenance the possibility that either of these propositions might be false (especially not the second one), he has no choice but to come up with some kind of made-up theological construct, no matter how laughable or heretical. It is another manifestation of the stubborn “anything but Sedevacantism” stance, a favorite dogma among pseudo-trads. The result is a veritable Papa ex machina, a “Pope” whose ultimate purpose for existing is to allow his sheep to continue to oppose Sedevacantism. This is ad hoc theology at its finest.

After proposing such a ridiculous and scandalous thesis, Morgan smugly concludes: “Problem solved.” Solved? Sure, the same way that a doctor solves the problem of persistent headaches by cutting off the patient’s head.

But Morgan is not done clowning around just yet. Defying the Catholic truth that a valid Pope cannot be subjected to an ecclesiastical trial, the Remnant contributor suggests: “There could even be an ecclesiastical trial to establish, for all candid minds to review, the moment when Francis objectively fell into heresy.” It appears that he would be prepared to grant his “lame-duck Pope” some clemency, however, if he should amend his ways: “Whatever the proven date and time, from thence on, and until Francis relents and revokes all heretical statements, he is pope in name only.”

“Pope in name only” — a brilliant concept! Nary a heretic in Church history who wouldn’t like it! It is in essence the heretical “primacy of honor” condemned by Vatican I, according to which the Pope gets little more than a nice picture in the sacristy (or, in Morgan’s own words, he “gets to tool around in the popemobile” and “gets his picture on the cover of Time magazine”):

If anyone then says that the blessed Apostle Peter was not established by the Lord Christ as the chief of all the apostles, and the visible head of the whole militant Church, or, that the same received great honor but did not receive from the same our Lord Jesus Christ directly and immediately the primacy in true and proper jurisdiction: let him be anathema.

(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 1; Denz. 1823)

The best part of Morgan’s theological train wreck post, however, comes at the very end. Promoting his own Sede-vacation-ism as the orthodox and effective solution to the problem of Bergoglio, he denounces Sedevacantism as schismatic: “Sedevacantism is a recipe for out-and-out schism, ecclesial civil war. Sedevacationism lets us throw the division back onto its source, Bergoglio, saving the Church while muting the screeching sound of our ongoing papal train wreck.”

Some people cannot see the forest for the trees. It would have been good had Morgan bothered to look up the definition of schism first, because then he would have found out that it is his own position that meets that definition, not Sedevacantism. The canonical definition is 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, 1325 §2).

What does it mean to “refuse to be under” the Pope? Fr. Ignatius Szal explains:

To constitute the delict of schism in the strict sense, the following conditions are required:

1) One must withdraw directly (expressly) or indirectly (by means of one’s actions) from obedience to the Roman Pontiff, and separate oneself from ecclesiastical communion with the rest of the faithful, even though one does not join a separate schismatical sect;

2) one’s withdrawal must be made with obstinacy and rebellion;

3) the withdrawal must be made in relation to those things by which the unity of the Church is constituted; and

4) despite this formal disobedience the schismatic 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.

(Rev. Ignatius Szal, The Communication of Catholics with Schismatics [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1948], p. 2; underlining added.)

All four of these conditions are met by the Morgan proposal of “Sede-vacation-ism”:

  1. All obedience is refused: “Everything he says and does from the moment he affixes his seal to heresy is null and void, written on the wind, written on the running waves. …[H]e is theological and pontifical toast. Nothing he says, signs, or decrees has any weight with any practicing Catholic. In fact, to listen to a man who is both a heretic and a pope is blasphemy…”
  2. The clear intent is to stubbornly resist the recognized authority, so much so that “…he is pope in name only” and can even be subjected to an ecclesiastical trial
  3. We are not talking about resisting the “Pope” in his role as temporal ruler of Vatican City or the (now defunct) Papal States but, putatively, as the Teacher, ruler, and sanctifier of all Christians in the Universal Church.
  4. Morgan’s Sede-vacation-ist distinguishes himself from the sedevacantist precisely by insisting that a lame-duck Francis is still the legitimate Pope of the Church, claiming that obedience is due him in principle but is being refused in practice. (And if he denies that such obedience is due, he is a heretic.)

In short, Morgan’s oh-so Catholic solution is a textbook example of schism.

By contrast, the sedevacantist stance is quite different, and its orthodoxy is easy to recognize: We sedevacantists refuse submission to Jorge Bergoglio because we are convinced he is not the Pope. No matter how mistaken someone may think that to be, the position is entirely consistent with Catholic teaching on submission to the Pope. If we believed Francis to be the Pope, we would submit to him. That is not schism. At worst, it is making a mistake about who the Pope is. But Morgan’s idea is precisely schismatic because it insists on recognizing someone as Pope and then refusing him submission: “…he is theological and pontifical toast. Nothing he says, signs, or decrees has any weight with any practicing Catholic”, the Remnant writer says.

It is not surprising that Morgan’s proposal involves a denial of dogma because, as Pope Pius IX reminded the faithful, “every schism fabricates a heresy for itself to justify its withdrawal from the Church” (Encyclical Quartus Supra, n. 13).

The idea of a papacy-without-consequences has long tickled the ears of the recognize-and-resist traditionalists. It’s the best of both worlds: You don’t have to put up with any of those pesky problems encountered by a vacant Holy See (now what? who will elect the next Pope? who has jurisdiction? where can I get a decision on whether my marriage is valid? how do I know which priest is ordained properly?), and yet you can reject from your “heretical pope” whatever isn’t Catholic enough for you (altar girls, New “Mass”, luminous Rosary mysteries, ecumenism of blood, Assisi interfaith prayer, World Youth Day) — all the while, of course, nevertheless being free to retain whatever you may need to “float your boat” (my priest is valid! my first marriage was not! Lenten fast is optional! Divine Mercy devotion is great!). Able to feast on such a lavish smorgasboard at the banquet of resistance traditionalism, who would want to settle for the strict diet offered by Sedevacantism?!

In fine, we must congratulate The Remnant. In their blind enthusiasm to shoot down Sedevacantism, they have promoted both heresy and schism. In their persistent desire to brand Sedevacantism as schismatic, they have totally missed the essence of schism and ironically put forth as a possible orthodox alternative a position that is itself genuinely schismatic. In their search for schism, they have missed the forest for the trees.

Image sources: istockphoto.com / internet meme (modified)
License: Paid / fair use