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No, he’s not a Sedevacantist…

Vaticanist Aldo Maria Valli: “Rome is without a Pope”

(image credit for Francis silhouette shot: REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo)

Aldo Maria Valli is a conservative Novus Ordo Italian journalist specializing in the affairs of the Vatican. He has authored a great many books, including Il Caso ViganòLe Due Chiese, and 266: Jorge Mario Bergoglio Franciscus P.P.

Valli publishes the blog Duc in Altum, mostly in Italian. Although he has been critical of Jorge Bergoglio (“Pope Francis”) for a few years now, it was not until Feb. 21, 2021, that he released the following monograph in English (the Italian original came a day earlier):

Although the title sounds so promising, Valli’s post is not a manifesto of Sedevacantism. Anyone who suspected otherwise is quickly disabused of the illusion, for in the very second paragraph the author explains what he means: “The pope, although physically present, in reality is not there, because he does not do what the pope does. He is there, but he does not perform his duty as successor of Peter and vicar of Christ. There is Jorge Mario Bergoglio; there is not Peter.”

This is surely a curious thesis, but in the Roman Catholic religion, that’s not how it works. Certainly, it is true that a Pope can neglect his duties, but it’s not like Bergoglio is simply twiddling his thumbs all day, enjoying plates of ravioli and bottles of Chianti instead of teaching and governing. If only he were doing that! No, the problem is that Francis very much exercises his putative office all the time, and — since he’s an apostate — the results are disastrous for his entire church. Valli himself confirms it:

Who is the pope? The definitions, depending on whether one wants to highlight the historical, theological, or pastoral aspect, may be different. But, essentially, the pope is the successor of Peter. And what tasks were assigned by Jesus to the apostle Peter? One the one hand, “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21:17); on the other hand, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19).

This is what a pope should do. But today, there is no one who carries out this task. “And you, once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers in the faith” (Lk 22:32). So says Jesus to Peter. But today Peter does not shepherd his sheep and he does not strengthen them in the faith. Why? Someone answers: Because Bergoglio does not speak about God, only about migrants, ecology, the economy, and social questions. But this is not so. Actually, Bergoglio does speak about God, but what emerges from the whole of his preaching is a God who is not the God of the Bible but an adulterated God, a God, I would say, who is weakened, or better still, adapted. Adapted to what? To man and his demand to be justified in living as if sin did not exist.

(Aldo M. Valli, “Rome is without a pope. Roma senza papa, anche in inglese”, Duc in Altum, Feb. 21, 2021; underlining added.)

The problem, then, is not that Francis doesn’t teach anything, but that he teaches serious error (sometimes rising to the level of heresy) in his magisterium. It is not merely a negative problem, then, a problem of inaction, but a problem of positive wrongdoing.

Valli says that teaching the truth and governing the Church “is what a pope should do” (emphasis added) when exercising his office. The Catholic doctrine, however, is that it is what a Pope actually does, regardless of his personal unworthiness:

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.

(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Nostis et Nobiscum, n. 16)

In fact, only a miracle of that divine power could preserve the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, from blemish in the holiness of Her doctrine, law, and end in the midst of the flood of corruption and lapses of her members. Her doctrine, law and end have produced an abundant harvest. The faith and holiness of her children have brought forth the most salutary fruits. Here is another proof of her divine life: in spite of a great number of pernicious opinions and great variety of errors (as well as the vast army of rebels) the Church remains immutable and constant, “as the pillar and foundation of truth”, in professing one identical doctrine, in receiving the same Sacraments, in her divine constitution, government, and morality….

(Pope St. Pius X, Encyclical Editae Saepe, n. 8)

They [the Modernists] will learn many excellent things from such a great teacher [as Cardinal John Henry Newman]: in the first place, to regard the Magisterium of the Church as sacred, to defend the doctrine handed down inviolately by the Fathers and, what is of highest importance to the safeguarding of Catholic truth, to follow and obey the Successor of St. Peter with the greatest faith.

(Pope St. Pius X, Apostolic Letter Tuum Illud)

We must also draw attention to a very important passage found in the teaching of the First Vatican Council (1870) regarding the role the Holy Ghost plays in protecting the Papacy:

For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles. Indeed, their apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this see of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Saviour to the prince of his disciples: I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren [Lk 22:32].

(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 4)

There are two ways to understand this passage — one is normative and the other is descriptive. Understood in a normative sense, Vatican I would be teaching that the Pope is not authorized by the Holy Ghost to teach new doctrines but nevertheless quite able to do so if he chooses to. Understood in a descriptive sense, the council is teaching that the Pope does not and never will teach new doctrines, precisely because the Holy Ghost prevents this from happening. Now which of these two ways of understanding Vatican I actually amounts to a protection for the papal office and a guarantee for the faithful that they will not be misled by the Pope’s teaching? The answer is obvious.

The surrounding context given in Chapter 4 of the council’s dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus, from which the quote is taken, establishes the prerogatives and uniqueness of the Papacy, protected by the Holy Ghost. What sort of divine protection would God be providing if the Pope were merely “not supposed to” invent new doctrines but nevertheless be quite capable of doing so? Wouldn’t that be tantamount to saying that God merely promised that the gates of hell were “not supposed to” prevail?

It is manifest that Vatican I teaches, not that the Pope ought not to teach new (or false) doctrine, but that he actually does not. That is the significance of the special assistance of the Holy Ghost for the Pope. Thus we can say that the council’s doctrine about the Holy Ghost’s assistance for the Pope is descriptive — it describes a truth about the Papacy — and not merely normative — establishing a norm the Pope is expected to follow but may fail to. The Holy Ghost acts a prioribefore the Pope does anything, by preventing him from teaching or legislating grave errors such as heresy — not a posteriori, by means of “resisters” (such as Peter Kwasniewski, John Salza, or the SSPXcorrecting his flawed magisterium after the fact.

Returning to Valli’s thesis, he notes that Francis “neglects … preaching the divine law and, in so doing, pointing out to human creatures, from the height of his supreme authority, the way that leads to salvation and eternal life.” Again, this is contradicted by traditional Church teaching: “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” (Pope Pius XII, Address Ancora Una Volta, Feb. 20, 1949).

Notice that Pius XII doesn’t say the Pope is supposed to be the messenger of truth and justice, but that he actually is; not that he is supposed to make charity and virtue loved, but that he actually does do so, precisely in the exercise of the Papacy (or “qua Pope”, as the philosopher would say). That’s because the Pope “is himself guided by Jesus Christ Our Lord” (Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Casti Connubii, n. 104).

Thus even the gravely scandalous Pope John XII (937-964), although personally very immoral, nevertheless taught truth and virtue to his flock as Pope:

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, trans. by Rev. Newton Thompson [St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1946], pp. 510-511)

Valli, however, prefers to cling to his own ideas. He peddles a Pope without the Papacy, a Pope who is “physically present” but “in reality not there”, whatever that is supposed to mean. Adding even greater confusion to his already mystifying thesis, the writer adds that “Bergoglio has become de facto the protagonist of a process of resignation from Peter’s duties.” He elaborates:

Bergoglio, who does not like to present himself as the successor of the prince of the Apostles, and who has put the title “Vicar of Christ” into the background in the Annuario Pontificio, implicitly separates himself from the authority that Our Lord has conferred on Peter and his successors. And this is not a mere canonical question. It is a reality whose consequences are very serious for the papacy.

(Valli, “Rome is without a pope”)

Now all this may seem great for a blogger to write, but theologically, it is a train wreck. And that’s a problem, especially when you’re doing it to criticize other people’s theology — that of the “Pope”, no less.

Notice that despite his daring thesis, Valli nevertheless treads a bit more carefully than one might think at first. He knows to hedge his bets by using adverbs such as “in reality”, “de facto”, and “implicitly” that limit his actual claims. But this won’t do to exonerate his thesis from being the theological nonsense that it is.

It is tragic, but it apparently did not occur to Aldo Valli that the entire explanation for how and why “there is Jorge Mario Bergoglio” in Rome but “there is not Peter” lies in the fact that Bergoglio simply is not the Pope. Now that would explain it, wouldn’t it?

In any case, Valli’s approach is a posteriori: He arrives at his conclusion that Francis is a Pope-not-exercising-his-office, not from observing whether he is (or isn’t) acting as the (putative) head of the Catholic Church in his role of governing, teaching, and sanctifying, but from considering the content Francis produces in that role. It is only because he finds the content pernicious, flawed, or heretical that he ascribes it to having come from a Pope who was not doing what a Pope is supposed to do. The only reasonable and correct answer, by contrast, would have been to conclude that it came from someone who is not Pope.

Another high-profile individual who is similarly confused is “Cardinal” Robert Sarah, whose resignation as head of the Congregation for Divine Worship Francis has recently accepted. The other day Sarah tweeted: “The only rock is Christ” — while nevertheless calling Francis “Pope” in the very same tweet. He must have missed Pope Pius VII’s teaching that “the Church [was] founded on Peter, ‘Rock,’ not merely in name but in truth. Against this ‘the gates of hell will not prevail’ [Mt 16:18] ‘for it is founded on a rock’ [Mt 7:25; Lk 6:48]” (Encyclical Diu Satis, n. 6). Valli should remember this as well!

The problem is that for so many Novus Ordos who try to square Catholicism with the Vatican II religion, the title “Pope” has become a mere label. And no wonder, considering the apostates these people accept as valid Popes!

Back in 2016, Michael Matt and Christopher Ferrara at The Remnant seriously claimed that it doesn’t matter if you “apply the label” Pope or Antipope to Francis — something they could say only because they do not believe in the reality behind the “label”. For that reason it does not surprise that two years earlier The Remnant had already published an article arguing that it doesn’t matter if Francis is a true Pope or not. And yet these people refer to themselves as a “remnant” of Catholicism — clearly just a label, and misapplied to boot!

Refusing to embrace Sedevacantism has very serious theological consequences, for one simply cannot accept Francis and his predecessors of unhappy memory as Pope and still believe in the Papacy. One will either abandon the fake popes or else jettison the Catholic teaching on the Papacy. Alas, as we have seen, many are more willing to give up the Papacy altogether than their mistaken belief that Francis is the Pope — a frightfully sobering thought.

As we have lamented so many times before, people will embrace just about any theory before they even think about touching Sedevacantism. With good reason did the late Fr. Anthony Cekada once ask why people have such an irrational fear of the “sede” position.

Alas, Aldo Maria Valli is no exception.

Image sources: composite with elements from facebook.com and alamy.com (REUTERS) / shutterstock.com
Licenses: fair use and rights-managed / paid

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