Assessing where the true spiritual danger lies…
On those ‘Spiritual Dangers’ of Sedevacantism:
A Reply to Eric Sammons
It is evident that, as of late, Sedevacantism has been on the minds of many “semi-traditionalists” (our moniker for those who take a “recognize-the-Pope-as-valid-but-resist-his-bad-teachings-and-laws” approach to the current situation), and it is easy to see why. Sedevacantism is the elephant in the room that is staring everyone in the face, while the “Francis papacy” forces the old recognize-and-resist narrative to collapse like a house of cards under the weight of its own ever more obvious absurdity.
Thus it is not surprising that we have recently seen a truckload of anti-sedevacantist material being pumped out on various semi-trad web sites, among which is an article by Eric Sammons that warns readers to beware of the “spiritual dangers” that are supposedly found in Sedevacantism:
- The Spiritual Dangers of Sedevacantism (Eric Sammons / Crisis Magazine)
Frequent readers of this blog may remember that we have vehemently criticized Sammons in the past, taking him to task for his truly appalling theology:
- Is Francis the Pope? A Devastating Refutation of Eric Sammons
- Deadly Defection: New Book by Eric Sammons claims Catholic Church has “lost her Mission”
- No, Catholics Can’t “Recognize and Resist”: Response to One Peter Five
Sammons, a convert from the United Methodist religion, notes on his personal web site: “…I have been studying Catholic teaching for more than 25 years and hold a Master’s degree in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville.” An advanced degree from the notorious “conservative” Novus Ordo university in Steubenville and the further study of such theology would explain why he has consistently shown himself to be thoroughly underwhelming when it comes to discussing real Catholicism and the traditionalist controversies of our day.
Unfortunately, that has not kept him from being promoted to the positions of editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine and executive director of Crisis Publications, nor has it prevented him from writing a book called Deadly Indifference: How the Church Lost Her Mission and How We Can Reclaim It. (Yes, Sammons believes the Catholic Church can lose her divine commission! More on that later.)
The tragic effect is that the former Methodist and Steubenville graduate now has considerable influence over good-willed souls who are looking for traditional Catholic guidance in their efforts to figure out this mess so they can be authentic Roman Catholics. Sammons is like the blind leading the blind (cf. Mt 15:14), offering his readers a deadly mix of pernicious errors instead of the sound truth of Catholic doctrine as found in the papal magisterium and approved theological works from the time of Pope Pius XII (d. 1958) and his predecessors.
His latest article is no different, and we must therefore analyze it critically so people can determine for themselves just which side is promoting “spiritual dangers”.
The author begins as follows:
It’s been noted by many people that Catholicism in real life often bears little resemblance to Catholicism online. If, for example, you went to a typical Catholic parish and took a poll asking, “Is Francis the pope?” you’d likely get a 100% positive response (as well as a few odd looks). Yet if you spend even a little time interacting with Catholics on social media (particularly on Twitter), it won’t be long before you encounter someone insisting that “Jorge Bergoglio isn’t really the pope.”
While this view might sound crazy to the average Catholic, it’s at least somewhat understandable to those who are paying attention to the crisis in the Church today. The troublesome pontificate of Francis leaves Catholics with a few uncomfortable options. Some Catholics act as if nothing is wrong, refusing to acknowledge the painful truth that Francis [is] not doing a good job as pope. Others rightly recognize that sometimes the Church has bad popes, and this unfortunately happens to be one of those times. But a small (and growing) group of Catholics [!] deny Francis is the pope, deciding this solves the problem of a bad pope. While that third option might be tempting, it’s incredibly dangerous to the soul.
(Eric Sammons, “The Spiritual Dangers of Sedevacantism”, Crisis, July 12, 2022; bold print given; underlining added.)
There is no milder way to say it: This is simply atrocious.
First, isn’t it obvious that people who attend the local Novus Ordo parish and therefore adhere to the religion of which Francis is the head, would also answer the question whether Francis is the Pope affirmatively? Sammons might as well argue that even though there are many vegetarians and vegans online, he has never encountered one at Burger King. How strange!
Next, it is hard to accept that after all that has transpired in recent years, Sammons is still arguing on the level of “Francis is not doing a good job as pope.” If that is his understanding of what is happening, he has no business instructing the world about Catholic matters. He might as well say that the head of Planned Parenthood is a mediocre pediatrician.
Then Sammons beats the deadest of dead horses by regurgitating the “bad pope” argument once again, totally ignoring the essential difference between Popes who lead immoral lives (e.g., drunkards, thieves, fornicators, murderers, etc.) and putative Popes who do not profess Catholicism but impose a false religion on the faithful. Failing to acknowledge the crucial difference between these two essentially distinct concepts reflects very poorly on the author, either in terms of competence (if he doesn’t know something so fundamental) or personal integrity (if he does know but ignores it because it contradicts his position).
Sammons effectively introduces the narrative of the Sedevacantist who takes the easy way out: Can’t deal with a bad Pope? Just say he isn’t the Pope — problem solved! Such a gross caricature of the Sedevacantist position has no place in a serious discussion among adults.
Next, the former Methodist clarifies the purpose of his article:
In this article I do not not intend to refute sedevacantism or its cousin Benepapism [the idea that Benedict XVI is “still” Pope]. Such refutations can be found elsewhere. My intention is to point out how spiritually dangerous these positions are. I liken these views to a man who enters a kitchen and sees the oven is clearly set to 450 degrees. But he tells himself, “I didn’t see anyone set the oven and I don’t believe it is really at 450 degrees.” So he reaches into the oven and grabs the pot without using oven mitts. Sure, it’s theoretically possible the oven indicator was incorrect and the oven wasn’t really on. But it’s far more likely that he’ll be burned.
So that is the level at which Sammons wants to discuss the matter: fallacious rhetoric rather than sound argumentation drawn from Sacred Theology. As there is nothing of substance to refute in the above paragraph, we will simply move on and consider what he writes next:
Why is rejecting that Francis is pope so dangerous? Because at its root it is diametrically opposed to the fundamentals of Catholicism. It is essentially a Gnostic position, a belief that a few souls have discovered a special knowledge (“Gnosis” is Greek for “knowledge”) that most Catholics do not have.
It is interesting that Sammons touts firm acceptance of Bergoglio’s claim to being the Pope as belonging to the “fundamentals of Catholicism”, while curiously showing no such concern for adherence to the teaching on the Papacy, which is truly fundamental to Catholicism, and which, if he “stud[ied] Catholic teaching for more than 25 years”, he should have come across at some point.
Then comes the charge of “Gnosticism”, a popular one among those who do not wish to bother with the actual Catholic doctrines on the Church and the Papacy. No doubt, rejecting the idea that a blaspheming apostate who teaches heresy and other errors, promulgates harmful disciplinary laws, and scandalously declares grave public sinners to be saints who ought to be venerated by the whole Church, could be the Vicar of Christ, must be a manifestation of the heresy of Gnosticism! One can only surmise what the Steubenvillain must think of his readers’ intelligence.
Notice that Sammons does not merely argue that there is an aspect of Sedevacantism that seems to resemble an aspect of Gnosticism. Rather, he says much more than that, for he asserts that Sedevacantism “is essentially a Gnostic position”! Is that so? Of course not!
The Catholic Encyclopedia gives the following “more complete and historical definition of Gnosticism”:
A collective name for a large number of greatly-varying and pantheistic-idealistic sects, which flourished from some time before the Christian Era down to the fifth century, and which, while borrowing the phraseology and some of the tenets of the chief religions of the day, and especially of Christianity, held matter to be a deterioration of spirit, and the whole universe a depravation of the Deity, and taught the ultimate end of all being to be the overcoming of the grossness of matter and the return to the Parent-Spirit, which return they held to be inaugurated and facilitated by the appearance of some God-sent Saviour.
(Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Gnosticism”)
How does Sedevacantism resemble Gnosticism in essence?! It doesn’t.
The essence of Sedevacantism is, of course, Catholicism, just as Ultramontanism is. It is simply the religion of Pope Pius XII, even if we cannot make complete sense of everything that has transpired and we find ourselves in a kind of holding pattern, so to speak, waiting to see how God will act to put this highly abnormal situation to an end. When traditional Catholic principles are applied to the apostate circus we see in Vatican City today, the result is what we call Sedevacantism. Of course one could call it something else, such as “Interregnumism” or “Catholicism while usurpers reign in Rome”. What matters is not so much what we call it, but what it is.
And it is not Gnosticism.
But what about Sammons’ charge that Sedevacantism is “a belief that a few souls have discovered a special knowledge … that most Catholics do not have”? If by that he means that Sedevacantists have discovered Catholicism when most others who think they’re Catholics have not discovered it (often without any fault of theirs), then that may be true… but it is hardly Gnosticism! If anything, it is a testimony to the apostasy of our times.
To accuse Sedevacantism of making use of, or promoting, secret knowledge is grossly unfair. It is precisely the public doctrines of Catholicism — the ones taught and believed until the death of Pope Pius XII, which are still accessible to anyone who bothers to look them up — which prove the Vatican II religion to be a fraud, a veritable “counterfeit Catholicism”. Here at Novus Ordo Watch, we put a heavy emphasis on providing source documentation for theological claims made so that people can see and verify for themselves what the traditional Catholic teaching is. We want to stress very much that we are not talking about a secret, special, or elitist knowledge of anything. It is all out in the open and included in the catechisms for all; people only need to look it up! Novus Ordo Watch is merely trying to help.
Upon closer examination, it quickly becomes clear how shallow of an argument Sammons is making. It is also hypocritical, for of course his own recognize-and-resist position entails that only he and those who share his beliefs have gotten Catholicism right, whereas everyone else, including the Vatican hierarchy and virtually every diocese in the world, got it wrong. In fact, according to Sammons, the Church has “lost her mission” but “can reclaim it” via the special inside knowledge (by his standards) that he publishes to the world on such web sites as Crisis and One Peter Five.
It is often overlooked that although there exists a considerable number of semi-traditionalists, especially when compared to us Sedevacantists, nevertheless they are a tiny group when compared with the rest of the 1,200,000,000 “Catholics” in the world who recognize Francis as the legitimate Roman Pontiff and have no interest in the recognize-and-resist program of Sammons & Co.
By the way: By the former Methodist’s logic, could one not also accuse the Early Church herself of a certain “Gnosticism”, insofar as she consisted of but a small number of people who held the true doctrine, a doctrine not (yet) widely known? What an absurd thought!
Let us continue with what Sammons says:
A core truth of Catholicism is that it is a visible, physical religion. We believe that revelation is public—that anyone and everyone can know who God is because He has revealed Himself, and His plan of salvation, to the whole world. We believe that God became man, a physical being, in order to save us. We believe that the primary means of receiving grace is through physical objects—the Sacraments. We believe that the Church is visible, that we can see her hierarchy and so can know the men—the bishops and popes—who God has put in authority over the Church.
Indeed, we Sedevacantists believe that the Roman Catholic Church is a divinely-established institution that is essentially visible and can be identified by four marks: She is one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. These and other characteristics identify her as the one and only Church founded by Jesus Christ. This Church is indefectible and will remain in her essential constitution until the end of time.
Precisely how all of that can be reconciled with what we have witnessed since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958 is a secondary question; the most important thing is that it is believed and professed. The following links may prove helpful in sorting things out:
- Apostolic Succession after Pope Pius XII: Where is the Catholic Hierarchy?
- The Visible Unity of the Church (in three parts)
- Saint Augustine: “The Church Will Not Appear” during Great Tribulation before Christ’s Return
- Pre-Vatican II Theologian: Catholicity of Church “Very Restricted” during Great Apostasy
In any case, there is an essential aspect that Sammons has completely tuned out: The visible Catholic Church that is known to be the true Church by her four marks, is the indefectible Ark of Salvation that teaches one and the same Faith, governs the faithful united in one body submitted to one head, and sanctifies all with the same sacraments. In this manner she leads her flock safely to eternal happiness.
In fact, the reason why Christ made His Church visible to begin with is so that souls could more easily find it: “You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house” (Mt 5:14-15). But why would Christ want souls to find the Ark of Salvation if not to enter it and let themselves be brought safely to the harbor of eternal life by means of it? Why would our Blessed Lord want people to find “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15) if not so they would join it and allow themselves to be guided by her teachings, laws, and sacraments, so as to attain eternal beatitude thereby?
Sammons himself says that the Church’s visibility allows us to “know the men—the bishops and popes—who[m] God has put in authority over the Church.” But to what end, if not to submit ourselves to them and follow them? “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me” (Lk 10:16); “And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican” (Mt 18:17); “Obey your prelates, and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an account of your souls…” (Heb 13:17).
As if to forestall an objection from Eric Sammons, Popes Pius X and Pius XII made clear that the Church’s mission can never be carried out in opposition to her lawful hierarchy:
Do not let yourselves be deceived by the subtle declarations of others who do not cease to pretend that they wish to be with the Church, to love the Church, to fight for her so that she will not lose the masses, to work for the Church so that she will come to understand the times and so to win back the people and attach them to herself. Judge these men according to their works. If they maltreat and despise the ministers of the Church and even the Pope; if they try by every means to minimize their authority, to evade their direction, and to disregard their counsels; if they do not fear to raise the standard of rebellion, what Church are these men speaking about? Not, certainly, of that Church established super fundamentum Apostolorum et Prophetarum, ipso summo angulari lapide, Christo Jesus: “upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph 2:20). So We must have ever before our mind’s eye that counsel of St. Paul to the Galatians: “If we ourselves or if an angel should teach you any other Gospel than that which we have taught you, let him be anathema” (Gal 1:8).
(Pope St. Pius X, Allocution Con Vera Soddisfazione)
There can, then, be no real opposition or conflict between the invisible mission of the Holy Spirit and the juridical commission of Ruler and Teacher received from Christ, since they mutually complement and perfect each other — as do the body and soul in man — and proceed from our one Redeemer who not only said as He breathed on the Apostles “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” but also clearly commanded: “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you”; and again: “He that heareth you heareth me.”
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 65)
Harping on the visibility of an external ecclesial structure while completely disregarding the purpose for which that visible structure exists in the first place, makes no sense. What good is a visible Church that must be resisted lest one be led to hell by its teachings and laws? Visible apostasy helps no one but endangers everyone!
Likewise, Sammons emphasizes the importance of “knowing who the current pope is”, but to what end? In 1928, Pope Pius XI made clear that “in this one Church of Christ no man can be or remain who does not accept, recognize and obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors” (Encyclical Mortalium Animos, n. 11; underlining added). Does the Steubenville graduate concede that knowledge of the identity of the Pope is of tremendous importance so one can submit to him, seeing that “it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Pope Boniface VIII, Bull Unam Sanctam)? Of course not!
One may ask, therefore, just what spiritual benefit Sammons thinks he derives from “knowing” that Francis is Pope. Indeed, in a tweet of Feb. 2, 2022, Sammons seemed to acknowledge that these benefits were rather slim:
I see no reason to either popesplain or freak out about the pope's latest remarks. Almost every week he says something confusing, muddled, or even contrary to Catholic teaching.— Eric Sammons (@EricRSammons) February 2, 2022
It's sad, but that's the pope we have right now. Our duty is to be faithful to the Faith handed on.
This sounds more like there is a spiritual danger in accepting Francis as Pope than in rejecting his claim to the Papacy. But then perhaps Sammons believes that Christ gave us a visible Church so we would know what entity to resist.
In fact, with what he said in the above tweet, Sammons had already undermined the main thesis of his article on the “spiritual dangers” of Sedevacantism. Since, as he claims, “our duty is to be faithful to the Faith handed on”, regardless of what Francis says, he is actually embracing in practice the same thing Sedevacantists do: stick to the traditional Catholic Faith and disregard Bergoglio. (Steve Skojec, now tragically an apostate, once candidly called this “practical Sedevacantism”.)
So when Sammons does it, it’s the Catholic thing to do; but when Sedevacantists do it, it’s “spiritually dangerous” because we, following Catholic principle consistently, hold that he who professes and teaches a false religion cannot be the head of the true religion, and therefore his teaching can and must be disregarded. (Please pardon the grave spiritual danger!)
As far as being faithful to the Faith handed on, Sammons can put his money where his mouth is by accepting that the Church was established by God to serve as the infallible Teacher, Ruler, and Sanctifier of mankind for all time, and there are consequences to that:
For both the juridical mission of the Church, and the power to teach, govern and administer the Sacraments, derive their supernatural efficacy and force of the building up of the body of Christ from the fact that Jesus Christ, hanging on the Cross, opened up to His Church the fountain of those divine gifts, which prevent her from ever teaching false doctrine and enable her to rule them for the salvation of their souls through divinely enlightened pastors and to bestow on them an abundance of heavenly graces.
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 31; underlining added.)
It is no accident, and no mere slogan, that the Church is called the Mystical Body of Christ, for that is what she truly is. In his magnificent encyclical on the topic, Pope Pius XII notes that “the unbroken tradition of the Fathers from the earliest times teaches that the Divine Redeemer and the Society which is His Body form but one mystical person, that is to say, to quote Augustine, the whole Christ” (Mystici Corporis, n. 67). In this Mystical Person, “Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head…” (n. 40).
Just as our Blessed Lord became incarnate in order to redeem and save men so as to repair the outraged glory of His Father, so the essential purpose for the existence of the Catholic Church is the salvation of souls and the glory of God. If the Church were no longer able to attain that twofold end, she would have failed in her essential mission and be no better than salt that has lost its flavor: “It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men” (Mt 5:13). Then it could not, however, be the true Church of Christ, for the Church founded by Christ will necessarily accomplish the end for which He, the true God, established her.
In light of this, is it not all the more remarkable that it is precisely this failure of the Church in her essential mission that Eric Sammons affirms in his book Deadly Indifference? That is heresy! (Talk about spiritual dangers!)
Returning now to Sammons’ article, he writes that “those who have the authority to determine who is the pope [are] the bishops.” Unfortunately, he does not back up this claim with any evidence, so we will refute this gratuitous assertion simply by dismissing it just as gratuitously.
Today’s sedevacantist and Benepapist position argues that every single active Catholic bishop is wrong about who is pope. Instead of pointing to the bishops, and particularly the bishop of Rome, as a visible means of refuting the “hidden knowledge” of the Gnostics, as St. Irenaeus did, today’s sedevacantists/Benepapists declare their “hidden knowledge” that we cannot trust the bishops to know the identity of the true bishop of Rome.
This argument assumes, of course, that the Modernists in bishops’ costumes who recognize Francis as Pope are in fact the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. However, even if that were so, we see once again the accusation of “hidden knowledge” we supposedly claim to have. It has nothing to do with a secret knowledge, however, it has to do with applying Catholic teaching to Bergoglio’s claim to being the Pope. To say that the Catholic Faith is true, and that there are consequences to its being true, is not the same thing as claiming hidden knowledge.
If Francis is the Pope, then it is necessarily true that what the Catholic Church teaches about the Papacy applies to him. Since the Church teaches that the Pope has the divine assistance to keep him from leading the whole Church astray, we must necessarily see that assistance operating in Francis’ magisterium and other official acts. But is that what we find? No, it is not. We see the opposite, which is what Sammons & Co. are busy “resisting” the whole time.
As noted in the beginning, Sammons is the editor-in-chief of Crisis, which has morphed in recent years from being a conservative Novus Ordo site to being a recognize-and-resist publication. He is also a contributor to One Peter Five, a veritable beacon of semi-traditionalism. It is just a bit unconvincing, therefore, for him to write: “As Catholics, we know the truth through public revelation, which is given to us through His visible Church. We don’t know it by spending 60 hours pouring over YouTube videos and Catholic blogs.” Isn’t he himself neck-deep in precisely that world of blog posts, videos, and podcasts instructing good-willed but confused souls in what they ought to reject from the Novus Ordo magisterium?
The Steubenvillain continues: “Even if one is rightly troubled by the pontificate of Francis, individual Catholic[s] cannot decide he’s not the true pope. That’s just not how the Church works.” So apparently people like him can decide what teachings to accept and reject from the papal magisterium, and they can even decide that the Catholic Church has lost her divine mission altogether. The only thing they can’t do, without exposing themselves to grave “spiritual dangers”, is draw the logically necessary conclusion that a man who per Catholic doctrine cannot be Pope, is not Pope. So that must be how the Church works then — got it.
Now, Sammons does offer some hope and consolation to his readers, though: “A future pope or council may possibly one day nullify and/or condemn the pontificate of Francis. If, however, you make that decision on your own right now in opposition to all the bishops of the world, then you place yourself above—and outside—Christ’s visible Church.”
This is another serving of the old “authority” argument: You don’t have the authority to say Francis is not the Pope! Very well, but if we’re going to make it a matter of exercising authority, rather than of simply discerning facts, then by the same token we must affirm that we likewise do not have the authority to reject Bergoglio’s teachings, his laws, his saints, or his liturgical rites either. It is an all-or-nothing matter. If the twisted Modernist Bergoglio is Catholic enough to be Pope, then he is Catholic enough to be followed. You cannot separate the Pope’s authority to teach from the faithful’s obligation of accepting that teaching.
That is why St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church, taught:
The Pope is the Teacher and Shepherd of the whole Church, thus, the whole Church is so bound to hear and follow him that if he would err, the whole Church would err.
Now our adversaries respond that the Church ought to hear him so long as he teaches correctly, for God must be heard more than men.
On the other hand, who will judge whether the Pope has taught rightly or not? For it is not for the sheep to judge whether the shepherd wanders off, not even and especially in those matters which are truly doubtful. Nor do Christian sheep have any greater judge or teacher to whom they might have recourse. As we showed above, from the whole Church one can appeal to the Pope yet, from him no one is able to appeal; therefore necessarily the whole Church will err if the Pontiff would err.
(St. Robert Bellarmine, On the Roman Pontiff, Book IV, Chapter 3; Grant translation, p. 160.)
This ties in with what we said earlier, namely, that the purpose for knowing who the Pope is, is so that we can receive his teaching and allow ourselves to be governed by him. For per Catholic doctrine, we are assured of being loyal to Christ by being loyal to the Pope; for “by God’s commandment salvation is to be found nowhere but in the Church; the strong and effective instrument of salvation is none other than the Roman Pontificate” (Pope Leo XIII, Allocution of Feb. 20, 1903; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 653). That is the idea behind the visible institution of the Papacy.
So, this is curious: Sammons is happy to consider that perhaps a future Pope will one day overturn Francis’ reign of error and declare him to have been a false pope, but he insists that we are not allowed to arrive at the same conclusion before such an authoritative judgment. At the same time, he does not make that same argument for accepting or rejecting the Bergoglian magisterium. To be consistent, he would have to say that although a future Pope may one day retract Francis’ teachings, until that day comes we must give our loyal assent to everything he teaches. Of course Sammons would never take that position. Why not? Precisely because he knows that assenting to Francis’ magisterium constitutes — drum roll, please — a grave spiritual danger. How ironic!
Next, claiming that Sedevacantism is a “spiritual dead end”, Sammons asks:
For where does sedevacantism/Benepapism lead? How will the papacy issue ever be resolved? How will the Church ever elect a legitimate pope, if every single papal elector is wrong about the current occupant of the Chair of St. Peter (and many, if not all, of them were appointed by an “invalid” pope)? Waiting for a miraculous divine intervention—one that works outside of how God Himself set up the hierarchical Church—is dangerously close to the sin of presumption. In the end, both sedevacantism and Benepapism lead to a rejection of the Church and the formation of a man-made religion.
Considering that Sammons believes that the Catholic Church has lost her mission and that the Pope can lead the faithful to hell through his official magisterial and disciplinary acts, which must for that reason be rejected or resisted, it is not clear why he is so solicitous about ensuring the papal succession remains intact. Why does he care? What purpose does the Pope serve for him? If the Pope can lead the Church into error and away from salvation, even to the point of the Church losing her mission (!), then we don’t need a Pope. In fact, the Church would then be much better off without one.
Let’s be honest: Nobody knows precisely how we will get out of the horrific mess we’ve been in since the death of Pope Pius XII. What we do know is that we must firmly believe and profess the true Catholic Faith, and that includes the dogmatic teaching that submission of mind and will is owed to every lawful successor of St. Peter under pain of eternal damnation. Meanwhile, different ideas have been proposed as to how God will restore normalcy to His Church, most notably the Material-Formal Thesis that was first proposed in somewhat modified form by the Dominican theologian Bp. Michel-Louis Guerard des Lauriers, who was once confessor to Pope Pius XII.
Another thing we know for sure is that, although it is highly desirable to have a neat and clean “way out” of this mess, nothing is gained by accepting Francis as Pope verbally but then refusing him submission. That would be an incredibly “human” response because it treats the Catholic Church as if it were a merely human institution, as if it were not “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15) against which the gates of hell will not prevail (see Mt 16:18). It is the sort of natural “solution” one could apply to any human institution whose leadership goes off the rails: acknowledge their status as leaders for as long as they haven’t been removed from their positions, but try to thwart their actions. But that is not, to borrow Sammons’ vocabulary for a moment, how the Church works, for the Catholic Church is a supernatural edifice who “draws her strength from God, not from man” (Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Meminisse Iuvat, n. 24).
For people who do not truly believe in the Catholic Church, the idea of a defected-church-that-will-one-day-return-to-orthodoxy may have a certain appeal. To a genuine Catholic, however, it is pure sophistry. And so we are content to believe first and foremost (cf. Mk 5:36; Lk 14:31) and accept that we do not have all the answers. It is better not to have all the answers, or not all of them in perfect clarity or with complete certitude, than to have the wrong answers. Mystery leaves us hanging but is possible, whereas contradictions we know to be false.
Before we conclude, let us have a look at a tweet Eric Sammons posted on July 12, 2022, that is quite relevant to the topic at hand:
A former Mormon emailed me a perceptive insight:— Eric Sammons (@EricRSammons) July 12, 2022
Sedevacantists can be like Mormons. They believe there was a Great Apostasy (1958/2013 vs. the early church) and they often claim that if you just look at the evidence (sede websites/videos vs. Book of Mormon) you'll be convinced.
So Sammons is impressed by this “perceptive insight” from an ex-Mormon. But why? Is he not aware that it is part of the Catholic Faith, indeed of Divine Revelation, that a great falling away from the Faith — typically called the “Great Apostasy” — must occur before Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead? This is taught not only in Holy Scripture (see 2 Thess 2:3-4; Lk 18:8), Sacred Tradition, and the traditional Roman Catechism (Creed, Article VII) — it is taught even in the official Novus Ordo catechism! Take a look:
Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.
(Novus Ordo Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 675)
Before long, Taylor Marshall (author of Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church from Within, for those who still don’t know) chimed in on Sammons’ tweet, not disagreeing but elaborating:
Marshall should have reminded Sammons that he talks about apostasy in connection with Our Lady of La Salette in Chapter 3 of his book Infiltration and writes in Chapter 15: “The full Third Secret [of Fatima] describes the great apostasy in the Church” (p. 125). Did they not talk about that in their May 7, 2021 video broadcast “The Crisis in the Church and How to Respond”?
As far as the idea of a “restorer” who brings back the true Church, which Sedevacantists allegedly have in common with Protestants and Mormons, Marshall must have forgotten that it is the semi-traditionalists like himself and Sammons who are constantly looking to a restorer of some kind — not to bring back the true Church after a gap in existence, but rather to rehabilitate the “true but defected” church after a gap in orthodoxy.
At the very least, the semi-trads wish for a leader they can look to as an interim guiding light of orthodoxy; in other words, someone who can serve as their substitute-Pope, so to speak, while they treat their “real” Roman Pontiff as a mere figurehead who is good enough to guarantee visibility but not orthodoxy (without which visibility is pointless). Nevertheless, this figurehead — the late Fr. Anthony Cekada called him a “cardboard pope” because he was obviously being used for display purposes only — must be accepted as Pope, else one runs the risk of eternal damnation. Curiously, that same motive is the reason why one must also, according to these theological masterminds, accept this Pope only verbally and in practice resist him by refusing him submission, lest he lead one to hell with the heresies, blasphemies, and other errors he promulgates in his official magisterial documents.
For display purposes only? This cardboard version of Francis at least doesn’t continually spout heresy and blasphemy.
(image: Shutterstock / Audrey Saracco; cropped)
Typical candidates for the great “restorer” role in recognize-and-resist traditionalism have been Abp. Marcel Lefebvre (d. 1991), first and foremost, but more recently also “Abp.” Carlo Viganò, “Bp.” Athanasius Schneider, the Rev. Nicholas Gruner (d. 2015). Formerly, paper tiger “Cardinal” Raymond Burke was also on that list, but since his much-touted “formal correction” of Francis never materialized, practically everyone has given up on him.
Ironically, in an article of June 14, 2022, none other than Eric Sammons happily embraced the label of “restorer”, which Francis had just slapped on the traditionalists who reject Vatican II — not, of course, in the sense of leading a restoration, but nevertheless as a player in restoring the Catholicism the Church supposedly lost.
So these are the people who warn others of the “spiritual dangers of Sedevacantism”. How amusing!
We must always remember that Sedevacantism, the position that there has been no (known) true Pope of the Catholic Church since the death of Pius XII in 1958, and that consequently the current Vatican establishment is not the Catholic Church, is entirely safe theologically. By adhering to it, one cannot be led into heresy, nor into schism, if one keeps the traditional Catholic Faith. Even supposing, for the sake of argument, that the position were false, wherein would the danger lie? What could one be accused of doing wrong? The worst that could be said is that one was mistaken about who the Pope was. One believed, in good faith, that there was no Pope when in fact there was one. Fine — but at least one acted consistently and in accordance with Catholic teaching, to the best of one’s ability and in peace with one’s conscience. So at worst one could be accused of having made a sincere mistake, nothing more; a mistake regarding the identity of the true Pope, as many others did before in Church history, and quite innocently. That is the worst that could be said. One could not be accused of adhering to or spreading false doctrine (heresy), nor of refusing to be subject to the man one recognized as the Pope (schism).
One final consideration.
As is the case with most of the recognize-and-resist traditionalists, the only reason Eric Sammons can be so generous in granting Francis the claimed status of Pope is that he does not submit to him. It is easy to say someone is Pope if one does not admit all the consequences that follow from the Papacy.
If Sammons actually held the true Catholic teaching on the Papacy, he would be a Sedevacantist in a heartbeat, because then he would realize what submission to the Pope actually means and entails. On that matter, Pope Pius IX wrote:
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.
It is evident, then, in which of the two positions — recognize-and-resist traditionalism or Sedevacantism — the true spiritual dangers lie.
Title image source: composite with elements from Shutterstock (pathdoc and Ronnie Chua)