Sedevacantism: General Response

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We receive many inquiries into sedevacantist authors, websites and videos. What they all have in common is a belief that the current Pope, and usually several predecessors, are/were "anti-Popes." The arguments which conclude to sedevacantist claims are many, varied and complex.  There is no single thread that ties them all together except their conclusion that what most Catholics today believe to be the authentic Catholic Church is really a counterfeit.

We have chosen, deliberately, not to respond to each individual example, or argument, put forward by sedevacantists because, like quoting individual verses of Scripture, context is required to interpret them correctly. Sedevacantist claims and arguments require context to be refuted. Each individual example, each premise by itself, is a distraction from the larger context needed to remain faithful to the Church in the face of many undeniable problems.

Behind a facade of intense loyalty to the Magisterium and the Holy Father, sedevacantists separate themselves from the Vine and become, in practice, "protestants with sacraments."  Sedevacantists are demonstrably “catholic” but not Catholic.  For example, many adhere to the belief that all Popes since Pope Pius XII are "anti-Popes," or that Pope Gregory XVII was a true but suppressed Pope, and that now we have no true Pope. The current Bishop of Rome is an “anti-Pope,” a “false Pope.”  In externals and internal belief, sedevacantists are almost indistinguishable from Catholicism as it was experienced and practiced before the Second Vatican Council.  Because their clergy are, typically, validly ordained bishops and priests but separated from the visible Church, they are “protestants with sacraments.”

The sedevacantist heresy is the claim that the See of Peter is vacant and that we have no true and visible head of the Church.  The Catholic response is that to believe this is to believe that Our Lord's promise to be with His Church until the end of time and protect Her from conquest by the Gates of Hell was a lie.  Since Our Lord cannot lie, sedevacantist claims must be false.  If the conclusion to sedevacantist arguments is false, then the premises which support that conclusion must be deficient, i.e., unable to prove their conclusion.

What is most difficult when engaging sedevacantist arguments, and dangerous for the unprepared, is that, as with Protestantism, there is much that is true in sedevacantist presentations.  Many of the sedevacantist critiques of the current state of the Church are valid.  The Catholic Church, right now, is a very wounded Mystical Body of Christ.  Examples of this woundedness are legion.  However, within this collage of valid observations are intimations, allegations and apparent logical conclusions that, because they are impossible, cannot be true.  It is essential, therefore, to begin discussions with sedevacantists with the clear conviction that their conclusions are false.  Sedevacantist premises don’t really prove what they claim.  They can’t, because Our Lord is not a liar.

That so many good and intelligent Catholics have been seduced by sedevacantist arguments is proof that one should avoid exploring and engaging sedevacantist claims as the occasions of sin that they are.  To suspend one’s judgment in the interest of being open-minded and fair is to open a door to God’s enemy, who loves nothing more than to separate men from the Truth.  If an author, website or video is known to be sedevacantist, you should avoid them as you would avoid pornography.  It’s that dangerous.

Most people are familiar with the word "pornography" and its attendant dangers. One among many reasons that pornography is an "occasion of sin" is its ability to draw the mind into the world of evil. Pornography has the power to enter our minds through our senses and, thereby, to poison our thoughts. In a mind filled with the effects of pornography, sinful thoughts and actions are made easier. Our conscience is numbed. Our intelligence is compromised. Our feelings encourage us to sin.

Sites such as Most Holy Family Monastery are "spiritual pornography," having the same potential for sin as more carnal pornographic sites. Such sites fill the mind with thoughts that make it easier for us to doubt the visible Church, doubt the Holy Father, and to be disobedient to the authority of the Church in all things. If we have doubts about the authority of the Holy Father, it is easier to disobey him. If we have doubts about the legitimacy of the Holy Father, it is easier to disobey any and all Church authority, because all Church authority proceeds from the See of Peter: not only do we not need to obey the Pope, we don't need to obey priests and bishops.

There is, without question, a crisis in the Church today. But the Church is still the Church. Jesus was no less God when He was beaten, bruised and crucified. We live and move and have our being in a wounded Mystical Body of Christ. If we cannot depend on Jesus to be faithful to His promises to the Church, then upon what or whom can we depend?

We have gathered together several quotes from various writers on the issues of the indefectibility of the Church and the necessity that such an indefectible Church be visible. We encourage you to read them slowly and carefully, and then pray that God will renew and encourage your faith in His Church:

Michael Davies wrote a book, I Am With You Always: The Divine Constitution and Indefectibility of the Catholic Church, that is a powerful antidote to the temptation to give up on the Church.

In the "Foreword" to the book, Fr. John P. M. van der Ploeg, O. P., a Doctor and Master of Sacred Theology, responds to those who give up on the Church and cluster into "remnants" waiting for the "true Church" to reemerge:

If these people are correct it means that Our Lord Jesus Christ has abandoned His Church, more or less as the glory of God left the temple of Jerusalem according to the famous vision of the prophet Ezechiel (Ez. 10). But this is something which can never happen as it would contradict the solemn promise of Our Lord (Mt. 16:18). It is also impossible that Our Lord could abandon His Church as it would frustrate the very purpose for which the Church had been founded, to be God's instrument for the salvation of souls.

If Our Lord abandoned His Church the words: "He that heareth you heareth Me" would be true only for an exceedingly small group who consider themselves as the elect, which is always the most evident characteristic of a sect. Our Lord did not found a sect but the Catholic, that is, the universal Church.

Mr. Davies continues (p. 38):

The reference to the Church as a visible body ... is of crucial importance. Our Lord constituted His Church as a visible hierarchically governed body founded on the rock of Peter for whom He had prayed that his faith might not fail. ... It is incompatible with the profession of Catholicism to posit any form of the "true Church" separated from the Catholic hierarchy in communion with the Roman Pontiff. ... A person who refuses submission to the Supreme Pontiff or refuses communion with the members of the Church who are subject to him is schismatic.

The footnote to that last sentence points to The Code of Canon Law, article 1325 in the Old Code, article 751 in the New Code.

Mr. Davies continues (pp. 38-39):

The Church was instituted by Our Lord to guide her members effectively toward their supernatural end by continuing His own ministry. It must therefore be an essentially visible body. It must be visible by the members that compose it, by the authority which directs those members, and by the bonds which unite them with the divinely instituted authority. In his encyclical Satis cognitum, 1896, Pope Leo XIII noted the importance of the sacraments among the visible bonds uniting the members of the Mystical Body. Grace is produced in the souls of the faithful by exterior means consisting of sacraments administered with special rites, and celebrated by ministers specifically chosen for this function. Any sacramental rites authorized by the Roman Pontiff must be and are official sacramental rites of the Holy Catholic Church, and, when celebrated faithfully in accordance with the text and rubrics which he has approved, must of necessity give grace, be free from error, and contain nothing intrinsically harmful to the faith.

Furthermore, when we speak of the visibility of the Church, we do not simply mean that her members, her rites, and her ministry can be seen. What we mean is that these can be recognized to constitute the true Church of Christ; so that, in other words, we can point to a specific society and say of it: "This is Christ's Church." There is not, there never has been, and there never can be, any organized body not in communion with the Roman Pontiff of which that statement can be made. As the Second Vatican Council taught, the hierarchical society and the Mystical Body form one complex reality.

 We cannot encourage anyone more strongly to give up speculation about "true Popes" and "anti-Popes" and imprudent dependence on "private revelations" that should never be understood or interpreted apart from the authority and Magisterium of the Church.

Most Holy Family Monastery, and other sedevacantist sites, would probably judge Church Militant productions to be "spiritual pornography" for the same reasons we use to warn others about them. The difference is that we are in communion with the visible Church and they are not. Yes, they reject that Church as false. So did the Protestants. It is not an essential mark of the Church that it be without sin, or even that its Popes all be holy. There have been many Popes whose personal lives would give reason to question whether they even believed the Catholic Faith. However, just as the authority of the Apostles was not compromised by the presence of Judas in their midst, the wounded Body of Christ we experience does not make it other than what it is: the Body of Christ. The sedevacantists may have many legitimate criticisms of the Church, but we return to the words of St. Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life!"