Don’t Go Down the Dead-End Road of Sedevacantism

News: Commentary
by Church Militant  •  •  September 20, 2023   

Whether you like it or not, Pope Francis is the pope

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A Catholic prelate is denouncing the notion that Pope Francis is not the valid pontiff of the Catholic Church. Would-be sedevacantists should take notice. 

Bishop Athanasius Schneider produced the latest anti-sedevacantist commentary in a Sept. 18 statement aptly titled "About the Validity of the Pontificate of Pope Francis."

The auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, penned:

There is no authority to declare or consider an elected and generally accepted pope as an invalid pope. The constant practice of the Church makes it evident that even in the case of an invalid election, this invalid election will be de facto healed through the general acceptance of the new elected by the overwhelming majority of the cardinals and bishops.

Even in the case of a heretical pope he will not lose his office automatically, and there is no body within the Church to declare him deposed because of heresy. Such actions would come close to a kind of a heresy of conciliarism or episcopalism. The heresy of conciliarism or episcopalism says, basically, that there is a body within the Church (ecumenical council, synod, College of Cardinals, College of Bishops), which can issue a legally binding judgment over the pope.

Sedevacantism — the claim that there is no valid ruling pope — has been rearing its head more in the last 10 years since Jorge Bergoglio was elected pope in 2013. With 10 years of confusing papal off-the-cuff remarks and airplane press conferences, it's easy to see why Catholics can become jaded with him.

Bp. Athanasius Schneider

Of course, this is not to mention the dozens of personal letters and phone calls to heterodox Catholics and his interviews with a rabid atheist who doesn't record conversations. This same atheist journalist wrote whole articles that made outlandish claims about the pope's personal beliefs. Moreover, it did not help that neither the Vatican nor the pope made any effort to clarify that situation. 

Yes, these harrowing situations can cause consternation among Catholics who simply want the Faith clarified, not confounded. But these are the times in which God has placed us, and God is asking us to be the saints of these difficult times.

Sedevacantists, for the most part, claim that there hasn't been a valid pope since Pius XII and that all popes after his death have been anti-popes. But we're seeing an increase in people, even internet-famous Catholics who are reacting to the scandals, either alleged or apparent, of Francis' papacy by alleging that Francis is now an anti-pope.

The latest instance was a Sept. 6 YouTube video by firebrand Fr. James Altman (who has been ordered by his diocese to not appear publicly as a priest). He claimed "Jorge Bergoglio is not a pope," reasoning, "Because he is not Catholic; he is a wolf in sheep's clothing. He is a fraud, an imposter." Although it's not the first time Altman has made a statement like that, it seems like more people are paying attention to him.

The Vortex: The 'Bergoglio Is Not the Pope' Crowd's Really Bad Advice

Along with Bp. Schneider's statement, there have been several refutations of Altman's position. While Bp. Schneider correctly points out the insanity of subscribing to sedevacantism, there remains an ambiguity in his publication, which is the central dividing point in the Church among the conservative types. Schneider claims:

The surer Catholic tradition says that in the case of a heretical pope, the members of the Church can avoid him, resist him, refuse to obey him, all of which can be done without requiring a theory or opinion that says that a heretical pope automatically loses his office or can be deposed consequently.

The proper response of all Catholics is to pray for the pope.

The problem with the statement is that it's one that faithful Catholics and schismatics can both read and agree fits within their position. Conservatives will rightly point out ambiguous statements coming from Rome that can be read in both orthodox and heretical lights, depending on the reader, but they must also demand clarity from statements like the one from Bp. Schneider. What do the terms "resist" and "refuse to obey" mean? Church Militant and others would agree with the statement in one sense, while the SSPX and others can easily read the remark as "do whatever you want as long as it fits in with your private understanding of 'tradition.'" 

Last week, Catholic World Report published a piece titled "On the Illogic and Insanity of Sedevacantism," in which retired theology professor Larry Chapp wrote:

When one peruses the social media posts of some leading traditionalists, there is a constant undercurrent of a latent sedevacantism, if not in fact at least in spirit, in the constant berating of Vatican II and all modern papacies since that time as having succumbed to and officially taught 'modernist' theology. If you doubt me, just go onto a typical traditionalist social media post and toss out the name "Pope John Paul II" and see what pops up. You won't have to wait long. Or if you want some real fun, mention Paul VI or Henri de Lubac. Mention any of those names, and a few others, and it is like tossing a tomahawk rib eye steak into a den of starving hyenas. Yes, you can say that it is unfair of me to judge the movement based on social media posts, but that is where the Fr. Altmans live and move and have their being.

In this regard, the Fr. Altmans, Patrick Coffins, and similar folks of the sedevacantist world are merely connecting the dots of this implied logic and saying out loud what others in the movement lack the courage to say. This is why they are wildly popular in this subculture. Because they are saying out loud what many traditionalists are privately thinking. But it is all, in an ecclesiastical sense, quite insane.

In a Sept. 18 episode of The Vortex, Church Militant's Michael Voris asked several pertinent questions to anyone seriously considering Altman's sedevacantist position:

If he was once upon a time the pope, then when did he stop being pope? And who gets to decide that? Based on what? How do we know that person is right? How is disagreement over the question of when he stopped being pope resolved? And, moving forward, what about the cardinals he's appointed? Are all of them invalid because he was never the pope, or just some, because he stopped being pope at some point in his pontificate?

Stated simply: Pope Francis is the pope and must be obeyed and followed by all Catholics who would hope to take part in the beatific vision. No, the pope doesn't have to be obeyed if he tells you to worship an idol or that a woman could be a priest. If "resist" and "disobey" ever did truly apply, this would be a prime example. As Vatican I clearly teaches:

Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world.

The proper response of all Catholics is to pray for the pope. Don't "pray for his conversion," as some Catholic personalities would tell you, implying Francis isn't a real Catholic. The Church's leadership needs our praying, fasting and penances now more than ever. The gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, but they certainly may prevail against individuals who allow themselves to lose heart in these troubling times. 

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