“Unfortunately, your position boils down to: criticize ‘the pope’ but don’t dare do so to the SSPX, thereby effectively attributing infallibility to the Society, and judging ‘the pope.’” – Rob, a Sedevacantist
It is rather unfortunate when one ascribes to another a position without carefully: ascertaining first the principles upon which the latter stands; and, examining the terms he employs – whether they actually correspond to the distinctive shades of reality which must not be confused. To do so would be presumptuous.
Pretension does not ground one in truth. Now, of all those who claim to be adhering still to God through His Holy Catholic Religion, amidst the loss of faith throughout the Catholic world most especially in Rome (according to the last phrase of the Second Memoirs of Sr. Maria Lucia, C.D., of Fatima – introducing the “Third Secret of Fatima”; cf., also our post “The Great Tribulation”), only the Sedevacantist (sedes, Latin for “chair”; that is, the Chair of St. Peter in Rome vacant for many decades now either since the reign of Pope John XXIII – who called Vatican II into session in 1962 – or of Pope John Paul II) position then is the orthodox Catholic – and not the position of Abp. Lefebvre and his Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X (SSPX). The Sedevacantist position therefore is of God.
Upon examination, the Sedevacantist position reveals how its Catholic claim is rather a falsity. Now, a Catholic is one “bound by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience [to the Roman Pontiff]” (Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, July 18, 1870). But the Sedevacantist position claims that there is now, for many decades already, no “true” Roman Pontiff under whose jurisdiction its adherent must still be subject. Therefore, a Sedevacantist is not a Catholic.
If the visible Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ is to last even to the consummation of the world, “so in His Church [the same Lord and Master] wished [the Roman Pontiff, successor to St. Peter, under whose jurisdiction are all the baptized subject] to be even to the consummation of the world (cf., Vatican I, ibid.). This indefectibility of the Church is a dogma which Catholics profess but the Sedevacantists, in claiming that there is now no “true” Roman Pontiff, negate. Pope Pius XII teaches that Our Lord Jesus Christ in “continuing Himself to govern the Church… rules it visibly through His personal representative on earth [that is, the pope] (Mystici Corporis Christi, 38).” In another instance, the same Pope reiterates that the Church is “An immense kingdom… made up of men united among themselves by visible bonds, and like an immense flock guided by a single and sovereign Shepherd, it cannot dispense with an organ of government, a hierarchy of persons…” (Ministry of the Word, message to all newly-weds of Jan. 21, 1942). To say that the Church has lost her visible head, and with it the potestas docendi, or the Teaching Body of the Church – as the Sedevacantist position claims – is to make Our Lord a liar Who promised that I am with you all days until the end of time (Mt. 28.20), and to nullify “the unanimous teaching of the Fathers that this visible head is necessary to establish and preserve unity in the Church” (Roman Catechism, TAN Books, p. 102). St. John Chrysostom says that “the Church would fail if it were not for its Head, who is the centre of its unity, as a ship would be wrecked if deprived of its pilot” (in Frs. Spirago-Clarke, The Catechism Explained).
The Sedevacantist position then “is in vain [flattering itself to be the orthodox Catholic], if one is separated from the Chair of Peter on which the Church is founded” (Pope Pius IX, Singulari Quidem, Mar. 17, 1856). “He who dares to withdraw from the unity of the Roman Church is excluded from the divine mysteries [and that] ‘he who eats of the Lamb outside this holy Church’ [which] must be united to and supported by the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth, ‘is reprobate’” (Pope Pius IX and quoting St. Jerome, Commissum Divinitus, May 17, 1835). Therefore, to those who adhere to the Sedevacantist position: “he who observes not this unity observes not the law of God, holds not the faith of the Father and the Son, clings not to life and salvation” (Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum, June 29, 1896). In this regard, the Sedevacantist approaches rather a Protestant position which reduced the Church into that erroneous notion of a mysteriously invisible communion after having confused the failings of the popes as the failure of the See of St. Peter – which Office, rather than the occupant, carries the guarantee the Divine Lord and Master spoke to Peter: I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not (Lk 22.32).
That thy faith fail not…
Doubtless, numerous facts establish the material heresy committed, in particular, by Pope John Paul II through his words, decisions, and actions. But the Sedevacantist position will never be able to establish the case of formal heresy –which alone could strictly and technically qualify Pope John Paul II as “heretic,” so it says – in the absence of a higher juridical authority over the former Pope (or Popes) censuring and, if there was pertinacity in error (subject to the determination of the same higher juridical authority), pronouncing against him/them a condemnatory judgment. By this, the Sedevacantist position exhibits clearly a proud spirit in arrogating to itself a juridical position which it should rather patiently reserve to that Holy Pope for “neither by Augustus, nor by all the clergy, nor by religious, nor by the people will the judge be judged: ‘the first seat will not be [juridically] judged by anyone’” (Roman Council of 860-63 under Pope St. Nicholas I).
Granted there was the case of formal heresy, even then this in no way would call for the Sedevacantist position of casting off completely the Catholic yoke of “hierarchical subordination and true obedience” to the Roman Pontiff [which “’true’ obedience” rather necessitates the ‘resistance’ once exhibited by the Apostle St. Paul in rebuking St. Peter to the face (Gal. 2.11) and taken up again by Abp. Lefebvre (and his Society) vis-a-vis the impious and, often, sacrilegious novelties (most especially in the realm of divine worship) of the Roman Pontiffs for the more than four decades past. We read in the original version of Pope Leo XIII’s Little Exorcism: “Now most cunning enemies have filled with bitterness the Church… Where the seat of blessed Peter and the throne of Truth was established like a light for the nations, there they have set up the abominable throne of their wickedness, so that having once struck the pastor they might scatter the flock.” Now, side by side with the secret instructions of the Carbonari (the Italian Freemasons) on the one hand, and the circulation of the “humanitarian principles” of the French Revolution by the Popes themselves (from John XXIII) on the other, we can see the fulfillment of Apoc. 2.12-13 where Our Lord addresses the Angel (that is, in Scriptural language, the bishop) of the Church in Pergamus thus: I know where thou dwellest, where the seat of Satan is… However, the Word of Truth tells us the state of the bishop of that Church which Satan desired to possess for his seat: Thou… hast not denied my faith. To the Protestants, then: the Pope is not the Antichrist. And to the Sedevacantists: the Church of Rome once headed by Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, and now by Pope Benedict XVI, has yet to overturn – nor will ever overturn – the infallible solemn pronouncements of the Chair of St. Peter with equally infallible solemn pronouncements to the contrary!
Our Lord, in further addressing the Roman Pontiff through the words of the Book of the Apocalypse thus: I have against thee a few things (2.14), does not in any way betray him to be a fraud usurper of the throne. Rather, He urges the Roman Pontiff to exercise the fullness of his sovereign apostolic authority in putting order in the Church by fighting against the agents whom the father of lies sowed within.
The confusion then of the Sedevacantist position with material and formal heresy does not lend any credence whatsoever to its arrogated juridical assertion that Pope John Paul II was a “heretic” and therefore had ceased to be a lawful visible head of the Church. Even on this point, Sedevacantists have no ground on which they could attempt to extricate themselves from being subjects of the reigning Roman Pontiff and still claim that they are Catholics. What more to negate – as by force of necessary logical conclusion of their publicly avowed position – the indefectibility of the Church through the Roman Pontiff which is a guarantee of the Divine Lord and Master!