12-2-14: Frequently asked questions on Sedevacantism
© Copyright 2014, T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author. All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)
1. Q. What IS sedevacantism?
Sede vacante means “vacant see.” Those who believe the see is vacant are saying, without saying it, that the man claiming to occupy the Roman See as a true pope is a usurper, or antipope.
2. Q. Has the Papal See been vacant in the past for long periods of time?
In the past, sede vacante(s) (interregnums) have lasted only three to four years. Some believe that during the Western Schism the Holy See was vacant the entire time but this is not true. Pope Benedict XIV later ruled that the line of Urban VI – Gregory XII was the true line of popes in that time. The Roman See was never intended to remain vacant any longer than papal election law allowed for the election of a new pope. As the councils have taught, the absence of a true pope is a grave danger to the faith and is to be sedulously avoided.
3. Q. So sedevacantism is the movement based on recognizing that the Holy Roman See of St. Peter is now vacant?
Yes; sedevacantist theory first began surfacing in the mid-1970s when Rev. Joaquin Saenz-Arriaga, a Mexican priest, printed his book, Sede vacante. The book has never been translated into English.
4. Q. When did this group first come into being?
A. Formally, in about 1981, when French bishop Peter Ngo dinh Thuc made his infamous declaration that the See was vacant, and used this declaration to justify consecrating bishops.
5. Q. So what do sedevacantists believe?
They believe that the “popes” following Pope Pius XII are manifest heretics. Based on their vacant See belief, they also believe that in the absence of a true and valid pope, a bishop consecrated under the reign of Pope Pius XII can validly and licitly consecrate bishops because they are promised by Christ to continue the Church “unto the consummation.”
6. Q. But isn’t the pope supposed to rule the Church until the consummation too?
This is what Christ promised St. Peter; that the gates of hell will not prevail against the rock on which the Church is founded — the faith of St. Peter. He alone is infallible. This is the teaching of the early Fathers and the Vatican Council.
7. Q. So what do these sedevacantist bishops do?
They ordain priests, consecrate other bishops and make available Mass and Sacraments for those who also believe the See is vacant.
8. Q. Some have accused them of starting up their own church, only without a head. Is this what they have done?
Basically yes; they claim to preserve the Church of Christ on earth, the Catholic Church, but without the benefit of the pope.
9. Q. Are you saying we have no Church now since we have no pope and if so, how does the Church continue to exist in an interregnum? Can you refer me to one of your articles that can explain this to me?
As theologians explain, during an interregnum, it is as though the Church is asleep or in a coma. She is unable to function is hidden from view. But that does not mean She will not emerge from the coma at any time and resume Her duties. As Rev. E.S. Berry teaches, “Although the See be vacant for many years, the Church always retains the right to elect a legitimate successor,” (“The Church of Christ”). And in the meantime, The Mystical Body of Christ itself never ceases to exist, for as we learned in our Catechism, “Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church,” the pope being only the juridical or visible head of the earthly Church. In their “The Catholic Dictionary,” Addis and Arnold offer us a surprising definition of the word “hierarchy.” After giving the usual definition offered by the Church, that the hierarchy consists of bishops, priests, and the pope, they state: “In a wide and loose sense, when the whole Catholic Church is considered as existing among heretics, schismatic’s and the heathen, even the laity may be considered as forming a portion of the hierarchy. “With this agrees the expression of St. Peter, calling the general body of Christians in the country to which he is sending his epistles, ‘a kingly priesthood’ and a ‘holy nation.’” This statement is confirmed by Pope Pius XII in his address on “The Mission of the Catholic Woman,” (Sept. 29, 1957). In this address he tells lay Catholics that, in the situation Addis and Arnold describe, they “must, with God’s grace, assume all [the hierarchy’s] responsibilities.”
For further reading, see /free-content/reference-links/7-recent-articles/binding-power-of-papacy-voids-traditionalist-acts/, /free-content/reference-links/2-the-church/the-doctrine-of-the-mystical-body-pt-i/ and /free-content/reference-links/2-the-church/the-doctrine-of-the-mystical-body-pt-ii/
10. Q. So can’t Traditionalist priests do just that?
No, because in this same address the pope also says: “Evens so, nothing can be undertaken against the explicit and implicit will of the Church, or contrary in any way to the rules of faith or morals or ecclesiastical discipline.” They must follow the will of the Church which is found in Pope Pius XII’s “Vacantis Apostolica Sedis,” concerning what can be done during an interregnum. Traditionalists may try to confect the Sacraments and say Mass and to many they may appear to do it. But The Catechism of the Council of Trent, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Pius IX and Pope Leo XIII all teach that without the pope the Church cannot exist. Pope Pius IX: “Without the Pope there is no Church, and there is no Catholic Society without the Holy See,” (Allocution to religious superiors, June 24, 1872). Therefore Church teaching contradicts this notion, and Church teaching trumps whatever may be believed on this topic. Vacantis Apostolica Seds infallibly declares that the acts of those violating papal laws and usurping papal jurisdiction during an interregnum are null and void. Canon Law is based primarily on papal law and the decisions of the General Councils. Traditionalists repeatedly violate these laws, ergo, their acts are null and void. Their bishops cannot function either because they are usurping papal jurisdiction.
11. Q. But I thought that bishops had the power to ordain and consecrate from Christ?
They do have this power, but only if the power to exercise it (jurisdiction) is granted to them by a true pope. You can own a car, have gas in it, have the plates and registration, but without the keys you aren’t going anywhere. Christ gave the keys directly to St. Peter following the Ascension; he did not give the keys personally to any of the other Apostles. They receive their power only through St. Peter. Pope Pius XII defined this as issuing from Divine revelation in “Mystici Corporis Christi,” so it is an infallible teaching.
12. Q. So without a true pope, they don’t have the permission to act?
Exactly. And without this permission, nothing they do is valid, even if they were validly and licitly ordained or consecrated.
13. Q. But how can you say that if they still have their orders?
Do they? Certain papal documents state that they are doubtfully valid at best. The documents Charitas by Pope Pius VI and Etsi Multa by Pope Pius IX clearly decree that outside the approval of the Holy See, bishops cannot be created. These documents are available on the Internet. Pope Pius IX even goes so far in Etsi multa as to declare that such consecrations conducted by heretics and/or schismatics render not only the priest attempting the consecration, but also those adhering to him, and any rendering him aid, help or consent excommunicatus vitandus, the most severe form of excommunication the Church pronounces, meaning such people are to be avoided by all Catholics. This is a clear invocation and appeal to the teachings found in both Charitas and Pope Paul IV’s Cum ex Apostolatus Officio. From Pope Pius IX’s Etsi Multa: “No one can be considered a bishop who is not linked in communion of faith and love with Peter, upon whom is built the Church of Christ…”
14. Q. So if they never become bishops, what about the priests Traditionalist bishops have ordained?
Those men would not be considered priests because the one ordaining is still only a priest himself and priests cannot create other priests; only a “visible and perceptible bishop” (Innocent III) can create priests.
15. Q. But surely this does not apply to those priests and bishops created by Thuc and Lefebvre, who were consecrated during the reign of Pope Pius XII.
Why not? Don’t you recognize the Novus Ordo as a non-Catholic sect? Did not both Lefebvre and Thuc belong to the new order of Rome by their quasi-affiliation with it, their approval of it at various times when it served their purposes, and by their refusal to reject the very masterminds behind it, despite their pretensions to Traditionalism? Then they also qualify as schsimatics who are not able to ordain or consecrate.
16. Q. I will concede that they could not consecrate in light of these papal documents, if they read as you say they do, but surely they could still ordain. The documents you mention only apply to consecration.
Nearly all those who received ordination from these two men either attended Novus Ordo services or Traditionalist services before their ordinations. Because both Lefebvre and Thuc lost any jurisdiction they once had by adhering to the Novus Ordo themselves, they automatically lost the ability to absolve these men from their heresy prior to ordination. In addition, those guilty of communicatio in sacris, or communicating with non-Catholics in sacred things, occur what is called an irregularity: infamy of law. This is a major impediment to receiving Holy Orders that can be lifted only by the pope. We have no pope, and such men cannot be ordained validly until it is lifted, if a future pope decides they should be ordained at all.
17. Q. What makes you so sure of this?
Canon 2294 (1917 Code) and Pope Pius XII’s papal election constitution Vacantis Apostolica Sedis.
18. Q. What could a papal election law have to do with ordinations?
This law does not just deal with papal elections; it also deals with what can be done during an interregnum.
19. Q. So why hasn’t anyone consulted this law before so we would know what to do?
Good question, but then why do Traditionalists fail to consult so many papal laws in determining what they are bound to do? Many of them do not even believe they are bound to accept the documents of the ordinary magisterium as infallible, so how would they even know what they are bound to believe in way of faith?
20. Q. Alright then, so what should I know about this law?
In this law, Vacantis Apostolica Sedis, Pope Pius XII teaches that the cardinals (and nearly all the cardinals were bishops) cannot exercise any jurisdiction exercised by the pope in his lifetime. In other words, they can do nothing jurisdiction-wise which the pope did while alive now that he is dead; all decisions must be left to the future pontiff. The pope’s jurisdiction is supreme and comes only from God. The jurisdiction of the bishops is ordinary and comes to them only through the pope.
21. Q. Precisely what jurisdiction belongs to the pope?
Well as stated above, only the pope can lift certain censures and dispense from certain impediments. Only the pope can grant the papal mandate necessary for episcopal consecration. So if a man is consecrated during an interregnum without this mandate, Pope Pius XII declares this act null and void. Therefore none of these Traditionalists ever became bishops. Some will argue Thuc had special missionary faculties, but even if he had been granted this, Thuc incurred infamy of law afterward which invalidated all his actions and jurisdiction. In his “The Holy See at Work,” canon lawyer Rev. Edward Heston, commenting on Pope Pius XII’s 1945 election constitution,Vacantis Apostolica Sedis notes that during an interregnum, special faculties granted to the Sacred Rota during the Pope’s lifetime are suspended: “Nor may they use during the interregnum any special faculties conferred on them by the deceased Pontiff.” So this may well be a moot point.
22. Q. Well there again that applies to bishops, but what about priests?
Traditional priests claim that they possess jurisdiction supplied either by the law itself or directly from Christ. They need this jurisdiction to validly hear confessions, if, that is, we can consider them validly ordained. Yet history shows that no one ever supplied such jurisdiction except the Roman Pontiff; Rev. Francis Miaskiewicz in his work on jurisdiction tells us that the “Church” in Can. 209 means the pope and Rev. John Bancroft tells us the same in his dissertation on relations with non-Catholics. Both wrote in the 1940s. So during an interregnum, there is no one to supply jurisdiction, and therefore no one can pretend to usurp this papal function.
23. Q. So what this pope is saying basically shuts down Traditionalist operations, correct?
Yes, because what Pius XII also teaches is that no one can correct, change, dispense from or modify papal law during an interregnum, and that if they do, it is null and void. Most importantly, he seals all of this with the following: “But if anything contrary to this prescript occurs or is by chance attempted, we declare it by Our Supreme authority to be null and void.” So all the acts during an interregnum of even those who are validly ordained or consecrated, if such men dare presume to usurp papal jurisdiction, are as though they never happened — Mass, Sacraments, blessings, everything. The Supreme Pontiff alone has the fullness of jurisdiction and can regulate the use of Holy Orders as he sees fit.
24. Q. But aren’t these admonitions addressed mainly to the cardinals, not bishops or priests?
If they are “only” addressed to the cardinals, who would likely be the next highest body to act in the pope’s stead after his death, don’t you think it would apply even more to someone of lesser rank, such as a bishop? In the matter of papal election, the election of the pope devolves to the lower ranking clergy from the highest on down. This is the teaching of the theologians and Pope Pius XII was certainly aware of it. Since the bishops and senior clergy would act as electors in the absence of the cardinals, just as they did at the time of Constance, the same restrictions would apply.
25. Q. So the gist of all this is that we have no true pope, we have at best doubtfully valid priests and bishops, so a pope cannot be elected because there is no one to elect?
That is pretty much it. It would take at least two valid and licit bishops created under Pope Pius XII or by those with special faculties delegated by Pope Pius XII (very difficult to authenticate) who had never said the Novus Ordo Missae or signed Vatican 2 documents. They would need to engage a senior clergy member (monsignor or abbot or religious superior) with the same credentials and the three (or more, if available) could then elect a pope. It is possible of course that such clergy exist unknown to us, but not likely.
26. Q. But if the Church is to last until the consummation, and the Church cannot exist without a true pope, doesn’t this mean because Christ has not yet come in the clouds we must at some point have a true pope again?
It does, but this could happen in more than one way. Bishops formerly in hiding could suddenly appear and we could authenticate their credentials. Or, such bishops could suddenly appear and work miracles so that would believe them, (the only alternative to proof of jurisdiction: St. Francis de Sales). Christ also could work a miracle and present us with a true pope Himself. It does not matter how His promise is fulfilled, we know only that it must be fulfilled.
27. Q. Is there a possibility that we are nearing the Final Judgment?
I know many who believe we are and think there will not be another pope. We must keep our lamps lit and prepare for any eventuality. I personally believe that it is more likely there will be a brief revival, we will see a miraculously elected pope following some sort of chastisement and the prophecy of one flock, one shepherd will be fulfilled, because once again, everyone will be either Catholic or pagan. That a brief restoration will follow the reign of Antichrist is the common opinion of saints and holy people, also some theologians. But God’s mind is a great deep and we do not know it. Faith is belief in things unseen, and all we can do is hang on to Christ’s promise — that He will fulfill His promises and shorten the times.