by the Society of St. Pius X during the pontificate of John Paul 11. (Please
note that, in the case of Francis 1, based on what has been observed about Benedict XVI's "renunciation", and what Francis himself manifestly professes which have now become obvious
to many, theologians have argued that Benedict XVI, and not Francis 1,
remains the pope. See Father Paul Kramer’s piece, The Case of the Dual Papacy—“Deus Papes Vamoulu”.http://tradcatknight.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-case-of-dual-papacy-deux-papes.html. Some cardinals in Rome are now beginning to observe this. But the faithful are to remain patient as they watch and pray.
What is sedevacantism?
Sedevacantism is the theory of those who think that the most
recent popes, the popes of the Second Vatican Council, have not really
been popes. Consequently, the See of Peter is not occupied. This is
expressed in Latin by the formula sede vacante.
Where does this theory come from?
This theory has been conceived in reaction to
the very grave crisis which the Church has been undergoing since the
Council, a crisis that Archbishop Lefebvre justly called "the
third world war." The main cause of the crisis has been the
dereliction of the Roman Pontiffs, who teach or allow to be propagated
serious errors on the subjects of ecumenism, religious liberty,
The sedevacantists think that real popes
could not be responsible for such a crisis, and consequently they
consider them not to be "real" popes.
Do the sedevacantists agree amongst
No, far from it. There are many different
positions. Some think that, since the Chair of Peter is vacant, someone
should occupy it, and so they have elected a "pope." Such is
the case of the sect of Palmar in Spain, for example. Among those who do
not go so far, there are different schools. Some think that the current
pope is an anti-pope, others that he is only partly pope, a pope materialiter but
Some sedevacantists consider their position
as a "likely opinion," and consent to receive the sacraments
from non-sedevacantist priests, while others, called "ultra" by
the Fr. Coache, make it a matter of faith, and refuse to assist at
Masses where the priest prays for the pope. But what is common to all the
sedevacantists is that they think that the pope should not be prayed for
What is meant by being pope materialiter?
The main difficulty of sedevacantism is to
explain how the Church can continue to exist in a visible manner (for she
has received from the Lord the promise that she will endure until the end
of the world) while being deprived of her head. The partisans of the
so-called "Cassiciacum Thesis" have come up with a very
subtle solution: the current pope was validly designated as pope, but he
did not receive the papal authority because there was an interior
obstacle (heresy). So, according to the theory, he is able to act in some
ways for the good of the Church, such as, for instance, appointing
cardinals (who are cardinals materialiter), but he is not really
What do you think of this solution?
For one thing, this solution is not based on
Tradition. Theologians (Cajetan, St. Robert Bellarmine, John of St.
Thomas, etc.) who have examined the possibility of a heretical pope, but
no one prior to the Council ever devised such a theory. Also, it does
not resolve the main difficulty of sedevacantism, namely, how the Church
can continue to be visible, for, if the pope, the cardinals, the bishops,
etc., are deprived of their "form," then no visible Church hierarchy
is left. Moreover, this theory has some serious philosophical defects
because it supposes that a head can be head materialiter,
that is, without authority.
What arguments do the sedevacantists adduce
to prove their theories?
They use a theological argument and a
canonical one. The theological argument consists of positing that a
heretic cannot be head of the Church, but John Paul II is a heretic,
The legal argument consists of pointing out
that the laws of the Church invalidate the election of a heretic; but
Cardinal Wojtyla was a heretic at the time of his election, therefore...
But isn’t it true that a pope who becomes a
heretic loses the pontificate?
St. Robert Bellarmine says that a pope who
would formally and manifestly become a heretic would lose the
pontificate. For that to apply to John Paul II, he would have to be a
formal heretic, deliberately refusing the Church’s magisterium; and this
formal heresy would have to be open and manifest. But if John Paul II often
enough makes heretical affirmations or statements that lead to heresy, it
cannot easily be shown that he is aware of rejecting any dogma of the
Church. And as long as there is no sure proof, then it is more prudent to
refrain from judging. This was Archbishop Lefebvre’s line of conduct.
If a Catholic were convinced that John Paul
II is a formal, manifest heretic, should he then conclude that he is no
No, he should not, for according to the
"common" opinion (Suarez), or even the "more common"
opinion (Billuart), theologians think that even an heretical pope can
continue to exercise the papacy. For him to lose his jurisdiction, the
Catholic bishops (the only judges in matters of faith besides the pope,
by Divine will) would have to make a declaration denouncing the pope’s
According to the more common opinion, the
Christ, by a particular providence, for the common good and the
tranquility of the Church, continues to give jurisdiction to an even
manifestly heretical pontiff until such time as he should be declared a
manifest heretic by the Church.
Now, in so serious a matter, it is not
prudent to go against the common opinion.
But how can a heretic, who is no longer a
member of the Church, be its leader or head?
The Dominican Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, basing
his reasoning on Billuart, explains in his treatise De Verbo
Incarnato (p. 232) that an heretical pope, while no longer a
member of the Church, can still be her head. For, what is impossible in
the case of a physical head is possible (albeit abnormal) for a secondary
The reason is that, whereas a physical head
cannot influence the members without receiving the vital influx of the
soul, a moral head, as is the Roman Pontiff, can exercise jurisdiction
over the Church even if he does not receive from the soul of the Church
any influx of interior faith or charity.
In short, the pope is constituted a member of
the Church by his personal faith, which he can lose, but he is head of
the visible Church by the jurisdiction and authority which he received,
and these can co-exist with his own heresy.
How does their canonical argument fare?
The sedevacantists base their position on the
apostolic constitution Cum ex Apostolatus of Pope Paul
IV (1555-1559). But some good studies have shown that this constitution
lost its legal force when the 1917 Code of Canon Law was promulgated.
See, for example, the article of Fr. Albert, O.P., in Sel de la
terre, Summer 2000, pp.67-78. What remains in effect from this
constitution is its dogmatic teaching. And, consequently, it cannot be
made to say more than the theological argument already examined.
Don’t the sedevacantists claim to find a
confirmation of their theory in the errors of Vatican Council II and the
harmful liturgical and canonical laws of the Conciliar Church?
Indeed, the sedevacantists think, in general,
that the teaching of the Council should have been covered by the
infallibility of the ordinary and universal magisterium, and consequently
should not contain any errors. But, since there are errors, for example,
on religious liberty, they conclude that Paul VI had ceased to be pope at
Really, if one accepted this argument, then
it would be necessary to say that the whole Catholic Church disappeared
then, too, and that "the gates of hell had prevailed"
against her. For the teaching of the ordinary, universal magisterium is
that of the bishops, of the whole
It is simpler to think that the teaching of
the Council and of the Conciliar Church is not covered by the
infallibility of the ordinary, universal magisterium for the reasons
explained in the article of Fr. Pierre-Marie, O.P., on the authority of
the Council that appeared in Sel de la terre,
"L’autorite du Concile," pp.32-63.
One of the arguments set forth there consists
in showing that the Council does not present its teaching as
"necessary for salvation" (which is logical, since those who
profess this believe that it is possible to be saved without the Catholic
Faith). Since this teaching is not authoritatively imposed, it is not
covered by the guarantee of infallibility. The same thing can be said
about the liturgical laws (the New Mass) and the canonical laws (the 1983
Code of Canon Law) promulgated by the most recent popes: they are not
covered by infallibility, although normally they would be.
Aren’t the sedevacantists right, though, in
refusing to name the pope at Mass in order to show that they are not in
communion with ("una cum") a heretic (at least
materially) and his heresies?
The expression "una cum" in
the Canon of the Mass does not mean that one affirms that he is"in
communion" with the erroneous ideas of the pope, but rather that
one wants to pray for the Church "and for" the pope, her
In order to be sure of this interpretation,
in addition to reading the erudite studies that have been made on this
point, it is enough to read the rubric of the missal for the occasion of
a bishop celebrating Mass. In this case, the bishop must pray for the
Church "una cum ...me indigno famulo tuo," which does
not mean that he prays "in communion with...myself, your unworthy
servant" (which does not make sense!), but that he prays "and
for ...myself, your unworthy servant."
But doesn’t St. Thomas Aquinas say that in
the Canon one should not pray for heretics?
St. Thomas Aquinas does not say that one
should not pray for heretics (Summa Theologica, III, Q. 79, A. 7,
ad 2), but merely observes that, in the prayers of the Canon of the Mass,
one prays for those whose faith and devotion are known to the Lord (quorum
tibi fides cognita est et nota devotio). For, he says, so that this
sacrifice obtain its effect (effectum habet) those for whom one
prays must be "united to the passion of Christ by faith and
charity." He does not say that praying for heretics is
forbidden. He only means that this prayer will not have the same efficacy
as one for a Catholic, and is not provided for in the Canon.
All that can be concluded from this
affirmation of St. Thomas is that, if the pope is a heretic (which
remains to be proven), then the prayer for him will not have the foreseen
effect, "non habet effectum."
In conclusion, what should we think of
Sedevacantism is a theory that has not been
proven speculatively, and that it is imprudent to hold practically (an
imprudence that can have very serious consequences). That is why
Archbishop Lefebvre never adopted this position, and even forbade the
priests of the Society of St. Pius X to profess it. We should have
confidence in his prudence and theological sense.
Fr. Munoz points out that no saint in the
Church’s history was ever a sedevacantist, while several openly and
forcefully resisted a pope’s errors. Let us do likewise. (Translated
from Sel de la terre, Spring 2001.)
1 Fr. Coache (1920-1994), Doctor of Canon
Law, was the pastor of the parish of Montjavoult until 1973. He was one
of the pioneers of the Catholic resistance against the Conciliar
revolution. His parish bulletin evolved into The Combat for the
Faith, which was widely distributed, and which he edited until his
death. He organized with Msgr. Ducaud-Bourget the epic taking of St.
Nicholas du Chardonnet in Paris, France, in February 1977.2
"Cassiciacum" is the name of the place to which St. Augustine
withdrew with some friends after his baptism, and where he studied and
deepened his faith. In the late 1970’s, Fr. Guerard des Lauriers, O.P.,
together with a group of like-minded priests, founded a review
called Les Cahiers de Cassiciacumto defend the
sedevacantist position. The "Cassiciacum Thesis" is the name
given to the theory that the pope is pope materialiter but
3 Billuart, De Fide, Diss. V,
A. III, No. 3, obj. 2.4 Of the diocese of Barcelona, Spain. He was
ordained in 1952, and was vicar of a parish in Barcelona. With women
active in the Catholic Action movement, he founded a contemplative
religious community called the Oasis, near Barcelona. The special
mission of this community is to pray for priests. Becoming acquainted
with Archbishop Lefebvre in the early 1970’s, he chose to remain
faithful to the traditional Mass. Archbishop Lefebvre had a deep
affection for the community of the Oasis, whose apostolate he judged to
be very necessary for the Church today, and would go there to visit. In
October 2000, Fr. Munoz founded a second Oasis in the south of France.