On the Errors of Sedevacantism

I’ve been debating on if I should post this or not, because sedevacantism is a dangerous thing. “Sedevacantism” is the school of thought that the Chair of Peter is vacant. Basically, sedevacantists believe our current pope (Pope Benedict XVI) is not the current Pope, and is an anti-Pope. They usually say that Blessed John Paul II was not a real Pope, and they deny his canonization was valid. Pope Paul VI? Pope John XXIII? Not real Popes. Vatican II? Not a valid council.

They claim to be Catholic, use Catholic materials to prove their points. They take a narrow view of Church history and of Church documents, selectively taking things and try to prove their point. Or, they’ll bombard you with documents and text with no historical context. Overall, there’s a risk in talking about the topic because for some people it’d be better they weren’t exposed to this stuff because it would either cause them scandal to think that Catholics would actually believe in sedevacantism, or even worse people would actually be fooled by their rhetoric.

I had a conversation with a sedevacantist a few weeks ago though, and I think posting some of my responses outweigh the cons I listed above. For all I know the readers of this blog will eventually encounter these kinds of people, so by reading this they can be prepared. Also, in the process of talking to him, I explained how we who follow mendicant spirituality view the documents of Vatican II, and how they are in-line with existing Church teaching. Also, it gives me a chance to talk about mendicant spirituality and Holy Father Francis*, which as this blog progresses people will come to see my love for both of those things (the mendicants and Francis).

First off, if the concept of sedevacantism all sounds very “reformation-era Protestant”, you’re not alone in thinking that. Rejecting papal authority, taking documents out of context, things like that. Ironic, of course, because most “sede’s” think that Protestants are destined to Hell (I’ll be talking more about this later on).

A big issue that sedevacantists have is with certain Vatican II documents, namely the documents on religious liberty/freedom. Namely, the idea that there are elements of Truth in other religions (but not the Fullness of Truth). They cling to the “no salvation outside of the Catholic Church” notion, however their perception and view of what is the Catholic Church is very small. They also lack knowledge of metaphysics and how God is not bound by our perceptions of time.

Typically at this point when talking to sede’s, I mention something that I call “The Lewis Dilemma”. Is CS Lewis in Heaven? His works certainly merit such. He never converted publicly to Catholicism. Yet as several documents state, everyone in Heaven is Catholic, so there is an apparent disconnect there.

Or is there?

Is it not possible that ten milliseconds before his death, he had a “Baptism of Desire”, so to speak? Is it possible he was so close to Catholicism, without knowing, and Christ gave him that chance to say “yes” to Catholicism? To Christ, ten milliseconds is an eternity. Being Catholic is the Absolute Truth, and better equips us to make that final “yes”, that I will not deny. But perhaps, the Divine Mercy of Christ allows for some to say “yes” in those final moments, in a “Baptism of Desire”**. In essence; Catholicism gives you a better chance to say “yes” before you die since you’re already Catholic, but that does not exclude the chance that others could say yes in the moments before their death.

The paragraph above shows no conflict with Church teaching; what I described clearly shows that everyone in heaven is Catholic. What it does do is leave room for the Mercy of God, while also still showcasing the need to spread the Faith and why people should consider converting to Catholicism; we want people in Heaven. We want them to know the Truth. Why should we deny them this?

This is how you can reconcile Vatican II with other Councils in this regard. Yes, everyone in Heaven is Catholic. It’s a question of when they convert, and in some cases they may convert before death.

To polish off this specific item, we can look no further than Aquinas, who says; As stated above (1, ad 2; 68, 2) man receives the forgiveness of sins before Baptism in so far as he has Baptism of desire, explicitly or implicitly; and yet when he actually receives Baptism, he receives a fuller remission, as to the remission of the entire punishment. So also before Baptism Cornelius and others like him receive grace and virtues through their faith in Christ and their desire for Baptism, implicit or explicit: but afterwards when baptized, they receive a yet greater fullness of grace and virtues. Hence in Psalm 22:2, “He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment,” a gloss says: “He has brought us up by an increase of virtue and good deeds in Baptism. Yet catechumens who die without baptism can be saved but only as through fire. That is, they are absolved of eternal punishment, not temporal punishment.”

Aquinas’ is probably the worse case scenario, where those who receive a baptism of desire likely undergo a purification process, however they still get into Heaven. All told, I think it’s safe to say there’s no contradiction there.

Something else I want to talk about is the interaction we can have with other faiths. 800 years or so ago St. Francis went to the Middle East to meet with the Sultan. He tried to convert him, and failed miserably. Going back home after failure, St. Clare told him the infamous quote that we have all heard at this point. He went back, and told the Sultan that they would not actively preach using words, instead they would work with the poorest of the poor, their lepers and their sick. The uneducated. If they were asked questions they would answer, but they would not shove nor force the beliefs on anyone. Proactive with actions, reactive with words. Also, in exchange for the helping of the least of the Sultan’s people, Francis asked for better treatment of prisoners.

The Sultan was amazed by all of this, and amazed by Francis. He called Francis a “Sufi”, which means “holy man”. Francis continued his work in the area, working with Jews and Muslims. In around 1342, via Papal Bull, the Franciscans became the Custodians of the Holy Land.

Throughout that entire time, they worked with Jews and Muslims. They acknowledged that there were elements of truth in both of those. They did pray with both groups, as all three groups believe in God the Father. Later on, this grew to praying with other Christians as well.

And remember; Francis did take ideas from the Muslims (such as moving the Tabernacle to the middle of the Sanctuary). Liturgically, the early Franciscans used some vernacular in their liturgy. Francis and Clare both banned Gregorian chant (Gregorian chant being used by Franciscans is actually a Vatican II novelty. The priest faced the people, as the fraternity always came first, and the Franciscans were never to be clerical).

Which brings me to the last thing; PERFECTAE CARITATIS, which saved religious life in the Church. It’s a call for Orders to go back to the visions of their founders. In the time between Vatican I and Vatican II, the consecrated religious lost their way. You had Franciscans owning property and driving cars, some were living not in community. You had clerics and non-clerics. With the monastics, you had people living beyond the walls. You had Orders not following the Rule of the Order. Orders that should have served the poor were serving middle or upper class folks. Your had Bishops forcing Orders to ordain to covers off priest shortages. It reached the point where some of the Orders looked hard at themselves, and realized that the founder would not have been welcome in their Order. With the Franciscans, it was the realization that if Holy Father Francis showed up in 1960, he could not have been the head of the Order as he was never a priest. He was only a cleric near the end of his life, a Deacon.

The call went out to Rome that Orders needed help. Pope Paul VI listened. He wrote PERFECTAE CARITATIS, which informed the Church that Orders must return to their roots. Pope John Paul II followed up with Vita Consecrata. It was hard at first, some people left their Orders. Others adjusted. You had Orders leave parishes because they were never meant to be there, or because they needed to move back to the community. In the end though, it was worth it. Now we’re seeing a renewal. Now we are seeing the fruits. Vocations are exploding in Orders who follow the Rule and the original charisms, and the vision of their founder. It’s an exciting time to be a consecrated religious, or a member of a Secular Order.

The problem with being a “sede” is the same as those who follow the “spirit of Vatican II”. It’s an obvious one; the Church doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The Church is forever, with a continual line of Popes from Peter to Benedict XVI, with all the Councils and whatnot. It all fits together to form pieces of the puzzle.

The logic of being a sede and saying that the chair is vacant is no different than the protestants who say the “true” church that was 100 AD or 200 AD or whatever was in hiding until the reformation. The church between then was not the “true church”, and until Luther showed up it was a faux form of Christianity.

The documents of Vatican II do fit in with the greater tapestry of Catholicism. I mentioned ecumenism already, that fits perfectly (the concept of “separated brethren” predates Vatican II).

Here’s an example of how councils work sometimes; the calling of the Orthrodox as schismatics. Schismatic is a present tense word, it is when one performs a schismatic act. The Orthodox are long past the original people who broke away. As a result, they are in schism, but not outright schismatic. With Protestants, Benedict XIV says that they are not the same protestants as were at the reformation. They are a different animal now, and this is entirely true; we now have groups who have spent centuries away, they are not the same people. Anglican folks are no longer the same people who followed Henry. Lutherans, as you may have noticed in the Joint Declaration, now no longer support Luther’s own position. As a result, the language shifts somewhat.

In five years or so, I’m not sure where I will be vocation wise (another post will be required to discuss that further).  But I do know that Sede’s will be a men without a Church, without the Vicar of Christ. I will be protected by Matthew 16:18, apostolic succession, and authentic Franciscan tradition. They’ll be left with the conspiratorial rumblings demeaning an ecumenical council which prevented the destruction of every religious order in the Church. My views on Council documents is not private, it mirrors that of the current head of the CDF and the current Pope. A Pope whom I will be making a promise of obedience to.

Which is one more reason why sede’s would find Francis to be a heretic. He would tell them to place your trust in the Church, and trust in the Pope. After all, Franciscans are bound to obey the successors of Francis and the Pope unless they cause you to sin. Failure to do this results in disciplinary actions. They would argue that to believe in Vatican II is to sin, however I would say the very nature of PERFECTAE CARITATIS and JP2’s subsequent followup means that inherently there is nothing wrong with Vatican II, as it saved the religious. And like it or not, religious is the lifeblood of the Church.

The question remains if they had an issue with the Franciscans who had vernacular in their Mass at the time of Francis, had the priest facing the people, had the priest dressed the same as everyone else, received Communion in the hands, and had Gregorian chant banned. Receiving on the tongue and Gregorian chant are modern novelties to the Franciscans, you see, and are only allowed if the Superior allows it. 700 years of those things.

Some sede’s refuse to acknowledge this, and they also point towards declining vocations as a means to prove their point, they fail to see that the above are clear examples of what was happening to religious orders pre-Vatican II. They resembled nothing like their founders envisioned, they were not following the rules. The most obvious example is that the Franciscans were becoming incredibly clerical, to the point where Francis himself would not have been able to lead the Order if he showed up again. Their broke free from lady poverty, which goes directly against the Rule.

Are there some groups with declining vocations? Yes. Guess which ones? Ones which aren’t following the Rule or charisms that their Order has. Guess which groups have solid vocations? Ones that embrace the message of their founder. Friars of the Renewal, Friars of the Strict Observance, and the Franciscan Brothers of Life are all solid examples.

Meanwhile, context is needed for the “flourishing” vocations pre-Vatican II, however this is definitely a case of quantity over quality. Would you rather 500 Dominicans who did refused to preach or live in community, or would you rather 200 Dominicans who actively performed the work of the Order of Preachers? Would you rather 500 Franciscans who lived alone in wealthy parishes, or 300 Franciscans who lived out the Gospel through obedience, and strove to lay next to Lady Poverty? Anyone who knows even a little bit knows that the latter is preferable. The state of religious orders pre-Vatican II was not sustainable in the sense that once an Order is removed from the vision of the founder, the Rule, or their charism, they cease to yield fruit.

As for Francis; “the Rule is to observe the Gospel in obedience”. He would be fine with Vatican II, and he would recognize the Pope as being the Pope. He would greatly enjoy his sons and daughters returning to the Rule. During his time he did several things which some would call strange; moving the tabernacle, not using chant, singing hymns, using local languages. Sede’s would definitely have called him a heretic.

Another issue is the date sede’s pick that there was no longer a valid Pope. Why an arbitrary date on when the Chair became vacant? Why not an earlier date? Why do they accept the liturgical changes to the Divine Office that took place in the early 1900’s? Why do they accept the Extraordinary Form when the one formed at the Council of Trent was based off of the old Franciscan Missal? Do they reject the One Baptism for the forgiveness of sins? Do they re-baptize Anglicans when they come back to Rome? Do they reject the Anglican Use? Do they reject the East, who kept their liturgical traditions when they came back centuries ago? Do they believe “west is best”? Do they believe that euro-Catholicism is the only Catholicism?

A lot of questions. At one point someone once mentioned that there was “sede Francians”. Seriously, sede Franciscans. It goes without saying that the “sede Franciscans” of have broken from the Rule of Holy Father Francis due to disobedience directed towards the Pope. They have broken the Rule, and their vows. In accordance with the Rule (sealed with a Papal Bull, I may add. Only a Pope may change the Rule) but those sede Franciscans have  excommunicated themselves.

Francis would not have accepted the sede position. He would have accepted the results of Vatican II. He would have seen the documents and celebrated that the Orders were returning to their roots, ecstatic that the Church was beginning to take on Franciscan positions and methods when it came to interacting with other faiths. And as always, he would acknowledge the Pope as the successor of Peter.

You would consider him no different than Benedict XVI, because Francis would have followed him. We know this through reading the Rule, and through reading Bonaventure biography of Holy Father Francis. We know this through reading the Franciscan masters such as Duns Scotus. We know this through authentic Franciscan writings and teaching.

This whole post can easily be distilled to a simple concept; in a matter of faith and morals, our current Pope has said “this is how things work”. In an ecumenical council (Vatican II) it was said, in a matter of faith and morals, “this is how things work”.

Vatican II was either;

A) A pastoral council that clarified existing dogma. Same message, same belief, just presented differently. “Here’s H2O, but instead of presenting it as a solid ice cube, here it is the same amount of H2O, but in liquid format”. Because it was a group of bishops publicly teaching doctrine of the Faith, it was an exercise in infallibility.

B) Any new dogma declared with the bishops and Pope using a council is an exercise in infallibility.

C) Both of the above.

Either way; the council was infallible. The Pontiff has spoken. Assent is required. Which is roughly what Pope Benedict XVI and the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith are saying.

In the end, the guy I was talking to called me a liar. He said that I didn’t know what I was talking about when it came to Francis. Am I liar? Of course not. What I am is a scholar of the Franciscan school and mendicant spirituality, and one with the Vicar of Christ, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. If you get one thing from reading these 2500+ words, it’s this; stay home with Rome, and follow the Pope. He has the keys.

*Postscript #1:  This post was written in 2012, during a time period in which I was seriously discerning the Secular Franciscans, and being mentored by an expert in Franciscan spirituality. The Franciscans refer to St. Francis of Assisi as “Holy Father Francis”, which I began doing during that time period in my discernment process. I was born on his Feast day, I came back to the Church thanks to a conference run by his “sons”, I owe my life to his intercession. Considering my experiences with my own father (which you can read about on this website), it should come as no surprise that as I discerned joining and studied the Franciscan masters under my mentor that I began to refer to Francis in the same way they did.

You fast forward four years, we now have a Pope Francis, who everyone calls “Holy Father Francis”. Which for non-Franciscans, could cause some confusion wen Franciscans refer to *their* Francis with the same title. Since then I’ve started calling him St. Francis again, ironically, to avoid confusion. That and my discernment process appears to have led me down a different path.

**Postscript #2:  There has been some confusion as to why I used Baptism of Desire when talking about Lewis, who was Baptized as an Anglican. I used Lewis as an example of someone who many say died “outside the Church”, and that in a millisecond during the time of his death there stood a possibility he may have embraced the fullness of Truth. At the time of writing (2012), many sedes who I talked to at the time firmly believed Lewis is in Hell, full stop. The “Baptism of Desire” was used as a reference that if near the time of death if one had the desire for the fullness of Truth, they could receive mercy. To me, at the time, it seemed like an analogous comparison, not a literal one. Could it have been phrased better? Yes. However in this sense, I was using the term “Baptism of Desire” to explain something in the same way that people use being “baptized in the Holy Spirit” – obviously you’re not getting re-baptized, but “baptism” is used nevertheless in the term, it’s used as a descriptor, not a literal second Baptism. In the future, I’ll be more mindful regarding my analogies and metaphors, to once again avoid confusion.

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5 Responses to On the Errors of Sedevacantism

  1. Lorra says:

    “If you get one thing from reading these 2500+ words, it’s this; stay home with Rome, and follow the Pope. He has the keys.”
    As a former sede tempted on a weekly basis to return to the sede chapel I went to, reading this article has been a confirmation of what i was getting in prayer: “place your trust in the Church, and trust in the Pope”.
    Thank you for writing this article. Here is one former sede that you helped by writing it.
    Ask your Holy Father Francis to help me.
    God bless you!

  2. Thank you for the kind words, Lorra. I’m glad that the post was (and is) able to help you. Stay strong and remember that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, no matter how bad things are, regardless of the abuses we see.

    I will offer you and your loved ones to my Holy Father Francis in prayer, which he will take to our Lord Jesus.

  3. A fantastic article .Every Sede’ should read this.

    • Todd Michaels says:

      At least one did. This is a caricature, is very dated, and even on a superficial scan contains some contradictory data, such as “Posted on November 16, 2012”, then lists first B16 as the current “pope”, but then goes on to state that Francis is.

      It may seem trivial, but this very lack of order and attention to detail, esp. when seen in concentration, doesn’t give one much confidence in the abilities of the person making the claims.

      Another example, again just on first pass, which indicates one who, at the very least, doesn’t, or at least wasn’t, thinking in a very disciplined way, or doesn’t understand the particular subject at the time of post.

      “Is it not possible that ten milliseconds before his death, he had a “Baptism of Desire”, so to speak?”

      Well, even a cursory _fact check_, prompted by simple common sense and basic custom among many “Christian” sects, _including the C of E, and the C of I, is that people entering their “church” are _baptized_.

      Q: How many times may one be baptized, even allowing that “Baptism of Desire” were true?

      Be honest, at least with yourself. Whatever the motive and reason, these kinds of assertions will only satisfy those that seek reassurance, not truth.

      Honestly, for one professing to be Catholic, and presuming to teach as such, and a religious(?) what excuse has he?

      Grace we need. Gratuitous assertions we don’t, and should be likewise dismissed.

      Even _if_ his conclusion, and yours, were “somehow” true, the right thing the wrong way is the wrong thing, or did “Vatican 2” gain a “new understanding” of basic principles of Moral Theology as well?

      One final thing. I converted from Mutasawwuf i.e. “Sufism”. Wrong again.

      There is far, far more. If you or any are going to engage this “error” of Sedevacantism, then do it properly and _honestly_

      I warn you though. I wish this gent had made a proper go of it, and showed all his “work”. I hate Sedevacantism. It suck. I wish I could _honestly_ conclude otherwise. I have a vested interest in being _shown_ and _proven_ to be *wrong*.

      Why do you think I’m “here”? Questioning my own assumptions, and a periodic error checking in the form of even a proper, even if non-defeater, argument that I’ve yet to find from those who, were they right, would have provided it _long ago_.

      Why is it that people seem to think we are playing games with our souls or others? What Catholic or even “wanna be” _doesn’t want, with his or her whole heart, to be subject to a pope_

      However, God hates lies.

      At least he does in “my” Church.

      • Good morning Todd,

        Thank you for taking the time to respond. There’s reasonable explanations for a few of your concerns regarding my post. That you would jump to consider them “lies” rather than ask for context is disconcerting, however.

        The post was written in 2012, during a time period in which I was seriously discerning the Secular Franciscans, and being mentored by an expert in Franciscan spirituality. The Franciscans refer to St. Francis of Assisi as “Holy Father Francis”, which I began doing during that time period in my discernment process. I was born on his Feast day, I came back to the Church thanks to a conference run by his “sons”, I owe my life to his intercession. Considering my experiences with my own father (which you can read about on this website), it should come as no surprise that as I discerned joining and studied the Franciscan masters under my mentor that I began to refer to Francis in the same way they did.

        You fast forward four years, we now have a Pope Francis, who everyone calls “Holy Father Francis”. Which for non-Franciscans, could cause some confusion wen Franciscans refer to *their* Francis with the same title. Since then I’ve started calling him St. Francis again, ironically, to avoid confusion. That and my discernment process appears to have led me down a different path. Perhaps I’ll add a footnote explaining all of this so confusion can be avoided. Regardless, there’s no lies in the above. Just someone on a journey, using terminology that isn’t commonly used.

        Meanwhile, I used Lewis as an example of someone who many say died “outside the Church”, and that in a millisecond during the time of his death there stood a possibility he may have embraced the fullness of Truth. At the time of writing (2012), many sedes who I talked to at the time firmly believed Lewis is in Hell, full stop. The “Baptism of desire” was used as a reference that if near the time of death if one had the desire for the fullness of Truth, they would receive mercy. To me, at the time, it seemed like an analogous comparison, not a literal one. Could it have been phrased better? Yes. However in this sense, I was using the term “Baptism of desire” to explain something in the same way that people use being “baptized in the Holy Spirit” – obviously you’re not getting re-baptized (we are in agreement there is but one Trinitarian Baptism for the forgiveness of sins), but “baptism” is used nevertheless in the term, it’s used as a descriptor, not a literal second Baptism. In the future, I’ll be more mindful regarding my analogies and metaphors, to once again avoid confusion. But again, no lies here, just someone who used an analogy that was misinterpreted and perhaps should be clarified.

        Re; Francis being called a “Holy Man”, I go by what my mentor said in regards to what Francis was called by the Sultan. In 2012 I wasn’t about to argue with someone with a STD in Franciscan spirituality and history, and led Franciscan formation classes.

        Ultimately, the burden of proof is on sedes to show when the Chair went vacant. Was it before or after Paul VI? Was it after John Paul II? Was BXVI the last Pope? At what time did Matthew 16:18 fail to protect the Church? When did the Church fall into apostasy, exactly?

        For myself, I’m comfortable that the Church has been, and continues to be protected. Customs changes, traditions (lower-case) change, but the doctrine hasn’t. We’ve been under assault for 2000 years, but for the past century there has been a continuous onslaught. But with people such as the Lawyer turned Prophet who helped safeguard things thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, I feel the Church is in safe hands. Pope Francis may say or do things people don’t like, but Church doctrine hasn’t (and won’t change). In fact, it’s never changed. The doctrinal consistency is what separates us from Protestants and people like the Mormons. As of yet, no one has found for me an actual doctrine which has changed. Disciplines, customs, and lower-case traditions have all changed. Sometimes, they’ve changed drastically. But doctrine hasn’t. Sometimes how doctrine has been presented has changed, but the doctrine itself hasn’t. For me, the keys are still held by the successor of Peter.

        I will be praying for you, that you find peace in your journey.

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