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The Sedevacantist Temptation

August 17, 2016

A review of a troubling trend among some Catholics who have a love for the traditional and timeless teachings of the Church

Pastor's Corner: August 17, 2016

Sedevacantism is a big word which literally means that the Holy See is vacant. Today, it denotes a belief that that the person sitting on the Chair of St. Peter is not the real Pope, only a pretender with no right to exercise the papal office.

The reason argued by the sedevacantists is the Church crisis has the backing of the Bishop of Rome. He is, by omission or commission, promoting such errors and heresies as the new Mass, ecumenism, religious liberty, and collegiality. The sedevacantists think that real popes could not be responsible for such a crisis.

Another group has emerged from the crisis, which is the neo-conservative group, which adheres to whatever the Pope says since he is the Pope. Thus, they are led to accept the false teachings coming from Vatican II mentioned above.

It is rather interesting to note that both groups, neo-conservatives and the sedevacantists, use the same principle: “The Pope is infallible in everything and what he teaches is true and good.” The difference is in the application of the principle. The conservatives explain that since Vatican II had papal approval, we must blindly embrace its teaching, true and good, however uneasy we may feel about it. The sedevacantists argue that, since Vatican II truly promotes heresies, its authority could not come from the true Pope. This is the perfect dilemma: either neo-con or sedevac!

The solution of the dilemma resides in the principle itself. Infallibility is not a universal note of anything and everything which comes out of the Pope or Rome. It is limited to specific statements which need specific conditions to be met to have the protection of infallibility. Such protection does not apply to either the documents of Vatican II or the legislation surrounding the New Mass.  

Archishop Lefebvre, in his knowledge of Roman politics and supernatural wisdom, knew the major issues which took place during Vatican II: he presided over the Coetus, that group of bishops who counteracted the modernists from the Rhine countries. Unlike the sedevacantists, the saintly Archbishop was not scandalized by the awful twists made to the Faith and the Mass under the name of ecumenism. He resisted modernist Rome as a lion, and yet recognized the authority of the Roman Pontiff. He acted in the way a good child would do by resisting a father who would ask him to go out stealing, although he still acknowledges him to be his father.

Some sedevacantists object that traditional priests (including the SSPX), invoke the person of the Pope by saying “una cum” at the Canon of the Mass. For them to be "una cum" is to say "Amen" to the heresies promoted by the Pope. In reality, the term is best translated by saying that we pray for the Pope, as the visible head of the Church.

As tempting as the sedevacantism option may be at this juncture, we must resist falling into this error. That does not mean, however, that we have to align with the neo-conservatives who treat every papal utterance as quasi-infallible. Let us recall that there have been holy men and saints in the history of the Church who found it necessary to resist the Pope without becoming sedevacantists. This is why Archbishop Lefebvre, for all his opposition to modernist Rome, never adopted this position, and prudently forbade the priests of the Society of St. Pius X to profess it.