Sedevacantism and Theology of the Church

Splitting the Foundation

By: John Lane

“[E]very crisis separates an entity from what is alien to it, and simultaneously preserves the essential character of that entity…” – Romano Amerio  [1]

Sedevacantism is the opinion that the popes since John XXIII have been illegitimate, not true popes, not successors of St. Peter.  Sedevacantism is not the theory of the heretic pope, or the theory of the schismatic pope, or any other of the standard theological hypotheses to be found in the pre-Vatican II manuals.

The logic of sedevacantism, no matter what you might have been told by knowing, gravely-voiced, experts who have appointed themselves your guides in these disastrous days of faithlessness, is simply this:

Evil does not come from the Church; the New Mass and the errors and heresies of Vatican II and its aftermath are evil, therefore, they did not come from the Church.  Now, an obvious solution to this problem is to deny the authority of the men who promulgated these evils and have presided over the consequent destruction of the faith.  This is the sedevacantist solution.[2]

Other solutions have been proposed, such as the “Indult” theory which consists essentially in denying that the reforms are evil; or that of The Remnant crowd, which consists in denying that the reforms have been actually mandated (i.e. the Church can offer evil to her children, but not impose it); or, finally, the periodic attempts by various parties to undermine the truths in the theology manuals regarding ecclesiology so as to show that nothing in these evil reforms is so bad that it could not have been produced by the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.

This article is not about those alternative solutions, none of which appeals to this writer as anything but bankrupt.  The aim of this article is to state once again the sedevacantist thesis, and to explain why men like myself regard it as the true answer to the problem of the present crisis in the Church.

I repeat, the sedevacantist solution to the theoretical problem posed by the crisis is not the heretic pope thesis.  The heretic pope thesis is a standard discussion carried on down the centuries by numerous highly trained, authorised, theologians.  The sedevacantist position is simply the proposition that the popes of Vatican II have not been true popes.

The way in which one typically arrives at this conclusion is not by observing notorious heresy on the part of the Vatican II popes, and then applying the doctrine of, say, St. Robert Bellarmine, to the facts.  This may be a perfectly reasonable, secure, and accurate approach, but it isn’t what made sedevacantists in the beginning, and it isn’t what sustains sedevacantists in their stance today.

What sustains our certitude is the fact that we cannot maintain faith in the Catholic Church if we also recognise, say, Paul VI, as a true Successor of St. Peter, as a Vicar of Christ.  If Paul VI was pope, then the Catholic Church ceased to defend and preach the truth, and it ceased to worship God properly, and it drove from its churches and cathedrals any who failed to accede in this programme of Modernism.  But this is inadmissible.  Ergo, Paul VI cannot have been pope.

Let us remind ourselves of what actually happened in the years from 1970.  The gravity of the events of those years was extreme.  Consider two families, living in proximity to a parish church in, say, 1970 when the New Mass was imposed.  One family saw nothing wrong with this synthetic new man-centred liturgy, did not realize that the Catholic Church doesn’t write entire new masses and ban the traditional one, and therefore simply went along quietly with the revolution.

The second family faced a major crisis.  They could not in conscience attend the New Mass, but the old, true, Mass was no longer offered in their parish church.  They approached their pastor but he explained that, unfortunately, he was not permitted to offer the Tridentine Mass.  It had been banned.  The crisis was immediate, and earth-shattering.  This second family found themselves separated from their fellow Catholics, and from their pastor, and from their bishop, entirely without their own fault, because the Mass for which their parish church had been constructed was no longer offered there.  Worse, a sacrilegious parody had replaced it.

Consider how Fr. James Wathen described the situation:

From the day of the installation of the “New Mass,” to this present one, the whole Church lies like a wounded animal, and the whole world watches in stunned disbelief. The disruption is complete. The churches are the scenes of countless, indescribable profanations, and the behavior of many Catholics, particularly many priests and religious, borders on total madness. At the sight of the appalling and ever-increasing disorder and immorality, many pious souls are unable to suppress the question which until this present era seemed mystically unreal: Could this be the time and could the so-called Novus Ordo Missae be that thing, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet in his Eighth Chapter? (The Great Sacrilege, Chapter Three.)

This crisis was only visible to those with the spiritual eyes to see.  Actually, incredibly, nearly all Latin-Rite Catholics went along peacefully with the revolution.  They didn’t recognise a problem at all, let alone a full-blown crisis, the worst in the history of the Church.  In this sense it was the Mass that mattered.  If you rejected the New Mass, you were pushed out of your parish, dislocated, in many cases treated as disobedient and even schismatic.  If you accepted the New Mass, then there was hardly a ripple.

Now, it was those who could not accept the New Mass that constituted the original “traditional Catholics.”  The rejection of the New Mass is therefore the foundation of the so-called traditionalist milieu.  Prior to that, people who celebrated Vatican II and people who regarded it with horror were at least worshipping side by side in the same churches and cathedrals.

After the New Mass was inflicted, a great division occurred.  From then on, the traditionalist existed as a clearly visible species.  He had his own Mass centres, and his own clergy.  In many cases there was a great deal of personal angst and hurt also, as family and friends reacted to the traditionalist failure to adopt the novel liturgy.  Essentially, this cleavage was a schism.

The question ever since has been which of the two sides remained Catholic?

The Modernists displayed their own appreciation of what was at issue by immediately beginning their ongoing campaign of defamation against faithful Catholics by alleging that we are disobedient, rebellious, even schismatic.  We now have a pop term for this – gaslighting.  You do something evil to people, then you blame them for it, and you use psychological manipulation to try and have the victim believe that he is actually the perpetrator.

The sedevacantist is, in one sense, merely the Catholic who refuses to join in blaming the early traditionalists for the destruction of the unity of faith, or the shattering of ecclesiastical unity, or the other manifold evils that have flooded the Church in the wake of the reforms.

The sedevacantist is the man who takes seriously the very obvious fact that Paul VI was the perpetrator; his victims were his victims.  Actually, Paul VI made it impossible to be subject to him;  he made subjection in any realistic meaning impossible.  That is what made a traditional Catholic to begin with, and it is equally what makes a sedevacantist.

For this reason, it is the view of this writer that all historical traditionalists (i.e. those who descend from the original scattered remnant who declined to accept the New Mass) are essentially sedevacantist in their principles.  They may in many cases, even most cases, find this characterisation offensively false, because of how they have been taught to regard sedevacantism, but be that as it may, their stance is incompatible with any true submission to Paul VI or his successors as Vicars of Christ.  Nor is this their fault, obviously.

“Indult” traditionalists, especially those who have rediscovered tradition via the Fraternity of St. Peter and similar sources, do not share this intellectual and historical DNA, so to speak, and this is why many of them cannot understand the apparently unreasonable inflexibility of the SSPX and associates.  To the “Indult” mind, John Paul II and Benedict XVI especially are the authorities who gave the traditional Mass to the faithful, and those who have a different view seem ungrateful and insubordinate.[3]

How exactly did Paul VI make himself unable to be obeyed?  Watch the drama unfold with Lefebvre.  Montini is unhappy with Lefebvre failing to accept the New Mass; he won’t allow Econe to continue unless it accepts the New Mass.  But a Catholic who is informed and faithful cannot accept the New Mass.  And note well, this is not just a matter of some specific command or other that might be regarded as an exception, that might be set aside pending further clarification or whatever, while the superior-subject relation continues in all other respects.

This was a matter concerning, in Archbishop Lefebvre’s case, whether one could continue to form and ordain priests, at all.  In the case of parish priests, it was a question of whether one could continue as pastor of a parish, at all.  In the case of the laity, the question was whether one could continue as the member of a parish, at all.  If you didn’t accept the New Mass, your seminary was shut down and you were suspended a divinis; you were excluded from your own parish; you were subject to a campaign of defamation by the putative authorities of the Church.

The superior-subject relation which is the papacy was destroyed.  Now, who did this?  Was it those whom we call traditional Catholics?  Obviously, spectacularly, indisputably, not.  A case cannot even begin to be mounted that it was their doing, except and only if you postulate that imposing a new liturgy and banning the old one is normal and within the powers of the Roman Pontiff.

So that is the practical foundation of sedevacantism.  Effectively, Paul VI refused to govern in a manner that would permit Catholics to obey him.  We could obey him and cease being practicing Catholics; or we could continue practicing the divinely revealed religion and in those very acts disobey.  But he did this.  The traditionalists didn’t.  The traditional Catholics didn’t step forward and usurp authority and make judgements, they merely continued practicing the Catholic religion.  The physical motion was on their side, it is true, in that it was the traditionalists who ceased attending their local parish church, but the moral movement was all on the other side – the side of Paul VI and his bishops.  And it is the moral motion that matters, obviously.

So, who ran out of the Church, entirely of his own volition, without any compulsion, openly and before all?  Paul VI.

The theoretical foundation of sedevacantism is ecclesiology.  Roman theology describes a Church which is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.  It describes a Church which is the Mystical Body of Christ, with the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Ghost, as its soul.  It tells us that the Church is the secure, and only, Ark of Salvation, within which men are elevated to the supernatural, and trained for heaven.  Within this Church one can be sure of being led to safety, by obeying legitimate pastors who themselves are subject ultimately to the Vicar of Christ on earth.  The Church is the Whole Christ.  The Church is Christ.

Error and corruption can exist within the bounds of the Church, because men retain their free will and are subject to concupiscence, but these evils cannot come from the Church.  All non-sedevacantist theories of the current crisis postulate some radically different view of the Catholic Church.  They can be summed up as maintaining that the Church is that institution within which one may be saved, but which may alternatively, at least in practice, lead one astray.  It is up to the alertness and diligence of the individual to ensure that he discovers the true supernatural goods of Christ within this Church.

Whatever may be said about such a view – and I say it is blasphemous and heretical – it is not compatible with Roman theology.  No theologian prior to Vatican II, no matter how liberal, would have thought it possible to reconcile such a theory with revealed truth.

The current state of the Church constitutes an ecclesiological mystery, and it is evident in the most striking phenomenon of the Conciliar era, described above: the physical and moral separation which occurred between those who loved or at least tolerated the New Religion, and those who insisted on holding fast to the traditions of their fathers.  It is usually lamented as somehow unnatural, and described as “schism.”  Actually, it is a schism – and as already pointed out, the real question is which of the two sides has remained Catholic?  I say that the Modernists call us schismatics precisely because they know that the schism itself is undeniable, and therefore it has to be our fault, we have to be the non-Catholics.

Two key factors drove this division of Catholics, the implicit withdrawal of the Rule of Faith by Paul VI, with the inevitable errors and heresies of Vatican II that resulted, and the imposition by tyrannical violence of the New Mass.  Heresy and schism, respectively.

It is not enough for them to tell us: ‘You may say the old Mass, but you have to accept it [the Council].’ No, it is not only that [the Mass] which divides us, it’s doctrine. That’s clear.[4]

When Paul VI published his new missal, and the bishops imposed it ruthlessly and tyrannically upon the lesser clergy and the laity, faithful Catholics, priests and people, were forced by the despotism of the bishops into physical separation.  Priests who would not bend to the New Mass were supported by the remnant faithful who coalesced around them in makeshift chapels.  This gigantic schism, fomented by Paul VI, actually produced a manifestly distinct sect.[5]

The texts of Vatican II and the false worship of the New Missal, the liturgy that places man instead of God at its centre, constitute the formal cause, the theoretical programme of the Conciliar sect, but it emerged clearly in public as a distinct body from the period of the practical imposition of the New Mass.  This sect is the New Church.

Reading this you may be thinking, well that’s all very radical, extreme, and feels a little fundamentalist; I cannot agree with it.

That is fine, the purpose of this article isn’t to convince you.  I am not interested particularly in making sedevacantists.  My purpose is merely to tell you what sedevacantism really is, so that you may understand it.  And understanding it, you may, if you choose, engage in a discussion about it.  That discussion may be robust, even totally opposed, pistols at dawn if you will.  No problem, but know what it is you are fighting.

Sedevacantism isn’t the pope heretic thesis, it’s the theology of the Church.  That’s our ground.  We preach, insofar as we preach, Christ, and Him crucified.  We reject, and we make no apology for rejecting, Christ mixed with Belial; we reject Barabbas the worldly preferred to the Suffering Man-God, and we reject Antichrist showing himself in the temple as though he were God.  We say that the issue of our day is the issue of two thousand years:  What think ye of Christ?

One mistaken notion I would like to clear away immediately, however, is that the New Mass not evil simply because it is not absolutely evil.  This unclear thinking is based on a fundamental misconception of what evil truly is.

All evil is relative.  All that is, is good.  All that is, was and is created by God.  It is good.  Evil is a negation, a lack of due good.  Evil is precisely the absence of a good that ought to be present.  It is, fundamentally, injustice.  For example, if divine worship is to be conducted well, it must be directed wholly to God.  Even our worship of the saints is the worship of Christ in those saints.  It is the recognition that Christ has elevated them to the supernatural, and by His grace conducted them to heaven.  He has made Himself, not them, live in them.

The New Mass was the turning of divine worship somewhat away from God and instead towards man.  This was only a relative matter.  It wasn’t (at least openly) the rejection of God as such; it wasn’t the institution of a kind of Black Mass, if you will; it was a relative evil.  That is to say, it was an evil.  All evil is a disturbance of right order, which is to say a destruction of right relations.  But that is the very definition of relative.  The New Mass, precisely because it disturbed the right order in divine worship by man, was evil.  Its fruits confirm this.

Now, once a man sees that the Church cannot be responsible for the evils of the Vatican II revolt, and he has worked out that the simplest explanation is that the putative popes who prosecuted it were not truly popes, he begins to investigate how this might be so.  What possible causes could have resulted in men being held to be popes who were not truly so?  In that investigation he quickly comes across the pope heretic thesis, the schismatic pope thesis, and the doubtful pope thesis.  He finds that historically there have been antipopes, there have been lengthy vacancies in the Holy See, and there have been popes whose status is disputed for a thousand years or more, and whose status we may never know until the day of judgement.  Consult a few books with lists of the popes and note the discrepancies.  There is no authorised and undisputed list.

Looking at the theology books we also discover this kind of thing:

[B]y disobedience, the Pope can separate himself from Christ, who is the principal head of the Church and in relation to whom the unity of the Church is primarily constituted.  He can do this by disobeying the law of Christ or by ordering something which is contrary to natural or divine law.  In this way, he would separate himself from the body of the Church, while it is subject to Christ by obedience.  Thus, the Pope would be able, without doubt, to fall into schism.

The Pope can separate himself without any reasonable cause, just for pure self-will, from the body of the Church and the college of priests.  He will do this if he does not observe that which the Church Universal observes on the basis of the Tradition of the Apostles according to the chapter Ecclesiasticarum, di. 11, or if he did not observe that which was universally ordained by the universal councils or by the authority of the Apostolic See above all in relation to Divine Worship.  For example, not wishing to observe personally something from the universal customs of the Church, or the universal rite of the ecclesiastical cult. This would take place in case he did not wish to celebrate with the sacred vestments, or in consecrated places, or with candles, or if he did not wish to make “The Sign of the Cross” like the other priests make it, or other similar things which have been decreed in a general way for perpetual utility, according to the canons…  Departing in such a way, and with pertinacity, from the universal observance of the Church, the Pope would be able to fall into schism.  The consequence is good; and the antecedent is not doubtful, for the Pope, just as he could fall into heresy, could also disobey and pertinaciously cease to observe that which was established for the common order in the Church.

The above is from the late medieval theologian, Turrecremata.  He goes on to say that such a schismatic would ipso facto lose the papacy.  What would Cardinal Turrecremata have thought of a “pope” who didn’t merely himself refuse to follow the traditions of the Church, above all in relation to divine worship, but who banned those traditions and forced all to go with him in his revolt?

And we have not yet even gotten to the famous pope heretic thesis…


[1] Romano Amerio, Iota Unum, p. 17.

[2] See for example Fr. Anthony Cekada’s well known 1995 booklet, Traditionalists, Infallibility, and the Pope Also, see Rev. Donald Sanborn’s 1991 article, Resistance to the Changes and Indefectibility.

[3] The actual, historical, course of events was this:  Paul VI imposed the New Mass and banned the old Mass.  Some of the laity and some of the priests disobeyed this entirely unjust and therefore invalid command, and continued faithful to the old Mass.  Paul VI and his minions commenced a sophisticated and ongoing campaign of defamation against these good Catholics.  In 1984 John Paul II offered priests and people, in some places (i.e. those places in which the Modernist bishops chose to offer it), the old Mass on condition of accepting the New Mass.  In other words, the offer was to mitigate somewhat the total injustice already perpetrated, on condition that one accept the lie that there was no injustice, because there was no true cause for maintaining the old Mass.

[4] Archbishop Lefebvre, Je poserai mes conditions à une reprise éventuelle des colloques avec Rome, Fideliter No. 66 (Sept.-Oct. 1988).

[5] Despite the fact that this was a true schism, producing a real sect, it does not follow that all or even most of those who remained within the Conciliar milieu thereby left the Catholic Church.  If the Great Western Schism was truly a schism, then the true schismatics were some of its leaders, not the rest of the Church.  Likewise, in the early 1970s, the vast bulk of the clergy and laity remained Catholics, whatever their respective, essentially provisional, allegiances for some years after the New Mass was imposed.  Its effect, the destruction of faith, then proceeded to drive many more out of the Church.

aka focus