During the past summer, I wrote a great a deal about the sedevacantist movement. Essentially, sedevacantists justify their schismatic position by saying that the Holy Father is an anti-pope who has lost his office because of manifest heresy. In a simpler way, “The Pope is doing things that we don’t like. Therefore, we are leaving the Church.”
Much of the sedevacantist movement is founded on the writings of St. Robert Bellarmine, one of my favorite Doctors of the Church. In one of his books on the Papacy, Bellarmine posits that it is entirely possible for there to be a papal interregnum if the Pope becomes a manifest heretic in his theology. He also says that the Pope can be de-throned by a MAJORITY of cardinals and laity, who see his heresy for what it is. This, in a nutshell, is the sedevacantist hypothesis. Like any hypothesis, it must be proven in order to be true. According to the sedevacantists, the theory proved true at Vatican II with the promulgation of decress on religious liberty, the New Mass, and numerous other reforms.
The Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (CMRI) is the main sedevacantist organization out there today. Its head is Bishop Mark Anthony Pivarunas, who is responsible for this group from his headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. In a recent newsletter , Bishop Pivarunas addresses the lifting of the excommunications that occurred earlier this year.
The basic thesis of Bishop Pivarunas’s letter is that the SSPX’s position is untenable and illogical. The reason for why it doesn’t work, according to Pivarunas, is that either one recognizes that the Popes is the Supreme Pontiff and resists him not or one does not recognize him as such. This position is commonly called “resist and recognize” among traditionalist Catholics of various stripes.
To Pivarunas and his fellow priests, it makes sense that the SSPX would choose to reconcile itself with Rome. After all, they have believed in the Pope all along while staying in schism and resisting him. To him, the only question is how much the SSPX will be willing to concede to the Vatican in order to become “a pea in the Conciliar pod.”
In order to justify his position and make the SSPX look bad, Pivarunas drags out every argument that he can think of. He says that the “confused position” of the SSPX comes from a wrong-headed idea about the Papacy. He says that they recognize as Supreme Pontiff a man who has gone against everything that has been decreed by the Council of Trent and Vatican I. He also says that if every pontiff from John XXIII on were a true pope, then the SSPX would not be able to ordain priests or serve Mass without the popes’ express orders and decrees.
One of the things that is comical about this letter is that Pivarunas is willing to judge the SSPX and yet not examine his own position. The SSPX’s theology may be faulty, but Archbishop Lefevbre was a reasonable man and he knew that by not recognizing the Pope, he would open the door to all kinds of problems. Yes, Archbishop Lefevbre did have doubts about his position and things did go up and down for a number of years. The fact remains, however, that although he was excommunicated from the Church, he still remained loyal to the Supreme Pontiff to the end of his days.
If we look at the CMRI and other sedevacantist organizations, the word “organization” becomes problematic. In the Roman Catholic Church, a man must be ordained by a validly and licitly consecrated bishop. Bishop Pivarunas claims his legitimacy on the basis that Archbishop Pierre Ngo Dinh Thuc’s faculties to consecrate bishops under “extraordinary circumstances” were never rescinded. That may be so, but that still does not make him a licit bishop in the eyes of the Church. If anything, he is simply another one of many sedevacantist bishops who have valid, but not licit consecrations.
It should be noted here that licitness not only means that a bishop be consecrated in the valid manner, but that there also be TWO co-consecrators present at the ceremonies themselves. This is explicitly stated in the writings of Ludwig Ott and numerous other writers on sacramental theology. If the two co-consecrators are not there, the sacrament is not licit, but still valid. Confusing, I know.
Another thing that I would like to point out here is that the sedevacantists are in a very difficult position because they are outside of the Church. For example, how are they to lead their seminarians and teach them if they do not have access to the materials necessary for formation? One cannot simply order books printed fifty years ago from a printer these days. Not only this, but who is there to say that they are being taught exactly what the Church taught fifty years ago before the Council and not one man’s interpretation of such things as canon law, sacramental theology, and dogmatic theology? If there is no checks and balances system, then the system itself does not work.
The Sacraments administered by the priests that come out of these seminaries may be valid, but they are not legal in the eyes of Holy Mother Church. Since these priests are operating outside of the Vatican’s sphere, they are outlaws. Not only this, but there are problems with the way that they hear confessions. And who knows, if the Church views them as having suspended faculties.
Once again, I urge you to pray for the Pope and the Church in these most confusing times.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Robert Bellarmine, pray for us!