Yesterday, I wrote an article about the sedevacantist thesis on this blog. It was a response to Bishop Mark Anthony Pivarunas’s article on the lifting of the excommunications of the SSPX. Over the next few days, I would like to examine in some detail the teachings of the Church with regard to the Pope, his person, and his jurisdiction. In order to accomplish this task, I will be utilizing the writings of Dr. Ludwig Ott and his book, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.
One of the fallacies of the sedevacantist position is the notion that the line of successors to St. Peter has been interrupted. Vatican I taught: “If anyone denies that in virtue of the decree of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Blessed Peter has perpetual successors in His primacy over the Universal Church, let him be anathema.” As Father Ott explains: “That the Primacy is to be perpetuated in the successors of St. Peter is, indeed, not expressly stated in the words of the promise and conferring of the Primacy by Our Lord, but it flows as an inference from the nature and purpose of the Papacy itself. As the function of the Church, according to the will of her Divine Founder, is to continue substantially unchanged until the end of time for the perpetuation of the work of salvation, the Primacy must also be perpetuated” (Ott, 282).
If we unpack these statements one by one, we come to a firm conclusion that the Papacy must be perpetuated. While Our Lord did not say to St. Peter, “Thou shalt have successors forever,” the promise still stipulates that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.” Therefore, it is a necessity for the Church to have Popes to govern her and to lead Holy Mother Church and the billions of souls within her.
Bishop Pivarunas and other sedevacantist theologians will state that they believe in the Papacy and that it will be restored. This raises more questions than it does answers: How do they believe that the Roman Catholic Church to be restored? In the absence of a Pope, how do bishops like Pivarunas and Dolan govern their churches? If priests are being ordained without papal mandate, then how is it that their Sacraments are valid?
With regard to the first question, there are numerous answers that vary from sedevacantist believer to the next. Some believe that the Papacy will be restored by a miracle of God’s grace and mercy. Others believe that the Restoration will occur when the Vatican denies everything in the Vatican Council II documents. Of course, there are those who believe that God has already selected a pope such as the followers of Pope Michael I (a man living in his parents’ basement) or Pope Hadrian VII (Francis Konrad Schuckardt, discredited founder of the CMRI). No matter how one skins this particular cat, it seems to me that the sedes do not genuinely believed that the Papacy will be restored. If it is, it will be a Papacy that will be toward their liking and their own particular tastes.
The problem of not recognizing Pope Benedict XVI as the Holy Father also brings with it numerous other problems. For example, Bishops Pivarunas and Dolan are both known for ruling their parishes and congregations with an iron fist. The disciplinary measures at Dolan’s school are perhaps the most stringent that I have ever read about. Children are not permitted to listen to any popular music (reasonable and good), to surf the internet without parental supervision, and women are told that if they dress immodestly they are guilty of mortal sin. There is nothing wrong with the first two things listed here. Children are not discerning adults and they must be supervised. However, who is Bishop Daniel Dolan to say that immodest dress is a mortal sin and that women wearing these clothes may be an occasion of sin?
The Papacy during the last fifty years has never, ever stipulated what kind of clothes should and must be worn to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. While there are people who wear their Sunday best, there are also those who show up wearing street clothes. Women must cover their heads at church out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament, but I have not seen anything written about immodest clothing. After all, who are we to judge a person based on their clothes? A poor woman may come to Mass wearing sneakers and a jean skirt. Are we to judge her for wearing the wrong kinds of shoes? Of course not. It is a ridiculous proposition. We are not God. We have no place judging people’s souls based on their actions. If people dress inappropriately for Mass, then that is something between them and God. It is not something that we should get riled up about.
Some of you may wonder why I am writing so much on this topic, it is because the rules for clothing at these churches are outrageously detailed. Women must wear dresses that are not revealing, the cut must not be two fingers below the neck, and so on. Men, of course, get away with a suit coat and tie. If this is not a double standard then I don’t know what is. Perhaps, it is also time that we also get these women to wear burkas. After all, aren’t we still living in a time that say women are to be heard and not seen?
However, dress and other such things are only the tip of the disciplinary iceberg. There are certain parish priests, who are independent of a bishop and diocese, who will rule their congregations like Oriental despots. Not all independent priests are like this, but one I know in particular was. I remember a sermon that he gave in which he stipulated that Catholics should not and must no associate themselves with non-Catholics or participate in their services. I could understand the second part of his thesis easily enough. Pope Leo XIII wrote about it extensively. However, I could not swallow the first part of this thesis because I lived with my non-Catholic parents and had many non-Catholic friends. I could not simply throw away my career and my family. If anything, my place is to convert other people and evangelize. I cannot shut myself off.
Of course, the above has little if anything to do with the perpetual successors of St. Peter. Yet the only reason I am bringing it up is to show you what kinds of things happen, when someone finds himself in a sedevacantist position. Not only this, but it is something that people must be aware of. Just because it may not be happening in your own traditional Catholic parish does not mean that it does not exist and you should thank God that you are not subjected to what I have described above.
I would also like to note here that the sedevacantist thesis also goes against the doctrine of the indefectibility of the Church. It is a common teaching of Roman Catholicism that the Pope cannot err in matters of faith and morals. When Pope Benedict XVI or his predecessors have issued a statement from the Chair itself, it cannot be contradicted. They are speaking in persona Petri, which means that you cannot flagrantly disobey them.
Sedevacantists, however, are under no obligation to obey the rulings and teaching of the Supreme Pontiff because they believe that he is a heretic. Yet if problems arise who, if anybody, will step up to the plate and solve them? When fifteen CMRI sisters were ordered to leave their convent by Bishop Pivarunas, the main reason that was given because they believe in sedevacantism. In a sermon preached before a packed church at Mount St. Michael, the bishop stated clearly that the nuns should either agree to the sedevacantist position or pack their bags and leave. I am simplifying, of course. The fact of the matter is that sedevacantism is not and never has been a dogma of the Church. Nor has it been something that a faithful Catholic must believe. As I have said previously, it is merely a theological opinon.
By saying that the Chair of Peter is vacant, however, Pivarunas and other sedevacantists have essentially usurped the role of the Papacy and the Magisterium. As Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos noted in the conditions given to the SSPX, they were not to set up a Magisterium that would go against the teachings of the current Supreme Pontiff. By their disobedience to the Holy Father, the sedevacantists have done just that.
In relating the above, I do not wish for my readers to believe that all sedevacantists are like the ones described. Far from it. I have met many traditional religious and laypeople, who are fervent believers. For many of them, sedevacantism is the only answer to the crisis that the Church has been in since Vatican II. For a time, I was in that same boat yet the Lord opened my eyes to see that solutions do exist with Rome herself.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!