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Sedevacantism is a theological opinion currently held by a some Traditionalist Catholics which holds that the Holy See is currently vacant. Sedevacantists regard Popes Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI as illegitimate popes due to these popes' alleged public heresy. Some Sedevacantists also regard Pope John XXIII as an illegitimate pope.

Strictly speaking, the term sedevacantist should be applied only to those who believe that there is at present no reigning pope, but it is frequently used more broadly to include those very small groups of sedevacantists who have attempted to actually elect popes of their own, known as conclavists. Most sedevacantists are strongly opposed to conclavism.

The word sedevacantism is derived from the Latin phrase sede vacante, which means "while the See [or Chair] is vacant" and is used in Vatican documents in the interval between the death or abdication of a pope and the election of a successor.


The sedevacantist position


In August 1971, the Mexican Jesuit Joaquin Saenz Arriaga wrote the book The New Montinian Church in which he concludes that Pope Paul VI had founded a new religion distinct from traditional Roman Catholicism. He followed this with another work, Sede Vacante in 1973 in which he explicitly claims that because of Paul VI's personal heresy, he had forfeited his papal authority. The writings of Saenz gave rise to the sedevacantist movement in Mexico led by Fathers Saenz, Moises Carmona and Adolfo Zamora; in the United States by Fathers Francis E. Fenton and Burton Fraser and in France by Guerard des Lauriers.

As with Traditionalist Catholicism in general, sedevacantism owes its origins to the rejection of the theogical and disciplinary reforms that were carried out in the Catholic Church by the the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Traditionalist Catholics reject the council primarily because of its teachings on religious liberty and ecumenism which they feel contradict the traditional teaching of the Church and deny the unique and divine mission of the Catholic Church as Christ's one true religion. In addition, new disciplinary norms are also rejected such as the new rite of the Mass.

Sedevacantists conclude that the true teaching authority of the church could not decree the reforms of Vatican II and therefore, those who did issue them were not acting with the authority of the true Catholic Church and therefore were usurpers of valid ecclesiastical authority. Pope Paul VI and his successors had forfeited the true Church and consequently any legitimate authority within the same Church.

Non-sedevacantist Traditionalist Catholics have continued to recognise the authority of Pope Paul VI and his successors but readily acknowledge that they have held and taught unorthodox beliefs, but would stop short of affirming that they have been heretics. It is sometimes alleged that Pope John XXIII became a Freemason prior to his elevation to the papacy and was thus disqualified for the office as a result of excommunication latae sententiae. Such ideas are firmly rejected by mainstream Catholics, who regard them as absurd or deluded.

Arguments used by sedevacantists to defend their position include the following:

  • Most pre-Conciliar Catholic theologians and canon lawyers taught that it is inherently impossible for a heretic to hold the papal office.
  • Particular provisions of Church law prevent a heretic from being elected or remaining as pope. Paul IV's 1559 Bull Cum ex apostolatus officio stipulates that a heretic cannot be elected Pope, while Canon 188.4 of the pre-Conciliar (1917) Code of Canon Law provides that a cleric who publicly defects from the Catholic faith automatically loses any office that he holds in the Church.
  • The recent occupants of the Vatican have performed actions that could not have been carried out by true Popes. Paul VI refused to wear the papal tiara, the traditional symbol of papal authority; John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI abandoned the traditional papal coronation ceremony; and all four men declined to take the traditional papal oath.

Mainstream Catholics have engaged sedevacantists in debate on some of these points. Fr. Brian Harrison, for example, has argued that the sedevacantist thesis is incompatible with the provisions of canon law - a conclusion which has, in turn, been disputed by sedevacantists. [[1]]

There are estimated to be between several hundred and several thousand sedevacantists worldwide, mostly concentrated in the United States and Australia, but the size of the sedevacantist movement has never been accurately assessed. Sedevacantists note that Catholic doctrine teaches that the Church is identified by its unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity, and they base their claim to be the true remnant Church on the presence of these four "marks" rather than on the size of their numbers.

Some sedevacantists in England prefer to be called recusants. The original recusants were those English Catholics who refused to embrace Anglicanism and attend Anglican services after the Church of England was established as the official state church.

The sedevacantist bishops

Image:Thuc.jpg The ordinations performed by sedevacantist bishops are regarded as valid by mainstream Catholics, provided that the bishop in question has himself been validly ordained. According to Catholic doctrine, any bishop can validly ordain any other man. Ordinations within the sedevacantist movement are, however, performed contrary to the wishes and procedures of the "official" Church, and are hence regarded as being illicit or illegal. Indeed, a bishop who ordains (or, strictly speaking, consecrates) another man as a bishop without papal permission incurs automatic excommunication. Canon law permits Catholics to take the sacraments from illicitly ordained priests and bishops only in circumstances of dire need.

The bishops that have existed within the sedevacantist movement since its inception can be divided into three categories. The first category consists of bishops consecrated within the "official" Catholic Church who were subsequently persuaded to the sedevacantist position. Within this category fell the Vietnamese archbishop Ngô Ðình Thuc Pierre Martin (who may have been reconciled to Pope John Paul II before his death in 1984) and the Puerto Rican bishop Alfredo F. Mendez, both of whom are now dead. In addition, the late Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer of Campos, Brazil is reported to have embraced sedevacantism, despite his association with the non-sedevacantist Society of St. Pius X, and a Ukrainian bishop named Yuri Yurchyk converted from Eastern Orthodoxy to sedevacantist Roman Catholicism in 2002.

The second category, into which most present-day sedevacantist bishops fall, consists of men who were consecrated within the sedevacantist movement by Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc or Bishop Mendez, or by bishops consecrated by them. The "Thuc line" of consecrations is particularly complicated, since Thuc consecrated a considerable number of men to the episcopate, and these in turn consecrated many more men.

The third category of sedevacantist bishops consists of those clerics whose consecrations are generally regarded as outright invalid, even by other sedevacantists, because their consecration cannot be traced to validly ordained bishops who were part of the Apostolic Succession. The consecrations of Lucian Pulvermacher and Gordon Bateman for the true Catholic Church fall into this category.

One Palmarian Catholic Church bishop, Michael Cox, who traced his consecration to Ngô Ðình Thuc Pierre Martin (who had consecrated the bishop who consecrated him), ordained Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor as a priest and Fr. Pat Buckley as a bishop in the 1990s. O'Connor assumed the clerical name Mother Bernadette Mary for a time. Cox and Buckley later parted company, with Buckley accusing Cox of simony for accepting a payment to cover his hernia operation from O'Connor.


Image:Pius XIII.jpg As noted above, some groups have put forward their own popes in opposition to those in Rome, making them "conclavists" rather than "sedevacantists" in the strict sense of the word.

In 1990 Teresa Stanfill-Benns and David Bawden called for a conclave to elect a pope. They sent their request around the world but only received six respondents. On July 16 1990, the six gathered in Belvue, Kansas in the United States and elected Bawden who took the name Pope Michael I.

Another conclavist group in Italy elected Victor von Pentz as Pope Linus II in 1994.

In October 1998, the United States-based true Catholic Church elected the Reverend Lucian Pulvermacher, a traditionalist priest, as Pope Pius XIII. This group accepts the claim that Pope John XXIII became a Freemason in 1935 while serving as papal nuncio to Turkey. It has been established, however, that Pius XIII has engaged in the practice of divining with a pendulum since his seminary days - a practice which was prohibited by Pope Pius XII and allegedly caused him to incur automatic excommunication even before his ordination to the priesthood. This revelation led some of his supporters to withdraw their allegiance from him.

For a full list of rival popes elected by conclavist groups, see the article Antipopes.

The debate between sedevacantists and mainstream Catholics

Mainstream Catholics deny that sedevacantists possess the "notes" of unity, sanctity, catholicity and apostolicity.

  • Sedevacantist claims of unity are rejected as mere partisan rhetoric on the grounds that there are many groups of sedevacantists, with few or no formal ties to each other (and there is a perception that members of these groups are apt to fall into schism from each other almost at the drop of a hat). Claims of unity advanced by conclavists are regarded as particularly specious, since each conclavist group has its own religious hierarchy and claims exclusive entitlement as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
  • Sedevacantists are perceived by mainstream Catholics as lacking in holiness because of their harsh rhetoric. Holiness is also seen as being absent in conclavist groups, which are allegedly clustered around a small number of like-minded individuals who are more inclined to work for the promulgation of their own views than for the glory of God.
  • Mainstream Catholics argue that the Church's catholicity (universality) means precisely that: the true Catholic Church is universal (for all people) and visible. Sedevacantists, to the contrary, argue that the world has been deceived as to the true identity of the Catholic Church for nearly fifty years. This, it is argued, is a heretical position, since it contradicts the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ adopted at the First Vatican Council in 1870, which states that the visible Church must have a visible Head, and that that visible Head is the Roman Pontiff. A related argument is that the notion that the Pope - together with the vast majority of the other bishops around the world - would succumb to heresy and fall from office is inconsistent with the doctrine of the indefectibility of the Church. A key text here is Christ's declaration to St. Peter in the Gospel of St Matthew: 'You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it' (16.18).
  • It has been noted that no sedevacantist bishop exists who has been consecrated both validly and licitly. The resulting lack of connection to the historic episcopate is seen as resulting in an absence of apostolicity: sedevacantists have, it is claimed, broken the line of apostolic succession, which is vital to Catholic worship (lex orandi, lex credendi).

Sedevacantists and mainstream Catholics have disagreed sharply over the question of whether the former deny the catholicity or indefectibility of the Church. Sedevacantists note that there is a sede vacante period, during which there is no visible Head of the Church, between the death of every Pope and the election of his successor. In this period, they say, the Church is not abandoned and has not defected, but is protected, because nothing can be changed until a new Pope has been chosen. They also recall that, during the 40-year Great Western Schism, great uncertainty existed as to which of the two (eventually three) claimants to the papacy was the true pontiff, with even saints taking opposing sides in the controversy.

Mainstream Catholics reply that the analogy with the Great Schism is misleading, since there was never any doubt that one of the claimants was truly the Pope. In addition, they note that the sede vacante periods between successive papacies are transitory in nature and are not part of the ordinary constitution of the Church, whereas sedevacantists believe that the absence of a Pope has become a permanent feature of the Church's structure. They further argue that the Vatican I Dogmatic Constitution previously mentioned teaches that the perpetual presence of the Bishop of Rome, not merely his office, is an essential condition of the Church:

Therefore, if anyone says that it is not by the institution of Christ the Lord himself (that is to say, by divine law) that Blessed Peter should have perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole Church; or that the Roman pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema. - Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus (emphasis added)

Mainstream Catholics affirm that, while sedevacantist rhetoric would have it that the Catholic Church has suddenly become Protestant, it is in fact the sedevacantists themselves - with each group practising its own interpretation of pre-Vatican II Catholicism and persistently denying traditional Catholic teaching on the primacy and indefectibility of the See of Rome - who have followed in the Protestants' footsteps.

Various other criticisms of sedevacantism have been put foward, including the following:

  • Sedevacantists are accused of citing as infallible documents such as papal encyclicals, bulls, homilies and other sources which have traditionally been held not to be sources of infallible teachings.
  • It is claimed that sedevacantists do not distinguish adequately between matters of discipline which can be reformed at any time - such as the use of Latin and of the Tridentine Mass - and infallible dogmatic teachings.
  • Some sedevacantists are accused of indulging in the logical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc (coincidental correlation) by attributing problems which the mainstream Church has experienced in the Western world since the reforms to the reforms themselves rather than to the general decrease in religiosity in the West.

Main sedevacanist groups

Main conclavist groups

See also

Five popes in the conventional (Roman) line have been declared antipopes by Sedevacantist and Conclavist groups. They are:

External links

Sedevacantist sites

Criticism of Sedevacantism

Definition of Sedevacantism

nl:Sedisvacantisme pl:Sedewakantyzm sv:Sedevakantister zh:宗座缺出论

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