Sedevacantism is a theological position embraced by a minority of Traditionalist Catholics which holds that the Papal See has been vacant since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958 (or, in some cases, the death of Pope John XXIII in 1963).
The term "sedevacantism" is derived from the Latin phrase sede vacante, which literally means "while the seat is vacant," the seat in question being that of the Papal See. The phrase is used during the vacancy of the Holy See between the death or resignation of a Pope and the election of his successor.
Sedevacantists believe that the popes Paul VI (1963–1978), John Paul I (1978), John Paul II (1978–2005), and Benedict XVI (2005-) have been neither true Catholics nor true popes, but rather heretics by dint of having espoused Modernism. In addition, some small groups of Traditionalist Catholics give allegiance to alternative Popes of their own. Since they hold that the Holy See is headed by their nominee and therefore is not in fact vacant, they are not sedevacantists in the strict sense. However, the term "sedevacantist" is often applied to them because they reject the generally accepted papal succession. Another term for them is "conclavists."
One of the earliest proponents of sedevacantism was the American Francis Schuckardt. Though he was still working within the "official" Church in 1967, he publicly took the position in 1968 that the Holy See was vacant and that the Church that had emerged from the Second Vatican Council was no longer Catholic. An associate of his, Daniel Q. Brown, arrived at the same conclusion. In 1969, Brown illicitly received episcopal orders from an Old Catholic bishop, and in 1971 he, in turn, consecrated Schuckardt. Schuckardt founded a congregation called the Tridentine Latin Rite Catholic Church.
In 1970, a Japanese layman, Yukio Nemoto (1925-1988), created a sedevacantist group called Seibo No Mikuni. 
Another founding figure of sedevacantism was Fr. Joaquín Sáenz y Arriaga, a Jesuit theologian from Mexico. He put forward sedevacantist ideas in his books The New Montinian Church (August 1971) and Sede Vacante (1973). Sáenz's writings gave rise to the sedevacantist movement in Mexico, led by Sáenz, Fr. Moises Carmona and Fr. Adolfo Zamora, and also inspired Fr. Francis E. Fenton of the United States.
Sedevacantism owes its origins to the rejection of the theological and disciplinary changes implemented following the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). Sedevacantists thus rejected the Council, on the basis of its documents on ecumenism and religious liberty, which they saw as contradicting the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church and as denying the unique mission of Catholicism as the one true religion, outside of which it was one alleged that there is no salvation. They also argue that new disciplinary norms, such as the Mass of Paul VI, promulgated on 3 April 1969, undermined the historic Catholic faith.
Sedevacantists claim that the infallible Magisterium of the Catholic Church could not have decreed the changes made in the name of the Second Vatican Council, and thus they have concluded that those who issued these changes cannot have been acting with the authority of the Catholic Church. These changes were so "radical" from their perspective that they seriously deviated from church tradition. Consequently, they hold that Pope Paul VI and his successors lost legitimate authority in the Church and became heretics. A heretic, they say, cannot be the true Roman Catholic pope. They argued that most pre-Conciliar Catholic theologians and canon lawyers taught that it is inherently impossible for a heretic to hold the papal office. Additionally, particular provisions of Church law prevent a heretic from being elected or remaining as pope. Paul IV's Bull Cum ex apostolatus officio stipulated that a heretic cannot be elected Pope, while Canon 188.4 of the 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.
Mainstream Catholics have engaged sedevacantists in debate on some of these points. Brian Harrison of Puerto Rico, for example, has argued that Pope Pius XII's conclave legislation permitted excommunicated cardinals to attend, from which he argues that they could also be legitimately elected
There are estimated to be between several tens of thousands and more than two-hundred-thousand sedevacantists worldwide, mostly concentrated in the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Australia, but the actual size of the sedevacantist movement has never been accurately assessed. (See further the section on statistics in the article Traditionalist Catholic.)
Most sedevacantists hold the holy orders conferred with the present revised rites of the Catholic Church to be invalid due to defect both of intention and form. They conclude that the great majority of the bishops listed in the Holy See's Annuario Pontificio are in reality laymen.
Within the Roman Catholic Church, to which sedevacantists profess to belong, canon law requires that ordination to the priesthood or diaconate be administered only by the bishop of the ordinand's own diocese or by a bishop who has received dimissorial letters from those who by law have the authority to issue such letters. Ordinations carried out in contravention of this prohibition are therefore illicit, and anyone who is ordained in that way is ipso facto suspended from the order received.
Present canon law forbids ordination to the episcopate without a mandate from the Pope, and both those who confer episcopal ordination without the papal mandate and those who receive it incur automatic excommunication from which only the Holy See has power to absolve. The Roman Curia therefore considers illicit all other episcopal consecrations. Sedevacantists, holding that there is no Pope to give the mandate, say that the law does not apply in the present emergency situation.
The bishops who are (or have been) active within the sedevacantist movement can be divided into several categories, of which the first consists of bishops who were consecrated within the Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council: the Vietnamese archbishop Ngô Ðình Thuc (who may have been reconciled to Pope John Paul II before his death in 1984), and the Chicago-born Bishop Alfredo F. Mendez (1907-1995), who in 1974 retired from being Bishop of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. In addition, the late Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer of Campos, Brazil is said to have embraced sedevacantism, at least briefly, despite his association with the non-sedevacantist Society of St. Pius X. The sedevacantist community generally accepts and respects most of the dozen or so bishops following from the three, or possibly four, final bishops that Thuc consecrated (Guerard des Lauriers, Carmona, Zamora, and Datessen), out of the two hundred or more who claim episcopal descent from him, and the one episcopal consecration by Bishop Mendez, that of Father Clarence Kelly, head of the Society of St. Pius V, who in turn has consecrated only one bishop. The Roman Curia has issued no declaration either affirming or denying the validity of these final episcopal consecrations by Thuc and that by Mendez.
Some sedevacantists are said to derive from Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Duarte Costa, who in 1945 set up his own Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church.
A second category of sedevacantist bishops comprises those who were consecrated by Archbishop Ngô Ðình Thuc for the Carmelite Order of the Holy Face, and those who succeed from them. This particular "Thuc line" of consecrations is especially complicated, since the five men consecrated by Archbishop Ngô Ðình Thuc for this group in turn consecrated a considerable number of men. Of this group, many remained faithful to the Palmarian Church, many others left that group to "do their own thing," including one who attempted an ordination of singer-songwriter Sinéad O'Connor, while a few ceased to be sedevacantists and returned to full communion with Rome.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared devoid of canonical effect the consecration ceremony conducted for this group by Archbishop Ngô at midnight of 31 December 1975, though it refrained from pronouncing on its validity. This declaration applied also to later ordinations by those who received ordination in the ceremony The seven who are known to have returned to full communion with Rome did so as laymen.
A third category of Sedevacantist bishops is that of those whose episcopal lines derive from schismatic bishops. Ukrainian Eastern Orthodox Bishop Yuri Yurchyk converted to sedevacantist Roman Catholicism in 2002. No substantive documentation exists to support reports denying his commitment to sedevacantism, and little information is available on him and on the existence of any line of bishops derived from him. More numerous are those who have had recourse to the Old Catholic line of succession. Bishops of this category include Francis Schuckardt and others associated with him. The orders of the original Old Catholic Church are regarded by the Roman Catholic Church as valid, but no such declaration of recognition has been issued with regard to the several Independent Catholic Churches that claim to trace their episcopal orders to this Church. Some shadow of doubt hovers over even the validity of the orders received from these bishops and the claimants have not received wide acceptance in the sedevacantist community, though most have at least some small congregation.
A final category is that of sedevacantist bishops whose consecrations are generally regarded as outright invalid, both by sedevacantists and non-sedevacantists, because their consecration cannot be traced to validly ordained bishops who were part of the Apostolic Succession. Lucian Pulvermacher and Gordon Bateman of the small conclavist true Catholic Church are examples.
As noted above, some groups have put forward their own popes in opposition to those in Rome, making them "conclavists" rather than "sedevacantists."
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 Father 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.
As stated above, sedevacantists are opposed to conclavism.
The Palmarian Catholic Church is not strictly speaking "conclavists"; their first antipope, Gregory XVII/ Clemente Domínguez claimed to receive his office by direct divine appointment, and his successor Peter II/Manuel Corral was nominated by Gregory rather than chosen by a conclave.
Mainstream Catholics offer several arguments against sedevacantism such as:
- According to standard Catholic doctrine, the Catholic Church is a visible identifiable body that is literally catholic, in the sense of universal ('for all people'). This is seen as incompatible with the sedevacantist claim that the true nature of the Catholic Church has been hidden from the world for half a century.
- The 1870, Dogmatic Constitution, Pastor Aeternus, of the First Vatican Council reaffirmed that "it has always been necessary 'for every Church - that is to say the faithful throughout the world—to be in agreement with (the Roman Church) because of its pre-eminent authority" and that consequently the bishop whom the Church in Rome acknowledges as its head "is the successor of blessed Peter, the prince of the apostles, true vicar of Christ, head of the whole Church and father and teacher of all Christian people. To him, in blessed Peter, full power has been given by our lord Jesus Christ to tend, rule and govern the universal Church." This is seen as incompatible with the sedevacantist claim that the papal line of succession has been broken since 1958 (or 1963).
- Critics of sedevacantism argue that this also means that the theory advanced by the seventeenth-century theologian and Doctor of the Church Robert Bellarmine that a Pope who fell into heresy would automatically forfeit his office and could be formally deposed has been overruled by Church authority (in the same way that Thomas Aquinas's non-belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary was overruled by Pius IX's declaration that the Immaculate Conception was indisputably Catholic doctrine) and that sedevacantist appeals to Bellarmine's authority in this point cannot be sustained. They add that Bellarmine envisaged that such a deposition, even if possible, could only be undertaken by a significant body of the Church including many bishops and cardinals, rather than by a few individuals.
- The Catholic doctrine of the indefectibility of the Church, which appeals to Christ's promise to the Apostle Peter in Matthew 16:18 ("You are Peter (the Rock), and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it") excludes the possibility that the Catholic bishops around the world and the Pope with whom they are in communion would succumb to heresy and fall from office.
- They say that sedevacantists wrongly treat certain papal statements of the past as if they were ex cathedra declarations.
- They claim that sedevacantists fail to distinguish between matters of discipline—such as the use of Latin and of the Tridentine Mass—which can be reformed at any time, and infallible dogmatic teachings.
- They say that sedevacantists indulge in the logical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc when they attribute problems that the Church has experienced in the Western world since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council to the reforms themselves rather than to the general decrease in religiosity in the West.
Sedevacantists advance counter-arguments, such as:
- They deny that they implicitly repudiate the dogma of papal infallibility as defined at the First Vatican Council, and maintain that, on the contrary, they are the fiercest defenders of this doctrine, since they teach that the Apostolic See of Peter, under the rule of a true Pope, cannot promulgate contradictory teachings.
- To rebut the accusation of denying the catholicity and indefectibility of the Church, they say that, between the death of every Pope and the election of his successor, there is a sede vacante period during which there is no visible Head of the Church, and—while mainstream Catholics hold that, according to the dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus of the First Vatican Council, which speaks of "perpetual successors" in the pontificate, there must be, apart from such transitory periods, a perpetual presence of the Bishop of Rome, not merely of his office—that the absence of a Pope has become a long-term feature of the Church's structure.
- They recall that, during the 40-year Great Western Schism, while nobody claimed that the see of Rome was vacant, there was uncertainty about which of the two (eventually three) claimants was the true pontiff, with even canonized saints taking opposing sides in the controversy. In his 1882 book, The Relations of the Church to Society - Theological Essays, the Jesuit theologian, Father Edmund James O'Reilly, wrote: "... not that an interregnum covering the whole period would have been impossible or inconsistent with the promises of Christ, for this is by no means manifest."
- They interpret the Book of Revelation as speaking of an end-times Great Apostasy on the City of Seven Hills (Rome) and say that Our Lady of La Salette warned on September 19, 1846 that Rome would lose the faith and become the seat of the Anti-Christ.
- Most Holy Family Monastery, a sedevacantist community living near Buffalo, New York, under the headship of Michael Dimond. His brother Peter Dimond writes most of the articles. Most Holy Family Monastery
- Catholic Restoration, a group of clerics who were ordained in the 1970s by Abp. Marcel Lefebvre and became sedevacantists, together with newer priests who were trained in their seminairies.
- Society of St. Pius V, formed when nine priests of the Society of St. Pius X split from that organisation over issues of using the liturgical reforms implemented under Pius XII and publicly reciting the name of the post-conciliar pope John Paul II. The SSPV holds sedevacantism as a probable opinion and as a topic of legitimate debate, not imposing sedevacantism as a morally obliged teaching however.
- The Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục lines of episcopal succession
- Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (holds Pope John XXIII to have been the last legitimate Roman Pontiff until today)
- The Society of the Immaculata, founded by Dennis McCormack.
- True Catholic Church
- Francis Schuckardt Retrieved June 24, 2008.
- Seibo No Mikuni, a Catholic Apocalyptic Splinter Movement from Japan. Retrieved June 24, 2008.
- White Smoke, Valid Pope. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
- Code of Canon Law, canon 1015 §1 Retrieved June 24, 2008.
- canon 1383, Intratext. Retrieved June 24, 2008.
- Canon 1013 Retrieved June 24, 2008.
- Canon 1382, Intratext. Retrieved June 24, 2008.
- See list and line of descent at Thuc Consecratons Retrieved June 24, 2008.
- Mendez Consecration Retrieved June 24, 2008.
- For the many who look to him as the origin of their episcopal orders see Costa Consecrations. Retrieved June 24, 2008.
- "As for those who have already thus unlawfully received ordination or any who may yet accept ordination from these, whatever may be the validity of the orders (quidquid sit de ordinum validitate), the Church does not and will not recognize their ordination (ipsorum ordinationem), and will consider them, for all legal effects, as still in the state in which they were before, except that the… penalties remain until they repent" (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Decree Episcopi qui alios of 17 September 1976—Acta Apostolicae Sedis 1976, page 623).
- See Thuc Consecratons Retrieved June 24, 2008.
- Pastor Aeternus, EWTN. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
- Fr. O'Reilly On The Idea Of A Long-Term Vacancy Of The Holy See, John Daly. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Brown, Christopher Gerard. "Sedevacantism: A False Solution to a Real Problem." Angelus Press, 2003. ISBN 9781892331212
- Ferrara, Christopher A. "The Great Facade: Vatican II and the Regime of Novelty in the Roman Catholic Church." The Remnant Press, 2002. ISBN 9781890740108
- Garcia, Eduardo. "Sede vacante." Ediciones Destino, 1975. ISBN 9788423308958
- Kirby, J. "York Sede Vacante Register, 1405-07." Borthwick Institute Publications, 2002. ISBN 9780903857895
- Likoudis, James. "The Pope, the Council, and the Mass." Emmaus Road Publishing, 2006. ISBN 9781931018340
- Neuhaus, Richard John. "Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth." Basic Books, 2007. ISBN 9780465049363
All links retrieved January 25, 2023.
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