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:
Sedevacantists advance counter-arguments, such as:
All links retrieved November 2, 2019.
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