I've known a number of sedevacantists over the years, including in my own neck of the woods. On some level, I can sympathize with them. Yet, recently a sedevacantist organization called the CMRI, with a priest driving down to Oklahoma from Nebraska, has decided to try and set up a CMRI Mass presence here in Tulsa, as they now publicly list on their website. It would seem a clever maneuver right after the closing of the SSPX's chapel in Tulsa.
The thing is, the theory of sedevacantism isn't a personal opinion, like choosing a political ideology or party affiliation. If it is wrong, it means a formal schism, and automatic excommunication for the person who culpably embraces it.
Objectively, it means, by their own admission, rejecting the present pope, and ALL bishops, priests, and laity in communion with them. That would be you and me folks. If the sedevacantist is intellectually honest, they would admit frequenting their own Masses is necessarily spiritually dangerous, IF their theory is in error.
And it clearly is, as I will demonstrate later.
Sedevacantism, an off-shoot movement of the Latin Mass movement, post-Vatican II, originated with some books and articles written in the 1970s, mostly by laypeople. Later it was one rogue bishop in particular who tried to give the sedevacantist movement credibility, and a valid line of bishops, namely Bishop Thuc of Vietnam.
He ordained God knows how many men around the world (hundreds?), some of them laymen, as valid but schismatic and illicit "bishops." I don't think the Vatican even has fully identified all these individuals ordained in the "line of Bishop Thuc" (pronounced 'Tooc').
And some of the most socially dangerous traditionalist communities claim episcopal lineage tracing back to Thuc, one being the Palmarian cult in Spain, that has its own "pope."
In the US, the Society of St. Pius V (not Xth), which was formed by expelled SSPX priests, seem to be among the most tame to hold this position, relatively speaking. They have their own cult-like issues, including their internal schism founding "St. Gertrude the Great" in Cincinnati, a church, school, community compound, with its own very sectarian history.
There are very reliable, well documented, public resources online, and in print, warning people about these sects.
The most hard-lined, outspoken sedevacantist organization, which originated in Washington state, is called the CMRI. Translating the Latin name, it means Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen. Their founder, a layman, was later ordained a priest and bishop by another layman and acquaintance, themselves somehow ordained priest and bishop by a schismatic Old Catholic bishop.
Here is a very revealing and very relevant article about the CMRI founder, Francis Schukardt. Click HERE.
Years later, the CMRI would also be named the "Tridentine Latin Rite Catholic Church," i.e. in their mind the "true Catholic Church." Schukardt was accused publicly by members of his clergy of having sex with under-aged "seminarian" boys, and illegal drug use.
Mount St. Michael's (CMRI)
Now to the determined, hard-core sedevacantist, all of this is still, in the end, acceptable enough in still giving them support. They reject the current hierarchical Catholic Church, and so they think they have nowhere else to turn, regardless of the scandalous history of these groups.
Interestingly though, a group of CMRI nuns converted back to the Catholic Church some years ago, renouncing their schismatic adherence to sedevacantism, and the CMRI's cultish environment, while remaining committed to the traditional Mass and Faith. You can read about them HERE.
Before I give my own refutation, what exactly are the positions of sedevacantism?
In a nutshell, it claims that the Second Vatican Council taught formal heresies and therefore was an anti-council, that the new Mass and most of the revised sacraments are invalid, and that all conciliar popes and bishops are formally heads of a false, schismatic church they call the "Vatican II Church."
It also claims that a pope and ecumenical council cannot promote even doctrinal or theological errors, even in pastoral statements, and that all acts of the pope are infallible. They take an "ultramontane" view of ecclesiology, where they believe that the human element of the Church cannot fall into error, sacrilege, or universal scandal.
Sedevacantism will perform all sorts of mental gymnastics, to justify its dogmatic conclusions, citing very selective quotes from very select popes, councils, and theologians out of context, all the while setting aside the collective teachings of all the other popes, councils, and theologians on the subject. To fit the pre-determined judgment.
The core argument is usually boiled down to this,
ad nauseum by the way, like a broken record:
2. Conciliar popes are heretics because they accept the "heresies" of Vatican II.
3. Therefore, they cannot be true heads of the Church or true popes. Same for conciliar bishops at the level of the Local Church.
And shazam, a syllogism is all we need to give final, public judgment that all of us non-sedevacantists, from the Vatican down to you and me, are really members of a formal, heretical, schismatic anti-Church, and to break communion.
One aspect that discredits this position, in my opinion, is that 98% of the time I've encountered these arguments, hundreds of times online over the last two decades, dozens of times in the flesh, the sedevacantist will not even objectively and maturely discuss their belief, listening to both sides of the argument, like in a civilized debate. Often, in my experience, they will lower themselves to insults, even if you try and keep the discussion fair and objective.
As if salvation isn't primarily based on personal sanctification by practicing the virtues, chiefly charity, but primarily by signing on the dotted line that you accept Sedevacantism.
Okie Traditionalist's Short and Sweet Refutation of the Theory of Sedevacantism:
I've read books and articles promoting this theory, and against it, but when I encounter the same old pro-sede line of argument for the hundredth time, I often think to myself, "this doesn't seem so complicated to disprove."
Firstly, the famous quote typically referenced first and foremost, by St. Robert Bellarmine, how a heretic can't be the pope, is very, very selective. The sede is ignoring what this saint concluded in the following paragraphs (not to mention the Doctors of the Church as a whole): paraphrasing,
even if a pope can fall into heresy, the laity, priests, bishops, even an association of bishops around the world, DO NOT have the authority to publicly determine a certain pope is a FORMAL heretic, and therefore publicly denounce him as not being the pope. Only a Council of Cardinals, or an Ecumenical Council, could possibly do that, according to their primary source.
Hello. When the main quote almost always referenced as the primary source and support of the theory is grossly taken out of context, and backfires, it takes a special species of circular reasoning to still insist the theory is certainly true and absolute.
Sold by Angelus Press
That's because, if you spend enough time engaging with sedes about their position, that very position
resembles more a gnostic conspiracy theory, than a spiritual act of faith and adherence to the Church.
Secondly, sedevacantism rejects an essential guarantee Our Lord gave to His Church, that there will always be bishops on Earth who directly obtain from the pope ordinary jurisdiction to govern that part of the Church assigned to them. Virtually every sede apologist I've ever read, including the admittedly very scholarly Fr. Anthony Cekada (online sede apologist priest, out of the St. Gertrude compound), is known for dodging this one essential problem:
For the sedevacantist, there is literally NO bishop on Earth left who possesses the jurisdiction to RULE or GOVERN in an authoritatively binding way, as bishops have always done. At best the sede bishop, or priest, is a source of valid sacraments, with "moral authority" over the congregation who consents to attend Mass at the church property he administers.
Our Lord established a hierarchical Church with a three-fold authority: to teach, to sanctify, and...to GOVERN! That's the third function deemed non-essential today by the sedevacantist, in practice if not often on paper.
And you don't have to be a Catholic to see how that is a recipe for forming a privatized cult, or sect, or whatever you want to call it. The authority of the sede bishop or priest does not come from any authorized Church authority, but is self-proclaimed and ratified by their following.
It then is no surprise when their "authority" is called into question or rejected.
It boils down to this. For the sede, the Church has been literally reduced down, or perhaps always has been, to a loose coalition of believers gathered in private chapels. The priests and bishops act more like sacrament machines and charismatic-figure heads than authoritative members of the hierarchical Church.
I'm not even sure there is a close parallel like this general sect, in the history of the Church, not even the Jansenists or Old Catholics.
Don't Drink the Kool Aide
Conclusion. You don't need to read whole books about sedevacantism to determine it is an absurdly erroneous and gravely dangerous position. It categorically flies in the face of the Catholic Faith, and is objectively a Formal Schism from the Catholic Church. If culpably embraced, it means automatic excommunication.
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