Our conference on the vacancy of the Apostolic See, the sedevacantist position, is most important, for it is a theological position which is very misunderstood, often misrepresented, and emotionally difficult for many groups. But before we proceed on this topic, it is paramount to stress that it is because of our belief in the Papacy and in Papal Infallibility that we necessarily must reject Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI as legitimate Popes. Many accuse us of rejection of the papacy. That is furthermost from the truth.
In our earlier conference, we made reference to the main errors of religious indifferentism, false ecumenism and religious liberty which have infected the Conciliar Church of Vatican II. It is for us to demonstrate that the true Catholic Church—the Pope and the Bishops in union with him—could not promulgate such errors to the universal Church, and that no true Pope could promulgate a defective liturgy (Novus Ordo Missae) and a sacrilegious law (1983 Code of Canon Law 844.3 and 4 Communion to non-Catholics). It is for us to demonstrate that men who promulgate heresy are heretics; and as such, they lose the authority in the Church
Although we can consider many different aspects of our position with the papacy, it will be sufficient for us today to limit our studies to a few main premises upon which our conclusion (the vacancy) rests.
The first premise to consider is the infallibility of the Catholic Church. What is this attribute of the Church? How does it provide clear and compelling evidence against Benedict XVI and the Conciliar Church?
The attribute of infallibility means the inability and impossibility of the Teaching Magisterium to err when teaching the universal Church on matters of faith and morals. As Vatican Council I taught:
“Moreover, by divine and Catholic faith everything must be believed that is contained in the written word of God or in tradition, and that is proposed by the Church as a divinely revealed object of belief either in a solemn decree or in Her ordinary, universal teaching.”
The possessors of infallibility are:
a) the Pope,
(The Pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra).
b) the whole Episcopate,
(The totality of the Bishops in union with the Pope is infallible, when they, either assembled in general council or scattered over the earth, propose a teaching of faith or morals as one to be held by all the faithful).
Many are familiar with the concept of infallibility in the “ex cathedra” pronouncements of the Pope and also in the decrees of an Ecumenical Council, but they are not familiar with the concept of the infallibility of “the ordinary, universal magisterium of the Church.”
What is the ordinary, universal magisterium?
For a clear and concise answer, we read in The Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, by Dr. Ludwig Ott:
“The bishops exercise their infallible teaching power in an ordinary manner when they, in their dioceses, in moral unity with the Pope, unanimously promulgate the same teachings on faith and morals. The Vatican Council expressly declared that also the truths of Revelation proposed as such by the ordinary and general teaching office of the Church are to be firmly held with ‘divine and catholic faith’ (D 1792). But the incumbents of the ordinary and general teaching office of the Church are the members of the whole episcopate scattered over the whole earth. The agreement of the Bishops in doctrine may be determined from the catechisms issued by them, from their pastoral letters, from the prayer books approved by them, and from the resolutions of particular synods. A morally general agreement suffices, but in this the express or tacit assent of the Pope, as the supreme Head of the Episcopate, is essential.”
Clearly, the Vatican II church, Benedict XVI (with his predecessors, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, and John Paul II) and the Vatican II bishops have promulgated in their “ordinary and universal magisterium” the errors of religious liberty, false ecumenism and religious indifferentism. This has been the constant theme of the Conciliar Church for the last 40 years!
And in particular, with the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae and the sacrilegious Canon 844, 3 and 4, we find it an impossibility that a true pope could have officially enacted such an erroneous liturgy and legislation. When we consider the area of infallibility, we find the object of the Church’s infallibility is two-fold as described by Ludwig Ott in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma:
a) “The primary object of the Church’s infallibility is the formally revealed truths of Christian Doctrine concerning faith and morals.
b) “The secondary object of the Church’s infallibility is truths of the Christian teaching on faith and morals, which are not formally revealed, but which are closely connected with the teaching of Revelation.”
Included in the secondary object of infallibility are the following:
Why must these areas be objects of the Church’s infallibility?
An excellent explanation is found in Christ’s Church, by Monsignor G. Van Noort, S.T.D.:
“The charism of infallibility was bestowed upon the Church so that She could piously safeguard and confidently explain the deposit of Christian revelation, and thus could be in all ages the teacher of Christian truth and of the Christian way of life.”
“It is evident from Christ’s promises that the magisterium, the teaching office of the Church, was endowed with infallibility so that She might be able to carry out her mission properly, that is, to safeguard reverently, explain confidently, and defend effectively the deposit of faith.”
“The security of the deposit requires the effective warding off or elimination of all error which may be opposed to it, even though only indirectly. This would be simply impossible without infallibility in the matters listed above.”
Here it would be well for us to focus on a further explanation of the secondary object of infallibility, in the area of the general discipline of the Church.
Once again, let us read from Christ’s Church, by Van Noort:
“The Church’s infallibility extends to the general discipline of the Church. This proposition is theologically certain. By the term ‘general discipline of the Church’ are meant those ecclesiastical laws passed for the universal Church for the direction of Christian worship and Christian living.”
“The imposing of commands belongs not directly to the teaching office but to the ruling office; disciplinary laws are only indirectly an object of infallibility, i.e., only by reason of the doctrinal decision implicit in them. When the Church’s rulers sanction a law, they implicitly make a two-fold judgment: 1) ‘This law squares with the Church’s doctrine of faith and morals;’ that is, it imposes nothing that is at odds with sound belief and good morals. This amounts to a doctrinal decree.”
“—From the purpose of infallibility. The Church was endowed with infallibility that it might safeguard the whole of Christ’s doctrine and be for all men a trustworthy teacher of the Christian way of life. But if the Church could make a mistake in the manner alleged when it legislated for the general discipline, it would no longer be either a loyal guardian of revealed doctrine or a trustworthy teacher of the Christian way of life. It would not be a guardian of revealed doctrine, for the imposition of a vicious law would be, for all practical purposes, tantamount to an erroneous definition of doctrine; everyone would naturally conclude that what the Church had commanded squared with sound doctrine. It would not be a teacher of the Christian way of life, for by its laws it would induce corruption into the practice of religious life.
—From the official statement of the church, which stigmatized as ‘at least erroneous’ the hypothesis that the ‘church could establish discipline which would be dangerous, harmful, and conducive to superstition and materialism.’”
“The well-known axiom,Lex orandi est lex credendi(The law of prayer is the law of belief), is a special application of the doctrine of the Church’s infallibility in disciplinary matters. This axiom says in effect that formulae of prayer approved for public use in the universal Church cannot contain errors against faith or morals.”
How could the Catholic Church continuously renew the unbloody Sacrifice of Calvary in the Holy Mass and then abruptly substitute it with a Lutheran ”memorial of the Last Supper?” How could the Catholic Church so firmly legislate in her laws against interfaith and intercommunion, as fostering religious indifferentism, and then suddenly abrogate these laws and permit these undertakings?
Are we to suppose that the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth, has suddenly changed His mind and allowed contradictions in matters of the Faith, the Mass and her universal laws? Are we to suppose that Christ suddenly abandoned His Church and let her fall into error and heresy>
Yet, it is primarily this issue of infallibility that divides those who call themselves traditional Catholics. Some traditional Catholics reject the errors of false ecumenism and religious liberty of the second Vatican Council, the new Protestant memorial of the Last Supper—the Novus Ordo Missae—and the heresies of the New Code of Canon Law (1983) and yet insist that the very authors of these errors are still Christ’s representatives here on earth. In reality, they say that the Living Teaching Magisterium of the Church has erred and has led the majority of Catholics into error, and continues to err. Such a conclusion is nothing less than to deny the infallibility of the Church.
There can be no doubt that the Conciliar Church has erred. Not only in 1965 at the conclusion of Vatican Council II, but also for the past thirty years in its ordinary universal magisterium. How can it be any more clear — this Conciliar Church is not the Catholic Church!
As Pope Leo XIII taught in Satis Cognitum:
“If the living magisterium could be in any way false—an evident contradiction would follow, for then God would be the author of error”.
And also the First Vatican Council (1870), in the Dogmatic Constitution, Pastor Aeternus, infallibly taught:
§213 “For the fathers of the Fourth Council of Constantinople, following closely in the footsteps of their predecessors, made this solemn profession: “The first condition of salvation is to keep the norm of the true faith. For it is impossible that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ who said, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’ (Matt. 16:18) would not be verified. And their truth has been proved by the course of history, for in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept unsullied, and its teaching kept holy...”
§216 “... For they fully realized that this See of St. Peter always remains untainted by any error, according to the divine promise of our Lord and Savior made to the prince of his disciples, ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith may not fail; and do thou, when once thou has turned again, strengthen thy brethren’ (Luke 22:32).
“Now this charism of truth and of never-failing faith was conferred upon St. Peter and his successors in this Chair, in order that they might perform their supreme office for the salvation of all; that by them the whole flock of Christ might be kept away from the poison of error and be nourished by the food of heavenly doctrine; that the occasion of schism might be removed, the whole Church preserved as one, and, secure on its foundation, stand firm against the gates of hell.”
Unfortunately, there are some who would falsely claim that popes have officially erred in the past; they refer to Pope Honorius and Pope Liberius. However, this is simply not true. To refute this, we read from the book The Vatican Council and its Definitions by Cardinal Henry Manning (1870):
“I will, nevertheless, here affirm, that the following points in the case of Honorius can be abundantly proved from documents:
- That Honorius defined no doctrine whatsoever.
- That he forbade the making of any new definition.
- That his fault was precisely in this omission of apostolic authority, for which he was justly censured.
- That his two epistles are entirely orthodox; though, in the use of language, he wrote as was usual before the condemnation of Monothelitism, and not as it became necessary afterwards. It is an anachronism and an injustice to censure his language, used before that condemnation, as it might be just to censure it after the condemnation had been made.
“To this I add the following excellent passage from the recent Pastoral of the Archbishop of Baltimore:
“That case of Honorius forms no exception; for
1st Honorius expressly says in his letters to Sergius, that he meant to define nothing, and he was condemned precisely because he temporized and would not define;
2nd Because in his letters he clearly taught the sound Catholic doctrine, only enjoining silence as to the use of certain terms, then new in the Church; and
3rd Because his letters were not addressed to a general council of the whole Church, and were rather private, than public and official; at least they were not published, even in the East, until several years later. The first letter was written to Sergius in 633, and eight years afterwards, in 641, the emperor Heraclius, in exculpating himself to Pope John II, Honorius’ successor, for having published his edict — the Ecthesis — which enjoined silence on the disputants, similar to that imposed by Honorius, lays the whole responsibility thereof on Sergius, who he declares, composed the edict. Evidently, Sergius had not communicated the letter to the Emperor, probably because its contents, if published, would not have suited his wily purpose of secretly introducing, under another form, the Eutcyhian heresy. Thus falls to the ground the only case upon which the opponents of Infallibility have continued to insists. This entire subject has been exhausted by many recent learned writers.”
In the case of Pope Liberius, we find in Volume III of Radio Replies by Fr. Leslie Rumble, M.S.C. and Fr. Charles Cortez:
“In their efforts to refute the Catholic Doctrine, enemies of the Church have ransacked history in hope of finding a pope who has taught heretical ideas. They thought they had found such a pope in Pope Liberius, arguing that he subscribed to the Arian heresy condemned by the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. But let's take the facts:
“Liberius became pope in the year 3 52 A.D. From this outset he fought against the continued efforts of the Arians to corrupt the faith.
“The emporor Constantius, himself an Arian, seized Pope Liberius by force and exiled him to Berea in Thrace.
“It is said that to escape this exile and induced by fraud and threats, Pope Liberius signed a formula dreamed up by the Arians. But historical research has shown that it is doubtful whether he signed the documents at all.”
The second premise to be used to demonstrate the vacancy of the Apostolic See is that heretics who cannot be members of the Church, likewise cannot hold positions in authority within the Church. John Paul II’s repeated acts of false ecumenism with the false religions of the world are, in the words of Pope Pius XI, “tantamount to abandoning the religion revealed by God” — in other words, apostasy!
This particular issue of the loss of the papacy by heresy is supported by many canonists and theologians:
St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) Bishop and doctor of the Church said:
“Now when the Pope is explicitly a heretic, he falls ipso facto from his dignity and out of the Church...”
St. Robert Bellarmine said:
“A Pope who is a manifest heretic automatically ceases to be Pope and head, just as he ceases automatically to be a Christian and a member of the Church. Wherefore, he can be judged and punished by the Church. This is the teaching of all the ancient Fathers who teach that manifest heretics immediately lose all jurisdiction.”
St. Alphonsus, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, said:
“If ever a Pope, as a private person, should fall into heresy, he should at once fall from the Pontificate. If, however, God were to permit a pope to become a notorious and contumacious heretic, he would by such fact cease to be pope, and the apostolic chair would be vacant.”
St. Antoninus said:
“In the case in which the Pope would become a heretic, he would find himself, by that very fact alone and without any other sentence, separated from the Church. A head separated from a body cannot, as long as it remains separated, be head of the same body from which it was cut off.”
At Vatican Council I the question was also raised by a Cardinal, “What is to be done with the Pope if he becomes a heretic?” It was answered that “there has never been such a case; the Council of Bishops could depose him for heresy, for from the moment he becomes a heretic he is not the head or even a member of the Church. The Church would not be, for a moment, obliged to listen to him when he begins to teach a doctrine the Church knows to be a false doctrine, and he would cease to be Pope, being deposed by God Himself. If the Pope, for instance, were to say that the belief in God is false, you would not be obliged to believe him, or if he were to deny the rest of the creed; I believe in Christ, etc. The supposition is injurious to the Holy Father in the very idea, but serves to show you the fullness with which the subject has been considered and the ample thought given to every possibility. If he denies any Dogma of the Church held by every true believer, he is no more Pope than either you or I.” (The Life and Work of Pope Leo XIII by Rev. James J. McGovern, D.D., p. 241).
Canon #188.4 of the Code on Tacit Resignation:
“There are certain causes which effect the tacit resignation of an office, which resignation is accepted in advance by operation of the law, and hence is effective without any declaration. These causes are ... (4) if he has publicly fallen away from the faith.”
Wernz-Vidal’s Canon Law, an 8-volume work published in 1943, states: “Through notorious and openly divulged heresy, the Roman Pontiff, should he fall into heresy, by that very fact (ipso facto) is deemed to be deprived of the power of jurisdiction even before any declaratory judgment by the Church... A Pope who falls into public heresy would cease ipso facto to be a member of the Church; therefore, he would also cease to be head of the Church.” And also: “A doubtful pope is no pope.”
In the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia we read:
“The Pope himself, if notoriously guilty of heresy, would cease to be Pope because he would cease to be a member of the Church.”
Pope Innocent III also said:
“The Pope should not flatter himself about his power, nor should he rashly glory in his honour and high estate, because the less he is judged by man, the more he is judged by God. Still the less can the Roman Pontiff glory because he can be judged by men, or rather, can be shown to be already judged, if for example he should wither away into heresy; because he who does not believe is already judged. In such a case it should be said of him: ‘If salt should lose its savor, it is good for nothing but to be cast out and trampled under foot by men.’”
Theologian Caesar Badii (1921):
“Cessation of pontifical power. This power ceases. .. (d) through notorious and openly divulged heresy. A publicly heretical pope would no longer be a member of the Church; for this reason, he could no longer be its head.”
Theologian Udalricus Beste (1946):
“Not a few canonists teach that, outside of death and abdication, the pontifical dignity can also be lost by falling into certain insanity, which is legally equivalent to death, as well as through manifest and notorious heresy. In the latter case, a pope would automatically fall from his power, and this indeed without the issuance of any sentence, for the first See (i.e., the See of Peter) is judged by no one . . . The reason is that, by falling into heresy, the pope ceases to be a member of the church. He who is not a member of a society, obviously, cannot be its head.”
The Rev. Matthew Ramstein, D.D. in the Manual of Canon Law states:
“By divine law the Pope, once elected, holds office for life. But in addition to the death of the incumbent, the papal office may become vacant if the pope should resign, or fall into heresy, or lose the use of reason ... If the Pope should happen to fall into heresy, he is no longer a member of the Church, must less its head. It is understood that the Pope cannot be guilty of heresy when he speaks infallibly ex cathedra. The supposition is only possible should the Pope teach heretical doctrine in a private capacity.”
In the Defense of the Catholic Church, Rev. Francis X. Doyle, S.J., states in Paragraph 402, The Loss of the Primacy:
“The Supreme Pontiff can lose the Primacy in these ways: 1. By voluntary resignation, as in the case of Celestine V. 2. By open heresy, by which he ceases to be a member of Christ’s Church. This, however, while not contradictory to reason, is hardly conceivable. 3. By Insanity. 4. By death.”
Matthaeus Conte a Coronata (1950) states:
“If indeed such a situation would happen, he (the Roman Pontiff) would, by divine law, fall from office without any sentence, indeed, without even a declaratory one. He who openly professes heresy places himself outside the Church, and it is not likely that Christ would preserve the Primacy of His Church in one so unworthy. Wherefore, if the Roman Pontiff were to profess heresy, before any condemnatory sentence (which would be impossible anyway) he would lose his authority.” (Institutiones luris Canonici, Rome: Marietti 1950 1:312,316).
A. Vermeersch, I. Creusen (1949) writes:
“At least according to the more common teaching, the Roman Pontiff as a private teacher can fall into manifest heresy. Then, without any declaratory sentence (for the supreme See is judged by no one), he would automatically (ipso facto) fall from a power which he who is no longer a member of the Church is unable to possess” (Epitome luris Canonici, Rome: Dessain 1949.340).
Eduardus F. Regatillo (1956) states:
“‘The pope loses office ipso facto because of public heresy.’ This is the more common teaching, because a pope would not be a member of the Church, and hence far less could he be its head” (Institutiones luris Canonici, 5th ed. Santander: Sal Terrae, 1956.1:396).
Pope Paul IV (1559):
“Further, if ever it should appear that any bishop (even one acting as an archbishop, patriarch or primate), or a cardinal of the Roman Church, or a legate (as mentioned above), or even the Roman Pontiff (whether prior to his promotion to cardinal, or prior to his election as Roman Pontiff), has beforehand deviated from the Catholic faith or fallen into any heresy, We enact, decree, determine and define:
— “Such promotion or election in and of itself, even with the agreement and unanimous consent of all the cardinals, shall be null, legally invalid and void.
— “It shall not be possible for such a promotion or election to be deemed valid or to be valid, neither through reception of office, consecration, subsequent administration, or possession, nor even through the putative enthronement of a Roman Pontiff himself, together with the veneration and obedience accorded him by all.
— “Such promotion or election, shall not through any lapse of time in the foregoing situation, be considered even partially legitimate in any way...
— “Each and all of the words, as acts, laws, appointments of those so promoted or elected — and indeed, whatsoever flows therefrom — shall be lacking in force, and shall grant no stability and legal power to anyone whatsoever.
— “Those so promoted or elected, by that very fact and without the need to make any further declaration, shall be deprived of any dignity, position, honor, title, authority, office and power” (Bull Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio, 16 February 1559.
One objection raised against our position of the vacancy of the Apostolic See is that heresy is principally a crime (“delictum”) against canon law — and a pope, as supreme legislator for canon law, is not himself subject to it.
However, the case of a heretical pope, rather, pertains to heresy as a sin against divine law — for the canonists clearly state that it is divine law that precludes a heretic from obtaining or retaining papal authority:
“Heretics and schismatics are barred from the Supreme Pontificate by the Divine Law itself, because, although by divine law they are not considered incapable of participating in a certain type of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, nevertheless, they must certainly be regarded as excluded from occupying the throne of the Apostolic See, which is the infallible teacher of the truth of the faith and the center of ecclesiastical unity” (Marato, Institutiones luris Canonici  2:184).
“Appointment to the Office of the Primacy. 1. What is required by divine law for this appointment... Also required for validity is that the one elected be a member of the Church; hence, heretics and apostates (at least public ones) are excluded....”
“If indeed such a situation would happen, he [the Roman Pontiff] would, by divine law, fall from office without any sentence, indeed, without even a declaratory one. He who openly professes heresy places himself outside the Church, and it is not likely that Christ would preserve the Primacy of His Church in one so unworthy. Wherefore, if the Roman Pontiff were to profess heresy, before any condemnatory sentence (which would be impossible anyway) he would lose his authority” (Coronata, Institutiones Iuris Canonici  1:312,316).
Given the hypothesis of a heretical pope, says Cardinal Billot, such a pope would automatically lose his power because he would be cast outside the body of the Church “by his own will” (De Ecclesia Christi, 5th ed.,  1:632).
It is not a crime against canon law that deposes a heretical pope, but his public sin against divine law.
Furthermore, among the theological motives that are presented by the Society of St. Pius X to maintain their nominal recognition of Benedict XVI against the sedevacantist position, we find a quote from Fr. Peter Scott:
“Nevertheless, it is preposterous to say, as the sedevacantists do, that there has not been any Pope for more than 40 years, for this would destroy the visibility of the Church, and the very possibility of a canonical election of a future Pope.”
The answer to their first “difficulty” as to a lengthy interregnum (a vacancy in the Papal office) is found in the history of the Church during the Great Western Schism which occurred between the years 1378 and 1417. From 1378 to 1409 there were two claimants (one in Rome and one in Avignon) to the Papal office; then in 1409, a third claimant (from Pisa) came on the scene.
In regard to this confused state of affairs in the Church during the Great Western Schism, there is a most interesting theological point found among the teachings of Fr. Edmund James O’Reilly, S.J., He was one of the leading theologians of his time, having been theologian to Cardinal Cullen of Armagh at the Synod of Thurles; theologian to Bishop Brown at the Synod of Shrewsbury; theologian to Bishop Furlong at the synod of Maynooth; and having been named professor of the Catholic University in Dublin. In 1882, Fr. O’Reilly published a book entitled The Relations of the Church to Society in which he asserted that a vacancy of the Holy See lasting for an extended period of time cannot be considered incompatible with the promises of Christ and the doctrine of the indefectibility of the Church:
“We may here stop to inquire what is to be said of the position, at that time, of the three claimants, and their rights with regard to the Papacy. In the first place, there was all throughout, from the death of Gregory XI in 1378, a Pope — with the exception, of course, of the intervals between deaths and elections to fill up the vacancies thereby created. There was, I say, at every given time a Pope, really invested with the dignity of vicar of Christ and Head of the Church, whatever opinions might exist among many as to his genuineness; 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, but that, as a matter of fact, there was not such an interregnum.”
During these difficult times in which the Novus Ordo has replaced the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in which false religions have been invited by the Conciliar Church to render false worship to their gods in the churches of Assisi, are we not witnessing nothing less than the Great Apostasy foretold by St. Paul in his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians (II Thessalonians 2:3-8)?
As for the second “difficulty” proposed by the Society of St. Pius X against the sedevacantist position, that there would be an impossibility of a future Papal election if the See of Peter were vacant since Vatican II, we read in The Church of the Incarnate Word by Monsignor Charles Journet:
“During a vacancy of the Apostolic See, neither the Church nor the Council can contravene the provisions already laid down to determine the valid mode of election (Cardinal Cajetan, O.P., in De Comparata, cap. xiii, no. 202). However, in case of permission (for example if the Pope has provided nothing against it), or in case of ambiguity (for example, if it is unknown who the true Cardinals are or who the true Pope is, as was the case at the time of the Great Schism), the power ‘of applying the Papacy to such and such a person’ devolves on the universal Church, the Church of God” (Ibid., no. 204).