Some Considerations For Non-Sedevacantist Clergy

“For, whereas there is among you envying and contention, are you not carnal and walk you not according to man?”1

In the present crisis of religion there is much scope for misunderstandings which can unnecessarily create friction between members of the Mystical Body. The following considerations are presented in order to suggest that one particular cause of discord need not be so.

This unnecessary cause of discord is the anti-sedevacantist attitude displayed by some members of the SSPX clergy. This attitude is rooted in misunderstandings, which it is the aim of this paper to address, in the hope that thereby peace may be fostered amongst the faithful. I ask that you consider what is written here. I beg this of your charity, which seeks not her own, but rather looks to the good of others. The good which I have in view is that brethren may dwell together in that unity which is the bond of peace. And this good can only be achieved if each of us considers the others' views respectfully, and furthermore if we are able to speak robustly to each other, without inordinate human respect.

Those that come together into this house are united with gladness, according to what is asked from the Lord in the psalm, to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of one's life. Whence in another place also it is made manifest, that among the saints there is great and desirous love for assembling together. 'Behold,' he says, 'how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.'”2

By way of summarising what is to be presented, the considerations are as follows:

  1. Holiness is not infallibility. Nor does it guarantee great knowledge.
  2. “Sedevacantists” are taught by Pope Paul IV.
  3. Likewise, “sedevacantists” are taught by Pope St. Pius V.
  4. The apostolic constitution Cum ex apostolatus guarantees all of the faithful the right to reject papal claimants that they judge to be heretics.
  5. Pride is not manifested by those who flee danger, but rather the opposite.
  6. “Sedevacantists” are not, per se, dangerous to the flock. Some sedevacantists are dangerous, as are some “sedeplenists.”
  7. If “sedevacantism” is responsible for disasters like Palmar de Troya (which I do not concede) then by the same logic “sedeplenism” is responsible for the disaster of the Fraternity of St. Peter.
  8. “Sedevacantists” are not guilty of usurping authority or illicitly “judging” by rejecting Karol Wojtyla, for it is clear from Cum ex apostolatus that what we do is perfectly justified.
  9. It is not scandalous to employ rough terms to describe Karol Wojtyla, and Cum ex apostolatus instructs us to treat heretics such as Wojtyla as “warlocks and publicans,” among other things.
  10. Archbishop Lefebvre was not “anti-sedevacantist.”
  11. It is far from proved that the SSPX was “sent” by the Church. The SSPX was “sent” by Montini, who subsequently “unsent” it.

  1. It is perfectly reasonable for men who owe their orders, and perhaps even their faith, to the late Archbishop Lefebvre, to regard him as a sure guide in this crisis. Thus they will hold fast to the judgements that he formed about various disputed matters, and will regard his views as superior to their own attempts to make sense out of the mess we see around us. This, as stated, is perfectly reasonable, even praiseworthy in that it is compatible with great humility. However, it is far from obvious that the SSPX is the divine response to this crisis of religion, and that therefore all Catholics ought to regard Archbishop Lefebvre's views as the best available. Firstly, his is not the only fruitful apostolate, unless we are materialists and therefore judge all things by numbers alone. Secondly, Archbishop Lefebvre could well have been one of the greatest saints to have graced this earth, and yet been entirely wrong about matters of the gravest importance. History furnishes numerous examples of such things, one of which is St. Cyprian's opposition to the truth on Baptism. He was a saint whilst he was wrong, and he died a martyr for Christ still believing his error to be the truth. And yet he is one of the greatest saints in the calendar. Thirdly, there are numerous authorities of far greater weight than the late Archbishop whose teachings simply cannot be reconciled with his own position. Several of these are Doctors of the Church. For these reasons, and others, it is manifestly unreasonable to maintain that those who choose a different (sound) position to that proposed by the Archbishop, are therefore to be regarded as dangerous or in any way bad Catholics. We may be terrible Catholics, but this is not because we differ with the SSPX on the nature and extent of this crisis of religion. Nor is our position to be regarded as bad based on the fact that we differ with the Archbishop.

    Let us now consider some further points which support the claim that the “sedevacantist” position is soundly Catholic. None of these is a proof in itself that the “sedevacantist” position is true. No, the proof of that has been presented in other places. These considerations are aimed merely at establishing that “anti-sedevacantism” is indefensible.

  2. Firstly, we “sedevacantists” are taught by Pope Paul IV, who has addressed the precise situation Catholics face today, in the apostolic constitution Cum ex apostolatus. That is, the situation in which a heretic claims the papacy. Is there any papal document which supports the recognition of a heretic 's claim to the highest office in the Church? No. There is no papal bull or encyclical which states that in the case of a heretic claiming the papacy the faithful must accept his claim unless and until the senior clergy reject him. In fact, there isn't even a papal document which instructs Catholics to accept a doubtful pope unless and until he is proved to be a false claimant. A doubtful pope is no pope, as the theologians and canonists openly and clearly teach, and there is no papal instruction to the contrary. Is there any reason why we are wrong to be taught by Pope Paul IV? By whom else ought we to be taught instead?

  3. We “sedevacantists” are also taught by Pope St. Pius V, who issued the bull Inter multiplices for the sole purpose of re-confirming the above-mentioned bull of Pope Paul IV. Is there some reason why we should disregard Pope St. Pius V?

  4. Cum ex apostolatus lays down perfectly clearly that all may refuse communion with a heretical claimant to the papal office. Even laymen. Cum ex apostolatus explicitly states that any and all persons who would have been subject to such an heretical claimant, be they members of any of category of Church members, including the laity, may safely reject the usurper. It seems clear to us that the pope has spoken – the laity have a right to reject Karol Wojtyla's claim to the papacy. Is this incorrect? Did Paul IV mean that the laity must only follow instructions from the clergy in these matters? If so, why did he not say so?

  5. It is unfair to accuse “sedevacantists” of pride, merely because they reject the claims of Karol Wojtyla. Is it proud to insist on being taught by Pope Paul IV and Pope St. Pius V, of glorious memory? Are laymen proud who flee the wolf, despite the woolly disguise which partially hides his coarse, black, coat? Are we proud because we do not trust ourselves to sift the good from the evil; because we trust not ourselves to stand in the evil day? In brief, does a proud man run away, or does he remain in danger, thinking himself strong against temptation? I am not asserting that the SSPX adhere to Karol Wojtyla because of pride. I think that adherence to Karol Wojtyla can be perfectly compatible with humility, and often is. I am merely saying that we may be filled with pride, but we do not prove it by running away from danger.

  6. Are “sedevacantists” dangerous to the flock? No. Certainly some “sedevacantists” are dangerous. As are some SSPX followers, including some SSPX priests. The fact is that around the world hundreds of “sedevacantists” assist at SSPX chapels, and in only a few cases have individuals caused serious angst to the SSPX. Likewise, numerous SSPX priests are “sedevacantists” themselves, and seem not to have created any great difficulties with their fraternity. This is a personal assessment, but I think that the SSPX attitude to the “sedevacantist” position is a self-perpetuating source of difficulty. Attacking “sedevacantism” is asking for a response from “sedevacantists.”

  7. “Anti-sedevacantism” is fed by various examples of evil which are unfairly laid at the feet of “sedevacantists.” One such example is Palmar de Troya, in Spain. Palmar de Troya is not an example of “sedevacantist” activity. Palmar de Troya is an example of men following a false pope. The situation at Palmar de Troya is parallel to that in the New Church. In both cases men have accepted a false pope, and in both cases this has led to multiple errors, some grave and some less grave. In both cases this has been the result of a failure to consider the teachings of the (true) popes, and the consequent failure to apply these teachings to the facts. And if Palmar de Troya is to be regarded as a “sedevacantist” aberration, then the Fraternity of St. Peter is, likewise, an SSPX aberration. The disastrous creation of the Fraternity of St. Peter is undoubtedly the fruit of the acceptance of Karol Wojtyla's claim to the papacy. The problem with seeking such examples of evil fruit is that evil fruit is everywhere, and the actual causes are often difficult to identify accurately.

  8. Are “sedevacantists” guilty of judging that Karol Wojtyla is a heretic when he is really only a mistaken Catholic? Do men gather figs of thistles? No. Nor do Catholics preside over New Religions. In any case, Pope Paul IV clearly fails to share the difficulty of the SSPX in identifying heretics. He tells us that that we (even laymen) may reject and avoid any papal claimants who have previously “deviated from the Faith, become heretics, incurred schism or provoked or committed any or all of these.” Nor is there any sign whatsoever in Cum ex apostolatus that Pope Paul IV was only referring to heretics who had been judged by the Church, and not to those who try to remain recognised as her members. In fact, Paul IV's words are utterly incompatible with such an idea, for he refers separately to those who “shall have been detected to have deviated from the Catholic Faith, or fallen into any heresy, or incurred schism, or provoked or committed either or both of these, or who have confessed to have done any of these things, or who have been convicted of having done any of these things.” Those convicted of heresy are in a distinct category from those who are detected as heretics, and both groups are to be rejected and avoided - not just those who have been convicted, as the SSPX maintains.

  9. Do “sedevacantists” scandalise other members of the faithful by referring to Karol Wojtyla disrespectfully? Pope Paul IV teaches us that we are permitted not only to withdraw from such a heretic , but that we may regard such heretical “popes” as “warlocks, heathens, publicans, and heresiarchs.” Has our language been any stronger than Pope Paul IV's? Likewise, Paul IV instructs the Church not only to avoid those who display a heretic al mindset, but also to deprive them “of the sympathy of all natural kindness.” Are we to think that Paul IV lacked charity, and instructed the Church to be uncharitable? God forbid! Surely this is instead to be explained as a way of making the flock safe and ensuring that by just chastisement the erring might be brought to repentance.

  10. Was “anti-sedevacantism” the position of Archbishop Lefebvre? No. The Archbishop enjoyed excellent relations with numerous “sedevacantists.” He was the recipient of a great deal of funding from “sedevacantists.” His own published views were clearly not “anti-sedevacantist” and in fact as he approached the end of his life he became less distant from the “sede vacante” position, and made numerous statements which openly suggested that he himself might conclude that Karol Wojtyla was not in fact the pope. “Anti-sedevacantism” is a feature of the post-Lefebvre SSPX, and is not a faithful representation of the Archbishop's position. The Archbishop did not want his clergy to be (openly) “sedevacantist.” I have seen no evidence that he castigated the faithful for adhering to that position. The distinction might seem fine, but there is a real reason for it. The SSPX is a fraternity of secular priests. It is not a religious congregation. The faithful who assist at its chapels are not its members. The Archbishop formed the judgement that the SSPX clergy (i.e. the members of the SSPX) had to be united in their public position on the crisis. Imposing this “unity” on the faithful was not part of his agenda, at least as far as his public words and actions indicate. What he seems to have aimed at was a position which was sufficiently ambiguous so as to keep open the possibility that “rome“ would approve of his organisation, whilst allowing him to avoid the entire Vatican II revolution. Whether his policy was good or bad, effective or ineffective, is open to debate. But it was not “anti-sedevacantist.“ It was “non-sedevacantist.“

  11. Is it true that the SSPX was sent by the Church, while other priests and priestly groups have been set up by individuals? Giovanni Montini “sent” the SSPX (for a probationary period). Then he “unsent” the SSPX, in a letter written in his own hand and addressed to Archbishop Lefebvre. If Montini was pope, then the SSPX has been shut down by the Church. If Montini was not the pope, then the SSPX was never sent by the Church, if “being sent” requires papal approval. I can't see how the SSPX is any different in this respect from various other groups and individuals. And in fact the SSPX is inferior in this respect to various traditional religious and clergy who did receive explicit ecclesiastical approval prior to the Revolution, and who are still functioning. One such example is Fr. Robert McKenna, O.P., and the convent of Dominican nuns who rely on his ministrations. They are “sedevacantists.” There are obviously other ways of being authorised by the Church than explicit papal approval, but if there are not then the SSPX appears to have a very shaky claim to ecclesiastical approval.

There are many other considerations which could be presented on this matter. Considerations relating to the Great Western Schism; to the nature of heresy and how it is known; to various historical precedents which provide guidance on how Catholics are to react to heretics claiming authority in the Church. But I think that these should suffice to prove that whatever the truth about Karol Wojtyla, it is not at all obvious that those who reject his claim to the papacy are for that reason uncharitable and proud.

St. Pius X sought to restore all things in Christ, chiefly by ensuring purity of doctrine and fostering devotion to the Holy Eucharist. These two means addressed the twofold bonds of unity of Holy Church – Faith and Charity. By cultivating these two supernatural bonds between each and every Catholic, and between us and our Divine Head Jesus Christ, the holy pontiff sought to strengthen and extend the Mystical Body, so that the world would be supernaturally renewed. In attempting to follow in his footsteps, we the children of St. Pius X, must also pursue this same true course. We too must defend the faith by promoting true doctrine and exposing false teachings. And we are likewise called to do whatever is in our power, no matter how little, to foster the bond of charity without which we are nothing, and without which even the most perfect faith is in vain.

“Glorious Pope of the Eucharist St Pius X who didst seek to restore all things in Christ, obtain for me a true love of Jesus so that I may live only for Him. Help me to acquire a lively fervour and a sincere will to strive for sanctity of life, and that I may avail myself of the riches of the Holy Eucharist in sacrifice and sacrament. By thy love for Mary, mother and queen of all, inflame my heart with tender devotion to her.

“Blessed model of the priesthood, obtain for us holy dedicated priests and increase vocations to the religious life. Dispel confusion and hatred and anxiety and incline our hearts to peace and concord, so that all nations will place themselves under the sweet reign of Christ. Amen.”

The question of whether or not Karol Wojtyla is the pope is not a matter of faith. Nor has it been judged by Holy Church. Therefore it belongs to that class of things which, while important – and vitally so – are “legitimately disputed.” The saints instruct us how we are to behave when we differ over such matters.

Of St. Cyprian, St. Augustine says, “putting on the bowels of humility through the moving influence of his discourse, if, in common with the Church at large, I entertain any doctrine more true than his, I will not prefer my heart to his, even in the point in which he, though holding different views, was yet not severed from the Church throughout the world. For in that, when that question was yet undecided for want of full discussion, though his sentiments differed from those of many of his colleagues, yet he observed so great moderation, that he would not mutilate the sacred fellowship of the Church of God by any stain of schism, a greater strength of excellence appeared in him than would have been shown if, without that virtue, he had held views on every point not only true, but coinciding with their own.” (St. Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Bk. 5.)

I appeal to “non-sedevacantist“ clergy that if you cannot grant that we might be right, that you at least consider that it is perfectly possible to be both good and wrong.

In the mean time, we shall do our best not to be both right and bad.

John Lane
Feast of St. Pius X, 2001

1. 1 Cor. 3:3.
2. Firmilianus, Bishop of Caesarea, “The Ante-Nicene Fathers” Vol. V, p. 390.