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Answering the Objections to the Sedevacantist Position

Compiled by Bishop Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI

Objection I: Pope Pius XII lifted all ecclesiastical penalties during the conclave to elect the pope. So even if the Vatican II popes were heretics before their elections, they would still be validly elected.

Answer: Heretics and schismatics are barred by DIVINE LAW from the election to the Papal Office. Pope Pius XII lifted ecclesiastical penalties; he did not, would not, could not dispense from Divine Law.

Proof:

A. Institutiones Iuris Canonici [1950], Coronata

— “Appointment to the Office of the Primacy — 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...”

B. Institutiones luris Canonici [1921], Marato

— “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.

C. Bull Cum Ex Apostolatus [16 Feb. 1559], Pope Paul IV

— “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 their words, 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.”

D. Institutiones luris Canonici [1921], C. Baldii

— “The law now in force for the election of the Roman Pontiff is reduced to these points:...

— “Barred as incapable of being validly elected are the following: women, children who have not reached the age of reason, those suffering from habitual insanity, the unbaptized, heretics and schismatics....”

Objection II: Vatican Council I taught that St. Peter has perpetual successors; therefore, long vacancies in the See of Peter are not possible.

Answer: Nowhere does the Church determine how long a vacancy may exist in the See of Peter. Between the death of Pope Clement IV (November 29, 1268) and the election of Pope Gregory X (September 1, 1271), there was an interregnum of nearly three years. During the Western Schism, there were three claimants to the See of Peter; theologians teach that even if none of them were pope, that would not be against the promise of Christ or the teaching of perpetual successors.

Proof:

A. Institutiones Theologiae Fundamentalis [1929], Rev. A. Dorsch

— “The Church therefore is a society that is essentially monarchical. But this does not prevent the Church, for a short time after the death of a pope, or even for many years, from remaining deprived of her head [vel etiam per plures annos capite suo destituta manet].”

B. The Relations of the Church to Society [1882], Fr. Edward J. O’Reilly, S.J.

— “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.”

C. The Catholic’s Ready Answer [1915], Rev. M. P. Hill, S.J.

— “If during the entire schism (nearly 40 years) there had been no Pope at all—that would not prove that the office and authority of Peter was not transmitted to the next Pope duly elected.”

D. The Defense of the Catholic Church [1927] Fr. Francis X. Doyle, S.J.

— “The Church is a visible society with a visible Ruler. If there can be any doubt about who that visible Ruler is, he is not visible, and hence, where there is any doubt about whether a person has been legitimately elected Pope, that doubt must be removed before he can become the visible head of Christ’s Church. Blessed Bellarmine, S.J., says: 'A doubtful Pope must be considered as not Pope’; and Suarez, S.J., says: 'At the time of the Council of Constance there were three men claiming to be Pope.... Hence, it could have been that not one of them was the true Pope, and in that case, there was no Pope at all....’”

Objection III: If all the Vatican II popes were invalid, then there would be no cardinals to elect a future pope. Thus the Papacy would come to an end which is impossible.

Answer: During the Western Schism, three men claimed to be pope (the true pope in Rome, one in Avignon, one in Pisa) In order to heal the nearly forty-year schism, the Council of Constance determined that with all the cardinals, delegates from each country would participate in the papal election (Pope Martin V was elected). Theologians teach that in doubt of or in absence of cardinals, the Church has the right to choose its Head.

Proof:

A. De Potestate Ecclesiae, Vitoria

— “Even if St. Peter would have not determined anything, once he was dead, the Church had the power to substitute him and appoint a successor to him ... If by any calamity, war or plague, all Cardinals would be lacking, we cannot doubt that the Church could provide for herself a Holy Father.

— “Hence such an election should be carried out by all the Church and not by any particular Church. And this is because that power is common and it concerns the whole Church. So it must be the duty of the whole Church.”

B. De Comparatione Auctoritatis Papae et Concilii, Cajetan, OP

— “.. . by exception and by supplementary manner this power (that of electing a pope), corresponds to the Church and to the Council, either by the absence of Cardinal Electors, or because they are doubtful, or the election itself is uncertain, as it happened at the time of the schism.”

C. De Ecclesia Christi, Billot

— “When it would be necessary to proceed with the election, if it is impossible to follow the regulations of papal law, as was the case during the Great Western Schism, one can accept, without difficulty, that the power of election could be transferred to a General Council.”

— “Because natural law prescribes that, in such cases, the power of a superior is passed to the immediate inferior because this is absolutely necessary for the survival of the society and to avoid the tribulations of extreme need.”

D. The Church of the Incarnate Word [1954], Msgr. Charles Journet

The Church During a Vacancy of the Holy See

— “We must not think of the Church, when the Pope is dead, as possessing the papal power in act, in a state of diffusion, so that she herself can delegate it to the next Pope in whom it will be re-condensed and made definite. When the Pope dies the Church is widowed, and, in respect of the visible universal jurisdiction, she is truly acephalous. But she is not acephalous as are the schismatic churches, nor like a body on the way to decomposition. Christ directs her from heaven ... But, though slowed down, the pulse of life has not left the Church; she possesses the power of the Papacy in potency, in the sense that Christ, who has willed her always to depend on a visible pastor, has given her power to designate the man to whom He will Himself commit the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, as once He committed them to Peter.

— “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.”

Objection IV: Even if a pope fell into heresy, he would remain pope until the Church declared him a heretic and no longer pope.

Answer: Pope Paul IV, in Cum Ex Apostolatus, Pope Innocent III in Si Papa, and theologians teach that a heretical pope is deposed by God.

Proof:

A. Bull: Cum Ex Apostolatus [16 Feb. 1559], Pope Paul IV

— “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... 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.”

B. Si Papa [1198], Pope Innocent III

— “The Pope should not flatter himself about his power nor should he rashly glory in his honor 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.’”

C. Institutiones Juris Canonici [1950] - Coronata

— “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.”

D. St. Robert Bellarmine [1610]

— “A Pope who is a manifest heretic automatically ceases to be a Pope and head, just as he ceases automatically to be a Christian and a member of the Church.”

E. St. Antoninus [1459]

— “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.”

F. St. Francis de Sales [1622]

— “Now when the Pope is explicitly a heretic, he falls ipso facto from his dignity and out of the Church ...”

G. Canon Law - [1943] - Wernz-Vidal

— “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.

H. Introductio in Codicem [1946] - Udalricus Beste

— “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.”

I. Epitome Juris Canonici [1949] - A. Vermeersch

— “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 power which he who is no longer a member of the Church is unable to possess.”

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