And Now, the Other Kind of Sedevacantist
Part 2 of a Series on the SSPX-published book, Sedevacantism - A False Solution To a Real Problem
One of the problems of establishing unity within the sedevacantist movement and making a difference with strength in number for the sake of saving souls is the division of Absolute Sedevacantists and Cassiciacum Sedevacantists; the latter consisting of those who believe in the Formaliter/Materialiter status of the man who sits on the Throne of Peter. Griff dissects the arguments raised by the Society in which they have inadvertently opened their own Pandora's Box considering their giving credence to the very real possibility that both sede camps have points that not only outweigh the compromising position of the SSPX, but also prove the Society is headed down the wrong road...one leading to the conciliar cul-de-sac that provides no way out. Such a stance has led to the inevitable trap they currently find themselves in where we see mass defections as Fellay's farrago has fed mass confusion within its own ranks. Every step he takes is like quicksand, sinking him and the Society deeper. The only escape to firm footing is to embrace sedevacantism. Evidently the SSPX will have to learn the hard way before waking up to that fact. And the position of Sede Vacante itself will need to be more embraceable by being more consistent and complete within itself.
"Let's picture this for a moment. A real Catholic somehow arrives in charge of the whole Vatican apparatus. What would he do? What should he do? Resign and save his own soul by himself? What a waste of a tremendous evangelical opportunity! No, he should labor to bring the Vatican apparatus back to the Church. Let's briefly survey what needs to be done: He needs to 1) revoke Vatican II together with all that ever followed from it, or even pretended to follow from it, 2) condemn all the errors and heresies that have been spouted forth for however long, 3) put out those who are not willing to be for the Church and against the Novus Ordo, 4) get the clergy all ordained or consecrated (as applicable) so as to be actual clerics and 5) he needs to work all of this in coordination with the traditional bishops."
After discussing the "Absolute" sedevacantist and questions as to why more of them have not sought to organize a conclave, the SSPX book, Sedevacantism - A False Solution To a Real Problem then moves over to discussing the other major form of sedevacantism, namely that which is often called Formaliter/Materialiter or the Cassiciacum Thesis. This theory is often derided even by most sedevacantists for simply being "too complicated" to understand. That is no valid reason of itself to reject any given theory, but it does understandably render it unpopular.
The book section opens up with the questions, "how is it possible to deny the authority of Paul VI and his successors? If this is possible, where then is the Church? Whence should the Catholic Church appear again?" The Cassiciacum Thesis does have one clear advantage over many of the absolute sedevacantists, namely that it actually attempts to provide answers to these questions. How good the answers are remains to be seen, but at least they are stabs at trying to answer these sticky questions. The answers provided by this Thesis would also provide one reason (or excuse, more properly) not to hold any conclave, for like the Resistance and Indult/Motarian positions it simply awaits an answer to come from the Vatican.
For this reason it is rightly described as a kind of "mitigated sedevacantism." When, in the mid-1970's, then Fr. Guérard des Lauriers, as a professor at Ecône, the SSPX main seminary in Europe, attempted to provide the SSPX with a doctrinal basis for its position, the result was his Cassiciacum Thesis. Basically, it allows that the Vatican leader is still "materially" pope, in that he was duly elected (and, as Fr., later Bishop Donald Sanborn would clarify) this "material-only" could nevertheless make legal or lawful appointments, at least to the cardinalate, such that one day, if one of them repented and started something up, or alternatively if they somehow managed to elect a real Catholic one day, the papacy could simply return.
But at the same time it also affirms that, so long as the present confusion and non-Catholicism continues to be the rule of the day, the Vatican leaders are not to be counted as being "formal" popes, that is to say, popes who have truly accepted their ɛƖɛctıon and all the responsibilities that go with it, and as such have not actually quite taken the office, but remain more something like a "pope elect." Not really being quite fully in the office to which they were elected, infallibility does not apply to them and they therefore possess no capacity to rule or guide or govern in any spiritual matters. As a result of even this being too "sedevacantist" for Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Fr. des Lauriers was dismissed from Ecône in 1976.
For those who may not know, Fr. des Lauriers was a longtime professor at a Pontifical Seminary in Rome, at times confessor to Pope Pius XII, the principal architect of what is now commonly called the "Ottaviani Intervention" (Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani actually wrote merely a short cover letter to the work, though it is most frequently his words that are quoted as a summary of that "Intervention," namely to the effect that the Novus Ordo Mass represented a "striking departure" from the Faith of all times. Subsequent to his involvement with the SSPX, he was the first respectable cleric to approach Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngo-dinh Thuc for consecration to the episcopacy in 1981. Two other respectable Mexican clerics would follow suit later that year, providing the basis for the most truly and clearly Catholic Thuc successors. He consecrated several other clerics, including Bishop Robert McKenna, O.P., who in turn consecrated several more including Bishop Sanborn. Bp. Des Lauriers passed away in 1988, shortly after being interviewed by several priests of the SSPV regarding Archbishop Thuc.
Could such a scenario raise problems for this SSPX book to bring out? This gets first into the realm of what is called an "objective intention." Objective intention is to be contrasted with the far more commonly heard of concept of subjective intention, which is to say what the person interiorly sets out to do, or intends. A subjective intention, by its very nature, is something that cannot be known except to the soul itself who has the intention, and to God Who knows all things.
But an objective intention refers to something equivalent yet operative in the open and visible and verifiable arena. An objective intention would therefore be that which a person openly and explicitly announces that he sets out to do, and as such is no longer merely subjective or interior.
For example, a new Vatican electee, upon seeming to accept his ɛƖɛctıon, could announce (and several have announced) an intention to continue the course of their immєdιαte predecessors, namely of continuing the Vatican II ʀɛʋօʟutιօn. Certainly, such an avowed intention, objective by virtue of its formal and public announcement, would constitute an "objective intention" not to function as a Roman Catholic pope. The technical term for such a refusal to function as ostensibly elected is described as an "obex" (obstruction) that gets in the way of or impedes one's ability to enter the office to which they were nominally elected, or to function therein as a valid officeholder must.
The concept is known in sacramental theology, where (for example) a person withholding intent to receive (or confect) the sacrament can thereby invalidate the sacrament due to the obex of his refusal to accept (or confect) the sacrament. Picture for example someone going through the motions of being baptized, confirmed, or ordained, but not wishing to be baptized, confirmed or ordained. Or picture a person going through the motions of a wedding but withholding intent or of having reservations such as "I promise to be your husband to love, honor, and cherish you, so long as you don't have any kids."
So long as the obex remains interior and undocumented and unexpressed, the Church treats the baptism, confirmation, ordination, or marriage as valid (though it might not be valid before God in some cases). But should any evidence be forthcoming that there was such an obex, even subsequent to having accepted the sacrament as valid, then the Church must now regard the sacrament as having been invalid. For in that case, it passes from being merely a subjective intention to an objective intention, and for that there are canonical (and sacramental) effects. Now granted, the ɛƖɛctıon of a man to the papacy is not a sacrament. It confers no irremovable mark upon the soul and does not change the nature of the man receiving it. It does however protect him from error under certain circumstances, so long as the man actually occupies the office. If he does not accept it, or if having accepted it he subsequently resigns, the protection does not apply, or else applies no longer.
But what does all this gain one, theologically speaking? For the SSPX, Fr. des Lauriers thought it gave them a basis for laboring to resuscitate the Vatican "papacy," and also would have protected them from the vague and ill-defined outlook of a difficult-to-justify continuous resistance to supposedly lawful authority or else a papacy mysteriously gone evaporated and vanished without a trace. That way, the SSPX would have been protected from falling into either a simplistic and incompletely formed absolute sedevacantism (and he really wasn't quite ready for the idea of pushing the SSPX towards organizing a conclave) on the one hand, but it would also have protected them from the inconsistencies of their present position as well. As we know, the SSPX did not accept his thesis, nor retain him as professor at Ecône, and has since drifted into its current ill-defined resistance.
The Cassiciacum Thesis provides an attempt at answering these questions that otherwise go unaddressed by the absolute sedevacantists (or at least those who unaccountably don't organize a conclave). It provides, as the book nicely states, a "manner of explaining the indefectibility of the Church over time. The Cassiciacum thesis designates the current [Vatican] ecclesiastical hierarchy, compared to a comatose body bereft of any authority, as the subject on the basis of which the Church will be regenerated. This will happen either when a future material pope will remove the obstacle (obex) which currently prevents the holder of that office from receiving the charisms and authority of the papacy, or when he will finally manifest the objective intention to act for the good of the Church. The successions of 'material popes,' albeit lacking authority, jurisdiction, and assistance, is sufficient, from the perspective of the Cassiciacum thesis, to guarantee the necessary continuity between St. Peter and the last pope at the end of time."
The next strategy of the book (in a section titled, The Contradiction Between Rigorist Sedevacantism and the Cassiciacum Thesis) is to play the two forms of sedevacantism against each other. Each seems to pose serious questions to the other. The absolute sedevacantist sees the Cassiciacum Thesis as being a kind of mitigated Lefebvrism and asks why it is that some mere secret intention on the part of the pope should somehow be able to stop God from imparting infallibility to the (material) pope. And why should Providence be constrained to use "material cardinals" lacking any authority. Why not recognize the Church as being those "who maintain the Catholic faith in its entirety (rather than in a comatose hierarchy)"? And why not use juridical arguments to prove the truth of it [namely that a pope cannot teach error, and one teaching error must therefore not be a pope, perhaps as having resigned due to Canon 188 § 4 as most absolute sedevacantists teach]?
For its part, the Guérardians (Cassiciacum Thesis holders) could equally ask of the absolute sedevacantist why some hypothetical pope coming by whatever means (other than from the "comatose hierarchy") would not be in effect "the initiator of a new apostolic succession - a sort of new St. Peter - and thus the founder of a new Church, a Catholic Church bis [all over again]"? And wouldn't it be conclavistic? (And what, for that matter, would be wrong with that? Do you realize that nothing has ever been shown to be wrong with that, at least in principle? The only thing that has been done has been to point to some Mickey Mouse attempts that have failed quite comically and then smear even more mud on the idea by attributing every little "pope" hanging out his shingle to a conclave even where only the barest handful of them actually went through the motions of a conclave at all.) And finally, how could a pope be found guilty of formal heresy, since there is no one above him able to issue a canonical warning?
Before getting into these questions, one other comment in the book bears mention. It states that "Guérardians consider that the Cassiciacum thesis is the only one that justifies the decision, itself of vital importance, to proceed to episcopal consecrations without papal mandate." While there is no denying that the Cassiciacum thesis would, of itself fully justify episcopal consecrations "without papal mandate," where would anyone get off claiming that the Cassiciacum thesis would be the one and only possible justification? Do any of the Guérardians actually teach this? Perhaps Guérard himself might have written it at a time when other explanations were as yet unknown to him. The necessity, as demonstrated by Archbishop Lefebvre would be sufficient to justify this. An absolute Sede Vacante situation (however that could arise) would justify it. For that matter, even a "I don't have the slightest idea what went wrong with the Church but I really would like to continue to have a living Catholicism" position would be sufficient to justify it!
Let us start with the criticisms that the Formaliter/Materialiter could level at the Absolute sedevacantist. They say that were a pope to come from any source other than the Vatican hierarchy, spiritually dead or "comatose" as they may be, then that would represent some sort of brand new "apostolic succession." That would be one hell of an accusation, but as it turns out, one which would be utterly groundless. How would one even make such an accusation, and why would it be groundless? Look again at what the Absolute sedevacantist would have to identify as the Church (to what extent any of them have been willing to identify ANYONE as being of the Church), namely those "who maintain the Catholic faith in its entirety." If one pictures these faithful ones as being mere scattered laity (and the phrase, as given, does plainly put priority on merely keeping the Faith instead of possessing any ecclesiastical rank), then the accusation of it (or any other non-Vatican-hierarchy source) being where the next true pope comes from really might seem to be a brand new apostolic succession.
But go back to those "who maintain the Catholic faith in its entirety." In actual fact, there were a number of bishops who did this. And some (not by any means all) of the original Vatican bishops who did this produced successors, and given the basic severity of the present situation (episcopal consecration ceremony rendered practically invalid as of 1968, along with all the other lack-of-leadership chaos in general), even episcopal consecrations without the usual and customary papal mandate are plainly justified, and therefore lawful and sufficient to constitute an authorized apostolic succession. For the real "apostolic succession" is not the succession of popes, but rather the succession of bishops extending from the Original Twelve. The popes are merely those chosen from among all of them to lead the entire Church at any given time. These bishops must always continue to exist, and always have existed, and always will, for from their ranks must come the next true pope. Indeed, that is the only thing that wouldn't be a "brand new apostolic succession!"
Granted, not every (or even all that many) absolute sedevacantists have thought to advance the traditional clergy as being the lawful and visible hierarchy of the Church. Why that is I really don't know. I don't see how anyone could even consider the question for even two seconds without suddenly realizing that "Oh my God, the traditional clerics REALLY ARE the present visible and lawful hierarchy of the historic Roman Catholic Church today! Why didn't I think of that before?" Perhaps they just haven't thought of it. Perhaps they simply have not encountered any of my writings. Perhaps even some of our own traditional clerics who therefore possess such authority don't want to deal with such a serious responsibility, preferring even to see themselves as being somewhat on the sidelines, since surely that would expose them to less scrutiny. Or perhaps it's a prejudice borne of an unfortunate mental habit of long having thought of all of these clerics as being no different or better than some outsider who comes along and pays $25.00 to an Old Catholic bishop to ordain or consecrate him and then just sets up shop. But that mental habit, that prejudice, has absolutely no basis in anything of valid Theology or Philosophy or Canon Law or anything else, and those who persist in it in the face of such findings as mine really can be lawfully accused of being "spiritualist and protestant" as the book puts it ("The Guérardians, however, consider these positions to be spiritualist and protestant, since for the rigorists [absolute sedevacantists, or at least that some of them who fail to recognize the Church's true lawful and appointed clerics] the Church would no longer have any visible element.") Or as I put it in my previous installment, "Therefore I have extremely little patience for those who vaguely appeal to 'mystery,' whether stopping short of accepting the Sede Vacante finding itself, or even of those who do accept that finding but who then go no further, as if the finding itself somehow explained everything."
Now, what about the need for a canonical warning? This opens up a far bigger can of worms. One of the chief ways that the Church identifies a formal heretic is through the process of formal trial, which begins with a canonical warning.
How effective is this really? Couldn't a person simply be sincerely mistaken, really believing something they know to be right no matter who attempts through mere legal force to oblige them to reject it? Perhaps some theologians have discussed this question. I for one think there is considerable room for this method to be inadequate, particularly in the case where in the course of the canonical warnings and even trial itself no attempt is made to explain or justify the Church's teaching on the disputed point, but merely "We say this, so therefore you are obliged to believe it no matter how nonsensical it could possibly seem to you!" For example, were the Feeneyites materially in error? Of course they were, as I have been quite exhaustively proving in another series. But is there sufficient justification to declare them all to have been formally in error (apart from the very few who had actually found the quotes in their original sources, composed the arguments out of thin air, and who therefore knew how they were abusing them)? I think not. For invariably only the most token theological response (if any) was ever given while they were all being slapped down with all manner of ecclesiastical penalties. At the time, nobody took the time and effort to do what I have done for that case, namely step through all of their quotes and arguments one by one and demonstrate the falsity of each and every one of them. To know all of what I have presented there and still persist in it however, one would have to be culpable and this really would mark a case of formal error (or even formal heresy).
But be all that as it may, the Church has long accepted the procedure by which a person making a doctrinal mistake (at this point seen as merely "materially in error or heresy") is canonically warned that his position is wrong and that he must change it, and if he doesn't then he would then be seen by the Church as being formally in error or heresy, and only then could any ecclesiastical penalties apply. You can be excommunicated for being formally in error or heresy, but you cannot be excommunicated for being merely materially in error or heresy.
Now let's look at what this does to one of the key (and most commonly heard) sedevacantist arguments: It is impossible for someone to be the head of a body to which they are no member at all. For if "the Pope" is a heretic, then he is not a Catholic, and as such not a member of the Catholic Church, and therefore cannot possibly be visible head of the Catholic Church. How many sedevacantists were originally persuaded by that argument? I hope they have since found other reasons for continuing as sedevacantists, for this one is invalid, charming and persuasive as it may have originally sounded. A person (baptized Catholic) does not stop being a Catholic merely out of making some material mistake on some doctrinal point. It is only persistence in that doctrinal mistake in the face of the Church's clear teaching to the contrary on the topic that can put a person out of the Church.
If the pope could somehow be found to be formally in error or heresy then that really would put him out of the Church (as well as out of the Papal chair) and the argument would apply. But if the pope (as an individual man) is only materially in error or heresy, then he is still part of the household of God, still a member of the Church, and this argument does not apply. But who is authorized to issue a canonical warning against a pope? A person higher in rank issues such a thing to a person lower in rank, never the other way around. Maybe a peer (or group of peers) might be able to issue such a thing to someone of their own rank (I am not sure about that), but even if such a thing were possible, who is the peer of the pope? Who is it that can issue a pope a canonical warning? And who is authorized to try him if he fails to back down in the face of that warning?
So how, then, is the Church to go about convicting a pope of formal error or heresy, so as to remove him? There is no mechanism in place to do that. We can't know what is inside the man's darkened little heart, nor can we warn him or try him so as to ascertain (by the Church's usual accepted mechanism and procedure) that he is a formal heretic; justice and charity and refusal to engage in rash judgment requires us to presume good faith wherever possible, and so the man has to be regarded as being only in material error or heresy. Ergo, the can't-be-head-of-a-body-one-is-not-a-member-of argument cannot be applied to the present situation.
So, what do the absolute sedevacantists who would use this argument do about this grave deficiency? Most seem to shove this whole formal versus material error/heresy issue under the rug, hoping their listeners won't think to ask this painful question. There is however a possible rationale that could be composed, though I have never seen anyone do this (but the idea may have been glancingly alluded to at times), and it goes like this: The Pope is not like any of the rest of us.
Since the whole process of canonical warning and trial cannot be applied to a pope, the Church must therefore have recourse to some other means. One characteristic of the Pope not being like any of the rest of us is the protection given to him by the Holy Ghost against all error and heresy (infallibility). If we posit that infallibility only applies to a case where the pope intends no error or heresy, such that he would never make an accidental mistake in any matter of faith or morals, then surely anything he teaches wrong in those areas to the whole Church MUST have been FORMALLY intended, and as such capable of being punished by the Church in the same order as any other person formally in error or heresy on any point of faith or morals.
Well, that's an interesting concept. I seem to be the first to have ever stated it straight out. Is that solution possible? I am rather inclined to opine against it. For if a Pope decided to err formally in some minor or subtle point that the Church could not detect, then we who are the rest of the Church would be utterly without protection. A whole network of such "minor errors" could be produced to provide the basis for some overthrow of larger and larger things, until it becomes detectable, and no one would know where to draw the line between that which is really true and that in which the Pope has maliciously lied to us. Since we cannot know the man's interior state, and the only evidence would be the pronouncements themselves, or whatever logic or argumentation he might provide as justification for them, as to whether they are in line with the established truths, anything too subtle for us to detect he could lie about and no one would be any the wiser.
More importantly, has the Church (in any of her accepted theologians) ever advanced such an argument? Did anyone (prior to Vatican II) even discuss this scenario as a possibility? We know that no one did. If it had been taught, and if it had been accepted by some Pope back before then, that would be different. But it hasn't been. And without such a thing on the books, this chain of reasoning is going to have to prove itself, and with such points as I have just above raised against it, to contend against. If infallibility has to be subject to such unverifiable things as the interior motives of the Pope himself personally, and can be so easily set aside with some interior (and unknown to the rest of us) malice, then it has no force or value, and is as good as proven false. He becomes true when we agree with him and false when we don't. I really don't see how the Church could ever approve such a reasoning, even once we have a Church (with Pope) again capable of approving anything.
So now we turn back to the original errors and heresies as have been observed in the recent and current Vatican leadership. They have taught error and heresy right and left, on topic after topic (I have just recently encountered John Paul II's so-called "Theology of the Body" - Yuck! How frightfully horrible!), and oftentimes even through their official channels. Either infallibility has been trivially set aside, or else these guys have not been popes at all, and not being popes, are therefore as fallible as the rest of us (or far more so, given their absurd infatuation with criminally stupid ideologies). If we can't prove them to be formal heretics, do we just throw up our hands and give up? Let them run roughshod over thousands of years of Church theology? I see no reason for that, since even material heresy can prove something (though not as much).
Material error and heresy in one seen to be a pope most certainly can serve as evidence pointing to their not being pope at all, for the ability to teach error and heresy (even materially) does not belong to a pope. This is not a matter of free will. The man freely accepts losing this power as he accepts the papacy, and can only regain it by freely resigning. We have therefore only to look for some other canonical reason why they would not be pope, and once found, we can know the core of the actual situation. In another series about Papal Resignation I have already addressed these other canonical reasons.
Now, let us turn instead to the criticisms that Absolute sedevacantists could level at the Materialiter/Formaliter sedevacantists, or "Guérardians." The Guérardians have made out the Vatican "hierarchy" (actually something more like what C. S. Lewis described in The Screwtape Letters as a Lowerarchy, given its inverted structure of a "leader" subject to the decisions of its "parliamentary bishop's conferences," "bishops" subject to their "priestly conferences," and "priests" subject to the whim of their ill-trained Novus Ordo shill "laity") as being the only possible source of a pope. While claiming for themselves the Spirit of the Church, they leave the visible Body to the Vatican apparatus. Why do they do this? Well, if one has not recognized the traditional clerics as being the visible elements of the Church, then what other visible elements can one point to? Unfortunately, the book does not at this point mention the real reason the Guérardian position is generally not accepted among the absolute sedevacantists, namely that it is seen as being "too complicated." It does go on to develop that theme in future parts but here names only rather incidental criticisms regarding why they don't use the juridical argument to prove the non-papacy of the recent and current Vatican leadership, or why they think Providence would be confined to having to use such a comatose "hierarchy," or why even bring them into the equation at all, or why a simple private and interior obex on the part of a pope-elect could stop God from imparting the papal infallibility upon him.
Really though, if the only alternative to a spiritually dead or comatose Vatican "hierarchy" would be some vague appeal to "Mystery," then the Guérardian position makes a great deal of sense. But given the obvious (and patently irrefutable) fact that the traditional clerics constitute the necessary "visible elements" of the Church as her legal hierarchy, duly authorized to take all the necessary actions required to restore the Church, why even bother to give the Vatican "hierarchy" another glance? So let's look at some real questions one could have about the Guérardian position.
Can such a scenario occur, in general? I don't know. I admit that this question is beyond the scope of anything I can address at this point. I am therefore going to have to make an assumption that it can, and then proceed with that. If it cannot occur, then the Guérardian position would be permanently refuted and need not be further considered. But as that has not been proved (and most probably won't be proven within my lifetime, if it ever gets proven at all, for it could be correct and possible), I therefore make the assumption that it is possible that such a thing could potentially occur. That is separate from the question of whether I believe that is what has occurred in our present situation, or is occurring even now, even given the (assumed) possibility of the thing occurring in itself.
I have stated before more than once that if the Church faced a Sede Vacante situation prior to Lumen Gentium, then it really would have been a case of Formaliter/Materialiter. For unless some ecclesiastical, ontological, philosophical, or legal break-off point can be found prior to Lumen Gentium (and I know of none), the Vatican was up to that point simply the Church, and its head simply the pope, at the very least, a material pope. He may even have been a very bad formal pope. If John XXIII and/or Paul VI (in the year and a half between his ɛƖɛctıon and resignation via Lumen Gentium) failed to be formal popes, then that could provide a basis for some future pope to nullify all of their teachings, or else to sift them should he so choose.
But what would such a situation really be like? I think this is something that advocates of the Guérardian position have not carefully thought through. If you have a false pope over a true Church, then the infallibility of the Pope could be conveyed in the Church instead. I think this may have actually happened. John XXIII is known to have given a speech (in Italian) which contained something that was heterodox in content. But when the speech was translated into Latin and entered into the Acts of the Apostolic See, the heterodoxy was (quietly) emended to be orthodox in content.
The true Church therefore displayed its infallibility in that no error was entered into the Acts of the Apostolic See that day. But the material (and not formal) pope could still err. One would have to analyze the heterodox statement itself (and all others like it) to determine whether a true formal pope would have been capable of it under any circumstance or if its very declaration would have served as proof positive that the man uttering it could not have been formally a pope.
Another consequence of this is that even a material pope can nevertheless legally appoint persons (materially) to offices. At the very least, this is required for the material cardinals he appoints to have any capacity to elect a future material pope. But this also carries into all other official appointments. A material pope assigning someone to be bishop of some diocese really does place that man as material bishop of that diocese. Of course, said "bishop" would today need to get himself validly consecrated, and then also would need to become a Catholic, before he could exercise any authentic episcopal authority over the diocese to which he was assigned, albeit by a merely material pope.
Were he to do these things however, then that bishop really would become the bishop of that diocese. The same goes for all official clerical appointments. There is no valid reason possible to claim that cardinalate appointments alone would have some special claim on the Church's exterior operations.
This is important for yet another reason. Let us suppose (and this really could likely happen some day) that the Church, when better days have returned, rules that John XXIII was materially but not formally pope. Nevertheless, as material pope he assigned all manner of bishops and cardinals and other appointments to other various offices of the Church, which in his day was still visibly and legally the actual Catholic Church, now very ill but still identifiably Catholic. All of those clerics and lay who acted visibly in union with that Church and even in the name of that (material only) pope were still all being Catholics, not only in intention by being in good faith, but actually and literally. Therefore, in all who simply adhered to that organization and also retained the fullness of the Faith there was still the visible Church. All appointments to offices were therefore legal, all bishops assigned to dioceses in his reign were true and valid and lawful bishops of their diocese, and the Church therefore and thereby continued as the visible organization She necessarily must always and ever be. During the time of John XXIII, physical adherence to that organization as the visible Church was binding upon all, along with all due subjection to it in anything but sin.
This is clearly not today's situation. With Lumen Gentium on the books it altogether ceased to be obligatory (though still optionally permitted) to adhere physically to that organization which had in that document redefined itself as being not actually the Church itself but merely something within portions of which some (and not by any means all) portions of the Church would subsist. This is important because an organization cannot go directly from being the Church which one must join in order to be saved, to being something altogether "not the Church" which one must not be a member of in order to be saved. At the very least, there needs to have been a transitional period in which Catholics in good standing could be either inside or outside that organization.
Even now, there is no evidence that this transitional period ushered in by Lumen Gentium has ended, only that the "significant balance" of the Church now subsists outside that organization.
All of that being the case, in the Formaliter/Materialiter condition that existed prior to Lumen Gentium, another consequence of this would be that any individual cleric still functioning as a true Catholic cleric, using only the traditional Mass and sacraments, and teaching only the true and authentic Catholic teaching, would continue to possess his office (despite being appointed under the authority of a material but not formal pope) and would commit no sin in continuing all manner of spiritual fellowship with what would still be canonically and ontologically the true Church and all of its visible members, at least in (and as) their ostensible offices. In this scenario, every Indult, or (now) Motu Proprio, cleric (or at least those who would also happen to be sacramentally valid in his ordination/consecration and orthodox in his teaching) would therefore be a lawful cleric of the Church, with all due regular and territorial jurisdiction.
If you want to claim that any such spiritual fellowship with any of them is necessarily an entanglement in sin, then you really have no business calling them even the "Body" (dead or alive, or even comatose) of the Church at all! To do otherwise is patently inconsistent. The Casaiciacum thesis approach made perfect sense back in the days of John XXIII when he was making a distinction between the teachings of the Church versus how they were presented (in his opening remarks at Vatican II), or teaching that the United nations should have the whole world under its (secular) authority in Pacem in Terris. And again it continued to make sense in the early months of Paul VI during similar teaching scandals.
But once he (and the whole membership of the Vatican II Council) all signed up to Lumen Gentium, the Vatican leader ipso facto ceased to be materially the pope, and so the situation has remained to this day. Even a merely material pope could claim a material (but not doctrinal or liturgical) authority over the entire Mystical Body of Christ here on earth, but as of Lumen Gentium the Vatican leader has officially renounced any such universal claim, and also done the same on behalf of those who succeed him, until such time as Lumen Gentium should get revoked.
With Lumen Gentium on the books, it is quite acceptable that the Guérardians have functioned without seeking membership in the Vatican apparatus. But the Guérardian scenario is not and cannot be the present state of affairs. Instinctively they have acted as though they realize the actual condition of Lumen Gentium by not being afraid to go outside that "comatose body," but a mere Materialiter/Formaliter condition alone would have a great deal more difficulty justifying such a step (though I believe it remotely possible given certain theoretical circumstances). But now there is one more scenario to explore. What if, against all odds, the Vatican somehow elected someone to lead it who was really a Catholic (or alternatively what if someone elected to lead the Vatican were subsequently to repent of the whole Modernism thing and seek to return himself and as much of his organization as possible to the Church)? Could a real pope emerge from such a situation? And if so, then why and how?
Let's picture this for a moment. A real Catholic somehow arrives in charge of the whole Vatican apparatus. What would he do? What should he do? Resign and save his own soul by himself? What a waste of a tremendous evangelical opportunity! No, he should labor to bring the Vatican apparatus back to the Church. Let's briefly survey what needs to be done: He needs to 1) revoke Vatican II together with all that ever followed from it, or even pretended to follow from it, 2) condemn all the errors and heresies that have been spouted forth for however long, 3) put out those who are not willing to be for the Church and against the Novus Ordo, 4) get the clergy all ordained or consecrated (as applicable) so as to be actual clerics, and 5) he needs to work all of this in coordination with the traditional bishops.
For one thing, only the traditional bishops can provide a reliable source of valid Holy Orders, for another only they can provide the official acceptance into the Church through an abjuration of error, and for another have already proven their theological competence and integrity, and therefore would make all the first and best choices as to who to appoint to all the pontifical seminaries, significant archdioceses, and so forth.
If these things happen, and if no pope has been already elected by the Church (as I described in the first part), then once the abjuration of error is given before a traditional bishop and the man start ruling competently like a real pope should, the traditional bishops could subsequently "elect" the man through acclamation. If there already is in fact a real pope, then the Catholic who finds himself at the apex of the Vatican apparatus should submit himself to the true pope, who in turn should appoint him to be an apostolic administrator over the resuscitation of the Vatican apparatus, and strongly recommend (he cannot name or force) said Catholic to be his papal successor should he die first.
That is what it would take for the Vatican apparatus to return to the Church and be eventually permitted to function as a part of the Church. However, The chief point to pull from all of this is that the Vatican leader is no material pope, and so no mere repentance on his part (or even abjuration of error before a traditional bishop) would of itself make him pope, though he may now formally intend it so. He must also be acclaimed by the traditional clergy (so long as we have no real pope), and for that he must gain (earn) their (our) respect.
We need to beware of mere "overtures" and "diplomatic moves" that in themselves may well be good or meritorious, but nevertheless represent not a return for themselves to the Faith but rather merely a willingness to tolerate us as being of the Faith on their property (really ours in the first place). None of these superficial eyewash things make a pope, and without sufficient basis to win over all, or at least a significant majority of the traditional bishops to him, he can make no valid claim to the papacy.
We also need to avoid falling into the false position of assuming that such a thing "must" happen as though the future of the Church depends upon them. It does not. It is after all quite probable (far more likely in fact) that they will never repent, and instead we will have to get our pope through our own conclave (as I described previous installment) and then gradually earn the respect of the world (and individuals in the Novus Ordo), bringing to it He who is the Light of the World as no one else can do. At most, they might still have some significant numbers to bring to the Church should they one day repent of all their errors, and for that alone it is reasonable and just to make overtures to the Novus Ordo with the (admittedly dim) hope of winning them over and snatching them from the fire. With time however, their numbers can only decrease while ours increase, until accepting them back only adds only the smallest fraction to the Church of what it could have had we won them back to it now.
This is one reason I have always applauded the praxis of the SSPX, for they have been doing (more or less) what we sedevacantists ought to be doing. They have labored to keep the lines of communication open. Perhaps if only we started doing it the right way (by telling them the truth like the proverbial "Dutch Uncle" instead of pretending all manner of false fealty to them as Bishop Bernard Fellay has sadly done, to the detriment of his ability to bring them back at all), then I have little doubt that the "weight of significance" would transfer from the SSPX over to us, to whom it rightly belongs. But until WE start doing the right things about trying to win them over and bring them all back into the Church, only the SSPX, such as they are, stands as the Church's evangelist to them.
Griff L. Ruby
For the first installment in this series, see Part One: Let's Have a Conclave
Correction: In my previous installment, I mentioned an elected "Pope Leo XIV" who died after only a year and whose successor resigned after only a few months. As I had no further information as to that group or its activities I had surmised that the succession ended with that resignation, but it seems that a third successor taking the name of Alexander IX now continues that succession. As I have no information as to whether Alexander IX was elected, nor of any of the teachings or policies of any from this group, I have no means of evaluating the significance of that series of events. At the very least they should have endeavored to include the more established traditionsl bishops, and if in trying they simply were unable to through no fault of their own, then the teachings of their popes (?) must be examined. If true faultlessness of teaching, and great leadership and wisdom were to be shown over some considerable time, and also if the original electing bishops could be identified and (somehow) found to have had as legitimate source of their orders as the other traditional bishops (say, some other bishop of the Church doing as Archbishops Thuc and Lefebvre did), then and only then might they be able to remain "in the running," as it were.