by Thomas A. Droleskey
A priest with whom I was friends for twenty years commented to me back in the early-1990s that the sedevacantists had the more consistent and logical line of reasoning than those traditionalists who acknowledged the legitimacy of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II but dissented from practically everything he said and did. Mind you, this priest, now a diocesan pastor, was not embracing sedevacantism. He was merely pointing out that it was not logical to insist over the course of many years that one has fealty to the Roman Pontiff while disobeying him and proceeding in a de facto manner as though the entirety of the diocesan structure that is in juridical communion with the Holy See did not exist.
This dilemma remains stark in our own day. Indeed, recent events have forced me to consider the logical inconsistency of resisting the Roman Pontiff at almost every turn while conceding that he has the juridical authority conferred on a Successor of Saint Peter. Are we not using the Protestant notion of "private judgment," as some bitter anti-Traditionalists have asserted, to pick and choose which magisterial pronouncements we accept and which ones we reject? While there is precedent for popes being resisted now and again in the history of the Church, there is no precedent for popes consistently defying matters contained in the Deposit of Faith once they have been defined as belonging there. We are in truly unchartered territory, and a lot of us, I must now admit, have been flying by the seat of our pants as we improvise novel rhetorical devices to justify our novel reactions to the novelties that have been imposed upon us by the official magisterium of the Church in the past forty-eight years.
Some might point out that Saint Paul resisted Saint Peter to his face. He did. The matter about which Saint Paul resisted Saint Peter to his face, however, was not resolved until the very first Council of the Church, the Council of Jerusalem, which decided that Gentile converts to the Faith did not have to undergo the ritualistic circumcision required by Jewish law.
Pope John XXII's teaching that only those in Heaven who had bodies could see the Beatific Vision was opposed by bishops and theologians. It must be remembered that Pope John XII was expressing his private opinion on a matter that had not yet been defined formally and that he asked to be corrected if his view was erroneous. And he certainly got corrected, forcing him to repent of his teaching before he died.
Saint Catherine of Siena did plead with Pope Gregory XI to leave Avignon and return to Rome. This is hardly comparable to resisting four successive popes, exclusive of the late Pope John Paul I, who was a dissenter on the infamous commission appointed by Pope Paul VI to examine the issue of whether the birth control pill could be permitted in certain circumstances, on a daily basis and subjecting their embrace of such heresies as ecumenism and religious liberty to daily review and analysis, to the formation of seminaries which exist to teach future priests to reject these errors as harmful to the eternal welfare of souls.
This all comes to mind in light of the controversy over the validity of the 1968 Rite of Episcopal Consecrations, a subject I am leaving in its entirety to those who have advanced degrees in Sacred Theology. One of the analyses now circulating states that no one has been given a mandate to study this new rite of episcopal consecration, no less have any authority to decide its validity. It is a very good point. Indeed, only the magisterium can pronounce on the validity of a rite. The magisterium has promulgated a rite and pronounced it valid. That should be enough for a Catholic. Point well taken.
Over and above the issue of validity or invalidity, the magisterium has also pronounced the Novus Ordo Missae to be wholly good and beyond criticism. The magisterium has forbidden the Ecclesia Dei communities from criticizing the Novus Ordo Missae. "Don't cross the line," said one priest in New Jersey to the much reduced and scattered flock that assists at the chapel, Saint Anthony of Padua, that was built and administered by the late Father Paul Wickens in West Orange, New Jersey, recently. A woman in De Pere, Wisconsin, told me recently that a priest of the Institute of Christ the King had told her daughter-in-law that it was perfectly acceptable to assist at the Novus Ordo Missae, whereupon she promptly quit the Immemorial Mass of Tradition and went back to the mess that is the Novus Ordo.
The magisterium assures us that there are no problems in the new Mass. Then how and why do we resist if the magisterium has given us this assurance? Why do we get to study the Protestant and Masonic foundations of the Novus Ordo Missae and get to make decisions about avoiding it? From whence do priests and lay people get the authority to make decisions that are contrary to what four popes and countless curial officials have told us repeatedly in the past thirty-seven years?
Oh, some traditional Catholics will claim that they are not pronouncing on the "validity" of the Novus Ordo Missae, which they accept on its face, simply pointing out the problems inherent in its composition and in its offering. How is it possible, though, for the Church to give us sacramental forms that are, presuming validity, merely defective or evil or offensive to God? Is there any precedent for this in the history of the Church? The magisterium says that the new Mass is good, perhaps in need of some fixing, but good. Who are we to dissent? By whose authority does a priest just pack up and leave his parish assignment and start offering the Mass of Tradition? Who gets to make this decision?
Similarly, four successive popes have assured us that there is nothing wrong with ecumenism and religious liberty, among other novelties of the Second Vatican Council. Who are we to dissent from what the popes have told us is so? So what if every pope from Gregory XVI through Pius XI, each of whom was merely reaffirming what had been taught perennially, rejected such novelties as offensive to God and injurious to souls? So what? Who are we to decide that the recent popes have been wrong and the "old" popes have been correct? Hey, Pope Benedict XVI wants to view the Second Vatican Council in light of Tradition (we must forget about the fact that he defines Tradition according to the "insights" of the "new thinkers," Hans Urs von Balthasar, Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, et al.) What more could we want?
We have been assured by the magisterium that the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the 1983 Code of Canon Law are not in the least problematic. On whose authority does any traditional Catholic dare to point out problems in either document, both of which were promulgated by Pope John Paul II?
The canonization of saints has been considered to be an infallible act of the Church. On whose authority do we refuse to accept or put into question the canonization, say, of Josemaria Escriva Balaguer y Albas, among others? When has it ever been the case that any Catholic has dared to put into question the canonization of a saint after the fact and told Catholics that such a canonization was doubtful? Oh, the process wasn't canonical, you say? Isn't this supposed to protected by the Pope's charism of infallibility? Isn't the Pope the Supreme Legislator of the Church, meaning that he can supercede canon law when he wants to do so? Where is the precedent for all of this?
Mind you, I am not urging anyone, priest or layman, to return to the Novus Ordo Missae or to embrace the ethos of conciliarism. I am only pointing out that to state that we lack the authority to study the rite of episcopal consecrations because it has been promulgated by a pope who wanted to conform the Catholic Mass as far as was possible to the Calvinist liturgy of the Lord's Supper is to vitiate any and all effort to assess all of the other novelties of the past forty years as being incompatible with the Catholic Faith. Why draw the line at accepting one Annibale Bugnini concoction while we criticize everything else he did? Those of us who have been in the "recognize and resist" camp (after having been in the "we just need the right interpretation of the Second Vatican Council" camp) have got to realize that we have been engaged in behavior that is as novel as the novelties we have been opposing.
Far from condemning sedevacantists, who are not afflicted with a "disease," Catholics who recognize the harm of the novelties of the recent past must come to grips with the questions that the sedevacantists have been raising for the past twenty years or so, including whether a pope, as noted above, can give us sacraments that are defective and harmful to souls. Can four successive popes reaffirm Protestants in their false religions without urging one of them to convert and actually discouraging Catholics to "proselytize" them? Is it really true that since the Second Vatican Council did not define any new teaching solemnly that we can then dismiss such things as ecumenism and religious liberty as novelties or peculiarities that do not reflect on the teaching office of the magisterium, headed by the pope himself?
The confusion and illogic facing us today are vast. Some traditional Catholics are saying that "in perpetuity" means what it says in Quo Primum but does not really and truly mean "in perpetuity" in Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio, which, they say, is merely disciplinary and did not really, really mean that one who appeared to have deviated from the Faith disqualified himself from the holding of ecclesiastical office, including the papacy. Other traditional Catholics, ignoring Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio entirely, say that none of the theological opinions offered by various saints about the impossibility of a heretic holding the Throne of Saint Peter matter, that God simply would not permit the See to be vacant for so long. An enemy of Tradition, such as Mario Francesco Cardinal Pompedda, the former head of the Apostolic Signatura, said early last year that the See of Peter would be vacant in the case of heresy. Why do some traditional Catholics refuse to concede that this is a possibility and continue to berate those individuals who merely hold that sedevacantism is a legitimate theological opinion but that no declaration about this can be made until the Church herself makes a pronouncement on the matter following the Restoration?
None of us has any answers as to how the novel situation of popes embracing condemned errors is going to be resolved. I have said this before and I will say it again: those who recognize the pope but resist his novelties and errors cannot say how long they are going to have to exist outside of the ecclesiastical structures any more than the sedevacantists can say how long it will be before we get another pope. The sedevacantists are being obedient to the nature of the authority of the papacy while those who denounce them, whether or not they realize it, are undermining that authority just as much as the conciliar popes have themselves by posing as equals with Protestants and Jews and Mohammedans and animists and half-naked zulu or bush tribesmen and by embracing the error of episcopal collegiality. The martyrs of the Roman Coliseum died rather than offer incense to the false gods. Popes now sit and watch as the false gods are worshiped and invoked in their very presence. It is the conciliar popes themselves who have undermined the authority of the papacy, not the sedevacantists.
I see a pope who proclaims a condemned heresy, religious liberty, as the only foundation of the State. I see a pope who praises men, such as Abbe Paul Couturier, a disciple of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whose theologies were condemned by earlier popes. I see a pope who says that a Protestant syncretist, to whom he had once administered Holy Communion, had attained "eternal joy" after his murder, thereby revealing his embrace of von Balthasar's errors of Universal Salvation. I read the words of a pope who, as a curial cardinal, referred to such nonsense as Protestants "being strengthened in their ecclesial realities" (Principles of Catholic Theology, 1982). Thus, I wonder, yes, out loud, whether those who have been contending that it impossible for a pope to give us defective sacraments and bad doctrine have been right all along. How can the Faith be one thing for nearly 2,000 years and then something else almost overnight? There are all sorts of "spirits," folks, not all of them are holy. Some of them are quite evil.
We do indeed face a novel situation. No one should be casting stones at anyone else. Those who have made a decision to flee from the structures are in no position of superiority over those who have made a decision to hold to a theological opinion that has a foundation in the writings of the saints and in one papal encyclical letter. People are just trying to save their souls and to preserve the Catholic Faith as best they can in a times of an unprecedented revolution that has sought to "raze the bastions" of the Faith just as the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in the 1980s was necessary to do. The sedevacantists are not the problem facing the Catholic Church today. Modernist Rome, the Rome of the Antichrists, as the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre put it so well in August of 1987, is the problem facing the Church in her human elements today.
Remember well these words of Saint Nicholas of Flue and then ask yourselves if they do apply to our own times:
The Church will be punished because the majority of her members, high and low, will become so perverted. The Church will sink deeper and deeper until she will at last seem to be extinguished, and the succession of Peter and the other Apostles to have expired. But, after this, she will be victoriously exalted in the sight of all doubters. (Saint Nicholas of Flue)
In the meantime, we continue to pray before the Blessed Sacrament and to the Mother of God, dealing charitably with those who disagree with us and who denounce us. We must pray especially in reparation for our own sins, each of us have wounded the Mystical Body of Christ and have made it less possible for there to be the restoration of Tradition in the Church and Christendom in the world that we all hope to see before we die. We offer all to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary as we keep fast to the authentic teaching of the Church and recognize that saints gave up their lives to resist the very errors and novelties that have been and continue to be taught by those who hold ecclesiastical office. We must be willing to do the same, both figuratively and literally.
The jaws of Hell will never prevail against the Church. This does not mean, however, that the devil is not going to win a few battles in our own lives and in the larger life of the Church in her human elements. The final victory belongs to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. May we be some small instrument in helping to bring about this victory and thus the restoration of the Church in all of her splendor and glory.