From a reader…
I have read much, maybe too much, on the sedevacantists and the SSPX, and previously considered them schismatic. Given the state of the Church hierarchy and problems with the various translations of the 1994 Catechism, one edition which did apparently teach error on homosexuality, how can we be sure that they are not the remnant?
For those who don’t know, “Sedevacantists” (from the Latin for “empty chair/see”) think that right now there is not legitimate Pope and that the See of Peter is empty. Priests of the SSPX are not, by their official position at least, sedevacantists. There may be some crypto- or not-so-crypto-sedevacantism in the SSPX but the official position of the SSPX is that Pope Francis is Pope and they include his name in the Canon. Since the SSPX is by priestly society, I’ll leave aside lay people who might follow them.
The great 20th century author G. K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy,
“People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There was never anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity; and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad.”
Following the path of orthodoxy means avoiding the ditches that yawn on the left as well as on the right. My old, late, pastor, Msgr. Schuler used to say, you can go into the ditch on either side of the road.
That razor-fine blade of truth which we have to tread at times cuts through the jungles of doubt and error.
It is the narrow path which Our Lord spoke of.
In clinging to the Truth, we find great assurance in Our Lord’s promise that He will always remain with His Church. The Holy Spirit continues to (and always will) protect the Church from error.
“But Father! But Father!”, some of you will say, “That’s all very grand, but what do we do here on the ground? There are radical divisions in the Church! Instead of being the beacon of light, truth, and clarity that Christ wants her to be, we are in a morass of confusion and contradictions?”
It has ever been thus in the history of the Church.
Imagine the difficulty of a good and faithful Catholic, in the 14th and 15th centuries, when three men appeared to have legitimate claim to the Papacy. Whom was one to believe?
Good men and women made different choices. For example, St. Vincent Ferrer, a brilliant man of great faith, a Dominican, followed the antipopes Clement VII (Robert of Geneva – the first antipope of the Western Schism) and Benedict XIII (Pedro Martínez de Luna y Pérez de Gotor). On the other hand, St. Catherine of Siena, also a Dominican, followed Pope Urban VI. Both St. Vincent and St. Catherine are great saints.
In time, Our Lord – having allowed us to screw things up – eventually guided things back to where they needed to be.
In regard to the papacy, at least, our times, while difficult, are not as murky as those days. There is no rival to Pope Francis with even the slightest whiff of legitimacy. Those who claim that the See of Peter is vacant are hard pressed to explain just how that happened. Benedict XVI’s abdication was definitive.
The sedevacantist train of thought goes down deep dark caverns of ever-more bizarre conspiracy theories. None have provided clear claimants or, were the See of Peter to be empty, a rational explanation of how legitimacy could be restored to some future claimant.
There are, of course, good people who follow unreasonable claims and theories. In the words of the immortal Gracie Allen, people are funnier than anyone.
To riff on an oldie but goodie, all along the watchtower there’s too much confusion…. But we can get some relief in the fact that we have the person of the Vicar of Christ as the visible figure of unity for the Church. We might not like everything Pope Francis does. We might not understand some of the things he says. But, we have a Pope and that’s a relief. To riff on a different kind of oldie but goodie, as for me and my house, we will follow the Bishop of Rome.
I get a lot of email from people who are confused today because of what Pope Francis does or doesn’t do, or how he does it or what he says and, at the same time doesn’t say, etc. etc. etc. I have to respond thusly: Popes come and go… legitimate Popes, that is. One day God will close the parenthesis of Pope Francis.
Each pontificate is a parenthesis in the Church’s history and the Lord’s plan. As the Romans say, “Morto un Papa se ne fa un altro… When a Pope dies, ya’ make another.” They are not just carbon copies of each other. Some parentheses are long, some short, some important, some not. When we can’t understand what on earth is going on with some Pope or other, our confidence that the Lord will not forsake his Church and that Peter’s office will remain intact until The End is our dependable way outta the confusion that comes with each succeeding trial.
Be faithful and persevere and, perhaps for the sake of peace of mind, stop paying attention to every little thing Pope Francis does. Pray for him instead, a poor human being in a monumentally difficult job. When tempted to frustration and despair by media reports, read the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the Roman Catechism. You can even gain indulgences by reading Scripture for half an hour. Recite the Rosary. Make the Way of the Cross. …
I think you get my drift.