ASK FATHER: There’s too much confusion. Are sedevacantists right?

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. djc says:

    I feel a little more upbeat after reading this.


  2. jacobi says:


    I have done something which say three years ago I would have laughed at you if you had ever suggested it. I have trawled (not trolled whatever that means) through my notes and drawn up an assessment of our present Holy Father. It started as a short note and has ended up with a word count of 1900 words +.!

    The conclusion, 27 words, is not something I like, but it is my best assessment as, I trust, a thinking Catholic, concerned with preserving the Teaching of he Catholic Church.

    Troubling times!

  3. Supertradmum says:

    Thank you, Father, for this superb posting. I have been dealing with sedes and almost sedes since at least 2004 and am sick of the pride of the laity who think they have a special cell phone connection with the Holy Spirit. People in my immediate circle of friends left the main Church for fringe groups, and some of these people, although highly intelligent, are just too emotional about situations and lack the perspective of history you point out.

    It seems to be the case, at least in my world, that those people who never had either Western Civ History or Church History as students either in high school or college, and are getting their info from rabid newspapers or online commentators, are most vulnerable to deceit.

    To me, safety is in and with Rome. Yes, we may like this or that pope better, but following the true teaching is not that difficult. Too many rabid trads think and act like Protestants, wanting a church in their own image and likeness.

    The microscopic media attention is useless for discernment and your advice for not following every hiccup or step of the Pope is great advice. Too many Catholics have fallen into the cult of leadership syndrome and when their appointed leader disappoints their cultic feelings and desires, they become hysterical.

  4. Pingback: Excellent Comment |

  5. acardnal says:

    By the way, the SSPX are NOT sedevacantists. They believe that Pope Francis is the legitimate Pope and have his picture in their chapels and seminaries and pray for him as the Pope.

  6. Siculum says:

    Very, very nice, Father. Just what I needed to share with others as a follow up to today’s conversations after Mass.

  7. GypsyMom says:

    The evil one is working mightily to separate the remaining faithful from the Barque of Peter. It would be just like him to use these gut-wrenching days of confusion and chaos to foment a large-scale schism from the right. We must trust Jesus’ promise to protect His Church, in spite of what it may look like to us during this storm.

  8. As usual sound advice Father. I might add that Catholics should read their history. I would recommend Henri Daniel-Rops multi-volume history of the Church for the dedicated history reader. Knowing that the Church has faced many crises before and survived (sometimes miraculously) puts our present situation in context. We have been chosen for this struggle, we are called to give witness to the Truth in an age sunk in lies. It is our chance to write a part of history. As He said Himself “Do not be afraid!”

  9. anilwang says:

    It’s easy to refute sedevacantism. If sedevacantism is possible now, then how can we be sure that it wasn’t true 1000 years ago, and Rome did fall into heresy and the Eastern Orthodox were right all along about the Pope. And if they were right, how can we be sure that the Copts weren’t right that the Catholic/Eastern Orthodox fell into heresy since the only difference between their claims to truth is the Papacy? After all, both claimed Tradition. If you carry the inquery long enough, you have to doubt Christianity since Christ made some pretty strong claims that didn’t seem to materialize.

  10. Traductora says:

    There’s a tremendous amount of confusion – and fear. This is something that no commentator takes into account: people are genuinely afraid when they see the Faith challenged and, at least apparently, undermined by the Pope himself. So it would be a relief to think that there’s been a horrible mistake and the See of Peter is actually vacant. I never thought I would hear myself say these words.

    Is it or is it not? I honestly don’t know. But today a parish where I go to Mass published its “mission statement” which cited Francis several times, was all about protecting the environment and the “marginalized” and nothing about the Gospel or the Truth, and could have been the creation of any Unitarian oriented civic organization. So if this is the New Church of Pope Francis, I think we have a problem. Because it’s certainly not the one that Peter was charged with protecting.

  11. iPadre says:

    May I add, what really matters the most for each one of us is what today is all about.

    We are called to become saints. Each one of us is called to become the greatest saint that God wants us to be. Nothing else matters. Because if we do that, we will be living in His will and not our own. I have enough to worry about my own salvation, holiness and conversion without worrying about what is not my concern.

  12. James says:

    “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.…”

    ## …and also, maybe: Go to Confession !

  13. concerned says:

    I don’t know how one gets around the fact that should the pope do as Rorate has said he will do (according to the new report), that not just the sedevacant position is wrong but so is the idea of the church existing at all. If he were to do as he seems he wants to do, then would not the supposed 2000 teaching on the relationship of sin and forgiveness as achieved via confession be reversed. Not deepened but reversed. If I were to be intellectually honest, I could no longer be a Christian because if the Church is possible of error in a matter of such importance than I have no reason to believe Her other claims. That’s just where I am. I’m breathing perfectly fine. I’m not hysterical. Just trying to be honest.

  14. lsclerkin says:

    Drift= Stay faithful.

  15. Montenegro says:

    “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.” Indeed! There are thin-skinned types screaming from the ditches on _both_ sides of the road, and I’ve seen some Catholic bloggers/commentators recently careen straight into the right-hand ditch. This experience is causing me to give up on most bloggers altogether. Some of those comboxes are like a virtual Jerry Springer show.

    As you suggest, Father, we will do far more good by praying the Rosary, making the Stations, reading Scripture than by blogging or reading the social media. Good reminder. Thank you.

  16. jaykay says:

    Meh… Sedevacantists: personally, I’ve always thought: Mentevacantists. Sick of the whole deal with that crowd, **ss and wind, sicut vulgariter dicitur.

    Meanwhile, anyway, thanks for the beautiful posts from Rome, Father. And the food ones. Did I mention them before? Ma, grazie.

  17. William Tighe says:

    In addition to what you have written, Father Zuhlsdorf, and assuming (which I do not assume) that a “sedevacantist” scenario were a possibility, would it not require (as per Bellarmine, IIRC) some sort of authoritative statement by the college of cardinals or an assembly of bishops to such an effect? The idea that individuals, whether clerics or laymen, whether acting as individuals or as groups, could embrace a “sedevacantist” position on their own initiative and “authority” seems to me to be nothing other than an embracing of the Protestant principle or notion of “private judgment,” a principle alien to Catholic Christianity, and tends to indicate a degree of ignorance, as well as presumption, on the part of those doing so.

    [Antipopes in the 15th c were one thing. In this information age, however… I can’t imagine how the problem of antipopes would work itself out. Perhaps through the working of spectacular miracles?]

  18. FXR2 says:

    Father Z.,
    A hypothetical question. If the Pope espouses heresy, for example, allowing divorced and “remarried” to receive the Eucharist, can a heretic remain the Pope?

    I am asking about clear heresy, the contradiction of Christ, not mealy mouthed pastoral practice, which weakens doctrine.

    Would he remain Pope?

    Please pray for the Pope and the Church!


    [Ask again if… if… it happens.]

  19. RichR says:

    I imagine Catholics of a loyal stripe were saying the same thing when the majority report came out from the Papal Birth Control Commission in favor of relaxing the teaching against artificial contraception. Pope Paul VI, despite immense public and private pressure, issued Humanae Vitae.

    God will guard his Church as He said He would.


  20. jherforth says:

    As a passionate revert, it’s hard to come back to something you feel is moving away from what you’ve rediscovered and love. You go through the motions, you get on the internet, read some pretty radical things and find yourself being drawn towards them. Then rationale kicks in, you study, read scripture, and discover, as Fr Z points out, this is not uncommon at all.

    The history of the Church has its highs and lows, its calm and chaotic points. You discover the chaos that follows many of the councils is not at all different from the chaos that has followed VII. You come down to earth and you pray. You pray for the church, the pope, and for your and others salvation. I still find myself getting wrapped up in the news reported from the blogs from time to time and I have to just take a break and ground myself in prayer again.

  21. TNCath says:

    I don’t think we have a “sede vacante.” The Pope is the Pope. But, I do think we have a “sede periculoso” on our hands, which still makes me think we are in big trouble.

  22. Mojoron says:

    A couple of years ago I tended to the idea that I would like to try a SSPX Mass and since a Chapel was within a short distance, and before I decided to go, I got on their website and read much of their platform. Unless they changed their writings, I think they said that the Chair has been empty since John XXIII when PP VI signed the document making the vernacular the language of the Mass.

  23. 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.

    I have my doubts at times too, but this is probably the best answer. If we truly have no Pope, then those who believe they are of the remnant should simply elect a new one. What prevents them from doing so and for so long? In this day and age, a conclave could be held over Internet if that’s what it took to get the job done.

    As for those who believe that Francis (or anyone else) is Pope but only obey him when they agree with him… well, that sounds to me like one of the two gutters in the bowling lane.

  24. Augustine says:

    I’ve come to conclude that we’ve been spoiled for over a century of mostly very good popes. Francis, if anything, it kind of the return to the norm in the papacy, though with a noticeable undershoot. However, last year and this year, I got to enjoy a lot of popcorn with the machinations of Francis stacking up the intended result of the synod just to be frustrated not once, but twice by the Holy Spirit, Who stirred the hearts of good bishops to protect the Church from the errors of the pope.

    Deo gratias!

  25. MikeR says:

    Thank you Father Zuhlsdorf.
    Good advice, the long historical viewpoint is the only way in these ” troubled times”.
    Can somebody please tell me at what period in the Church’s long history wasn’t troubled? Nero was emperor when Peter was martyred, think about that people, Nero! This is a blip in the long history of our Faith. There are always “alarums & excursions” but the Church soldiers on, by God’s grace.
    Pray for Pope Francis.

  26. Grumpy Beggar says:

    Sedevacantists also believed that Pope St. John Paul II was “not true pope.” The moment one denounces the authority of a pope – one assumes that authority upon themselves – they become the new authority.

    There really is no pleasing some people. It’s as if they would prefer us to remain popeless and hopeless.

    St. John Bosco , when explaining his Dream of the Two Columns to his boys, and the young clerics he was training, concluded ” “Very grave trials await the Church. What we have suffered so far is almost nothing compared to what is going to happen. The enemies of the Church are symbolized by the ships which strive their utmost to sink the flagship. Only two things can save us in such a grave hour: devotion to Mary and frequent Communion. Let us do our very best to use these two means and have others use them everywhere.”

    Yes – Don Bosco’s dream is private revelation, but what we’re currently living also suggests that we’re in for a fight. Frequent reception of Holy Communion, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to Our Blessed Mother are formidable weapons in such a fight.
    And if God provided the necessary grace to the Church’s Martyrs at the required time, it only makes sense that he would make the graces needed to fight the good fight available to us at this time too.

  27. Bea says:

    I especially love your last paragraph. Back in the 60’s when V2 introduced confusion, our wise pastor told my husband. “Don’t worry about these things, just continue saying your prayers as always.”
    Sound advise then, sound advise now.

  28. St. Rafael says:

    I believe that it was Vatican I that stated that there would be perpetual Popes in the Church. I don’t know if it is an official heresy, but Sedevacantism is definitely a great a error in our day. The flip side of Modernism. Yet, it is disturbing how the Church has not ever officially addressed this error. To my knowledge, the Church has yet to officially comment and address the issue of Sedevacantism.

  29. Phil_NL says:

    Compared to the 10th to 12th centuries (to name just a set of examples), we’re having a pick-nick. Not just in terms of the lack of anti-popes, formal schism, but also in terms of popes beholden to worldy powers, and politicking (in a time when that meant war, and the Geneva conventions were several centuries off) to avoid being crushed, doing some stuff that can be classified as pretty doubtful in the moral sense as well.

    Popes are not by definition saints, nor capable administrators. If that becomes evident, then that doesn’t mean they aren’t the Pope.

    Now as for sedevacantism, there’s one sense in which it is in fact worse than having an anti-pope. In the latter case, at least there’s a clear focal point. Expose the anti-pope for what he is, or reconcile him, and that should be the end of the matter, while the position of the Pope as Vicar of Christ is not up for debate – just who actually holds the office. The one area where sedevacantism, though seemingly less bad as the Church isn’t torn between two parties is a giant tug-of-war, is actually worse is that without a Pope, it opens wide the doors to start making up your own religion. Without guidance, many – nearly all, eventually – will fall overboard, and become theologically wacky. And in the internet age, it’s extremely hard to lay those fallacies to rest. Sedevacantism can lead whole groups astray.

    In that sense, sedevacantism is the gateway to protestantism.

  30. Tony Phillips says:

    Sedevacantism has its roots in an Ultramontane view of the papacy that became prominent in the 19th century (think: First Vatican Council) and has remained all too strong among Catholics today. Basically, people seem to think the pope is always right. Which means, if he says or does something that’s a bit questionable, either he’s bang on or he’s not the pope. Most Catholics feel compelled to take the former route. The sedevacantists take the latter.

    Time to rehabilitate Döllinger.

  31. Mariana2 says:

    I think dear Supertradmum is very right, and this, for me, also ties in to the earlier discussion about the Roman or European comments about American black-and-white thinking in the aftermath of the synod. So many Americans have no knowledge of any history, which combined with their charming optimism leads them to think that perfection, and perfection-right-now-this-instant-pronto, is obtainable. Only it isn’t. So we soldier on. Within Holy Mother Church, against whom the gates of hell will not prevail.

  32. Sonshine135 says:

    If you read the history of the Papacy, you quickly find out that there were much worse times in our church’s history. We have Popes that have had illegitimate families, a Pope that put the corpse of another Pope on trial (cadaver synod), and Popes that were mysteriously murdered. I have no doubt in my mind that Pope Francis does what he believes to be good in the sight of God for God’s people. He may not be right in my eyes all the time, and even he may grow to lament some of the things that he has done. He is still the Pope.

    If it helps, I find it much easier not worrying about how Catholic others are (even the Pope). I instead focus that energy on becoming a better, more informed Catholic myself. If I want a better church, then it starts with me. I ask the Lord to let me live my life in such a way that it attracts people to Him. Try it! It works.

  33. dochm13 says:

    Manic depression is a frustrating mess.

  34. DisturbedMary says:

    Thank you for this Fr. Z. Especially GK Chesterton who not only should be a saint but a Doctor of the Church. Let me point to this long quote about the “thrilling romance of Orthodoxy”.

  35. anilwang says:

    FXR2 says: If the Pope espouses heresy,…

    Then you have to trust the Church to work it out as it always has. There are plenty of ways to do it. For instance, the heresy could be declared a poor formulation of a true doctrine, so it could be ignored by a future Pope. Or the policy of papal infallibility could be modified by a future Pope so that if such a declaration is made, it is only infallible if all Pope Emeritii also approve.

    But however it’s done, it must be done according to the Hermeneutic of Continuity, outlined by the Synod of Bishops in 1985 and re-iterated by Pope Benedict XVI, and it can only be dealt with by a future Pope (which will likely be strong and orthodox if such a thing happened).

    So just trust in the Church and be faithful. Christ chose Judas to be an apostle and a hand picked Pope that denied him for a reason. Trust in his care, since he is faithful. To flirt with sedavecantism, is to flirt with agnosticism as more than a few former strong Catholics decended to (e.g. look at Paleocrat in youtube for a case study of how a strong Catholic apologist can descend into a rabid anti-theist…. He’s not the only one, BTW, so beware).

  36. Imrahil says:

    We have a Pope in Rome.

    All possible arguments of sedevacantists can be easily refuted.

    Argument 1: But who knows whether all happened in the Conclave in a formally correct way, right? Maybe the two-thirds majority was only one by few votes, and the counters, although I think three do so independently, each made mistakes leading to the same wrong number (so that the mistakes did not come to the light)… and he has one less… or any such thing…

    Refutation 1: This situation is not foreseen in any law (and rightly, as its probability verges on zero), but if it were the case, why again did our Lord institute the Papacy? That the Church is not unshepherded. Who is the Pope? The bishop of Rome (who ex officio governs the rest of the Church also). What then in a hypothetical situation in which the Conclave laws should fail to provide the Church with a Pope (remember this is hypothesis), but – and this is important – there is one doubtlessly consecrated bishop reigning the diocese of Rome and accepted by the whole diocese as her bishop, without any contest?

    The question, once posed, becomes rhetorical. The latter, of course, is then the bishop of Rome – and hence, the Pope.

    Argument 2: Someone comes up with the story that the Pope is “obviously” a heretic, and didn’t many grand doctors of the Church, the Catholic Encyclopedia, and so on say that a heretic ceases to be Pope?

    Before the refutation, let me insert: That a Pope, upon turning heretic, loses his office is, or was once, the common opinion, or not much less, of theologians – but not more either (as far as I know, it never was formally Church teaching). And if it gets to details, much of it is contested. (If the heresy is obvious on closer look, but not to the utmost obvious, some of these theologians have said that he remains Pope but can be deposed. If that is so, a heretic apparently can be Pope, so why doesn’t he remain it even in the very obvious case? In any case, by whose authority is the council to be convened? And can this opinion be reconciled with the dogmatic teaching of Vatican I?) – The ideal case would be if we don’t have to worry about this whole complex of issues.

    As it turns out, the ideal case is also the actual case.
    Refutation 2: “Kindly give me one statement, just one, given after his election to Pope where Pope Francis – even with all his much of talking – contradicts a statement qualified de fide in this exemplar of Foundations of Catholic Dogma.”

    Note: de fide. Not sententia fidei proxima, not sententia certa and not “the Church always acted in that way”. Because this, and only this, is what heresy means (well, apart from using Ludwig Ott as sole reference, which I inserted for simplicity’s sake).

    Hence there’s also the easy answer to one question above:

    Assume the Pope allows Communion of the divorced and remarried.

    Then we ask: Has there hitherto been any dogma that ruled that out?

    (And no, the dogma about indissolubility of the bond does not count, when the actual topic is “admission of those living in institutionalized cohabitation with someone else despite their bond”. In these things it is crucial to be precise.)

    No there hasn’t.

    And hence: Cry about material heresy as much as you wish (preferably civilly and with arguments), but formal heresy there won’t be. Even in the case. And that suffices for answering that question.

  37. SaintJude6 says:

    Can anyone recommend a good book on Church history? I don’t think I have the time for the multi-volume Henri Daniel-Rops work. At the same time, I don’t want anything written from the point of view that all of Church history was just the lead up to the real genius of Vatican II.

  38. Imrahil says:

    Dear Tony Philipps,

    good point in your first paragraph.

    As for the second, it’s certainly not time to rehabilitate Döllinger (God have mercy on his soul).

    It is time to look at what the Council really said – as did, at the time, the Bl. John Henry Newman (no need of rehabilitation there). He was quite satisfied with the – well-balanced – form in which papal infallibility actually was defined.

  39. acardnal says:

    mojoron wrote, “Unless they [SSPX] changed their writings, I think they said that the Chair has been empty since John XXIII when PP VI signed the document making the vernacular the language of the Mass.”

    You are misinformed. Please revisit their website. HERE

    FYI, I do not attend SSPX chapels but would like to see them canonically recognized.

  40. vandalia says:

    The best way to ensure your sanity is to have a deep understanding of history.

  41. Aquinas Gal says:

    the best line of this piece: “perhaps for the sake of peace of mind, stop paying attention to every little thing Pope Francis does.”
    Amen! About a year ago I realized that I am happier and more at peace when I don’t pay much attention to every little that that Pope Francis says and does.

  42. gatormom says:

    I wish I could disagree with Concerned but I am trying not to think the same thing. I think these people are sedevacantists because they want to believe that the Church exists, temporarily without a Pope, and not that Christianity is a fairy tale that a bunch of guys are making up as they go along. You can see how people might start to get that feeling right? When the Magisterium starts to change our Religion because it’s out of touch and unpopular? And when concern is expressed we’re told what rubes we are, that the Church has always had Schisms and heretical Popes and philandering Popes and anti-Popes. Look at history you fool, you thought the Catholic Church was like a firm solid rock or like an ark? We are now to just accept the Church can be altered but don’t worry someone will fix it at some point in the future, really? I don’t think wiping out three out of seven Sacraments is a minor alteration. So marriage isn’t permanent, Reconciliation isn’t about forgiveness and the Holy Eucharist is now just a carrot to lure sinners back to the Church. Well, what the heck is the Church if the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is now just a lure? And thank you concerned for preemptively countering the condescending and false premise that you are hysterical.

  43. iamlucky13 says:

    I’m confident that despite the concerns many of us have regarding some of Pope Francis’ actions, the Holy Spirit did not abandon the Church. More pointedly, whatever Pope Francis’ actual goals and motivations, I have no evidence he is not the legitimate successor to St. Peter (and it will take the clear, formal, and very thoroughly rationalized declarations of multiple people a lot more qualified than myself (that is to say, a boat load o’ bishops) to convince me otherwise).

    Therefore, I will listen to him even when what he says is not very concrete or is confounding (which frequently seems to be the case), and weigh what he has to say against what previous popes have had to say and the concrete teachings of the Church.

    Coming after Saint John Paul II’s invaluable development of Catholic theology in the context of our modern world, and Pope Benedict’s work to revitalize our spiritual lives through the liturgy, I then ask myself, even if Pope Francis’ papacy lends an air of undue legitimacy to the arguments of those in error, does he have a message that is similarly positive and we need to listen to?

    I think the answer is easy to find, so much so that even the secular world has noticed: perform the corporal works of mercy. As our individual wealth grows (which in most cases in the western world, it definitely has been, thanks to the fruits of our modern economic systems), we have a tendency to focus increasingly on ourselves and our needs and wants and less on those less fortunate than ourselves. In other words, his particular call to charity is a timely message. Because of modern materialism, we are in growing danger of failing to live out the second of the two great commandments. Our Lord made clear that this can happen even to those of us who are faithful:

    “When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

    ‘Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.'”

    If the Holy Spirit is willing to let those who would attempt to undermine the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage take the podium in order to also let Pope Francis preach on Christian charity, then it seems likely that the message of charity is one that we really, REALLY need to hear. And perhaps not only us, but also those separated from the Church who expect to see our good works as evidence of the Church’s holiness.

    The way I see it, the worst possible result I can cause by sticking to my interpretation is that I remain wary of and challenge the influence of modernism in the Church and do more good deeds than I otherwise would have – Even if the election of Pope Francis was not what God actually desired for the Church, but rather a papacy the Holy Spirit will be working overtime to correct the errors of.

    By the way, here’s some relevant reading from lay apologist Jimmy Akin (with quotes from Pope Benedict) that I find helpful when considering questions like the one posed to Father Z.
    (Note – the other “NCR,” not the fishwrap)

  44. concerned says:


    I would assume that you would be correct that the question of remarried divorcees approaching communion has not the subject of a de fide pronouncement. However, I believe that the issue of the necessity of confession and purpose of amendment in order to remain in the state of grace has been. Which to my understanding would make this fall under the threshold of the ordinary magisterium, which we have been told is infallible. If the pope says this is now hunky dory, then he would be reversing what was thought to be infallible by way of the Church’s understanding of sin, confession, etc., which would bring me to my aforementioned crisis of conscience. However, I suspect that he will punt it to the episcopal conferences thereby attempting to sidestep the infallible issue and permit serious error to enter this way. As a parent, I do not understand how it is merciful to allow your children to do things, under an approving glance, which will cause them harm. Also, I do not understand how they do not heed St Paul’s warnings to the Church at Corinth. Weren’t irregular marriages part of the issue with which Paul warned them about? Just my two cents.

  45. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:

    I have to admit I was a sedevacantist for awhile. Back in the Spring of 2013.

  46. Imrahil says:

    Dear concerned,

    this comment has turned out to be rather long. If you, and if others, still give me the undeserved honor to read it, I’ll give a little order beforehand. I’m going to talk, first, again about the need to be precise here, and when I’ve done so, I’ll help a little by clearing away side-issues with the whole thing is not, ultimately, about, but which would get in the way afterwards (1). Then I’ll go for the real issue (2) which is:

    whether the Pope, in case he admits divorced and remarried to Communion, is a heretic

    To keep the thing at least barely readible, I’ve put some side-remarks into footnotes (3). And as it is only fair to do so, I’ll say a quiet word about my own position here (4).

    1. As I said, in these thinks it is crucials to be precise. (Which, I admit, squares favorably with my own fondness for hair-splitting. But then, if hair-splitting should lead to avoid head-splitting, instead of fostering it as Eugen Roth feared in his famous poem, then we had better go for it; also, when the alternative should lead to doubt about the very indefectibility of the Church and so on.)

    So, let’s go.

    fall under the threshold of the ordinary magisterium, which we have been told is infallible

    on occasion. When is the ordinary magisterium infallible? When all the bishops, including the Pope, in virtual unison teach a thing, and not only opine it but teach it as something to be hold definitive. (They needn’t all actually teach it, but they all need to assent at least in silence, and many must speak out.)

    What the Pope does all the time in teaching, what bishops do and so on, is also called ordinary magisterium (because it is not extraordinary), but it is not infallible.

    That we need to refer to the ordinary magisterium is, in these days after so many Councils have spoken too, a rare occasion; and although Pope St. John Paul cleared the male priests question in this way, the ordinary Catholic who wants to learn his Faith, also delights, maybe, a bit in theology but has not the time to do it professionally, may perhaps still take the Catholic Encyclopedia’s advice that “for practical purposes […] in so far as the special question of infallibility is concerned, we may neglect” it.

    I believe that the issue of the necessity of confession and purpose of amendment in order to remain in the state of grace has been [subject of dogmatic definition].

    Let’s distinguish again. (You might think that this does not directly tackle the issue, but then: if you want to accuse a Pope, even an – as yet – hypothetical Pope, of heresy, you’ve got to be precise.)

    So, the “purpose of amendment in order to remain in a state of grace” certainly hasn’t been – who is in the state of grace needn’t amend*. What is dogma** is that one has to repent and purpose to amend in order to get again into the state of grace.

    Neither, the “necessity of confession in order to remain in a state of grace” has been subject of dogma, because it, too, does not in this precise sense exist. First, “remain” again: Who is in the state of grace doesn’t strictly speaking need*** to confess, though he should. Second, even if we speak about getting again into the state of grace: again no.
    What is dogma*** is that the sacrament of Penance is the only ordinary way of getting back grace after mortal sin. Contrition has that effect too (though it is not a path to avoid Confession).
    What is also true is that a mortal sinner, even if contrite, by the commandment of the Church**** needs to Confess his sins before receiving Communion.

    2. So, after we’ve clarified that, let’s go to the real issue here.

    The Pope is a heretic only if he utters heresy, that is, an error that qualifies precisely as heresy and not as anything less. “Material heresy” (i. e., “in itself that is heretic, but the Church hasn’t really formally said so yet”), gross nonsense, error matters of fallible doctrine, and so on doesn’t count. Heresy is only what is straightly opposed to a dogma.

    Now, it is dogma** that you must not receive Communion if you are a mortal sinner (that is without having repented).

    It is, however, not dogma that the divorced and remarried actually are mortal sinners not having repented.

    Call that obvious as much as you wish, it hasn’t been definitized and that’s a fact.

    “But they’re adulterers!” – Well, adultery has indeed been forbidden in the ten commandments and described as a mortal sin by St. Paul, and of course also been forbidden by our Lord and so on; the Church has repeated this often enough that it probably falls, also technically, under infallible ordinary magisterium.*****

    The specific statement that this specific sort of people cohabiting with somewhom else than they are aligned with by marriage bond, that these people don’t get “mitigating circumstances” has, however, not been ruled out.

    You might say “obviously not”, but then what you’re actually doing is setting up a syllogism with a dogma as major and (what you perceive) a “natural truth” as a minor. Now it has always been clear****** that the conclusion of such a syllogism – as mixing human knowledge into it – is not, again, a dogma, and hence he who speaks against it not a heretic.

    [3. * I’m putting it bluntly. Of course he has to repent of his pasts sins, strive to not fall back into grave sin, put effort onto not committing venial sin, strive to lose attachments, maybe even to better himself as far as self-abnegation of allowed things go – but we’re not giving a moral exhortation here, and I’m cutting the “in the more direct sense, etc.” here for simplicity’s sake.

    **I did not look it up in Trent, Ott or Denzinger, but I think it is, and am going to assume it is for the purpose of this answer.

    *** I’m leaving out the question of the Easter duty, which is necessitas praecepti anyway, not the necessitas medii we were speaking of. However, in this footnote, it was the more common opinion under the old law, and it is undeniable under present law, can. 989 that it, as a duty, only applies to those who have grave sins to confess. – The value of Confession notwithstanding.

    **** There is, thus, a difference between “a man receiving Communion must not consciously have unrepented mortal sin”, which is a principle which knows no exceptions, and “sins must have to be Confessed first” which does have exceptions, such as in case of a priest who finds himself in mortal sin but really necessarily needs to say Mass: Canon law stipulates that, in this case, he has to set an act of contrition, may (and indeed must, in Mass) receive Communion, and Confess afterwards as soon as possible (can. 916)

    ***** Still: the only quasi-dogma in morality, as of now, is “absolute inviolability of innocent human life”, Evangelium vitae no. 57. Though the teaching office of the Church extends to faith and morals, she has been very reluctant to exercise it, at least in a definitive manner, about the latter.

    ****** Leastways if the “mixing human knowledge into” is not done by the magisterium itself; this particular point is in dispute.]

    4. After all this, and fearing that someone might ask me whether I’m on some agenda or any such thing, it is only fair to say something about my own position, as far as I have one.

    I think that the exclusion from Communion must remain. For the reason, if for no other, that only the prospect of “either live alone or you can’t Communicate” will be incentive enough to make people put the indissoluble bond into, as it were, actual practice.

    But many Catholics, counting themselves well into the orthodox camp, are not assuming that someone who humbly bears this exclusion as a sign of his disordered state which he finds no way out of, appearing on all Sundays in Church, making spiritual communions, and so on, and suddenly dies will straightly be handed over to the demons in hell (that is, for this alone). I might even think of the much-abused sensus fidelium concept in this respect. I, in any case, tend to that view too. (I said “tend to” on purpose; I haven’t a firm opinion, except that of course I believe everything in the deposit of faith.)

    Indeed, the very counsel to “make a spiritual communion instead” has such implications. Would you say that an obstinate mortal sinner can make a valid spiritual Communion?

    I was, in any case, taken with much surprise when stumbling, in the Office of the Dedication, over as strict a man as St. Augustine saying (no. 252 de tempore): “He who, as I have said, acknowledging his iniquity, withdraweth himself through lowliness from the Altar of the Church, till he have mended his life, need have but little fear that he will be excommunicated from the eternal marriage supper in heaven.”

    So, sorry for the very long comment.

  47. Pingback: The Narrow Path of Orthodoxy | the five minute Catholic

  48. Uxixu says:

    Not to pay so much attention is the best answer. Outside of the promulgation of a formal bull or encyclical, most Catholics throughout history never knew much about the Holy Father. The cult of personality around the modern Popes is more than the most fierce of ultramontanists would have dreamed.

    Especially with SSPX, the proper attitude (and obedience!) to the Holy Father is only the beginning. Even if they’re ostensibly correct towards the Holy Father in theory (and however much it remains only a theory, as they disregard his authority in practice), they completely ignore the authority of the bishops who’s authority they disregard by their presence. They can’t have it both ways, either the diocesan Ordinaries are legitimate bishops, in which case Canon Law since Trent forbids their presence, or they’re not…

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