ASK FATHER: “I’m seriously considering adopting some form of sedevacantism”

From a reader…


Father, I’ll get straight to the point: I’m having difficulty believing that the Pope is the head of the Church. I know that regarding the past heresies Popes were often negligent in carrying out their duty to oppose error, but it seems that recently Rome has been actively spreading error. This is most obvious under Francis, of course, although it’s not a new phenomenon — Vatican II and the liturgical reforms, which resulted in a disastrous loss of Catholic faith and identity in so many countries, were all carried out at Rome’s instigation and under her aegis. I know, too, that official teaching hasn’t changed, but that frankly seems like an unsatisfactory response. When Our Lord promised that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church, surely he meant more than that a core of esoteric doctrine, accessible only to people with enough theological training to parse the exact level of authority possessed by each papal communication, would remain, whilst the actual teaching organs of the Church were actively spreading error. I’ve read too much Church history to find Protestantism or Eastern Orthodoxy plausible options, but I’m seriously considering adopting some form of sedevacantism, if only to be rid of the cognitive dissonance involved in believing both that communion with the See of Rome is necessary for salvation, and also that being a good Catholic nowadays requires one to ignore 90% of what comes out of Rome.

Frankly, I am receiving more and more notes like this.   It is obvious that a lot of people are truly frustrated, some even at wit’s end.

Let’s consider a few things.

First, you say: “I’m having difficulty believing that the Pope is the head of the Church.”

On this point, we turn to Colossians 1:18:

“[Christ] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.”

Christ is the head of the Church, friend.  The Pope is Christ’s vicar on Earth.  Very fancy, right?  There is an amusing old doggrel acrostic for Latin “vicarius” (“substitute, delegate”) which I hope I remember accurately.


“A useless man, lacking authority, rarely of intelligence, the shadow of his superior.”

This might knock a few “vicars” of this or that down a notch.  There are also acrostics for parochus (pastor) and episcopus (bishop) buried deep in my head somewhere.

Also, you yourself brought up one of three attributes of the Church: indefectibility.  If we believe Christ’s promises – and I sure do – then we hold that the Church will not fail even to the end of the world when He returns to take all things to Himself and submit them to the Father.

I am reminded of Napoleon’s threat to destroy the Church.  Card. Consalvi responded, “We clergy have been trying to destroy the Church for the last 1800 years.”  In the end, even if it really were the aim of Francis or of his band of hangers on to destroy the Church, they would fail.  Can’t happen.

Throughout her history, there have been periods of confusion and disruption far worse than what we are experiencing now.   Consider the dreadful 15th c. Western Schism when there were three claimants to the papacy at the same time.  That got sorted.   Consider the controversy that swirled in the 19th c. around Vatican I and the definition of infallibility.   I’m just finishing a book about Vatican I right now, and the rise of ultramontanism of that era teaches us a lesson about the near papalatrous attitudes of some of Francis’ most dedicated supporters.  Also, the book has given me quite a different view of the person of Bl. Pius IX, who was, as it turns out, rather mercurial and not the sharpest knife in the drawer.  Anyway, history bears out that the Church is indefectible.

History teaches us that there have been great popes, okay popes, forgettable popes and bad popes.   Over more than a century or so, there has developed a strong cult around the person of the Pope.  Moreover, we have been perhaps a little spoiled with a string of pretty good men in the See of Peter.   Now we have a sharply contrasting figure after John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Francis is jarring, out of the pattern.   He is bound to make a lot of people scratch their heads.  Just as I think that – in the long run – importance of Vatican II has been greatly exaggerated, so too the impact of Francis is greatly exaggerated.   He is unsettling, but I suspect that, in the long run, he won’t be considered that important. Perhaps it is a good thing that cult around the person of Popes should be shaken up a bit, knocked down a few notches.

That said, just because he is jarring or his importance has been exaggerated by his papalatrous camp followers (some of whom I hold to be very bad actors indeed), that doesn’t mean that he isn’t really the Vicar of Christ.   Sure there are lots of theories about the validity of Benedict’s abdication and the legitimacy of Francis’ election.  They are interesting theories, too.  Some very smart people hold to them.  However, one of the facts that sticks out for me is that the Cardinals who went into the conclave of 2013 haven’t risen up against him.  That means not nothing.

No.  Sedevacantism isn’t the answer.   However, you brought up a partial solution to your problem with Francis and his posse.  You wrote: “being a good Catholic nowadays requires one to ignore 90% of what comes out of Rome.”

Go ahead and ignore 90% of what comes out of Rome and you’ll probably be more at peace.

We are terribly information overloaded these days.   It arrives as if by firehose through our various screens.   It is, for the devout Catholic who loves the Church – and when we love we always want to know more about our beloved – this can be upsetting.

We must learn to put all our churchy news into perspective, especially through a review of the Church’s many centuries of trials through history.

Also, and this is important for our equilibrium on the heaving deck of Peter’s storm tossed Barque, of all the possible universes God could have created, He created this one and not some other.  He knew every one of us before the creation of the cosmos, and He called us from nothingness into existence in this particular universe at this particular time according to His unfathomable plan.   We have a role to play in God’s economy of salvation.  We have to trust that we are exactly when and where God wants us to be.  If we have been born into troubling times, then we are precisely where we are to play our role.  We are in the right place and the right time.   Trust in God’s divine providence.  He knows what he is doing.

And I will remind you that we weren’t promised a bed of roses when we were baptized.  We who are Christ’s disciples will all drink at least some drops of the chalice He drank on Calvary.   It is our task to be faithful, brave and persevere.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Cri de Coeur, Francis, Our Catholic Identity, The Coming Storm and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Rich Leonardi says:

    I’m just finishing a book about Vatican I right now, and the rise of ultramontanism of that era teaches us a lesson about the near papalatrous attitudes of some of Francis’ most dedicated supporters.

    And the problem didn’t begin with Francis of course. The modern era’s superpope phenomenon began with the world-traveling, media-savvy Pope St. John Paul II. People warned at that time that the faithful would come to rue the day when it became commonplace to hang on every papal utterance and gesture. Benedict XVI did his best to pare it back, but enough of the template remained.

  2. excalibur says:

    Very well answered, Father Z.

    Our Lady of Fatima pray for us.


  3. Akita says:

    Perhaps the Sedevacantist-Maybe-Wanna-Be would be comfortable joining a SSPX parish. I stand with them in rejecting the New Mass and Vatican II. I have no cognitive dissonance. Pope Francis is pope, but a very, very bad pope indeed.

  4. Unwilling says:

    This Christmas, I found a delightful book in a junk store. Written in 1922 by a conservative Presbyterian (Greek scholar and promoter of Latin in elementary schools), it amazed me with its razor-sharp descriptions and refutations of liberal thinking at that time, in opposition to authentic Christianity. The pseudo-arguments and subtle long-game seductions of anti-supernaturalism, as this author revealed, were in his day couched in the same fraudulent vocabulary and sophistries that we are assailed with nowadays. I found it very helpful to have documentation of the devil up to his old tricks, trying to separate us from the Son of God. By the way, though firmly in with Calvin on atonement etc., he mentioned Roman Catholics only twice, and as positive examples of laudably unconfused belief. I recommend it, if your spiritual director consents. John Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1923. BR1617.M3

  5. Fr_Andrew says:

    All very good points, Father, but I think (and often remind the faithful over whom I have that role as a shadow of my superior) that the poor inquirer has his heart in the right place, but mind in the wrong one.

    Why do we need to take a position? Why do so many think it necessary to judge for self whether the pope is the pope? Why do the mental gymnastics at all?

    The Faith is what we must accept. Stick with what the Church has always taught in the face of turmoil. All that most faithful need is in the old Catechisms, good spiritual reading by the classic authors.

    I don’t worry about a guy in a city far away who may or may not be doing the job Jesus Christ wants him to do. I worry if I am. I pray for him, sure, but my job is hard enough. I don’t need to be doing someone else’s.

    I think if most looked at their own duties and conscience and spiritual life, they’d find little time to worry about the latest interview on a plane, and far more difficult and important work to do.

  6. Roy Hobbs says:

    “It is obvious that a lot of people are truly frustrated, some even at wit’s end.”

    While this is true, what’s more saddening and concerning are the number of those who simply do not care, or welcome such errors with open arms. All in the name of progress, of course.

  7. JustaSinner says:

    While Jesus will not let His Church fail, I don’t see any gurantee that we mere mortals aren’t in for a bumpy ride of our own creation.

  8. This caused me to entertain a thought experiment.

    Suppose we were about to send a ship into space, with a group of Catholic pilgrims and several bishops. They were going to form a colony on a far star, and never come back. Let us further suppose that for whatever reason, they can expect no communications from Earth for centuries, if ever.

    Will they stop being Catholic when they lose touch with Earth? They took bishops so they cou,d continue to have priests and all sacraments. At Mass they will, at some point, pray for an unnamed successor of Peter. Presumably, they have instructions from the pope on how to organize dioceses and choose new bishops.

    My point is, to be Catholic means you recognize and honor the pope. If and when something becomes a matter of obedience, you obey. This is rather rarer than people realize. What has Pope Francis demanded me to obey?

    But you don’t have to follow the news about him. Most Catholics in history and probably a lot of bishops related to Rome rather like my fanciful space explorers. Until they heard from him, they carried on.

  9. Akita says:

    Our confreres of ages past were not persecuted within their own families with headlines screaming (as perhaps a town crier would have done in ages past) that the Holy Father “will not judge” sodomy, that he said birth control is acceptable in some instances, that he said Mary claimed she was deceived as Christ underwent His passion. I hope you get my point Father. We are social creatures, not ostriches.

  10. sibnao says:

    Thank you, Father Z, for a helpful and reasoned response. I’d like to chime in and say how very sympathetic I am to your correspondent. Bad leaders are such a cross to those whose duty is to follow.
    I remember after the first round of revelations in our diocese (which has been a center of abuse scandal and has since declared bankruptcy), my fury was such that it led me to imagine all kinds of revenge on our bishop and priests, as well as daydreams about if I could have my say — if I could corner the (now-disgraced) archbishop in an elevator — what I would say, how I would accuse, demand, recriminate (and maybe even punch). Believe me, I had to go to confession about it a lot.
    Anyway, in one daydream, I yelled at the bishop, “We lay people can’t be holy if we don’t have holy shepherds. BE HOLY!” Right into the middle of that daydream, God spoke to me, and He said, “YOU be holy.” That was the last of those stupid daydreams, and really the effective defusing of my rage. It doesn’t mean I don’t think that our bishops should not answer for their crimes, sins, and failings, but it does mean that if God were going to judge me the way I wanted Him to judge them, I’d be in hell right this minute. I’m a mother — God forbid that my own sins and failings toward my children become public matter, open to any interpretation, of good will or not. God forbid that my towering mediocrity (if it is even that) left open a door for my children to decide that I must not be their real mother. And may He always have more mercy on me that I have had on poor Pope Francis, who after all is a product of his generation, country, and religious order, three harsh strikes against him, alas.
    Joining in solidarity and prayer with your correspondent and everybody who is suffering this trial.

  11. teomatteo says:

    I feel their pain. But…I would never leave. It seems to me that my affliction of mood supression upon hearing something crazy from the vatican is more about me than them. What I mean is this. From my younger years there always seems to be ‘me and my group’ vs ‘them and their group’. Like on our quarter of a mile street. It was always ‘our end’ that warred with ‘the other end’. And then when in High School the groups formed then when in college my Wolverines vs Whomevha. (you can have my Wolverine –take’m). Now polilitcs really created a group think and anquish and emotion–so it goes. That is why I think that my pride takes hold when ‘my side’ is not in ascendancy–i.e. in Rome. Maybe 80-percent is pride. It’l all work out in the end. Peace.

  12. rmichaelj says:

    I can second Akita’s post. A real problem is dealing with family who use the Pope’s words to defend immoral lifestyles (and demand that you accept such lifestyles within your own home). That and the fact that these same arguments are going to be used on your children when they are not under your protection. I’d give my eyeteeth to be under a Borgia Pope who may have lived immorally, but didn’t cause confusion in regards to the teachings of the Faith.

    Similarly, arguing to your family (who really doesn’t care about what the faith teaches anyway) that yes he is the Pope, but he is wrong- doesn’t get much traction. You get called a Protestant pretty quick. Sedevacantism is a simpler position to explain- but from what I have observed the life of a sedevacantist (even ones that are not jerky about it) is much tougher than the life of other traditionalists for other reasons.

  13. The original Mr. X says:

    @ Rich Leonardi:

    JP2 might have been more of a “superstar” than his predecessors, but I think the cult of papalatory dates from before his time. After all, wasn’t one of the main tactics of the post-V2 deformers to claim (albeit falsely) that “this is what the Pope wants, and you wouldn’t want to go against his wishes, would you?”

    @ Akita:

    Seconded. Maybe some past Popes would have been as bad as Francis if they’d had the modern media broadcasting their every utterance to all and sundry, but they didn’t, so their flaws didn’t have as much of a day-to-day impact beyond their immediate circle of acquaintances. Nor, for that matter, was Catholic moral teaching generally under as much assault as it is now. With Francis, practically everything he says is broadcast around the world, and loads of people (including loads of Catholics) will use his words to justify their own sin (while feeling all self-righteous about those bigots who still adhere to traditional morality, of course). This, I think, makes his pontificate much harder to deal with for the average Catholic than even those of the worst pre-twentieth-century Popes.

  14. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Fr. Fox:

    Thank you for a clear and concise answer. We need concern ourselves only regarding Ex Cathedra pronouncements. No other statement by any pope is infallible. As my old Baltimore Catechism taught, a pope’s statements about the weather, about sports scores, or any other matter not pronounced ex cathedra are subject to the same human fallibility that we all share.

  15. Akita:

    I sympathize, but the pope’s words being unhelpfully quoted, even by family, is not a reason to deny the Faith — which is what sedevacantism does. At some point, it is necessary to explain that our regard and respect for the successor of Peter does not mean he can’t be a terrible person or a dolt, and that what we believe about infallibility is not,finally, about the pope.

    Or, to put it anothet way, sedevacantism does not advance the Catholic Faith.

  16. JamesA says:

    Amen, Father. Brilliantly and beautifully put, as always. I will bookmark this to reread as needed when the foolishness overwhelms me.

    Difficult and trying times, indeed. Thankfully we have holy priests like you to remind us that He has overcome the world.

  17. arga says:

    I loved the last two paragraphs. I often think this myself and it is good to have it confirmed by someone a lot smarter than I am. I have shared it with family. It’s hard to keep going sometimes (and I don’t just mean the troubles in the Church). Thanks for the pat on the back, Fr. Z.

  18. LeeGilbert says:

    In his time, in the midst of the trials that were trying him, John Henry Newman wrote: “The whole course of Christianity from the first . . . is but one series of troubles and disorders. Every century is like every other, and to those who live in it seems worse than all times before it. The Church is ever ailing . . . . Religion seems ever expiring, schisms dominant, the light of Truth dim, its adherents scattered. The cause of Christ is ever in its last agony.”

    In short, our times are not particularly unique in offering temptations against belief or in trying the souls of Catholics. There will always be scandals. Perhaps there even need to be scandals. as something the Lord allows to purify his elect. “Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh. ” (Matt. 18:7)

    But lest we think we know upon whom God’s wrath will rest, I’d recommend sibnao’s comment above as being one of the most grace-filled, Godly-wisdom filled things I’ve read for quite a while. The prophet Nathan’s reply to David may well be Our Lord’s reply to us: “You are the man.” It is terrifying to be caught up in daydreams of imaginary righteousness wherein we scold pontiffs and keep ourselves up to speed on his delicts real and imagined. Do we have that responsibility? Or is it a way of avoiding our own responsibilities, for after all, we will have to answer for ourselves and not the pope. I could have said a rosary for the pope and the Church, but instead I surfed the blogs and vented here and there. And this contributed what to my sanctity? Surely from the viewpoint of angels, we are out of our minds. Out. of. our. minds.

  19. Dave H says:

    Agreed. The results of Vatican II have been devastating and this non-dogmatic council has been a self-inflicted wound that has continued to fester for 50 years. The Latin Mass is magnificent (it IS a hill worth dying for if you want your children to keep the Catholic faith). The original critiques of Lefebvre, Ottaviani, et al appear more prescient with each chapter added to the current crisis. Now, the Vatican has lifted the excommunications and extended to the SSPX rights to hear confessions and grant absolution, to validly witness marriages and perform nuptial Masses (when approved by local ordinaries), and to confer holy orders on their seminarians without requiring approval of the local ordinaries. Of course, the SSPX Masses are valid and are the magnificent Mass of the Ages. So, while the SSPX may still be a problem for the Vatican (because they are not on-board with modernist currents within the Church) they are clearly a problem WITHIN the Church.

  20. Orlando says:

    Thank you Father great words of wisdom (again). I have let all this Church news dampen my faith recently to the point that I’ve been lax in my Sunday obligations. I am like the seed that’s been sown in the thicket. Your excellent blog post has kicked me in the shins and reminded me to “man up”, this is not supposed to be easy. Thanks again, and yes I will go to confession this week.

  21. Grant M says:

    Some years ago I was visiting the SSPX Priory in Singapore, and was greeted by a large portrait of Francis in the lobby. If that society can accept Francis as the Pope, so can I. A visiting SSPX priest told us: Sede-vacantism is the wrong answer to a real problem, and simply makes the problem worse.

  22. TonyO says:

    I think if most looked at their own duties and conscience and spiritual life, they’d find little time to worry about the latest interview on a plane, and far more difficult and important work to do.

    The lay faithful do have duties to relate to their pastors their real needs, and this can mean going all the way to the Vatican. If everybody had sat down and shut up about the Mass in 1970, we would not still have the Tridentine Mass available today: it took people with guts to speak up – including to the popes – and say “we need the old Mass, the Novus Ordo won’t do it for us”. And to do so adequately, they had to become scholars on the old Mass, the new Mass, on Liturgy, and the theology of sacrifice. They couldn’t just sit back and take it on the chin in the name of obedience or meekness or whatever.

    The same goes for getting the light (finally) on sex abuse. There never should have been collusion between priests and the hierarchy above them protecting gays and abusers in collars, but there was. It took lots and lots of time and persistence to get the attention of Rome and others focused on the problem, and it took being a squeaky wheel, again after first becoming well versed in the underpinnings of all the false theories supporting allowing gays in the ministry.

    No, we cannot simply say to folks “just do your own job”, watching out for erring clergy IS PART OF OUR JOB – at the least, to prevent out kids from falling into the clutches of such priests.

  23. SAHMmy says:

    Thank you Father. You are a soothing balm.

  24. ProfKwasniewski says:

    “Throughout her history, there have been periods of confusion and disruption far worse than what we are experiencing now.”

    I’m not sure about this. In fact, I’m pretty sure there has never been a period of confusion and disruption on the doctrinal, moral, and liturgical levels that is comparable to what we are dealing with in the post-Vatican II era and above all, under Pope Francis. Next to him, Pope Honorius looks like a fluffy bunny; Pope Alexander VI, pure as the driven snow, compared to the homosexual mafia that runs the Vatican and much else. Simply this, that Paul VI dared to attempt the suppression of the age-old liturgy of the Church and the replacement of it with a scholarly committee product, is already enough to put the 20th century in a class by itself.

    None of this affects the truth of what you are saying, with which I completely agree. It just seems to me that we should be quite frank about the magnitude of the problem we are facing. It is truly unprecedented.

  25. Julia_Augusta says:

    I find the sedevacantist position more intellectually rigorous and convincing than the R&R (recognize &resist). As a Catholic, I believe that the Pope is the head of the church. I have no trouble believing that (unlike the reader who sent the query to Father Z). I also believe that the Church is indefectible and does not teach error. She cannot teach error because she is guided by the Holy Ghost. The Church passes down the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. Therefore, if the cardinals elect a man who writes encyclicals contradicting centuries of the Church’s teachings, whose public pronouncements clearly go against Catholic dogma, who refuses to clarify burning questions of dogma (to the point where souls are being led to commit mortal sins thinking they are ok), then I question whether the man is truly a Pope. The actions and writings of John XXIII, Paul VI, JPII, Benedict XVI and Francis all point to one thing: they aren’t real Popes because they taught serious error contradicting centuries of Church dogma. Of course in the past, there have been very bad popes (who had mistresses and children) but they did not teach error! And there have been anti-popes. So today the chair of Peter is empty. It can be empty for one week, one month, one year, fifty years. What I find unreasonable is for me to believe that PF (and John XXIII, Paul VI, JPII, Benedict XVI) is a true Pope, then sift through their teachings and writings to figure out which ones I get to toss in the rubbish bin and which ones I have to believe. I am not qualified to do this. If all of us sift through the teachings and decide which ones conform to Catholic dogma, we won’t believe in the same things and we end up like the Protestants, different sects believing what they want to believe.

  26. The Drifter says:

    It is said that when someone reminded Pius IX about Christ’s promise that Peter’s barge would never sink, the Holy Father quipped: ‘We have the Divine Master’s promise; but this will not stop the crew for swollowing a substantial gulp of water’. (Another version has Pius answering: ‘Yes, but Our Lord never mentioned the crew’).

  27. Prayerful says:

    A notable problem is the while say, Pope Julius III, and Alexander VI (although decades later St Francis Borgia SJ did credit to the Borgia’s) were of uncertain character, while Pope Honorius or Liberius gave support in some form to severe error, even heresy, Francis who refuses to bless, who repeatedly gives public support to the gravest error, a friend to abortionist Emma Bonino who never corrected her on her crimes, a friend to bishops of extraordinary moral turpitude, is different. No fornicating warlord Pope of the Saeculum obscuring or Renaissance gave such open support to doctrinal or liturgical error. He corrupts the vernacular Pater Noster, his almost first act was to destroy the Franciscans of the Immaculate, his ghostwriter Tucho of La Plata banned the TLM. I understand sedes and cannot judge their response to the Crisis and Great Apostasy. Sedeprivationism is looking more and more plausible.

  28. Prayerful says:

    *Saeculum Obscurum, apologies also for a lack of paragraphs, God bless.

  29. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Actually, previous bad popes did sometimes teach error… But they backpedaled when corrected. And sometimes that took a while.

    We have had bad popes. Heck, Peter was a bad pope at times.

    Recognizing this is not calling it good, or burying one’s head in the sand. It is recognizing that God gives even popes free will – and that they can mess up pretty seriously before infallibility overrides bad use of free will.

  30. JonathanTX says:

    It’s easy to say ignore the liberal pope of the moment, but will we also say the same if the next pope is Pius XIII? While Benedict was pope, all I heard seemed to be about how we needed to follow Benedict’s liturgical example (which I loved), and how his style should set the norm because of his office. Seems inconsistent to me. Just how it’s inconsistent for liberal liturgists to suddenly have become ultramontanists upon the election of Francis. What’s the principle that is constant no matter who is pope?

    [First, what Benedict did was to bring continuity back into worship, on the foundation of decades of theological reflection and writing. While he did openly bring some traditional elements into the liturgical style of his pontificate, he did not impose his personal preferences as if they had no foundation and the support of good reasons. In this pontificate we see a kind of liturgical minimalism – which is not good – with a rather cynical approach to traditional elements and greater discontinuity. Being in favor of Benedict’s approach and skeptical about Francis’ is not inconsistent, provided that we’ve moved beyond mere personal preferences and have solid reasons. The principle that is constant is found in our tradition, which is precisely what Benedict underscored. Moreover, we should – as Popes must – remember that Popes are the servants, not the masters of our sacred liturgical worship. When they become overlords of liturgy, the Church suffers, as happened from the 60’s onward with the jarring, artificial impositions.]

  31. Pingback: Ask Fr Z: “I’m seriously considering adopting some form of sedevacantism” | Catholicism Pure & Simple

  32. SanSan says:

    I love my Catholic faith. I thank Jesus that I can receive Him and receive His peace. I bow to no man, just to our God and His Holy Church.

  33. ProfKwasniewski: It is truly unprecedented.

    The Arian Crisis posed a nearly existential threat. Gregory the Great, Pope in turbulent times: made vast changes to the rites of Mass, readings, maintaining of course much that was in use already. Honorius: probably a monothelite, surely guilty of negligence in defending against heresy. Bellarmine didn’t think he taught heresy. On the other hand, his was a time of great missionary work. Alexander VI: Certainly not an exemplar of Christian virtue. However, go through the Bullarium and you find that he hardly put a foot wrong. The great Counter-Reformation figure Sixtus V, no slouch he, thought Alexander was an outstanding Pope (though surely not for his personal morals). And let’s not be naive about the morals of princes of the Church through the centuries. Power corrupts.

    I will cede this. Our crisis differs from past crises in that in the past people were imbued with a strong sense of the transcendent, while today huge swathes of the population (hence also in the pews) are immanentists or holders of a fuzzy moralistic therapeutic deism. In that sense, our time is unlike eras and crises of the past. Modern popes alone didn’t cause that to infect the pews, but surely some of their decisions accelerated the contagion, changes to the Church’s liturgy in the 60’s onward being one of the major gateways. I’m with Benedict in saying that the present crisis of the Church is a crisis of worship.

  34. mattcwagner says:

    This Dr. Taylor Marshall video (Can a Pope be Deposed? w Eric Sammons (Dr Taylor Marshall #166)) really helped me get some perspective on the Pope Francis problem:

  35. fmsb78 says:

    Besides the excellent answer from Father Z, one can think about so many things to share about this Quaeritur but I will stick with two:

    A) All that is happening has been prophesied over the centuries for so many people like Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, John Henry Cardinal Newman, Venerable Fulton Sheen and none other than Our Blessed Mother herself. Of course, you also find everything in the Holy Scriptures, both in the Gospels and the Book of Apocalypse. In Matthew 24:24, Our Lord affirms that: “For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect.” I would like to recommend this awesome talk from Fr. Ripperger in which Our Lady of Good Success describes to the perfection our current times.

    B) As we are morally obligated to form our conscience in order to denounce error, we too are obligated to pray, offer sacrifices and fasting for the Pope and the clergy. It’s too easy to fall into negativity and constant criticism of the Holy Father but that’s when we have to offer up our Rosaries for the Church. The victory of the Immaculate Heart will also be the conversion of the clergy throughout the world. In one of my favorite sermons of all, Fr. Schmidberger (SSPX) said: “When Peter was in prison, the Scripture says that whole Church prayed for him. Now Peter is in prison again, in the prison of modernism and relativism so we must pray for his release again”.

  36. Lurker 59 says:

    @ Fr. Fox: “What has Pope Francis demanded me to obey?” — Amoris laetatia for starters. It is actually quite a bit if you start breaking down everything that has happened in the last so many years.

    I know some people in real life that are taking the position that the Pope is over there and I am here and, unless something is specifically addressed to me with my name on it, it is being ignored. This too is a “form of sedevacantism”. It isn’t healthy, doesn’t address the problems, and lets the problems metastasize in the larger catechesis and praxis. One can not simply go on forever ignoring what is coming out of Rome. Even if it takes a long time to reach your diocese, the dictates of Rome will change things at your local parish level.

    One of the problems that I have in real life is that the people that I am close to do not wish to have the discussion about the problems that the Church is facing. This lack of dialogue isn’t good. I am very grateful for Fr. Z allowing dialogue here on his website.

    There is a massive difficulty at the present time. “Is the Pope Catholic?” is no longer rhetorical but a quandary that is growing in the thoughts of Catholics worldwide. It is a separate question from “Is the Pope the Pope?” The majority of people who have difficulties (to put it mildly) with Pope Francis start with the former question and when it is answered in the negative, they then proceed to work on a different latter question “why isn’t the Pope the Pope?” Does it necessarily follow that the juridical aspect of the Office is tied to the exercise of that Office in a Catholic manner? Newman, and others, propose that it does and that is how the Office can be lost. This is also essentially the Orthodox position, and some hold that if the Pope would return to teaching the Orthodox Faith again, the Papacy would be restored to Rome. So there is a danger in Newman’s position.

    I don’t want to close on easy answers, because there aren’t. I want to underline the growing problem with the following two questions: Does following the Pope’s teaching lead to a virtuous and holy life — purgation from sins, the illumination in virtue, and union with Christ? Would you go to the Pope for spiritual advice? The growth in numbers of people answering these questions in the negative increases the time to heal the rift by generations.

  37. colospgs says:

    While sympathetic to the emailer, I myself would never go sede. But the underlying concern many have is if Francis is pope, can he teach error under the conditions of infallibility? Those being teaching as the head of the church, to the whole church, on faith or morals.

    Is infallible teaching promulgated by changing the catechism (death penalty), or inserting a letter into the Acta Apostolica Sedes (Amoris – Argentine bishops)?

  38. Grant M says:

    For anyone considering some form of Sede-vacantism, you could follow Dante, who has St Peter declare that his seat has been usurped by Boniface VIII, and is vacant in the sight of the Son of God.

    But note that when the French King assaults Boniface, Dante sees the sufferings of Christ as being renewed in his Vicar, so it seems that Dante’s Sede-vacantism sentiments are to be taken rhetorically and not literally.

    Quelli ch’usurpa in terra il luogo mio,
    il luogo mio, il luogo mio, che vaca
    ne la presenza del Figliuol di Dio,
    fatt’ ha del cimitero mio cloaca
    del sangue e de la puzza; onde ‘l perverso
    che cadde di qua sù là giù si placa.

    Perchè men paia il mal futuro e ‘l fatto,
    veggio in Alagna intrar lo fiordaliso,
    e nel vicario suo Cristo esser catto.
    Veggiolo un’ altra volta esser deriso;
    veggio rinovellar l’aceto e ‘l fiele,
    e tra vivi ladroni esser anciso.

  39. Cafea Fruor says:

    I think the question for me is how properly to show honor or respect to a pope like the current one. It’s kind of like when you have a parent who’s hurtful, abusive, neglectful, etc., like if you have a father who lies to you or abuses you–how do you honor him while at the same time being honest that he’s a terrible father? Likewise, how do those of us who find Pope Francis grating and everything he says to be problematic or unedifying still give him the respect that he’s due because of his office? I’ve never heard a good explanation of how to do that – just shrugs and a “I wish I had an answer for you.” What exactly does that honor look like?

    For example, let’s say you’re having a discussion with Aunt Petunia who says that Pope Francis is the best pope evah and isn’t he just awesome because Amoris Laetita allows her and ‘husband’ #2 to ‘discern’ that they can go to communion even though she and Uncle Elmer never got an annulment. How do you tell them the truth without disrespecting the pope? Any thoughts?

  40. It is FAR simpler. Relax. Stay in the Church. [Simple isn’t the word I’d choose for our times.]
    People, and dogs for that matter, that feel they are in charge, are responsible, when a situation is beyond them, get very anxious.
    Real obedience is so freeing. [Not always easy, but simple, freeing] Obedience is the biggest test to hope in God and utter abandonment to His loving mercy. That we don’t understand it or believe it but do it anyway IS the saving test. This in itself may be the ultimate test of these Times.
    Yes, we feel leaderless, lost, despairing. We are standing in the ruins of the Catholic Church…a few dying embers glow here and there.
    Anyone who feels competent to judge whether the Seat is vacant or not, is working WAY past their pay grade and their competence. And is wrong.

    Gee, where have we come up with the idea that we are our own Pope, our own authority, that we know better, that we should be guided by our own rights and individual revelations? That we can sniff out false teaching? Does authority come from below? Sound familiar? Equality, Egality, Fraternity. Marxism. Atheism. Americanism and revolution.
    Obedience to authority is what sets the Catholic apart.

    Only the Magisterium, and usually a Pope 50 years later, can judge another Pope. Be patient. Trust in God.
    This is known as Authority. And mere men, like all of us, just don’t have it.
    This is not the situation to do Other People’s Jobs.
    If it helps, I myself ignore all Pope Francis talk, news, discussion, I refuse to make judgements beyond my place or competence. And I do the duties in front of me. I work at what I can control. Steep yourselves in the safest long-standing old teachings and spiritual direction of the constant Church traditions [you may have to go back to the 1920s, 1880s]. And look to your own personal sanctification. Stick with the here and now, do your laundry, work at your job and duties. Serve others. Pray the Rosary. Practice the presence of God. Work very hard at ignoring distractions.
    Otherwise you become prey to the little tyrants who plead ‘come this way! you will be safe with us!” “WE have the real Faith!””Christ is over here!” [they may or may not hand you that Apple with all their reasonable talk that makes you think you know better than real -maybe unjust or unfair or ugly- Authority.]
    Who exactly is the god here? Eve was so sure of herself.

  41. Lurker:

    Amoris Laetitia has not changed my priestly ministry at all. I have not been asked to do anything contrary to conscience.

    Of course, that could change. If it does, check in with me then.

  42. DMorgan says:

    Thank you Fr. Zuhlsdorf for these words. Another aspect of this crisis is the 24 hour news cycle we now have that our predecessors did not. We get every Jot and Tittle real time. So much to digest. And indigestion seems to be increasing daily.

  43. Geoffrey says:

    “And the problem didn’t begin with Francis of course. The modern era’s superpope phenomenon began with the world-traveling, media-savvy Pope St. John Paul II. People warned at that time that the faithful would come to rue the day when it became commonplace to hang on every papal utterance and gesture. Benedict XVI did his best to pare it back, but enough of the template remained.”

    I would challenge that. I would venture to say that the vast majority of people who condemned and disobeyed St John Paul II back then are the same ones who are demanding that we all praise and obey Pope Francis now.

  44. Unwilling says:

    The Four Cardinals eventually offered answers to their own dubia.
    But, if Francis answered now, what would/could he say? What could we hear?
    [cf. Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations p.223]

  45. chantgirl says:

    Yes, the situation in the Church is unprecedented, because we are dealing with modernism (synthesis of all heresies), liturgical chaos and destruction, and uncatechised laity. Vice and cowardice among the clergy and bishops are not unprecedented, unfortunately, but work against the labors and sufferings of good clerics who are trying to serve the Church with honor and devotion. Add in the looming bankruptcies, fire sale of assets to pay for crimes, secular governments emboldened (like sharks, smelling blood in the water from the scandals) to infringe on the rights of the Church and individual believers, the demographic winter the Church is about to experience, confusion over the papacy, and the looming clash of civilizations in Europe and North America as Western Civilization crumbles and Islam advances, and it appears that total war is being waged upon the Church from within and without. It brings to mind the “decisive battle” that Sr. Lucia said the devil was in the mood to engage in with Christ and His Church.

    If we are only concerned about getting ourselves to Heaven, we can ignore Francis and put our head down and work in our own little corner. A number of Catholics are stubborn enough and secure in the faith to do that. However, we are supposed to bring others to faith too, and that is severely impeded by the situation in the Church, including the scandals Francis has caused. Our children, potential converts, friends and family have real questions which need real answers. The scandal of the papacy is not going away, and there are real doctrinal and moral questions which are not going to go away until they are addressed and answered. And the more men in the priesthood and episcopate are silent, or brush off these real questions, the more the laity and potential converts are left to themselves to fumble in the dark for answers.

    If the buildings of the Church were on fire, men of the cloth would hopefully not wait to call the fire department, yet somehow we have souls falling into hellfire like snowflakes, and men of the cloth don’t think it is their place to say anything.

    Fr. Z, and other priests who are actually acknowledging the problems and trying to guide the souls in your care, thank you!

  46. MikeRogers says:

    To quote a source “Popes come, Popes go”.
    I deplore what is going on right now, but it will all change in the next pontificate. I go to Mass (EF) frequent the Sacraments & know it will sort itself out in the end.

  47. Pingback: Catholic Blogosphere 01/08/2019 – The Maniple

  48. Markus says:

    Fr. Z,

    “I’m with Benedict in saying that the present crisis of the Church is a crisis of worship.”

    Good start, however it appears to me that it is not only the form of worship (horizontal today, vertical in traditional practices) but it is the people behind the “progressive” changes.

    Being a cognizant member of the Church for over 60 years, I have seen a great decline of “good” priests. In the last 20 years, ones that I thought something was “off” were either laicized or indicted. They would never look you in the eye, it appeared that they knew that I knew something was wrong.

    While some of our new generation of priests are promising, the “progressive” regime is still in power. We are in for some challenging times. Personally, I gave up on my parish. It’s the Latin Mass next Sunday at 2pm for me and my wife.

  49. JesusFreak84 says:

    I think there’s enough questions about hi-jinks during the Conclave after Benedict that a future Pope may declare Francis an anti-Pope on that basis. Unless it’s literally the next Pope that declares that, however, even though I’m only in my 30s, I still don’t anticipate living long enough for that declaration to be made, and it’s so far above my pay grade to make it.

  50. Clinton R. says:

    I have read much about sedevacantism and I can understand where they are coming from. It is difficult at times to rebut their arguments, especially regarding the actions of the post Vatican II popes. When one sees images of Pope John Paul II being “blessed” by pagans, for example, it does make one question things. Not a single aspect of the Church has untouched by the plague of modernism. The Novus Ordo, changing of prayers in the rite of ordination and episcopal consecration, altar girls, Communion in the hand, surpression of minor orders etc can really make a person wonder what the heck happened to the Church that was seemingly unchangeable prior to the Council. On this blog for instance, how many times have readers asked Father Zuhlsdorf if their Confession was valid? Did anyone prior to the Council ever have to be concerned with the validity of the Sacraments? Did priests ever dare to freestyle on their own with the sacred? For sedevacantists, the answer is simple. A new church emerged from the Council, while the true Church remains amongst a small remnant. The last 6 men to claim the papacy cannot be actual pontiffs, the thinking goes, because a true pope would never propagate the teachings of a Council that in certain aspects, contradicts previous Catholic teaching (ex. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus vs Nostra Aetate). The state of the Church really comes down to Vatican II. It was an unprecedented Council that in the years ensuing, caused a tremendous earthquake in the Church that may take centuries to recover from. There wasn’t terms like liberal Catholics, moderate Catholics, traditional Catholics, sedevacantist Catholics prior to the last 50 plus years. To be a Catholic meant to be a member of the Church founded by Our Lord upon St. Peter. We are in the age of apostasy, heresy, confusion and disillusionment. It is little wonder that people like the reader above are considering sedevacantism. However, our Lord promised the gates of Hell would not prevail. Out of the darkness, He will be Our Light. May Our Lord guide us in truth and May He bless His Church. +JMJ+

  51. Erick Ybarra says:

    Fr Z,

    Thank you for your post. I really don’t think there is another option for Catholics other than to do what you’ve said. However, what I don’t think should be done is to just hand-wave the intellectual problem as something to be sorted out under God’s providence. For 2,000 years, the Catholic intellectual tradition has always made use of reason, alongside divine revelation, to make sense of things. What the questioner is asking you is how can one *reconcile* the current reality with the theological premises of what makes Roman Catholicism? He is not asking what are we to do in this cliffhanger (i.e. just hold on!). With all due respect, therefore, I think the answer of the questioner went unanswered. Sure, there was the appeal to Constance (whose Haec Sancta decree is believed by many historians, even Catholic, to have been accepted by Pope Martin V, however much subsequently abrogated clearly under Eugene IV), but just look at how that matter was resolved. There were actually Bishops in the College who saw the problem for what it was, and were *attacking* the problem, and the majority of assembled Bishops were willing to go to Conciliarist principles in order to hold the Papal office accountable. If you ask me, the history surrounding Constance was, it seems, the very last time that Bishops took serious the question of what to do with a renegade Papacy. From reading your blog and others, I see this developing current which belittles the authority of the Papacy, making it work only in narrow conditions and all of that. We tell people who have problems with the Bergoglian catasrophe that they are ultra-Papalists and need to refine their understanding of Papal authority to fit a much more reduced form. However, that is only nibbling around the edges of the problem that many of us who are devotees of Church history, and it doesn’t quite get anywhere close to the center of the problem. What is the center of the problem? For close to 1500+ years, particularly the first 1000 years, no one thought that it would be permissible to retain the communion of a See/Patriarch/Metropolia/Diocese/Eparchy which is committed to theological errors. Never mind all the orchestrated conditions for “ex-cathedra”. That wasn’t in the mind of the Council of Constantinople 553 when it “excommunicated” (?) Pope Vigilius. That wasn’t in the mind of the Churches of Milan, Aqueila, Spain, Africa, and Illyricum when they excommunicated Vigilius (albeit, for the opposite reason of the Council). What was the rationale of the Council and the Western bishops? It was “lest we be found communing with Nestorius/Eutychios, let us remove Vigilius’ name from the holy diptycha”. Now, pray tell, how could it be that no less than 6 centuries into Christianity, nearly the whole of the Episcopate represented at the time was ready at the drop of a hat to remove communion from an “erring” Pope (and let’s not get into whether Vigilius actually erred or not, that’s beside the point). In all the forthcoming literature from the grand Pontificates of Pope St. Nicholas the Great forward into the Hildebrandian and Leonine papacies, I have never seen a Pope look at the Council acta of C’ple 553. Sure, Pope Hadrian II mentioned how the Papal see can err but only be judged by a subsequent Pope (see the Acta of the Roman Synod 869), and how Honorius may have fit that description. However, that doesn’t get to this fundamental issue, namely, that retaining communion with a Bishop or a See which is committed to heresy is to shoulder a share in the guilt of that heresy. That was surely the instinct of the Episcopate for centuries, and it is certainly why Rome always claimed an indefectible teaching ministry. There was no *narrow ex-cathedra conditionality* for Pope St. Hormisdas, whose Formula indicates that the Roman See is protected from error en toto. There was no ex-cathedra conditionality in the letter of St. Agatho to the Council of C’ple 681 which said that in *ALL* of his predecessors, God had produced infallible teaching according to the promise of our Lord to Peter “I have prayed that your faith fail not”. Thus, the Roman See cannot err, pure and simple. At least, I have never found any evidence in the first 12 centuries of the idea that the Pope is permitted to teach error or heresy *outside* his cathedra but is not permitted *ex* cathedra. But even so, if you read the article I’ve linked below, I show how Bp Gasser @ Vatican I, whose relatio set the stage of content for Pastor Aeternus, believed that dogmatic decrees from the Pope had numbered in the thousands. Yes, he believed that there were “thousands” of ex-cathedra statements by 1870. Now, just think of how much has had to change in just a century of theological reflection in order to arrive today where we have Catholic theologians of serious repute claiming that there have only been 2 instances of where a Pope has spoken ex-cathedra. I think it lacks credibility.

    All in all, the problem we are avoiding is how is it possible to be forced to retain the communion of a Bishop and a See which is overtly committed to errors which fight against our Lord? Keeping the Communion of a Bishop was the sure sign of Eucharistic communion for nearly 2,000 years of Christendom, and thus when it was known that a Bishop took on errors as his teaching, his name was struck from the diptychs, or he was deposed. And why? In order to spare the Church the injury of retaining the communion of a heretic.

    Therefore, we must say more than “Hey, bad times come. Bad times go”. There is a deeply intellectual incoherence which is possibly going on here, and I’ve seen no one (yes, no one), really taking any serious steps to answering this problem.

    [You seem to think that I advocated not doing something, but rather just waiting. No. Read the post. In my post, I wrote of the role that each one of us has to play. We all have our roles to play according to our vocations.]

  52. Erick Ybarra says:

    This is the article on Bishop Gasser, the Relatio, and Pope Francis

  53. Fr. Reader says:

    Information overload.
    Another good help comes, I think, from studying history of the Church. Spend at least the same amount of time on it than on reading news and blogs about the current situation, and things will get some perspective.

  54. padredana says:

    I have to agree with @ProfKwasniewski above. I think that what we are currently experiencing is far and away worse than anything we have heretofore experienced in the Church. I think the reason is not the problems themselves (although they are indeed VERY bad) but the fact that we live in a world where every utterance, no matter how insignificant, of Francis is IMMEDIATELY spread far and wide for everyone and their dog to read, spread, and spin according to their own agendas. This accessibility to every word Francis says and the ability to immediately spread it far and wide greatly contributes to the widespread confusion. In centuries past, we may indeed have had a bad Pope who did bad things, but it would take months, even years, for his written documents (and virtually NONE of what he “said” in his daily homilies or on his “airplane”) to be copied and spread throughout the world. When they were spread around the world, the average person in the pew didn’t have access to them, so they went about their business believing what they have always believed. In those ages past, what the Pope said or did didn’t have the slightest effect on the average person. But today, well, it’s a whole different ball of wax. EVERYONE hears EVERY word that Francis says, often within minutes of him saying it. It is this fact that I believe moves the present crisis into the realm of the worst we have seen, and prevents us who are shepherds to just “ignore” him. How can we ignore him when daily parishioners are asking me about this, that, or the other thing Francis said and that CNN is reporting? For the sake of the faithful we shepherd cannot, and must not bury our heads in the sand and just “ignore” the man who lives in Rome. If we do that, our sheep run the risk of beginning to believe what the wolf is saying, and deciding to follow the wolf instead of following the Good Shepherd. Would that Popes, as was the case in the past, were seen and RARELY heard. I say we return to the practice of Popes being carried about, waving and blessing the people, then returning to his palace to live a life of silence. Yes, Popes should be seen and only heard when they are required to clarify doctrine, and then they should say as little as possible. May God soon deliver us from this present crisis.

    [First, perhaps we ought to get over ourselves. We aren’t that special in the scheme of salvation history. Every generations has its problems. We have ours. Also, I did NOT – people please READ the post – suggest that we do nothing. We all have our vocations and our role to play. Those roles are different. Some have a greater obligation to address the roots of problem head on.]

  55. iPadre says:

    A friend of mine is very obsessed with what is happening. I told him that it really doesn’t matter. Not that I’m not concerned and often overwhelmed, but none of this affects most of us in our daily life. What we need to do is tech the faith without compromise, keep our focus off of the chaos, strive for holiness and do what we can in our little corner of the world. I can’t solve the Churches problems, but I can make a big difference through Adoration and teaching. Be all that God wants you to be!

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  56. Latinmass1983 says:

    The one who seems to have started painting Pius IX as “mercurial” was David Kertzer, who, based on his previous book on Pius IX, seems to have a very personal vendetta against him — all because of the Edgardo Mortara case.

    Most books written while Pius IX was alive and soon after he died mostly emphasize Pius IX’s humility, generosity, and mercy — yes, the real type of mercy, not the one a certain Bishop in white throws around quite regularly these days. Pius IX certainly didn’t just talk about it; he acted on it. He forgave the king of Italy for having sacrilegiously stolen the Papal States, and he gave amnesty to a lot of the men who ended up attacking Rome several times in the name of that same king. Even after all of this, Pius IX wrote to the king with sincere affection and Christian charity.

    Additionally, those same books mention Pius IX’s sense of humor, which would not seem to go along having a “mercurial” temperament. But, I’ve heard that his inclination to say “No!” a lot (probably to silly and stupid ideas) made people think that he was harsher than he really was.

    Furthermore, the fact that he was the one who released the Syllabus of Errors, declared Papal Infallibility, and the Immaculate Conception has made him THE “persona non grata” par excellence among politicians and non- Catholics (and I might be repeating myself there!). Since he reigned for 32 years, it is practically impossible to forget him and his reign, so the easier thing to do is to malign his pontificate. Can someone who isn’t “sharp” really rule for 32 years without everything falling to pieces? Pope Francis has only been installed for 5-6 years and the disaster is tremendous! Was that the case with Pius IX? Only Jews, Protestants, Orthodox, and liberals tend to think so.

    He foresaw the problems that were coming to and that’s why he declared Papal Infallibility and the Immaculate Conception. Has he not done it, no Pope would have done after him. And even though people try to associate ultramontanism with Papal Infallibility, that was not the reason why he declared it.

  57. APX says:

    EVERYONE hears EVERY word that Francis says, often within minutes of him saying it.

    I don’t, but I don’t go read and listen to every word he says. Frankly I don’t give a rat’s behind. I have enough to deal with in my own life.

  58. The original Mr. X says:

    There was no *narrow ex-cathedra conditionality* for Pope St. Hormisdas, whose Formula indicates that the Roman See is protected from error en toto. There was no ex-cathedra conditionality in the letter of St. Agatho to the Council of C’ple 681 which said that in *ALL* of his predecessors, God had produced infallible teaching according to the promise of our Lord to Peter “I have prayed that your faith fail not”. Thus, the Roman See cannot err, pure and simple. At least, I have never found any evidence in the first 12 centuries of the idea that the Pope is permitted to teach error or heresy *outside* his cathedra but is not permitted *ex* cathedra.

    Well, at least one Pope (John XXII) has erred, so it looks like it can happen. As for the lack of distinction between ex cathedra and extra cathedra, Catholic doctrine can after all develop, as Newman reminds us. A change from “The Pope is infallible” to “The Pope is infallible when speaking qua Pope, but not when speaking qua individual” seems like a legitimate development of doctrine, at least at first blush.

  59. TonyO says:

    And look to your own personal sanctification. Stick with the here and now, do your laundry, work at your job and duties. Serve others. Pray the Rosary. Practice the presence of God. Work very hard at ignoring distractions.
    Otherwise you become prey to the little tyrants who plead ‘come this way! you will be safe with us!”

    Yeah. Like religious websites like Fr. Z’s – those kinds of distractions. Nobody is obliged to read the postings and the comments and respond to them: not your duty! Ignore the distractions!

    Oh, wait, can I retract that?

    Yes, look to your own sanctification. But because we are members of the same Body, when one member is ill we all are in pain: our sanctification includes looking out for the welfare of other members and attending to how we are responding to the Head and the higher members (the hierarchy). Just because Christ is the Head doesn’t mean that the leg can ignore instructions from the spinal cord: we have to recognize when some of our shepherds are trying to lead us astray, and not follow them into error.

    Amoris Laetitia has not changed my priestly ministry at all.

    Thank God for that, Fr. Martin. If you lived in Germany, Malta, or Argentina (or half a dozen other places), it would have. In those places you would have to pick between doing what the bishop’s conference (or your own bishop) has told you, or violating Canon Law and the law of charity.

    Now, it hasn’t come to pass yet, but it is not in the least bit impossible that the present pope will try to ban the TLM. He has made it completely clear that he has absolutely no sympathy for that Mass, even if he is willing to grant SSPX priests quasi-faculties. He has done other, almost equally appalling (and unwarranted) juridical acts, like removing the bishop of Memphis without any stated cause. What if he starts deposing bishops who promote TLM the same way? It is, of course, not necessary to entertain every possible “what if”, that would be foolish. But it is not at all improper to entertain thoughts like “what would I do if my pastor, bishop, or pope directed me to go against God in some subtle but real way?” We have it on Christ’s own authority that false prophets and false christs will come to lead men astray, we should take Christ’s warning as valid and consider what is necessary to be on guard. One way to be on guard is to reflect on the disguised ways bad priests and bishops are already leading people to sin and extrapolate from them to similar methods that might impact you or me directly. Forewarned is forearmed: praying for aid and support isn’t to be taken as instead of arming yourself for the danger, it is to be taken as one part of arming yourself – and there are other parts, which include studying the Church’s teaching over the centuries, and noting past difficulties, and recognizing how people have dealt with difficulties while remaining within the Church.

  60. abdiesus says:

    I also want to thank you, Fr. Z, for this post, and, like Erick Ybarra says above, I really don’t think there is another option for Catholics other than to do what you’ve said. However I also think, like Erick so aptly states, that we can’t just hand-wave away the intellectual problem. And there are several very serious aspects to this intellectual problem that I, too, have yet to see or hear *anyone* even address, let alone deal with substantively. What I see too often, is that when questions about this intellectual problem are broached, that the response is a sort of triumphalistic glossing over the problem rather than actually addressing the problem, and this doesn’t help. In fact, when one sees the same type of response over and over again from different sources, without any of them ever addressing or, in some cases, even recognizing the problem, one begins to wonder if the reason for this is that there is actually no real answer to the problem at all, and that, of course is what starts to make the sedevacantist argument look stronger.

    Let me try to highlight a couple of the points made in this discussion so far that illustrate what I’ve just said. Fr. Z, your original interlocutor introduced the dogma of the Indefectibility of the Church with these words: “When Our Lord promised that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church, surely he meant more than that a core of esoteric doctrine, accessible only to people with enough theological training to parse the exact level of authority possessed by each papal communication, would remain, whilst the actual teaching organs of the Church were actively spreading error.”

    Now there are several important aspects to this statement. One, of course, is the progressive hollowing-out of any real, definable content behind the phrase “Indefectibility of the Church”. Now I have no problem believing that what we’ve all been taught that this phrase means, is not correct, and through no necessary ill-will, but rather by well-meaning but mis-guided teachers, we have all been taught something erroneous about the content behind “The Indefectibility of the Church”. However, when is someone going to be able to tell me what the *true* content of the phrase “The Indefectibility of the Church” is? And how long before that definition is, in turn, going to have to be walked back as well, once some scandalous new “magisterial teaching” is unleashed from the Papal See?

    Another important aspect of this problem is highlighted by two phrases from your original interlocutor. The first has already been quoted above “a core of esoteric doctrine, accessible only to people with enough theological training to parse the exact level of authority possessed by each papal communication, would remain.” and the second, relating to it, is “being a good Catholic nowadays requires one to ignore 90% of what comes out of Rome”. This second phrase is important especially because you had suggested that in fact the interlocutor was onto something in suggesting we “ignore 90% of what comes out of Rome.”

    Do you perhaps now see the problem inherent in these two statements? We are routinely admonished that we can’t hive off into sedevacantism, because to do so would be to “lean on our own understanding” in an essentially Protestant manner. And yet, at the same time, somehow we are supposed to parse out (by what authority?) which 10% we must accept and which 90% we can safely ignore? To me I can’t see a principled difference between the “leaning on our own understanding” that is bad/sede/protestant, and the being “faithful, brave and persevering” – if that means picking which 90% I can safely ignore (or is it only 89%? or perhaps 93%?) And I’m not just saying this to try to score a rhetorical point. I’m saying a big part of the intellectual problem that is being ignored, is precisely the question how (upon what authoritative basis) can a Catholic safely ignore 90% of what the Church teaches through it’s official organs and at the same time still be anything else BUT a Protestant?

    No one who I’ve ever talked to about this problem, and no articles I’ve read yet have been willing or able to address this problem, and, while I’m very grateful for what you have said in your article, and particularly for being willing to post the question from your original interlocutor, I don’t see an answer to this problem in what you have written. Now I know that no single article can solve every problem or address every issue. I just feel that somehow we must at least admit that this is a real problem, and if it can’t be solved now, just at least be willing to SAY THAT. Admit it. I, at least would feel so much better if we could do that much!

    Of course, having to admit that we are all really no different in principle from Protestants and sedevacantists, may be uncomfortable enough for some of us that it may force us to work on a solution to this problem!

  61. TonyO:

    I can readily imagine any number of terrible things that may happen (beyond the realm of the Church, for that matter). I think a bit about them, but mainly I pray to keep my moral compass well anchored, so that if and when hard choices are upon me, I will chose rightly.

    In the meantime, I keep to my daily tasks. It seems to me that the vast majority of terrible outcomes that people have feared, even quite reasonably, never happen.

    By the way, let us suppose my bishop — or the pope himself, personally! — directly ordered me (obviously unlikely, eh?) to give Holy Communion to someone who, by all apparent indications, must not. What are my choices then?

    1. Obey the pope, because he is the pope, and the culpability falls on him.
    2. Disobey the pope, and take the consequences.
    3. Seek other priestly ministry in which this will not arise.
    4. Retire from priestly ministry altogether.

    Note well! None of those necessitates me declaring the pope is not the pope.

    This is my Church; if other people are messing things up, let them leave! I’m not leaving or compromising my faith because of them!

  62. Imrahil says:

    Dear Clinton R,

    the teachings of a Council that in certain aspects, contradicts previous Catholic teaching (ex. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus vs Nostra Aetate).

    Only that sedevacantists seem to have the wrong arguments, as in those reported by you here.

    We must always remember
    1. that just because something sounds more harsh, doesn’t make it Catholic doctrine (just little as, if possibly even less than, vice versa),
    2. that it was Fr Feeney who was the heretic (even though the Church was very mild to him),
    3. that Nostra aetate, the whole Second Vatican Council, and, for that matter, on this specific matter of doctrine (there are other areas quite doubtful with him), even Fr Karl Rahner SJ say the precisely same thing as did Pope Bl. Pius IX.

    The council did leave an unresolved issue (contradicting previous non-dogmatic Church teaching, but saying “notwithstanding Catholic doctrine to the contrary” beforehand) in Dignitatis humanae, also, the “everything shall remain in place” and “all sorts of things shall be changed, and at once” in the disciplinary part of Sacrosanctum Concilium do not so really add up, but that is that.

    Even in the present discussion, with all that is debatable about our Holy Father’s actions, I find that the one action where he did something actually only one step short of heresy – the death penalty question – curiously little commented upon. Maybe because the difference between “capital punishment should not be used” – a legitimate and defensible development – and “capital punishment is intrinsically evil” does not seem much to the pragmatist. But where doctrine is concerned, pragmatism is out of place.


    1. I don’t see how someone can “consider adopting the position of sedevacantism”. If the See is occupied, sedevacantism is obviously impossible. If it were vacant, what’s to consider about. (It really is that easy.)

    2. For the pragmatists: Even though, as I said, the question “is the See occupied” is simply a factual question (by which I do not mean a difficult one; indeed the solution is, here, obvious), they seem to think they gain something by denying the fact. But what do they gain? Seriously, what does a sedevacantist gain that an SSPXer doesn’t already have?

    3. The chief problem even with Protestantism is not that it’s disobedient, but that it is wrong (viz., heretic).

  63. My dear Fr. Z,
    The times may not be simple [egads it is all heart wrenching], but our response must be simple. Obedience. Submission. Trust in God. Do what we can control. Do the duty in front of us. Echoing our good iPadre, above, don’t obsess and sicken ourselves. Just do what we can.

    All that we are undergoing has been predicted over and over – by prophets, saints, in Scripture. Its the Plan. What we are seeing is the details of the destruction. Its horrible indeed. This destruction has always been prophesied. And yes, our loving Blessed Mother is coming to save us, she is putting on her armor [as long as we continue to pray the Rosary for her triumph]. In spite of all the details of this destruction we must witness. our personal responsibilities remain the same. Be good. Do our duty Pray. Submit to the sacraments. Teach ourselves the Faith.
    Lets all pray for each other, that we may endure, that we may persevered to the end,
    Begging your blessing Reverend Father, I pray for you, please pray for me.

  64. Clinton R. says:

    Dear Imrahil,
    Regarding Father Feeney, we must always remember he not required to retract or recant his interpretation of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus. Referring to him as a heretic seems a bit harsh, especially given each of the post Vatican II popes, have among other things, lavished praise upon false religions, ie Islam. Three of them are now saints. That being said, who can declare a pontiff as a phony or a fraud? No power on earth can. Sigh, we are in times of grave confusion. I know Father Zuhlsdorf will often joke about people accusing him of “hating Vatican II”. I can’t say I have much regard for a Council that sought to make friends with the world at the expense of the Church’s mission. [Please provide a text from the Council documents in which that is expressed… “at the expense of the Church’s mission”. That wasn’t the goal, but that was in many spheres of the Church’s life, the result. And it still is for those who nearly worship the Council as a new beginning of the Church.] And that mission is to preach the Gospel to every creature and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19) Let us all pray and pray some more. Our Lord has conquered the world. +JMJ+

  65. Imrahil says:

    Regarding Father Feeney, we must always remember he not required to retract or recant his interpretation of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus.

    In the era of post-Conciliar leniency. What’s the significance of that?

  66. Uxixu says:

    Biggest issue with the sedes is how they don’t shy from but embrace ultramonantism (following the old Catholic Encyclopedia), not appreciating at all how unique the situation is where when for most of history most Catholics would have known next to nothing about any pope other than his name. All the old bulls & encyclicals were always addressed to the “patriarchs, primates and ordinaries in communion with the Apostolic See” not even to pastors or simple priests, to say nothing of laity…

    Then there’s the utter break with the traditional understanding of “the Church” as the bishops in Communion with Rome and that her indefectible nature has but given way to the “Eternal Rome” or ephemeral invisible Church more in common with the protestant heretics than any of the saints of the from antiquity much less the Counter Reformation.

    Geoffrey saith: “I would challenge that. I would venture to say that the vast majority of people who condemned and disobeyed St John Paul II back then are the same ones who are demanding that we all praise and obey Pope Francis now.”

    Unfortunately the biggest problem with this is at JP2 himself made many of these bishops and cardinals when it should have been clear that men like Kasper, Marx, Cupich and yes Jorge Maria Bergoglio, may have been decent or even good priests, but were completely unsuited for the episcopacy and have undermined his own legacy. Some like Schonborn (and perhaps Marx) have appeared more or less orthodox depending who the pope is, and Modernists have always had a knack for hiding what they really believe, though begs some…scrutiny in the mechanisms by which the popes have relied on.

    This was particularly acute with Benedict who had a reputation as the “Rottweiler” as prefect of the CDF yet went completely passive as pope, confirming and promoting many of them again if not elevating them to higher sees.

  67. Clinton R. says:

    Father, in Nostra Aetate, it states “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.”

    If the above is true, then why preach the Gospel to the Muslims? I can understand the hesitancy of a condemnation of Islam, but why describe it in such flowery terms?

  68. Imrahil says:

    Dear Clinton R.,

    while I am not a priest, I might venture to give an answer.

    Nostra aetate here, on purpose, scratches all the good things together that can be said about the Muslims (as Muslims), making a break afterwards with the mental line of “and all the things that separate them from ourselves and the truth, we assume of course to be common knowledge”.

    This cut, or selection of the things to be said and things to be left unsaid is apparent to every reader with common-sense. [*] Also, it so happens that the facts Nostra aetate lists in the passage you quoted actually happen to be facts.

    For the necessity of evangelization, see another document of the Council, Ad gentes, and perhaps some other passage of Nostra aetate itself which, if existent, which I fail to recall at present.

    [* For an analogy, consider a job reference containing the words “he strived earnestly to fulfil our company’s requirements”. Does a reader with common-sense consider such a reference wrong because the words “but failed to do so” were consciously left out?]

  69. Vee Anderson says:

    —-sticks out for me is that the Cardinals who went into the conclave of 2013 haven’t risen up against him. —-Fr Z

    In light of the news coming out about cardinals, I take no reassurance from this point. The sheer breadth and heighth of corruption, unbelief, sinful practice being revealed is simply devastating. There’s no way to soft soap this. It’s already as bad as it’s ever been. We have 2 living popes. We cannot go careering after a 3rd. Right now I rely on Old Testament stories of God saving out His faithful remnant for Himself. —feeling doomed but doggedly loyal in PA—

  70. Vee Anderson says:

    You say exactly the thought most painful to me. It was JPII who spoke about the Catholic Church in a way that aided me greatly on my way to conversion. It’s just awful to have to modify the huge regard I have for him

  71. FT says:

    Speaking as a Protestant, it seems to me that these sedevacantists are just Protestants by another name. I mean, I believe that Saint Peter had authority over the Church, so am I just an extreme sedevacantist?

    This isn’t just rhetoric. Either you believe the Pope is the vicar of Christ and Rome is the seat of authority on Christian doctrine, or you don’t.

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