A recent little talk I gave on the sin of schism — part of my comments on the Chair of Unity Octave — prompted a question from one of my auditors: “Is sedevacantism schism?” I had to reply in the affirmative.
In the last analysis, sedevacantists reject the jurisdiction of the Pope over the universal Church. While their schism is different than that of most schismatics — who reject his authority in principle — they have withdrawn themselves from communion with the Vicar of Christ. Since that is precisely what schism is, sedevacantists are in schism.
For some, the schism could be only material and not formal. I am not qualified to judge. But I can say, and must conclude, that their position is objectively schismatic. This is why we don’t allow sedevacantists into our Third Order.
For those interested, in 1997, I gave a talk on sedevacantism (available here as CD, MP3, or MP4), which can be read as a paper on our site, The Popes and the Modern Crisis. It did not answer every point the sedevacantists bring up, but it hit some of their major arguments.
Three of the biggest problems of sedevacantism are:
- Its notion of the Church is fundamentally flawed. The Roman Pontiff is the principle of the Church’s visibility. Sedevacantists end up with an invisible Calvinist Church composed of believers spiritually “subject” to illicitly consecrated bishops of questionable validity, giving no adherence to anyone other than themselves, and (in many cases) possessed of mutual hatred for one another as displayed in their puerile pseudo-apostolic diatribes against each other. From a city seated on a hill they have chosen to enter the “church” hidden under a bushel basket.
- It is neo-gnostic. Sedevacantism is about a decade newer than Vatican II. This means that the great tragedy of the Church’s decapitation was kept a secret for ten years. Every cardinal, bishop, priest, religious, and layman in the world gave adherence to an anti-pope, until someone came along and spotted that the emperor was wearing no clothes. Only, what was obvious to that someone was not obvious to the entire Catholic world. This is gnosticism, not Christianity.
- It presents an unsolvable dilemma. There is no solution to sedevacantism. Without a functioning hierarchy, the Church will never be able to choose a new Pope. The present hierarchy of the Church is no hierarchy at all to the sedevacantist, but a gathering of non-bishops appointed by anti-popes. Whence, then, comes a valid pope? Some sedevacantists, seeing the obvious problem here, have opted to put on their own conclaves and produce their own anti-popes. This solves the frying-pan problem by leaping into the fire, and makes the whole thing appear as silly as it really is. Other sedevacantists, not satisfied with this solution, frankly admit they have no answer to how we will get a true pope — but it will happen. Like the fellow who couldn’t define pornography, they say they will know an authentic papacy when they see it. And this shows their ultimate folly, pride, and conceit: they have constituted themselves judges of the Supreme Pontiff. Now that they have taken upon themselves this weighty responsibility, they must judge every pretender to the Petrine Throne. But, if a man stepped forward claiming to be Pope — claiming to be the real one who would set things right, because he agrees with everything the sedevacantists say — how will they know he is the one? Signs and wonders? The devil can produce those, and the Magisterium judges authentic miracles from preternatural mischief. And you need a pope for that. The dog is chasing his tail. And whatever constitutes the criteria by which the true pope manifests himself, what if all the sedevacantists don’t agree that this particular candidate is the real Vicar of Christ? Having cast off the monarchy of the pope, they now exercise the “tyranny of the masses” some call democracy. This is Protestantism, not Catholicism.
No disciple of Father Feeney could become a sedevacantist. Why? I will let Father Feeney answer that question with this passage from his Bread of Life:
The gate of the Kingdom of Heaven in beatitude was opened for the first time by the entrance of Jesus. The keys to that gate were put in the hands of Christ’s Vicar on earth when He said to Peter, and his successors: “And I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” No matter what we do in the way of justification, we can never enter salvation unless we enter it under the leadership of him who has the keys to that Kingdom.
That flesh and blood Vicar of Jesus Christ is none other than the Pope, our Holy Father, a visible head for Christ’s visible Church. He is a man whom we can point to as the visible Vicar on earth of the visible Christ in eternity. He is as pointable-at now in time as Jesus once was when He walked the streets of Jerusalem, followed by Peter and His Apostles.
It is a defined dogma of the Catholic Church that no one can be saved who is not subject to that flesh and blood Vicar of Jesus, the Roman Pontiff. It is one of the requirements for salvation. Justification is useless for purposes of the Beatific Vision unless submission to Christ’s Vicar has been added to it in essential complement.
Pope Boniface VIII, in 1302, infallibly declared in his bull, Unam Sanctam: “We declare, say, define and pronounce, that it is wholly necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” A defined dogma can never be changed. It holds for every age; it applies to every generation, until the end of time.
If you do not have a belief in, and submission to, a visible Holy Father and a visible Church, with clear distinguishable marks, you will never get into Heaven.