Sedevacantist Watch…


       Sedevacantists believe that the legitimacy of a determined Pope - that is, one who has been elected by the Cardinals in accord with the laws of the Church, and accepted as Pope by the Church - is simply a matter of private opinion.  For Sedevacantists, the election of a Pope, and the acceptance of the man as Pope by the Church, means very little if they personally think he was not a valid candidate for the office, since, for them, everything is based on their own private judgment rather than the public judgment of the Church.  
       Because of this non-Catholic mentality, Sedevacantists have absolutely no scruple in publicly rejecting the post-Vatican II Popes and declaring them antipopes. But what many people may not know is that this same mentality has led many Sedevacantist to also reject the legitimacy of Popes who reigned before Vatican II. Because the exact same rule is used to reject both pre and post-Vatican II Popes (private judgments of “fact” and “law”) proves, by itself, that the rule is not only false but extremely dangerous.  And, as we will see later, refusing to “hear the Church” (Mt. 18:17) regarding the legitimacy of a pope is a mortal sin against the Faith.
       In spite of this, a new Sedevacantist sect calling itself “Our Lady’s Resistance,” which appears to have sprung up within the last several years, publicly declares that all the Popes after Pius X (nine in all) have been antipopes. They claim that for more than a century, “Antichrist usurpers” have been sitting on the Papal Throne. They have even written a lengthy study to prove their case. The following is taken from their website:

       “The evidence exposing the Antichrist in Rome since 1914. The goal of this study is to prove our assertion and prove the claimants to the Papal throne after Pope Pius X to be usurpers. Hopefully this article will wake up at least one soul to the grim realities of the present moment”[1] (Our Lady’s Resistance).

Mario Derksen
        Needless to say, these Sedevacantists are just as convinced of their position as are the members of other Sedevacantist sects (e.g., Bishop Dolan, Fr. Cekada, Mario Derksen, etc.), who only reject the post-Vatican II Popes. Although they differ on when the antipopes began to reign, both groups use the same arguments to “prove” their case. For example, they both claim that the Code of Canon Law contains evil laws, which “proves” that it could not have been promulgated by a true Pope. The difference is that the sect that calls itself “Our Lady’s Resistance” is referring to the 1917 Code (promulgated by Benedict XV), not the 1983 Code (promulgated by John Paul II). On their website they explain why the 1917 Code “proves” that Benedict XV could not have been a true Pope:

       “There are three canons in particular we would like to present to our readers promulgated under Benedict XV which prove his reign as an ANTIpope (sic) – having no infallibility.”[2]

       This is what will inevitably occur when individuals imagine that the legitimacy of a determined
Pope is a matter of personal opinion to be decided by the private judgment of Catholics in the pew. And it is not only the Popes of the modern era (the last century) whose legitimacy is subject to this private judgment. The Sedevacantist blogger, Steve Speray, rejects Popes who reigned more than millennia ago, even though he concedes that they have always been considered true Popes by the Church.
       For example, Speray claims that Pope Honorius lost his office for heresy and became an antipope, even though the Church has never taught such a thing.  In response to an article by John Salza, which pointed out the difficulties that the case of Honorius presents for the Sedevacantist thesis, Speray wrote:

       “As for Honorius, he was not considered a pope after his heresy! The fact that he was at best doubtful afterwards, means he must be considered an antipope. So Honorius proves sedevacantism not disproves it.”[3]

       You see, when an historical case poses a problem for Steve Speray, he simply declares that the Pope in question was not a true Pope. But he doesn’t stop there. If you notice, after declaring, on his own authority, that Honorius “must be considered an antipope,” he then claims that the loss of office for Honorius “proves the Sedevacantist position.” Now, think about that for a minute.  Speray simply makes the statement (based on nothing but his opinion) that Honorius was an antipope (which the Church has never taught) and then claims that his statement “proves” the Sedevacantist position. This is the kind of utterly absurd “logic” that one finds regularly in the arguments presented by Sedevacantists apologists. 
        But we run into another problem with Speray’s “proof.” The problem is that two other Sedevacantist apologists, namely John Lane and Fr. Cekada, teach that Honorius did not lose his office.  For example, Lane wrote:

       “Pope Honorius was not a manifest heretic, and nobody has ever claimed that he was. … even if we were to admit the claim that Honorius really was a heretic, which we do not admit, he was certainly not a manifest heretic, and thus his case has no bearing on the question of the incompatibility of the status of ‘manifest heretic’ and the possession of an ecclesiastical office.”[5]

       Fr. Cekada also disagrees with Speray’s private judgment about the legitimacy of Honorius. In his 2005 article, “Sedevacantism and Ferrara’s Cardboard Pope,” Cekada wrote, “even if heretical, Honorius’ statements could not have constituted the ‘public’ heresy required for a pope to lose office.”[6]
       So here we have three Sedevacantists with two completely different conclusions about the Papacy of Honorius. If Speray’s opinion “proves” Sedevacantism, what does the exact opposite opinion of Lane and Cekada prove?
       And Pope Honorius is not the only pre-Vatican II Pope that Steve Speray rejects. He also claims that Pope Stephen VI was an antipope. According to Speray, Pope Stephen lost his office due to “insanity.” Speray wrote:
       “There is no question that Stephen’s mental capacity was unstable. Because of his insanity, Stephen should be considered an antipope. One theologian says this isn’t a novel understanding among canonists: ‘Not few canonists teach that, outside of death and abdication, the pontifical dignity can also be lost by falling into certain insanity…’”[7]

       Thus, the Sedevacantist rule (at least according to Steve Speray) includes the ability to judge the mental state of a Pope who lived over a thousand years ago (which, as we have seen, is a “question of fact” that only the Church alone could decide).  Next, regarding the “question of law,” Speray cites a theologian who says “not a few canonists” teach that a Pope can lose his office due to “certain insanity,” and then draws the conclusion that Pope Stephen was an antipope. Here’s the syllogism:

Major: Some canonists teach that a Pope can lose his office due to insanity.

Steve Speray thinks a Pope who lived over a thousand years ago was insane.

Conclusion: Steve Speray publicly declares that Pope Stephen was an antipope.

       The problem, of course, is that the Minor is nothing but the private opinion of Steve Speray, which has never been proven or even suggested by the Church. And even though Speray has absolutely no training in canon law, theology, or psychology, he doesn’t hesitate to declare that Pope Stephen was an antipope, even though, as he concedes, Pope Stephen has always been “viewed as a true pope by his successors and placed on the official papal list.”[8]  In other words, Steve Speray, who calls himself a Traditional Catholic, is quite pleased to publicly denounce what the Church holds to be true.
       Clearly, the public judgment of the Church, for over a thousand years, in holding Stephen to be a legitimate Pope, does not in any way hinder Speray from publicly affirming the exact opposite. In addition to the Protestant mindset of private judgment, it is also clear evidence of the arrogance and pride of these Sedevacantist apologists, who shamelessly imagine that their private judgment constitutes a “fact,” even when it is directly opposed to the public judgment of the Church. 
       And to show where this dangerous, Protestant mentality eventually leads, the Sedevacantist author, Richard Ibranyi, now claims that every single Pope for the past nine centuries has been an antipope.  You read that correctly. He claims that every Pope since the year 1130 – over one hundred Popes in a row – have been false usurpers of the Papal Throne. And he bases his position (which he considers to be a “fact”) on what he describes as “conclusive evidence.” In his own words:

       “As of January 2014, I have discovered conclusive evidence that all the so-called popes and cardinals from Innocent II (1130-1143) onward have been idolaters or formal heretics and thus were apostate antipopes and apostate anticardinals.”[9]

      And it is not just the last 100+ Popes that are subject to Mr. Ibranyi’s private judgment.  He also declares that all – yes “all” - of the theologians and canon lawyers for the past seven and a half centuries have been apostates! In Ibranyi’s own words:

       “Also all of the theologians and canon lawyers from 1250 onward have been apostates. Hence all their teachings, laws, judgments, and other acts are null and void. Therefore, all of the ecumenical councils, canon laws, and other acts from Apostate Antipope Innocent II onward are null and void.”[10]

       This, dear reader, is the fruit of the Sedevacantist mindset. Whether it is Fr. Anthony Cekada
Fr. Cekada
rejecting the last six consecutive Popes after Pius XII, Speray adding several pre-Vatican II Popes to the list, “Our Lady’s Resistance” rejecting all the Popes after Pius X, or Ibranyi declaring that all the Popes for the past nine centuries have been antipopes, it only shows why the legitimacy of a determined Pope is not a personal opinion to be decided by each Catholic for themselves. These rotten fruits alone demonstrate the complete absurdity of the Sedevacantist thesis.

Infallible Certitude of a Determined Pope

       Fortunately, Catholics aren’t left with the burden of deciding for themselves which Popes have been true Popes, since the Church’s judgment concerning the matter is infallible. The legitimacy of a determined Pope falls into the category of a dogmatic fact.  This fact (i.e., is the Pope a true Pope) is considered infallible when the Pope who is elected is peacefully and universally accepted by the Church. Msgr. Van Noort explains:

       “Assertion 2: The Church’s infallibility extends to dogmatic facts. This proposition is theologically certain. A dogmatic fact is a fact not contained in the sources of revelation, [but] on the admission of which depends the knowledge or certainty of a dogma or of a revealed truth. The following questions are concerned with dogmatic facts: ‘Was the [First] Vatican Council a legitimate ecumenical council? Is the Latin Vulgate a substantially faithful translation of the original books of the Bible? Was Pius XII legitimately elected Bishop of Rome? One can readily see that on these facts hang the questions of whether the decrees of the [First] Vatican Council are infallible, whether the Vulgate is truly Sacred Scripture, whether Pius XII is to be recognized as supreme ruler of the universal Church.”[11]

       Fr. Berry teaches the same in his Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise, The Church of Christ:

       “DOGMATIC FACTS. A dogmatic fact is one that has not been revealed, yet is so intimately connected with a doctrine of faith that without certain knowledge of the fact there can be no certain knowledge of the doctrine. For example, was the [First] Vatican Council truly ecumenical? Was Pius IX a legitimate pope? Was the election of Pius XI valid? Such questions must be decided with certainty before decrees issued by any council or pope can be accepted as infallibly true or binding on the Church. It is evident, then, that the Church must be infallible in judging of such facts, and since the Church is infallible in believing as well as in teaching, it follows that the practically unanimous consent of the bishops and faithful in accepting a council as ecumenical, or a Roman Pontiff as legitimately elected, gives absolute and infallible certainty of the fact.”[12]

       Here we see that the Church’s judgment concerning who is a true Pope is infallible. 

Rejection of a Dogmatic Fact is a Mortal Sin Against Faith

       In his 1951 book On the Value of Theological Notes and the Criteria for Discerning Them, Fr. Sixtus Cartechini, S.J., explains that the rejection of a dogmatic fact is a “mortal sin against faith”[13] (and the example he uses of a dogmatic fact is the legitimacy of a determine Pope). Hence, Sedevacantists - who publicly reject the Church’s judgment concerning the legitimacy of a determine Pope, in favor of their own personal opinion – have committed an objective mortal sin against the Faith. And, needless to say, those who follow the private opinions of these Sedevacantist apologists commit the same mortal sin (at least in the objective order). We can only hope that these individuals renounce their grievous error before they arrive at their Particular Judgment.

Cardinal Billot on the Church’s Acceptance of a Pope

       Cardinal Billot explains that the acceptance of a Pope by the universal Church is not only an infallible sign of his legitimacy, but it is also, quite logically, an infallible sign of the existence of all the conditions required for legitimacy (one condition being that the Pope is a member of the Church, and hence not a public heretic). Another relevant point the Cardinal makes is that God might permit an extended vacancy of the Apostolic See, but he cannot permit the whole Church to accept a false Pope as being the true Pope.  Here is Cardinal Billot’s teaching on this subject:

       “Finally, whatever you still think about the possibility or impossibility of the aforementioned hypothesis [of a Pope falling into heresy], at least one point must be considered absolutely incontrovertible and placed firmly above any doubt whatever: the adhesion of the universal Church will be always, in itself, an infallible sign of the legitimacy of a determined Pontiff, and therefore also of the existence of all the conditions required for legitimacy itself. … As will become even more clear by what we shall say later, God can permit that at times a vacancy in the Apostolic See be prolonged for a long time. He can also permit that doubt arise about the legitimacy of this or that election. He cannot however permit that the whole Church accept as Pontiff him who is not so truly and legitimately.
       “Therefore, from the moment in which the Pope is accepted by the Church and united to her as the head to the body, it is no longer permitted to raise doubts about a possible vice of election or a possible lack of any condition whatsoever necessary for legitimacy.  For the aforementioned adhesion of the Church heals in the root all fault in the election and proves infallibly the existence of all the required conditions.”[14]

       This teaching completely refutes the Sedevacantist claim that the recent Popes were not valid “matter” for the papacy (i.e., public heretics before being elected), since they were all accepted as Pope by the Church – at least by a moral unanimity of Catholics, which is the degree of acceptance necessary to provide infallible certitude. It also plainly refutes the claim of Speray, the sect known as “Our Lady’s Resistance,” Richard Ibranyi, and the other Sedevacantists who reject pre-Vatican II Popes. In fact, Cardinal Billot used this teaching to refute the claim, which was held by some at the time, that the scandalous Alexander VI was not a legitimate Pope.
       This was the opinion of Savonarola, who accused Alexander VI of being an unbeliever who had acquired the papal office illicitly by an act of simony. In a letter to the Prince, Savonarola said he did not believe Alexander VI to be the legitimate Pope because, as he argued, “apart from the execrable crime of simony, by which he got possession of the [papal] tiara … and quite apart from his other vices - well-known to all … the man is not a Christian, he does not even believe any longer that there is a God; he goes beyond the final limits of infidelity and impiety.”[15] Yet, in spite of Savonarola’s claim that Alexander was not a legitimate Pope, the Church has always recognized him as having been a true Pope. 
       Commenting on the case of Pope Alexander VI, Cardinal Billot explains that his legitimacy is confirmed by the fact that he had been accepted as Pope by the entire Church.  In the Cardinal’s own words:

       “Let this be said in passing against those who, trying to justify certain attempts at schism made in the time of Alexander VI, allege that its promoter [Savonarola] broadcast that he had most certain proofs, which he would reveal to a General Council, of the heresy of Alexander. Putting aside here other reasons with which one could easily be able to refute such an opinion, it is enough to remember this: it is certain that when Savonarola was writing his letters to the Princes, all of Christendom adhered to Alexander VI and obeyed him as the true Pontiff. For this very reason, Alexander VI was not a false Pope, but a legitimate one.”[16]

       But what do Sedevacantists say about the case of Alexander VI?  Not surprisingly, Steve Speray disagrees with the judgment of the Church and sides with Savonarola, even though, in the end Savonarola himself submitted to the excommunication that was imposed on him by Alexander VI, and, before being put to death, even knelt at the feet of Bishop Romolino to receive the blessing and plenary indulgence granted to him by the same Pope, which suggests that he had renounced his previous opinion about Alexander’s legitimacy. Yet in spite of this, Steve Speray wrote:

       “Sometime between the years of 1494 and 1494 A.D., Girolamo Savonarola denounced Alexander for simony, which according to the former, invalidated the election of Alexander thus making him an antipope. (…)  Although Alexander is considered a true pope, and listed as such on the official list, it appears that Savonarola was correct.[17]

       So notice, Speray admits that Alexander “is considered a true Pope” by the Church, and is even ”listed as such on the official list” of Popes, yet Speray disagrees with the Church based on his own private judgment. As we have seen, we have infallible certitude that Speray’s judgment is erroneous by the fact that Alexander was accepted as Pope by the Church. Therefore, as Cardinal Billot said, “Alexander VI was not a false Pope, but a legitimate one.”
       But none of this is likely to persuade Steve Speray or any of his Sedevacantist colleagues, since for them the public judgment of the Church means virtually nothing. When a Pope is elected and accepted by the Church, well, YOU DECIDE! It is curious to behold those who call themselves Catholics publicly and pertinaciously reject dogmatic facts without the least scruple, when doing so constitutes a mortal sin against the Faith. And, needless to say, this public sin cannot be forgiven unless they first repent and renounce their position which, for Sedevacantist apologists, requires a public retraction of their errors.
       Unfortunately, this has not yet occurred with any of the Sedevacantist apologists, who continue to publicly persevere in their position, even after being publicly proven wrong (with their latest defenses descending ever more into the quagmire of ad hominem attacks, dishonest arguments and self-contradictions). But this public sin against Faith (and consequent darkening of the intellect) does help to explain why Sedevacantist apologists are unable to see their way out of their glaring errors. For those entrenched in the darkness of Sedevacantism, prayer is the only hope.

[2] “Mystery of Iniquity: A Study of the Antichrist Since 1914,” pp. 27-28.
[3] Quoted in: Salza, J., Siscoe, R., True of False Pope? Refuting Sedevacantism and Other Modern Errors, STAS Editions, 2015, p. 320.
[4] Not only has the Church never declared that Honorius lost his office due to heresy, but the Church has also condemned the idea that Catholics can formally separate from their bishops if they personally believe them to be heretics, before a judgment of the Church (Constantinople IV; Ex Quo).
[5] Lane, John, “Concerning A SSPX Dossier On Sedevacantism.”
[6] Cekada, “Sedevacantism and Mr. Ferrara’s Cardboard Pope,” 2005.
[7] Speray, “Papal Anomalies and Their Implications.”
[8] Ibid.
[9] Richard Joseph Michael Ibranyi, “No Popes or Cardinals since 1130,” January 2014.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Msgr. Van Noort, Christ’s Church, p. 112 (emphasis added).
[12] Fr. E. Sylvester Berry, The Church of Christ, p. 290.
[13] See:
[14] Billot, Tractatus de Ecclesia Christi, vol. I, pp. 612-613 (emphasis added).
[15] Schnitzer, Savonarola, Italian translation by E. Rutili (Milan, 1931), vol. II, p. 303.
Quoted in Journet’s The Church of the Word Incarnate, p. 484 (emphasis added).
[16] Billot, Tractatus de Ecclesia Christi, vol. I, p. 613 (emphasis added).
[17] Speray, “Papal Anomalies,” pp. 133, 136.

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