In 2003, the priests of the Italian District of the SSPX prepared and published a slim volume titled Sedevacantism - A False Solution To a Real Problem. This was published, not only in Europe, but also translated into English and published in the United States that same year. It is what priests of the SSPX give to parishioners who ask about the Sede Vacante situation in the Church, and especially why it is that the SSPX has resisted the natural and logical tendency to arrive at that as a conclusion.
Except for a short preface signed by Rev. Fr. Michel Simoulin, the contents of this book are published anonymously. It is not known how many authors actually prepared its contents contents nor how they divvied up the labor among themselves. For lack of any names I shall simply call them "they" and "them" throughout this series. Any other "they" or "them" will simply have to be called out specifically as needed.
The time is long overdue for the Catholic community to respond to this curious little book. Some seem to think that it cannot be responded to, as an explanation for this silence. But maybe it just isn't clear how to answer much of it. And maybe the ability of such a book as this, and for so much time without any response, points to a genuine need for those of us who are sedevacantists to reevaluate our understanding of what it means to be a sedevacantist in the first place. I relish such a book exactly because it forces people to think. It asks the tough questions, namely those questions that many sedevacantists have been remiss by ignoring or refusing to address. Those questions and challenges most certainly can be faced and definitively and authoritatively answered, and that is the object of this series of mine.
Sedevacantism has taken on a number of forms since the initial discovery of the present reality regarding the canonical and ontological nature of the recent and current Vatican City leadership. And indeed, even many who are not sedevacantist, in the strict sense of that word, nevertheless realize they are bound to behave exactly as the more noble of the sedevacantists have behaved, in preserving the Faith whole and entire, even at the cost of losing face with the World (and the Flesh and the Devil), resisting the errors by whatever means or manner open to them, and even in striving to preserve a valid and orthodox hierarchical succession. Such persons are sedevacantists in practice, if not in abstract belief or principle.
It's time to take a look at the unpopular or uncomfortable questions, and this book provides as good of a jumping off point as any. We are all, as Fr. Simoulin writes in the Preface, "faced with the mystery that at present envelops the Church, confronted with a crisis situation to which no one can [or at least seems to] furnish an apodictic and completely satisfying theological explanation." His suggestion is to "practice the virtue of prudence" and he describes the position taken by His Excellency Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the SSPX as being a "prudential" one based on doing the right things (adopting the proper praxis) while avoiding the bigger questions as to what the situation actually is, how it arose, and how it is ultimately to be resolved.
For those who are not equipped theologically or intellectually to explore such abstract and theoretical questions, such a course is quite understandably a valid and reasonable one, and one for which I do not find fault, at least so long as those taking this course do not attempt to prevent others, who ARE so equipped, from pursuing the full nature of the Truth of the present situation, a most desperately necessary pursuit.
Obviously however, the solution to the present problem will not emerge from those who refuse to think about such matters, or who slavishly follow some "party-line" policy no matter what embarrassing or patently absurd nonsense such a position may lead one to. While such a course may be sufficient to one's own private salvation, it is not sufficient for all in the overall scheme of things. Some of us are simply called to lift our heads up from the trenches and take a look around so as to gain our bearings and look for a way ahead for the Church, even though that is not required of everyone in order to be saved.
"Faced with the mystery of the current situation of the Church, in no way can we claim to have understood and resolved every difficulty. Nor do we claim to have delivered some definitive theological or dogmatic definition. We do not claim to be infallible, nor do we desire in any way to condemn those who do not think as we do." Having admitted to not knowing everything and not having solved "every difficulty" how dare they pretend to be so cocksure that those of us who HAVE taken the time to investigate and study the theological and canonical nature of the present situation must therefore all be wrong. Obviously for them, any attempt to comprehend or understand the present situation is nothing more than seeking "elaborate and subtle theories in order to delude themselves that they are resolving the mystery of the Church."
If any and all such attempts were nothing more than self-delusion then we all might as well just throw up our hands and admit that God Himself has been defeated. It's time to forget Salvation and take up golf instead. Obviously, it must be possible to resolve the present situation, however inadequate any individual's attempt may nevertheless be, and furthermore, it is not enough that God (Who sees all) must know the way out, Men also have to know the way out, because ultimately it is Men who will act, as moved and guided by the Holy Ghost and carrying out the will of God for the Church in this frightening time.
Therefore I have extremely little patience for those who vaguely appeal to "mystery," whether stopping short of accepting the Sede Vacante finding itself, or even of those who do accept that finding but who then go no further, as if the finding itself somehow explained everything. It does not. If ever there is any real and valid point to this SSPX book, it is the fact that the Sede Vacante finding itself explains only a very few things, and itself also requires explanation. It is only one lone discovery out of many that precede it and many more that follow, all in one's coming to comprehend the present situation. For you see, I think legitimate complaints can be raised against both sides of that question.
Fr. Simoulin does raise the valid point that perhaps we sedevacantists have not carefully thought our finding through. That doesn't make it false, for it is all too patently and obviously true to deny, but it does mean that perhaps we sedevacantists would do well to think a bit deeper as to how this can be, and how God has prepared for this. Father states that this book does not "claim to refute these arguments directly, but limits itself to demonstrating that these arguments resolve nothing. On the contrary, they give rise to other problems which are equally insoluble, yet even graver."
Well you know, real discovery often tends to be like that. What is material stuff made of? Molecules. What are molecules made of? Atoms. What are atoms made of? Sub-atomic particles (protons, electrons, neutrons, etc.). What are sub-atomic particles made of? Quarks. What are quarks made of? And so on. Perhaps humanity and science will never get to the bottom of that question regarding simple crude matter. But with each deeper discovery something of value is nevertheless obtained, and our understanding of the Universe around us is improved.
Divine mysteries are the same. How it is that the Three Persons of God are not each other and yet all the one God? (Mystery of the Holy Trinity) How can the fullness of God in infinite glory be contained in the simple frame of a single man walking on the earth at a specific time and place in history? (Mystery of the Incarnation) How can an organization made up of sinners, many being even quite criminally fallen, be nevertheless the Mystical Body of the sinless Christ, the "Perfect Society"? (Mystery of the Church) Yes, these mysteries, like the mystery of crude matter, can never be plumbed though we have all eternity to explore them, and good thing too, for what would we do in Heaven once we should come to fully understand everything about God and all of His Divine Mysteries? In Heaven, our praise should never have to be "Well God, that was great. Now what?"
But is the mystery of the present situation (as distinct from that eternal Mystery of the Church), merely to be subsumed into that (or any other) great eternal Mystery? If that were truly the case then Bishop Zinelli would have been wrong to say at the First Vatican Council that "God is never lacking in necessary things; if He permits a great evil, the means of remedying such an evil will not be lacking." This present mystery therefore has to be finite. The situation has to be remediable. It has to be like the mystery of a Whodunit story, or the mystery of how a stage magician accomplishes a certain trick. These sorts of mysteries do not plunge infinitely deeper and deeper (though there may still be, onion-like, many layers upon layers to them). Ultimately one can and does arrive at "the bottom of it" if one digs far enough.
The book starts off with some noble sentiments: "We did not want to descend to the polemical level of our critics. For this reason we continue to avoid citing their literary productions. So as not to embitter our relations with priests who were once our brothers, or with faithful who were once our friends, we have chosen to remain silent, and we shall continue to do so." And again: "We intend to avoid any personal references to or caricatures of individuals, their characters or possible personal defects. The only effect of doing so would be to prevent a serene and dispassionate reflection on the very important question we are posing. We hope to disappoint those who may look for gossip or grist for unseemly speculation in these pages. If for the sake of argument we are obliged to cite certain texts and authors we do so not to injure any persons or confreres. We hope in this way to contribute to the creation of a climate of true charity which may serve as the platform for a just estimation of reality and of possible divergences. Perhaps it is the precariousness of such a platform that has until now prevented calm discussion of this subject." These are most noble words, pointing to a most noble standard. Regrettably, the contents of the book will do at best only a rather uneven job of adhering to this nobility.
For example, the very next thing stated is that "It should also be recognized that within the ranks of the sedevacantists there are some who would like to see a calm and dispassionate discussion of the problem and who are trying, if at times haltingly, to create a constructive atmosphere." Well of course there are such, indeed far more of us who are such than who are not. And probably there would be even more like us if only our adversaries in this dispute were to refrain from insulting our intelligence and picking fights at every turn. However, be all that as it may, this much is true: "Charity obliges us to both foster such a climate and to tell the truth."
The book next attempts to sidle up to us sedevacantists by citing a common point of departure, namely the clear and present duty which they (the writers) and we both recognized as essential to Catholic piety, namely every Catholic's Divine obligation to reject the novelties resulting from, and otherwise following, Vatican II. In that, they establish that they who write this book are therefore fellow Catholics attempting to criticize us within the context of a Catholic system of belief, and not merely some outside party with mere "off the wall" objections.
I do take exception on one statement within that single paragraph which states that "All 'traditionalists' are heirs to the opposition to conciliar errors which found its first concrete expression during the Council itself and became visible in the Coetus Internationalis Patrum." Well excuse me, but true as that is, so far as it goes, we "traditionalists" are heirs to a great deal more. We alone are heirs to about 2,000 years of Christian and Church history. All of what our Lord Jesus Christ came into this earth to do and found has become our exclusive heritage and legacy, ours alone, to bear the full weight of without even the help of the vast numbers and resources we had only a couple generations ago, an awesome burden for so unworthy a congregation as we comprise today, but ours none the less, and for which the loss of any part we shall bear full responsibility. We are not on the sidelines. We are the only players on the field; it is everyone else who is on the sidelines.
Next follows a rather incomplete history of the Sede Vacante finding as it gradually came to be known. The prompt stance of Fr. Gommar DePauw (though he never admitted this finding), the pioneering doubts in the mind of one Patrick Henry Omlor clear back in 1965, the even more pioneering public declarations and teachings of one Francis Schuckardt back in 1967-1969, the prompt refusal of conciliar aberrations of Fr. Lawrence Brey in 1967, the researches of Pere Gérard des Lauriers and his subsequent consecration by His Excellency Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngo-dinh-Thuc, and so much more all go unmentioned as attention is all focused on one Mexican Jesuit, Joaquin Sáenz Y Arriaga, who wrote two books of mention here, one in 1971 which did not address the pope question at all, and the second in 1973 which finally ventured a sedevacantist scenario of some sort, but a primitive one which "seems to have had practically no echo outside Mexico."
Next there is brought up (briefly) the person of Fr. Noel Barbara who began writing of this issue in 1976. We are not given even the slightest details of what he actually wrote in that year, only that whatever it was, it contained "the presuppositions that within a short span of time would irremediably divide sedevacantism itself and manifest its internal contradictions." That's one hell of an accusation to just throw out there and then not defend with even so much as a list of what these "presuppositions" would happen to be, but instead quickly move on to other subjects.
As future installments shall go on to show, there are no "internal contradictions" to the Sede Vacante finding at all. Instead, there is merely the fact that the answer to some questions can themselves often raise further questions. And then there is the fact that, until the definitive answers can be found, there will be multiple alternative, and to some degree rival, solutions proposed. In some cases any one single mind might typically entertain both mutually exclusive possibilities, but in other cases actual camps united around one possibility or the other have occasionally formed.
Concerning some particular Vatican leader (e. g. Paul VI), was he validly elected to the papacy, only to lose it subsequently, or did his "election" itself somehow fail to make a pope of him? Clearly it must be one or the other, not both. And yet we have no organized camps of "he-lost-it" on one hand and "he-never-got-it" on the other. But regarding some other question such as whether these Vatican leaders might still be "popes" in some "material" sense while plainly not in any "formal" sense, there are some who champion this very idea as necessary to a valid ecclesiology (and certainly, something of the sort most certainly IS necessary) while others reject it, apparently as "too complicated" for people to understand.
The vast majority of this book is focused on those of the former camp. As such, all too many sedevacantists have simply found this book mostly irrelevant to the issue. This may account for some of the delay in addressing it. An absolute sedevacantist, one who does not accept the Formaliter/Materialiter position of the Cassiciacum thesis, would therefore find the detailed attempt at a refutation of the Cassiciacum thesis contained in this book altogether without interest.
They who wrote this book however, spending all too little time with the "absolute" (or "primitive" or "rigorous" or "simple" or "strict") sedevacantists, simply seem to accept the criticisms of that position made by those of the Formaliter/Materialiter position at face value, as though that were all that is needed. There is scant little they can add, and most of that concerns the idea of organizing a conclave to remedy the present situation. "The question is not of merely historical interest but is entirely contemporary, since still today we are faced with the consequences of these same premises. If Paul VI was not the pope, where indeed was the Church? If Paul VI was not the pope, whence would the Church be 'reborn'? Who would one day be able to elect a true pope? If Paul VI was not the pope, who could formally declare this fact before the Christian world, which continued to recognize him as the true pope? At stake was, and remains, the visibility of the Church and her continuity over time (indefectibility), constitutive and indispensible elements for the very existence of the Catholic Church."
After this follows a short discussion of conclavism. So let's talk about that. In the book, relatively little is done other than to poke fun at how many "popes" currently litter the landscape. What the book neglects to mention is that only the barest handful of them have actually gone through the motions of a conclave. The vast majority of them have simply hung out their shingle as "pope" and expected the people to fall in line, and then expressed surprise when they didn't. Some claim some sort of "Mystic vision" in which "Jesus" or "Mary" or some other saint or angel appeared to them and invisibly put a crown of the papacy on them. Of course, in each of these cases only the "pope" so divinely appointed ever seems to have been entitled to share in the vision. But of these more than 20 supposed "claimants" many make no real claim to even being Catholics at all, one is even an open and avowed Satanist, and well over half claim neither conclave nor vision. There have been a few who were specifically appointed by their predecessor and who simply assumed office upon the death of their predecessor. The rest seem to have merely hung out their shingle as "pope" with no attempt at any explanation whatsoever.
In point of fact, the actual conclaves that have occurred (and produced a "pope," since there were a few others that didn't) could be numbered on the fingers of one hand, and you wouldn't even need the thumb. The three I know of best were each initially organized and started at the mediation of one Ken Mock, a most dedicated conclavist who really has taken the time to scour the earth in search of valid and lawful cardinals and bishops willing to be involved in such a project, even (if necessary) in their dotage. In each of the three cases however, having started it and given it a certain momentum, he subsequently withdrew for various reasons. When I first spoke to him (on the phone; I have never met him, nor do I have any idea what has become of him since withdrawing from his third and last conclave project), he was explaining to me in some detail his efforts to dissuade one David Bawden from going through with a mini-conclave consisting of his immediate family members, and taking the name of Pope Michael I. What he never mentioned in that conversation (I had to learn of this elsewhere from other people) was that the whole thing had been started at his instigation. Ken Mock went on to organize and begin conclaves again, but again in each of the two cases, one that elected Victor von Pentz (taking the name of Pope Linus II), and one that elected Fr. Lucian Pulvermacher (taking the name of Pope Pius XIII), he withdrew his support of the effort when things got out of hand, before the election itself in each case.
More recently, another conclave took place involving even some bishops, but who these bishops are I do not know, only that they were neither Novus Ordo bishops, nor known and established traditional bishops. Who they were and where they came from is unknown, and the man they elected, one Oscar Michaelli, taking the name of Pope Leo XIV, passed away in less than a year, and his successor was not elected in a conclave but (apparently) by express appointment of this Leo XIV. And then even this successor resigned within only a few months. So whatever might have resulted from this effort again no longer exists. Even if it had merit (and maybe it might possibly could have, give or take the caliber of the actual bishops electing, and of the man elected, of all of which I know nothing), it's all over. That succession has quickly ended and accomplished nothing.
I realize that there is a common tendency on the part of many to treat these efforts with disdain. I think that attitude is uncalled for. The fact is that there must one day be a true Pope again. And the only way to get one is to elect one; hence a "conclave" MUST one day occur. One may fault these four for running too far way ahead of the Church which is not quite ready for a real papal conclave, and also for the poor choice of candidates they have one and all elected, but most certainly not for attempting what must one day be done. For that particular desire I have nothing but unqualified praise. The Church needs a pope, a real one, that is. As Fr. Anthony Cekada once put it, "reason tells us that an organization that is headless disintegrates, and our Lord Himself in Holy Scripture says 'Strike the Shepherd and the sheep are scattered." A truer thing has never been said. And only we real and authentic Catholics have the power to elect one.
It is a bit of a mystery why it is that our respectable sedevacantist clergy seem to be one and all uninterested in organizing such a conclave. The Formaliter/Materialiter clergy at least have the lame excuse that they still hope a false Vatican can somehow nevertheless create a true pope (for at least that would be consistent with their theory), but of the absolute sedevacantist, the SSPX book correctly talks about the "logic that, beginning from a pure and simple sedevacantism, has led and continues to lead directly to conclavism, and indeed seems to act incoherently if it fails to do so." So why would so many of this deliberately act so incoherently? Let's look at the reasons, in descending order of validity or relevance:
1) It is not yet time. As I will go on to discuss below, the conclave, in order to be truly respected and recognized by the Church, and to have canonical force, must meet certain criteria, in particular the unity of various presently disparate traditional groups all acting here in unison, in all Christian charity and submission to the Will of the Holy Ghost. So long as certain of our episcopal clerics insist upon disrespecting, ignoring, or even outright "excommunicating" their canonical peers and fellow workers in the Lord's harvest, how are they ever going to be gathered into one room and made to work together? There are of course those who sow division, supposedly to exalt one side or another at the expense of the other, but the true purpose behind this sowing of division has been to prevent the time from becoming ripe for a conclave. As long as the Church can be kept disunited and fighting within itself, it will continue to disintegrate.
2) We might have to endure a temporary loss of face. There always seems to be some backlash from any positive step taken to advance the cause of the Gospel, and even sincere Christians can often get roped into behaving most criminally against the goads of God by their deliberate and vindictive refusal to recognize the authority of those who have taken action. Recall how Fr. Gérard des Lauriers lost the respect of even many of his Cassiciacum community when he took the desperately needed step of becoming a bishop. I think many clerics fear this loss of face as they will be seen by some as having acted rashly or too quickly (when in fact even if they could do this today they have actually acted way too slowly and with far too much deliberation and delay). Actually this should be compared to Vatican I wherein many thought it an inopportune time to declare the infallibility of the pope, even though they already accepted the doctrine to be true. And providing that the one elected acts responsibly I believe this can eventually be overcome.
3) Finally, I think there are some few clerics who have become just a little too much accustomed to being their own boss in the Church, to not having to answer to anyone, and to being able to hold on to their pet theories and prejudices without anyone to rein them in. It is a scary enough thing to be placed in submission to another, even when that another is benign and a most good and capable leader and most orthodox and wise and saintly. And it is only all the more difficult when the person one submits to is unknown in intent, or even decidedly with some problems as to make the bare fact of subjection to them an embarrassment.
There are no other reasons. Any others conjured up, perhaps even in response to this essay or any others like it, will of course either have to be reiterations of the above three (though few will be honest enough to admit that #3 is their driving reason, #2 merely an additive reason, and #1 purely just an excuse), or else invent silly and patently absurd "reasons" which, by their nature, will necessarily have to be so stupid as to be altogether unworthy of refutation. If our clerics will not act, then it is for us the laity to lean on them, hard, and not allow them to doubletalk their way out of doing their clear and present duty.
Perhaps some will claim that the Vatican has to elect the next pope. Never mind the obvious fact that even if they could somehow, despite all being non-Catholics, elect an actual Catholic to lead them, they still nevertheless do not possess the canonical authority to do so, and such an election would still not produce a pope. For the Vatican to regain that authority they must first of all become Catholics, second of all revoke Vatican II, third of all come to have valid bishops (by having all of those invalidly "consecrated" finally be actually consecrated), and fourth of all earn the trust of the faithful traditional Catholic clergy who alone have the authority to impart jurisdiction to them, thereby making them capable of being (or consecrating) a valid bishop to be Bishop of Rome.
Will they ever jump through all these hoops? Despite Benedict XVI's recent overtures towards Catholics, the political climate of that organization remains adamantly opposed to Faith, and the only thing more hated than the Faith itself would be those few particular clerics who stand for the Faith without reservation, regardless of whether they are part of that organization or not (and anyone defending it too loudly gets the boot). It is as if they seriously believe that the Truth can be made untrue merely by eliminating those who speak it! They have fallen a long, long way, and that difficult climb back up to Life and Truth is plainly beyond the capabilities of any but the barest handful of individuals remaining therein. Benedict XVI's overtures were his organization's last train to Tradition, and practically nobody got on board, to the point that even he himself has lost all interest in it, having folded up Eccesia Dei and handed over the "discussions" with His Excellency Bishop Bernard Fellay to a guy named Levada. And there, it is Levada who does all the talking; Fellay's options are to listen up or walk out. Even the only mildly tradition-leaning Archbishop Ranjith has been exiled. The more traditional-minded Cardinal Stickler is now dead. When the famous "Motu's" three years have passed and the study results assimilated, there is much to fear for its future.
The rest of the Church simply cannot afford to be held hostage to Vatican politics and infighting. Be assured, the infighting that goes on over there is vastly worse and dirtier than anything that has ever passed among us traditional Catholics. Where our fights have all been open and above-board (if not always honest), theirs are sneaky and devious and carefully hidden under the table ("warfare concealed"). Over there everyone has to keep secret files on everybody else and it's all about "Which high official can I blackmail into sending my opponent to some extinct diocese in Siberia?" and "How much of what I have on So-and-so am I going to go public with so that I can make it clear to them that I mean business, while at the same time retaining enough other much worse stuff with which to continue to threaten them with?" And we're just supposed to wait around for these types to get serious about pleasing God and seeking the Truth and electing an actual Catholic to lead them back to the Church and back to the Faith? That is the same thing as saying that the Church is just supposed to go popeless and disintegrating further and further clear until the end of time.
So, if we who are the Church decide to begin organizing our own papal conclave and not continue waiting for them to get their act together (a wait that shall NEVER end, so committed are they to their errors and heresies), how can we go about doing this without creating yet another fiasco on par with the previous attempts? Is the bare fact of lay involvement in a conclave necessarily a bad thing? Recall that fully eight historic popes were elected each by a single layman. Five of them were elected by the layman Alberic (one of whom was Alberic's own son - now how's that for nepotism?), and three more were elected by the layman Crescentius. And consider the crucial role played by the Emperor of Europe in vetoing the seriously unqualified papal electee Cardinal Rampolla at the conclave that subsequently elected Giuseppe Sarto to be the saintly Pope Pius X. Nevertheless, it is essential that bishops of the Church must be part of the process. As we have already seen, laymen are not sufficient to provide us with a pope in the present situation. Using bishops in that last of the four actual listed conclaves was definitely a step in the right direction, but here the question arises as to who were these bishops? None of them seems to have any known record of ministering to the Church. All of them are described as "vagrant bishops." That means that all of them trace their orders to the Old Catholics, the East Orthodox, the Duarte line, and some may be from the Palmar de Troya line which, though coming from Archbishop Thuc, has properly come to be viewed as being of no superior status to the others. They may be bishops (if the consecrations are valid), and they may be Catholics (if believing and upholding all that the Church teaches), but that does not make them Catholic bishops. Such have merely sent themselves and as such can have no historic apostolic mission.
The same is not true for the traditional bishops of whom I have often written. While a fallen and "endarkened" world (which at this point would not know a Catholic from a catheter) may mislabel our holy bishops to be "vagrant bishops" (for, like the Apostle Paul they have no specific territorial diocese), the fact remains that they do indeed have a valid apostolic mission, as voluntarily and without simony chosen and imparted to them by the bishops before them going back to the unquestioned succession as accepted by hundreds of popes throughout history. There are several reasons why these bishops all have canonical authority, where those stemming from the historically schismatic lines would be lacking one or more:
1) Vatican II attempts to grant salvific power and jurisdiction to any and every possible cleric under all circumstances (though it can only validly succeed in the case of authentically valid and orthodox Catholic clerics). This is the only requirement that can be met by those "vagrant bishops."
2) Any prolonged vacancy of the papal office renders inapplicable any canonical rules regarding the necessity for a papal mandate in order to consecrate a bishop. Indeed, during the several year vacancy between Popes Clement IV and Blessed Gregory X nearly a dozen bishops were thus consecrated legitimately, always by other bishops who were legitimate, though of other dioceses.
3) Archbishops Thuc and Lefebvre, and Bishops de Castro-Meyer and Mendez, each and all intended to convey the same apostolic mission, which each of them indisputably possessed, to their successors, to continue in their work and effort to continue and restore the Church. Though they stopped short of actually assigning them to any particular diocesan territories, clearly they did all fully intend to impart the fullness of the same valid Apostolic mission that they themselves possessed, having received it from the Church. This therefore makes their successors to be truly "sent" by the Church in a visible manner. Those who misrepresented themselves to Archbishop Thuc and thereby obtained a consecration through deception do not count as they had their own agenda and not his, but there were also those who had his agenda and who have continued the Church validly and lawfully.
4) In addition to all that, in the case of Archbishop Thuc in particular, it is also documented that even before Vatican II he had personally been granted the authority to consecrate bishops without need of a pontifical mandate. I think it is fair to state however, that the intent, explicit in his case, would reasonably and legitimately extend to the others following in his footsteps and serving in the same capacity in this dark and difficult day, and doing so for the same ends.
It is notable that apparently none of the bishops who meet all four of these criteria were participants in that election, hence its status most likely being similar to that of the three purely lay conclaves that preceded it. While Vatican II's jurisdiction would have to extend to any and all, and some participants in that election may have come from Archbishop Thuc (via Palmar de Troya), none of them can show an unbroken line of being legitimately "sent" by the Church the way that the bishops can of whom I have written. And finally, it resulted only in a short succession which ended after two "popes," the second resigning after only a few months, and himself not having been elected with a conclave but chosen by his predecessor.
So it should start becoming clear just what cast of characters would be capable of such a conclave. And there must one day be a real conclave, so let's start talking about what would be like, assuming of course that we are not speaking of a Vatican conclave somehow giving us a true pope.
In the absence of cardinals, the election of a pope must devolve either to some "roman congregation" or else the Catholic bishops. Law is unclear as to which, but the present circumstance makes the way ahead clear enough. Presently, there is no appreciable "roman congregation" worthy of the name remaining, though there might still be a few individual authentic traditional Catholic priests who have long been stationed in the area, and they, along with the Catholic bishops, should also be invited to the conclave as voting members. To prevent abuses, any priest from Rome (city itself or the surrounding suburbs) to count as important to invite and worthy to vote must have been there for several years, have a congregation of regular attendees at their Mass who look to him as their spiritual father, and the priest himself must be ordained either before the damage done to Holy Orders (1968) or else ordained by a traditional bishop who is "sent" as discussed above, and in present obedience to that bishop or his successor.
However, the key members of the conclave must be the faithful traditional bishops of the Church, most particularly those who are "sent." Other bishops, "unsent," can also be admitted if individually vetted by those who are "sent." I recommend a 2/3 plus one vote for passing any "unsent" bishop into the category of "sent," and the 2/3 plus one vote refers to each of individual "sent" bishops as well as the electors in favor representing at least 2/3 of the individual worldwide Traditional Catholic Faithful. This of course gives greater weight to those with a larger congregation and prevents a large number of bishops with tiny congregations from outvoting what few bishops have substantial congregations, or one or a few bishops with substantial congregations outvoting the majority of bishops. "Unsent" bishops successfully vetted and approved by the "sent" bishops (and consecrated, if necessary) are from that point to be counted exactly as "sent" bishops in all further proceedings.
Every episcopal lineage and significant school of thought must be represented, at least by one person and preferably by all bishops of said lineage or significant school of thought. Ergo, there should be present bishops of the Lefebvre and de Castro-Meyer line, the Mendez line, and the Thuc line, and in addition any further lines as may yet join us in the years to come, for example stemming from the Eastern Rites. An episcopal lineage is only excused if it is extinct (no living successors). An individual bishop of a line nevertheless still represented by other bishops may be excused only for reasons of grave ill-health, and excluded only for grave heresy (e. g. Bishop Beddingfelt and his successors who follow the unelected "pope" in Canada together with all of his heresies, or all Palmar de Troya bishops who follow (or come from those who followed) the unelected "pope" in Spain). Some slack should be provided to those coming from the Vatican providing that they agree to be consecrated (where necessary), have a history of having shown some real sympathy for Tradition, Catholic doctrine, or Catholic morals, and who are in this action willing to make their break with the Vatican.
"Unsent" bishops to be admitted come in two categories, those stemming from the historically schismatic lines but having abjured the errors of their line, and those appointed as "bishops" (though invalidly consecrated) by the Novus Ordo, providing that they are willing to participate in this, and also willing to be consecrated conditionally or absolutely, as necessary in the individual case. It is important that there would be at least a few who would be fresh in coming over from the Novus Ordo, as a clear affirmation that even they can see that "the torch has been passed" back over to the real and authorized holders of Tradition.
Now I realize that getting all of these people into a single room, let alone prompting them to act as a unit, as the true leaders of the Church which they all in fact are, and especially willing to elect and submit to a pope, is probably the most difficult thing to do. Many years may well be required to organize this effort. And even once a majority might finally be willing to do this, a minority may well have to be forced. This is reminiscent of the original "conclave" in which the papal electors were forcibly detained in a room until they could elect someone, and in time even deprived of a roof in order to spur the election along.
This last part is where we the laity can come in. First and foremost, we need to begin applying pressure to our bishops to be willing and able to do this. A good idea would be to withhold all financial contributions of any kind to said bishop so long as he stubbornly resists (but put the money that would have gone to him into a special fund which is to become his once he complies). We need to speak to them about the importance of getting along with their canonical peers and of working together, perhaps first on minor charitable projects such as homeless shelters and soup kitchens, and later on in more specifically apostolic endeavors such as missions. We need to help them come to understand the full nature of the present situation, of their canonical place in the Church today, and their authority and duty to hold this conclave. There is nothing unreasonable here. We are expecting of them nothing they do not voluntarily agree to do every morning when they don their miter. We ask of them only that they do their job.
We laity can help organize and fund such a conclave. We can even play a crucial role in forcing the more recalcitrant members to attend. Far more important it is for us to hold them accountable to the man they elect, so that they don't just "elect" someone to get out of the room and then disregard him thereafter. At the conclave, perhaps some few of us could be permitted to give speeches and short exhortations, but the vote has to be only for them to do. That function is, after all, their part and most certainly not ours.
Finally, we need to think about the sort of person to elect. One of the biggest problems with the previous conclaves has been not merely that they were organized and conducted by laymen (or "vagrant bishops" in the one case), but rather the caliber (or more pointedly, the lack of caliber) of the man so elected. After all, some eight historical "conclaves," long accepted unconditionally by the Church, have proceeded with far less than even the least of these. Recall however that some popes of history have been "deposed." Of course, canonically that is not really possible, but there have been those who were more attached to their own corrupt agenda than to the Church, and who thus gladly accepted being "deposed" as a condition of being allowed to get away from Rome alive. A bad pope or a stupid pope can only detract from the status of the Church, and now with even papal claims (by anyone) being at all times suspect, a pope now above all needs to be most wise, saintly, and prudential, and with a clear love of the Church and the Voice of the True Shepherd.
The next true pope will have to face being not accepted by much of the Church, as the reputation of the papacy must slowly be re-earned in the sight of Church and World. He must therefore be patient with those who have long been betrayed again and again, and who therefore find it difficult to trust. Not that he can allow them a free rein to wander indefinitely, but any cleric who has not submitted to him after a most wise and saintly rule of, say, two years, should be met and consulted. "Is there anything that I have done that you think a pope could not do?" If there is you talk about it. "Providing I give no cause to reject or resist me, what reasonable period of time might you need for me to gain your trust?" They must name a time, no more than, say, five years, and hopefully typically less, by the end of which they must submit or face discipline.
The next true pope should not be so young as to be impetuous or demanding of rapid absolutes, or capable of quick or rash judgment, but neither should he be so old as to be one foot in the grave and unlikely to last the year. Some "wise well beyond their years" would be ideal to provide some lengthy continuity in the Church, and for such a pope to build up a reputation for capable leadership of the Church. The faith of the people has been shattered, and only slowly will it be re-grown. With each action he takes he can either build on that reputation or else he can tear it down. One stupid or unfortunate act could undo years of good service, so he must act slowly, with much deliberation and with the guidance of many counselors taken from the ranks of the most wise and respectable from Tradition.
The next true pope would be well-advised to avoid making any new doctrinal declarations of any kind for at least 10, preferably more like 20 or 30 years, and even then only most rarely. The one exception I make to this however would be that he should not waste much time in affirming with all "ex cathedra" authority that the description of Baptism of Blood and Desire, as encapsulated in the 1949 letter of the Holy Office, is to be recognized by one and all of the Church as now having been infallibly confirmed. Quiet as things would be in the doctrinal area, in the realm of discipline a number of things ought to happen. Vatican II must be revoked. Clerics who have been at odds in their understandings of the situation, of each other's status or validity, or of various other canonical or disciplinary issues must be brought together and required to work out their differences. Rulings may be made, so long as said rulings are as careful and impartial as possible.
The pope should as quickly as possible (perhaps even upon emerging from the conclave) together with the bishops consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I have no doubt that once this happens there will quite soon be a visitation to Russia which will lead to many conversions therein, and ultimately to the conversion of the nation. I should not be surprised if our Lady should put in an appearance somewhere that very night, or the next day, certainly within a very few years at the outside. Between a most wise and worthy rule on the one hand, and the Divine acceptance as evidenced by such a miracle either itself in Russia or else at least gaining a particular significant following in Russia, the true pope should have much cause to see growth, as the fallen Vatican merely continues its march into decadence and decay and an astonished world comes to see that God has visited His people.
What better way, along with prayer, in hastening the Triumph of Mary's Immaculate Heart?