November 3, 2009
vol 20, no. 307

The Case of the Disappearing Disappearance

Part 4 of a Series on the SSPX-published book, Sedevacantism - A False Solution To a Real Problem

    The authors of the book attempt to calumniate those who hold that during a time when the Chair is vacant, true bishops not only compose the Teaching Church but also have full Power of Jurisdiction. After stumbling through this, the SSPX authors then turn around and reinforce the very arguments that prove Sedevacantists are right. Duh! Since the Society has been well known to waffle in never settling on a set theological position, thus causing constant confusion among the faithful, should we be surprised at the contradictions that exist in their feeble attempt to berate the position of those who hold Sede Vacante? With those who continue to straddle the fence, it's a "now you see it, now you don't" scenario where the rabbit the SSPX authors are trying to pull out of their hat actually becomes the Mad Hatter in a scenario right out of Alice in Wonderland with the tales they stretch to try to make their points; points that get swallowed up like the oysters by the walrus. Perhaps if they could extricate themselves from this tenebrious labyrinth of convoluted fantasy and see things in the light of day and tradition, they'd see without a shadow of doubt, the undeniable deviation of the faith by the conciliar church collective and that the only true Teaching Church in action today with the full Power of Jurisdiction are those true successors of the Apostles who have not compromised one iota with the Modernists.

      "I point you all again to the traditional bishops, for they are indisputably orthodox, indisputably validly consecrated bishops, indisputably 'chosen' and 'sent' as are all truly lawful bishops of the Church, and indisputably delegated the authority to teach, guide, bless, and govern the Church by the same document that effected the rise of the current situation and terminated the Vatican institution's former identity with the visible Church."

    Part 2 of the book Sedevacantism - A False Solution To a Real Problem dives straight into claiming that sedevacantists teach the end of the Teaching Church, and the end of the Power of Jurisdiction. A more splendid misdirection I cannot imagine. It asks, first with one, then with the other, as to when it is that these things are supposed to have ceased. This is the literary equivalent of asking a man when he stopped beating his wife. The question itself contains assumptions that in the end prove groundless, but quite a way to insinuate quite a bit.

    First, with the Teaching Church, the book whiles away pages with such statements as the following: "Placing ourselves in a sedevacantist perspective, we are immediately faced with a first and insurmountable difficulty. The sedevacantist thesis cannot in any way explain where the Teaching Church has ended. The fact that within the Church there ought to be a permanent teaching body, with the mandate and the authority to teach, instituted by our Lord Himself, is a dogmatic given contained in the Gospel, the catechism, and of course in manuals of theology," and again, "Sedevacantism responds to this insurmountable difficulty, which touches the faith directly, in very different ways. This difficulty, more than any other - precisely because it is insurmountable - irremediably divides the sedevacantists and reveals their most profound puzzlements," and again, "Rigorist sedevacantism is constrained to admit that the Teaching Church no longer exists. She has literally disappeared without leaving a trace and will rise again with the creation of a true pope," and again, "if the Teaching Church in fact no longer exists, despite the existence of a legitimate and legal material hierarchy, then Jesus has not kept His promise to the apostles," and finally "however solid and firm our faith in the charisms of the hierarchy (the Teaching Church) may be, it would disintegrate into nothingness if we were to allow for its temporary nonexistence or deny its indefectible nature."

    What all of this conceals however is what sedevacantists of virtually every stripe actually believe and teach about the Teaching Church. In point of fact, there is not a single sedevacantist (of the least repute) who actually maintains that the Teaching Church has ceased to exist. Maybe, maybe, some extreme home-aloner might posit such a claim, though as I write this I know not even of any one of these, and can therefore safely say that not a single sedevacantist whose name I know claims the nonexistence of the Teaching Church. Not one.

    So, what is all of this language about here in the book? Suppose we were to ask as visibly and loudly, "At what point or time does the SSPX claim that the Teaching Church ended?" Of course the authors of the book would take offense and state that the SSPX does not claim that the Teaching Church ever ended. And they would be correct in that response. Well, the same goes for us, but I think this also shows here that we sedevacantists most certainly do have every equal right in justice to take offense at their suggesting that any of us ever did make such a claim.

    Certainly, on the remote off-chance that some extreme home-aloner might actually posit such a claim, the book makes admirable enough points to the effect that such a claim would be itself quite heretical:

The Teaching Church is, therefore, a perennial, constitutive, and essential element of the Catholic Church. This means that without the Teaching Church the Catholic Church would become something else, different from the Church founded by Christ, just as a man without a soul would no longer be a man but a cadaver, or a sea without water would become a salt mine. In other words, the Teaching Church, in its perennial nature, is not simply an integrating part of the Church, like a man's hand (even if the hand is lost he remains a man, albeit mutilated and no longer whole). Nor is it an element accessory to the Church, such as e. g. the Franciscan Order. It is in fact an inescapable part of the Church and a condition sine qua non for her existence.

    So of course, the Teaching Church must still exist, and still does. Interestingly enough, the book itself on the first page of the second part actually explains how it is that a mere Sede Vacante finding would not imply any "end" of the Teaching Church. They state that this Teaching Church, "This teaching body, constituted by the ensemble of residential [more about the abuse of this term here] bishops under the authority of the bishop of Rome, is perennial by divine institution and will endure necessarily and without interruption until the end of time. Even in ordinary periods of a vacant See (between the death of a pope and the election of his successor) this body persists - in the episcopacy - as a teaching body, naturally in need of a new pope and under the authority foreseen by the Apostolic See for times of a vacant See. It would be monstrous to suppose that the Teaching Church dies with a pope, to be then resurrected on the day of the election of a new pontiff."

    So there it is. The Teaching Church resides in the bishops of the Church during any period of a vacant See. Now, just as it would indeed be "monstrous to suppose that the Teaching Church dies with a pope, to be then resurrected on the day of the election of a new pontiff," likewise is it equally monstrous to suggest that the fact of a Sede Vacante situation in the Church (as diagnosed by sedevacantists) would in any way imply that the Teaching Church has "died," waiting to be resurrected with the election of a new pontiff. And of course, right there is the answer.

    But notice that they inserted the word "residential" before "bishops" in the one small deviation their answer makes from the truth. Of course, nearly all bishops over time have been "residential bishops" of one form or another. In the earliest days of the Church, some would simply establish themselves in a particular city and serve the Church therein to the end of their days. So, for example, the Apostle St. James remains in Jerusalem to serve the Church in Judea. St. Mark (who wrote the Gospel of the same name) went to Alexandria (in Egypt) and did likewise. Ananias (who laid hands on Paul to give him back his sight after his "Road to Damascus" experience) went to Damascus and served there.

    In later centuries, the Church set up a "diocesan" structure in which the bishops not only set up in some city for life, but in addition had some rigidly defined "border" to the territory over which they ruled their portion of the Church. In the beginning this wasn't necessary since a person, having equally lawful recourse to any of two or more bishops readily available, could trust that any one of them spoke for all and for the Church. If ever one bishop approved of something that the next did not approve of, then the question could be referred to the Bishop of Rome who would arbitrate between them, settle the dispute, and enforce a uniform policy between the bishops. But in time this became rather impractical and the Church instead set up boundaries between one bishop's domain of authority and another's, such that each person had only one specific bishop to whom they would have recourse for any episcopal needs. A large number of bishops with a large number of questions would eventually render the Bishop of Rome unable to do anything else.

    However, not all bishops were that way. The Apostle Paul is easily the most famous example of a bishop whose "territory" was fully as worldwide and global as Peter's, and in fact differing from Peter's only in that he himself was subject to him. The same can be said of St. Timothy, Titus, Silas, Barnabas, and indeed most of the original twelve Apostles. St. Thomas (the famous "doubting Thomas") for example simply headed East, forming churches in Syria, Parthia, Persia, and so on until he was martyred in India. Perhaps had he lived longer he might well have pressed on into China, Japan, and Siberia. In fact, James seems to have been the only one of the original twelve Apostles to set up in one city and serve there exclusively to the end of his days.

    The key point to all this is the fact that (for example) the Apostle Paul was never a "residential bishop" in any sense of the word. He never had any territorial "diocese" assigned to him; the whole world was his "diocese," as an auxiliary to St. Peter. But who would dare to assert that the Teaching Church charism did not reside in him at least as much as in any "residential bishop"? And in precisely the same sense that Teaching Church charism resides in the traditional bishops today, though none of them have any territorial "diocese" assigned to them. And THAT is where the Teaching Church indisputably resides today, and as the book rightly points out, that Teaching Church is "naturally in need of a new pope." Given the common disputes in matters of discipline, interpretation of events, and even evaluation of each other's canonicity, who can deny that the Church really is "in need of a new pope"?

    The Formaliter/Materialiter community may have more difficulty seeing the truth of this since they remain (as does the SSPX) fixated on the Vatican apparatus, as if only those of the Vatican had any legal status and such bishops as Sanborn or McKenna having only a most difficult-to-define status. But this is just one more case where it would be most wise to accept that the Formaliter/Materialiter situation is not the current one, even if it could very well have been from 1958 to 1964. Such a mistaken understanding of their position does not deprive any of the bishops of their authority, but it may impair their intention to teach.

    For in discussing the fictitious "vanishing Teaching Church" scenario, the book manages to discuss fully two different SSPX theories as to the nature of the present situation. The first one is rather interesting in that it is exactly the Formaliter/Materialiter position they profess to disprove. They differentiate themselves from the Formaliter/Materialiter sedevacantists with yet another false distinction, as hinted in the following: "On the other hand, to uphold that from the time of the promulgation of the Council the Catholic hierarchy [by which they mean here not the real Catholic hierarchy but that counterfeit one of the Vatican - since Vatican II] no longer applies its own charisms, though these charisms remain present, is not to ascribe the current crisis to a deficiency on the part of God Himself, but to men in their exercise of free co-operation."

    Notice again, the slur against the sedevacantist, who is made to seem here as if he somehow blames God for the crisis, rather than "men in their exercise of free co-operation." But of course, the sedevacantists one and all consistently place the blame upon those "men in their exercise of free co-operation" who freely reject the will of God and scandalously attempt to impose rejection of God upon others. The pithy last line of a footnote on the page in the book says it all, "To teach one must want to teach."

    Well, who can know if the man wants to teach or not? If he teaches nonsense, then I suppose it must mean that secretly, interiorly, he actually has no intention to teach, and is therefore enabled to go through the motions of apparently attempting to teach while in fact he has no such intention, and so therefore what he "teaches" will in no way be protected. And how do we know they have no "intention to teach"? The only way to discern it is by the absurdity of what they purport to "teach."

    That particular SSPX theory, in a nutshell, amounts to Formaliter/Materialter sedevacantism, pure and simple. Having noisily kicked it out the front door they have quietly let it in again through the back door. There is absolutely no difference between what the authors of the book are putting forth at that point as a theory to explain the current crisis and what any of Bishops des Lauriers, McKenna, and Sanborn all teach. None whatsoever! According to it, the Vatican men have all the legality, the elections, the charisms, but simply choose never to exercise them. They just simply never have the intention to teach. They are material "popes" but not formal popes.

    On the next page however is the other of the two SSPX theories about the present situation. In this case, it focuses specifically on the psychology of John Paul II, as explored in depth by Johannes Dörmann in his Pope John Paul II's Theological Journey to the Prayer Meeting of Religions in Assisi series. It posits (in a small nutshell) that John Paul II sees the Church not as an oracle declaring the revelation of God but rather as a pilgrim (in search of what? Some Pagan shrine?) itself as much learning as anyone in the world or any individual person on their own limited and human journey through life. As such, his overall guiding "intention," both for himself personally and also on behalf of his organization, is therefore not to "teach," but to "learn." So, in this theory, the "Teaching Church" (and when did this happen?) gets wholly absorbed in "learning" instead of "teaching" and as divine protections apply only to teachings and not to "learnings," it goes altogether unprotected from all manner of error and heresy. I have to wonder why even call it a "Teaching Church" when it in fact never "teaches" at all, and hasn't in decades.

    Having finished with the supposed disappearance of the "Teaching Church," the book then moves on to the parallel case of a supposed disappearance of the "Power of Jurisdiction." And again, the same sort of bogus accusation is again made against the sedevacantists:

While it may be that doubt can arise regarding the juridical particulars of such and such a case (for example, one may ask whether or not it be legitimate in a certain circumstance to appeal to supplied jurisdiction), in no way can it be supposed that this authority can fail to be communicated to the Church, even for one day. But this is precisely what sedevacantism maintains with respect to the last forty years. If this authority is no longer present in the Church, which therefore lacks a hierarchy with authority, the Church is ontologically and structurally incapable of fulfilling her own mission. She is no longer the Church of Christ and thus no longer the Church at all. Practically speaking - and this seems to be the gravest consequence - neither is it any longer possible to make an appeal, in a specific circumstance, to a presumed or supplied jurisdiction. This is because recourse can no longer be had to the perennial and necessary authority of Christ in His Church; the Church is irremediably paralyzed.

    And of course, once again the sedevacantist community has been most gravely misrepresented and caricatured. We never claimed any supposed "end" to the Power of Jurisdiction in the Church. And again, at most one would have to look to some extreme home-aloner to find, possibly, anyone who does (of which I know of none). The same hierarchy of traditional bishops who function, such as they do, as the Teaching Church also function with the Power of Jurisdiction. Even though that jurisdiction is not territorially exclusive, one to another, it is no less valid and lawful jurisdiction for all that, for it is as was the Apostle Paul's, namely global in domain and differing from Peter's only in being subject to his authority.

    Again, the book explains quite well why it is necessary and (more or less) where it resides during a condition of Sede Vacante:

This authority is the authority of Our Lord Himself communicated to the Church in the person of him who is pastor in the strictest sense of the word, either the pope or the residential [there's that word again - who do they think they are fooling?] bishops. Only they exercise this authority in their own name. Naturally, this authority has been communicated to the Church for all time. It abides, as it will continuously until the end of time (including those moments between the death of a pope and the election of his successor, when it continues to subsist in the episcopate), when Our Lord will come, cum potestate magna, to judge the living and the dead.

    By consequence it is indispensable for the Church to benefit from this authority of Christ in order to legitimately accomplish any action that in the final analysis bears on the care of souls. It is especially necessary for the administration of the sacraments and, in particular, for that of confession. The care of souls is the reason for being of the Church. In practice this authority can be communicated in various ways to a cleric who is neither pope nor residential bishop [nor non-residential bishop like Paul]. It may be temporarily or permanently delegated, it may be supplied due to a particular circumstance (ecclesia supplet), it may be presumed, etc., but it is always necessary in order to accomplish an act that bears directly on souls and thus on the Church herself.

    The point is valid, and again should some extreme home-aloner be contemplating making such a postulation as the Power or Jurisdiction disappearing, he should know that he really would be professing heresy. But again as I said, this has nothing to do with any of us sedevacantists, as none of us claim such an absurdity and it is a most dirty insinuation to hint otherwise. Again they have outlined in their own book how it is that even in a Sede Vacante situation, the Power of Jurisdiction resides in the bishops of the Church, which is indeed where it really exists alive and (moderately) well today.

    But now let us back off a bit and do a little introspection. What would make it so easy for the writers of this book to get away with falsely claiming that the sedevacantists teach the demise of the Teaching Church and the Power of Jurisdiction? While such a caricature is certainly unfair, it may not be entirely unfounded, at least in the passive sense. While it is true that not a single respectable sedevacantist is known to claim the disappearance of these things, neither are many to be found willing to discuss these issues in depth, or even bring them up at all. It is in point of fact something that way too many sedevacantists prefer not to think about at all.

    So where do sedevacantists claim the Teaching Church and Power of Jurisdiction survive today? For the Formaliter/Materialiter sedevacantist, the answer is fully as easy and trivial as it is for the SSPX: It resides, as some kind of latent and unfulfilled potential, in the Vatican apparatus. That is, at any rate, one theory, and certainly does not entail the disappearance of them at all, just a corruption, or else passive non-use of, them. The Siri hypothesis advocate believes they reside in some secretive succession of true popes having existed in parallel to the Vatican hierarchy ever since the first white smoke went up from the 1958 conclave. Again, that is no claim to their disappearance, but only that they are carefully hidden somewhere, and need merely be brought out into the light when the due time (whatever that would be) comes to be.

    Those who went along with the "Paul VI double" theory of Bayside and Palmar de Troya simply maintained that the true Church continued in the "real" Paul VI carefully concealed in some Vatican dungeon while the "imposter" Paul VI created all of his havoc. So as with the Siri hypothesis they reside in some secretive succession in parallel to the Vatican hierarchy. The conclavists and others who have already gone ahead and elected a pope, and those "popes" who have simply published themselves as popes without so much as even the motions of a conclave simply see these things as having been continued in themselves, again no claim to their having disappeared.

    Perhaps the most interesting attempt at a solution to that (other than mine) is that taken by absolute sedevacantists. I once had some opportunity to share an exchange with one of them about this, and his response was to postulate that somewhere out there, some regular diocesan bishop must still be fully orthodox, valid, Catholic, and appointed by some true pope way back when. Now, during the 1970's and even clear to some point in 1981 when the man was forcibly retired, such a postulation found actuality in the person of one Bishop de Castro-Meyer of the Diocese of Campos in Brazil. Well that's one, but he's gone now. Can there be another, still hiding in some forgotten corner of the world?

    Given how long it would have been since any could be appointed by a true pope, how old he would have to be, and the ease with which the "retirement age" excuse could be used to eliminate an inconvenient person from their hierarchy at the earliest opportunity (as was done to de Castro-Meyer who continued hale and hearty nearly ten years after his forced retirement), the odds of any such bishop still existing by now can only be vanishingly small and falling precipitously. And yet key in all of that is that absolute sedevacantist's firm belief that the Teaching Church and Power of Jurisdiction truly do live on, somewhere at least, though unknown to us now. I really don't see how that differs significantly from believing that there must be some separate and parallel papal succession (e. g. through Siri, "Gregory XVII") though again no one knows where it is.

    All of this points up a serious deficiency in the behavior of most sedevacantists. Having been so reticent on this subject, perhaps accidently we have left our audience with little else to conclude but what this book insinuates, or even states straight out. This is something about most of them that has irked me from the very beginning. So many seem content to prove so wonderfully, brilliantly, and dazzlingly how the Vatican leaders, recent and current, pass utterly outside the pale of what a legitimate Catholic pope could ever possibly be, but then having done that then put down their pen and stop talking, as if proving that solved everything. It is just so frustrating to see them seemingly unconcerned with such questions as to where the Teaching Church is actively present today, or who possesses the lawful Power of Jurisdiction today, or where can the Church get another pope from or how could all of this have happened given the promises of God and the dogmatic teachings of infallibility and indefectibility we are all constrained to believe in, or how the Church can go on from here, or even where, exactly, IS "here"? I get so tired of this shrug of the shoulders, this "heck if I know; heck if I care; not my problem" response I typically get.

    If ever there be any genuine service the non-sedevacantist can give to the Church, it would be to buttonhole these careless sedevacantists and don't let them get away with this shrug of the shoulders. "No, I'm not letting you get away with that! You need to tell me precisely where the Church is, legally and visibly, with all Teaching and Ruling authority as must always exist, and I will not be satisfied until you answer me." The answers are not hard, not difficult to find, and don't require scouring the earth for some secret papal succession or obscure orthodox and valid and lawful bishop somewhere. Nor does it require trying to attribute Catholic authority to such blatantly non-Catholic and non-episcopal persons as those who comprise the Vatican apparatus. All that it does require is overcoming a false assumption, or prejudice, which seems to be deeply rooted from I-know-not-what, and which upon examination proves to be utterly without merit.

    I point you all again to the traditional bishops, for they are indisputably orthodox, indisputably validly consecrated bishops, indisputably "chosen" and "sent" as are all truly lawful bishops of the Church, and indisputably delegated the authority to teach, guide, bless, and govern the Church by the same document that effected the rise of the current situation and terminated the Vatican institution's former identity with the visible Church.

    In prolonged papal vacancies (and also in areas of prolonged physical separation from Rome, such as in Siberian Gulags, prisons, and concentration camps), bishops have selected and appointed successors, who need only be ratified retroactively by some pope after the fact. And they need not await that ratification to have the authority to act and to perform all manner of necessary official actions of the Church, acting as a body, indeed the Mystical Body of Christ, and not merely as scattered individuals. Rather, their authority to act merely continues once ratified, or ceases if not ratified. There is therefore nothing but blind prejudice and absurdly false assumptions to go against putting forth for belief by all Catholics the traditional bishops as the true and living hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church today, who taken together, comprise the Teaching Church and possess the Power of Jurisdiction. To be a sedevacantist should be to be someone who knows where the Church really is, not merely where the Church really isn't.

Griff L. Ruby

        Griff's book is available from Books for $26.95 or can be read on-line at We at The Daily Catholic strongly urge you to share it with all you can for that could be the gentle shove that moves your friends back to where the True Faith resides forever, rooted in the Truths and Traditions of Holy Mother Church as Christ intended and promised.

Griff Ruby's STRAIGHT STUFF Tuesday, November 3, 2009, Volume 20, no. 307