Part 2 of this book continues with a discussion of what it calls "the strange dynamic of sedevacantist arguments." Once again, there appear to be three main points made, one having to do with the attitude of sedevacantist Catholics towards non-sedevacantist Catholics, the next being some attempt to stir in some element of disobedience into the process of making the sedevacantist finding, and finally (and by far most importantly) of addressing the question of "substituting oneself for the Church."
After all that has gone before in this book, imagine this:
"it is not easy to understand how the sedevacantists can legitimately arrive and morally justify their conclusions. What conclusions? This one in particular:
They condemn as schismatic the attitude of those who, while also rejecting the Council, do not declare the See of Peter vacant because they consider themselves unqualified to pronounce on the authority of John Paul II" [or whoever].
After all of the book's attempt to denounce sedevacantism and sedevacantists, to show their claim ridiculous or at least far more gravely problematic, now they back off significantly. Now all of a sudden it is as if "all we said was that we don't know, and for that they jump all over us as though we lied to them?" How inoffensive such a position! "We are unqualified to pronounce on the authority of John Paul II." If that were the official take on the part of the whole SSPX I severely doubt that any real friction could have ever developed between them and us. How dare those dirty rotten mean sedevacantists attack those sweet, humble, and loveable fur ball SSPX'ers who so simply demure the whole issue with their "we don't know; we are unqualified"!
But are they prepared to accept all that goes with it? The remainder of the book, and for that matter the SSPX's long-standing and explicit policy of expulsing any priest who admits to having made the Sede Vacante discovery, clearly evidences otherwise. For if a person is truly unqualified to pronounce on the question of the current Vatican leader, then by that same exact token he is therefore also truly unqualified to pronounce on the question of anyone who HAS pronounced on the question of the current Vatican leader. It would be one thing to claim that one knows yea verily that the current Vatican leader really is a real and true Roman Catholic Pope and an actual Successor to the Apostle St. Peter, such that to disagree with that is to be wrong, but it is quite another to claim that one does not know, but then insist that merely because one himself does not know then neither can anyone else know and that if anyone did claim to know he would have to be wrong - and not merely wrong in claiming to know, but in the answer that he knows.
The coin has been flipped, but I haven't seen it since, so I really and honestly don't know if it is heads or tails. However the guy who has seen the coin and claims that it is tails has absolutely got to be wrong. Therefore I am going to presume that it is heads and insist all others do the same, and refuse all fellowship and communion and recognition to anyone who dares to even so much as suspect otherwise. I will not accept the claim that it is tails until utterly proven beyond all doubts, reasonable or not, and I have no intention of examining any evidences that might point towards such a finding. Is that about it?
Let the SSPX, as a body, really and truly take such a humble position as to say that "we don't know; we are unqualified to pronounce on such a question." If only they did, then any priest of their membership could freely argue one way or the other so long as he is clear that in whatever position he argues he is not presuming to speak on behalf of the SSPX as a whole organization, but merely of his own opinion however expert or not. I am certain that such a "kinder, gentler" SSPX would promptly be met with a "kinder, gentler" sedevacantist community in response. Maybe once such a position be officially taken we can all talk of these things civilly instead of merely hurling bombs over the wall at each other.
But when, having admitted their lack of qualification to pronounce on the question, they then go on to pronounce on it anyway and denounce and attack those who take a different (and by far more legitimate) position, how can they expect anything but to be attacked in return for the untenableness of their position? Enough on that exact point.
As an adjunct to that, however, the statement is made that
"for them [sedevacantists] it is impossible in any manner and in any circumstance to resist the teaching - even if manifestly erroneous and contrary to Tradition and the perpetual magisterium - of him who is recognized as pope." This side point itself deserves some discussion.
Would the Resist and Recognize Scenario Always be Intrinsically Wrong?
Sometimes, in reading certain literary productions of the sedevacantists, one might get the impression that a "resistance" position is, of itself, untenable under all circumstances, and could never exist with any legitimacy. I think most sedevacantists, if required to think about this for a bit, should promptly realize that there really could be some circumstance in which a "resistance" position really would be the correct course, and the actual explanation, for a given papal situation. I will even go so far as to state that if any sedevacantist has, perhaps naïvely, actually taken such a position as that caricatured in that statement of the book, he is in error on that point.
In De Romano Pontifice within some chapters of which St. Robert Bellarmine discusses the "Sede Vacante due to heresy" situation in more theological detail than any other pre-Vatican II theologian, in other chapters, he also discusses the circumstances in which a "resistance" position with response to a pope would be appropriate. Indeed, it is such passages from this different part of the same book that some of the "resistance" community have misquoted in support of that model for the present situation, and of their response to it. But the quotes, though misquoted in application to our present situation, do nevertheless demonstrate that the holy sainted Doctor does indeed admit circumstances in which resistance to a pope could be proper. So there is nothing, per se, invalid about the concept of resisting a true pope if he is contradicting the Faith (in whatever forum, say in the capacity of a private teacher, that a pope could contradict the Faith), then it most certainly is proper and allowable to resist him, and it would not mean that he is not pope.
But the real question here is whether a "resistance" response could be appropriate to the present ecclesial circumstance. This is where the distinction between a command and a law comes into play. For example, under the Mosaic Law, if the Jewish High Priest of the Temple were to order you to sacrifice a pig, you could (and should) resist him, and that would be neither disobedience (for he commands what he has no authority to command), nor would it imply that the priest in question is not really the legitimate High Priest of the Temple. But for the same man to attempt to legislate that from now on, everyone must sacrifice only pigs from now on, there would arise legitimate questions as to whether the man can continue as the High Priest, or for that matter whether he continues to be the High Priest even now in his attempt to impose such legislation. This is very much like the difference between an event and a pattern. There is a qualitative difference between the person who, once in his entire life, gets accidently caught up in some social situation within which he finds himself obliged to drink more than he can handle, versus the person who is a habitual drunkard.
By that same token, Pope John XXII in the fourteenth century, who made one heretical mistake, though sustained for some few short weeks of propounding on it in his private capacity as an individual theologian, nevertheless remained pope. As pope, he was legitimately resisted in that, until eventually the resistance bore fruit in the form of his own repentance before he died. But the obvious and continuous pattern and even official heretical policies of the Vatican leadership during and ever since Vatican II shows abundantly that the same model cannot be applied to them. John XXII made a limited mistake on one specific point at one time, and ultimately repented of it.
Conversely, the Vatican leaders from Paul VI onward have made mistake after mistake multitudinous times, both many different mistakes and many different kinds of mistakes, and also that each mistake itself repeated time and time again, and even officially instituted by what mistaken "authority" they command. Clearly the "resistance" response which was adequate for the circumstance of John XXII is nowhere near adequate to address the present situation.
The subpoint just discussed is meant to lead into the next point attempted in the book, which seems much harder to follow. Here is what it says:
"This objection ... becomes absurd when it comes from those who first pronounce a negative judgment - in itself necessary - on the contents of the Council, and then from this point of departure arrive at further conclusions about the status of authority in the Church. To escape this contradiction sedevacantism uses the fig leaf of claiming that it is not licit to disobey him who is recognized as pope habitually. This habitually, theologically speaking, is meaningless. By this logic it seems that it is permitted to disobey the pope not habitually ... that is, long enough to understand that he is not pope. Without this initial disobedience it seems that one could not arrive at the necessary conclusion; thus a true good devolves from a true evil, a sort of necessary sin! Practically and historically speaking, however, this habitually signifies even less: for Fr. Guérard, his period of 'disobedience' lasted for about fifteen years, and for sedevacantists generally it may have lasted a little or even much longer."
This statement took some time for me to parse and figure out, and even now I am not totally sure what they are saying. It seems to be something like this: First one must ascertain that Vatican II and all that followed from it is non-Catholic, and from there one deduces that therefore the supposed "authority" imposing it is therefore also non-Catholic, and as such non-papal and utterly without spiritual authority. But, the problem is, during that window of time between one's realization that the Council is non-Catholic and the time of one's deduction that those imposing the non-Catholic rule must themselves be non-Catholic and therefore non-papal and non-authoritative, one is obliged to "disobey" someone they as yet still take as pope. This disobedience, however temporary, is taken as a sin, a "necessary sin" as the book's writers insist, in order to proceed to the goods of the truth.
Already there is a big problem with that. It is one thing to realize, interiorly, that Vatican II is patently non-Catholic, but it is quite another to disobey any of its "officers" in any way. A soldier can disagree interiorly, even most violently, with the commands and direction of his commanding officer, but so long as he continues to carry out the orders, even "under protest" if necessary, he is in no way disobedient. Even any attempt on his part to seek some basis to depose or impeach his disagreeable commanding officer cannot be regarded as disobedience, provided that the methods he explores are lawful.
All of that also ignores the basic fact (well documented and argued by the SSPX apologists), that "disobedience" to unethical or immoral commands is simply obedience to higher authority and as such no sin but of merit. Indeed, the SSPX seems strangely bent on entering into this window of apparent "disobedience" (in that they not only question Vatican II interiorly but also actively oppose and override it in practice), and then simply remaining there indefinitely. The sedevacantist at least has proceeded through to the other side, in which he discovers that the non-Catholic can oblige no Catholic conscience in any matter, and as such to disregard him is no disobedience at all. So whatever "sin" as could possibly be imputed in this "resistance" is only temporary for the sedevacantist but permanent for the SSPX. And again, as just pointed out above, the SSPX has amply demonstrated to the satisfaction of all that such a "disobedience" to disordered "orders" is no sin at all but virtue and indisputably essential to the continuance of the Church Herself. And for that matter, there are some sedevacantists who, in the days after they interiorly rejected the Council but before they discovered the Sede Vacante situation in the Church, continued, in a manner similar to that of the late Abbé de Nantes, in perfect obedience to the one they mistook for a pope.
Perhaps there are some within the sedevacantist community who might express concern that I have just deprived them of one of their chief objections to the SSPX and "resistance" position. Well and good that I have! For such an objection against the SSPX and "resistance" can only be based upon an actual adherence to the "it is impossible in any manner and in any circumstance to resist the teaching - even if manifestly erroneous and contrary to Tradition and the perpetual magisterium - of him who is recognized as pope" caricature. Recall that there is no real objection to the "pope has gone bad and has to be resisted, but nevertheless remains pope" scenario in and of itself, only the more convoluted and complex issue of whether such a scenario could possibly extend to the vast and such broad-based extremity seen today.
If, per impossible, such a scenario were to be capable of extending even to what we have seen today, the SSPX and "resistance" response would be entirely the correct one. Potentially, in the millennia to come, it is quite possible that some lesser circumstance, truly within the domain of what a bad pope could do, might one day arise, and for that the SSPX and "resistance" response truly would be the one that saves the day. But this is not today's circumstance, and we have far more than merely the incomparable severity of the problem to point to as evidence that today's situation is not one of a bad pope who must be resisted, but rather one of there being no pope, which vacancy needs to be filled. I will get to that further down.
Are We Substituting Ourselves for the Church or Claiming Authority by Default?
So now follows the most important question brought up in the current section of the book, namely the fearful danger of "substituting oneself for the Church." The book admits that the sedevacantists fear the prospect of substituting themselves for the Church when it says,
"The sedevacantist objection bases itself on the fear of substituting oneself for the Church by searching out and rejecting contemporary teachings with a modernist odor. This fear is in itself thoroughly comprehensible, and for this reason any refusal must be based not on a 'disobedience,' but rather on the exercise of the faith and the recognition of the incompatibility of modernist content with the perennial magisterium of the Church. The same fear, however, should cause trembling amongst those who finish by in practice substituting themselves for the Church. No Gallican ever went so far. By the same token, this same fear should cause trembling amongst those who even pretend to be able to recognize a future true pope, if and when we shall have one, on their own and by virtue of their private 'faith.'"
I also understand the concern. The Church of Christ has been ruled by a continuous stream of delegated individuals, each appointed only by those authorized to make such appointments, namely those who were themselves so delegated, and so on clear back to the beginning which is Christ. It is impossible for some outsider to just come along and take over, with any real spiritual authority. As has been pointed out by others, the bare failure of the Vatican apparatus to serve as the Church of God does not in and of itself automatically make you or me the Church. But sometimes I wonder about some, who truly are of the Church, mistakenly seeing themselves, or mistakenly being seen by others, as being at most mere substitutes for Her.
In the March 1986 issue of Catholics Forever, the newsletter of (then) Rev. (now Most Rev.) Robert F. McKenna, O.P., he broached the idea of organizing a conclave to elect a pope. It reads:
A graduate student and reader of ours in Berkeley, California, Brian Champlin, has come up with a possible answer to the crucial question so far avoided by "sedevacantists" - how to elect a legitimate pope under the circumstances.
Let the traditionalist priests do so, he says!
By what right?
On the ground that they today constitute the clergy of the only diocese in the world that has not been part of the general apostasy from the Church - the "Eternal" diocese of Rome. It is the clergy of Rome that by right elects its bishop the pope. The College of Cardinals, to each member of which is assigned a parish in Rome, makes up the body of that clergy in its leading members. But since that College today is itself part of the apostasy, and composed besides of Liberals appointed by illegitimate popes of Vatican II, Brian argues that it is for the remainder of the Roman clergy to elect a pope.
How are traditionalist priests outside of Rome - there appears to be no group of them, if even one, in the city itself - to be reckoned members of a diocese in which they were never incardinated?
By default, as it were. Rome is the only diocese in the world that, like the Church itself, is indefectible, being the See of Peter from which the Catholic Church can never be separated. No other particular or local church shares this privilege, and in fact we see, Brian points out, no other that has kept the faith and is not a part of the false Conciliar church. Since, then, today the indefectible Church and the indefectible Church of Rome (the diocese) are one and the same, traditionalist (or perhaps better, Tridentine) priests constitute de facto the clergy of Rome.
[Several paragraphs that outline Brian's details of how he thinks it could work out are omitted here.]
A preposterous proposal notwithstanding? Your editor, for his part, thinks not - though admittedly earthshaking in its implications. How many, we wonder, of the already remnant Church would accept a pope elected in this apparently facile way - by a gathering of however many sedevacantist priests who, with the few such bishops, would respond to a reasonable effort to notify them in the four quarters of the world? Especially when more than one "nut" we've seen since Vatican II claim a divine appointment to the papacy.
No matter, Mr. Champlin thinks. The pope is the pope whether he happens to be recognized or not, and those Catholics who would not know or recognize one chosen by the priests of the de facto Roman clergy, yet sincerely wanting to be under the true pope, would be in fact part of his flock, as were sincere but disagreeing Catholics (even Saints) in the days of the Great Schism and three claimants to the throne of Peter! We should also note that the case we are describing involves an election, not any self-usurpation or unlikely supernatural assignment to the papacy.
Not that we mean here to promote this proposal, but only to broach it for serious consideration - especially to the Tridentine bishops and priests - and to offer our services in this newsletter for publicizing, solely in the interests of the Church, any constructive criticism (pro or con). For his part your editor says only that Mr. Champlin's proposal seems the fruit of much personal study, research, and prayer, and not one to be rashly rejected out of hand. For all its frightening aspect it yet seems theologically possible, and if in fact it proves so in the estimation of our confreres, might we not risk rejecting, by ignoring it, the answer to our prayers and light from heaven for at last reviving the Church? If such a revival would seem to be starting from a mere seed, Brian reminds us of the case of Noe after the Flood.
Sadly, one learns as soon as the May issue of Catholics Forever that year (1986) that by some clever sophistry our learned Rev. McKenna was indeed brought into rashly rejecting out of hand this answer to prayer. It is not at all hard to track down precisely what that sophistry was, for in that and following issues he indicates his transfer from being an absolute sedevacantist to a Formaliter/Materialiter (Guéradian) sedevacantist, which he has remained to this day. Still later that year (August 22), His Excellency Bishop Guérard consecrated McKenna to the episcopacy. The CMRI, in the time between their alliance to His Excellency Bishop Musey and the consecration of His Excellency Bishop Pivarunas by His Excellency Moisés Carmona-Rivera on September 24, 1991, had temporarily aligned themselves with Bishop McKenna, at least agreeing that as a condition of having Bishop McKenna service their chapels as bishop, they would be obliged to abstain from participating in any efforts towards a conclave. I also suspect that many other prominent absolute sedevacantists have shown disinterest in organizing a conclave out of deference to their close associates and friends of the Formaliter/Materialiter community, far more than out of any actual theological claim of any valid basis.
However, that is not the whole of the problem of how Bishop McKenna has been persuaded into rejecting the idea of a conclave. Part of the seeds of the problem can also be seen in the expression of a wish for a conclave in the newsletter quoted above, in particular the part that reads,
"How are traditionalist priests ... to be reckoned members of a diocese in which they were never incardinated? By default, as it were." Is that really all the authority our traditional priests and bishops can lay claim to? In this mistake is demonstrated the limits of Brian Champlin's researches. While I can give Brian credit for making this first exploratory review of the relevant canonical documentation, his view was limited by an incomplete understanding of the true nature of the current ecclesial situation, an incompleteness common to the understanding of way too many sedevacantists.
It is all part and parcel of the same thoughtless and unreflecting (and shameful) mental habit of treating our true bishops (stemming from Archbishops Thuc and Lefebvre and Bishops de Castro-Meyer and Mendez) as though they were canonically no different from some layman who buys an "episcopal consecration" from an Old Catholic bishop. Even in the newsletter quoted above, it is traditional priests who are spoken of as making this vote, rather than the traditional bishops, since Brian seems to have regarded their Apostolic Succession as being in some doubt (though he did not evidence any doubt for the sacramental validity of their orders).
Recall that back in 1986 there were hundreds of traditional priests all around the world, ordained by the Church in the conventional manner and incardinated into actual dioceses. Even most of the traditional bishops (what few there were then) were also such priests, and only in their capacity as bishop were they not accorded any diocese, such that Brian recommended that they vote only in their capacity of priests at the traditional priest's conclave. Now, with the remaining number of such priests vanishingly small and falling precipitously, it is clear that it is the traditional bishops who alone shall control the conclave, other than whoever else may be admitted through their collective recognizance.
No! Our Authority Is Most Certainly Not by Default!
So what are the differences that show our traditional bishops to possess far more spiritual authority than merely some supposed "authority by default"? I agree that the bare failure of the Vatican apparatus to serve as the Church of God would not in and of itself make any one or more of them the Church. I think the scenario of the Church ever coming to such a pass as authority having to be passed along only by default falls clearly outside the domain of what is possible given God's promises to the indefectible Church. I think it also is impossible for things to come to such a pass as its entire hierarchy coming to consist of heretics, a dead body utterly without faith, and with the faith being kept alive only by those outside it in some ill-defined position (As what? Some sort of invisible spirit Church? This is something the Formaliter/Materialiter clergy would do well to think through at some point - what exactly is their actual canonical status and place in the Church?) in total exile.
The first and most obvious difference here is that when it comes to our traditional bishops, their direct predecessors were all legitimate bishops of the Church, and all doing exactly as bishops of the Church must do in any prolonged papal vacancy (regardless of whether they managed to recognize that fact fully and consciously, they in each case nevertheless managed to DO the right thing), namely appointing and consecrating successors and imparting to them their own Apostolic mission. The traditional bishops did not choose themselves; they were chosen by the Church, in the person of the legitimate bishops who operated in this mode. They did not send themselves; Christ sent them, in the Person of His Church, and therefore in the same exact manner in which He also sent all their predecessors in the Apostolic Succession. The sacred Mission of our Traditional bishops therefore has the same exact visible, legal, and canonical status as any Catholic bishop functioning in any diocese in any era.
We have ample precedents for this, not only from a few of the longer periods of Sede Vacante during which bishops chose their successors without the guidance or approval of any pope, and which selections all stood fast in the eyes of the next pope once there was one, but also from particular circumstances of physical isolation from a pope, for example in a Siberian Gulag. So while such bishops have no papally assigned diocese, they are no less legitimate bishops of the Church, with the authority and jurisdiction to act in the name of the Church, especially whenever they should act in unison together. And yet there is more.
To understand the full and basic nature of the present situation is not only to know of the Church's popeless condition, but also of what has become of the Church's jurisdiction. Let us start specifically with the pope situation in particular, which I will briefly review here though I have explored it in much more detail elsewhere (such as my Papal Resignation series: The Procedure ,The Precedents , and The Proof; my Theological Map series: Part One and Part Two; as well as my exclusive Down the Yellow Brick Road to Apostasy: the Lumen Gentium Syndrome series).
It is not enough that the recent and current Vatican leadership has flagrantly veered from Catholic orthodoxy. Perhaps for many sedevacantists that has been enough, but at best such a cursory analysis utterly fails to get to the root of the problem, and at worst it may display an unhealthy attitude of one's willingness and audacity to judge a pope. Certainly, questions are raised on account of their blatantly aberrant behavior and teachings. But these questions cannot be solved merely by documenting the same heterodoxy that occasioned them in the first place. An actual resignation (or failure to obtain office) must be demonstrated, independent of the heresy (real or apparent) of the men so seemingly elected and seemingly to hold the office. One of my main points in all my writing has long been that we have these facts on record already, and need merely take these facts of public record at face value. [Editor's note: Please see John Gregory's accompanying feature on this, entitled Do Trees Exist?]
In the case of Paul VI specifically, we have his resignation from the Roman Catholic Papacy on record in his signing of Lumen Gentium on November 21, 1964. In that document the nature of the Vatican organization is redefined such that it is no longer to be identified with the historic and institutional Roman Catholic Church, but rather that at least some portion of the real Church is outside of it and in no way answerable, de jure, to it or him, yet nevertheless possessing salvific jurisdiction (and by a parallel implication, that neither would all of the new Vatican organization's organizational resources all belong to the Catholic Church either, thus enabling it to be taken over by non-Catholics). Therefore that document deprives the Vatican leader of universal jurisdiction over the whole Church, thus changing the nature of the office held by Paul VI, effectively constituting a resignation from the office of the papacy by peaceful transfer to a different and incompatible office.
In the case of the successors of Paul VI, consisting of John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI thus far, each of their elections have been to this same "different and incompatible office" other than that of the papacy to which Paul VI transferred himself in 1964. As such, their elections could no more have created popes than any and all other elections to any non-papal offices, sacred or secular, as have ever existed in all of human history. All of these basic facts are not a matter of debate. When a man's notarized signature is on the lease it is useless, indeed nonsensical, to argue as to whether he owns the lease or not. Certainly Paul VI and those after him have not been Formal popes (and quite possibly John XXIII before him), but as of November 21,1964 neither have any of them been material popes.
This canonical loss of the papacy is noted even by others, for example, who have noted that the Vatican leader is no Monarch as a true and actual Pope would be, and furthermore that he is subject to the parliamentarian procedures of the "collegiality" hinted upon in a footnote to Lumen Gentium and enlarged upon in a later document of Vatican II.
On even a more basic note, the papal tiara, a long-established symbol of the papacy, was repudiated and never worn by anyone again. It is one thing not to wear it merely because it has not been invented yet, or even that it has not become an established tradition, but it is quite another to reject what had become by the Twentieth Century an established tradition. Paul VI wore it on the day of his investiture (when he received at least a material papacy) but then never wore it again. None of his successors have worn it either, ever, since it is not appropriate to their new and different office.
Even the rank and file, in some inarticulate sense, have sensed that to disagree with the Vatican leader, and even disobey him, even on a question of Faith or Morals, is of itself acceptable for one calling himself a Catholic, something no Catholic in any former era would have ever even considered. While still calling him "pope" they evidently use that word in some different sense, one that does not imply infallibility nor command obedience. A resignation, even by any other name, will just as surely deprive the Church of Her pope.
Finally, this loss, now documented, explains why it is that the Holy Ghost has done nothing to keep these men on track, theologically. No office save that of the actual Roman Catholic papacy itself, possesses the guarantee of infallibility from God the Holy Ghost. No Cardinalate, no Archbishopric, no Bishopric, no secular office of any kind, even that of Holy Roman Emperor, possesses that guarantee and protection. And (quite evidently) neither does the new office created by Paul VI and occupied by him and his successors in error since November 21, 1964. Ergo, these men have been free to err, and have done so, as all must admit. Whether their error is interiorly malicious or sincere has no bearing on the different nature of the office they presently hold from that of the papacy. Certainly, if their error were malicious it would be proper to exclude them personally from the Church. But as there is no known test to verify that, I would refrain from excluding them from the Church. However, the ability to make and promulgate a material error against infallibility, however sincerely and benignly it may well be intended by the man giving it, is enough to demonstrate that the man making it is no pope, for the papal office, alone, is Divinely protected even from any material error on all matters of Faith or Morals.
Knowing, therefore, that the Church has been without a material pope since 1964, and at least that long, and quite possibly as much as six years longer, without a formal pope, we can therefore know that the true and visible leadership of the Church has thereby devolved to the Church's lesser officers, namely the bishops. But as all but the barest handful of bishops have openly defected it is in fact that faithful "handful" that have not defected who alone now possess the ecclesiastical right and power and duty to rule in the Church. And with all Cardinals legitimately and legally appointed before that date in 1964 all deceased, the duty of arranging for a conclave and appointing electors (it is totally their call as to whether to appoint themselves collectively or some other congregation, or some combination of the two) also falls to the faithful bishops. Finally, knowing that the papacy has been vacant for some nearly 46 years and counting, surely this qualifies as a prolonged papal vacancy, such that it is perfectly appropriate and legal for the bishops to have chosen and consecrated their episcopal successors without seeking a papal mandate, as they have in fact been doing.
Finally, there remains one other aspect of what Lumen Gentium accomplished. In its dying gasp as having been the Church and now in that moment in the process of becoming another organization, the Vatican, in Lumen Gentium, bequeathed Catholic jurisdiction to those who are not subject to their new organization. In their vain attempt to lay the groundwork to allocate Catholic jurisdiction to other religious leaders not answerable, de jure, to the Vatican (essential to trying to make their ecumenical co-worship with heretics and other religions not be the sin of communicatio in sacris), they have cast jurisdiction to the four winds. However in reality, and in practice, only those who are valid bishops, orthodox in their teaching, and duly selected and appointed by the Church (or at least by their episcopal predecessors in the times where there is no living pope), those vetted by them, or those subject to them either in particular, or collectively and generally, can be the recipients of that jurisdiction. Specifically, it does not matter whether they remain in the Vatican organization or are ejected from it or even leave it of their own volition. Of course it still does (and always must) matter that one be truly a Catholic bishop, or as any lesser cleric or laity, subject to the Catholic bishops, in order to be visibly within the salvific Church. As Catholic bishops they possess jurisdiction, and Lumen Gentium has stated it expressly that even those who, de jure, are not answerable to the Vatican, can nevertheless possess salvific jurisdiction equal to that of any ordinary canonical bishop from the good old (pre-Vatican II) days.
One other consequence of this effect of Lumen Gentium is the effective dissolution of all diocesan boundaries. Since a valid and lawful Catholic cleric by that decree remains a valid and lawful Catholic cleric, even if he chooses to serve somewhere else than where he is appointed by the new Vatican, even if the new Vatican chooses to expulse him from their fellowship on account of this, then the former diocesan boundaries have no further relevance. This is also exactly what we saw in England when it was taken over by the (then) new Anglican church. The Anglicans continued the former Catholic diocesan structure of divvying up the land to the various Anglican bishops, while to the Catholic Church the whole of the nation became for a time, and in effect, one single diocese. When Fr. Edmund Campion ministered the sacraments (including marriage and penance) in any part of England, his authority and jurisdiction to do so travelled with him wherever (in the British isles) he went. No real Catholic, either in England or out of it, would have ever even thought of saying regarding Fr. Campion (and many others like him), "well, he belongs to the Diocese of Kent, so he has no faculties here in the Diocese of Manchester."
It is simple mathematics that wherever the boundaries between any two (or more) dioceses are dissolved, the two (or more) all simply become one single larger diocese, which may take on either the name of any of its former dioceses, or else a new name. And it goes without saying that anyone incardinated in any of the two (or more) combining dioceses is automatically incardinated into the new combined and resulting bigger diocese. When all diocesan boundaries are dissolved worldwide, the whole Church becomes a single diocese, and (given the definition of Rome as the "Eternal Diocese") that is the Diocese of Rome. For this reason, one can see that it is not by default, but by decree, that all traditional bishops and lesser clerics are properly spoken of as being incardinated (as auxiliary bishops and lesser clerics, for only a true Pope would be a non-auxiliary as a bishop of the Diocese of Rome) in the Diocese of Rome. On November 21, 1964, all bishops were thereby incardinated as auxiliary bishops of the Diocese of Rome. That includes Archbishops Thuc and Lefebvre and Bishops de Castro-Meyer and Mendez. Their true successors, the faithful traditional bishops today, though never incardinated into some particular territorial diocese, were incardinated simply into the one single diocese that all their consecrating bishops belong to.
So there is no danger of us traditional Catholics "substituting ourselves for the Church" any more than I could ever substitute for myself. I simply AM myself. And we traditional Catholics one and all, taken together, simply ARE the Church. This is no substitution; it is purely Apostolic continuity.
Want to See a Real Example of Authority by Default?
So clearly, ours is not a situation of "authority by default." However, let me show you something that really is: We know there are many who have opposed the truth of the Sede Vacante finding, quite prominently including the SSPX book's authors. One has to ask, why are they so obsessed with defending a claim that the Vatican leader is still somehow some sort of pope? Obviously they admit as readily as we that the recent and current Vatican leaders are no great Catholics, or even Catholics at all. The book's writers all admit how the Vatican leaders have devastated the Lord's vineyard and destroyed practically everything Catholic within their reach. So it's not that they think John Paul II (whom they name, since it was him when they wrote it) to be such a great personage. Rather, they feel obliged to convince themselves (most of all, others only accidently) that the Church MUST have a pope, and, well, since no other serious contender seems to exist out there, it MUST be the Vatican leader, no matter how patently disqualified he is on all accounts.
The Vatican leaders since Vatican II were elected by non-Catholics, are non-Catholics themselves, admit to having no jurisdiction of any kind over parts of Christ's visible Mystical Body, have no Monarchial role (as any real pope would), are contained, controlled, and limited to the status of a parliamentary Head of State whose decisions can be outvoted by the "perpetual college" established by Vatican II, refused to wear the Papal tiara or display other accouterments long traditionally expected of a pope, and finally have proven to be conspicuous heretics. The organization they lead has formally defined itself as something other than the Church and officially registered their distance from the Church by their having taken on a new law of prayer and of belief. So the question of who is in charge in Vatican City has no more relevance to the question of a Catholic pope than the question of who is in charge of the Church of England. And now you have Benedict XVI who isn't even validly consecrated as bishop. They are disqualified on every possible ground.
So why even pretend to recognize the recent and current Vatican leadership as though they even could, let alone would, represent any kind of Catholic authority? Well, there doesn't seem to be anyone else, and the Church simply MUST have a pope, or at least not be without one for such a long period of time (but how long? - there are no dogmatic limits as to how long a papal vacancy could last), and since some of the Vatican seem at least partially willing to go along with and entertain the charade, that alone is what makes them "pope" in the eyes of all non-sedevacantists.
Now THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is truly what I call "Authority by Default." We, who are the Church, in the person of our rightful leaders the traditional bishops and clergy, have failed to provide ourselves with a pope as is our sacred right and duty, and that alone is what makes the Vatican leader, in the eyes of some, to be pope.