Part 2 of this book continues with a discussion of what it calls "A Difficult Question to Come to Grips With." The "Difficult Question" turns out to be nothing more than that of whether sedevacantism is a spontaneous result of Faith or some far more obscure theological finding that only the greatest and most trained theologians should even be messing with. As the SSPX book presents it, sedevacantists would be saying that "any Catholic with a living and valid sensus fidei would of course know, upon one's first glance at the present circumstance, that the Vatican leader is no pope, and that furthermore this or that particular theory of sedevacantism would happen to be the true one."
I don't know of any sedevacantists who are claiming that.
The circumstance the Church has found Herself in presently is a most complex one, and one that is not readily solved merely by some simple glance of faith. If anything, the opposite is clearly the case. The ordinary simple and pious faithful have before them a decision way beyond their training. On such a level, the real choice might be between simply following "orders" without question versus doing the right thing no matter what. There are those to whom the Faith has been presented simply in terms of following orders. These are people whose faith is on the level of a childhood game we used to play called "Simon Says."
To those unfamiliar with this long-lost child's game, it works like this: You have many players, the more the better, and one person who is IT (selected at random for the first round, the winner of a round gets to be the next IT. The player who is IT shouts simple orders and everyone is expected to follow the order if and only if the order is preceded by IT saying "Simon Says." The player who is IT on the other hand will sometimes use the "Simon Says" prefix and other times (at as random an order as he can muster) simply provide orders. If IT shouts out an order without prefixing it with "Simon Says" and any other player even begins to follow the order, that player is out. Alternatively, if IT shouts an order prefixed with "Simon Says" then anyone who so much as hesitates to carry out the order is out. Players that are out are out until the next round. The last player left is the winner. If two or more players get eliminated at the end all at once, they try again until there is a definitive winner.
So a typical game of it goes like this: "Simon says, put your thumb in your ear!" Most do, but a few stragglers who didn't are out. "Simon says, clap your knees!" Everyone does except one person who is now out. "Stretch up high!" A few people who do it are now out, and so it goes, elimination.
Many trained this way may well have grown up with precisely the same mentality. "Simon says, smash the altar!" Smash, smash, smash! "Simon says, pull your rosary apart!" Rrrrip - snap! "Go to confession!" Oops, those guys went to confession and now they are out. Can the rise of a "Wanderer" and "CUF" ("Catholics United for the Faith") and "EWTN" (Eternal Word Television Network) and likewise conservative Novus Ordo groups be otherwise accounted for? So ingrained are these types into simply following "orders" without question no matter what that until "Simon says, question within yourselves whether I am really IT or not" (a command which, unlike any number of similar commands to question practically everything else, itself conveniently fails to come), would come along would absolutely never question it, it simply wouldn'thave existed at all.
If that's all someone ever got from their "Catholic education," then one could hardly blame them, though of course it will be for God to peer into their individual hearts and inquire, "could you not have seen or known that no bad thing could ever be good to do, even if so ordered by any and every possible authority in the earth?" For their sakes, one can only pray that the Heavenly Court will be more merciful than the Nuremburg Trials, at which "I was just following orders", was never an acceptable excuse for working self-evident evils. And at any event, even if they can be forgiven, the fact remains that in life they have accomplished nothing for the Kingdom of God. Their works are tested and burned up; nothing of value survives. Their souls will have to consider themselves fortunate to escape damnation (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
The next level up of course would be those whose works shall survive the test, whose works truly are founded on Christ, for they have at least tempered their obedience to a higher obedience to that most Higher Power which is God. These are they who resisted the false direction created at Vatican II and clung to the eternal Magisterium, who remained with the authentic Catholic Mass (however far they may have had to travel to find it), who continued with the classical Catechisms, in short, who behaved as if there really is a God to whom each must render an account. Obviously of course, this bare ability, possible to even the most ignorant and uneducated peasant, comes far short of being in a position to ascertain the full theological nature of the present circumstance such that such resistance is warranted.
Such a bare and basic stand with Tradition is the minimum for one to have continued within the visible Roman Catholic communion. Of ordinary untrained laity, nothing more can be validly required. The same does not however go for clergy, who due to their training have an obligation to labor towards getting to the bottom of understanding the present situation. After all, it is the clergy to whom the laity must look for guidance. And any valid cleric who labors to bring his flock into the wholeness of practicing the Faith therefore cannot be impeached as to his authority to do so. A layman really should be able to follow the guidance of his priest with something very close to a "Simon Says" kind of obedience, resisting only whatever obviously and patently sinful directions he might be given. The trouble for the laity comes in when they are confronted by different and conflicting clerics of at least apparent equal validity and claim on his conscience.
One shepherd says, "Stay with me; I have approval to keep the whole Faith via the Motu Proprio." Another says, "Stay with me; I will assist you in keeping the Faith regardless of whether the Motu Proprio can apply to me (and you) or not." Still another says, "Stay with me; I will assist you in keeping the Faith and help you to understand why non-Catholics cannot command Catholic spiritual guidance." To the layman they all look the same. They all keep one visibly within the Catholic communion and promote a Catholic way of life. Once again, a great decision ends up with the individual layman. Who will receive my ecclesiastical vote? Most often the decision is made along practical lines. "I can get to one in half an hour; the other two are four and six hours away, respectively," or else "Well, There’s only Father’s X and Y anywhere near here, but Fr. X seems kind of kooky and weird whereas Fr. Y is obviously a very holy and prayerful man." Really, so long as the true and valid Faith is provided through true and valid Sacraments and teaching, these sorts of more sublime and stratospheric questions really have little to no bearing on the life of the individual Catholic layman.
Still, any Catholic, lay or cleric, might still have to wonder about the present situation. Think of it this way. In our ordinary life nearly all of us never concern ourselves with the movements of coast guard ships or rescue planes. But get stranded on a small life raft in the middle of the ocean and suddenly these things become topics of extreme interest. Likewise, to see how extreme and dire the Church situation is, one cannot help but want to know what is going on and when and how will it finish. In this climate, even the laity, though ill-equipped in terms of theological training, should be expected to have an interest in these matters.
The book attempts much mileage from the inner conflict between the two most prominent sedevacantist positions, namely that of absolute sedevacantism and that of the Cassiciacum thesis. It states, "From a sedevacantist point of view every baptized person can arrive at the rejection of the authority of John Paul II [or whoever] on the basis of the simple exercise of the faith, through which it is impossible not to arrive at such a conclusion. In other words the matter should be simple and spontaneous, just as a significant number of faithful spontaneously rejected the Council and the New Mass."
But as one can see from the above, that the rejection of the Council and the New Mass should spontaneously take place among the faithful does not and cannot imply that the discovery of the non-papal status of the recent and current Vatican leaders must also take place immediately and spontaneously among the faithful.
It then continues, "Naturally, such spontaneity should lead, for the one group, to rigorist sedevacantism. The other group supposes that it should spontaneously lead to the Cassiciacum thesis since in the everyday practice of the faith the faithful cannot ignore the problem of the indefectibility of the Church and so fail to recognize the need for a material pope. In reality, more than spontaneity seems to be required to lend credibility to those who represent or try to explain these complex and articulate arguments. Such spontaneous adherence seems more characteristic of the simpler forms of sedevacantism, which tend either to remain at the level of a mere private hypothesis or, by virtue of that same simplicity, to lead to conclavism."
Another example follows in which the book cites a treatise by Bishop Donald Sanborn in which he quite clearly lays out the Cassiciacum thesis in terms that anyone who applies himself should be able to comprehend. Even though the thesis can have no application today, and is at most only "probable" in the case of addressing the cases of John XXIII and the first year-and-a-half of Paul VI, it is definitely worth becoming familiar with, at the very least, as an exercise in understanding semi-advanced and subtle theological distinctions. I think it is wrong and unjust for anyone to reject it merely because it is "too complicated" and then give up. Still, in the SSPX book, in a footnote, the following point is made:
"In this respect the advice Bishop Sanborn, an advocate of the Cassiciacum thesis, gives to those attempting to understand it seems especially pertinent. This bishop can be credited with trying to make the thesis more widely comprehensible in his work, De Papatu Materiali. In the last part of this work, striking for its clarity, he responds to a series of hypothetical objections that might be raised by the faithful. We quote objection XI: 'The thesis is absurd because it asserts that someone is and is not the pope at the same time. Resp. Those who object in such a way do not understand the real distinction between act and potency, nor the distinction between non-being simpliciter and being in potency. Let them consult manuals of Aristotelian-thomistic philosophy' (Most Rev. Donald J. Sanborn, On Being Pope Materially [manuscript, n.d.], p. 25. Published in Sodalitum, no. 49, p. 48). This advice is very opportune, indeed necessary. In fact, the metaphysical distinctions to which he makes reference are necessary for understanding the abc's of the thesis. Nonetheless, this very necessity demonstrates that the sensus fidei is not sufficient to reject the authority of John Paul II and to attempt to resolve the difficulties that such an act entails."
However, see what else has happened in and amongst playing the various sedevacantist "positions" against each other and actually pointing the reader to Bishop Sanborn's work? The whole problem has now somehow come to be framed in an altogether unnatural way. It has gone from the question of a layman spontaneously choosing among the various theories presented to him by various clergy to being one of each of the laity somehow having to spontaneously invent some particular whole theory of sedevacantism in his own mind from scratch. See this false framing in the following: "Once again the example of Fr. Guérard manifestly vindicates our interpretation. In spite of his lucidity from the first hour (evident in his redaction of the Brief Critical Examination of the New Mass, for which posterity is indebted to him), in spite of all his titles, it took him about fifteen years before he composed and published the Cassiciacum thesis."
So in other words, if it took a greatly trained and most erudite theologian some 15 years (no idea how that 15-year figure was arrived at; it seems rather excessive) to figure it all out, then how in the world is some ordinary layman supposed to come to all the same conclusion, independent of any theologian's guidance, in some "spontaneous" and presumably rapid manner? But this was not about laity independently having to come up with what it took a most erudite and esteemed and educated theologian 15 years to come up with, but about the laity spontaneously reading the work of said theologian and upon reading it, realize (presumably quite "spontaneously" and rather rapidly) that "of course, this is it. This is what has been happening." That more concerned laity have not all gathered around some particular "school" of sedevacantism could mean any of a variety of things.
For one, it could mean that these sorts of questions really are above many of them. Given the wide variety of circumstances in which any individual Catholic may find himself, in terms of education, experience, distractions, access to scholarly and theological works and training, natural inner disposition etc., it seems inconceivable that there would not be at least some for whom this sort of question really is over their head.
For another, if ever there were a real downside to the Cassiciacum thesis, it would be that its supposed complicatedness may cause some to give up looking any further, when the real theory does not happen to be quite that complicated. The Cassiciacum thesis however has an additional complication that I have not mentioned anywhere thus far. When originally propounded by Guérard des Lauriers, each of the non-papal Vatican leaders up to that point had been elected by a conclave in which at least some few cardinals had been appointed by a real pope (Pope Pius XII and his predecessors).
In one estimate, there were 10 such who participated in the election of Karol Wojtyla (and quite probably a similar number in the election of Albino Luciani), and only all the more who had elected Giovanni Montini. Of course, the entire cardinalate which elected Angelo Roncalli had come from true popes. But with the election or Joseph Ratzinger, for the first time all such truly papally-appointed electors had all passed away. Even factoring in what new cardinals might have been at least materially created by material popes John XXIII and Paul VI up until his resignation in the Great Detachment of 1964, these too had all passed away.
It is therefore a later addition to the Cassiciacum thesis that even a merely material but non-formal pope would be able to appoint cardinalate electors with at least some minimal claim to authority. Given that, one has to wonder how it is that such appointments can have any weight whatsoever while denying any similar weight to all other appointments of any kind. On the basis of this, even some proponents of the Cassiciacum thesis have taken to referring to Benedict XVI as being "at most" a material pope, plainly leaving open the significant probability that he isn't even that, at least if one follows the Cassiciacum thesis as originally drawn up.
But really, to apply the Cassiciacum thesis to John XXIII and the first year-and-a-half of Paul VI, this same variation must also apply, for in those days every Catholic sought to be subject to those whom everyone mistakenly regarded as pope. There therefore had to be just enough that was "partly papal" about them such that the whole Church was not in fact "outside the Church" for being in union with them and in subjection to them.
The Cassiciacum thesis in its original and purest form really does not regard the elected man to be "materially" a pope so much as merely "potentially" a pope. There is a vast difference between the two and I can't help but feel the expression "material but not formal pope" to be a bit of a misnomer. A more accurate way to express it would have been to call him a "potential but not actual pope." If he is not an actual pope, then he is nothing, canonically, and then what weight can any appointments he makes have, even to the cardinalate?
The moment one admits the man to be materially a pope, even though still not formally a pope that implies that he has attained a portion of what it is to be pope. That is to say, he really would be "Partly-pope," and partly not, odd as that would sound. Obviously, even such a "partly-pope" person would not really be a pope in the true sense of what it means to be pope, but it could admit to him having some limited prerogatives of a pope while not possessing other prerogatives of a pope necessary to complete his papacy and make him truly a Successor to the Apostle Peter.
In such a state, the man might well have a kind of secular or administrative authority in the Church, while still not possessing any spiritual authority. As such he really would be able to appoint cardinals and the appointments could have legal force in the Church, particularly if by any chance the men appointed were actually Catholics and not heretics. Think of Pope (?) Felix II who administered the Church while Pope Liberius was in held incommunicado in confinement, but avoided any doctrinal proclamations. (Not that I claim that Felix II was necessarily a material but not formal pope, but at least the man seems to have behaved exactly as a material but not formal pope ought to behave.) But by this token there would be a similar authority for all curial officer appointments, all episcopal appointments, all other such ordinarily papal appointments such as nuncios, legates, and so forth, again providing that the men so appointed are actually Catholic clerics and therefore qualified for the positions.
But he still would not be infallible, and any attempt to provide spiritual guidance of any kind would be fraught with the possibility of error or even heresy. Now I must admit that I know of no present proponents of the Cassiciacum thesis who would ever tolerate the notion of "Partly-pope," but frankly this is the only way that the thesis could even have applied to John XXIII. The organization he led was still the Church in every visible and spiritual sense that the Church had ever been the Church, in all the days of the real popes. And he was still its unchallenged leader, openly named as such on any number of occasions, and at every turn that only a pope should be named.
Therefore, he had to be more than merely "potentially" a pope; he was materially a pope. And that's inescapably just plain old "more" than being merely a "potential" pope. The Church was not wrong to call him "pope," and yet neither was the Church wrong to correct his words from heterodoxy to orthodoxy in translating them into Latin for inclusion into the Acts of the Apostolic See.
But again, from all of that one has to see that the Cassiciacum thesis proponents have again failed to express their own theory very well, and perhaps this may have something to do with why it has not caught on very widely among the Faithful, even of those who have discerned the present Sede Vacante situation. One can easily see the much wider appeal that absolute sedevacantist would have, despite its limitations of not addressing the Mystery of where the Church is, and of not having labored towards the restoration of the papacy by arranging a truly authorized and canonical conclave.
So what is it that most traditional Catholics do believe about the Church? I think it is most incorrect to claim that all or even most or even all that many individual laity who attend Motu Masses or SSPX or other non-sedevacantist "independent" chapels and clergy really believe the SSPX's public party line. They may shy away from thinking too seriously about the "pope" question mostly out of a fear of losing their only source of the Sacraments, living teaching and example, and overall parish life that some of these, especially the SSPX, might provide.
But deep down, what do the real traditional Catholic Lay Faithful really believe? They know better than to follow the Vatican leader, whatever he may be as they see it, slavishly as though he really were the Voice of Peter. At least unconsciously this cannot be anything other than a realization the man is not pope, at least in the strictly Petrine sense of what it means to be pope. For just as any number of "cafeteria Catholics" of the Novus Ordo and Liberal varieties so easily do, they know that they can disagree with the teachings of the man they nevertheless (far more out of mental habit than any real filial respect) call "pope," with absolute impunity, at least where he errs.
And it is that last bit that sets apart the non-sedevacantist traditional Catholic layman from the "cafeteria Catholic," namely that his criteria for rejecting any particular teaching or declaration or mandate or whatever coming from the Vatican is based on its incongruity with the whole of the Universal and Historic Magisterium of the Church.
The "cafeteria Catholic" practices contraception and claims that "the pope" is wrong to forbid it merely because he wants to get his rocks off and he finds the Catholic moral teaching in that area inconvenient to his tastes.
The traditional Catholic avoids the Novus Ordo and instead attends a Tridentine Latin Mass at some supposedly "forbidden" chapel because that is precisely what every pre-Vatican II Catechism teaches that he is supposed to do in order to save his soul. Though it is often quite inconvenient, entailing a long travel to and from the Mass, he makes the sacrifice no matter what "the pope" tells him to do because he would no more attend the non-Catholic Novus Ordo service than any other non-Catholic service, and no more than any faithful Jew in Biblical times would have sacrificed a pig in the Temple, even if the High Priest directed him to do it.
So from both standpoints, there is the realization, at least on an unconscious level, that "the pope" does not possess the Petrine authority, at least on some level, such that his guidance and rulings would have any force when they are patently "inconvenient" in the case of one, or outright "wrong" and sinful in the case of the other. How much respect can the man who is taken to be "the pope" command? There seems to be a whole continuum of variations among the Faithful, ranging from "I will give him as much respect as I can, within the constraints of what is morally permissible for a real and practicing Catholic, such as I am, to do," clear to "I'm through with paying any attention to the man at all, no matter what he might or might not be, canonically."
What else do the Faithful believe, by and large? Virtually all are pleased to learn of any and all traditional ordinations and consecrations, providing only the men so ordained or consecrated have been properly formed, trained, and chosen, as worthy men of the cloth. They rejoice to learn of new traditional seminaries and schools and convents and monasteries opening up, and are saddened at the reduction or closure of any of them. They feel safe and confident sending their children to these for their religious instruction and spiritual formation in exactly the way they can correspondingly feel only unease and foreboding at sending them to Novus Ordo or secular schools. We go to these clerics for the Sacrament of Penance and emerge from there with the certain assurance that our sins have been truly forgiven by God through His Church. We are justly proud of our daughters when they announce an intention to become a nun, and of our sons when they announce an intention to become a priest or monk, so long as it is with a traditional Catholic order.
On the other side, the Faithful by and large are only tormented by seeing the strife seen among those who war against their brothers in Christ, feel unjustly pressured when challenged by members of any faction to side wholeheartedly with the one faction alone and disregard all others as being criminally wrong, and frankly can only resent being told that whatever priest they have recourse to is unacceptable as a Catholic priest for whatever reason ("Oh, he's a sedevacantist!" "Oh, he's not a sedevacantist!" "Oh, he's from the Thuc line!" "Oh, he's not from the Thuc line!" "Oh, he has no faculties!" "Oh, his orders are invalid!" "Oh, he's a schismatic!" "Oh ..." whatever), especially if there is no other traditional priest anywhere near so accessible, and all the more so in the case where the priest we do have is clearly and obviously a very holy, humble, and prayerful man, a clear and real asset to the Church as a whole regardless of his particular affiliation.
One very key thing here with the faithful is that a truly prayerful and orthodox and hard-working cleric who does his job and does not make an idiot of himself will come to earn tremendous respect, and that, more than anything else, is what can make or break the Church in this most sensitive and delicate time.
So, what is the appeal of my "Lumen Gentium" thesis? (see, Down the Yellow Brick Road to Apostasy: The Lumen Gentium Syndrome There isn't a single instance in which someone understood even the basic outlines of it without agreeing that it is certainly a good one, one that brings peace and assurance to the soul where the others tend bring fear and doubt. Time does not run out on my theory the way it must eventually run out for all others. And even if there may be many who find it "too complicated," the fact remains that it affirms all of what the Catholics basically sense, at least on an intuitive level, as to where the Church is, and how safe one can rightly feel within it.
I have no doubt that time will come that some worthy and prominent cleric will discover my theory, take the time to understand it, and once understanding it become a far superior advocate of it than I could ever be. One cannot understand it without also seeing the truth of it. It avoids all the pitfalls, accounts for everything that has happened, and does so in a manner consistent with the entirety of Catholic doctrine. Even those who have various misshapen ideas in their heads that would cause them to disagree with any of my conclusions, a deeper part of them whispers in the center of their soul, "if only it were all so, for then things would be as God should intend."