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Etsi Multa Reloaded

John C. Pontrello

February 11, 2019


Undoubtedly there are many Sedevacantists who do not agree with me that Pius IX’s encyclical Etsi Multa, which condemned the Old Catholics, also condemns the Remnant Catholic Sedevacantists.  The Sedevacantists' counter-argument will involve a minor distinction which can best be illustrated in the following facts:  


1. The Old Catholics accused the Roman Pontiff and all the bishops, priests, and people conjoined with him in the unity of faith and communion of falling into heresy at the First Vatican Council. 

2.  The traditional Catholics accused the Roman Pontiff of being an antipope prior to the Second Vatican Council and all the bishops, priests, and the people conjoined with him in the unity of faith and communion of falling into heresy at the Second Vatican Council. 

Because Pius IX condemned #1 and many Sedevacantists hold the #2 position, the Sedevacantists are inclined to believe that they are off the Etsi Multa hook.  The insignificant distinction being made here is one of timing.  Those who hold the #2 position think it matters when the Roman hierarchy morphed into a bunch of heretics.  I have bad news for them: It doesn’t.  If a Catholic feels that he can no longer remain in communion with the Holy see, two possibilities exist: 1. That individual Catholic is in error or 2. A defection occurred.  If it was a defection then it doesn’t matter when or how it happened.

Now let’s look at some additional distinctions that do matter.  First, the Sedevacantists claim that the accused party in #1 was the legitimate hierarchy but that the accused party in #2 was an illegitimate hierarchy.  Why?  Because they accept Vatican Council I and they reject Vatican Council II.  But are Catholics free to sift and judge teachings emanating from the Holy See?  Most definitely not.  Is that not the same thing the Sedevacantists criticize the Recognize & Resist traditionalists of doing?  Sure it is.  The R & R people sift teachings of legitimate living magisteriums and the sedevacantists sift personnel of Roman hierarchies.  Half a dozen in one six in the other.  


But isn’t it true that the Sedevacantists can convincingly rifle off a litany of reasons why Vatican II is heretical?  Doesn’t matter.  The reasons why they accept 1 and reject 2 are irrelevant to the discussion. Why? Because Pius IX, in Etsi Multa reminded the Church of the correct criteria for certitude of faith in “the Roman Pontiff and all the bishops, priests and people conjoined with him in the unity of the faith and communion.” If the Sedevacantists employed these criteria for accepting #1, good for them they got it right.  But what is certain is that they do not abide by these same criteria for #2.  We know this because the Sedevacantists are not in communion with the Holy See, which they must be if they are Catholic. 


To probe deeper, just consider that the Old Catholics were wrong for calling the Roman hierarchy heretics because the Roman Pontiff and all the bishops, the priests and the people conjoined with him in the unity of faith and communion said so.  Conversely, the Vatican II popes must be considered heretics because some traditional Catholics said so.  What is the significant difference between the Old Catholic schism and the Sedevacantist schism?  There isn’t one. But there are important similarities.  In both schisms, individuals made a judgment call against the living magisterium.  Again, the reasons why they choose to accept one council and / or living magisterium and not another are irrelevant because in the Catholic Church the living magisterium is the teacher of the faithful, not groups of individuals regardless if they are called Old Catholics or Traditional Catholics.  Remember, the Old Catholics were no slouches in theology either.  Some of the most learned men in the Church opposed Pius IX and papal infallibility but to no avail.* Again, it doesn’t matter whether the Roman hierarchy is accused of "falling into heresy" or of "not being the Roman hierarchy"; either one still amounts to defection. Does anybody really think Pius IX would not have condemned the Old Catholics in nearly identical language if instead of being accused of “falling into heresy” they were accused of “not being the real Roman hierarchy”?  Come on. 

* This is not a slam against the Old Catholics.  I believe the Old Catholics were right to reject papal infallibility.  My point is only to convey that "being right" against the Holy See is not how Roman Catholicism works. It is an important lesson the Sedevacantists have not yet learned. 


The Sedevacantists like to play a game of misdirection.  They intentionally bury the defection of the Holy See and roll out the “POPE / INTERREGNUM / SEDE VACANTE” issue in giant neon lights and put that on display.  And with Pope Francis Bergoglio at center stage, the strategy is more effective than ever.  It’s actually a clever play because some theologians do teach that a pope can become a heretic and lose his office.  The Sedes can support that to some degree.  What they can’t support is the defection of the Holy See. When they try to, false assertions must be made that suggests the Church is defectible during papal interregnums. 

The Sedevacantist theory rests on the argument that the RCC is enduring an extraordinary long papal interregnum.  They will present this as though it were the factual situation of the Church and engage in lengthy debates about how long the Church can exist without a pope, often citing theologians.   All this is a distraction away from the real question which is “how long can the Church exist after it defects?”  Sadly, there would probably be a good number of Remnant Catholic Sedevacantists who would miss the absurdity of the question and try to answer it.  At any rate, the Sedevacantists can fool a lot of people with the imaginary interregnum, but not me.  At the end of the day the Sedevacantist schism is not a pope issue – it’s a defection of the Holy See issue.  So is Etsi Multa

I have consistently argued that the Sedevacantist schism is essentially no different than the Old Catholic schism.  But I am by no means the only one to make this comparison.  Let’s hear from someone qualified to speak on this subject.  In her article “Can you be both a Catholic and a Sedevacantist?” canon lawyer Cathy Caridi also equates the Sedevacantist schism with the Old Catholic schism:

“What does canon law have to say about this (Sedevacantism)? You won’t find the word “sedevacantist” anywhere in the Code of Canon Law.  But it’s nonetheless fairly easy to apply existing law to this phenomenon, because canon law does have a term for Catholics who refuse to accept the authority of the Pope, or the Bishops whom he or his predecessors have appointed as Cardinals.   Canon 751 tells us the schism is the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him.  And this is where sedevacantism fits into the equation.

As we saw in “What is the Old Catholic Church?” canon 205 tells us that a baptized Catholic is in full communion with the Catholic Church if he accepts the Catholic faith, Catholic sacraments, and Catholic governance– and it’s the issue of rejecting church governance that is the key problem with Sedevacantism.”  If you don’t believe that this or that papal document was issued by a man who is/was really the pope, then you naturally don’t intend to abide by whatever it says.  A Catholic who thinks that all the popes since St. John XXIII were invalidly elected is obviously not going to obey anything that these popes have said.  In other words, by refusing to obey the authority of the current Pope or his predecessors, a Catholic who’s a sedevacantist willfully puts himself into a state of schism.” (


Remember that Church governance is essentially comprised in the Holy See.  Remember also that the Holy See is indefectible.  It is because the Holy See is indefectible that Catholics must always maintain unity with it as the criterion for being Roman Catholic.  The Church never adds language such as “only when she is teaching rightly” or “except during papal interregnums.”  

Caridi continues:

“…schism is no laughing matter.  Under canon law it is considered a crime against religion and the unity of the Church, and thus a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication (c.1364.1).  The concept of latae sententiae penalties is largely misunderstood, as it has no parallel in the criminal law of modern countries; but in a nutshell, a person who incurs a latae sententiae penalty does so ipso facto, without any judge or other ecclesiastical authority formally imposing it on him. (See “Have Pro-Abortion Politicians Excommunicated Themselves?” for a more detailed discussion on how latae sententiae penalties work.)


True, for a Catholic to incur any latae sententiae penalty, all of the conditions listed in canon 1323 must first be met.  As has been said before many times in this space, a Catholic cannot be excommunicated accidentally or unknowingly- it can only happen if he commits an excommunicable offense with full knowledge and freedom.  But since Sedevacantists tend to cite (incorrectly) a lot of canon law in support of their positions, it seems reasonable to assume that they are aware of both the Church’s position on the crime of schism, and the penalties that may accompany it.” 

But schism is not the only problem for Sedevacantists.  Remember what Pius IX said?

Incredibly, they boldly affirm that the Roman Pontiff and all the bishops, the priests and the people conjoined with him in the unity of faith and communion fell into heresy when they approved and professed the definitions of the Ecumenical Vatican Council. Therefore they deny also the indefectibility of the Church.


Indefectibility of the Church is de fide and so to deny it is heresy.  The Remnant Catholic Sedevacantists get hit with a double whammy. 

What does all this mean? It means Sedevacantists are schismatics and heretics. They are schismatics for breaking communion with the Holy See and they are heretics for denying its indefectibility. This is exactly what Pius IX wrote in Etsi Multa.  These are not personal attacks against the character of the many good people who hold the Sedevacantist position.  It’s just the reality of the situation when would-be Catholics oppose the Holy See. 


At one time I was a Sedevacantist too.  Then I got honest with myself and Sedevacantism and accepted the reality that in order to be a Sedevacantist you have to be a heretic and a schismatic.  It’s a rigged game.  The house always wins.   ​In Roman Catholicism, Rome is the House. 



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