From Feeney to Sedes: Reflections on RC’s Collapse
john c. pontrello
September 1, 2019
Orthodox Christians are often criticized by Roman Catholics for not being able to know truth without ex cathedra teachings but this problem exists in Roman Catholicism despite multiple organs of infallibility. Numerous examples exist but I’ll cite just one. Soon after I came into the traditional Catholic movement and accepted the Sedevacantist position I was confronted with the water baptism VS baptism of desire (BOD)controversy and spent many months trying to determine which side was correct so I wouldn’t go to hell. Eventually, I accepted BOD because the proofs that it had been taught / approved by the church for many centuries were overwhelming. Nevertheless, it was not until I left Roman Catholicism many years later that this controversy finally made real sense. The church actually taught both doctrines “infallibly” throughout the centuries.
Historical controversies in the post schism Roman Church were always settled by the Holy See. That’s one of its purposes of course…well at least it was until Vatican II. This proved true for the baptism / BOD controversy. The Holy See under Pope Pius XII judged in favor of BOD in the Fr. Leonard Feeney controversy that erupted in the late 1940s. On July 28, 1949 Fr. Feeney was reproved in these words
“This protocol, approved by the Pope stated "This dogma must be understood in that sense in which the Church herself understands it. For, it was not to private judgments that Our Saviour gave for explanation those things that are contained in the deposit of faith, but to the teaching authority of the Church."
There it is, Roman Catholicism 101. Once the Holy See speaks the controversy is over. But Fr. Feeney, like today’s traditional Catholics failed in his duty to recognize and obey the Supreme Pontiff. Instead he and his disciples began a version of Catholicism that would later be coined “recognize & resist” traditionalism. According to R & R traditionalism, individual Catholics may disobey, disregard, or alter what comes from the Holy See if and when they perceive it contains errors.
After Fr. Feeney’s excommunication in 1953, his R & R movement remained small and isolated for about ten years. R & R traditionalism never gained much ground because at that time Catholics were sufficiently catechized in Catholic principles of governance and the duties of the faithful as explicated in the aforementioned letter from the Holy See. Then Vatican II happened and all hell broke loose. Under the leadership of several influential men, Feeney’s R & R theology would be incorporated by Catholic traditionalists across the world. In an unprecedented situation, Catholics now existed in direct opposition to a General Ecumenical Council and the current teachings of the Holy See. Roman Catholicism was collapsing.
Predictably, critics of R & R traditionalism began to emerge and expose the contradiction in recognizing and resisting the Holy See. Another traditional Catholic schism was brewing. Then, just a few short years later a new sect arrived on the scene that would shred the Roman Catholic traditional movement into countless sects at a rate not seen since the Protestant Reformation. They were called Sedevacantists.
Who are the Sedevacantists? They are traditionalists with no affiliation to Rome, an apostolic hierarchy, or any of the essential constitutional components of the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike the R & R traditionalists, the Sedevacantists do not recognize any authority in Rome and in many cases, anywhere on the earth. But don’t let this minor shortcoming fool you. Sedevacantists are God’s answer to the crisis in the Catholic Church. As such they possess superior knowledge and extraordinary powers. These powers include prophecy, doctrinal infallibility, and something not seen before in the history of Roman Catholicism- power to go back in time and undo entire papacies and hierarchies at will. Once any individual Sedevacantist decides that something was taught or decided wrongly in the past, he can strip it from the Catholic Church retroactively. That’s why Pius XII’s Holy See didn’t “really” condemn Fr. Feeney’s doctrine. When the Sedevacantists arrived two decades after Fr. Feeney’s excommunication, some Sedevacantists vindicated the Boston priest by nullifying the past ruling of the Holy See. Yet, in a great act of mercy, these same Sedevacantists spared the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. But this controversy was anything but over; in fact it was just getting started because although all Sedevacantists have equal powers they rarely all agree. It would only be a matter of time before some Sedevacantists would attempt to overrule other Sedevacantists in the Fr. Feeney case. This is what happened to Pope Pius XII. Some 65 years after the first Sedevacantists spared his pontificate a new generation of Sedevacantists decided that the Pius XII regime was responsible for allowing the Vatican II revolution by promoting heretics to high offices and incorporating the first changes into the Tridentine Mass that eventually led to the Novus Ordo Missae. Pius XII had to go too and so the new generation of Sedevacantists nullified the entire Pius XII papacy causing yet more schisms in the traditional Catholic movement.
In one respect, the Baptism of Desire controversy was the beginning of all the traditionalist schisms that exist in the Roman Catholic Church today. But what many people miss is that the real origin of these schisms is the Papacy. Fr. Feeney simply recognized the contradictions between infallible dogma and the teachings emanating from the Holy See and refused to do what Catholics are obliged to do- submit and obey. This gave rise to the Sedevacantist sects who thought they could fix the contradictions of both the Holy See and the heretical R & R traditionalist response. The Sedevacantist solution was simple. Why recognize and resist a pontificate when you can just erase it? Problem solved. Unfortunately, erasing entire pontificates and hierarchies has severe consequences. Numerous new schismatic sects were born.
With the coming of the Sedevacantists and the multiplicity of traditional Catholic denominations they incited the final decent of Roman Catholicism was well under way. The infighting among Roman Catholic sub-denominations has become so intense that many traditionalists have withdrawn from the traditional Catholic squabbles. As for the baptism / salvation controversy that produced the R & R traditionalist schism in the 1950s? It is still going strong. One popular traditional Catholic explanation for the enduring controversy is that there hasn’t been a true pope to settle the dispute. Others say that all of the modern popes have been true popes but that they were weak popes who demonstrated lack of conviction of the doctrine extra ecclesiam nulla salus – no salvation outside the Church. Trads reach these conclusions because both sides produce strong evidence in support of their positions and arguing and debating becomes exhausting. Thus they take a neutral position on the matter and say that both sides are “permissible” until a future (true) pope settles the issue once and for all. Sounds great but is this true? Should today’s Sedevacantists and R & R Traditionalists hope for better times in the future when either a true or strong pope reigns again? No. The fact is these controversies are permanent. Why permanent? Hasn’t the Church dealt with serious controversies before and resolved them? Yes but that was before traditional Catholicism permanently changed Roman Catholicism. R & R traditionalism says the RCC can officially err and teach heresy and they are correct. Therefore, it will always be required of individual Catholics to monitor and scrutinize the Holy See’s teaching. The Sedevacantists went even further. Now there are no such things as a true Church or a true pope anymore. Remember, Sedevacantists have authority to retroactively strip Roman Catholicism of councils, hierarchies, and pontificates. At any moment, your favorite pope, encyclical, saint, confessor, doctor, martyr, council etc. can be instantly abstracted from the Church, forcing you to become a heretic. As far as the baptism VS baptism of desire controversy goes, the next pope to come along and address it will only be accepted as a true pope by one side of the controversy. That’s why there can never be a true pope again. Lucky for the Sedevacantists that they don’t require one.