Full or Partial Pope?
John C. Pontrello
Revised August 5, 2018
A hybrid traditional Catholic sect says there has been a series of partial popes in Rome for the last 59 years. Partial popes? Real popes but not in totality. The sect is called “Sedeprivationists.” Like their close cousins in the Recognize & Resist traditionalist camp, the Partial Pope theorists have also worked out a way for a “non-Catholic-heretic-antichrist-antipope” to remain the pope… sort of.
Sedeprivationism, as it has come to be called, is based on a thesis by theologian Michel Louis Guérard des Lauriers, O.P. Des Lauriers’ "Cassiciacum thesis" is summed up as follows… Francis is the pope materially but not formally, expressed by a formula "papa materialiter non formaliter". According to proponents of the sect, in order for Pope Francis to transition from partial pope to full pope he must convert to some version of pre- Vatican II Roman Catholicism. Then, all at once his lacking divine superpowers will be infused into his material body.
Sedeprivationism has been touted as a brilliant theory and I was asked for my thoughts on it. When considering traditional Catholics and their theories I have to remind myself that these are traditionalists desperately clinging for life in the wake of a massive rupture / defection of the Roman Catholic Church. In their world anything that can preserve the papacy theoretically even after it defected in reality will find an audience somewhere. Unfortunately, I can’t give Sedeprivationism a serious hearing. As with Recognize & Resist traditional Catholicism, the Cardinal Siri “Pope in Red” theory and pre-1914 classes of Sedevacantism, Sedeprivationism is also a denial of defection. Besides, there really is no such thing as a partial pope in Roman Catholicism; it is entirely made up post-Vatican II. According to Roman Catholic theology on the papacy, either Francis is full pope or no pope but that has not stopped traditional Catholics from formulating a method that lands a "Vicar of Christ" somewhere in the middle.
Bridging a gap between two sides
On a linear chart depicting the various traditional Catholic positions Sedeprivationism would land somewhere between Recognize & Resist traditional Catholicism on the left and Sedevacantism on the right, though closer to R & R as we will see shortly. Although most Sedeprivationists self-identify as Sedevacantists, they really are not. True Sedevacantists consider the Chair of Peter fully vacant whereas Sedeprivationists consider it “materially occupied” by a “potential” or partial pope. This difference may seem trivial but it has important consequences for the Sedevacantists as Partial Pope theorists muddy the position just enough to draw Sedevacantists ever closer to the R & R traditionalist camp on the left. The main difference between Partial Pope theorists and R & R traditionalists is the former believe a partial pope has *no* powers of the papacy until he becomes full pope whereas R & R traditionalists believe in a full pope with *some* powers of the papacy that are only exercised when Robert Siscoe says so. Slightly different theories; same lunacy. What makes the two theories so close is that they lead to the same place- communicatio in sacris with other Catholics whom they believe are heretics and schismatics.
Una Cum, Semi-Sedes, & Ecumenical traditional Catholicism
Tightly interwoven with Sedeprivationism is the “una cum” (together with) controversy. Essentially, the controversy is all about one question: Is it permissible for those who truly believe Pope Francis is an apostate-heretic-antipope-antichrist to pray, in the most solemn part of the traditional Mass “TOGETHER WITH THY SERVANT FRANCIS OUR POPE…”? The controversy over this issue divides the Sedevacantists into two camps: 1. traditional Sedes who say no & 2. Semi-Sedes who say yes.
While participation in una cum Francis Masses is a contradiction on its face for any true Sedevacantist since it falsifies their belief concerning the person of the pope, semi-Sedevacantists adamantly disagree. When traditional Sedevacantists point out the hypocrisy in praying one thing and believing another, Sedeprivationists pull every excuse from their bag of theologians in order to try and convince them that praying “una cum…” does not violate the law of non-contradiction. Semi-Sedes even go so far as to accuse traditional Sedevacantists of acting upon their own authority in judging that it is wrong to falsify prayers to God. Huh? Anyways, as usual, there are several reasons for Partial Papism and "una cum." Here are just two:
1. Sacrament Snatching
Sacrament Snatching occurs when Sedevacantists attempt to pilfer grace from "heretics." With end-times Sede prophets leading the way, sacrament snatching has evolved into an art. One technique is for a Sede to wear a disguise, slip into a Pope Francis Communion line or confessional booth unnoticed, bag a little grace, and then jump into the get-away car with a week’s worth of loot. Sedes who master the art can hit up the same Church week after week without anyone catching on, including God. Understandably, such una cum Sedes and their antics have been highly criticized. However, crossing over to the hybrid Sedeprivationist position seems to offer an acceptable solution for many critics. You see, somehow it is no longer controversial to pray una cum an “antichrist antipope” as long as you can say he is still at least partial pope. This single confession then grants a free license to snatch his sacraments while ostensibly praying for his conversion to full pope.
For many Sedevacantists the prospect of having a partial pope and a lot more clergy worldwide is all it takes to weaken their resolve and go “ecumenical.” Once a Sedevacantist crosses that line he will suddenly have the option to participate in a much wider variety of sacraments around the world than do the traditional Sedevacantists who are often unhappily constrained to their own sects. As an added benefit, Sedeprivationists even get to stay for the whole service and coffee hour. Essentially, when semi-Sedes accept the una cum position they join ranks with the much larger R & R traditionalist camp that includes the Society of Pius X where together they can enjoy full communion with a partial pope or partial communion with a full pope depending on which side of the linear chart one leans. By going “una cum…” everyone benefits, even the Antichrist.
2. Exit strategy
Like R & R traditionalism, Sedeprivationism has a future as both theories offer the defected Church of Rome a “theoretical out” to correct itself in the future, whereas traditional Sedevacantism is a dead end in every possible way. You see, it is more believable that a partial pope, even of Francis’ caliber, will one day become full pope than it is to believe Griff Ruby will bring his personal best selection of Sedevacantists together and “resurrect the Roman Catholic Church.”
Traditional Catholicism, in all of its forms and variations, is a movement that seeks to preserve all things good and holy about Roman Catholicism from a bygone era. Yet it should also be a process by which traditional Catholics come to conclude that the Papacy is a fraud. My problem with theories like Sedeprivationism, besides being contradictory, is that they dangle the carrot and prolong the process.
Sedeprivationism might be considered a decent effort but in the end it is just another post-defection theory that cannot save Roman Catholicism. This theory in partnership with "una cum Francis" essentially constitutes the Sedevacantist version of Recognize & Resist (R & R) traditionalist theology. These theories will continue to form and evolve for as long as Catholics believe in *some* dogmas on the papacy. Regardless of the next theory to come down the pike, Vatican II is still a legitimate Roman Catholic council advanced by its own canonized popes and at present, Pope Francis is FULL Pope of the true Roman Catholic Church of the ages. If traditional Catholics find that repugnant it is only because they still believe they must belong to it or else... The good news is Orthodox Christians have been saving their souls without the Papacy for 2000 years. Traditional Roman Catholics may not like it but they are sort of there by default.