John C. Pontrello
January 12, 2019
February 11, 2019 (revised)
This piece will address some recent Sedevacantist chatter and prove once again that Sedevacantism is heresy. As usual, I will take the position of a Roman Catholic defending his Church against those who have chosen to break communion from the Holy See. Note that I do not personally believe in the doctrines and positions of Roman Catholicism that I will defend.
The first subject I'd like to cover is terminology. According to canon law, the following titles: “The Church of Rome”, “the diocese of Rome”, “the See of Peter”, “the Apostolic See”, “the Holy Roman Church”, and “the Holy See” are interchangeable terms. Therefore, the Holy See is the Diocese of Rome. However, neither "Holy See" nor "Diocese of Rome" is “the papacy.”
To be fair, this subject can be confusing for a lot of people so I will try to break it down.
“See of Rome” / “Holy See” refers to the church’s “seat of government” and is most equated with an actual territory / location. “Office of Peter” is most equated with the bishop of Rome’s primacy of jurisdiction and authority. “The papacy” is the whole system of Church governance that includes the Holy See, Bishop of Rome, and Peter’s office as constituent parts. It is true that the definition of the papacy is often abbreviated as the "Office of Peter", but the following definitions provide better information:
Papacy = ecclesiastical system in which the pope as successor of St. Peter and Vicar of Jesus Christ governs the Catholic Church as its supreme head. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11451b.htm
Papacy. A term applied to the office and jurisdiction of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ on earth; and also to the papal authority viewed as a religious and social force in history since the beginning of the Christian era. It generally refers to the system of ecclesiastical government in the Catholic Church headed by the Pope. (Etym. Latin papa, father.) http://www.therealpresence.org/cgi-bin/getdefinition.pl
So the papacy is essentially the Catholic Church’s system of governance. There is a reason it is defined as a system. A careful study of the First Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ reveals that this system is comprised of multiple parts, including the Roman see. Therefore, the see of Rome is not the papacy per se; it’s an essential component of the system. Why in the world would the diocese of Rome be considered an essential part of the system of papacy? Because the Roman Church dogmatically teaches that Peter’s primacy (another essential component of the system of papacy) is permanently bound to it. While it could have been established that popes should pass on Peter’s office from hand to hand, the Roman Church wanted Rome dogmatized into the papacy and did so. Therefore, in the system of papacy, it is not the person who gives primacy to the see but rather the see that gives primacy to the person.
Whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole church. ~ Vatican Council I Pastor Aeternus
It should be clear then that nobody becomes Vicar of Christ without Rome. Most Catholics know this by instinct even if they can’t express it in the same words. Otherwise, men like David Bawden and Francis Schuckardt might have been accepted as popes by a larger segment of the traditional Catholic population. But it is precisely because these men never held the primacy that we can know them instantly as fakes. It should also be clear that any organization that claims to be the true Roman Catholic Church must have Rome and not just in theory. This is where Sedevacantists run into big-time problems. Sedevacantists don’t have Rome. Why? Because Rome defected. Yes, that's what it's called when a "divinely instituted" church government system - the very foundation of that Church, falls into heresy and apostasy and implements contradictory changes in its doctrines, disciplines, and liturgy by way of a General Council. Give the Sedevacantists credit that they recognize Rome’s defection and disavow the Holy See instead of capitulating but their problems remain in that they still require the papacy in order to stay in business. To solve that problem they must separate the office from its foundation. I’ll say more on this as I move along.
In my article “Devolution of the Papacy” I asserted that the theologians’ teaching of the possibility of the complete annihilation of the Holy See reveals the papacy as a false foundation of Christ’s Church. Some Sedevacantists have taken issue with the premise because the survival of their theory rests on the notion that the office of the papacy could be separated from its base. You see, by eliminating Rome, the office could free-float and wind up anywhere such as Bob & Fred's trailer park, David Bawden’s ranch, or Frank Schuchardt’s sex, drug & prayer compound in Spokane. These are the kinds of disastrous situations the Church took very specific measures to avert by way of a General Council when it etched Rome into the papacy as the foundation of Peter’s primacy. But make no mistake; this separation is exactly what the Sedevacantists are after.
But what about the Avignon papacy? Doesn’t the fact that the Church transported the papacy to Avignon for a time prove that the office of the papacy is not bound to Rome in perpetuity as I have stated? No it doesn’t. That the popes thought it was possible to move the papacy to Avignon is in itself contradictory but that’s a discussion for another time. My immediate response is that it is irrelevant that the papacy was transported to Avignon unless someone wishes to claim that the Avignon popes ceased being bishops of Rome. If so, he or she should consider this:
If anyone says that it is not by the institution of Christ the lord himself (that is to say, by divine law) that blessed Peter should have perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole church; or that
the Roman pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema.
Again, the papacy is bound to Rome not Avignon and nobody can change it:
There is nothing to prevent the decree of a general council, or the act of all peoples, from transferring the supreme pontificate from the bishop and city of Rome to another bishop and another city ~ Condemned. Syllabus of Errors
Next, I believe the subject of "foundations" is in order. In my book, I emphasize two principles:
1. The papacy is the foundation of the RCC
2. Rome is the foundation of the papacy
These principles are the reason why it is correct to say that the Diocese of Rome IS the Catholic Church. Some Sedevacantists have proposed that the Church's gift of indefectibility is conditional so that when a pope is not in office, the Church of Rome is defectible. This is false. The truth is that in Roman Catholicism, indefectibility is a divine protection given to the Church of Rome with or without a pope:
That which our lord Jesus Christ, the prince of shepherds and great shepherd of the sheep, established in the blessed apostle Peter, for the continual salvation and permanent benefit of the church, must of necessity remain forever, by Christ’s authority, in the church which, founded as it is upon a rock, will stand firm until the end of time. ~ Vatican Council I Pastor Aeternus
Remember, while indefectibility is permanent, popes are not; they die. If popes were responsible for the Church's indefectibility then the Church would be vulnerable to defection every time there is an interregnum. This is not correct.
Some Sedevacantists may ask, how do we know the above refers specifically to the Church of Rome?”
To this day and forever he (the Blessed Apostle Peter) lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors the bishops of the holy Roman see, which he founded and consecrated with his blood . ~ Vatican Council I Pastor Aeternus
But what if a usurper or antipope sits on the chair of Peter, couldn’t he cause the Roman Church to defect?
What the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the church which he once received .
~ Vatican Council I Pastor Aeternus
Which Church is that again? Remember, some Sedevacantists maintain that it’s not Rome.
For this reason it has always been necessary for every church–that is to say the faithful throughout the world–to be in agreement with the Roman church because of its more effective leadership. In consequence of being joined, as members to head, with that see, from which the rights of sacred communion flow to all, they will grow together into the structure of a single body  .~ Vatican Council I Pastor Aeternus
Without question, the RCC teaches the indefectibility of the See of Rome, not the Church in general. Remember, in the Roman system there is no papacy without Rome and no Catholic Church without the Papacy. And as strange as it may sound, Rome really is part of the Roman Catholic Church. Although Sedevacantists are well aware of the doctrine of indefectibility since they correctly use it at times against the Vatican II establishment and R & R traditionalists as need be, they must tweak the doctrine in such a way that while the Holy See defected, the true Church (themselves) didn’t. Remember, they do this by separating the office of Peter from its base. That is heresy. The truth is that if the Holy See defected, then that's all she wrote for the Roman Catholic Church.
When Sedevacantists are confounded by Rome's authoritative teachings they often resort to dubious prophecies. For example, many Sedevacantists refer to the famous prophecy of La Salette, “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist.” As already shown, proposing that the Holy See can defect at the end of time is heresy and it doesn’t matter which Catholic prophet, visionary, or theologian is credited with saying it. An end of time defection still denies the indefectibility of the Church. Remember, the Church teaches that all other particular churches can defect except Rome and now I hope it is clear why that is so. This blows up Sedevacantism and the pretensions of Roman Catholicism in general, especially with Vatican II. That is what happens when an indefectible church defects and leaves the faithful with the impossible task of putting it back together without any of the essential parts.
This is really not all that difficult to understand once we take emotions, strong western biases, and the pride that accompanies traditional Catholicism out of the equation. Even still, many Sedevacantists never give up. If they can just find a way to disconnect the office of the papacy from Rome then they can claim they are in possession of it. “Look the Church didn’t defect, we’re over here or we’re over there.” Well, the Sedevacantist church functions like that but the Church of Rome doesn’t and that's all that really matters. Once you break communion with the Holy See you’re outside the Church. That is why I have written and will continue to write that the Sedevacantists lack the correct foundation to be the Roman Catholic Church. It is also why Sedevacantism is not really a position based on a long papal interregnum; it’s a position of defection. Once you understand this, Sedevacantism crumbles into dust.