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Coat of arms used by the Holy See between the death or renunciation of a pope and the election of a new incumbent Sede vacante.svg
Coat of arms used by the Holy See between the death or renunciation of a pope and the election of a new incumbent

Sedevacantism is the position held by some people who identify as Catholic [1] [2] that the present occupier of the Holy See is not truly the pope due to the mainstream church's espousal of what they see as the heresy of modernism and that, for lack of a valid pope, the See has been vacant since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958 or the death of Pope John XXIII in 1963.


The term sedevacantism is derived from the Latin phrase sede vacante , which means "with the chair [of Saint Peter] vacant". [3] The phrase is commonly used to refer specifically to a vacancy of the Holy See from the death or resignation of a pope to the election of his successor. Sedevacantism as a term in English appears to date from the 1980s, though the movement itself is older. [4]

Among those who maintain that the see of Rome, occupied by what they declare to be an illegitimate pope, was really vacant, some have chosen an alternative pope of their own, and thus in their view ended the vacancy of the see, and are known sometimes as conclavists . [5]

The number of sedevacantists is largely unknown, with some claiming estimates of tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. [6] Many active sedevacantists are involved with traditionalist chapels, societies and congregations, such as the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen or the Society of Saint Pius V, attending their chapels for Mass and Confession; other sedevacantists attend services of the Eastern Catholic Church or the Society of Saint Pius X, although the SSPX officially condemns sedevacantism. Sedevacantists claim that the post–Vatican II Mass is invalid or illegitimate.


Sedevacantism owes its origins to the rejection of the theological and disciplinary changes implemented following the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). [7] Sedevacantists reject this Council, on the basis of their interpretation of its documents on ecumenism and religious liberty, among others, which they see as contradicting the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church and as denying the unique mission of Catholicism as the one true religion, outside of which there is no salvation. [8] They also say that new disciplinary norms, such as the Mass of Paul VI, promulgated on 3 April 1969, undermine or conflict with the historical Catholic faith and are deemed blasphemous, while post-Vatican II teachings, particularly those related to ecumenism, are labelled heresies. [9] They conclude, on the basis of their rejection of the revised Mass rite and of postconciliar Church teaching as false, that the popes involved are false also. [1]

Among even traditionalist Catholics, [2] [10] this is a quite divisive question, [1] [2] so that many who hold it prefer to say nothing of their view. Others believe it is fine to go to Masses or Divine Liturgies of Eastern Catholic Churches, where Francis' name is said in the Roman Canon or Anaphora, for the sake of fulfilling the obligation to attend Mass and to have access to the sacraments. Other sedevacantists, basing on the fact that Canon law prohibits episcopal consecrations without papal mandate, prefer to stay at home and reject Masses offered by sedevacantists, because all sedevacantist bishops (and consequently priests) today derive their Holy Orders from bishops who do not have papal mandate to consecrate bishops, such as Archbishop Ngô Đình Thục and Bishop Alfredo Méndez-Gonzalez. [11]

Traditionalist Catholics other than sedevacantists recognize as legitimate the line of Popes leading to and including Pope Francis. [12] Some of them hold that one or more of the most recent popes have held and taught unorthodox beliefs, but do not go so far as to say that they have been formal heretics though as of 2018 there are some who are considering Pope Francis a heretic because of the encyclical Amoris Laetitia . Sedevacantists, however, claim that the infallible Magisterium of the Catholic Church could not have decreed the changes made in the name of the Second Vatican Council, and conclude that those who issued these changes could not have been acting with the authority of the Catholic Church. [13] Accordingly, they hold that Pope Paul VI and his successors left the true Catholic Church and thus lost legitimate authority in the Church. A formal heretic, they say, cannot be the Catholic pope. [14]

Sedevacantists defend their position using numerous arguments, including that particular provisions of canon law prevent a heretic from being elected or remaining as pope. Paul IV's 1559 bull, Cum ex apostolatus officio, stipulated that a heretic cannot be elected pope, while Canon 188.4 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law provides that a cleric who publicly defects from the Catholic faith automatically loses any office he had held in the Church. A number of writers have engaged sedevacantists in debate on some of these points. Theologian Brian Harrison has argued that Pius XII's conclave legislation permitted excommunicated cardinals to attend, from which he argues that they could also be legitimately elected. Opponents of Harrison have argued that a phrase in Pius XII's legislation, "Cardinals who have been deposed or who have resigned, however, are barred and may not be reinstated even for the purpose of voting", though it speaks of someone deposed or resigned from the cardinalate, not of someone who may have incurred automatic excommunication but has not been officially declared excommunicated, means that, even if someone is permitted to attend, that does not automatically translate into electability.[ citation needed ] While Sedevacantists' arguments often hinge on their interpretation of modernism as being a heresy, this is also debated. [15]

The Catholic Encyclopedia in 1913 said: "The pope himself, if notoriously guilty of heresy, would cease to be pope because he would cease to be a member of the Church." [16] [17] Likewise, theologians Wernz-Vidal, commentary on Canon Law: Ius canonicum :

Through notorious and openly divulged heresy, the Roman Pontiff, should he fall into heresy, by that very fact (ipso facto) is deemed to be deprived of the power of jurisdiction even before any declaratory judgment by the Church... A Pope who falls into public heresy would cease ipso facto to be a member of the Church; therefore, he would also cease to be head of the Church. [18]

There are estimated [ by whom? ] to be between several tens of thousands and more than two hundred thousand sedevacantists worldwide, mostly concentrated in the United States, Canada, France, the UK, Italy, and Australia, but the actual size of the sedevacantist movement has never been accurately assessed. It remains extremely difficult to establish the size of the movement for a wide range of reasons – not all sedevacantists identify themselves as such, nor do they necessarily adhere to sedevacantist groups or societies. [19] (See further the section on statistics in the article Traditionalist Catholic .) Catholic doctrine teaches the four marks of the true Church are that it is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Sedevacantists base their claim to be the remnant Catholic Church on what they see as the presence in them of these four "marks", absent, they say, in the Church since the Second Vatican Council. Their critics counter that sedevacantists are not one, forming numerous splinter groups, each of them in disagreement with the rest. Most sedevacantists hold the Holy Orders conferred with the present revised rites of the Catholic Church to be invalid due to defect both of intention and form. [20] Because they consider the 1968 revision of the rite of Holy Orders to have invalidated it, they conclude that the great majority of the bishops listed in the Holy See's Annuario Pontificio , including Benedict XVI and Francis themselves, are in reality merely priests or even laymen.

Early proponents

One of the earliest proponents of sedevacantism was the American Francis Schuckardt. Although still working within the "official" Church in 1967, he publicly took the position in 1968 that the Holy See was vacant and that the Church that had emerged from the Second Vatican Council was no longer Catholic. An associate of his, Daniel Q. Brown, arrived at the same conclusion. In 1969, Brown received episcopal orders from an Old Catholic bishop, and in 1971 he in turn consecrated Schuckardt. Schuckardt founded a congregation called the Tridentine Latin Rite Catholic Church.[ citation needed ]

In 1970, a Japanese layman, Yukio Nemoto (1925–88), created Seibo No Mikuni (Kingdom of Our Lady, 聖母の御国), a sedevacantist group. [21] Another founding sedevacantist was Father Joaquín Sáenz y Arriaga, a Jesuit theologian from Mexico. He put forward sedevacantist ideas in his books The New Montinian Church (August 1971) and Sede Vacante (1973). His writings gave rise to the sedevacantist movement in Mexico, led by Sáenz, Father Moisés Carmona and Father Adolfo Zamora, and also inspired Father Francis E. Fenton in the U.S.

In the years following the Second Vatican Council other priests took up similar positions, including:

Bishops and holy orders

Catholic doctrine holds that any bishop can validly ordain any baptised man to the priesthood or to the episcopacy, provided that he has the correct intention and uses a doctrinally acceptable rite of ordination, whether or not he has official permission of any sort to perform the ordination. Absent specified conditions, canon law forbids ordination to the episcopate without a mandate from the pope, [23] and both those who confer such ordination without the papal mandate and those who receive it are subject to excommunication. [24]

In a specific pronouncement in 1976, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared devoid of canonical effect the consecration ceremony conducted for the Palmarian Catholic Church by Archbishop Ngô Đình Thục on 31 December 1975, though it refrained from pronouncing on its validity. This declaration also applied pre-emptively to any later ordinations by those who received ordination in the ceremony. [25] Of those then ordained, seven who are known to have returned to full communion with Rome did so as laymen. [26] When Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo conferred episcopal ordination on four men in Washington on 24 September 2006, the Holy See's Press Office declared that "the Church does not recognize and does not intend in the future to recognize these ordinations or any ordinations derived from them, and she holds that the canonical state of the four alleged bishops is the same as it was prior to the ordination." [27] This denial of canonical status means Milingo had no authority to exercise any ministry.[ citation needed ]

However, Rev. Ciro Benedettini, of the Holy See Press Office, who was responsible for publicly issuing, during the press conference, the communiqué on Milingo, stated to reporters that any ordinations the excommunicated Milingo had performed prior to his laicization were "illicit but valid", while any subsequent ordinations would be invalid. [28] [29]

The bishops who are or have been active within the sedevacantist movement can be divided into four categories:

Bishops consecrated within the pre–Vatican II church who later took a sedevacantist position

To date, this category seems to consist of only two individuals, both now deceased: the Vietnamese Archbishop Thục (consecrated 1938) (who, before his death in 1984, was reconciled with the Church of Pope John Paul II) [30] and the Chicago-born Bishop Alfredo Méndez-Gonzalez (consecrated 1960), [31] the former Bishop of Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

Bishops whose lineages derive from the foregoing bishops

Which essentially means the "Thục line" of bishops deriving from Archbishop Thục. While the "Thục line" is lengthy and complex, reportedly comprising 200 or more individuals, [32] the sedevacantist community generally accepts and respects most of the 12 or so bishops following from the three or four final consecrations that the Archbishop performed (those of Bishops Guerard des Lauriers, Carmona, Zamora, and Datessen). [33] Bishop Méndez consecrated one priest to the episcopacy, Clarence Kelly of the Society of St. Pius V, [34] who further consecrated Joseph Santay. [35] Many bishops in the "Thục line" are part of the conclavist Palmarian Catholic Church, due to the very numerous episcopal consecrations within its organization, with their first five bishops consecrated by Archbishop Thục himself, who believed in their claim that the Blessed Virgin Mary chose him to be the one to supply their organization with bishops. All priests in the Palmarian Catholic Church are bishops too. On 24 September 1991, Mark Pivarunas was consecrated a bishop at Mount Saint Michael by Bishop Moisés Carmona. On 30 November 1993, Bishop Pivarunas conferred episcopal consecration to Father Daniel Dolan in Cincinnati, Ohio, and on 11 May 1999, he consecrated Martin Davila for the Unión Católica Trento to succeed Bishop Carmona.[ citation needed ]

Bishops whose lineages derive from earlier movements

A considerable number of sedevacantist bishops are thought to derive from Bishop Carlos Duarte Costa, who in 1945 set up his own schismatic "Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church". [36] [37] Carlos Duarte Costa was not a sedevacantist, and instead questioned the status of the papacy itself – he denied Papal Infallibility and rejected the pope's universal jurisdiction. [38] In further contrast to most Catholic traditionalism Duarte Costa was left-wing. [39] More numerous are those who have had recourse to the Old Catholic line of succession. Bishops of this category include Francis Schuckardt and others associated with him. The orders of the original Old Catholic Church are regarded by the Roman Catholic Church as valid, though no such declaration of recognition has been issued with regard to the several independent Catholic churches that claim to trace their episcopal orders to this church. Some shadow of doubt hovers over the validity of the orders received from these bishops, and the claimants have not received wide acceptance in the sedevacantist community, though most have at least some small congregation.[ citation needed ]

Bishops whose orders are generally regarded as invalid through lack of proper lineage

Lucian Pulvermacher (also known as Pope Pius XIII) and Gordon Bateman of the small conclavist "True Catholic Church" fall into this category. For Lucian Pulvermacher to be consecrated a bishop, he interpreted a passage of theologian Ludwig Ott to mean that he can, as pope, although just a simple priest, give himself special authority to confer Holy Orders. So he proceeded to ordain Bateman as a priest then consecrated him as a bishop. Bateman then in turn as bishop consecrated Pulvermacher as bishop.


Arguments against Sedevacantism

Against sedevacantism, Catholics advance arguments such as:


Sedevacantists advance counter-arguments, such as: They say that they do not repudiate the dogma of papal infallibility as defined at the First Vatican Council, and maintain that, on the contrary, they are the fiercest defenders of this doctrine, since they teach that the Apostolic See of Peter, under the rule of a true pope, cannot promulgate contradictory teachings. [45]

Liturgical criticism

Like other traditionalist Catholics, sedevacantists criticize liturgical revisions made by the Holy See since the Second Vatican Council:


Sedevacantism appears to be centred in, and by far strongest in the United States, and secondarily in other English-speaking countries such as Canada (mainly Ontario) and the United Kingdom, as well as Poland, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Brazil. [54] [55] Anthony Cekada has described the United States as a "Bastion of Sedevacantism", contrasting it with France, where the non-sedevacantist Society of Saint Pius X has a virtual monopoly on the traditionalist Catholic movement. [56]

Sedevacantist groups include:

See also


  1. The phrase "Mass or Lord's Supper" is used exactly twice in the revised Missal: GIRM 17 and 27
  2. The phrase "the altar or the table of the Lord" is used once (GIRM 73), immediately after using the word "altar" on its own; "the eucharistic table" is used in GIRM 73 in the same sense as that in which the 1962 Missal used "table" in, for instance, the Code of Rubrics, 528
  3. The revised Missal uses the word "calix", which in the official English translation appears as "chalice", not as "cup"
  4. The word "sacrifice" appears 215 times in the revised Missal
  5. The word "altar" appear 345 times in the revised Missal
  6. The word "chalice" appears 177 times in the revised Missal.
  7. For instance, the 1973 English translation had, immediately after the consecration, "He (the priest) shows the chalice to the people, places it on the corporal, and genuflects in adoration."

Related Research Articles

Ngô Đình Thục

Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Huế, Vietnam, and was later a sedevacantist bishop. He was a member of the Ngô family who ruled South Vietnam in the years leading up to the Vietnam War. He was the founder of Dalat University.

Mark Pivarunas

Mark Anthony Pivarunas, CMRI is an American sedevacantist bishop and the Superior General of the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen.

Traditionalist Catholicism Movement of Catholics in favour of restoring many or all of the liturgy, practice, and beliefs of Catholics from before the Second Vatican Council

Traditionalist Catholicism is a set of religious beliefs and practices comprising customs, traditions, liturgical forms, public and private, individual and collective devotions, and presentations of Catholic Church teachings that were in vogue in the decades that immediately preceded the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). It is associated in particular with attachment to the 1570–1970 form of the Roman Rite Mass, which traditionalist Catholics call "the Latin Mass" "the traditional Mass, the ancient Mass, the immemorial Latin Mass", "the Mass of All Time", "the Mass of the ages" or the Mass of the Apostles", "the Traditional Latin Mass", or "the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite".

Daniel Dolan

Daniel Lytle Dolan is an American sedevacantist bishop.

Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen

The Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (CMRI) is a Sedevacantist Traditionalist Catholic religious congregation that rejects the authority of the recent Popes, including Benedict XVI and Francis, and is dedicated to promoting the message of Our Lady of Fátima and devotion to the Virgin Mary according to the teachings of St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716), whom they regard as their spiritual founder. Over the years, the Congregation has also been known as the Fatima Crusaders and Oblates of Mary Immaculate Queen of the Universe.

Society of Saint Pius X Association of the faithful, not in communion with the Holy See

The Society of Saint Pius X is an international priestly fraternity founded in 1970 by Marcel Lefebvre, a traditionalist French Archbishop who later clashed with the Holy See over the society.

Sede vacante is a term for the state of an episcopal see while without a bishop. In the canon law of the Catholic Church, the term is used to refer to the vacancy of any see of a particular church, but it comes into especially wide journalistic use when the see is that of the papacy.

The Society of Saint Pius V, is a sedevacantist society of priests, formed in 1983 and based in Oyster Bay Cove, New York. The priests of SSPV broke away from the Society of St. Pius X over liturgical issues, and hold that many in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church no longer adhere to the Catholic faith but instead profess a new, modernist, Conciliar religion. SSPV priests regard the questions of the legitimacy of the present hierarchy and the possibility that the Holy See is unoccupied (sedevacantism) to be unresolved. The SSPV is led by its founder, Bishop Clarence Kelly, and named after Pius V, who promulgated the Tridentine Mass.

Bernard Fellay

Bernard Fellay, SSPX, is a Swiss bishop and former superior general of the Traditionalist Catholic priestly fraternity Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). In 1988, Pope John Paul II announced that Fellay and three others were automatically excommunicated for being consecrated as bishops by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, an act that the Holy See described as "unlawful" and "schismatic". Archbishop Lefebvre, and Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer who co-consecrated these four bishops, were also excommunicated. At that time, he was the youngest bishop of the Roman Catholic Church at 29 years old.

Independent Catholicism is a denominational movement of clergy and laity who self-identify as Catholic and form "micro-churches claiming apostolic succession and valid sacraments", in spite of not being affiliated to the historic Catholic churches such as the Roman Catholic and Old Catholic churches. The term "Independent Catholic" derives from the fact that "these denominations affirm both their belonging to the Catholic tradition as well as their independence from Rome."

Clarence Kelly is a traditional Catholic bishop. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, was ordained as a priest on April 13, 1973, in Écône, Switzerland by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre for the Society of Saint Pius X, and was consecrated as a bishop by Bishop Alfredo Méndez-Gonzalez.

Anthony Cekada American priest

Anthony J. Cekada was an American Sedevacantist priest and author.

Michel-Louis Guérard des Lauriers was a Dominican theologian and, in later life, a traditionalist bishop who supported sedevacantism and sedeprivationism and was excommunicated.

Robert Fidelis McKenna, O.P. was an American bishop and Roman Catholic priest of the Dominican order. He was known for his traditionalist Catholic positions and was an advocate of sedeprivationism. He was also known from the Fox TV-movie The Haunted, which is about the Smurl haunting where McKenna conducted two exorcisms.

Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney

The Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney was established on 18 January 2002 by Pope John Paul II for traditionalist Catholic clergy and laity within the Diocese of Campos in Brazil. It is the only personal apostolic administration in existence, and the only Catholic Church jurisdiction devoted exclusively to celebrating the pre-1965 form of the Roman Rite. Its current Apostolic Administrator is Bishop Fernando Arêas Rifan.

Jean Laborie was a French bishop of an independent Catholic church. Independent Catholicism refers to a loose movement of autonomous church groups which reject official Roman Catholic teachings.

The Thesis of Cassiciacum is held by groups such as the Istituto Mater Boni Consilii and others, and holds that, while the current occupant of the papacy is a duly elected pope, he lacks the authority to either teach or govern unless he recants the changes brought by the Second Vatican Council.

Joaquín Sáenz y Arriaga

Joaquín Sáenz y Arriaga was a Mexican Catholic priest and theologian. Jesuit from 1916 to 1952 he was later a harsh critic of the Second Vatican Council decisions and of the post-conciliar Pope Paul VI. In 1972, he was declared excommunicated by the Roman Catholic bishops' conference of Mexico. He is considered as the promoter of the sedevacantist ideas.

Donald Sanborn

Donald J. Sanborn is an American sedevacantist bishop, known for his advocacy of sedevacantism and sedeprivationism. He currently serves as rector of the sedevacantist Most Holy Trinity Seminary in Brooksville, Florida. He was ordained a priest in June 1975 as a member of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). Canonical recognition of the SSPX had been withdrawn by the local Roman Catholic bishop in May 1975, one month prior to Sanborn's ordination, and this move would later be upheld by the Vatican. In 1983, he broke ties with the SSPX, and established the independent Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Martinez, California in 1984. He was consecrated a bishop by the sedevacantist bishop Robert McKenna in 2002.

Moisés Carmona

Moisés Carmona y Rivera was a traditionalist Catholic bishop from Acapulco, Mexico who was a proponent of sedevacantism, which holds that the papacy is vacant. He was one of the bishops consecrated by Bishop Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục.


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Sedevacantist sites

Sedevacantist resources

Criticisms of sedevacantism