Gloria.TV Interviews Robert Siscoe and John Salza about their New Book, "True or False Pope?"
“True Or False Pope?”
Gloria.tv: Your book deals with the subject of Sedevacantism. Can you begin by explaining what is meant by this term?
Siscoe/Salza: The term Sedevacantism is derived from the Latin phrase sede vacante, which essentially means “the seat is vacant.” The Sedevacantists reject the legitimacy of the last six Popes (some reject centuries of Popes) and therefore hold that the Papal See (sede) has been vacant (vacante) for at least the past six decades.
What is the principle error of the Sedevacantist thesis?
Siscoe/Salza: The principle error is the rejection of the legitimacy of the lawfully elected successors to St. Peter, by an act of private judgment. They claim that the recent Popes have all be false Popes.
In the book, you mention a second fundamental error of Sedevacantism. Can you explain this?
Siscoe/Salza: The second error which follows almost immediately from the first (and sometimes precedes it) is that the entire Church over which the allegedly false Popes have reigned is a false Church. They claim that the entire visible Church defected and became a “New Church.”
But wouldn’t the defection of the visible Church be opposed to Christ’s promise of indefectibility?
Siscoe/Salza: It absolutely would, and this poses a real problem for those who hold to the Sedevacantist thesis. As we demonstrate in the book, their differing and contradictory opinions concerning this point (all of which are extremely problematic) lead to division and infighting within the movement itself.
Is there much division within the Sedevacantist movement?
Siscoe/Salza: Indeed there is. The division and fighting within Sedevacantism is more vicious than within any other sect. It is certainly far worse than what one finds in Protestantism today. In our last chapter of the book, which is titled, “The Bitter Fruits of Sedevacantism,” we show how they use the most abrasive and demeaning language against not only non-Sedevacantists, but even against their each other. They continuously declare one another heretics and anathematize each other. Our Lord told us we are to judge by the fruits, and the bitter fruits of Sedevacantism are one of the clearest signs of what can only be described as its diabolical character.
Is it just infighting, or have the Sedevacantist divided into many different sects like the Protestants did after they split from the Church?
Siscoe/Salza: Yes, the Sedevacantists are divided into many different sects. Some of these have gone so far as to elect their own “Pope” (antipope) There have been well over a dozen antipopes elected by the different groups to date. Some individual Sedevacantist clergy have simply claimed that they were elected by God directly. Needless to say, with multiple antipopes reigning, the groups are formally divided one from another. And even the groups who have not gone so far as to elect their own “Pope” often refuse communion to members of other Sedevacantist groups.
I have heard of someone that calls himself Pope Michael. Is he one of the Sedevacantist “Popes” to whom you refer?
Siscoe/Salza: Yes, David Bawden (“Pope Michael”) was elected by his parents and three or four other people. He now claims to reign over the universal Church from his mother’s basement in Kansas. You can find several documentaries of him on the internet.
You mentioned some Sedevacantist priests who claim to have been elected Pope by God. Can you elaborate?
Siscoe/Salza: In addition to those who have been elected by small groups of Sedevacantists, others have claimed that they were appointed Pope directly by God. One claims to have been appointed as Pope by Our Lady of Guadalupe. There are multiple Sedevacantist “Popes” right now, with each competing against the others for the position of head of the universal Church.
Can you explain why they believe that the last six Popes have not been true Popes?
Siscoe/Salza: They have a number of different opinions over this question as well. They begin by asserting that the last six Popes have been heretics, and that a Pope who falls into heresy cannot be a true Pope. Some claim that the recent Popes lost the papacy as soon as they fell into heresy. Others claim that, because of their alleged heresies, they were never validly elected to begin with. Some will claim that they were validly elected and legally hold the papal office, but then insist that their heresy prevented them from becoming “true” Popes. This latter opinion claims that the post-conciliar Popes are only material Popes, rather than formal Popes. So there are various opinions regarding precisely why the recent Popes were not true Popes.
What do they mean by material Pope, as opposed to formal Pope?
Siscoe/Salza: Those who hold this theory mean the men were legally elected and legally hold the papal office, but claim that God himself did not give them papal authority. And because authority (or jurisdiction), is the formal aspect of the papacy, they claim that they are not formal Popes, but only material Popes. One of today’s leading Sedevacantist bishops holds this novel opinion.
Do they base the idea that a person can be a legal Pope, yet lack papal authority, on any teaching of the Church?
Siscoe/Salza: None. It is a novel theory that was invented in the 1970s. It has no precedent in Church history and has no support in the teaching of the Church or the writings of her theologians before the current crisis erupted. The position is a pure novelty, and novelty has always been a sign of heresy.
The Sedevacantists will often cite a quotation from St. Robert Bellarmine, which says that a Pope who becomes a manifest heretic will automatically lose his office. Do you address this quotation?
Siscoe/Salza: Yes, we spend three lengthy chapters on the question of how a heretical Pope loses his office. We cite the various opinions of theologians (including Bellarmine) and explain them in great depth. What the Sedevacantists have failed to understand about the teaching of Bellarmine is that he is referring to what happens after the Church itself has determined that the Pope is a heretic. He did not mean that a Pope would lose his office if a Catholic in the pew personally thought he was a heretic, while the Church herself continued to recognize him as Pope. In other words, according to Bellarmine, the judgment that a Pope is a manifest heretic must be the public judgment of the Church, not the private judgment of individual Catholics in the pew. If the Sedevacantists had taken the time to look up this quotation and see what Bellarmine wrote a few paragraphs earlier (which, for obvious reasons, was never translated by the Sedevacantists and posted on their websites), they would see that Bellarmine himself mentioned that the Church (a council) can judge a heretical Pope (which means he would remain Pope while he was being judged by the Church). The automatic loss of office – which itself is only an opinion - would follow the Church’s judgment of manifest heresy. Later theologians who held to this opinion of Bellarmine fleshed it out by showing exactly what the Church would do in order to establish that a Pope was, in fact, a manifest heretic.
So you are saying that the Sedevacantists have misunderstood St. Bellarmine?
Siscoe/Salza: Yes, they have entirely misunderstood him. In fact, as the true teaching of Bellarmine has been demonstrated in previous articles that we have written, some Sedevacantists have now declared Bellarmine himself to be a heretic, since they now see that his teaching does not support their position, and, in fact, is exactly contrary to what they believe.
Can you elaborate on the root error underpinning their misunderstanding of Bellarmine’s teaching?
Siscoe/Salza: Their root error is the belief that there is a metaphysical incompatibility between undeclared heresy (i.e., heresy that has not been declared by the Church) and jurisdiction. In other words, they believe that just as a person who falls into mortal sin will automatically lose the state of grace, so likewise, they believe that if a Pope falls into heresy he will automatically lose his office. This is the root error of most Sedevacantists.
Does this error you mentioned help to explain any other errors of the Sedevacantists?
Siscoe/Salza: Yes it does. It explains why they believe it is unnecessary for the Church to render a judgment. Because they erroneously believe the loss of office happens automatically, as soon as an office-holder falls into heresy (and before the Church itself establishes the crime), they imagine that all they have to do is “discern” the heresy, by an act of their own private judgment (similar to the way Protestants “discern” their “truths”). In reality, there is no metaphysical incompatibility between undeclared heresy and jurisdiction, which would result in a pope (or bishop) losing their office, before the Church itself established the crime. If there was, Catholics would never know which Popes of the past were true Popes and which had fallen into heresy and secretly lost their office. Consequently, they would have no way of knowing for sure if a council had been ratified, or a doctrine defined, by a true Pope, or by a “pope” who lapsed into heresy at some point (perhaps only briefly, years earlier) and secretly lost his office. Everything would become uncertain and left to the private judgment of Catholics in the street to decide. In this case, all a Catholic would have to do to justify their rejection of a dogma is to cast doubt on the Pope who defined it, and declare, on their own authority, that he was not a true pope. Needless to say, this is an entirely unworkable and un-Catholic viewpoint. We deal with this issue at length in the book and cite authorities who explain that Christ will not depose a heretical Pope as long as the Church continues to recognize him as Pope.
What Sedevacantists have not understood is that the ipso facto (automatic) loss of office (which only one opinion on how a Pope would lose his office) would take place after the Church established the crime. Some theologians who held this opinion specified that the judgment of the Church would have to be followed by a declaratory sentence of the crime before a heretical Pope would lose his office, while others claimed that the fall would take place even before any declaratory sentence was issued (but not before the Church had established that the crime had occurred). Some other theologians, such as Cajetan and John of St. Thomas, believe that in addition to a declaration of heresy, the heretical Pope would not lose his office until the Church itself formally separated from him, by virtue of a vitandus declaration. But what is important to note (and really a matter of common sense) is that all agreed that the Church would have to establish that the Pope was guilty of the crime of heresy before the fall from office would take place.
So, are you saying that heresy itself would not cause a Pope to fall from office?
Siscoe/Salza: Yes, that is correct. In the book, we use the metaphysics of Thomas to explain why it is that heresy does not directly cause a Pope to fall from the pontificate.
Can you briefly explain this?
Siscoe/Salza: The first thing to understand is that it is Christ who technically deposes a Pope. In other words, the bond uniting the man (Pope) to the office (Pontificate) is severed by an act of God, not by an act of man. Now, the actions of man, a finite creature, cannot directly move or cause God to act. Hence the profession of a heretical doctrine by a Pope, or even the declaration of the crime of heresy by the Church (which are both actions of man), will not directly cause Christ to sever the bond. The actions of man are only the dispositive cause for the loss of office; Christ is the efficient cause. Because it is technically Christ who deposes a Pope, and because there is no metaphysical incompatibility between undeclared heresy and jurisdiction, a heretical Pope will not automatically loses his office if he falls into heresy, even publicly heresy. On the contrary, Christ will not sever the bond uniting the man to the office as long as the Church itself continues to recognize him as Pope. We flesh out these principles in the book in great detail, and cite numerous authorities in the process.
Are there any similarities between the election of a pope and the deposition of a heretical pope?
Siscoe/Salza: Yes there are, and the answer should help to flesh out what is meant by the terms dispositive cause and efficient cause. During an election, the Church merely designates the man who is to become Pope. The Church doesn’t technically make him the Pope. The man designated by the Church becomes Pope by an act of God, who joins the one elected (the matter) to the pontificate (the form). The election of the man by the Church is the dispositive cause (it disposes the man to become Pope); Christ is the efficient cause (who immediately joins the man elected to the pontificate). In like manner, when a heretical Pope loses his office, the Church establishes the crime (and/or issues the vitandus declaration, depending on which of the two opinions one holds), while Christ himself deposes the Pope by severing the bond that unites the man to the Pontificate. We can see that in both the election and deposition of a Pope, the actions of men are the dispositive cause, while the actions of Christ are the efficient cause.
There seems to be a similarity between the Church electing a Pope and God joining man and women in matrimony.
Siscoe/Salza: Yes there are. In fact, Cajetan made the same point. He explained that in both cases, there is an agreement of two wills which is followed by an act of Christ. When the two spouses consent, God joins the two in matrimony. When the Church elects a man to the papal office (one will), and the person elected accepts (second will), God joins the man to the Papacy. Unlike marriage, however, the papal bond is not necessarily until death, and therefore it can be severed by God. The separation likewise happens when there is a consent of the two wills (the will of the Pope and the will of the Church)
What are the two ways that this double consent can be expressed?
Siscoe/Salza: One way the Pope can express his will is by submitting his resignation. The Church express its will be accepting the resignation (at which point Christ will sever the bond). The other way the double consent can occur is by the Church establishing that the Pope is a heretic who should be deposed. In turn, the Pope expresses his will by holding to heresy in the face of public warnings by the Church. Cajetan explains that the Pope’s will in holding fast to heresy (public pertinacity) suffices for God to sever the bond, even if the Pope himself does not want to lose his office.
Sedevacantists will often cite canon 188.4 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law to defend their position. Do you address this?
Siscoe/Salza: Yes, the canon in question deals with tacit resignation from office due to a public defection from the Faith. The canon provides that a prelate who “publicly defects from the Faith” automatically loses his office. Sedevacantists have misinterpreted this canon to mean that if a prelate makes a heretical statement, he automatically loses his office. They erroneously believe that a materially heretical statement is equivalent to a “public defection from the Faith.” This is a complete misunderstanding of the canon. Putting aside the fact that a materially heretical statement alone (where pertinacity has not been established by the Church) does not cause any prelate to lose their office (and never has), we cite multiple canonists who explain the true meaning of canon 188.4. They explain that “public defection from the Faith,” refers to someone who has publicly joined a non-Catholic sect, either formally (sectae acatholicae nomen dare) or informally (publice adhaerere). It does not refer to a prelate who simply makes a materially heretical statement, as the Sedevacantists have imagined. Thus, there is a clear distinction between “public defection from the faith” and the “public profession of a heresy.” They are not synonymous terms. Yet for decades Sedevacantists have conflated these terms in their erroneous application of canon 188.4 to the conciliar Popes. Furthermore, in the 1917 Code, if a cleric joined a non-Catholic sect, a warning was still required to establish pertinacity. In the 1983 Code, the equivalent canon further specifies that even in the extreme case of one who “publicly defects from the Faith” (i.e., publicly joins a non-Catholic sect) a declaratory sentence must also be issued by the Church before the loss of office will be effective. We should also note that the way in which a pope loses his office differs from how other prelates lose their office. In the case of other bishop, for example, they are given their jurisdiction by the Church, and therefore the Church can take it away. Because a Pope receives his jurisdiction immediately by Christ, only Christ can take it away. So it is highly unlikely that canon 188.4 would even apply to a Pope.
To be continued…
Don't miss Part II. We discusses the crisis in the Church, other previous crises that have shaken the Church, and papal infallibility. To order the book now or read more go to: www.trueorfalsepope.com