Some months back, I received a telephone call from a sedevacantist madman who challenged me to a debate on whether Pope Benedict XVI is the pope. This individual should know that debates are not the way we do our apostolate. I have nothing against debating, but we engage in other apostolates that take up our time, I believe, more profitably: publishing, street evangelism, our school, night classes here at the Center, putting on conferences, various youth apostolates, public outreach to spread the traditional Mass, and giving talks on a Catholic America.
Besides, I am of the opinion that debating the undebatable is not a prudent thing. Debating whether the pope is the pope is like debating the wetness of water, the heat of the sun, or the fourness of two plus two.
Scripture admonishes us to “Talk not much with a fool, and go not with him that hath no sense” (Ecclus. 22:14). This man fits the description.
But some people, including my madman, can’t take no for an answer. A few days after the initial call, I received a menacing telephone message, in Madman’s familiar voice, breathing out threatenings. I was soon to undergo a cyber attack, and the vastly superior Alexa ratings of this muscled web warrior would be marshaled forth against me.
Well, the great denunciation finally came. Thus spake Madman: Brother André and his associates at Saint Benedict Center are apostate novus-ordo heretics who believe Muslims worship the true God and reject no salvation outside the Church. Oh, yes, and they’re going to hell, too.
Here are some brief responses:
Brother André Marie believe that Catholics and Muslims worship the same God. Really? No, actually, I don’t. This past January, I authored a piece called That We May Know the True God, in which I made it clear that those who do not believe in the Trinity do not believe in God. With St. Thomas, I argued that “unbelievers” do not believe in God, either. The word “unbeliever” is used by St. Thomas to include heretics as well as Jews and pagans, which would include Muslims in the medieval theological lexicon.
I am an “apostate.” Madman called me this all through his jeremiad. What is an apostate? Let us look at Canon Law. It would do no good to quote the 1983 Code of Canon Law on the sin of apostasy, since this code was promulgated by “Antipope” John Paul II, so I will quote instead the 1917 Code:
1325. § 2. Post receptum baptismum si quis, nomen retinens christianum, pertinaciter aliquam ex veritatibus fide divina et catholica credendis denegat aut de ea dubitat, haereticus; si a fide christiana totaliter recedit, apostata; si denique subesse renuit Summo Pontifici aut cum membris Ecclesiae ei subiectis communicare recusat, schismaticus est.
The pertinent passage is italicized, and means: “[If, after the reception of baptism, one] withdraws entirely from the Christian faith, he is an apostate.” Note, the Church does not regard heretics or schismatics as apostates. They are being distinguished here, as the heretic — and presumably the schismatic — are those nomen retinens christianum (retaining the christian name), whereas apostasy entails a complete withdrawal from the Christian Faith. But, just because Brother André believes in “Antipope” Benedict XVI, he’s an “apostate.” Even by sedevacantist standards, this is lunacy.
We don’t believe there is no salvation outside the Church. That’s right! You heard it here, folks. By Madman’s logic, a non-sedevacantist can’t believe in this dogma. It would, of course, be useless for me to point out to Madman that Saint Benedict Center has a long history of defending extra ecclesiam nulla salus. Madman’s theology is like the science of “global warming.” No matter what, all the data — no matter how contradictory of the position — proves it.
We are novus-ordo Catholics. The novus ordo (new order) refers to Pope Paul VI’s new order of Mass. Used as an adjective, the word novus-ordo is a fairly fluid term employed by traditionalists to describe people, places, and things associated with the new rite. For some sedevacantists, all non-sedevacantists are novus-ordo Catholics. Since I believe in the Roman pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, Madman calls me novus-ordo. We don’t have the new Mass in our chapel, don’t frequent it elsewhere, and do worship in the traditional rites, but we are nonetheless novus-ordo.
Madman is accused by some of his popeless fellow travelers of being novus-ordo, since he regularly attends the Byzantine Divine Liturgy of a priest who is in communion with Pope Benedict XVI. He even defends this practice with great verve on his web site.
The pharisaical tendency of the sedevacantist not to touch anything rendered unclean by the papacy has given rise to the phenomenon of the “home aloner,” that is, the person who proves his piety by never going to Mass, since all priests are either heretics, schismatics, or otherwise nefarious persons that holy people must shun. While many of Madman’s beliefs would make him a home aloner, he chooses instead to receive the sacraments habitually from a novus-ordo priest, whom he calls a heretic on his web site.
But guilt by association doesn’t apply to Madman; it only applies to his enemies, like me.
And by the way, he also accuses me of being a hypocrite.
Madman said many other things, too, for he is garrulous in the extreme, but the main highlights (or lowlights, as it were) have been addressed.
Please join me in offering an Ave for this man, his associates, and the poor people they mislead. “This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:28).
In honor of the Five Wounds of Christ, I will conclude with five reasons why I am not a sedevacantist:
1. The papacy is the principle of the Church’s unity and visibility. This is according to Vatican I. It is dogmatic. The half-century of a popeless “church” that the sedevacantists imagine reduces the pontifical monarchy that is Christ’s Church to a republican confederacy of mutually-loathing sedevacantist bishops, the priests attached to them, and the hapless faithful who attend their various chapels. These poor people are frequently in doubt about which priest is really a priest or which bishop is really a bishop, who might be a heretic, or who an infiltrator. For this reason, many sedevacantist clergy are conditionally re-ordained numerous times. This is madness, not Catholicism.
2. All of the proofs for sedevacantism presume that we can judge the interior dispositions of the supreme pontiff. If he says something heretical, he must be a formal heretic, automatically self-excommunicated and therefore bereft of the supreme pontificate. But this judging of the interior forum is not permitted to Catholics. And this notion that the subject judges the superior — a democratic, egalitarian, and Protestant, idea — is not at all Catholic. Nemo judicat primam sedem. No man judges the first see.
3. Sedevacantism is gnostic. It is about a decade newer than Vatican II. This means that the great tragedy of the Church’s decapitation was kept a secret for ten years. Every cardinal, bishop, priest, religious, and layman in the world gave adherence to an anti-pope, until someone came along and spotted that the emperor was wearing no clothes. Only, what was obvious to that someone was not obvious to the entire Catholic world. This is gnosticism, not Christianity.
4. Sedevacantism presents an unsolvable dilemma. Without a functioning hierarchy, the Church will never be able to choose a new pope. The present hierarchy of the Church is no hierarchy at all to the sedevacantist, but a gathering of non-bishops appointed by anti-popes. Whence, then, comes a valid pope? Some sedevacantists, seeing the obvious problem here, have opted to put on their own conclaves and produce their own anti-popes. This solves the frying-pan problem by leaping into the fire, and makes the whole thing appear as silly as it really is. Other sedevacantists, not satisfied with this solution, frankly admit they have no answer to how we will get a true pope — but it will happen. Like the fellow who couldn’t define pornography, they say they will know an authentic papacy when they see it. And this shows their ultimate folly, pride, and conceit: they have constituted themselves judges of the supreme pontiff. Now that they have taken upon themselves this weighty responsibility, they must judge every pretender to the Petrine Throne. But, if a man stepped forward claiming to be Pope — claiming to be the real one who would set things right, because he agrees with everything the sedevacantists say — how will they know he is the one? Signs and wonders? The devil can produce those, and the Magisterium judges authentic miracles from preternatural mischief. You need a pope for that. The dog is chasing his tail. And regardless of what might be the criteria by which the true pope manifests himself, what if all the sedevacantists don’t agree that this particular candidate is the real Vicar of Christ? Having cast off the monarchy of the pope, they now exercise the “tyranny of the masses” some call democracy. This is Protestantism, not Catholicism.
5. By their behavior, sedevacantists like Madman frequently prove, in an empirical way, what we know from theology: that the sin of schism is a sin against charity. They do this by their seething anger, outlandish peevishness, and adolescent trash talk resembling that of a professional wrestler.
From anger and hatred and all ill will, O Lord, deliver us!