Sedevacantism (Latin: Sedevacantismus) is a doctrinal position within traditionalist Catholicism, which holds that the present occupier of the Holy See is not a valid pope due to the pope's espousal of one or more heresies and that therefore, for lack of a valid pope, the See of Rome is vacant.
The term sedevacantism is derived from the Latin phrase sede vacante, which means "with the chair [i.e. of the Bishop of Rome] being vacant". The phrase is commonly used to refer specifically to a vacancy of the Holy See from the death, the resignation, the falling into insanity, or the public heresy of a pope to the election of his successor.
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, thereby in their view ending the vacancy of the see; such are known sometimes as conclavists.
The number of sedevacantists is unknown and difficult to measure; estimates range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.
Sedevacantism owes its origins to the rejection of the theological and disciplinary changes implemented following the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). 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. 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. 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 also false. Among even traditionalist Catholics, this is a quite divisive question.
Traditionalist Catholics other than sedevacantists recognize as legitimate the line of popes leading to and including Pope Francis. 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. Accordingly, they hold that Pope John XXIII 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.
While Sedevacantists' arguments often hinge on their interpretation of modernism as being a heresy, this is also debated.
Some sedevacantists accept the consecrations and ordinations of sedevacantist bishops and priests, and the offering of Masses and the administration of sacraments by the said bishops and priests, to be licit because of epikea, i.e. "the interpretation of the mind and will of him who made the law". In this case, the ecclesiastical laws (e.g. prohibition of consecrations of bishops without papal mandate; prohibition of administration of sacraments without ecclesiastical authorization) are interpreted to cease when to follow them would be impossible, harmful, or unreasonable, or would mean transgressing divine laws (e.g. the church must have bishops and priests; Catholics must attend Mass and receive the sacraments), and because of a historical precedent for consecrating Catholic bishops during a long vacancy of the Holy See.
Another divisive question among sedevacantists is whether it is permissible to go to "una cum" masses (Traditional Latin Masses where the name of the person considered by mainstream Catholics as Pope is spoken in the Roman Canon, specifically in the "Te igitur" prayer, where the priest says "una cum famulo tuo Papa nostro N." ["together with Thy Servant N., our Pope"]). Such "una cum" masses are offered by the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. Some argue that it is, or may be, permissible, while others argue that it is not permissible, and that such masses are illicit and forbidden to Catholics.
A sizeable portion of sedevacantists affirm the Thesis of Cassiciacum of the Dominican theologian Bishop Michel-Louis Guérard des Lauriers as being a valid position, which states that John XXIII and his successors are popes materialiter sed non formaliter, that is, "materially but not formally," and that the post-Vatican II popes will become pope if they recant their heresies.
There are estimated to be between several tens of thousands and more than two hundred thousand sedevacantists worldwide, mostly concentrated in the United States, Mexico, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, 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, such as the fact that not all sedevacantists identify themselves as such, nor do they necessarily adhere to sedevacantist groups or societies.
Early proponents of sedevacantism include:
Catholic theology holds that any bishop can validly ordain any baptized male to the priesthood, and any priest to the episcopacy, provided that, with the intention to do what the church does, he uses a rite of ordination or consecration considered valid by the Catholic Church.
The only known Catholic bishop consecrated before the Second Vatican Council who publicly became sedevacantist was Vietnamese Archbishop Ngô Đình Thục (consecrated in 1938), former Vicar Apostolic of Vĩnh Long, Vietnam and former Archbishop of Huế, Vietnam.
Bishop Alfredo Méndez-Gonzalez (consecrated in 1960), former Bishop of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, though not a sedevacantist, at least not a public one, associated himself with sedevacantist priests and consecrated a bishop for them.
The "Thục line" bishops designates bishops who derive their episcopacy from Archbishop Thục or from bishops of Thục's lineage. Many bishops in the "Thục line" are part of the non-sedevacantist Palmarian Catholic Church; this is due to Thục having consecrated Bishop Clemente Domínguez y Gómez, future head of the Palmarian Church, and the very numerous episcopal consecrations within this organization.
On 7 May 1981, Thục consecrated the sedeprivationist French priest Michel-Louis Guérard des Lauriers as a bishop. Des Lauriers was a French Dominican theologian and a papal advisor.
On 17 October 1981, Thục consecrated the sedevacantist Mexican priests Moisés Carmona and Adolfo Zamora as bishops. Carmona and Zamora had been sedevacantist leaders and propagators in Mexico for many years, and were among the priests who formed the Tridentine Catholic Union.
The Vatican declared Thục ipso facto excommunicated for these consecrations and for his declaration of sedevacantism.
There are many sedevacantist bishops today whose episcopal lineages descend from Archbishop Thuc, either or both through Bishop Guerard des Lauriers and Bishop Moises Carmona.
On 19 October 1993, in Carlsbad, California, United States, Bishop Méndez-Gonzalez consecrated the sedevacantist Father Clarence Kelly of the Society of Saint Pius V (SSPV) to the episcopacy. By Méndez's wish, the consecration was kept secret until his death in 1995.
There are two sedevacantist bishops who descend from Bishop Méndez through Bishop Kelly. Both are bishops of the Congregation of Saint Pius V.
A considerable number of sedevacantist bishops are thought to derive their holy orders from Bishop Carlos Duarte Costa, who in 1945 set up his own independent Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church.[page needed] Carlos Duarte Costa was not a sedevacantist, and instead questioned the papacy as an institution: he denied papal Infallibility and rejected the pope's universal jurisdiction. In further contrast to most Catholic traditionalism, Duarte Costa was left-wing.
Sedevacantist groups include:
from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands