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“Habemus Papam?”

Three times the Archangel appeared in dreams to Aubert, eighth-century bishop of Avranches. Three times he commanded the bishop to erect a monastery on a rocky outcrop that pierced the sea a mile off the Normandy coast. Aubert obeyed and began construction of Mont Saint Michel.

Twelve centuries later, in Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, Henry Adams wrote that “the Archangel loved heights. Standing on the summit of the tower that crowned his church, wings upspread, sword uplifted, the devil crawling beneath, and the cock, symbol of eternal vigilance, perched on his mailed foot, Saint Michael held a place of his own in heaven and on earth. . . . His place was where the danger was greatest.” So it always has been in Catholic iconography: St. Michael the Archangel, the premier defender of the faith.

A third of a world away, in the midst of the Columbia Plateau, on a bluff overlooking Spokane, Washington, the Society of Jesus erected a scholasticate for its Northwestern province and dedicated the school to the Archangel who loved heights. The massive brick buildings at Mount St. Michael soon were filled with students, but the years were not kind to the Jesuits, and the classrooms and halls emptied.

The Jesuits moved elsewhere, and the property was sold to intermediaries who in 1977 transferred title to a rogue bishop, Francis Schuckardt, who had received episcopal consecration from a bishop of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church, a schismatic group.The leader of a Traditionalist sect established in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho in 1967, Schuckardt fostered a cult-like environment at Mount St. Michael, was deposed in 1984, and ended his ecclesiastical career in California, arrested for possessing drugs and stolen property. The man who ousted him, his one-time “vicar general,” Denis Chicoine, said Schukardt styled himself Pope Hadrian VII and claimed to receive the papal tiara from Our Lady of Guadalupe.

At Mount St. Michael a succession of uncanonical bishops followed, the most recent being Mark Pivarunas, ordained in 1991 when he was only 32. He had obtained uncanonical episcopal ordination from Moises Camona, who in turn had been consecrated illicitly in 1981 by the retired and possibly senile Archbishop of Hu, Ngo Dinh Thuc, brother of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, who was assassinated in 1963.

The property today is occupied by the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen, an independent Traditionalist order, and its apostolates, which include a parish church, school, book store, print shop, mail order house, even a cemetery. The people at Mount St. Michael are noted not so much for their exclusive use of the Tridentine Mass or their rejection of Vatican II—other Traditionalist groups share these positions—but for their belief that John Paul II is not pope. They insist the See of Peter is vacant. They are sedevacantists.

Matatics’s “monstrosity”

But Brian Jacobs is no sedevacantist. Operator of a convenience store near Spokane, Jacobs is an orthodox Catholic who believes John Paul II is the legitimate pope and who worries about the state of the Church in his diocese and in America. On January 28, 1995 Jacobs and a friend drove up the switchback to Mount St. Michael to listen to a former Presbyterian minister whose taped conversion story, lectures, and debates had achieved considerable notoriety.

Jacobs was impressed with the size of the facility and with its occupants. The priests he saw were in cassocks, the nuns in long habits. He asked one nun to tell him a little about Mount St. Michael. She said its adherents believe Vatican II was not a valid ecumenical council and that “the [papal] chair is empty.” Jacobs didn’t have time to inquire further, because the evening’s sole speaker was about to be introduced.

Gerry Matatics stepped to the microphone. Hailed as a prize catch for the Church, he was an anti-Catholic who in 1986 converted to the faith he so strongly had opposed. Since 1991 he has worked independently as an apologist, giving lectures throughout the country and even overseas. But he no longer subscribes to the style of orthodox Catholicism that he and his former comrade Scott Hahn had become well known for (and that Hahn remains firm in). By late 1992 Matatics entered the Traditionalist movement, became radicalized, and now has staked out a position that has many, including mainline Traditionalists, wondering whether he has gone too far.

This night his presentation began with an apology. Matatics, then 37, said he had been so busy traveling and giving talks that he had not had a chance to finish the “last few chapters” of his conversion story. This comment didn’t puzzle Jacobs, but some who later listened to the tape of the lecture wondered what was going on. A year and a half earlier, at World Youth Day ’93 in Denver, Matatics told acquaintances that his autobiography was nearly done. He had only a single chapter to write and expected to have the manuscript to his publisher “in a week or two.”

After Matatics’s formal remarks concluded, Jacobs asked him a two-part question: “Could you clarify your position on salvation and on the New Mass?” Not directly answering the first part, Matatics advised Jacobs to listen to a tape he had recorded with his friend Charles Coulombe, who is a leader among younger “Feeneyites,” those who subscribe to the late Fr. Leonard Feeney’s rigorist interpretation of the dogma “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus” (“No salvation outside the Church”). Matatics and Coulombe have recorded two four-tape sets, which they have called “Fireside Chats” and in which they expostulate on conditions in the Church and on Catholic beliefs.

Coulombe, 34, once made a living as a comedian and now freelances for such publications as the National Catholic Register, a mainline Catholic weekly; The Angelus, the magazine published by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s Society of St. Pius X; and Fate, a New Age journal.

Under his own name he wrote a thin book titled Every Man Today Call Rome, and he is the pseudonymous author of Desire and Deception, a spirited defense of the position that only formal members of the Catholic Church have a chance to be saved. (Matatics, who is praised by Coulombe at the end of the book, has sold Desire and Deception at his literature tables, sometimes to the consternation of his parish hosts.)

In his defense of the Feeneyite interpretation Coulombe (“Mr. X” in last month’s This Rock) traces today’s ecclesiastical woes to Thomism, which he considers a philosophical blunder (even though Pope Leo XIII heartily endorsed Thomism in his encyclical Aeterni Patris, published in 1879). Thomism needs to be replaced by Neo-Platonism, says Coulombe, who does not claim formal training in philosophy. Only then will Catholics come to understand the real meaning of Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

In answer to the second part of Jacobs’ question, Matatics indicated that one should attend the Tridentine Mass, not the vernacular Mass. “I have many friends,” he said, “who have not studied this issue carefully and have not come to these conclusions”—a reference to Catholics who are part of “the Conciliar Church.” He added, “I believe that people of good will and intellectual honesty will come to the same conclusion . . . that the New Mass is a seriously defective rite. . . . All kinds of bizarre abuses and confusion and chaos and heresies” have arisen since the introduction of the vernacular liturgy. “In part these are produced by this monstrosity of the New Mass.”

“I honestly can’t say”

There followed inquiries about salvation, someone asking about “baptism of desire.” Matatics discussed the hypothetical case of a catechumen who dies while on the way to his baptism. Such a person would have an explicit and immediate desire to receive water baptism, but would he be saved without actually receiving the sacrament? Matatics said he wasn’t sure. He implied that anyone further removed from water baptism or from formal membership in the Catholic Church probably had no chance to reach heaven.

“What about the Good Thief?” another person inquired. From the cross Jesus turned to Dismas, the name tradition has given the Good Thief, and told him, “This day you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The Church always has understood this to mean that Dismas ended up in heaven after a stopover in the “limbo of the fathers,” which is what “paradise” refers to. But how could he achieve heaven if he wasn’t baptized? The standard apologetical answer given by rigorists is that Dismas died before the institution of the new dispensation; like the patriarchs and prophets, he could be saved without baptism, which became a requirement only after the Resurrection. (Non-rigorists might argue Dismas had an implicit desire for baptism—enough to save him.)

Matatics did not seek refuge in either argument. Instead he offered a novel answer: We may presume that Dismas indeed had been baptized with water, perhaps by one of the apostles. Later he fell into sin or apostasy, repenting only at his execution. What we read in the Gospels, then, is not his first attachment to Christianity, but his reattachment.

Later, as he was moving toward the exit, someone asked Matatics if one should attend a Novus Ordo Mass if no Tridentine Mass were available. He shook his head. To recommend going to a Novus Ordo Mass, he said, would be like recommending that a Catholic attend a Baptist worship service if no Mass were available locally.

Jacobs posed a question that seemed appropriate, given the sedevacantist venue: “Yes or no—is there a current pope?” Matatics replied, “I honestly can’t say.” He said those who hold the sedevacantist position should not be termed heretical. After all, at the death of any pope there is an “empty chair” until a new pope is elected, whether days or years later. Sedevacantists should not be termed schismatic either, since they believe in good faith that they are following the few true bishops who remain in union with pre-Vatican II popes and the constant teaching of the Church. He ended his answer by saying there is a fairly persuasive argument for the sedevacantist position and that he planned to study it further before making up his mind about the issue.

Matatics’s “I honestly can’t say” was a vague answer seemingly meant to satisfy each of his hearers, and it suggested that he had moved part of the way toward the sedevacantist position and was struggling interiorly, wondering whether to embrace it outright. This night surely few of those gathered around him after his talk understood “I honestly can’t say” to be a ringing endorsement of the validity of the papacy of John Paul II–or to be a slip of the tongue.

Matatics is not unreflective. When posed with a problem he tosses it about in his mind, consults reference works, and argues it through with others. He must have done the same with the issue of the occupancy of the Holy See, since he had been criticizing the Pope in recent lectures and tapes. His reply at Mount St. Michael seems to have been intended as a political rather than a doctrinal statement: He apparently did not want to alienate his sedevacantist hosts with a simple “Yes,” and he did not want the inconvenience of a simple “No,” knowing such an answer would make him a pariah in many Traditionalist circles.

Video touts a “vacancy”

RICHARD Jamison has no such hesitancy. A television actor who has appeared in such programs as “Murder She Wrote,” “McGyver,” and “Crazy Like a Fox,” he is the narrator of The Vacancy, a low-budget video produced in the summer of 1993.

Then aged 50 and living in Newhall, California (he relocated to Agoura Hills after his home was damaged in the Northridge earthquake), Jamison is seated before the camera during the whole of the production. Behind him is seen part of an altar and a stand of votive candles: The Vacancy was taped at Queen of Angels, a Traditionalist chapel with a membership approaching 200. The video has been listed in the catalogue published by Mount St. Michael, but knowledge of it is spread mainly by word of mouth. (News of it has reached the East Coast: A group of Cubans in Florida has been talking with Jamison about dubbing The Vacancy into Spanish.)

A glib speaker, Jamison claims the “entire history of Vatican II is filled with falsehood and deceit.” (He is not referring to his own version of its history, of course.) “The New Mass isn’t a Mass at all,” its consecration being invalid because “mysterium fidei” (“mystery of faith”) has been deleted and “for all” has been substituted for “pro multis” (“for many”). “In all likelihood, a Vatican II priest is not a priest at all. . . . The Vatican II Church is not Catholic.”

Throughout the world there can be no more than five million real Catholics, opines Jamison, and there may be as few as one million. The hallmark of a real Catholic is that he will not attend the Novus Ordo Mass. Even the indult Tridentine Mass should be shunned, since a communicant may receive from the tabernacle “a Vatican II-consecrated host”—which to Jamison means an unconsecrated host.

He believes the greatest problem among Traditionalists is their “uncharitableness”—especially to one another. This is most noticeable, he thinks, among the clergy, who anathematize one another for the slightest differences of opinion. This divisiveness dissipates Traditionalist power and brings the movement into disrepute among people who otherwise might join.

Jamison, who is “working for unity among Traditionalists as Vatican II winds down,” is doing what he can to build bridges. As an example he cites efforts to raise funds for Ralph Solferino’s monthly tabloid, The Roman Catholic Observer, which suspended publication after its third issue.

Among the chief influences on him, says Jamison, have been the writings of Michael Davies, an apologist for the Society of St. Pius X and a regular columnist for The Remnant, and Rama Coomaraswami, a physician who has written tracts and a book against the validity of the Novus Ordo. But Jamison goes further than they do. Surveying the confusion within the Church, he concludes there is no pope. His verdict is not surprising, considering that The Vacancy is a production of people associated with Mount St. Michael.

Expelled by Lefebvre

ONE of those people, Vincent Trago, also is a physician and is listed as “technical assistant” in the credits at the end of The Vacancy. He posted this message on America Online in May 1995: “I heard Gerry Matatics talk in Cincinnati in March. He basically said that the protestantization of the Catholic Church since Vatican II slipped by him because he came from a Protestant background and didn’t realize these things were not Catholic. He is now unsure about what is going on and if we have a canonically elected pope, since it appears that the church which is visible to the naked eye appears to be embracing heresy. Since we know the Church and pope cannot teach heresy, it makes one wonder where the Church is.”

But the people who attend St. Gertrude the Great Church in Cincinnati harbor no illusions. They know “where the Church is” and where it is not, and they know it is not with John Paul II. The pastor of St. Gertrude the Great is Daniel Dolan, who in November 1993 was consecrated as a Thuc-line b ishop by Mark Pivarunas, bishop for the Mount St. Michael sedevacantists. By this time there were well over thirty non canonically consecrated bishops who traced their orders to the retired archbishop of Hue. (Under canon law, each of these men incurred automatic excommunication when consecrated without papal permission.)

Born in Detroit in 1951, Dolan claims to have studied for the priesthood under the auspices of the Cistercian order. In 1973 he signed up at the Society of St. Pius X seminary in Econe, Switzerland. He was ordained three years later by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and was assigned to establish “Traditional Mass centers” in the U.S. He says he established about 35. One was the parish of St. Gertrude the Great, which left Lefebvre’s jurisdiction when Dolan did.

The day after his elevation to the episcopacy, Dolan was interviewed by Fr. Casimir Puskorius, editor of The Reign of Mary, published at Mount St. Michael. Dolan explained that in 1983 he “was in a group of nine priests who were expelled from the Society of St. Pius X because we respectfully pressed Archbishop Lefebvre for some practical answers concerning our relationship with the Conciliar Church. Perhaps it showed his weakness of not worrying about whether or not John Paul II or Paul VI were valid occupants of the See of Peter.” The nine thought Lefebvre was a compromiser, “and this is what led to our final expulsion.”

They formed their own religious congregation, mimicking the name of Lefebvre’s by calling it the Society of St. Pius V. Clarence Kelly was chosen as their leader. Within a short time there were disputes about property ownership. The result was a schism, with Dolan leading one faction and Kelly another. In The Reign of Mary Dolan is quoted as calling Kelly “the only sour apple in the barrel.”

Dolan has condemned the “scrupulous and separatist kind of an attitude . . . which is endemic in the Traditional movement.” The split had been Kelly’s fault, he has implied, but it was Dolan, not Kelly, who had the last laugh by getting himself consecrated—or so it seemed until this spring. That was when Kelly claimed that in October 1993 he was consecrated secretly by Alfred F. Mendez, an elderly and ill Puerto Rican bishop living in retirement north of San Diego. The ceremony was revealed only after Mendez’s death, ostensibly to save the failing prelate from being chastised by the Vatican. So Kelly had his revenge on Dolan: He had beaten his nemesis to the episcopate by six weeks.

A new seminary

PUSKORIUS asked Dolan about the jurisdiction enjoyed by bishops of the Thuc line. (Kelly is the first bishop in the Mendez line. There are five bishops in the Lefebvre line—four consecrated by Lefebvre and one, in Campos, Brazil, consecrated later.)

“We bishops do not possess ordinary jurisdiction,” explained Dolan. “Ordinary jurisdiction refers to the power of the bishop of a diocese who is appointed by the pope. We are bishops in an extraordinary time of the Church’s privation when there is no pope.”

He and bishops like him are not tied to geographic areas, to dioceses. They dispense the sacraments wherever needed. By default, Dolan’s “diocese” is the world. But, for practical purposes, he is tied to his parish, St. Gertrude the Great. It was there that Gerry Matatics met with him last March.

Dolan reported that Matatics brought his wife and children to Cincinnati—apparently to see if the city looked like a good place to settle down. Dolan explained to Matatics that he had been worrying about tending his growing flock and that he had decided to establish his own seminary. The two discussed the seminary’s purpose and curriculum. A printed announcement, distributed to Dolan’s supporters in June, explained that Most Holy Trinity Seminary would open this autumn:

“Now that the episcopal consecration of Most Reverend Daniel I. Dolan has taken place . . . we can once again look forward to operating a full-fledged seminary which will turn out holy, well-trained, and uncompromising Roman Catholic priests. . . . It will profess that Vatican II and the doctrinal, disciplinary, and liturgical reforms which have proceeded from it are substantial alterations of the Catholic Faith.

“It will profess that these heretical, evil, and blasphemous reforms can in no way proceed from the Roman Catholic Church. . . . and it will therefore profess that the members of the Novus Ordo hierarchy (including and especially John Paul II ), despite any and all appearances of authority, do not possess the authority to rule, for they are the authors of the doctrinal, disciplinary, and liturgical abominations which have invaded our holy places. The seminary will profess that they are false shepherds and ought to be denounced as such….

“Unlike the Society of St. Pius X, which seeks to work in union with the Novus Ordo, the priests who come out of this seminary will have been trained to fight the Novus Ordo heretics, and denounce them. They will no more want to be absorbed by the Novus Ordo than they would want to be absorbed by a Protestant sect. . . . It is high time to turn out priests who will have the faith and courage of our Catholic ancestors to denounce the heretics, and to fight the enemies of the Church, and not to seek compromise with the m” (emphasis his). Dolan is unmistakably a sedevacantist and intends his seminary to churn out sedevacantist priests. To that end he secured the services of three instructors. Their photographs and biographical sketches comprise the final page of the four-page announcement.

Fr. Donald J. Sanborn used to appear regularly with Frs. Clarence Kelly and William Jenkins on the “What Catholics Believe” cable program. Recently having distributed a defense of sedevacantism, he will serve as the seminary’s rector.

According to the announcement, he “was ordained in 1975 by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. He was rector of [the Society of St. Pius X’s] St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary for six years. He is also editor of Sacerdotium and Catholic Restoration. He will teach Philosophy and Sacred Theology.”

In July Sanborn suspended publication of Catholic Restoration so he could devote his energies to the seminary: “The work of the seminary . . . is more important than the work of publishing.” He said Sacerdotium, “a review for priests, will continue to be published twice a year.”

In an earlier promotional flyer for Catholic Restoration Sanborn decried John Paul II for “his heresies and his scandalous behavior” and revealed that John XXIII “was a modernist even before he was ordained” and that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is “a heretic who says that the Catholic Church is in communion with heretical and schismatical sects.”

The second instructor, Fr. Anthony J. Cekada, “was ordained in 1977 by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. He is a well-known writer and apologist for the Faith. He is especially noted for his [44-page booklet] Problems with the Prayers of the New Mass, which has sold thirteen thousand copies in English and has also been published in Europe in four other languages. He will teach Canon Law, Sacred Liturgy, and Liturgical Chant.”

In a booklet published by St. Gertrude the Great Church, Cekada alleges that Vatican II and the 1983 Code of Canon Law provide “tacit support for contraception.” He suggests that Paul VI, in approving Communion in the hand, was motivated as were the Protestant Reformers, who instituted the practice “in order to deny transubstantiation and the sacramental nature of the priesthood.” He concludes that “we must, therefore, as Catholics who affirm that the Church is both indefectible and infallible, reject and repudiate the claims that Paul VI and his successors have been true popes.”

Listed as the third member of the faculty was “Mr. Gerry Matatics. A convert to the Faith from Protestant fundamentalism, the very scholarly Mr. Matatics is well-known everywhere as a powerful Catholic apologist. He will teach Church History, Sacred Scripture, and Apologetics.”

In a July 13 interview with This Rock, Matatics said he probably would not teach at Dolan’s seminary. Although he said he did not consider himself a sedevacantist, he did not explicitly reject sedevacantism and sedevacantist groups. He said he found Dolan’s arguments for the theory “inconclusive.” Matatics is scheduled to return to Mount St. Michael in October as the keynote speaker at a conference. The other chief speaker will be Mark Pivarunas.

Sedevacantist rationale

Donald Sanborn might be considered the theoretician of the sedevacantist movement. In February he sent This Rock a draft of an essay that subsequently appeared in Sacerdotium. It is his apologia for believing there to be no reigning pope. He argues that “the sedevacantist position is by no means a lack of subjection to the Roman Pontiff. It is, rather, an answer to the devastating problem which has faced every Catholic since the 1960s: that Vatican II has given us a religion different from the Catholicism which existed from the times of the Apostles up until Vatican II. This new religion has infested every Catholic institution that we know of, including the Vatican.”

He says “there is undeniable evidence that even the official teaching of Vatican II and of Paul VI and John Paul II is at variance with the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church.” He lists a dozen instances of what he characterizes as false teaching by John Paul II, such as that “all men are saved,” “the Holy Ghost uses non-Catholic sects as a means of salvation,” and “a properly ordered society is one in which all religions are given free rein to practice, proselytize, and propagate.” (He does not quote John Paul II directly.)

Sanborn believes he has found irreconcilable oppositions. “In the face of these contradictions of the Catholic faith, the Catholic must decide: Which do I believe? Vatican II or Pius IX? John Paul II or Pius XII? I cannot believe both, since they contradict each other. One must be believed and the other rejected.”

There follows a weak argument: “It is obvious that the Catholic must adhere, in the case of contradiction, to that which was taught first, since the traditional doctrine sets down the norm of orthodoxy for all to follow in the future. So Pius IX must be believed over Vatican II and Pius XI over John Paul II.” This reasoning presupposes that what Sanborn identifies as contradictions are in fact contradictions—and, prior to that, that he properly characterizes the teachings he excoriates. (Where has John Paul II said “all men are saved”? That is universalism, and, if the Pope had taught it, surely he would have been praised for it by religious liberals who believe the same thing, but they seem not to have understood him in that sense.)

Follow Sanborn’s logic. If Vatican II and recent popes have taught in contradiction to earlier councils and popes, we seem to have a magisterium that is at war with itself. But this cannot occur, since we know the Church is indefectible. “The only possible answer,” concludes Sanborn, “is that those popes who have promulgated these errors did not enjoy the power of the papacy. . . . The official teaching of error by a pope, therefore, points to a single conclusion: Despite all appearances, he cannot enjoy the papal authority which he claims to possess.”

Sanborn acknowledges, but does not really grapple with, a counter-argument. “The other proposed solution to the Vatican II problem is to say that any contradiction in the official teaching is merely apparent and not real.” He characterizes this solution as a “closing of one’s eyes to the contradictions of Vatican II. . . . To demand the acceptance of the contradictions of Vatican II in its doctrines, worship, and discipline is to demand that the faithful posit the impossible act of asserting contradictory propositions with the highest certitude. This ruins unity of faith, without which neither sanctity, apostolicity, nor catholicity can survive as properties of the Catholic Church. . . .

“The acceptance of Vatican II and its reforms, therefore, places the Church in radical absurdity, strips her of her four marks, and reduces her to being a purely human institution. The refusal of Vatican II, its reforms, and the authenticity of the ‘popes’ who promulgated it, on the other hand, retains the unity of faith, retains the four marks, retains the indefectibility of the Church.”

This cascade of argument obscures important distinctions. Sanborn refers to “contradictions of Vatican II in its doctrines, worship, and discipline.” A “contradiction” in a matter of discipline means no more than that a later authority countermands an earlier authority’s prudential decision. The latter decision might be foolish; it might even be dangerous. But it doesn’t strike at the heart of the faith because the Church has never taught that disciplinary decisions are made infallibly.

Example: The Jesuit order was founded under Pope Paul III, whose disciplinary decision erecting the order was “contradicted” in 1773 by Clement XIV, who suppressed the order, but Clement’s disciplinary decision itself was “contradicted” by Paul VII, who restored the order in 1814. Does this seesaw imply that one or more of these popes was not a pope at all?

A similar argument can be made with respect to matters of worship. The form of the rite of the Mass is not a matter of doctrine, but of discipline. Traditionalists argue, often with cogency, that the liturgical reform following Vatican II has been a failure—just look at the decreased Mass attendance and decline in reverence for the Real Presence, they say. Failure or success, one can’t suggest, as Sanborn does, that altering the rite imposes a contradiction of an infallibly-defined doctrine, since the form of a rite is not a matter of doctrine, but of discipline.

Sanborn is strongest when discussing the first of the three items he lists, doctrines, but he too quickly dismisses the solution that what are perceived as contradictions are not actually contradictory. He does not consider development of doctrine as an explanation of an apparent contradiction. The formal definition by Pius IX of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception might be taken to “contradict” the teaching of Thomas Aquinas, who rejected the doctrine. What conclusion is one to draw–that Pius IX was in error in teaching contrary to the Angelic Doctor or that Aquinas lacks authority and that the bishops at the Council of Trent were wrong to place his Summa Theologiae on the altar next to the Bible?

An example such as this should suggest to Sanborn that he may be missing important distinctions. He would profit from reading books such as the Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, a largely successful attempt by Evangelical writer Gleason Archer to resolve biblical “contradictions,” such as the apparently incompatible genealogies of Jesus given by Matthew and Luke.

Sanborn alleges that sedevacantists are not in schism. He quotes a commentary on canon law that says, “Finally, one cannot consider as schismatics those who refuse to obey the Roman Pontiff because they would hold his person suspect or, because of widespread rumors, doubtfully elected (as happened after the election of Urban VI), or who would resist him as a civil authority and not as pastor of the Church” (Wernz-Vidal, Ius Canonicum [Rome: Gregorian University, 1937], 8:398).

But none of this applies to the situation of the sedevacantists. They do not claim they are resisting John Paul II as a civil authority. They freely acknowledge that they resist him as putative head of the Church. They do not say that John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, and John Paul II were doubtfully elected. Sedevacantists claim these four became popes but then lost their authority through heresy. (Besides, there were no “widespread rumors” regarding doubtful elections.)

The best sedevacantists can do, to shoehorn themselves into Wernz-Vidal’s list, is to say of John Paul II that “they would hold his person suspect.” What does this mean? “To hold his person suspect” means to doubt his identity. The commentary cited by Sanborn refers to people who think a man purporting to be pope is no pope at all, but an impostor. Today’s sedevacantists fall into none of these categories and must look elsewhere, not to Wernz-Vidal, for support of their theories.

Intramural fighting

Donald Sanborn does not restrict his complaints to putative successors of Peter. He also turns his sights on his one-time leader, Clarence Kelly, and the priests in Kelly’s Society of St. Pius V. “They have criticized other priests for becoming involved with bishops whose consecrations derive ultimately from Archbishop Thuc. They have said that Archbishop Thuc was not truly traditional, that he did scandalous things, that he was not in his right mind. And they maintain that any bishop who comes from Archbishop Thuc’s orders is tainted by his alleged scandals and alleged mental incapacity.”

Turning the tables, Sanborn says “Fr. Kelly ranted and raved about Archbishop Thuc’s alleged association with non-Catholics. He consents, however, to be consecrated by a bishop who is in open communion with the Novus Ordo, which Fr. Kelly has repeatedly called a non-Catholic sect.

“Bishop Mendez was furthermore desirous of gathering all Traditionalists into a Tridentine Ordinariate, that is, a separate rite under the auspices of the new religion. To top it all off, Bishop Mendez was in communion with the Feeneyites, whose doctrines were condemned by Rome in 1949, and the signature of a Feeneyite [not otherwise identified] appears on one of the consecration documents. Yet Fr. Kelly is known to have refused a Feeneyite sacraments on her deathbed. A double standard?”

Besides, notes Sanborn a few pages later, “It is no secret that Fr. Kelly, Fr. Jenkins, and SSPV have attacked the Thuc consecrations and sown much division in traditional Catholic circles over the issue. SSPV also implemented a policy of refusing Holy Communion to any layman known to have received sacraments from clergy affiliated with bishops of the Thuc line. . . .

“Old-timers in the Mount St. Michael group recalled their own experiences 25 years ago and drew parallels between Fr. Kelly’s consecration and that of Francis Schukardt: a hurriedly organized secret ceremony, the surprise revelation of a consecration, a consecrator with a less than sterling background–and above all, the expectation that lay followers would ignore the obvious problems and unquestioningly follow the group’s leader.”

The next pope?

CLARENCE Kelly and Daniel Dolan were expelled from the Society of St. Pius X at the same time. Kelly became the leader of the new Society of St. Pius V. He and Dolan had a falling out, and the two have been in competition every since. It is no coincidence that Kelly has announced the acquisition of a church in Cincinnati, where Dolan pastors a thriving parish.

In a recent issue of his newsletter, The Bulletin, Kelly announced “two momentous events.” The first was the purchase of a church, rectory, convent, and school. Immaculate Conception parish was constructed in 1924. Kelly does not explain how this one-time Catholic parish came into his hands. The Bulletin carries photographs of him, now a bishop, celebrating Mass and being assisted by William Jenkins, who apparently is pastor of the church.

The second “momentous event” is the announcement of a seminary, scheduled to open this autumn in upstate New York. Kelly acquired a 55-acre site “for a very reasonable price. And there, in due time, we will build our seminary. Until it is built we will house the seminarians in temporary quarters. . . . The reason this is so momentous an event is because it involves our future. It involves the future of our work—our schools, our missions, and our Mass centers. It involves the future of our children and perhaps, on a larger scale, it involves the future of the Catholic Church in America.”

Pause on that final phrase and consider the ramifications. Kelly has in New York a seminary that will turn out priests who believe there is no pope. Dolan has his own seminary, located in a suburb of Detroit, that will do the same. Kelly and Dolan may be at odds personally, and they may consider one another’s episcopal ordinations invalid, but they share a vision, and their vision is of a leaderless Church.

If their logic is followed rigorously, then not only is John Paul II not pope, but the bishops he has ordained and who are in union with him are not bishops. The only real bishops are the few men who have been ordained, under the old rite, through various workarounds. At some point the Church will have another successor to Peter. It cannot remain forever decapitated. The new pope—the first real pope since Pius XII—will come from the ranks of the existing “true” bishops. Months or years hence, when the white smoke rises and a voice, reminiscent of the late Cardinal Pericle Felici’s, booms out “Habemus papam!“—”We have a pope!”—will the new pontiff’s family name be Dolan or Kelly?


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