The traditional Latin Mass or Tridentine Mass was the most widely celebrated Mass in the world until the introduction of the present ordinary form of the Roman Rite of the mass given us post Vatican II by Pope Paul VI in December 1969.

St. Therese the Little Flower, a new Sedevancantist Catholic Church located on West Mulberry Street In Lebanon, was dedicated by their Bishop Mark Pivarunason yesterday, August 6th.  The church is not affiliated with the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati,

What is a Sedevancantist Church?

The web site for St. Therese the Little Flower states: “The clergy and parishioners of St. Therese adhere firmly to the unchangeable Catholic Faith as taught by all true Popes, from St. Peter to Pius XII. Because of our faithfulness to the Catholic Church of the ages, we reject the Modernist church of Vatican II with all its teachings, liturgical rites, and disciplines. We reject John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis as illegitimate usurpers of the papal office and believe that there is currently no Pope reigning in the Catholic Church (sede vacante).”

Typically, Sedevacantist churches reject the changes that occurred in the Church after the Second Vatican Council, particularly in the areas of liturgy. They celebrate the sacraments in the pre-Vatican II Tridentine manner. They argue that the Popes since John XXIII have espoused modernist doctrines over traditional Catholic teachings, hence are not really true popes. Stephen Heiner — founder of TrueRestoration.org a member of the sedevacantist movement argues there hasn’t been a true pope in Rome since Vatican II.

According to William Marshner, professor of theology at Christendom College in Virginia, sedevacantists base their argument on an obscure Papal bull issued in the 1550s by Pope Paul IV which pronounced excommunication against anyone who secretly held any sort of heresy. Anyone in the hierarchy who was even suspected of heresy was deprived of office.

“No reputable theologian today thinks that it (the Papal Bull) was anything but canonical legislation — a disciplinary thing,” Marshner said. But the sedevacantists today “try to inflate it to a doctrinal level so that it can’t be canceled by later pontiffs.” They go through statements of Pope John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Pope Francis deciding what is heretical in their statements and using their findings to claim that this person should be deprived of all ecclesiastical office and therefore can’t be pope.

“They seem to be unaware,” he continued, “of an important canon from the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, which says that you can’t accuse your ecclesiastical superior of heresy or of a crime without a canonical process. You can’t set yourself up as judge and jury.”

Pope Francis seems to be getting special attention from the sedevacantists. Many view Pope Francis’s statements as too liberal and feel conservative Catholics will look to sedevacantists as an alternative. The Society of Saint Pius X, a slightly more moderate sedevacantist group, said in a statement that recent statements by Pope Francis had “provoked some new interest” in them and predicted membership would grow, “if the Holy Father confirms the direction he seems to be taking.”

For authentic Catholics, is there a  problem with Sedevacantists Churches?

As the name of our web site suggests, I am a Lay Catholic–that means a member of the rank and file and not a member of the clergy. Therefore, some of the doctrinal differences between what I consider “authentic Catholics” and sedevacantists may escape me. Never-the-less I see the fundamental problem with sedevacantist groups as a failure of faith that the Holy Spirit is acting through the the Church to give us what we need when we need it. They fail to recognize the authority of the magesterium. Some view Vatican II as a misstep in Church history—I do not. I think too often people who shun Vatican II have not actually read its documents.

From my perspective, our last three Popes show that God is active in our Church. Saint John Paul II gave us hope when we needed it. He brought the Church to the people traveling more than any previous Pope; he reached out to the world’s youth at a time when most felt the Church was out of touch; he gave us theology of the body, for which I believe he will eventually be named a doctor of the Church; and he helped clarify what Vatican II meant. For anyone who is uncertain of his contributions, please read Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, by Jason Evert. It is a great read.

After John Paul II, the Holy Spirit gave us Pope Benedict who helped defend our Faith. Benedict helped us understand that Vatican II was not a radical break from the past but rather a continuation of the best traditions of our 2,000-year-old church. Benedict can be considered one of the greatest living theologians in recent Church history: he authored more than 65 books, stretching from the  “Introduction to Christianity” in 1968 to the final installment of his triptych on “Jesus of Nazareth.” In between, he lead the effort to produce the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” – which I personally believe to be the most important work since Vatican II.

Finally, the Holy Spirit has given us Pope Francis. I believe he is the Pope of Charity and Love. Pope Francis models what charity in action looks like and the joy on his face as he interacts with the faithful shows his love. Sedevacantists may believe that Francis is liberal and will drive conservatives from the Church, but I believe they are wrong. Francis has not changed Church doctrine and if the sedevacantists had issues with Pope Benedict, they will oppose anyone the authentic Church names as Pope. In my opinion, it is a tragedy to deny the blessings these great men have brought to the faithful and the world at large.

Is there hope for reconciliation? 

The Church has been actively seeking reconciliation. As recently as this past Sunday, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Guido Pozzo as secretary of Ecclesia Dei, the curial office charged with reconciling the Church with the Society of St. Pius X. The office is meant to facilitate “full ecclesial communion” of those associated with the Society “who may wish to remain united to the Successor of Peter in the Catholic Church.”

The Society was excommunicated by John Paul II in 1988, when their leader Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops against the orders of Pope John Paul II.

Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications in 2009 as a prelude to talks about reconciling the society with the Church. At the time he said that the society would have to show “true recognition of the magisterium and the authority of the Pope and of the Second Vatican Council” to restore full communion, “but we cannot negotiate on revealed faith; that is impossible.”

The concern these groups had about being able to perform the Tridentine mass has been largely removed by Pope Benedict. The Pope declared that the Tridentine mass is to be considered as an extraordinary expression of the Roman Missal. “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.” -Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to Bishops, 7 July 2007

My family and I recently attended a Tridentine mass at St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Naperville, IL. It was a beautiful service, full of reverence for the Eucharist but, in truth, I enjoyed it more for its historical relevance then I did for what I got out of the mass spiritually. Our current mass is rich in meaning and it is more accessible–it is our highest form of prayer with Christ truly present in a way that nurtures us. I would not want to go back.

Personally I believe reunification with sedevacantists will happen once pride is overcome. Never-the-less, I am reminded of a debate between Scott Hann and Robert M. Bowman in which Mr. Bowman notes in his opening statement that most Christians today do not have a good understanding of their own faith. The subtleties of these kind of doctrinal arguments are lost on most people and only show division among Christians, but there is much we agree upon and we should look to those common grounds to build up the faithful, not confuse them with distractions.  

(The post A Sedevacantist Catholic Church in Lebanon, OH was first published in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)