I noticed something curious. I was reading the latest jeremiad against Pope Francis in a once mainstream Latin traditionalist publication. In its concluding paragraphs, the author referred to the pontificates of John Paul II and Paul VI. That is, the author referred to these men by their chosen papal names.

In contrast, the same author in the same concluding paragraphs referred to the current successor of St Peter as “Pope Bergoglio” and “Bergoglio”. Referring to the Holy Father publicly by his surname is common among English-speaking sedevacantists.

The author also concluded “that the Chair of Peter is currently occupied by a promoter of manifold heresy” and that “perhaps a future Pope or Council, may someday judge whether Bergoglio fell from office on account of heresy or whether his election was valid in the first place.”

The reason for my curiosity (but not surprise) is as follows: For the past decade or so, both the author and the publication had made a big show of rejecting sedevacantism. That is, they consistently asserted that post-conciliar popes were valid papacies, even if the author and publication held them to be bad popes, and that traditionalists had no choice but to acknowledge the post-conciliar popes as valid popes even while arguing no Catholic was bound to listen to these popes. (Or as sedevacantist priest and theologian Fr Anthony Cekada famously put, the author and his publication advocate “Cardboard cutout popes: For display purposes only.”)

Nevertheless, this presumption of validity was no longer apparent in the author’s latest article. Certainty of papal validity had given way to speculation of what a future pope or council might determine. Perhaps Pope Francis Bergoglio fell from office. Perhaps he was never validly elected?

Yet the real shift in message is the following: It is now permissible for traditionalists affiliated with the author and his publication to speculate about the pope’s validity. After years of painting sedevacantists like Gerry Matatics Fr Cekada as a theological Enterprise (Sedevacantists boldly go where no trad has gone before), the author and publication now openly suggest sedevacantism as a possibility. One to be determined with more certainty in the future, but a possibility open to speculation nevertheless. Previously, they championed the “Cling On” position–that is, both author and publication clung publicly to their unshaken belief St John Paul II and other post-conciliar papacies were valid. But now they speculate otherwise, following where they previously criticized Fr Cekada for going.

Even more tellingly, the author and publication refer to the Holy Father as “Bergoglio” or “Pope Bergoglio” while referring to his predecessors as John Paul II and Paul VI. In doing so, both author and publication are acting as if Francis were not a true pope.

This reminds me of the Richard Dawkins scale of belief in theistic probability.  For those unfamiliar with this scale, Dawkins proposes a seven-point scale measuring a person’s belief in the probability of God’s existences. It ranges from one (100 percent certainty in God’s existence) to seven (“I know there is no such thing as God”.) As an interesting aside, Richard Dawkins considers himself a 6.9 in that he cannot bring himself to absolute certainty in God’s non-existence.

Translated to sedevacantism–that is, a scale of professed acceptance of the validity of Francis’s papacy–our former Cling On champion against the Sedevacantist Enterprise appears to be a six. That is, the author seems to propose a low probability that Francis is a valid pope, and he is writing publicly like Pope Bergoglio Francis is not pope.

Which brings me to my last point. In looking at many of Pope Francis’s critics, there often appears to be an underlying sedevacantism that is not absolute. That it falls short of being absolute is what makes it difficult for many Catholics supportive of Pope Francis to identify.

For this reason, with apologies to Dr Dawkins, I wish to propose a seven-point scale of sedevacantism against which we can measure the Holy Father’s critics. Being somewhat vain, I will call it the Vere Scale of Sedevacantist Probability. This scale is as follows:

Vere Scale of Sedevacantist Probability

1 – 100 percent certainty that Francis is Pope (Mark Shea, Dave Armstrong, Scott Eric Alt, Stephen Walford, Where Peter Is).

2 – Defacto supporter of Pope Francis’ validity (Cannot say with absolute certainty Francis is pope, but publicly acknowledges him as pope and treats him with filial respect.)

3 – Leaning toward validity of Pope Francis’ papacy. (Higher than 50 percent probability he is pope, but not as high as most Catholics. Includes non-Catholics of good will who respect Pope Francis as a man of God and an international Christian leader, but who don’t subscribe to all Catholic claims about papal primacy. Also includes celebrity Catholics who refer to Francis publicly as “a bad pope”.)

4 – Sede-agnostic. Approximately 50 probability Francis may or may not be a valid pope.

5 – Leaning toward sedevacantist. (Higher than 50 percent probability he is not pope. Refers to the Holy Father as “Bergoglio” or “Pope Bergoglio” rather than “Holy Father” or “Pope Francis”.)

6 – Defacto sedevacantist (Cannot state with absolute certitude that Francis is not pope, but there is a low probability he is pope, and generally act as if he is not pope. Included are sedeprivationists who consider Francis a material pope only, and not a formal pope.)

7 – 100 percent Sedevacantist (Fr Anthony Cekada.)



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Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.

3 Responses

  1. Christopher Lake says:

    When I have attempted to have discussions with professing Catholics who either don’t recognize Francis as Pope at all, or who recognize him as Pope but generally think and speak of him in very negative ways, I’ve noticed that both of these groups of people tend to speak of Francis’s supposed “heterodoxy” as a simple fact that is virtually self-evident to anyone who is knowledgable of, and grounded in, Catholic doctrines and teachings.

    In these discussions, I often bring up a fundamental Catholic teaching that seems pertinent, at least to me, logically speaking, to charges of heterodoxy against Francis– namely, the teaching that it is the Pope, and the Magisterium teaching in accordance with him, who are, for lay Catholics, the authoritative interpreters of both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. They are the authoritative interpreters, and we are not. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we, as lay Catholics, are supposed to be drones who simply “pay, pray, and obey,” without engaging our critical thinking skills at all. The fact does remain though– according to official Catholic teaching, it is *not* the laity who are the authoritative interpreters of Scripture and Tradition within the Church. The laity may play such a role in some forms of radical Protestantism, but certainly, that is not the case in the Catholic Church, according to her own historic teaching.

    When I have brought up this historic Catholic teaching to sedevacantists, and to Catholics who recognize Francis as Pope but are regularly negative towards him, generally, the responses have consisted of continued assertions that his heterodoxy is clear, and that I would see it if I were not such a dogged Pope Francis defender. Interestingly, this is almost exactly the same response, in terms of the *underlying thought process*, that I received from certain Protestant friends when I was still a Reformed Baptist but seriously contemplating a return to the Catholic Church– Scripture is *clearly* on the side of Protestantism on the “major doctrines/issues,” and Catholicism is *clearly* unBiblical.

    I could be wrong here, and if I am, I certainly want to be show how and where I am, but at this point, it seems that sedevecantists, and Catholics who are functionally close to them, are approaching Pope Francis and the Sacred Tradition of the Church, as if they are both within our province, as Catholic laity, to self-interpret, and then, accordingly, to judge Francis as being either *clearly* heterodox in his public teaching, or, at least, strongly hinting at heterodox sympathies.

    As a Catholic revert of almost a decade who certainly does not pretend to be a formally trained theological scholar or an academic expert in Church history, but who does care about studying these subjects as a layman, I have to say that I am troubled and saddened by fellow Catholics, both lay and religious, who seem to be moving closer and closer to either outright sedevacantism, or functional sedevacantism, over Pope Francis.

    This past Sunday, my priest preached somewhat of a cautionary homily, in which he spoke of the inner conviction about near occasions of sin which Catholics (and other Christians) regularly receive, via the Holy Spirit, essentially telling us, “Don’t go there! It’s not good, and it won’t end well!”

    While my priest wasn’t specifically preaching on sedevacantist tendencies, when I read, or listen to, or have discussions with, sedevacantists (and others who are becoming functionally close to them), even as I do try to understand their concerns, I repeatedly discern almost that exact warning within my mind, heart, and soul– “Don’t go there! Don’t think that you can, somehow, coherently, be ‘more Catholic’ than Pope Francis, and then, accordingly, judge him to be publicly teaching heresy as the Pope, or as the supposed ‘anti-Pope’. That road is not a good one to go down, and it won’t end well!”

  2. Pete Vere says:

    Thank-you for your thoughtful response, Christopher. You raise a number of good points. Of which I mostly agree.

    Building on your main point, I would add that Christ did not entrust St Peter and his successors with the ministry of unity within the visible Church for when things were going well. Rather He entrusted the Roman Pontiff with this ministry so that one can identify the Church when there is chaos or confusion. After all, the true source of unity within the Church is the Eucharist.

    If we look back upon our history as Christians and approach the future with the wisdom of hindsight, it is clear as Catholics that the Church is always with the successor to St Peter and those successors to the Apostles united with him.

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