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
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.)
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.