“I’m Catholic.” This simple sentence a hundred million people say every day. Those who worship Satan say it. Those who bash the one they believe to be the Vicar of Christ say it. Now there is a group of “Catholics” who also say it, but these are somewhat different than the obviously non-Catholic members of the Novus Ordo sect or the Recognize and Resist sect. Sedevacantist say it, too.
What is a “sedevacantist”? Well, to answer that question as simply as I can, at the basic level a sedevacantist is one who believes the Holy See to be empty. But the term is more charged than that. Associations are tied up with what it means to be a sedevacantist. Thus, you have the Congregation of the Immaculate Queen (CMRI), who have their own bishop. You have folks in the Most Holy Trinity Seminary (MHT), and then there’s the Saint Gertrude the Great mass center (SGG). And who could forget the Saint Pope Pius V society (SPPV)?
Now, what binds all these groups together under the name of sedevacantist is that each group believes that the Chair of Peter is vacant. This would seem to be a prerequisite to what it means to be a Catholic, but it could hardly be considered a sufficient condition. Let me explain.
Francis the Heresiarch
If Francis is a heretic (and he is; so manifestly so that it actually physically hurts to look at him for more than a minute; the phrase “Offensive to pious eyes” comes to mind), then one who claims to be Catholic cannot submit to him, or have any communion with him. This Catholic truth is so obvious, and yet many “Catholics” don’t even grasp it. Thankfully, though, sedevacantists understand this much.
But denying that a particular person in Rome is the pope is not what defines a Catholic. So what is the sufficient condition of being a Catholic? To be a member of Christ’s Body, of course, to be a member of the Catholic Church. To belong to something presupposes that I know what that thing is to which I belong. So the next logical question to ask is, what is the Catholic Church? Put another way, how do we know that this group or that is the Catholic Church?
Happily, the Baltimore Catechism tells us how the Catholic Church is to be known. The four marks of One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, tells us that this entity, if it has these marks, is the Catholic Church. A mark here means, “a given and known sign by which a thing can be distinguished from all others of its kind. Thus a trademark is used to distinguish the article bearing it from all imitations of the same article,” (A.518).
So, where’s the trademark “Catholic” to be found on the sedevacantist clergy, laity, buildings, or books? I’ve never located it. Have you? I very much doubt it. Why? Because, as the Baltimore Catechism also teaches us children of the Faith, “The Church cannot have the four marks without the three attributes, because the three attributes necessarily come with the marks and without them the marks could not exist,” (A.520). The three attributes are, wait for it, 1. Authority; 2 Infallibility; and 3. Indefectibility. I’m going to let that sit on your mind and simmer for a few.
These attributes are not merely suggestive of being Catholic, or, worse, a mere idealized form of Catholicism, which cannot be realized today because of the Apocalypse. The attributes are those by which the Catholic Church exists, and without which we do not know where the Catholic Church is.
Now you cease to wonder why the sedevacantist groups say different things (no mark of unity); or how one group believes Francis has an election in hand, though he cannot exercise it, while another group says he cannot; or all the highly questionable episcopal consecrations, or the fact that these “bishops” do not act like apostolic delegates of God, insofar as they claim no authority. The sedevacantist groups all lack the three necessary and sufficient conditions to be Catholic: they all lack the three attributes of authority, infallibility, and indefectibility.
So what’s the takeaway here, that there is no Catholic Church today, that She has disappeared? In a very real sense, this is true. This is the consequence of an extended interregnum. “I shall strike the shepherd, etc.” We are the “scattered flock” as one friend put it. We are not a sheepfold. To act like it, to be corralled into this group or that calling itself Catholic is not only doctrinally unsound, it is also spiritually dangerous! Without the attributes that safeguard us, we are not unlike little sheep who happily bleat our belonging to a sedevacantist fold, when all the while the shepherds of these could be wild wolves in miters.
“But what about you, CatholicEclipsed! You’re a Home-Aloner! You have your group, too! Why can’t we?” Well, for starters, because this isn’t about groups, it is about desiring to be a Catholic, and belonging to the mystical body of Christ. And there is not a “Home-Alone” group. We who have chosen, through painful sacrifice and research and prayer, not to solicit sacraments from these sedevacantist groups, are individual and not a collective body at all. We are scattered sheep! I’m down here in the swamps of southern Illinois with my family, praying at home. There are those up near Chicago or in the westward landscapes of South Dakota. There are those who live in Arizona, New York, California, Canada, England, Germany, and any number of places.
Just as I cannot say that the sedevacantist groups and their members are Catholic, so I cannot say that those who stay at home to pray are Catholic. I don’t know about you, but I don’t claim any authority or infallibility or indefectibility. I cling only to those teachings and disciplines which have come from such, namely from Pius XII and before, but that just proves the point! I do so imperfectly and am liable to err. Thus there are even pray-at-homers who don’t believe Pius XII was pope or that there aren’t hundred-year-old bishops somewhere in hiding, because carrying on the “visibility” of the Church is a dogmatic must, you know!
In brief, pray-at-homers are just as multifarious in their opinions and how they live out what they think is Catholic as any other sedevacantist group. Though not a collective body or group themselves, each household is a kind of off-brand Catholic, I won’t say counterfeit, because that implies deceit, but an honest albeit imperfect attempt at being the real McCoy. So, the next time you say, “I’m Catholic,” mean it like the sky is falling, but don’t believe it too much; because your brand of Catholic might just be a knock-off.