Sedevacantism and the 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law
Sedevecantatists use the following to back up their position:
Any office becomes vacant upon the fact and without any declaration by tacit resignation recognized by the law itself if a cleric:
1.° Makes religious professionwith due regard for the prescription of Canon 584 concerning benefices;
2.° Within the useful time established by law or, legal provision lacking, as determined by the Ordinary, fails to take possession of the office;
3.° Accepts another ecclesiastical office incompatible with the prior, and has obtained peaceful possession of that of [the other office];
4.° Publicly defects from the Catholic faith
5.° Contracts marriage even, as they say, merely civilly;
6.° Against the prescription of Canon 141, § 1, freely gives his name to a secular army;
7.° Disposes of ecclesiastical habit on his own authority and without just cause, unless, having been warned by the Ordinary, he resumes [wearing it] within a month of having received the warning;
8.° Deserts illegitimately the residence to which he is bound and, having received a warning from the Ordinary and not being detained by a legitimate impediment, neither appears nor answers within an appropriate time as determined by the Ordinary.
Sedevacantists interpret this to mean that their claims to “manifest heresy” on behalf of the Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI are sufficient to establish that these “Conciliar popes” are heretics, schismatics and also apostates, and thus cannot be considered to be legitimate popes.
There are two issues that the proponents of anti-Vatican II sedevacantism do not address according to the 1917 CIC (Codex Iuris Canonici):
the question regarding the authentic interpretation of ecclesiastical laws
the question as to who can authoritatively and infallibly establish a “public defect” from the Catholic faith (this is tied to point 1)
the canonical procedure regarding the vacancy of any office (especially the Papal Office)
A matter of interpretation? It seems that sedevacantists claim for themselves the right to properly interpret Canon 188, n. 4. Is this permissible though? According to the 1917 CIC, the legislator of the law or his successor or all those given by the aforementioned the authority to authentically interpret the laws are the ones to consult regarding the authentic interpretation of ecclesiastical laws:
§ 1. Laws are authentically interpreted by the legislator or his successor and by those whom the power of interpretation has been committed by [the legislator or his successors].
§ 2. An authentic interpretation, given our in the manner of law, has the same force as does the law itself; and if it merely declares what is certain from the words of the law, it does not require promulgation and is effective retroactively; but if it narrows or extends the law or resolves a doubt, it is not retroactive and must be promulgated.
§ 3. That [interpretation] given by means of a judicial sentence or by a rescript in a specific matter does not have the force of law and binds only those persons and affects only those matters for which it was given.
Ecclesiastical laws are to be understood according to the meaning of their own words considered in their text and context; as for those things that remain unclear or in doubt, reference should be made to parallel provisions in the Code, if there are any, to the purposes and circumstances of the law and to the mind of the legislator.
Canons 2314, 2379 and 2388 are referenced in Canon 188. These must therefore be understood as explaining the proper context of Canon 188.
Thus to better understand Canon 188, n. 4 and to address the aforementioned issues, we must look further into the 1917 CIC:
Clerics who, against the prescription of Canon 136, do not wear ecclesiastical habit and clerical tonsure are to be gravely warned; but if a month passes from the warning without result, [then] as to minor clerics the prescription of the same Canon 136, § 3, is observed; but major clerics, with due regard for the prescription of Canon 188, n. 7, are suspended from the orders received, and if they notoriously go to a sort of life alien to the clerical state, [then] unless, once again being warned they recover their senses, after three months from the final warning they are deposed.
While this specific canon speaks of Canon 188, n. 7, it can be used to understand Canon 188, n. 4. This is because the preceding explanation saying “upon the fact” and “without any declaration” applies to all numbers of Canon 188., and because this Canon is referenced in Canon 188. In this case, we see that the canonical procedure intends for warnings to be pronounced by proper authorities and only if such warnings are ignored obstinately are the persons in question to be rendered as deposed.
§ 1. Clerics constituted in sacred [orders] or regulars, or nuns after a solemn vow of chastity, and likewise all those who presume to contract even a civil marriage with any of the aforesaid persons incur automatic excommunication simply reserved to the Apostolic See; clerics, moreover, having been warned, if they do not come back to their senses within a time defined by the Ordinary according to the diversity of circumstances, will be degraded, with due regard for the prescription of Canon 188, n. 5.
§ 2. But for those professed of simple perpetual vows, whether to an Ordinary or to a religious Congregation, all of them, as above, receive excommunication reserved to the Ordinary.
In this case also, the degradation which sedevacantists portray to be “automatic” according to their understanding of the situation, is tied to warnings: the canonical penalty of degradation only takes place after warnings are obstinately not heeded to. That is to say that after the deadline of the warning has lapsed, the person warned is to be considered automatically deposed/degraded without any need of a public declaration. Such automatic penalty is incurred after the failure to take heed to the warning.
A sedevacantist may still argue (though fallaciously) against such understanding of Canon 188. For this purpose, I will cite a canon “On delicts against the faith and unity of the Church”:
§ 1. All apostates from the Christian faith and each and every heretic or schismatic:
1.° Incur by that fact excommunication
2.° Unless they respect warnings, they are deprived of benefice, dignity, pension, office, or other duty that they have in the Church, they are declared infamous, and [if] clerics, with the warning being repeated, [they are] are deposed;
3.° If they give their names to non-Catholic sects or publicly adhere [to them], they are by that fact infamous, and with due regard for the prescription of Canon 188, n. 4, clerics, the previous warnings having been useless, are degraded.
This canon explicitly elaborates on the canonical application of Canon 188, n. 4. It does not give any lay person the right to declare that “person X is not a pope by virtue of heresy”, instead recalls that warnings have to be given and only the obstinate refusal to heed to such warnings will result in the privation of “benefice, dignity, pension, office, or other duty that they have in the Church”, and deposition/degradation.
All these examples show that only the competent ecclesiastical authorities may authoritatively and infallibly determine whether a certain person has actually “defected publicly from the Catholic faith”. The private judgement of any lay person is to be considered without any effect and irrelevant – considering such a lay person has no authority to give warnings to the persons suspected of any delict.
The third issue anti-Vatican II sedevacantism fails to address correctly would be the canonical procedures that follow the vacancy of any office. They claim that the Chair of Peter has been vacant for over 40 years. When asked when, by whom and how the next – according to their opinions – “valid pope” is going to be elected, they normally respond with the following answers:
The election of a real pope is unlikely to take place since the world is soon to end.
There exists no ecclesiastical law which limits the temporal duration of an interregnum.
God could set up a legitimate pope in a way unknown to humans.
“We don't know”.
The 1917 CIC does address the election of the Roman Pontiff:
The election of the Roman Pontiff is guided solely by the constitution of [Pope] Pius X vacante Sede Apostolica of 25 Dec. 1904; in other ecclesiastical elections, the prescriptions of the canons that follow are to be observed [as well as] those special ones, if there are any that are established for individual office.
Before going to the Pope Pius X's constitution regarding papal elections, let me demonstrate that the election to other ecclesiastical offices is bound by time-limits:
If a college has the right of electing to a vacant office, the election, unless established otherwise by law, is not to be deferred beyond three available months from having notice of the (vacant) office; if this time runs without action, the ecclesiastical Superior who has the right of confirming the election or of providing successively [for it] can provide for the vacant office freely.
From vacante Sede Apostolica:
Item statuimus, ut cum Pontificem de hac vita migrare contigerit, praesentes Cardinales expectare debeant absentes per decem tantummodo dies, quibus exsequiae defuncti Pontificis celebrantur; quibus elapsis, statim Conclave ingredi et ad electionis negotium procedere tenentur (30).
Si tamen Cardinales absentes supervenerint, re integra, id est antequam eidem Ecclesiae sit de Pastore provisum, in eodem negotio, in illo statu, in quo ipsum invenerint, admittantur
“per decem tantummodo dies” = for only ten days
Cardinals may wait for ten days upon the celebration of the Pontiff's death and then ought to proceed to the election.
40+ years surely are a far stretch from ten days. At this point, I should note that sedevacantists pointing to the 1917 CIC to bolster their point seems rather strange considering they themselves do not follow the said Code of Canon Law.
On the temporal duration of an interregnum according to the decrees of the Council of Basel-Florence:
"The holy general synod of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church, for an everlasting record. Since a good shepherd is the salvation of his flock, it is the duty of this sacred synod to strive, with all the diligence that human law can contrive, that the Roman pontiff, who is first in the Lord's flock and the supreme shepherd, should be and continue to be such as to provide for the salvation of all souls and the benefit of the whole christian world and to fulfill worthily so great an office. Therefore it renews the constitutions about the election of Roman pontiffs which sacred councils and supreme pontiffs have issued and it adds to them some further salutary norms. It decrees that whenever the apostolic see falls vacant, all the cardinals of the holy Roman church who are present in the place where the election of the supreme pontiff is to be held, shall meet together on the tenth day after the see becomes vacant in some chapel or place near the conclave." Council of Basel - Florence, Session XXIII [on the election of the supreme Pontiff]
§ 1. Although sacred ordination, once validly received, can never be invalidated, nevertheless, a major cleric can be returned to the lay state by a rescript of the Holy See, by a decree or sentence according to the norm of Canon 214, or finally as a penalty of degradation.
The First See is judged by no one.
Whoever persists in detaining an office, benefice, or dignity, notwithstanding legitimate privation and removal, or lest he lose it engages in illegitimate delays, having been warned, can be coerced to leave it by suspension from divine things and other penalties, not excluding deposition, if the case warrants.
Those usurping or detaining, themselves or through others, goods or rights pertaining to the Roman Church are subject to automatic excommunication specially reserved to the Apostolic See; and if they are clerics, they shall be deprived moreover of dignities, benefices, offices, and pensions and declared incapable of them.
A canonical problem: The CIC mentions a couple of situations which lead to “excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See”. This means that only the Apostolic See can lift such an excommunication. Given the argument presented by the sedevacantists (who still claim to be in “visible communion with the Apostolic See”), who from the Apostolic See the sedevacantists claim to be in communion with shall examine and perhaps lift such excommunication? Would this not imply that there be competent authorities within the Apostolic See with whom the sedevacantists are in communion? But there exist none: the entire apparatus of the Apostolic See is in communion with those Pontiffs sedevecantists unashamedly claim to have lost their office.