Catholic Answers

P. O. Box 17181

San Diego, CA 92117

Dear Karl Keating:

It has been some months since I have sent in my response to your article, along with an order for some back issues (I am still awaiting those issues), and in the meantime I have had further thoughts regarding sedevacantism and the difficulty you are obviously having in attempting to refute it. If I have been merciless in my attack of your article, please keep in mind that I meant nothing personal by anything in it, and if it seemed otherwise, I can only apologize for any unfortunate turn of phrase I may have used along the way. Please keep in mind that I can also be every bit as merciless in my attack of the opposite position (I suppose you would say, "Well then would you please get on with doing it, then!") Although my response has demonstrated that your article does not refute sedevacantism, that does not mean that I have therefore proven sedevacantism to be true. Nor do I intend to do that here; I leave that to sedevacantists.

Actually, I was more puzzled than anything else as I wondered why this article should be so murky and faulty when everything else you have written that I have read is so clear and cogent. It is only with further thought that I have come to realize the true nature of the quandary you are in. As you read my appraisal of your difficulty, I do not know whether you will be saying to yourself, "I know, I know!" or "So that's what my problem has been!" but to be sure that you are up to speed on this and that we can understand each other, I shall state it out as follows:

In the course of your attempts to learn about sedevacantism, they have confronted you with numerous writings by various doctors, theologians, and even past popes who have all discussed the theoretical possibility of a pope vanishing into heresy and thereby losing his office. Such greats as Bellarmine, Cajetan, Liguori, and even pope Paul IV (not VI) have all affirmed the possibility (however remote) that a pope, despite lawful election to the papacy by the Church and lawful acceptance of same, might be somehow able to become a heretic and lose his office, thus necessitating the election of another pope. I call all of that the theological basis for the possibility of sedevacantism, which must be kept separate from the attempts to decide whether specific popes have strayed and therefore lost their office through heresy.

What Conciliarists such as yourself have been banking on is the general public ignorance of this theological basis. While all of what those greats have written on this is a matter of public record and therefore verifiable to anybody who takes the time to do the research and look it up for themselves, it is sufficiently hard to come by that very, very few are ever likely to stumble across it by accident. And very few have. That, along with a certain sloppiness of thought on the part of many laymen, causes most to reject out of hand any thought along the lines that a loyal Catholic could ever separate himself from, say, John Paul II.

Let us first take a short look at the nature of this ignorance. Many tend to confuse and confound two separate doctrines which are both true and related to each other, but nevertheless separate doctrines. These are the doctrines of the Infallibility of the pope and the Indefectibility of the Church. It seems that many, in the usual muddiness of their thought tend to get it backwards, namely by believing in the Indefectibility of the pope and the Infallibility of the Church. As you know, no such doctrines have ever been defined, nor is it likely that they will ever be.

Your quandary is this: There are only three options you have regarding this theological basis for the possibility of sedevacantism: 1) You can pass over it in silence, 2) You can attempt to refute it, and 3) You can face it head on and do your best to prove that the present pope and his three predecessors somehow squeak by, however barely, as true popes. In your article, you took the first option. In some ways, I can see why you did that. Once the cat is out of the bag, there is no stuffing it back in again. There are still a lot of people (particularly of a traditional or conservative bent) who would never read a religious publication unless their bishop approves it, and who would never read The Angelus, or The Roman Catholic, or Catholic Restoration, or The Reign of Mary where they would read This Rock. As long as they do so, they might never learn of that theological basis. Once that basis gets discussed in This Rock or anywhere else where the local bishop approves it, there is no going back. They will know, and you can't take that information away from them.

That is why your article had to be so unfocused and vague when it came to the theological arguments, and then so richly padded with mostly irrelevant biographical detail. You didn't want to let the cat out of the bag, or else you really would have been in over your head as millions finally realize that loyalty to the pope (THE standard litmus test of any real Catholic) does not necessarily imply loyalty to John Paul II, and then go over in droves to the sedevacantist groups. This is also why you are unable to debate any sedevacantist in the public forum. All they have to do is point out this theological basis and right away you come across as one who has something to hide.

The other two strategies remove this problem, but at the cost of letting the cat out of the bag, which would be in my opinion a real public service, but it could also be the end of your career as a Catholic apologist. (Not necessarily, all you would lose is the blessing of the diocesan bishops.) Let us now take a closer look at those other two strategies. If you want to try to refute them, you may end up having to prove that you know better than all of these great popes, doctors, theologians, and canonists, that you are right and all of them are wrong. At that rate, you might as well set yourself up as pope and from there proclaim a new doctrine of the Indefectibility of the pope. I am sure that you can see that this second option is not really a viable alternative.

This brings us to the last option. For this option you don't have to outsmart St. Bellarmine or pope Innocent III, and you don't have to hide any truths. But it is not an easy option. The careers of the Conciliar and postconciliar popes themselves makes it so. Do not be fooled by the popularity they enjoy owing to the good press they have all gotten. Indeed, that in itself should have served as a warning signal that all is not well with them. "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets." -- Luke 6:26. Where truth is the standard and the test, all four of them look pretty bad. The real challenge, and the only one which could ever earn the respect of any traditional Catholics who are theologically aware, is to try to prove that they are simply bad popes, but still popes nevertheless.

That is not easy, especially in the case of Paul VI whom it is almost certain that the Church will one day have to delete from the sequence of successors of St. Peter. While John Paul II stands a significantly better chance of remaining in that sequence, his almost constant reliance on Paul VI demonstrates him to be at best incompetent and lacking in any theological training or spiritual formation, and as one who has rarely, if ever, exercised the authority of St. Peter. Personally, I don't think it worth anyone's while to try to defend Paul VI, but maybe John Paul II might merit someone's defense. Your best bet is to steer discussions away from Paul VI, simply saying that you refuse to argue about the case of Paul VI as you gently but forcefully return the discussion to the issue of John Paul II. I enclosed an outline with my first letter of how John Paul II can be defended, and I would like to point out that my argument based on that outline has already given several sedevacantists who have heard it in detail pause as they consider the possibility that John Paul II might still be a pope.

If you are going to fight them, you have got to do it on their turf. For example, in the case of the Fundamentalists, you fought them on their level, by using scripture after scripture in support of Catholic doctrines. What good would it do to quote the Council of Trent at those who think that council was convened by a false Church? But now the positions are reversed and it is the sedevacantists who now quote the Council of Trent at you. Likewise, all of that theological basis for sedevacantism must be taken into account or else your arguments will not convince even one sedevacantist.

Like you, my first reaction when I encountered a sedevacantist was to think that they were questioning or doubting or disbelieving some tenet of the faith regarding the pope or the papacy or the promise of Christ to remain with His Church until the end of time, or that they were saying that the gates of Hell had prevailed over it as Christ promised wouldn't happen. Had any of those things actually been the case, then sedevacantists really would have been the "Apostates" which Tim Ryland so glibly calls them in his otherwise fine article about you in Sursum Corda. I, too, thought that they were playing the part of Luther who stood apart from the Church (so he said) for conscience's sake. As you are no doubt finding out in your contacts with them, and as I did find out, it is quite easy for sedevacantists to demonstrate the falsity of every one of those assumptions about them.

I truly wish you had a chance to sit down with an intelligent sedevacantist such as Richard Jamison, and have a good long chat about it with him. Even if he doesn't persuade you that John Paul II cannot be a pope (as I am not necessarily so persuaded), one fact that you will see, between the lines so to speak, is that he and all sedevacantists of the CMRI (and by implication the SSPV) are indisputably every bit as much a part of the Catholic Church as you and I. And don't expect to be able to persuade him that John Paul II is a true and valid pope, even with an argument like mine, since he has seen it already. But maybe you can at least show him that you are truly Catholic by defending your opinions through reference to the Universal and Historic Magisterium of the Church, rather than from disputed documents from doubtful popes, or with such intelligence-insulting arguments like those in your article which I so soundly refuted.

The Church is clearly in a crisis, and there are several basic categories of theories people have come up with to explain it. These are probably not all possible solutions, and each of these has any number of subcategories as well. There is the Prisoner-In-The-Vatican theory which claims that they are all true popes who have been forced to act so unpapal, or in some of the more extreme forms even replaced by look-alike clones who have done all of the abominable things they are thought to have done. A more gentle and realistic form of that theory is based on the fact that Vatican II introduces the idea of Collegiality, and so he cannot act unless a whole planetfull of admittedly heretical and schismatic bishops agree to it. Another theory holds that they have been bad popes who have abused their power, and must be resisted (the SSPX's position in a nutshell). And yet another theory is sedevacantism in its various forms (absolute or materialiter/formaliter).

Any real Catholic who is educated has to be aware that something of the sort simply has to be true, but the particular opinion or position one takes regarding which flavor of which one of these theories they choose to go with as a working assumption has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not they are a Catholic in full union with the Church Christ established. One day, the Church must rule on the question on which theory is true, but in the meantime all of us Catholics need to be more respectful towards those who decide to explain the crisis in the Church differently than we do. Calling someone "Apostate" simply because they have a different opinion than we do is simply uncalled for, and a sin (calumny) which needs to be repented of and forgiven. It would different if the differing opinion contradicted some dogma of the faith, but that is simply not the case here.

The real problem here is that you have managed to stick your nose into the middle of a battle you didn't really understand. You went into this, imagining that the side you went to defend, namely the Vatican hierarchy from pope down to your diocesan bishop and local parish priest, were the good guys who were absolutely right and had nothing to hide, and that those "evil" sedevacantists out there were the bad guys who were out to injure the Church and who would not stand any close scrutiny. Now that you find yourself on the front lines, you are now seeing aspects of both sides in this fight you were not previously aware of. You see your "good guys" retreating with their tail between their legs, unwilling and unable to oppose those "bad guys." I do know how painful this can be for you. Believe me, I really do know. I've been there myself.

Let us suppose, for example, that you decide to write and publish another article about sedevacantism, or that you go ahead with your "fringe element" book and decide to list sedevacantists among them and "deal" with sedevacantists there. I envision two possibilities, and for each I make a prediction. 1) You may decide to just go ahead and publish a real defense for John Paul II such as I have described (I do here grant you full permission to use it) which faces head on all of that theological basis for sedevacantism and no sooner does your magazine (or book) hit the stands, you get a word from your local bishop who tells you to promptly remove all copies, try to retrieve as many as you can, and agree never to release it anywhere else. 2) You may decide to talk over such a thing with some spiritual advisor who will say or do whatever it takes to convince you not to publish it, but surround it with silence. They will do anything to suppress the truth that a pope can (at least in theory) become a heretic, and that if so he loses his office by doing so.

What they wish to defend by hiding the truth is not so much the papacy of John Paul II, but all of the gobbledygook that has been going on ever since Vatican II opened up for reconsideration everything the Church has always taught. And face it, without everyone mistaking Vatican II for a valid and true Council of the Church, indeed some sort of "Supercouncil" with the power to negate anything and everything that has gone on before, all of the liturgical destruction and other mischief done would be at once seen for just what totally indefensible gobbledygook it is. At most it is merely a "pastoral" council, which at once places it in a category qualitatively inferior to all of the "dogmatic" councils from Nicea to Vatican I. Imagine trying to defend the Novus Ordo Missae without being able to say, "Pope Paul promulgated this," (true enough, to the man's eternal shame, but was he still a pope and wielding papal authority?) or "Vatican II mandated this," (now that isn't even true; it only mandated a few trivial and relatively harmless revisions and an increase in the use of vernacular, namely the sort of changes seen over the course of the 1960's previous to and excluding the 1969 Novus Ordo Missae and its prototype, the "Normative Mass" performed once in the Sistine Chapel in 1967). It can't be done, and no competent theologian would attempt it.

I say all of this as an act of mercy towards you. In my last letter, I stated that you ought not try to take on sedevacantism as though it were just some apostate fringe element, because "you frankly don't know just what you are up against." I hope that I have here given you a glimpse of just what that is. I was not referring to anything the sedevacantists might do, be it in the courts, in print, or in the forum of public debate, and most certainly not to anything I would do (as if I had the power or desire to do anything), but to the betrayal you would experience from an unexpected direction, from your own hierarchy who have a vested interest in keeping people ignorant of that theological basis for sedevacantism. Either you will observe that gag order and therefore go the rest of your life being unable to face them in formal public debate, thus helping them to grow at your expense, or else you go ahead and be honest about it and face condemnation at the hands of your "good guy" hierarchy. In that latter case, they will treat you as if it were you who were the sedevacantist even though you are trying to defend the papacy of John Paul II, just as you treated Gerry Matatics who is also not a sedevacantist. (By the way, I just found out that Gerry Matatics most definitely is NOT a Feeneyite either as your article erroneously claimed, and which I made the mistake of believing only because I had no chance to talk to him about it.) Suddenly you cannot get imprimaturs for your books, you cannot advertise your wares in Our Sunday Visitor, The Tidings, or The Catholic Register, or any other official Church publication; you can't write columns for them, and in fact there may even be notices appearing in them warning people against you, simply because you decided to defend John Paul II in a way that truly addresses the theological problems of his papacy.

Behind that betrayal lurks yet another layer of betrayal, namely that by Catholic truth. In attacking Traditional Catholics and their Traditional Catholic faith, you find yourself staring up the barrels of the same guns of truth, logic, doctrine, history, fact, and documentation which you yourself have so effectively used against those less Catholic than yourself. As Abp. Lefebvre so succinctly put it, "to remain Catholic must we become Protestant?"

If you take the time to get to know some sedevacantists more carefully, what you will find is kindred spirits who, like you, value truth over unity. Back in 1979, you created Catholic Answers which at that time (and to this within the Conciliar establishment) was the only attempt to defend the truth of Catholicism against the attacks of those who lie against it. At a time when practically the entire hierarchy was trying to be "friendly" with all of their ecumenical outreaches and overtures, the anti-Catholics have only turned up the heat. In 1962 we have both the convening of the "friendly" ecumenical council Vatican II and the publication of Loraine Boettner's Roman Catholicism. Only you have resisted getting in step with the spirit of Vatican II and bending over backwards, by not allowing such attacks to stand unchallenged.

Do you realize that in doing so, it was then (1979) when you formally made your break with John Paul II by demonstrating that you value truth over unity. John Paul II values unity over truth as demonstrated at Assisi and on many other occasions. While many who subscribe to your magazine and read your books are blessed, and no doubt you receive much friendly correspondence from them, many others within the Conciliar establishment, most of whom you never hear from, oppose your work because it impedes John Paul II's project of promoting total unity-at-any-price. In the Conciliar establishment you labor largely alone with scant support, but among traditional Catholics, you will find a haven and a home, because all of them like you value truth over unity.

Don't bite the hand that feeds you. The search for truth invariably leads to traditional Catholicism. It is only a matter of time before all of your readers and yourself arrive there or else you end up tying yourself up in an increasingly complicated network of personal compromises and self-subterfuges until you could end up losing your soul. The Catholicism you have so well defended in your books, tracts, magazines, and other writings is the Catholicism of Bishops Vezelis, Hillebrand, McKenna, Main, Williamson, Fellay, Tissier de Mallerais, de Galarreta, Oravec, Rangel, Pivarunas, Kelly, and Dolan, and most certainly not the "Catholicism" of nearly every diocesan bishop nor that of our pope.

Just recently, I had the occasion to re-read Catholicism and Fundamentalism (an old ex-girlfriend from my college days just happened to call me up in keeping track of her acquaintances, and upon hearing that I have become Catholic said, "Well guess what, I was just doing a study on Roman Catholicism and have been reading this really neat book about it by some guy named Loraine Boettner." Needless to say I will be sending her a copy of your book) and in it I found a most interesting chapter entitled "Development of Doctrine" which is itself a truly damning indictment of all of the gobbledygook that started with Vatican II. According to this chapter, doctrine has always advanced by being clarified, stated ever more and more explicitly, and in more and more detail. Nothing is actually being added other than a deeper understanding of the Revelation already given in the original Deposit of Faith. But all one has to do is look at all of the liturgical innovations and catechisms since Vatican II, and to some extent even the documents (the infamous 16 schemas themselves) from the council itself, and what one finds is ambiguity and obfuscation where before there existed stark clarity and exactness.

"Thomas Aquinas noted that truths that were at one time only implicitly believed are later expressly proposed for belief. An example of this -- an example to which he could not, of course, have had recourse -- is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. It was talked about for centuries and then, at what seemed the opportune moment, formally defined. At any one time, the student of theological history will find, there were more articles to be believed than there had been at any earlier time, but fewer than there were to be later. Clarity is added, but never subtracted. As the world grows old, we have the comfort of more doctrinal security (if we but ask for it) than did our ancestors. This growth in doctrine comes about in various ways. Sometimes it arises from the prayerful thinking of theologians and appears as the result of obscure disputations or forgotten essays in forgotten journals. More usually it is a matter of old truths being made clearer to avoid misunderstanding or heresies being headed off at the pass." -- Your words. Why do you suppose it is that "... many of the most useful apologetics works are old. Distressingly few recent works about the Faith discuss problems in Church history or argue the foundation of doctrines -- apparently because the authors think history is unimportant and doctrines are mutable?"

As you begin to see now, what you would be up against is the truth, plus a lot of high Vatican politics. As you also see, no matter what you do from here, you will be aiding and abetting the sedevacantists, whether with your silence, or your attempt to take them on in the public forum. That is what I meant when I wrote "you deserve their thanks because your article will do more to further their cause than anything they themselves can do." No argument based on hiding the truth or misrepresenting the opposition can stand the test of public debate. As it stands now, Richard Jamison would welcome a chance to debate with you publicly regarding the papacy of John Paul II. I will understand if you decline, and so will he. Just in case you may have misplaced it, I enclose another copy of my outline of my case for the papacy of John Paul II. Feel free to use it if you dare.

In Jesus and Mary,


Griff Ruby


1) Burden of proof: Theologians and Canon Lawyers agree that if a person is lawfully and properly elected to the office of pope, and they accept it, the papacy of that individual must be accepted unless proven otherwise. The burden of proof is therefore on the part of the sedevacantists who therefore take the role of the Prosecution, and not on the defenders of John Paul II who therefore take the role of the Defense. The Prosecution must prove that John Paul II is not a pope whereas the Defense need only show reasonable doubts regarding each argument of the Prosecution's case.

2) Levels of JP2's commitment to heresy. There are at least four distinct levels which must be kept separate from each other:

2a) Personal and Private belief. His adherence to persons whose teachings have been formally condemned by the Church, and who have not in any way changed their heretical opinions (namely Blondel, Maritain, de Lubac, von Balthasar, Rahner, and Kung) clearly demonstrates that the man himself is at least materially a heretic. There is strong reason to believe that he formally adheres to these heresies. However, what a pope believes in his own mind, or reveals only in private, personal conversation, or writes only as a private theologian and not as pope, has no bearing on whether or not he keeps his office as pope.

2b) Personal actions. JP2 has definitely tested the limits here since not only have many of his actions been gravely scandalous, but he has added scandal to scandal by trumpeting his scandalous actions before the world and granting them official status. If only JP2 had the discretion of pope Alexander VI he would perform his flirtations with false religions in secret. Conversely, had pope Alexander VI conducted his sinful actions as JP2 does, he would have tried to present his mistresses to the world as being his wives, his children as legitimate, and his poisonings as lawful executions. There is no law on the books forbidding a pope to grant official and public status to his own sinful and scandalous actions, but there ought to be. Nevertheless even if such a law should one day come into effect it probably would not be retroactively applicable to JP2.

2c) Official and Public teaching. His teaching as promulgated in various encyclicals and other official organs of Church teaching has often been ambiguous and suggestive of heterodox positions, but there has always been some way to reconcile what he says with Catholic doctrine, sometimes requiring elaborate mental gymnastics.

2d) Mandated precept. Many fault him for not nullifying the indisputably wicked and heresy-promoting liturgical mandates promulgated by Paul VI, but legally what matters here is not the good he fails to do but whatever evil he does. In fact he has slightly mitigated those evil mandates with his 1984 and 1988 indults which grant permission for Catholic worship to bishops and faithful, respectively.

3) One positive evidence in his favor: his one exercise of what in a true pope would be the extraordinary and infallible magisterium is completely orthodox and consistent with what a true pope could say while speaking Ex Cathedra, namely his May 22, 1994 Apostolic Letter regarding priestesses which fulfills all qualifications for an Ex Cathedra statement.

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