The “Bad Popes” Argument
A very common objection one hears when discussing Sedevacantism with those unfortunate souls who still believe Jorge Bergoglio (“Francis”) is the Pope of the Catholic Church, is, “But there have always been bad Popes!” They are either not familiar with, or incapable of grasping, the difference between, on the one hand, Catholics who lead immoral lives, and, on the other hand, heretics.
Francis isn’t a bad Catholic. He’s a Non-Catholic. That’s the crux. Therefore, saying that we’ve had bad Popes in the past and they were still valid Popes, is totally beside the point. A man who professes the Catholic Faith whole and entire, no matter how wicked he may be, remains a member of the Catholic Church. Even if he hate God. Even if he be a murderer. Even if he be a sodomite.
God forbid, of course! Such a man, if he does not repent, will have an eternity of suffering in hell. His Church membership will have profited him nothing; his faith, entirely dead because without charity, will not save him in the least. His knowledge of the True Faith will merely add to his misery in hell because he will have sinned with full knowledge of the sinfulness of his deeds.
Yes, all this is true. But such a man, if elected to the papacy, would still be a valid Pope, because what keeps a man from being validly elected to the papacy is not a lack of holiness but the profession of heresy (among other things). In other words, what keeps him from being a valid Pope is not the commission of sins against morals (otherwise no one could be Pope, since we are all sinners), no matter how many or how grievous, but the commission of sins against Faith.
This is standard Catholic teaching and not controversial. Pope Pius XII put it best when he taught authoritatively in his beautiful encyclical on the Church:
Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed….
Nor must one imagine that the Body of the Church, just because it bears the name of Christ, is made up during the days of its earthly pilgrimage only of members conspicuous for their holiness, or that it consists only of those whom God has predestined to eternal happiness. It is owing to the Savior’s infinite mercy that place is allowed in His Mystical Body here below for those whom, of old, He did not exclude from the banquet. For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy. Men may lose charity and divine grace through sin, thus becoming incapable of supernatural merit, and yet not be deprived of all life if they hold fast to faith and Christian hope, and if, illumined from above, they are spurred on by the interior promptings of the Holy Spirit to salutary fear and are moved to prayer and penance for their sins.
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, nn. 22-23; underlining added.)
Note well, ladies and gentlemen: The only sins that by their very nature sever a man from the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, are the sins of schism, heresy, and apostasy. What this means is that these sins are such that committing them renders you a non-Catholic. A heretic, after all, professes a different religion than a Catholic, and so he cannot be a member of the Church, because one cannot be a Catholic and a Non-Catholic at the same time. (The same goes, a fortiori, for an apostate. Schism is slightly different but this need not concern us here.)
Therefore, a schismatic, a heretic, or an apostate could not be a valid Pope, for this would mean that a man who is not a member of the Mystical Body can nevertheless be the head of that Mystical Body, which is a contradiction.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, compiled during the reign of Pope St. Pius X, states very plainly: “Of course, the election of a heretic, schismatic, or female would be null and void” (s.v. “Papal Elections”).
To appreciate how important and serious this difference is between bad Catholic and Non-Catholic, let us take a look at one of the absolutely most immoral Catholic Popes in history: Pope John XII (reigned 955-963). Prince Octavian (his birth name) was only 16 years of age when elected, and he was a complete moral reprobate:
Nothing in his life marked him for this office, and everything should have kept him from it. He was rarely seen in church. His days and nights were spent in the company of young men and of disreputable women, in the pleasures of the table and of amusements and of the hunt, or in even more sinful sensual enjoyments. It is related that sometimes, in the midst of dissolute revelry, the prince had been seen to drink to the health of the devil. Raised to the papal office, Octavian changed his name and took the name of John XII. He was the first pope thus to assume a new name. But his new dignity brought about no change in his morals, and merely added the guilt of sacrilege.
Divine providence, watching over the Church, miraculously preserved the deposit of faith, of which this young voluptuary was the guardian. This Pope’s life was a monstrous scandal, but his bullarium is faultless. We cannot sufficiently admire this prodigy. There is not a heretic or a schismatic who has not endeavored to legitimate his own conduct dogmatically: Photius tried to justify his pride, Luther his sensual passions, Calvin his cold cruelty. Neither Sergius III nor John XII nor Benedict IX nor Alexander VI, supreme pontiffs, definers of the faith, certain of being heard and obeyed by the whole Church, uttered, from the height of their apostolic pulpit, a single word that could be an approval of their disorders.
At times John XII even became the defender of the threatened social order, of offended canon law, and of the religious life exposed to danger.
(Rev. Fernand Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, Vol. 3 [St. Louis, MO: Herder Book Co., 1946], pp. 510-511; underlining added.)
BAM! Did you get that?
Yes, there can be bad Popes, indeed. But in the exercise of their office they will be as orthodox and as Catholic as any other. Christ promised as much: “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18).
Unlike what so many prominent “traditionalists” have been spouting for decades, the Church is not guaranteed to have a Pope at all times; but when she has one, she is guaranteed to have one who’s Catholic. This is evident also because the Pope is the principle of unity in the Church and the proximate rule of Faith; he is the guarantor of orthodoxy and to him all must submit as a condition of their salvation (see Denz. 469). The idea that a heretic could be Pope would throw all of this completely out of sync.
In light of all the foregoing, consider these beautiful quotes regarding the authority and guaranteed infallibility of the Roman Pontificate:
“The vigilance and the pastoral solicitude of the Roman Pontiff … according to the duties of his office, are principally and above all manifested in maintaining and conserving the unity and integrity of the Catholic faith, without which it is impossible to please God. They strive also to the end that the faithful of Christ, not being like irresolute children, or carried about by every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men [Eph 4:14], may all come to the unity of faith and to the knowledge of the Son of God to form the perfect man, that they may not harm one another or offend against one another in the community and the society of this present life, but that rather, united in the bond of charity like members of a single body having Christ for head, and under the authority of his Vicar on earth, the Roman Pontiff, successor of the Blessed Peter, from whom is derived the unity of the entire Church, they may increase in number for the edification of the body, and with the assistance of divine grace, they may so enjoy tranquility in this life as to enjoy future beatitude.”
(Pope Benedict XIV, Apostolic Constitution Pastoralis Romani Pontificis, March 30, 1741; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 31; underlining added.)
“The Holy Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff have primacy in the entire world. The Roman Pontiff is the Successor of Blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, true Vicar of Christ, Head of the whole Church, Father and Teacher of all Christians.”
(Pope Benedict XIV, Apostolic Constitution Etsi Pastoralis, May 26, 1742; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 32; underlining added.)
“To the shepherds alone was given all power to teach, to judge, to direct; on the faithful was imposed the duty of following their teaching, of submitting with docility to their judgment, and of allowing themselves to be governed, corrected, and guided by them in the way of salvation. Thus, it is an absolute necessity for the simple faithful to submit in mind and heart to their own pastors, and for the latter to submit with them to the Head and Supreme Pastor.”
(Pope Leo XIII, Letter Epistola Tua to Cardinal Guibert, June 17, 1885; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 263; underlining added.)
“Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”
(Pope Boniface VIII, Bull Unam Sanctam, Nov. 18, 1302; underlining added.)
“Union with the Roman See of Peter is … always the public criterion of a Catholic…. ‘You are not to be looked upon as holding the true Catholic faith if you do not teach that the faith of Rome is to be held.’”
(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, par. 13; underlining added.)
“…the strong and effective instrument of salvation is none other than the Roman Pontificate.”
(Pope Leo XIII, Allocution of Feb. 20, 1903; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 353)
What? You haven’t heard these things lately from your favorite Resistance-Traditionalist newspaper, blog, or clergyman? You don’t say. Try applying the above quotes to the Vatican II Sect and its “Popes”, and you realize very quickly that it’s just not possible. Francis, even in his official acts, “the strong and effective instrument of salvation”? Give me a break. If there’s anything he’s strong and effective in, it’s causing damnation.
Take a good look also at the dogmatic teaching of the First Vatican Council on the connection between the Papacy and the True Faith, a connection which is not merely incidental but essential and necessary:
To satisfy this pastoral duty, our predecessors always gave tireless attention that the saving doctrine of Christ be spread among all the peoples of the earth, and with equal care they watched that, wherever it was received, it was preserved sound and pure. Therefore, the bishops of the whole world, now individually, now gathered in Synods, following a long custom of the churches and the formula of the ancient rule, referred to this Holy See those dangers particularly which emerged in the affairs of faith, that there especially the damages to faith might be repaired where faith cannot experience a failure. The Roman Pontiffs, moreover, according as the condition of the times and affairs advised, sometimes by calling ecumenical Councils or by examining the opinion of the Church spread throughout the world; sometimes by particular synods, sometimes by employing other helps which divine Providence supplied, have defined that those matters must be held which with God’s help they have recognized as in agreement with Sacred Scripture and apostolic tradition. For, the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the apostles and the deposit of faith, and might faithfully set it forth. Indeed, all the venerable fathers have embraced their apostolic doctrine, and the holy orthodox Doctors have venerated and followed it, knowing full well that the See of St. Peter always remains unimpaired by any error, according to the divine promise of our Lord the Savior made to the chief of His disciples: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren” [Luke 22:32].
(Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, n. 4; Denz. 1836; underlining added.)
It’s time to change the channel, folks. Time to stop imbibing the Semi-Traditionalist propaganda produced by The Remnant and its cousins. Time to stop supporting “Fr.” Zuhlsdorf. Time to stop reading the paid apologists of the Modernist Vatican II Sect. Time to turn off Michael Voris.
Instead, tune in to some real Catholic information. Lent is a perfect time for that. “And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: otherwise the new wine will break the bottles, and it will be spilled, and the bottles will be lost” (Lk 5:37).
As Catholics, we can take a debauched but Catholic Pope John XII over a “nice” but heretical Francis any day. Pope Pius IX reminds us of this once more:
Now you know well that the most deadly foes of the Catholic religion have always waged a fierce war, but without success, against this Chair [of St. Peter]; they are by no means ignorant of the fact that religion itself can never totter and fall while this Chair remains intact, the Chair which rests on the rock which the proud gates of hell cannot overthrow and in which there is the whole and perfect solidity of the Christian religion.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Inter Multiplices, n. 7)
But the supposed “Chair of St. Peter” in the Vatican II Sect has tottered and fallen; it therefore cannot be the true and genuine Chair of St. Peter.
Where, then, is the true Pope? We do not know. For all we know, we do not have a Pope. The See of Peter has been either vacant or impeded since 1958. It is most definitely not validly occupied by the impostors of the Vatican II Church (John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Francis).
But keep in mind: Though the Church may not always have a Pope, she will always have the True Faith. And for this reason alone we know that the Vatican II Sect cannot be the Catholic Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.