“Steeped in Romanity” — Fr. Victor-Alain Berto

Articles written, translated or selected by John S. Daly

The guiding star of this site is fidelity to Rome.

From torrid south to frozen north,
The wave harmonious stretches forth,
Yet strikes no chord more true to Rome’s,
Than rings within our hearts and homes.
Cardinal Wiseman

A Valid Papal Election Without Cardinals?

Conditions for Valid Papal Election in the Absence of Designated Electors
Special Consideration of Some Recent Putative Elections

Catholics unable to recognise as legitimate successors of St. Peter the Vatican II “popes”, who have left not a stone upon a stone of the Church as she was at the death of Pope Pius XII, are sometimes invited to recognise some other claimant to the papacy. This article will glance chiefly at a single contender – Englishman, Victor von Pentz, who calls himself Pope Linus II. It may also shed a little light on the whole subject of extraordinary conclaves.

Of course when the Holy See is not occupied by a legitimate and certain pontiff the Church necessarily has the right and power to provide herself with a true and unquestionable pope. But how?

The questions to be asked are the following:

  • Who are the legitimate electors in our extraordinary circumstances?

  • What conditions must be fulfilled for their election to be valid?

  • Were these electors and these conditions present and fulfilled, at least sufficiently, in the election of Linus II?

Several theologians of great renown have discussed the question: to whom does the right of electing the sovereign pontiff devolve if the cardinals are not available to play their role?

Worthy of special note among these theologians are:

  • Louis Cardinal Billot : De Ecclesia Christi: Quaestio XIV, thesis xxix

  • Jean-Baptiste Cardinal Franzelin: De Ecclesia, Thesis XIII, scholion.

  • Giacomo Tommaso Cardinal Cajetan: De Potestate Papae et Concilii, cap. XV.

  • Saint Robert Bellarmine (Doctor of the Church): De Romano Pontifice and De Clericis lib. I, cap. VII, prop. V and cap. x, prop. viii)

  • Dom Adrien Gréa: De l’Église et de sa Divine Constitution)

  • Fr. E. J. O’Reilly S.J. The Relations of the Church to Society, (London, John Hodges, 1892)

  • Lorenzo Spinelli: La Vacanza della Sede Apostolica, Milan, 1955

The two main solutions offered by them are:

  • An imperfect general council, i.e. a council of all the world’s bishops, which however is called “imperfect” because no council is fully general in the absence of the pope and of course the absence of the pope is in this case the very reason for summoning the council. The basis of this solution is that in the absence of the pope the bishops are the highest authority in the Church.

  • The Roman clergy. The basis of this solution is that the pope is pope because he is bishop of Rome. The cardinals are considered to be the chief clergy of Rome. In their absence, the remaining clergy of Rome become competent to elect their bishop, who, in virtue of being bishop of Rome, will be pope.

However, defenders of both solutions recognise that in a crisis depriving the Church of her designated electors (the cardinals), neither alternative may be entirely workable. St Robert Bellarmine, while favouring a general council, accepts that in practice the Roman clergy and the bishops close to Rome would surely have to elect. Dom Gréa, holding for the Roman clergy, thinks that just as the college of cardinals normally represents them, they could also in an emergency be represented by the Chapter of the Canons of the Lateran Basilica.

Here is a typical extract, from the greatest and most authoritative of these theologians:

“If there were no pontifical constitution in force concerning the election of the sovereign pontiff, or if by some mishap all the legally designated electors, i.e. all the cardinals, perished together, the right of election would belong to the neighbouring bishops and the Roman clergy, but with a certain dependence(1) on a general council of bishops.” (Bellarmine: De Clericis, Lib. X, cap. x)

Of course, this raises further difficulties in our day when almost all legitimately appointed clergy of the diocese of Rome and almost all legitimately appointed bishops of the Catholic Church have vanished into apostasy or at the very least have no adequate comprehension of the nature of the crisis and therefore no disposition to resolve it by participating in the election of a true and Catholic Pontiff.

Rival Conclaves

As is known, several attempted conclaves have been conducted by persons believing that this difficulty had been sufficiently resolved.

There has been the 16th July 1990 Kansas(2) election in which former SSPX seminarian, David Bawden was elected and took the name Michael. The electors were all laity, three men and three women. It has always been considered unusual for a pope’s parents to be still alive to see his elevation. It is more unusual still for them to participate in his election!

Another was the Internet conclave which, on 24th October 1998, elected Capuchin friar Fr. Lucian Pulvermacher who took the name Pius XIII. It is claimed (though there is no way of verifying the fact) that some sixty persons voted. Pulvermacher was the only priest. The process by which he had himself consecrated bishop (first himself ordaining and consecrating a layman, then having himself consecrated by the man he had consecrated) defies common sense as well as sound Thomistic theology.

Between the two occurred the election(3) which concerns us. On June 25, 1994 at the Hotel Europa in Assisi, Italy, an unknown number of participants elected a candidate who took the title Linus II.

Details of the Assisi Conclave

In the immediate aftermath of the election, the identity of the new putative pontiff was not revealed. Nor were the electors identified, but the impression was given that they were very numerous and included persons of high ecclesiastical rank. It was indicated that a “retired Roman bishop” (i.e. a member of the Catholic hierarchy duly appointed by a true pope) had either participated in, or at least encouraged, the conclave.

Only some years later, and despite initial denials, was it made public that Linus II was former SSPX seminarian Victor von Pentz. It was also stated that von Pentz and one of his supporters (Immanuel Korab, also known as Emmanuel Korub, whom he named Cardinal) were consecrated (in a public ceremony) by the “retired Roman bishop” whose identity could not be revealed for fear of persecution falling on him.

Naturally those who accept the principle of an emergency conclave will wish to know why the supporters of Linus think his papal title preferable to those advanced by other contemporary claimants. The reply is that other elections are null because they took place “either mystically or by auto-proclamation or only by laypeople without the participation of bishops”. In other words, a key factor corroborating Linus’s claim to the papacy, rather than any other, is “the participation of bishops” in his election.

Who were these bishops?

The answer to this question entails considerable difficulty. For a long time the only persons clearly known to have been associated with it were Dr Elizabeth Gerstner, a certain “Father Dominic”, “Cardinal” Korab (whose consecration took place only after the election) and von Pentz himself. Thuc-line Bishop Thomas Fouhy(4) and other less well known Thuc-line bishops may have participated.

But the only name seriously put forward as a duly appointed member of the Church’s hierarchy who participated in or supported the election is that of retired Italian Military Ordinary, Archbishop Arrigo Pintonello, Titular Bishop of Theodosiopolis in Arcadia, born 28th August 1908 in the diocese of Padua, consecrated 30th November 1953, who resided at Rome. Purportedly translated by Paul VI, 12th September 1967, to be Bishop of Terracina-Latina, dependent on the Roman Vicariate, he retired on 25th June 1971 and died on 8th July 2001.

It is also sometimes alleged that he consecrated Victor von Pentz.

The Questions That Must Be Asked

To establish whether this conclave was able to give the Church a valid pope, we must know whether the election was truly and demonstrably representative of the Catholic Church, and in particular of the local Roman diocese. Hence we must know whether it included all those who had a right to be included and excluded those who had no right to participate.

Here are the main questions of doctrine and law that must be asked:

  • Is it admissible, when regularly appointed clergy are wanting or very scarce, to admit the laity to take part in a papal election?

  • Is it admissible, when regularly appointed clergy are wanting or very scarce, to admit emergency clergy (the allusion is to those bishops who were not named to the hierarchy by a true pope or to those priests who were not ordained by a hierarchical bishop) to take part in a papal election?

  • Can Catholics be expected to recognise as their pope a man whose election is not demonstrably in conformity with the requirements of the Church’s divine constitution?

Here are the main questions of fact that must be asked:

  • What advance publicity was given to the conclave?

  • What persons were considered competent to participate and what proof is there of their invitation?

  • What regularly appointed clergy took part in the conclave?

  • What regularly appointed Roman clergy took part in the conclave?

  • What regularly appointed bishops took part in the conclave?

  • What irregular clergy or non-hierarchical bishops took part in the clergy?

  • What layfolk took part in the conclave?

  • What weighting was given to the votes of the different categories of electors?

  • Were the electors free and not subject to undue influence(5).

  • Who ordained the elected Victor von Pentz to the priesthood and consecrated him bishop, and when?

  • Are the priesthood and the episcopate of the alleged elector-bishop himself established with certainty?

  • Are the essential facts concerning the election and consecration public and certain, beyond reasonable doubt?

The Disappointing Answers

The only alleged elector explicitly named by the supporters of Linus II as having been a legitimate bishop of the Catholic hierarchy, or representative of the Roman clergy, is Archbishop Arrigo Pintonello. The present writer knows several persons who knew him. Their testimony is concordant. Archbishop Pintonello did not encourage the Assisi election, did not take part in the Assisi election, did not ordain priest or consecrate as a bishop Linus or any of his supporters and at no stage recognised Linus as being a legitimate pope. Moreover, while Pintonello was conservatively minded, hostile to John-Paul II, and ready to oblige sedevacantist families by confirming their children, it is simply not true that he himself ever publicly doubted John-Paul II’s papal status. Nor is it true that he unequivocally rejected the Second Vatican Council or the Novus Ordo Missae. The onus is squarely on Linus to prove Pintonello’s involvement. He is unable to do so. This is sad, but it is the truth.

It reduces the election to an event in which one or two regularly appointed priests (notably Bishop Fouhy, who belongs canonically to the diocesan priesthood in New Zealand, though his episcopate is non-hierarchical) may have taken part, but in which practically all electors were laymen or clergy with no regular standing giving them any demonstrable advantage over the laity in electing a pope.

On this issue, many good souls have been led astray into believing that there exists a tradition of lay participation in papal elections, at least in some cases, and that the exclusion of the laity derives from ecclesiastical law (which can yield to necessity) not to divine law (which cannot yield). This is not so. See Appendix 1 on Lay Participation in Ecclesiastical Elections According to St. Robert Bellarmine.

Ultimately the election of Linus II suffers from the following fatal defects:

  • Almost none of the facts concerning this election are public and certain. The faithful were presented with the announcement that the conclave had elected one “Linus II” but his identification as Victor von Pentz took years to emerge. All information was secret and third-hand.

  • False claims have been made and false impressions given about by it by those closely involved, to an extent which undermines the credibility of the entire enterprise.

  • No member of the Church’s hierarchy took part and no representative of the Roman clergy(6) took part, nor has any representative of either given retroactive consent to the election.

  • The vast bulk of the electors had no ecclesiastical status whatever and their endeavours were thus necessarily sterile.

  • The advance publicity was addressed almost exclusively to known sympathetic sedevacantists. If only pro-conclave sedevacantists on friendly terms with the late Dr. Gerstner represent the Church, where was the Church in the early 1960s? Neither the Church nor the papacy nor the episcopate can ever cease to be: these are dogmatic truths which the organisers of this election do not seem to have sufficiently pondered.

  • The organisers made no adequate efforts to establish whether any surviving Roman clergy or hierarchical bishops continued to profess the Catholic faith and were willing to participate in an election. They threw participation in the election open to persons excluded by the law without demonstrating true necessity. Their research was shoddy and inadequate.

Is It Presumptuous to Wait?

No Catholic doubts the great desirability of restoring authority in the Church. But urgency should never breed panic. Any enterprise, if it is to succeed, must be prudently prepared. If we mortals are to contribute actively to the restoration of Catholic authority, the necessary preparation surely includes very serious theological study, accompanied by prayer and good works to obtain the divine blessing. It was with special reference to the difficulties Catholics will experience as the apocalyptic era draws close, that the great Abbot of Solesmes, Dom Prosper Guéranger, wrote: “Many will practically ignore the master-truth, that the Church can never be overwhelmed by any created power... Those...people will forget that Our Lord needs no shrewd schemes to help Him keep His promise.” (The Liturgical Year, commentary on the epistle for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost.) The Church will not fail for any neglect of ours. It is imperative that the fullest theological study should demonstrate in advance, to the satisfaction of those truly competent to judge, that a given project of restoration does indeed match the requirements of Catholic doctrine and the Church’s divine constitution.

Nor should it be forgotten that Providence has often, especially (but not exclusively) in Old Testament times, permitted crises especially to remind men of their own impotence, invariably bringing to nought their premature attempts to evade the merciful chastisement.

In this connection, the great Thomistic theologian Cardinal Cajetan (1469-1534) teaches that the role of prayer in ordinary problems is to complement and reinforce practical initiatives, prayer being of general, but only partial, efficacy in such matters because the very exaltedness of its dignity makes it inappropriate for it to be the sole, immediate and specific remedy for ills of an inferior order. But the situation is quite different when the evil, problem or crisis which needs to be remedied is of an extraordinary gravity and importance. In such a case the natural intervention of men - the specific remedy for inferior ills – cannot suffice as the efficacious solution. The panacea in such cases is prayer and prayer alone, for it alone is the specific means to be used when the objective to be secured is of the highest order.

“God in His wisdom, must have given the Church for remedy [in very grave crises]...not any of these merely human means which would suffice in other ecclesiastical circumstances, but prayer alone. And can the prayer of the Church when she perseveringly asks for things needful for her salvation be any less efficacious than merely human means? Is not the fervent prayer of an individual soul who asks such things for himself, already efficacious and infal­lible?... But alas it seems that we are come to the days announced by the Son of Man when He asked whether, on His return, He should find faith on earth. (Luke 18:8) For the promises relating to the highest and most efficacious of secondary causes [i.e. prayer] are held to be of no value. Men say that...one cannot be content with recourse to prayer and Divine Providence alone! But why do they say this if not because they prefer human means to the efficacy of prayer? Because ‘the sensual man perceiveth not the things that are of the Spirit of God’? (1 Corinthians 2:14) Because they have learnt to trust in man, not in the Lord, and to put their hope in the flesh?” (De Comparatione Auctoritatis Papae et Concilii, cap. xxvii, nn. 417-20, 22)

Our citation of Cajetan does not imply the judgment that human initiative to end the crisis is necessarily misplaced. It implies that human initiative to end the crisis may not be the solution destined by Providence. It may fail. Unless it proceeds with order, prudence and humility, it will certainly fail.

Appendix 1

Lay Participation in Ecclesiastical Elections According to St. Robert Bellarmine

In his De Clericis, cap. vii, prop. v, St Robert refutes the Protestant Reformers, demonstrating that: “The right of electing the sovereign pontiff and the other pastors and ministers of the Church does not belong by divine right to the people; any such power the people ever had was entirely due to the acquiescence or concession of the Pontiffs.”

His evidence goes far beyond the simple refutation of the absurd Protestant heresy. It shows that the laity have in no circumstances any right or power to participate in ecclesiastical elections or the selection of anyone to hold office in the Church.

Here in brief summary are St. Robert’s main proofs:

  • “Neither doth any man take the honour [of the high priesthood] to himself, but he that is called by God, as Aaron was.” (Hebrews 5:4) This shows that the right to any office in the Church is given by God, and therefore through those to whom God has delegated authority, not through the people.

  • “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.” (John 20:21) This shows that a successor of the Apostles must possess a mission. One is sent by those in authority, not by those below one.

  • The bishops are shepherds and the people are their sheep. It is contrary to natural law, divine law and written law for sheep to elect their shepherds. Of this argument, St. Robert adds, “Certissimum est – It is most certain.”

    • He explains that the people can sometimes elect their temporal ruler because God did not assign their temporal government directly as He nominated Peter head of the Church from the first instant of its existence. Moreover a state may at a given moment have no temporal head, in which case the people can choose one. But the Church is never entirely ungoverned “for there are always other bishops in the Church who can elect and create new shepherds.”

  • The Apostles sent bishops without consulting the faithful.

  • Various councils have forbidden lay involvement in ecclesiastical elections:

    • I Laodicea, c. 13

    • II Nicea, c. 3

    • IV Constantinople, can. 28 (which is very powerful against lay participation)

  • Patristic testimony.

  • Numerous inconveniences follow upon popular election. The unlearned people are incompetent to judge priestly aptitude, even if they wished to. The majority, the worse and the stupider, will always prevail.

  • Canon Law (Cap. Honorii III) says, “by perpetual edict we forbid the election of the pontiffs to be undertaken by the laity, adjoined to the Canons; and if by any chance this should occur, the election shall be without force, notwithstanding any contrary custom, which ought rather to be called a corruption.”

St Robert admits that from sub-apostolic times, the people were called on to attest the good morals of the person to be selected. He recognises that later on, in order that they might be more devoted to their prelates, it was permitted in places that they should “postulate”, i.e. request the competent authorities to give them, as pastor, some named individual – a request that the authorities were of course free to reject if necessary. He explains that later, in certain localities an abusive practice grew up whereby the people were admitted to vote for their prelates. This abuse was, gently and gradually, corrected, by a return to the practice whereby the people attest the candidate’s good morals – a practice that still exists.

It appears quite clear from this that direct lay participation in ecclesiastical elections is an abuse, and one that at present invalidates the election in question.

This article first appeared in The Four Marks.


(1) The saint explains this dependence as meaning that a council could resolve any doubt as to who the legitimate electors would be.

(2) A wag has dubbed this endeavour “the Great Mid-Western Schism”.

(3) This election was organised by the late Dr Elizabeth Gerstner, longstanding Vaticanologist and editress of the German-language periodical Kyrie Eleison.

(4) Bishop Fouhy, a secular priest who defrocked and “married” in the wake of Vatican II, but later repented, now aged 98, resides in New Zealand.

(5) An objection understandably made against the Kansas election was its having taken place on premises belonging to the family of the person elected.

(6) “The election of the Sovereign Pontiff belongs so exclusively to the Roman Church that no other power, no other assembly, no other council, even oecumenical, could take her place. Only the man elected by the Roman Church is the heir of St. Peter, because only the Roman Church is the See of St. Peter in which resides his succession and his prerogatives. A person elected by any other gathering has no claim on her because he is foreign to her and receives nothing from her... A certain number of bishops designated by the Council of Constance co-operated in the election of Martin V; but the consent of the cardinals intervened and it was this consent which gave the election its force and legit­imacy.” [This quotation is from Dom Adrien Gréa's De L'Église et de Sa Divine Constitution (page 168), a work approved by Cardinal Jacobini on behalf of Pope Leo XIII. The papal approval does not automatically confirm the accuracy of Dom Gréa's thesis, but it does give it considerable theological weight. Cardinal Franzelin argues that it was by virtue of the commission of the legitimate pope, prior to his abdic­ation, that the council of Constance received the authority to elect a pope. Either way it clearly provides no exception to the rule that the bishop of Rome must be elected by Romans or their delegates. – JSD]