“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

The Main Errors of Sectarian Sedevacantism


Every error tends to generate an opposite error. The rampant heresy of the Vatican II and post-conciliar period has in some quarters led Catholics wishing to remain orthodox not only to shun heresy and those who are spreading it or tolerating it with manifest bad faith, but also to declare that membership of the Church is henceforth dependent on correct analysis of the mysterious situation we find ourselves in, so that all who fail to sign up to an ever-lengthening list of allegedly demonstrable theses are also deemed guilty of heresy or schism.

This tendency has sometimes been termed Neo-Luciferianism after Bishop Lucifer of Cagliari (†371), who over-reacted in a similar way to the Arian crisis and its sometimes perplexing aftermath and thereby himself fell into schism from the true Church, but in the present series of articles I refer to it as Sectarian Sedevacantism. I have written a number of articles opposing this tendency among some sedevacantists of our day. What follows is an attempt to summarize the main issues disputed between “moderate sedevacantists” (my own position) and the sectarians.

It should be understood that sectarian sedevacantism is the name of a tendency rather than of an organized group or of an exactly stated thesis. Hence there are many who subscribe to some of the errors listed below without necessarily holding them all. Among public figures who have subscribed to at least some of these errors are men such as Abbé Vincent Zins, the Dimond brothers, Fr. Egregyi, Martin Gwynne and Richard Ibranyi.

The purpose of the present article is not to refute the sectarian errors but to highlight the main issues which separate the sectarian school from moderate sedevacantism. Formal refutation of these errors is found in a series of detailed articles I consecrated to this divergence in 2000-2001. I have however taken the trouble to cite below at least one major authority opposed to the Luciferian position on each of the disputed questions.

1. Heresy

Sectarian Position: Any proposition that can be shown to be logically incompatible with a de fide doctrine is heretical.

Correct Catholic Position: Opposition to de fide doctrine must be direct and manifest.

The Voice of Authority:

Canon 1323 underlines that no doctrine is considered to belong to the “de fide” category “unless it is manifestly certain that it does,” and Herrmann sums up the common doctrine of the theologians when he states that a heretical proposition is one which is opposed directly, certainly and manifestly to one of these truths. (Inst. Theol. Dogm. I, 32)

2. Heretics

Sectarian Position: Anyone who holds an unorthodox proposition after he has been privately rebuked and warned that it is unorthodox must be deemed a heretic.

Correct Catholic Position: It must be genuinely manifest that the culprit realises that his belief conflicts with a de fide teaching of the Church.

The Voice of Authority:

“No one is a heretic as long as he is disposed to submit his judgment to the Church, or does not know that the Church of Christ holds the contrary, even if he defends his opinion doggedly through culpable or even crass ignorance.” (Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Theol. Moral. lib. 3, n. 19)

3. Pertinacity

Sectarian Position: Whoever errs in doctrine culpably is deemed pertinacious.

Correct Catholic Position: Whatever diminishes moral guilt to any extent excuses from pertinacity and therefore from all censures. Even gravely culpable errors do not imply pertinacity if the culprit is not conscious that they are opposed to the Church’s position.

The Voice of Authority:

Canon 2229§2 says, “If a law includes the words ‘shall have presumed’, ‘shall have dared’, ‘shall have acted knowingly’, ‘expressly’, ‘imprudently’, ‘deliberately’, or of other similar words requiring full understanding and consideration, [then] whatever diminishes culpability, whether it be on the part of the intellect or of the will, exempts from latae sententiae censures.” (1)

4. Schism

Sectarian Position: One necessarily becomes a schismatic, objectively excluded from the Catholic Church, by adhering to an objectively illegitimate pretender to the papacy or to what is objectively a non-Catholic sect – any pertinacity required is legally presumed.

Correct Catholic Position: Adhering to a false “pope” or to a false sect, as yet uncondemned by the Church and claiming to be Catholic, makes one a schismatic only if one realises that the sect in question is not the Catholic Church and that the “pope” in question is not the true head of the Catholic Church. Pertinacity is an just as much an essential element of schism as of heresy and must be demonstrated in each particular case.

The Voice of Authority:

(i) “They cannot be numbered among the schismatics, who refuse to obey the Roman Pontiff because they consider his person to be suspect or doubtfully elected on account of rumours in circulation...” (Wernz-Vidal: Ius Canonicum, Vol. VII, n. 398.)

(ii) “Nor is there any schism if one merely transgress a papal law for the reason that one considers it too difficult, or if one refuses obedience inasmuch as one suspects the person of the pope or the validity of his election, or if one resists him as the civil head of a state.” (Szal, Rev. Ignatius: Communication of Catholics with Schismatics, CUA, 1948, p. 2.)

(iii) “Neither is someone a schismatic for denying his subjection to the Pontiff on the grounds that he has solidly founded doubts concerning the legitimacy of his election or his power [refs to Sanchez and Palao].” (de Lugo: Disp., De Virt. Fid. Div., disp xxv, sect iii, nn. 35-8.)

(iv) “Schismatics properly so called are those who, wilfully and intentionally separate themselves from the unity of the Church…” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, II-II, Q. 39, A.1)

(v) The Bulla Coenae declared excommunicated: “… schismatics and all those who pertinaciously withdraw from obedience to the reigning Roman Pontiff”.

(vi) “Disobedience, no matter how pertinacious, does not constitute schism unless it be a rebellion against the office of the pope.” (Cajetan’s comentary on Saint Thomas’s article on schism, quoted by Cardinal Billot, De Ecclesia, Thesis XI)

5. Communicatio in Sacris

Sectarian Position: Being in communion with anyone who is objectively excluded from the Church, is an act of schism, making the perpetrator himself a schismatic and therefore excluded from the sacraments.

Correct Catholic Position: Being in communion with one who is objectively a heretic or schismatic but has not himself been officially condemned as such or joined a condemned sect, when one mistakenly believes that he is a Catholic, is not a canonical delict, but simply a mistake, and entails no canonical consequences whatever.

The Voice of Authority:

“Doubt as to whether certain persons are excommunicated either precedes the sentence of the judges or else follows it. If it comes before, for instance when it has not yet been declared by the consensus of the judges that certain persons are excommunicated, they are not to be avoided until the matter has been closed by definitive judgment. For in this case it is true that we ought to follow the milder interpretation.” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Quodlibet. IV, Art XIV)

6. Presumption of Pertinacity

Sectarian Position: Whenever someone holds a heretical position which he mistakenly believes to be orthodox Catholic doctrine, he is legally presumed pertinacious by virtue of Canon 2200§2.

Correct Catholic Position: The legal presumption of malice (“dolus”) when a law is externally infringed in no way authorises the presumption of pertinacity, which is an intrinsic part of the crime of heresy. (2) Pertinacity (= realisation that one’s belief is in conflict with a de fide doctrine) must be demonstrated convincingly in each individual case except when its presence is too obvious to require demonstration – for instance a bishop who denies the Blessed Trinity or a papal claimant who denies that the Catholic Church is identically the one true Church of Christ. Once it is established that the individual is consciously rejecting the Church’s faith, he is then canonically presumed to be acting through dolus rather than, for instance, the influence of fear or intoxication. (Quite different is the case of those who realise that they are non-Catholics, even if they are in good faith having been brought up outside the Church: they are indeed presumed pertinacious by the Church.)

The Voice of Authority:

(i) “But those who defend their opinion, however false and perverse it may be, without pertinacious animosity – especially if they owe it not to the boldness of their own presumption but to having received it from parents who had been led astray and fallen into error – and with anxious care seek the truth, disposed to correct their position when they have found it, are in no way to be numbered among the heretics.” (St. Augustine, quoted in Gratian: Decretum, c. 24, q. iii, c. 29)

“… if you understand by the expression material heretic one who, while professing subjection to the Church’s Magisterium in matters of faith, nevertheless still denies something defined by the Church because he did not know it was defined, or, by the same token, holds an opinion opposed to Catholic doctrine because he falsely thinks that the Church teaches it, it would be quite absurd to place material heretics outside the body of the true Church; but by this understanding the legitimate use of the expression would be entirely perverted. For a material sin is said to exist only when what belongs to the nature of the sin takes place materially, but without advertence or deliberate will. But the nature of heresy consists in withdrawal from the rule of the ecclesiastical Magisterium and this does not take place in the case mentioned [of someone who is resolved to believe all that the Church teaches but makes a mistake as to what her teaching consists in], since this is a simple error of fact concerning what the rule dictates. And therefore there is no scope for heresy, even materially.” (Cardinal Billot, De Ecclesia Christi, 4th edition, pp. 289-290)

(ii) “The essence of heresy consists in this, that a Christian chooses a rule of faith other than that which Christ has instituted; heresy is a rebellion against the doctrinal authority of the Catholic Church and manifests itself in a refusal to believe doctrines which are declared by the Church to be divinely revealed. Now it is evident that, in order for such a refusal to constitute a real rebellion and thus verify the essential notion of heresy, there must be previous knowledge that the doctrine denied is in fact taught by the Catholic Church as belonging to the deposit of faith; there is no disobedience to authority where there is no knowledge of a command having been issued. It would therefore ... be a misuse of the term to brand as a heretic a professing Catholic who should deny or doubt a doctrine which he did not know to form part of the Church’s dogmatic teaching; such a person would not be even a ‘material’ sinner, because he would not be a rebel.” (Canon E. J. Mahoney, The Clergy Review, 1952, vol. XXXVII, p. 459)

7. The Difference Between Private and Public Judgments

Sectarian Position: The judgment of a private individual (e.g. that someone is a heretic) requires him – when he is certain – not only to avoid the individual he believes is a heretic, but also to avoid anyone else who doesn’t think that person is a heretic.

Correct Catholic Position: Pending confirmation by the Church, such judgments bind only those who are convinced by them. Two Catholics who disagree about whether or not a given uncondemned third person is a heretic are not obliged to separate from one another’s communion.

The Voice of Authority:

(i) The essential object of Pope Martin V’s 1418 Constitution Ad evitanda scandala (the provisions of which are still in force) is to exclude errors of this kind.

(ii) “Just as it would be unjust for one man to force another to observe a law that was not approved by public authority, so too it is unjust, if a man compels another to submit to a judgment that is pronounced by other than the public authority.” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, II-II, q. 60, a.6)


(1) See the consensus of canonists and theologians quoted in my study Pertinacity and Heresy.

(2) Such a presumption would be equivalent to presuming, when a woman suffers a miscarriage, that she has induced it voluntarily and is guilty of abortion, or that a man who accidentally falls off a cliff has deliberately committed suicide and must be denied Catholic burial.

© Copyright John S. Daly 2001-2017