Go Top
Devolution of the Papacy

The Crossroads at 23rd Street


"For, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." (Romans 1:22)


Errors can be corrected and trends reversed if only our faith and determination does not fail us in our earnest quest for the truth.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position held by "23rdstreet.com".

Devolution of the Papacy

By John C. Pontrello (November 2018)

In August, I wrote and published a piece addressing the Sedevacantists’ claim that they can call an Imperfect Council and restore the Holy See. Earlier this month, a Sedevacantist took issue with me. Attempting to demonstrate how the Sedevacantists can call an imperfect council and elect a pope, he reached into his nifty bag of theologians and pulled some quotes. First, he referenced Van Noort who wrote on how the Catholic Church could continue if the City of Rome were destroyed by a bomb. He also produced this quote from Billot:

“Well, once we grant the occurrence of such circumstances [no cardinals or Roman clergy] it is to be admitted without difficulty that the power of election would devolve upon a general council. For the natural law itself prescribes that in such cases the attribute of a superior power descends, by way of devolution, to the power immediately below insofar as it is indispensably necessary for the survival of the society and for the avoidance of the tribulations of extreme lack. “In case of doubt, however (e.g. when it is unknown if someone be a true cardinal or when the Pope is dead or uncertain, as seems to have happened at the time of the Great Schism which began under Urban VI), it is to be affirmed that the power to apply the papacy to a person (the due requirements having been complied with) resides in the Church of God. And then by way of devolution it is seen that this power descends to the universal Church, since the electors determined by the Pope do not exist.”

So, does Billot’s “devolution theory” save the Catholic Church from the possibility of defection and give the Sedevacantists new life? Actually no, it undermines the papacy. To understand why, it is only necessary to know what the correct foundation of the Roman Catholic Church is. This foundation is not Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11) and neither is it Peter’s confession of faith “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mathew 16:16). The foundation of the Roman Catholic religion is the papacy, which includes the Diocese of Rome, Italy where the primacy is bound in perpetuity. That the Roman Papacy is divinely instituted directly by Jesus Christ and belongs to the Church’s essential indefectible constitution is de fide. Said another way, the Diocese of Rome IS the Catholic Church. All of the other dioceses of the world receive their right to exist and exercise power directly from Rome. And if all people, places, and things Roman Catholic in the whole world except Rome were to disappear this very day, the essential constitution of the Catholic Church would remain intact in Rome. If anyone requires a refresher on the papacy as the foundation of the Church of Rome, they can find all they need to know in the First Vatican Council – Pastor Aeternus.

Back to Van Noort and Billot. Clearly, the mind of the Church is that the Roman See could be destroyed. The obvious question then is why would Christ make the foundation of his Church something that man could destroy?

What we have here is another contradiction. When I was finding my way out of traditional Catholicism, I found lots of these. The correct answer should be that the Roman See could not be destroyed because Christ instituted it as the foundation of his Church and that it will remain until the end of the world. Maybe Van Noort, who lived through the World War II era, was a little shaken by the awesome display of atomic power and wrote what he wrote “just in case.” Whatever the reason, I think the subject of the City of Rome being wiped out by a bomb reveals some important things about Roman Catholicism and its papal dogmas. Thank you Van Noort for addressing it and inadvertently exposing the Roman Church’s man-made doctrine of the papacy in yet another important way.

The truth is the real foundation of the Church of Christ is not a person, place, or thing that could be destroyed by man and to believe otherwise is faithless nonsense. The Gospel of Matthew describes this foundation as “Rock” against which the gates of Hades cannot prevail and yet the Romish theologians teach that a bomb could accomplish what even the powers of hell could not. This is all wrong. It is no mystery why Orthodox Christians consider the papacy to be such a destructive, hideous, blasphemous doctrine, for in addition to its numerous other crimes, this one teaches that Jesus built his Church upon a man in the Diocese of Rome, Italy and his successors… minus all the heretics.

So where does the devolution theory leave today’s traditional Catholics, particularly the Sedevacantists? Unfortunately, it gives them false hope again. By way of devolution, the Roman See can be destroyed or defect but not the whole Church as some lower members will mystically receive the power to re-create it somewhere else by holding an imperfect council or by capitulating to Recognize and Resist Sedevacantism – Sedeprivationism (AKA Partial Pope Theory). Of course, each of these choices forces additional contradictions. Remember, other dogmatic teachings of the Church are the opposite of that of Van Noort and Billot in that the rest of Church could be destroyed or defect but never the Holy See or Church of Rome. Oops. Pick whichever teaching works for you right? Both Sedevacanatists and R & R traditionalists have arsenals of quotes that support their respective positions and they wonder why there is no unity among themselves. At any rate, thanks to some eminent theologians, the Sedevacantists could continue even after the Holy See is blown to smithereens or defects (Vatican II) because its immaterial power can devolve to some farmer guy in Kansas or some false mystic nutcase in France. Like the popular game played with a fuzzy mallet, “Whac-A-Mole”, after being struck, the Diocese of Rome can just pop up somewhere else. For traditional Catholics, this is what indefectibility has been reduced to and it owes its cause to the wrong foundation.


Roman Catholicism is once again exposed by its own theologians who teach that a man-made annihilation of the City of Rome including the pope and entire college of cardinals is possible. This reveals a foundation that can be destroyed and subsequently re-created by subordinates including laymen if need be, who possess absolutely no legitimate connection to the Apostles. The conclusion that must be drawn from this discussion is that the papacy is a man-made foundation superimposed over the real one. And that it is.

As it stands now, all traditional Catholics remain in schism with their own foundation and they have no substitutes. Sadly, it is a dead-end scenario. According to what Van Noort and Billot teach, they would be better off bombing the City of Rome themselves and hope the devolution of the papacy officially commences since obviously, the Vatican II defection failed to trigger it.

John C. Pontrello

John C. Pontrello is a former Sedevacantist activist and seminarian in a traditional Catholic religious community. Prior to his association with traditional Catholicism, he managed an investment planning practice for many years. He currently resides in Western New York. His book entitled "The Sedevacantist Delusion: Why Vatican II's Clash with Sedevacantism Supports Eastern Orthodoxy" can be purchased through Amazon.com and is highly recommended.

Faith is Liberty Espoused  •  © 2019  •  23rdStreet.com  •  Contact