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Does Dorsch Support Sedevacantism?

By John C. Pontrello (December 14, 2019)

Sedevacantists have favorite go-to quotes they use to fool people into their heresy and schism. One of these is from theologian A. Dorsch. Here is the quote:

"The Church therefore is a society that is essentially monarchical. But this does not prevent the Church, for a short time after the death of a pope, OR EVEN FOR MANY YEARS, from remaining deprived of her head. [vel etiam per plures annos capite suo destituta manet]. Her monarchical form also remains intact in this state.… Thus the Church is then indeed a headless body.… Her monarchical form of government remains, though then in a different way — that is, it remains incomplete and to be completed. The ordering of the whole to submission to her Primate is present, even though actual submission is not… For this reason, the See of Rome is rightly said to remain after the person sitting in it has died — for the See of Rome consists essentially in the rights of the Primate. These rights are an essential and necessary element of the Church. With them, moreover, the Primacy then continues, at least morally." (de Ecclesia 2:196–7)

I retrieved the Latin text from the library and have it in my possession but I have not had it translated yet. An accurate translation would be helpful because Sedevacantists are circulating it with ellipses as above. When Sedevacantists proof text with ellipses it is usually good practice to make sure they are not hiding something that contradicts their intended use of the quote. Regardless, it is easy enough to sack the Dorsch quote even without the missing material. First let’s understand what the Sedes intend to prove by circulating Dorsch. The Sedevacantists will mount an argument that goes something like this:

  1. Catholics must submit to the Roman Pontiff. During papal interregnums there is no Roman Pontiff to whom Catholics must submit. Sedes remain ordered to submission to the “true” Roman Pontiff and will do so when he comes. Therefore Sedes are not schismatics.

  2. Dorsch said the See of Rome is essentially the rights of the primate (“the office of Peter”). Because the Sedes do not deny the permanence of “the office” they do not deny the indefectibility of the See of Rome. Therefore Sedes are not heretics.

  3. Catholics must be in communion with the See of Rome. Dorsch said the See of Rome is the rights of the primate (the office). Because Sedes must remain in communion with the office, but not necessarily the individual claiming to hold it, they remain in communion with the See of Rome. Therefore, Sedes are not schismatics.

None of this is correct. First, Dorsch is writing about papal interregnums not sedevacantism and as I make clear in my book and elsewhere there is nothing similar between them. Dorsch distinguishes one key difference in the first paragraph when he wrote “after the death of a pope… her (the Church’s) monarchical form of government remains.” This alone refutes Sedevacantism because as anyone can see, if you adhere to the Sedevacantist position there is no government. It defected.

Second, when Dorsch wrote “the See of Rome consists essentially in the rights of the primate” he does not mean to the exclusion of other essential components of the divine constitution. Obviously the “rights of the Primate” do not exist apart from the apostolic episcopal see of the Diocese of Rome where they are bound in perpetuity. But even if they could the primacy cannot fulfill the Church’s mission to govern, teach, and sanctify her members without the Petrine Succession from which this mission derives. It is the living members of this particular see, in virtue of the indefectibility of the Church’s Fourth Mark (Apostolicity) that guarantees the office will be perpetually exercised via human successors to Peter. The dogmatic teachings of the papacy are such that you are not in communion with Peter or his office if you do not hold communion with this governing body and the man it recognizes as head. Once again, Sedes do not hold such communion, not only because they reject the person of the Roman Pontiff against the Church’s judgment but also the whole Roman governing body. This is textbook schism.

But Sedes will respond, “what if all the governing members of the apostolic episcopal see of the Diocese of Rome are heretics?” In that case the See of Rome would have defected which is supposed to be impossible. Therefore it is absurd to argue that members of the faithful have a duty to demand Rome's conformity to their ideas of tradition and orthodoxy. This is completely contrary to how the RC system works. True Roman Catholics must always submit to and remain in communion with Rome not the other way around. And if in good conscience one cannot fulfill this fundamental requirement for whatever reasons then it is time for that individual to stop pretending he or she is Roman Catholic.

Finally, when Dorsch wrote “The perennial physical presence of the person of the head, however, is not so strictly necessary” he means nothing more than that popes need not succeed each other immediately upon death; gaps between successors are permitted without contradicting perpetual succession. But note well that Dorsch is not saying six heretics could govern* the See of Rome without destroying succession. *(Note: Sedes will argue that the six heretics did not “govern” the Holy See but falsely occupied it. I will smoke this myth in a future related piece).

In conclusion the Dorsch quote does not support Sedevacantism in any way shape or form and I have only touched on the reasons. If you, reader, still choose to believe the core tenets of Sedevacantism go for it. Just don’t call yourself Roman Catholic when you are really a Sedevacantist and expect to get away with it. As can be seen Roman Catholic and Sedevacantist are mutually exclusive.

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.

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