William Morgan



EACH feast of Ss Peter and Paul (29 June), or on an adjacent weekday should the feast occur on a Sunday, the attention of a large number of Catholics around the world is directed towards an event taking place in a hamlet in the Swiss canton of the Valais. That hamlet is Ecône, the world-famous site of the main seminary of the Fraternity of St Pius X; and the ceremony is its annual ordination of new priests, mostly members of the Fraternity, but also the occasional Dominican, Capuchin or member of another religious community.

A hundred or more clergy assist at the Ecône ordinations, and among the several thousand strong congregation are to be seen many religious sisters, some clearly young, and all wearing traditional habits. Among the more numerous are the black-habited sisters of the Fraternity, and also the contrastingly white-habited Dominican teaching sisters, come together from their various boarding schools for girls across France.

The young men ordained to the priesthood according to the traditional Latin rite at Ecône, like their colleagues ordained at Zaitzkofen in Germany, at Winona in the United States, and at La Reja in Argentina, may find themselves sent to help man the priories or schools in their home countries, or alternatively be dispatched to distant lands where Catholics are crying out for traditional Catholic worship and teaching.

The Ecône ordinations do not now capture the headlines in the world media, as they used to do in the later 1970s and throughout the 1980s, when the Fraternity's founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was still alive, and engaged in a somewhat bizarre ritual of diplomatic defiance of the Vatican. All that came to an explosive climax in 1988, when Mgr Lefebvre and his ally from Campos, Brazil, Bishop de Castro Mayer, crowned their defiance of John Paul II by consecrating, without his authorisation, four new bishops to guarantee the work of the Fraternity of St Pius X and its allies. They were consequently declared excommunicated, not for unauthorised consecrations only, but also for schism.

The work of these priests is pre-eminently to celebrate Mass and administer the sacraments in the traditional Latin rites, but also to teach the traditional Catholic faith, and - necessarily - to increase the associated institutions, including churches, schools, priories and convents.

That two distinguished Catholic prelates, one a former Apostolic Delegate (the Pope's personal representative) to the countries of French-speaking Africa, should have taken such extraordinary action - and that their rebellion should still be continuing after their deaths in 1991 - is by now virtually unintelligible to the vast bulk of newspaper readers. After all, is not the renowned "Polish Pope" an archconservative? Do not leading media commentators, for all their admiration of John Paul II's dedication and style, make it plain that the current reactionary regime in the Vatican cannot last long into the twenty-first century? Are not many bishops simply waiting for a change of Vatican personnel, which will authorise the ordination of women to the priesthood, the recognition of Anglican Orders, and a much more comprehensive view of sexual preferences and activities?

How, in such a situation, can one have Catholics, clergy, religious and laity, rebelling against John Paul II in the name of traditional doctrine and worship? And the Ecône stance is not the most extreme. While some of its former members have made their peace with the Vatican in exchange for the indulgence of their conservative liturgical preferences, yet others have left because they refuse to keep silent about their view that John Paul II (like his Conciliar predecessors) is not in theological reality a valid Pope.

So it is that one finds not only individual Catholics in many countries who hold that the See of Peter is in reality vacant (sede vacante) - or, according to an extraordinary theory, in a state of "privation" - but also organised groups of such clergy and laity. This is especially true of the United States, Mexico, France and Italy. Some of these groups have their own bishops, derived for the most part from the distinctly erratic Vietnamese Archbishop Ngo-dinh-Thuc, via either the Dominican theologian Mgr Guérard des Lauriers, or the Mexican Mgr Carmona.

The story is now a matter of history. It dates back to the General Council summoned by Pius XII's successor, John XXIII, to promote "aggiornamento" (updating), and which opened in October 1962 under the title of the Second Vatican Council. The original Vatican Council, that of 1870, famously defined the primacy of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff as successor of St Peter, and his infallibility in defining matters of faith or morals. Vatican II (1962-65) was to have an entirely different outlook, not only complementing the teaching on the Papacy with a more detailed treatment of the episcopacy, but unleashing - both inside the Council itself and throughout the Catholic world - a wholesale onslaught on previously dominant views and practices.

To the fascination of the world at large, and to the virtual intoxication of many Catholics, anything and everything could now apparently be challenged and discarded. Inside the Council itself, under the cover of fraternal episcopal language, the fiercest political infighting took place. Personalities were identified in the international media, and became heroes or villains according to the inclinations of the commentators. However, whatever personal scores were being settled, at the heart of the disputes were matters of belief and practice to which the prelates had dedicated their lives.

While the Catholic world in general was thrown into turmoil, the Council itself eventually produced sixteen official documents - constitutions, decrees and declarations. Precisely who these documents were meant to be read by was not entirely clear. In spite of their professed pastoral emphasis, they dealt with complex theological issues, and in some cases at great length.

The draft documents prepared for the Council had effectively been discarded - apart from that on the liturgy - when, immediately the Council came into session, the Rhine group of Fathers (the bishops, with their theological advisers, from the countries bordering on the Rhine) seized control of its administrative and secretarial machinery. The views of the Holy Office, under its Prefect Cardinal Ottaviani, were systematically repudiated, and theological theses (and their authors), which had been suppressed during the pontificate of Pius XII, now came to dominate the Council's pronouncements.

Mgr Marcel Lefebvre was one of the most influential of the bishops who organised conservative resistance to the innovatory theses. Both by their votes and by interventions of Paul VI, various conservative qualifications were introduced into the more obviously revolutionary schemas put before the Council. However, those conservative amendments had the paradoxical effect of camouflaging the full import of reversals of previous Papal teachings and rulings.

What loomed largest in Mgr Lefebvre's later thinking on the doctrinal reversals of traditional Papal teaching made by Vatican II was its decree on Religious Liberty, "Dignitatis Humanae". In numerous lectures at the Ecône seminary, many of them subsequently published in book form, the Archbishop expounded the traditional teaching, especially as set out in encyclicals of Pope Pius IX and Pope Leo XIII; and contrasted it with that of Vatican II, and its application in changes to the constitutions of previously Catholic states (including that of the Valais canton itself).

While acknowledging that he had in fact signed some of the documents of Vatican II which he had come to realise he should not have done, Mgr Lefebvre was always insistent that he had not signed the decree on Religious Liberty or the pastoral constitution on the Church in the Modern World ("Gaudium et Spes") - though that has been challenged. What is perhaps surprising is that the Archbishop appeared to underestimate the importance of a doctrinal change which occurs in the dogmatic constitution on the Church ("Lumen Gentium"), and whose ramifications and implementations explain a great deal of what was to happen in the decades since the Council.

It is the substitution of the concept that the one, true Church of Christ "subsists in", for the doctrine that it "is one and the same as", the Catholic and Roman Church (cf "Lumen Gentiun", section 8).

That tiny verbal change from the traditional teaching - upheld by all the pre-Conciliar Popes, and in greatest detail by Pope Pius Xi in the encyclical "Mortalium Animos" (1928) - has huge theological and pastoral implications. It is, of course, a subtle change, devised particularly by Cardinal Bea. It affirms that the Catholic and Roman Church possesses all the characteristics and properties given by Our Lord to his Church. However, it allows that true Church also to exist to a greater or lesser extent, though not completely - in separated Christian bodies.

That being allegedly the case, the whole practical ecumenical programme, elaborated in the decree on Ecumenism ("Unitatis Redintegratio") and influencing other documents including, significantly, the decree on the Eastern Churches ("Orientalium Ecclesiarum"), is justified - even though it is a complete reversal of the rulings given in "Mortalium Animos".

By the end of the fourth and last session of Vatican II (1965), the conservative opposition had effectively been disarmed (partly because of the apparent ambiguities the conservative amendments had introduced into the texts), and most of the Conciliar documents were approved with huge majorities. They were accordingly promulgated by Paul VI. How those apparently small, but absolutely crucial, doctrinal reversals could be made in the documents of a General Council, approved by Paul VI, is a still outstanding theological question today, more than three decades after the closure of Vatican II.

Paul VI showed increasing concern that the Conciliar revolution should remain within the (somewhat flexible) bounds he had approved for it. However, the doctrinal and practical revolution which had been unleashed by Vatican II was now out of control. This was demonstrated most dramatically in 1968. His encyclical "Humanae Vitae", reaffirming the immorality of contraception, was publicly and persistently rejected by vast numbers who, earlier in the decade, had anticipated a change of teaching. In a state of rebellion against the authority of an encyclical, many teachers and lecturers were in no position to defend those doctrines which Paul VI sought to reaffirm in his "Credo of the People of Cod".

Soon after the Council, Mgr Lefebvre felt obliged to resign from his then position as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, rather than accept its new, post-Conciliar constitution. A prematurely retired prelate, and one of the most notorious of the defeated anti-Reformists at Vatican II, he was to be approached by some conservative seminarians, seeking his help in finding a sound theological and spiritual formation for the priesthood. His efforts to assist them led to Switzerland, and a proposal that the seminarians should study at the University of Fribourg. This initial venture proved unsuccessful, but resulted in the historic acquisition of the former Canons of St Bernard's house at Ecône, to be the first seminary of the newly founded Priestly Fraternity of St Pius X (1970).

The immediate and constant changes in the post-Conciliar manner of celebrating Mass, although greeted enthusiastically by some, gave rise to a widespread discontent. For the first few years, this seemed mainly a matter of people opposing changes in their devotional habits, or even - especially in regard to the liturgical use of Latin - their cultural and educational attitudes. However, with the promulgation in 1969 of the Novus Ordo Missae (New Rite of Mass) by Paul VI, the emphasis of the opposition changed to the doctrinal.

Not only was the replacement of the Tridentine Mass by the often banal New Mass perceived as an act of cultural philistinism, or even as a repudiation of centuries of Catholic devotional attitudes and practices, but it was viewed as a repudiation of the Catholic doctrine of the Mass in favour of a Protestant-ecumenical one. That is, of the Mass as the sacramental renewal of the Sacrifice of the Cross, in favour of the Protestant doctrine of the eucharistic sacrifice as the memorial of the Sacrifice of the Cross, to which the people unite themselves by their own self-offering.

The promulgation of the New Mass in 1969 was to provoke a veritable counter-revolution, especially among some of the better educated lay Catholics. This international outcry, and demand for a return to the traditional Tridentine Mass, was to provide Mor Lefebvre with an immediate field of apostolate for his new priests, and enormous international support for his work.

Thus, ever since "Humanae Vitae" (1968), those who call themselves Catholics have been ever more manifestly divided. Many of the more articulate have looked for official endorsement of their more radical doctrinal and moral views; others have repudiated most of the Conciliar reforms, especially the changes in the liturgy; and some have claimed to support the "Conciliar Popes" - currently John Paul II - but have been intensely critical of their local, more obviously liberal, bishops. Of course, in countries such as England, a majority of those who describe themselves to pollsters as Catholics simply appear to have given up all organised practice of their religion. Of those who do attend the New Mass in schools and parishes, most - presumably - go along with whatever they happen to get. Catholicism, for this latter group, has little to do with official documents or theology; it is mainly a matter of what one does in school or church.

John Paul II, although traditional in his teachings on sexual morality and related subjects - the ones of almost exclusive interest to the media - is not only completely committed to the teachings and programme of Vatican II, but has himself given a radical interpretation to some of this. Crucially, from his first encyclical, "Redemptor Hominis" (1979), he has taught that: "the firm belief of the followers of the non-Christian religions... is also an effect of the Spirit of truth operating outside the visible confines of the Mystical Body..." (cf "Redemptor Hominis", section 6).

This teaching is such a blatant departure from traditional Christianity that it is hard to believe that it has really been advanced. However, it provides the basis for his programme of "coming closer together with the representatives of the non-Christian religions, an activity expressed through dialogue, contacts, prayer in common..." That "prayer in common" with representatives of non-Christian religions came to a climax at Assisi on 27 October 1986.

That Assisi event manifestly comes under the judgment of Pope Pius Xi, as given in "Mortalium Animos". "Now, such efforts can meet with no kind of approval among Catholics. They presuppose the erroneous view that all religions are more or less good and praiseworthy... To favour this opinion, therefore, and to encourage such undertakings is tantamount to abandoning the religion revealed by God."

Media commentators rightly draw attention to the obvious discrepancy between the enormous, apparently adoring crowds who come out to cheer John Paul II on his almost ceaseless international tours; and the amount of attention, let alone assent, they give to his more conservative teachings. However, they rarely choose to comment on John Paul II's own radical teachings on theological matters.

In its broadest, sociological sense, the Catholic Church today is a manifestly divided grouping; scarcely more unified, in fact, than the notoriously fragmented Anglican Communion. Indeed, many Anglicans now, as in past decades, have no problem with the idea of accepting a "Bishop of Rome" as a more prestigious universal primate than their own at Canterbury can ever be - provided, of course, than the 1870 Vatican Council definitions can be suitably reinterpreted.

The work of the original Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC1), built on by its successor body, ARCIC2, has not only been concerned to produce a reinterpretation of Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist, and Ministry and Ordination, but also on the Papacy, which will be fully compatible with the historic Anglican denials.

Many people show little concern or ability to distinguish between words and their meanings. Provided the reassuring words are used, it appears to matter not at all to them that other people, who do understand the meanings of words, have carefully and systematically voided those traditional words of their essential Catholic meanings. What is already true of the words and expressions "eucharistic sacrifice", "priest" and "bishop", will be true of "Pope" and "Papacy" - if and when the members of ARCIC2 and their ecumenical associates get their way.

It can also be asked of the clergy, religious and laity attending the ordinations at Ecône what meaning the terms "Roman Pontiff" and "successor of St Peter" have for them. Of course, they can be expected to answer that they mean by those terms what the Catholic Church means by them, especially as taught and defined at the dogmatic Vatican Council. But it does not appear unfair to challenge such people as to whether someone they claim has a universal primacy of jurisdiction - John Paul II - has to be obeyed, and whether the See of Peter is indefectible in the faith, or (as the Anglican formularies say) has it erred in matters of faith.

It is to preserve the Catholic doctrine of the Papacy that the more theologically minded of those who deny that John Paul II is a valid Pope take their stand. Against such sedevacantism (the conclusion that the See of Peter is in theological reality vacant), habemuspapamists - those who protest: "We have a Pope, but one who cannot be believed or obeyed" - reply that the Church could not be without a visible head for so many years, and that anyway there would now be no way of obtaining a valid successor of St Peter.

Such people appear to forget that, once before, for thirty-nine years, the Church lacked a generally accepted Pope; and that in that emergency situation the Church at large took exceptional means to bring the resultant schism to an end. That was during the Great Schism of the West (1378-1417).

Although that desperate problem which confronted the Church in the later middle ages arose in a quite different way from that confronting Catholics today, some of the theological issues then and now have a great deal in common. However, it will make for clarity if we first outline the story of those extraordinary thirty-nine years, before we go on to consider the theological implications.


The whole extraordinary story began in 1378, when Pope Gregory XI died in Rome, after a Papal non-residence there of virtually seventy years. Impressed by the importunings of St Catherine of Sienna, he had only brought the Papal court back to Rome from Avignon just over a year previously.

The sixteen cardinals present in Rome (seven were absent, six at Avignon) had been authorised by Pope Gregory to proceed immediately to the election of his successor. Only four of them were Italian, one was Spanish, ten were French (of whom five were Limousins), and one - according to the categories of the time - German (Swiss).

Understandably concerned lest the large majority of cardinals from beyond the mountains should elect one of their number, who would then return the Papal court to Avignon, the Roman populace began agitating for a Roman Pope, or at least an Italian. However, the agitation began to take an ever more riotous form. An armed mob went about the city venting its demand, and then invaded the Vatican where the conclave was about to begin.

In fear for their lives, the cardinals sought to satisfy the Roman mob's demand. But, for a variety of reasons, none of the four Italian cardinals was acceptable. Accordingly, they were forced to look outside the Sacred College for a possible candidate. The Archbishop of Bari, Bartholomew Prignano, who was currently in Rome, had the advantages of being an Italian, a former member of the Avignon Curia, and a friend of some of the Limousins. He thus appeared the most acceptable compromise candidate.

As the violence against the conclave increased, the cardinals gave their voices for the Archbishop of Bari. He and six other Italian bishops were summoned to the conclave, so that the as yet unnamed electee could give his assent to his election. But the situation was now so desperate that the cardinals went through the farce of enthroning the protesting elderly Cardinal of St Peter's, and attempted to pass him off to the mob as their Roman Pope, while they made desperate efforts to escape to places of safety.

So it was, amid scenes of violence and irregularity, that Bartholomew Prignano appears to have been offered the Papacy - and accepted it, taking the name of Urban VI.        Just how this happened is unclear. The evidence suggests that the cardinals only returned and went through the form of crowning him in renewed fear for their lives. However, for some weeks matters seemed to settle down, and the cardinals publicly treated Urban as the valid Pope.

Then Urban began to abuse the cardinals. One after the other, all the non-Italian cardinals left Rome and assembled at Anagni. Urban VI sent three Italian cardinals (the Cardinal of St Peter's was dying) to negotiate with them. They did not return. In August, the non-Italians issued an encyclical declaring Urban's April election invalid, and the See of Peter vacant. The cardinals now moved to the safety of Fondi, under the protection of Queen Joanna of Naples. It was there, in September 1378, that they proceeded to elect one of their number who was neither French nor Italian: the German (Swiss) Cardinal Robert of Geneva. He was crowned as Pope Clement VII - with Urban's triple tiara.

Although the Italian cardinals had abstained, they now gave Clement their obedience; as did the absent cardinals when they were informed of all that had happened. The entire College of Cardinals (who, under modern Canon Law, are the judges of the validity of conclaves) now recognised Clement VII as Pope.

St Catherine of Sienna remained fervently loyal to Urban VI, and equally fervently rebuked the Cardinals for their treachery. But as time went on, Urban became ever more deranged, abusing, and eventually torturing and having killed the new cardinals he had created. It has been said that the choice for the Church was now between a madman and a bad man. (Robert of Geneva had been responsible for the notorious massacre of Cesena). Though, of course, canonists usually teach that if a Pope becomes mad he forfeits the Papacy.

As the rival Papal claimants used excommunication and crusades against each others' supporters, Clement and the cardinals found it prudent to journey to friendly France, and so on to the Papal city of Avignon, with its adjoining Papal territory of the Comtat Venaissin. Meanwhile, the rulers of Christendom were making their own investigations as to the circumstances of Urban's election. The Italian states were divided, but mainly supported Urban. The kingdom of France declared for Clement, as did Scotland. England, Poland and most of the German states gave their obedience to Urban.

It was from Avignon that Clement VII sent Cardinal Peter de Luna as his Legate to the Spanish kingdoms. There, Peter de Luna recruited the powerful support of the young Dominican preacher, and future saint, Vincent Ferrer. One after the other, Castile, Aragon and Navarre gave their recognition to Clement. Portugal, because of its alliance with England, remained uncertain.

Christendom now had two firmly established Papal claimants. But the question was, and was to remain, which (if either) was the true Pope and which the antipope.

And so the years passed, with Christendom divided in its obedience between Urban VI and Clement VII. Political factors sometimes favoured one obedience, sometimes the other, but the Schism continued. In 1391, Jean Gerson, the chancellor of the University of Paris, inspired the king and nobility of France to take part in public processions, to pray for an end to the Schism. Three ways towards unity were canvassed: the Way of an Ecumenical Council, the Way of Convention (of mutual agreement between the claimants), and the Way of Cession, whereby both would resign.

The periodic insanity of the king of France, Charles VI, and the rivalry of the royal dukes, resulted in France alternating between a policy of allegiance to the Clementines, and a position of neutrality until the Schism should be resolved.

On Clement VII's death in 1394, there were French moves to delay the conclave; but it went ahead, electing the Aragonese cardinal Peter de Luna as Benedict XIII - and the man thought best equipped to bring the Schism to an end.

Benedict XIII now declared himself in favour of the way of Convention - a meeting between the two Papal claimants and their cardinals, to arrange a solution for the good of the Church. The French court, however, favoured the way of Cession (mutual abdication), and won over most of Benedict's cardinals. Just as France was about to declare itself neutral in the Schism, Urbanist England's King Richard II sought and obtained a Clementine dispensation to marry a French child princess.

The seventy year old Benedict XIII was soon to find himself stranded in the Palace of the Popes at Avignon, with the kingdom of Aragon as his only reliable political ally. Even the city of Avignon itself abandoned him, going over to those of his cardinals who had withdrawn their obedience, and welcoming a French force which arrived to besiege the massive Papal palace.

But the Palace of the Popes withstood the might of France. Encouraged by Benedict himself, the small Spanish garrison, under the command of his nephew Rodrigo de Luna, stood firm.

In early 1399, a Catalonian fleet attempted to sail up the Rhone to relieve Benedict, but failed to reach Avignon. In England, Richard II was deposed by Henry IV. Then, in the spring of 1401, after two and a half years of siege, Provence returned to Benedict's obedience. In Paris, too, the divisions in the French court began to favour Benedict; and the French universities started to voice opposition to the withdrawal of obedience. Benedict also gained a new ally in the person of King Louis of Naples. Then the Carthusian order returned to his fold.

(Even the Welsh under Owain Glyndwr, in revolt against Henry IV of England, entered into negotiations to give their obedience to Benedict in exchange for freedom from the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Canterbury.)

It was in the spring of 1403 that the seventy-five year old Benedict and a handful of companions slipped out of Avignon and were rowed down the Rhone, and so made their way to Chateau Renard. In Rome, Boniface IX had succeeded to Urban VI, and the Schism continued. It was to be continued again under his successor, Innocent VII. But meanwhile, on May 30, 1403, the Kingdom of France had solemnly returned to Benedict's obedience

Benedict XIII was now residing in different places in southern France, and by preference in Marseilles. There he assembled a fleet, hired from the Knights of St John. The elderly Clementine was preparing to sail on Rome. He eventually set out in May 1405, calling at different Mediterranean ports, until he was received in triumph at Genoa.

Then, in August, Innocent VII had to flee from Rome to Viterbo. But, as so often in the epic story of Benedict XIII, just as apparent total failure could turn to triumph, so apparently certain victory would turn to defeat. A combination of politics and the plague conspired to prevent his march on Rome, and Papa de Luna was forced to sail back to Provence. The following year, yet another Urbanist, Gregory XII, was elected to prolong the Schism. Attempts were made to arrange a meeting between the two Papal claimants; but though they journeyed towards each other, they never met.

Given the manifest reluctance of the Papal claimants to act to end the Schism, fourteen cardinals from the rival obediences now took the initiative to summon an emergency General Council, to meet at Pisa in 1409. Once more France abandoned Benedict, this time definitively as a heretic (on the ground of pertinacious schism); and England and the German Emperor deserted Gregory, as did all his cardinals.

Again Benedict's fleet put to sea, not this time to sail to Italy, but rather to a port near Perpignan. It was at Perpignan that Benedict held his own Council, attended by some three hundred prelates. Most of these came from the Spanish kingdoms, but some from Scotland, Savoy and Lorraine, and a few from south-west France.

The rival Council at Pisa - summoned by no putative Pope - lasted from March 23, 1409, to August 7. It was attended by over five hundred prelates and doctors. Amongst others present were the ambassadors of seventeen governments; only the various Scandinavian and Spanish kingdoms, with Scotland and Naples, not being represented.

On 5 June, the Council gave its judgment against both Papal claimants. It pronounced Angelo Carrano (Gregory XII) and Peter de Luna (Benedict XIII) schismatics and heretics. "Though by the canons," the decree stated, "they are already rejected of God, deprived and cut of f from the Church, nevertheless the Church, by this definitive sentence, deposes, rejects and cuts them off, prohibiting both and each from assuming any longer the Sovereign Pontificate, and declaring for further security the Papacy to be vacant."

On June 26, the twenty-two cardinals present (from the two former obediences) unanimously elected Peter Philargi, the Greek Archbishop of Milan, as Pope Alexander V. The Pisan Pope was recognised by France, England, Bohemia, Prussia, and northern and central Italy. The Spanish kingdoms and Scotland remained Clementine. The Urbanist obedience was reduced to parts of Italy. Whereas from 1378 until 1409 Christendom had had two putative Popes, it now had three.

The following year, Alexander V was succeeded by the second Pisan Pope, Baldassare Cossa, who took the title John XXIII (!). Baldassare Cossa was reputed to have started his career as a pirate, and his toughness would appear to have secured him the triple tiara in 1410. In spite of his amazingly unsavoury reputation, political fortune at first favoured John XXIII, and he was actually able to take up residence for a time in Rome. In 1413, however, when the political balance went against him, John was obliged by the German king - later emperor - Sigismund to summon the General Council of Constance.

It was to last for some three and a half years. Those attending included five patriarchs and twenty-nine cardinals from all three obediences. As well as the prelates and clergy, a huge number of laymen gathered in the town. The Fathers at Constance either held with Cardinal Zabarella that in case of emergency a Council could judge and depose a Pope, or else, with the eminent theologian Jean Gerson, that a Council is always superior to a Pope. It was decided that voting should take place by "nations" - Italian, German, French and English (the Spanish still adhered to Benedict XIII).

The Council demanded John's resignation, which he gave conditionally on the resignation of his two rivals, and then escaped in disguise. The now headless Council went on to pass a number of Conciliarist decrees, professing the superiority of a Council over a Pope.

John was condemned on a host of charges, including heresy, and - brought back to Constance as a prisoner - was formally deposed. (He was later to make his submission to Martin V, and was reinstated as a cardinal.)

In the summer of 1415, the Urbanist Gregory XII sent delegates to Constance, authorising them to convoke the (already active) Council, and to receive his resignation. Gregory was also to become a cardinal. The Clementine Benedict XIII was now the only Papal claimant.

The Council then turned its attention to the question of heresy, which meant the Lollardy of the now dead English priest Wycliffe, and the views of his Bohemian follower, Jan Huss. Huss had gone to Constance under a safe conduct from Sigismund. The Council disgraced itself by violating the safe conduct, and by burning Huss, in spite of desperate efforts by some, including two English bishops, to save him by securing a retraction. (Bishop Hallam of Salisbury was apparently opposed to the death penalty for heresy.)

Meanwhile, with the accession of Henry V in England, the Hundred Years War with France had been resumed, and 25 October, 1415, saw his victory at Agincourt.

Sigismund went in person to try and prevail upon the surviving Clementine to resign. Benedict refused unless, as the only pre-Schism cardinal, he should be the one to elect the next Pope!

Disaster struck for Papa de Luna when his most important supporter, St Vincent Ferrer, decided that he was pertinaciously dividing the Church, and so was a schismatic and no longer Pope. The miracle working Dominican saint never recognised the Urbanist claimants. Rather was he now a sedevacantist, looking to the General Council to resolve the Schism.

The Spanish kingdoms withdrew their recognition from Benedict, and the Spanish nation joined the Council of Constance. Benedict XIII's active obedience was reduced to Peniscola, on the Spanish coast. The Council now formally deposed Peter de Luna, again numbering (constructive) heresy among the charges. In the later middle ages, of course, heresy was the one offence for which all canonists agreed a Pope could be (or was automatically) deposed.

On October 23, 1417, the election of the next Pope was committed to a mixed body of twenty-three cardinals (from the three previous obediences) and thirty other prelates, six from each nation. On November 11, Cardinal Do Colonna was elected Pope as Martin V. The new putative Pope had, in his time, been an Urbanist and then a loyal Pisan,

The eighty-seven year old Benedict XIII was to maintain his claim to the Papacy until the end. He was to live until the age of ninety-nine. Scotland was to continue in his obedience until October 1418. Aragon again effectively recognised him. The County of Armagnac, and other pockets in Languedoc and Guyenne maintained their allegiance. His Vicar General, Jean Carrier, secured himself in the fortress of Tourène. He was to become the fourth of Benedict's remaining cardinals.

The three cardinals present at Peniscola when Benedict died, proceeded, on June 20, 1423, to elect Gil Munoz as Clement VIII. However, when Cardinal Carrier was able to reach Peniscola, he declared the election void because of simony, and the other electors debarred by their crimes. Accordingly, two years later, as the last of Benedict's valid cardinals, Jean Carrier elected Bernard. Gamier Pope as Benedict XIV.

On July 28, 1429, Clement VIII revoked all the decrees against Martin V, then allowed his cardinals to elect Odo Colonna; thereby validating Martin V, whose pontificate had already lasted twelve years. It was just after that that the Count of Armagnac asked St Joan of Arc to declare which of the three Papal claimants was the true Pope. She postponed her answer!

The "hidden pontificate" of Benedict XIV continued. Cardinal Carrier had been captured and imprisoned at Foix. However, the "hidden Pope" named Jean Farald as a cardinal; and it was Cardinal Farald who in turn elected Jean Carrier, who - in his prison - adopted the title of his predecessor, as Benedict XIV the Second. As late as 1467 - half a century after the conventional end of the Schism - the Inquisition was still tracking down the surviving Benedictine faithful.

Nonetheless, it was Martin V's legitimate successors who would be accepted by the Church as the valid Papal line. Not that Martin's election ended the influence of the Conciliarist theory, or secured the position of an orthodox Pontiff against an ambitious Council. The Council of Basel, summoned by Martin V in accordance with a programme of Councils decided at Constance, was to cause unending trouble for his successor, Eugenius IV. Basel was to declare Eugenius deposed (1438), and to elect Duke Amadeus of Savoy as Pope Felix V. He was recognised by his own Duchy of Savoy, Switzerland, Scotland, Aragon and some of the Italian states. It was not until the pontificate of Eugenius's successor, Nicholas V, that an amicable abdication by Felix V took place (1449). It is intriguing to note that a number of formerly Clementine states appear to have avenged themselves on the Popes of Constance by themselves becoming Conciliarists.


THE Great Schism of the West raises three broad questions, attempts to answer which have considerable relevance to the theoretical and practical problems which confront Catholics today. The first, obviously, is as to who were the valid Popes during the Schism, and who the antipopes. The second, related question, is as to the theological (and canonical) legitimacy of the methods used in attempts to bring the Schism to an end. The third is the theological issue of how such a long-lasting schism in the Papacy itself is to be reconciled with Catholic teaching on the divinely instituted Petrine ruling and teaching office.

Anyone becoming acquainted with the extraordinary story of the Great Schism is bound to ask who the valid Popes were. If they consult that admirable volume "The Oxford Dictionary of Popes" (1986), they will find entries categorically referring to the Urbanists as Popes, and to the Clementines and Pisans as antipopes. However, if they peruse other books on the subject, they will find contrasting and more nuance views.

There is a popular presumption that the Papal claimant who actually occupies Rome must be the true Pope. The story of the earlier, eight year schism, involving Innocent II and Anacletus II, should be sufficient to refute that view. Anacletus occupied Rome throughout the schism (1130-1138), but is regarded as the antipope. Only after Anacletus's death was Innocent II, supported by St Bernard of Clairvaux, able to take up residence in Rome.

Accordingly, we must discount that popular belief, and not simply assume that the Urbanists were the true Popes throughout the Schism. Indeed, even if one should decide that Urban VI's own election was probably valid, that would by no means settle the whole question. Most obviously, there is the issue as to the legitimacy of the depositions pronounced at Pisa, and the subsequent validity of the Pisan claimants.

The list of Popes in Westminster Cathedral, London, although including the Urbanists until 1409, then lists the Pisan Pope Alexander V. (The 1918 "Orbis Catholicus" - an English Year Book of the Catholic World - numbers in its chronological list of Popes: 1406-1409 Gregory XII, 1409-1410 Alexander V, and 1410-1415        John XXIII.)

Was Urban VI's election valid in any event? Most Catholic authors assume it was, arguing that though the cardinals' choice of an Italian may well have been determined by fear for their lives, their particular choice of the Archbishop of Ian was their own. They also invoke the public recognition given to Urban for some three months by the cardinals in Rome.

Against that, there is evidence that private messages warned those outside Rome to reserve their judgment until the cardinals there were able to express themselves freely. There is also evidence of genuine confusion amongst some of the cardinals as to the intentions of their colleagues in giving their votes. Then there is the fact that all the cardinals, including the Italians who had been present and those cardinals who had been absent from the conclaves, came to accept the invalidity of Urban's election and the validity of Clement VII's.

Personal and political considerations no doubt played their parts in people's decisions, but there were careful enquiries carried out on behalf of some of the rulers who came to support the Clementine claims; and the opinions of subsequently canonised saints were divided. Most famously, the Dominican tertiary St Catherine of Sienna was a passionate Urbanist, but the Dominican priest, St Vincent Ferrer, was for many years an enormously influential supporter of the Clementines. When St Vincent eventually withdrew his recognition from Benedict XIII, it was certainly not to transfer it to the Urbanists; but rather, apparently, to become a sedevacantist. For him, Benedict was at that stage pertinaciously dividing the Church and so was a schismatic. Accordingly, for the Dominican miracle worker, it was for the General Council at Constance to resolve the Schism.

A strangely uninvited factor is the mental state of Urban VI. Many historians take. the view that his putative election brought about a permanent mental breakdown. In that case, according to many canonists, he would have automatically forfeited the Papal office which he was no longer mentally competent to exercise. Of course, in that case, the cardinals he appointed would have been illegitimate.

Then there is the question of the legitimacy of the Councils of Pisa (1409) and Constance (1414-1418) respectively. The emergency Council of Pisa was summoned by no putative Pope; however, its actions were accepted as valid by the greater part of Christendom. There were current in the later middle ages a number of extremely radical theses, which would make of the Papacy a sheerly ecclesiastical institution. However, leaving such manifestly erroneous views aside, there were still three views which greatly influenced the theologians and canonists of the time.

There was firstly the extremely widespread Conciliarist thesis - since rejected by the Church - that a General Council is always superior to a Pope. The second was the moderate thesis, that in an emergency situation a Council is superior to a particular Pope, especially if his status is doubtful. The third view - accepted even by such an anti-Conciliarist theologian of the next generation as Juan de Torquemada - is that a Council may judge a Pope who has ceased to be such by heresy. Pisa acted on a combination of the moderate emergency thesis and the "heretic Pope" view. Paradoxically, it was Constance which enacted some Conciliarist decrees.

        Constance, generally recognised - for some of its duration at least - as a legitimate General Council, was summoned by the second putative Pisan Pope, John XXIII. It proceeded to depose the Pope who had summoned it, who accepted the deposition. It was subsequently summoned by the Urbanist, Gregory XII, who then resigned. This allows the apologists for the Urbanist succession to accept Constance's election of Martin V while rejecting the Pisan claimants.

The Clementines present more problems. Benedict XIII is undoubtedly the most attractive of the Papal claimants during the Great Schism. However, if he is allowed to be a true Pope, how are Martin V and all his successors to be recognised?

Of course, it is possible to allow that Benedict (like Clement VII) was a true Pope, but accept the validity of Pisa's emergency action against him and his Urbanist rival But that would be to detract from Benedict's drama. A more appealing solution might be that of St Vincent Ferrer, who championed his legitimacy until the Council of Constance, and then decided that he was pertinaciously dividing the Church. The extreme view would be that the Clementines remained legitimate until the abdication of Clement VIII, and the validation of Martin V by the Clementine cardinals.

The fantasy, given currency in France through Jean Raspail's historical reconstruction cum religious fiction, "L'anneau du Pêcheur" (1995), that the Benedictine succession of "hidden Popes" survived until the present day as the legitimate Papal line, is - taken seriously - heresy. The idea of all but a secret handful of the orthodox clergy and faithful giving their undisputed recognition to a series of orthodox antipopes - the successors of Martin V - for hundreds of years, makes manifest nonsense of Our lord's guarantee that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church.

That is not at all the same thing, though, as the proposition that vast numbers of people are currently giving their (at least token) recognition to a heresy-favouring and schismatic antipope.

The Conciliar heresy is not an occult matter, but is manifested urbi et orbi on a daily basis - not least by the celebration of the New Mass of Paul VI throughout what is still referred to conventionally as the Latin rite.

John Paul II's illegitimacy does not arise from a canonical or procedural irregularity. It is a matter of a notorious commitment to continuing the anti-Catholic Conciliar Reform, including the anti-Tridentine New Mass. That Reform has been publicly witnessed against by clergy and laity throughout the world from its inception, and increasingly so as its nature has become ever clearer by the process of its implementation Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer have the undying honour of having been the two principal episcopal witnesses against the false Reform before the whole world. Their own, and other, emergency consecrated bishops continue that witness, and they have been joined by a former Conciliar bishop in the person of Mgr Salvador Lazo of the Philippines.

The fact that most anti-Conciliarists continue to give at least token recognition to the "Conciliar Popes" is unfortunate, but does not invalidate that anti-Conciliar witness. What the "Conciliar Popes" teach and order is conscientiously rejected by large numbers of Catholics throughout the world, whose only deviation from orthodoxy is their apparent willingness to attribute doctrinal error to the Holy Roman Church.

Many people will think that the sad story of the Benedictine intransigents is a terrible warning for desperately concerned Catholics today. And, of course, it is. Some people, in desperation as to what has happened to the Catholic Church since Vatican II, will look to almost anything to resolve an impossible situation. A favourite is a direct intervention of heaven. There are currently two people, one in Spain the other in Canada, who claim to have been appointed Pope by heaven.

Then there are some tiny groups who claim to have elected their own Popes, but it is not apparent how they can claim their electors were the legitimate representatives either of the Holy Roman Church or (given the emergency situation) of the Universal Church.

It is, of course, easy to dismiss such claims as sheer lunacy. And the fact that they are made helps to deter others from facing up to the question as to how the Catholic Church is to be continued, given their own beliefs about the current situation.

The Fraternity of St Pius X and its allies officially recognise John Paul II (like his Conciliar predecessors) as a valid Pope. However, they insist that some of his official urbi et orbi teachings as putative Pope are not to be believed because they are heretical; some of his canons are not to be accepted because they are incompatible with the divine law; and some of his sacramental rites - and in particular the New Mass of Paul VI - are not to be used because they lack doctrinal rectitude and are harmful to souls.

For such habemuspapamists, there is a Pope to be named "una cum" in the Canon of the Mass, but otherwise - except when they themselves judge he is repeating traditional doctrinal or moral teaching - he is to be opposed.

A few, mainly former Fraternity of St Pius X priests, hold the view of the late Dominican theologian, Mgr Guérard des Lauriers, that John Paul II (like his Conciliar predecessors) is "materially 'Pope' only". That is, that Karol Wojtyla is the valid electee of the October 1978 conclave, though he has never actually become Pope, but, equally, has never forfeited his canonical claim on the Papacy.

Such sedeprivationists do not name John Paul II in the Canon of the Mass, because - they say - he is not actually Pope. However, because he is still the valid electee of a conclave, the See of Peter is not vacant, in the sense that someone else could be elected. Moreover, some of them go on to say, the "materially 'Pope' only" can appoint "materially bishops" - so the Catholic Church continues to exist with simply a potential hierarchy!

However, for sacramental purposes, those sedeprivationists - like their declared sedevacantist counterparts - have to turn to emergency consecrated bishops, deriving their episcopacy (for the most part) from the distinctly erratic Vietnamese Archbishop Ngo-dinh-Thuc, either via Bishop Guérard des Lauriers or else by the late Mexican. Bishop Carmona. These include, in the United States alone, the sedeprivationist Mgr McKenna OP, and the sedevacantists Mgr Pivarunus and Mgr Dolan. However, another former Fraternity of St Pius X priest, Bishop Kelly, was clandestinely consecrated by Bishop Mendez.

In spite of these emergency consecrations, few of the declared sedevacantist bishops have claimed jurisdiction (or indeed any strictly hierarchical status) for themselves. Nor could they, unless - in addition to their sacramental consecration - hierarchical authority of some kind had been conferred on them by their consecrators (supposing them to have possessed it themselves); or, alternatively, they had been elected bishops of the remnant local churches by their clergy.

In an essay published by the Catholic Truth Society of London ("The Great Schism of the West", 1926), the Rev Sydney F Smith SJ, posed the question: "…is it conceivable on the supposition that the Papacy is the divinely instituted centre of the Church's unity, that God could have permitted such general uncertainty as to the true occupant of the Apostolic See to endure for nearly forty years?"

The Jesuit author answered: "...we can only gather what is consistent with God's Providence from the actual facts. God has chosen to invite the co-operation of man's will in the election of Popes, as in the perpetuation of other Divine institutions; and where there is an elective system there is a necessary liability for doubts and disputes over the results to arise.

"God might interpose specially to prevent these, and He will certainly watch lest the effects should be so far-reaching as to destroy altogether an institution whose continued existence is essential to the continued existence of the Catholic Church.

"But beyond that we have no means of deciding at what point God must owe it to His own Majesty to interpose. We can only start from the antecedent presumption gathered from His general dealings with man's free-will in other departments of human life, which indicate that the permission of evil will probably be very large, and then go on to read the actual determinations of His Providence in the actual events."

Those who say, "We have a Pope, but one who cannot be believed or obeyed," infringe the axiom, which they like to invoke against sedevacantists: "The First See is judged by none" (Canon 1556: "Prima Sedes a nemine iudicatur").

Sedevacantists do not purport to judge a Pope, only to conclude that there is none. By contrast, habemuspapamists precisely do judge the one they claim to recognise. They decide for themselves - and sometimes for others - which of their Pope's teachings and rulings to accept and which to reject.

An individual's pertinacious heresy can be manifest. Accordingly, in the case of a heretical putative Pope, he could be judged either to have never become Pope (cf Pope Paul IV's Bull "Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio"), or else - possibly - to have forfeited the Papacy (cf Juan de Torquemada's "Oratio Synodalis").

However, it is not necessary to conclude that a Papal claimant is a heretic (or a schismatic) before judging that he is not a valid Pope. If the putative Pope performs official actions which a true Pope could not perform - given the indefectibility in the faith of the Holy Roman Church - then he is manifestly not a valid Pope. It is then for theologians and canonists to seek to establish the cause of his invalidity; but that is a secondary issue compared with the dogmatic fact that he is not truly Pope.

(A dogmatic fact is one entailed by a doctrine of the faith taken in conjunction with a contingent fact. One cannot logically deny such a conclusion while affirming the contingent fact, without - implicitly -denying the doctrine of the faith.)

Those who ascribe to John Paul II heresies in his urbi et orbi teaching, or incompatibility with the divine law in some of his canons, or lack of doctrinal rectitude in some of his sacramental rites, including the New Mass; logically and theologically have to choose between the conclusions that he is not a valid Pope, or else that the doctrine of Roman indefectibility (cf "Pastor Aeternus") is untrue.

Those of us who hold that John Paul II (like his Conciliar predecessors) has done things which no valid Pope could do - in particular endorsing a rite of Mass lacking doctrinal rectitude - and have drawn the logical conclusion that he is not a valid Pope, are confronted with the theoretical and practical problem of obtaining a new Pope. Given the lack of legitimate representatives of the local Roman Church (normally the cardinals), the history of the Great Schism of the West illustrates the fact that it is for legitimate representatives of the Universal Church to gather in emergency Council, so as to declare the See of Peter vacant and to elect a new Pope.

The practical problem is to obtain sufficient numbers of bishops with hierarchical authority as morally to represent the Universal Church in such an emergency Council. It is a dogmatic fact that there are currently some such bishops (no matter how few - even one!), but there is no likelihood of their being free to come to our aid. Accordingly, the conditions specified by moral theologians for the automatic cessation of law being manifestly satisfied (including the laws reserving the appointment of Latin-rite bishops to the Roman Pontiff), it must be for the remnant local churches to elect or accept their own bishops. (The witnessing diocese of Campos, Brazil, has provided a de facto precedent.) Obviously, such bishops need to profess the integral Catholic faith, stand ready to give their obedience to the next valid Pope, and maintain communion with other such Catholics.

The crisis confronting the Catholic Church today, with a heresy-favouring antipope installed in the Vatican, and heresy-favouring bishops occupying episcopal sees throughout the world, is vastly greater than that which afflicted the Church during the Great Schism. Nothing can be achieved until the bulk of the anti-Conciliarist clergy and laity recognise that the truth of the Catholic faith entails that the See of Peter is currently in theological reality vacant.


Vatican II:

*        "The Documents of Vatican II" (1965), Walter M Abbott SJ (Ed)
*        "The Rhine flows into the Tiber" (1978), Ralph M Wiltgen ["Le Rhin se jette dans le Tibre - le concile inconnu" (1975)]
*        "I Accuse the Council!" (1982), Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
*        "Histoire Secrète de la Diplomatie Vaticane" (1997), Eric Lebec

Pre-Conciliar Teaching:

*        "Mortalium Animos" (1928), Pope Pius XI (English translation: CTS "True Religious Unity")
*        "Humani Generis" (1950), Pope Pius XII (English translation: CTS "False Trends in Modern Teaching")
*        "Enchiridion Symbolorum" (1958), Henrici Denzinger
*        "The Teaching of the Catholic Church" (1966), Karl Rahner (Ed)
*        "The Church Teaches" (1973), Jesuit Fathers, Kansas (Ed)

The Theology of John Paul II:

*        "Redemptor Hominis" (1979), John Paul II (CTS English translation)
*        "Pierre m'aimes-tu? - Jean-Paul II: Pape de Tradition ou Pape de la Révolution?" (1988), Daniel Le Roux ["Peter, lovest thou me?]
*        "L'étrange théologie de Jean-Paul II et l'esprit d'Assise" (1992), Johannes Dörmann
*        "La 'Nouvelle Théologie'" (1993), [Préface de] Mgr Francesco Spadafora

The Great Schism of the West

*        "The Great Schism of the West" (1926), Sydney F Smith SJ
*        "A History of the Church" - Volume III (1946), Philip Hughes
*        "The Church in Council" (1960), E I Watkin
*        "The Three Popes" (1969), Marzieh Gail
*        "The Oxford Dictionary of Popes" (1986), J N D Kelly
*        "L'anneau du pêcheur" (1995), Jean Raspail [Roman)

Contemporary America:

*        "The Smoke of Satan - Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism" (1997), Michael W Cuneo

The "Heretic Pope" Question:

*        "Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio" (1559), Pope Paul IV ["Roman Bullarium", Volume IV]
*        "Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio" (English translation and commentary, Britons Catholic Library)
*        "A Commentary on Canon Law" - Eight Volumes (1926), P Chas Augustine OSB
*        "La nouvelle messe de Paul VI: Qu'en penser?" (1975), Arnaldo Xavier Da Silveira
*        "The Papacy in Transition" (1981), Patrick Granfield [OSB)
*        "A Disputation on the Authority of Pope and Council" (1988), Juan de Torquemada [English translation of the fifteenth century "Oratio Synodalis"]
*        "La question du Pape" (1993), Abbe Ceriani [Five audio cassettes]