I listened to the entire debate last week. I have to say that the debate only strengthened my opinion that sedevacantism is a hopeless position.
John Lane’s own thoughts on the matter are not entirely clear. In the debate and at his own web site, where there has been a discussion of the debate, he has been ambiguous about just when the vacancy in the papal see began. Ditto for sedevacantist commentators at his discussion forum.
Some say the vacancy began as late as 1965, when Paul VI approved Vatican II’s proceedings. (This means Paul VI was a real pope for a couple of years.) Others speculate that the vacancy began in the early 1950s when Pius XII approved NFP, the idea being that NFP is sinful and that a pope, on approving it, ceases to be a pope.
The most common opinion seems to be that the vacancy began at the death of Pius in 1958. Lane himself doesn’t seem to have settled on any of these dates as the undisputed start of the vacancy.
Be that as it may, the question arises: How do you get a new pope? Most sedevacantists seem to adhere to the theory that a new pope can be chosen only by the remaining “true” bishops who have jurisdiction. What this reduces to is some now-forgotten bishops who were consecrated no later than 1958 and who have been living in hiding ever since. Writers at Lane’s discussion forum suggest that there may be one or more such bishops lurking in China, for example.
If there were such a bishop with jurisdiction (which means one consecrated by a real pope to head a particular diocese), he would have to be at least 100 years old now. It should be easy enough to find out whether there is such a man still alive: just look up the records of consecrations done by Pius XII in his last years. See whether any of those bishops still are around.
By following links at Lane’s site I came to an e-mail written by Gerry Matatics to Richard Ibranyi, who might be called the most extreme sedevacantist of all. He claims that there no longer are any valid priests or bishops in the entire world–not a one! In his mind, you can’t be a real Catholic unless you agree with him, and one of Ibranyi’s tests is to see whether you attend Sunday Mass anywhere. If you do, you aren’t a Catholic, since even the Tridentine Mass, wherever it is celebrated, is celebrated by a man who isn’t a real priest at all.
Anyway, Matatics wrote to Ibranyi (his letter is posted at the latter’s web site). Trying to curry favor with Ibranyi, he explained that he and his family no longer attend Mass at all. On Sundays and holy days they just sit at home, read from Butler’s “Lives of the Saints,” recite several prayers in common, and that’s that.
This sad episode is an indication of the hopelessness of the sedevacantist position. If this is where it leads you–into setting up your own house church and imagining that there is no real Mass you can attend–then the theory must be shot through with logical and historical errors.
In a way, Matatics has become a Protestant again, and he, Ibranyi, Lane, and other sedevacantists are leading people away from truth, not toward it.