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Objection 5): The Church cannot exist without a pope, or at least it cannot exist for 40 years without a pope, as Sedevacantists say…
Answer: The Church has existed for years without a pope, and does so every time a pope dies. The Church has experienced a papal interregnum (i.e. period without a pope) over 200 different times in Church history. The longest papal interregnum (before the Vatican II apostasy) was between Pope St. Marcellinus (296-304) and Pope St. Marcellus (308-309). It lasted for more than three and a half years.[i] Further, theologians teach that the Church can exist for even decades without a pope.
EDMUND JAMES O’REILLY CRUSHES THE NON-SEDEVACANTISTS’ MAIN ARGUMENT ON THE LENGTH OF A PAPAL INTERREGNUM (PERIOD WITHOUT A POPE) BY TEACHING THAT THE CHURCH CAN EXIST FOR DECADES WITHOUT A POPE
Fr. Edmund James O’Reilly was an eminent theologian who lived at the time of Vatican I. Writing after Vatican I and its definitions on the perpetuity of the Papal Office, he taught that God could leave the Church without a pope for over 39 years – e.g., during the entire span of the Great Western Schism (1378-1417). Here is a quote from Father O’Reilly’s discussion of the Great Western Schism:
Fr. O’Reilly says that an interregnum (a period without a pope) covering the entire period of the Great Western Schism is by no means incompatible with the promises of Christ about His Church. The period Fr. O’Reilly is speaking about began in 1378 with the death of Pope Gregory XI and ended essentially in 1417 when Pope Martin V was elected. That would be a 39-year interregnum (period without a pope). And Fr. O’Reilly was one of the most eminent theologians of the 19th Century.
It’s obvious that Fr. O’Reilly is on the side of those who, in rejecting the Vatican II antipopes, hold the possibility of a long-term vacancy of the Holy See. In fact, on page 287 of his book, Fr. O’Reilly gives this prophetic warning:
This is an excellent point. Fr. O’Reilly explains that if the Great Western Schism had never occurred, Catholics would say that such a situation (three competing claimants to the Papacy with no thoroughly ascertained head for decades) is impossible – just like those today who say the sedevacantist “thesis” is impossible, even though the facts prove that it is true.
The Great Western Schism did happen, Fr. O’Reilly says, and we have no guarantee that worse things, that are not excluded by divine promises, won’t happen. There is nothing contrary to indefectibility in saying that we haven’t had a pope since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958. There is everything contrary to the indefectibility of the Catholic Church in asserting that true popes could promulgate Vatican II, officially endorse false and pagan religions, promulgate the Protestant New Mass, and hold that non-Catholics don’t need to convert for salvation. Leaving the Church without a pope for an extended period of the Great Apostasy is the punishment inflicted by God on our generation for the wickedness of the world.
See other Answers to the Most Common Objections Against Sedevacantism
 Denzinger 51-52e; Warren H. Carroll, A History of Christendom, Vol. 1 (The Founding of Christendom), p. 494; J.N.D. Kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 25.
 Fr. Edmund James O’Reilly, The Relations of the Church to Society – Theological Essays, 1882.
 Fr. O’Reilly, The Relations of the Church to Society – Theological Essays, p. 287.
 Yves Dupont, Catholic Prophecy, Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1973, p. 30.
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