I do not think I have ever seriously been tempted or seriously entertained sedevacantism much less conclavism. I remember as a teenager reading in the local daily Newspaper an article around 1980 by an elderly priest who sincerely believed that the real Paul VI had been imprisoned and that an "imposter" anti-pope had been installed in his place in Rome. He even had photographs to "prove" that the occupant of the see of Peter was NOT Paul VI.
He went on to use the "prophecy of Lasalette" to further support this theory. At that time, I had never heard of the sedevacantist theory and the very idea struck fear in my heart. I remember being horrified by the possibility. I was born in 1966 and had only known the novus ordo and yet I knew almost instinctively that something had gone terribly wrong since the council. That much was obvious to me. I think the malaise in the post conciliar church has left us with grasping for straws to find answers to the mystery of chaos in the church. All Catholics of sincere faith and conviction have for decades been trying to make some sense out of the malaise that has afflicted the Church. Many of us were born into this situation not having known anything else. I think many of us go through different phases in this process of trying to make sense of it all. I no longer believe as I once did that a return to a 'golden era' in the Church (say 1955) is possible nor desireable. Nor do I naively believe anymore that the traditional Mass is a panacea to all that afflicts the Church. I am however convinced that a return to traditional order within the Church is the answer. What I mean by this is a return to an authentic Sensus Catholicus in how the Church has always understood and viewed herself in her liturgy, piety and her very mission. We must cleave to 'eternal Rome' rather than to 'modernist Rome' to use Mgr Lefebvre's words in his 1974 declaration.
The problem with sedevacantism and conclavism is not that they couldn't be plausible theoretically but that they attempt to clarify the malaise in the Church in a simple, black and white fashion. Such theories leave more questions than answers. Conclavists have decided in their various factions to 'elect' a 'true pope'. The most famous being the "Palmarian Church of the Carmelites of the Holy Face" which itself was the result of false apparitions to a false stigmatist and seer Clemente Dominguez y Gomez who made himself "Pope Gregory XVII". His current successor is "Pope Gregory XVIII". There have been and continue to be a number of anti-popes in the Conciliar era.
At the same time, I do not think it wise to ignore, underestimate or completely disregard the prophecies of La Salette, La Fraudais , Anne Catherine Emmerich or Fatima regarding the future of the Church. It is simple to dismiss the sedevacantists and conclavists as nut jobs. Unfortunately, too often it is the case that Catholics are given to extremes about the subject. Some of them become conclavists or sedevacantists on the one hand or they become extreme ultramontanists on the other. We like to believe that prophecies about the crisis in the Church are for another time. Too often we prefer to take the stance of Pope John XXIII after reading the third secret of Fatima that such prophecies do not pertain to our own times. I am often amazed to what lengths some people will go (including and especially churchmen) to convince themselves and others of this. There has been for the most part since Vatican II a wholesale denial of crisis in the Church for the most part. To be sure in the 1970s and even 80s there were Cardinals, bishops and priests who had been formed in the old school and who were able to discern the signs of the times and help their flocks weather the malaise better and who knew what was at work within the Church to destroy her (think Bishop Graber of Regensburg). This however has changed in recent decades as the 68ers (those formed in a revolutionary spirit) have come of age and many occupy places of power and influence in the Church. These men see Vatican II as a sort of beginning of a "year zero" in the Church as though nothing existed before. They view the Church's past through the 'lens of Vatican II' rather than the other way around. There are those in the Church (especially among the liberals and neo-Catholic ultramontanists) who like to poke fun at any mention of the influence of freemasons within the Church. As though such notions were akin to madness. Neo-Catholics willingly admit the widespread influence of modernism within the post Conciliar church but are also keen to believe that we are in a 'new Spring time'. Often times utterances from Rome seem at odds with what the church has always believed and taught. It can be greatly confusing and disconcerting when this happens. I think Sister Lucy of Fatima described it best as 'diabolical disorientation'.
I like to believe that anyone reading this blog is trying to 'work out their salvation in fear and trembling' to the best of their ability and to live, sustain and nurture their Catholic faith in a traditional manner. I like to believe that most of us who would describe ourselves as traditional Catholics have been seeking for decades to make the best out of a very difficult and virtually impossible situation. There exists among many traditional Catholics the sentiment that everything since Vatican II is evil and detrimental to the faith. Sanity and order will be restored in the Church through a restoration of an authentic sensus catholicus and not by a recreation of an ideal time in Church history. The great majority of Catholics practice their faith within a context of discontinuity. The truth of the matter is that most of them have simply been following the lead of heterodox Churchmen for decades. Most have been raised with little or no catechesis, protestantized or even neo pagan liturgies, heterodox or even heretical preaching. The average Catholic parish would be a foreign place for a Catholic who lived and died before Vatican II. Perhaps some of us in the aftermath of the council were fortunate enough to find 'islands' of sanity in a sea of modernism. I for one am grateful for such 'ghettos of Catholicity". I have come to believe that such places of refuge will continue to serve the needs of traditional minded Catholics as things deteriorate steadily in the coming years. It goes without saying that we must continue to pray for a restoration in the Church of an authentic sensus Catholicus above all by means of Our Lady's rosary. Above all we ought as Catholics to take Blessed Jacinta's words to heart and to make them our own: "Poor holy father we must pray much for him."