AGAINST THE SCHISMATIC DRIFT
9. The schism of Archbishop Lefebvre :
“ The bad break ”
TO make known his Priestly Fraternity and his seminary at Econe, in 1972 Archbishop Lefebvre started to give a large number of conferences throughout France. Now, when one of his listeners happened to ask him about the doctrinal combat of the League of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in the 20th century, he criticised its founder for having entered into open opposition with Pope Paul VI : “ A son ”, said Archbishop Lefebvre, “ does not criticise his Father. ”
The former missionary bishop1, who had distinguished himself in the Council chamber amongst the defenders of Catholic faith and law, had since the close of Vatican II adopted an attitude quite different from that of Fr. de Nantes : he officially presented himself as a son obedient to Pope Paul VI and submissive to the authorities of the Church.
THE FOUNDING OF THE SEMINARY AT ECONE IN 1970
Archbishop Lefebvre had spoken to the Bishop of Fribourg, Msgr. Charrière, of his desire to establish a house of priestly formation, and in June 1969, shortly after the promulgation of the novus ordo missae, he was authorised by him to realise such a foundation in his diocese. In the autumn, a year after he had resigned his responsibility as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers2, Archbishop Lefebvre received ten seminarians into the Don Bosco House at Fribourg.
At that time the battle over the Mass was being vigorously waged by the traditionalists, and Jean Madiran, as we have stated before, was astonished at Archbishop Lefebvre’s reserve and silence on this matter. He had not even given any public support to the petition of Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci. Let us also recall how, in March 1970, Archbishop Lefebvre had appeared very put out when Fr. de Nantes visited him in Rome, and had not spoken to him of his plan to found a Priestly Fraternity, even though at that very moment he was preparing to draw up its statutes. It is true that Fr. de Nantes would undoubtedly have shown little enthusiasm for such a foundation3. For, as was only too clear, to bring such an enterprise to a successful conclusion, Archbishop Lefebvre would have to desert the public doctrinal combat against the new conciliar religion.
The decree of erection of the “ International Sacerdotal Fraternity of Saint Pius X ” was signed by Msgr. Charrière on November 1, 1970. The Bishop of Fribourg stated that the statutes proposed by Archbishop Lefebvre were noted to be in accordance with the decree of Vatican II, Optatam totius, concerning seminaries. He therefore approved them and confirmed them for a period of six years ad experimentum. Moreover, during that autumn of 1970, while the Fraternity of Saint Pius X was constituted a society under diocesan law in Fribourg, Archbishop Lefebvre opened a seminary at Econe, that is to say in the neighbouring diocese of Sion, with the verbal permission of the local bishop, Msgr. Adam.
IN REBELLION AGAINST THE NEW RITES
The work of Archbishop Lefebvre prospered very rapidly. Vocations were numerous and there were no financial problems. In the summer of 1971 new buildings were constructed at Ecône, allowing a complete cycle of studies to be provided for about a hundred seminarians.
It is true that Archbishop Lefebvre’s foundation was officially submitted to the hierarchy, but if the seminary experienced such great success, this was due to the fact that the former head of the conciliar minority rejected the liturgical reform and the new pastoral theology issuing from Vatican II.
During his conference tours in France, the founder of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X presented and justified his work by presenting it “ as certain that there was no true Mass except the old one, and that there was no true priesthood nor true seminary outside of Ecône and the priests formed in that tradition which he claimed to hold on to ”4. But let us listen to him instead :
“ Seminaries are non-existent, since the definition of the priest and the true concept of the priesthood have been abandoned. I admit that I find myself incapable, truly incapable, of founding a seminary with the New Mass… The present problem of the Mass is one extremely serious for the Church… All the endeavours to recapture what is being lost, to reorganise, reconstruct and rebuild, have been stricken with sterility, since we no longer have the true source of holiness which is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Now that it has been profaned, it no longer gives grace, it no longer channels grace. ”5
Thus the founder of the seminary of Ecône was very firm, even extreme and excessive, in his opposition to the new rites. But he limited his rejection of the Reform to the domain of the liturgy alone. He would not go back any further to the source of the evil and its real essence. He abandoned the great dogmatic debates and did not explicitly and publicly attack the doctrinal novelties of the Council.
Fr. de Nantes will later learn one of the reasons that had led Archbishop Lefebvre to adopt such an attitude : during the sessions of Vatican II, the bishop had signed every one of its acts. He had therefore been restrained and even bound, since the close of that disastrous Council, by his own signature.
In 1972 the French bishops, including the new bishop of Fribourg, Msgr. Mamie, began a secret war against Archbishop Lefebvre’s foundation. In October, during the plenary assembly of the French episcopate, the bishops undertook not to incardinate in their dioceses young men formed in “ wildcat seminaries ”6.
WITH PAUL VI’S BLESSING
AND IN SUBMISSION TO THE HOLY SEE
In January 1973 Fr. de Nantes openly announced the resolution he had been forming over several months of presenting the Pope with a libellus of accusation against his Person, and he now invited his friends and readers to join him in this process by entering his “ Roman Legion ”. Now, at the beginning of this same year, Archbishop Lefebvre made a conference tour through Brittany, and on the evening of January 16 he was received at Saint-Brieuc by a friend, Mr. Charles Raffray. As the bishop had not heard Fr. de Nantes’ conversation with Jacques Chancel on the radio (France-Inter), the householder’s son, Hervé Raffray, who had come specially to listen to him, offered to give him an account of it. Archbishop Lefebvre interrupted him : “ Has Fr. de Nantes confirmed that he will go to Rome ? ” – “ Yes, Monsignor. ” A long silence ensued. At the end of several minutes, Mr. Hervé Raffray, hoping to elicit a reaction, allowed himself to tell him : “ Monsignor, it is vital for Fr. de Nantes to go to Rome with his book of accusation, since no one more qualified than him is willing to take this step. ” The bishop remained silent, glacial.
The position publicly adopted by Archbishop Lefebvre that year, 1973, will diverge radically from that of Fr. de Nantes. In March, while the theologian of the Catholic Counter-Reformation was drawing up the Liber accusationis in Paulum sextum, Archbishop Lefebvre was writing to his benefactors that the aim of his foundation was “ to continue the Church of all times in submission to the Holy See and to safeguard our faith ”7. Thus he was claiming to preserve and defend the faith whilst remaining docile to the highest authorities in the Church. Several months later, while members of the CRC league were distributing the Liber accusationis, Archbishop Lefebvre told his friends and benefactors : “ We have been assured through a highly placed intermediary that the Holy Father blesses our apostolate. ”8 What is more, he claimed that the hostility of the French episcopate to his work was beginning to crumble :
“ Without doubt our firm stand on the Tradition of the Church inspires a certain reservation in some of our bishops . For it looks like we are stubbornly opposed to the conciliar aggiornamento. However, the special success of the Saint Pius X Fraternity poses them problems. Why is it that young men with a serious vocation present themselves in such large numbers to this seminary, while the majority of seminaries are emptying ? As the years go by, we sense that the initial opposition is changing into curiosity and surprise. Already several bishops have come to see us or have written to us asking for priests. During the last two months we have had five requests asking us to supply seminary teachers and offering parishes to us.
“ From Rome we have received indults which lead us to conclude that our Fraternity has the right to incardination, even though this is only a diocesan right. ”8
BROTHERS BRUNO AND JOSEPH VISIT
THE SEMINARY AT ECÔNE IN FEBRUARY 1974
At the beginning of February 1974, our Brother Joseph of the Sacred Heart visited Ecône to take part in the ceremony where his brother was to receive the soutane.
Brother Bruno accompanied him and was received by Archbishop Lefebvre into his office for a few moments. Thus he was able to question him about the Liber accusationis, whereupon Archbishop Lefebvre replied, “ Fr. de Nantes should not have mentioned me in his Liber. There was no need for him to mention me. ” The bishop showed Brother Bruno the page containing the two following paragraphs :
“ Msgr. Marcel Lefebvre was one of the two or three among the ‘ minority ’ at the Council whose head remained clear and whose courage did not fail. On that account alone he would have deserved a Cardinal’s hat at your hands, even had it been only to show your continuing paternal feelings towards all your children or as a sign of clemency to the vanquished. Instead, he has been the constant victim of your silent but attentive wrath. You were glad to see his downfall, and saw to it that he should leave Rome. You allowed him to be ostracised by the French episcopate.
“ His Seminary does not owe you anything, except that you were not able to inhibit its birth. But our bishops have all sworn never to accept any of its priests. For them this radiantly Catholic institution has become the ‘ wildcat seminary ’. Once again, we ask where the hatred lies. On which side are discord and the intention of schism, which side has offended against its brother ? I know full well that, in agreement with Cardinal Villot and the French episcopate, you are seeking to destroy this little seedbed of vocations, this refuge of true Christian freedom, this haven for priests after God’s heart. Should you succeed in doing so, your schism will only become the more manifest. ”9
That was the only remark made by Archbishop Lefebvre concerning the contents of the Liber. As for the canonical process of accusation, he did not even mention it. It was clear that the founder of Ecône had no wish to give up his reserve, especially in the presence of an emissary from Fr. de Nantes ! He was anxious to remain officially submitted to the Pope.
In the refectory, at the table where the teachers sat, Brother Bruno was placed to the right of Archbishop Lefebvre, and he heard him expressing his pleasure at the generosity of his benefactors. The bishop saw in this a proof that God was blessing his work. “ There are billions, billions ! ” he confided to our brother. Then the conversation turned to the Bishop of Lille whom Archbishop Lefebvre had recently met. And the latter ruled categorically, “ Msgr. Gand no longer has the faith, he is no longer a bishop. ” A staggering affirmation ! Archbishop Lefebvre declared the Bishop of Lille to have fallen from the episcopate because he had heard him making statements that seemed to him heretical ! This peremptory judgement was particularly surprising for Brother Bruno, since he had been present at a discussion between Msgr. Gand and Fr. de Nantes. Now, in listening to them, it had seemed to him that the Bishop of Lille did indeed have the faith !10
During their stay at Ecône, Brothers Bruno and Joseph noticed that the seminary did not practise the intelligent traditionalism which Fr. de Nantes had been seeking to promote for over twenty years. When they visited the seminary, one of the professors, Dom Guillou, showed them the library and explained to them that it did not contain a single work published after 1962 ! At Ecône, therefore, they ignored the acts of Vatican II so that they might not have to criticise them… Clearly, it was not by proudly ignoring the conciliar Reform that one could form priests… of the Counter-Reformation !
On the day after the ceremony, February 4, our brothers joined the seminarians in a magnificent walk in the mountains. Brother Bruno had a long discussion with one of them and he was frightened to find that he was resolutely Kantian. This was Fr. Klaus Wodsak, who had been exempted from his philosopy courses because he had posed too many objections to the Thomist professor, Fr. Bruno Salleron…
This worrying fact was indicative of the weakness and ambiguity of Archbishop Lefebvre’s work.
THE LEAGUE OF THE CATHOLIC COUNTER-REFORMATION
SERVING THE COMMON GOOD OF THE CHURCH TODAY
Nevertheless, none of this prevented the traditionalists, exasperated by the postconciliar anarchy, from turning their eyes with a growing sympathy towards the seminary at Ecône. They waited in hope for the new priests formed by Archbishop Lefebvre to come and restore the security and peace of the parishes of former times. They imagined that Archbishop Lefebvre was in the process of saving the Church, since he was organising “ a supplementary, truly Catholic Church of the unchanged Latin rite within the midst of the modernist reformed Church ”11. This idea, records our Father, “ was received favourably and fervently by traditionalists of all shades, even by the majority of the members of our CRC League, very much against my wishes ”11.
That is why, on April 1, 1974, in a letter to his friends, Fr. de Nantes re-emphasised the constitutive and therefore essential purpose of the League. Its vocation in the Church – if not by right, at least in fact – was “ the service of the common good ”, whereas many other traditionalists were only attached to “ a particular good ”.
“ We have been led to make this choice ”, he explained to them, “ more by the logic of our passion for the real and essential good of the Church and of souls than by a deliberate choice on our part. It was necessary to struggle against the decadence by denouncing the Reform of the Church ; and we could not denounce the latter without designating those who were responsible for it, cost us what this may. In short, if we wished to remedy the effects, we had to go back to the highest and most general causes : the Council and the reigning Pope.
“ It is certain that our CRC, because it goes back to the true causes and takes issue with those who are supremely responsible, and because it refuses to be distracted from this purpose and to relax its grip for any pretext, has an efficacy out of all proportion to the means it employs. It has also, by this same fact, an assured future : it will succeed by very reason of the infallibility promised to the Church. That is something which should encourage us all to pursue this action.
“ What we have undertaken – to pass from the disastrous Vatican II to a redeeming Vatican III, and to provoke the Church into condemning the errors and abuses of Paul VI, so that essential papal authority may be restored – is difficult, seemingly unachievable, and quite beyond the understanding of most people. Good Catholics are much more interested and excited about so many other things which we have been obliged to neglect : the Mass, the catechism, schools, seminaries, Latin, Gregorian chant, pilgrimages… Ultimately we could be accused of doing nothing, whilst the others are fighting on all fronts and obtaining results which, though limited, are real and beneficial.
“ What you have already understood by yourselves, I wanted to state explicitly : we have sacrificed everything, we have neglected everything, as we know to our cost, solely to serve the present common good of the Church. That is our vocation today, our mystic immolation. Share this consecration with us yourselves – I venture to encourage you – by sacrificing everything else in order to bring all your energies to bear on what is essential at the present time. Present this oblation to God through the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and pray that this total gift, accepted by our Father in Heaven, may end in the victory of the Counter-Reformation through a holy Pope and a glorious Council, leading to the Restoration of the Roman Catholic Church. Then, when our joy has been regained, we will once again be able to think about our Order and about your beloved persons, and how to serve all their spiritual and temporal interests. ”12
“ THE YEAR OF RECONCILIATION WILL HAVE ITS VICTIMS ”
As desired by Paul VI, the Holy Year celebrated in 1975 was to be a year of reconciliation, with God no doubt, but also with our fellow men, all men ! in respecting their beliefs, passionately recognising their dignity, satisfying their rights, and struggling for their collective, economic, social and cultural liberation13…
Now, since the beginning of 1974, Fr. de Nantes had predicted that this reconciliation in love would have “ its victims ”14. Then, following the plenary assembly of the French episcopate at Lourdes in November, he showed why and how this jubilee year of “ reconciliation ” would be one of exclusion for traditionalists. In his conference at the Mutualité on December 12, he explained that the recent ruling by the French bishops on the use of the Missal of Paul VI was to be the cover for an implacable persecution against priests who refused to celebrate the novus ordo. It was true that the bishops had mentioned the accusations of the traditionalists, but they had rejected them with offensive disdain.
“ Certain Catholics of good faith ”, they had declared, “ are currently deceived by a propaganda that seeks to make the rejection of the liturgical reform willed by Vatican II a criterion of orthodoxy. They go so far as to cast suspicion on texts in the Missal of Paul VI and in particular on the Eucharistic Prayers approved by the Holy See, claiming that the content of these texts does not conform to the faith or, at least, that it is ambiguous and can favour heresy. The bishops of France cannot tolerate such accusations which run counter to the truth. It is not possible for someone to proclaim his fidelity to the Holy Father and at the same time to propagate these calumnies.
“ The episcopal conference of France, in communion with the universal Church gathered around the Successor of Peter, hopes that the faithful whose judgement may have been abused will be enlightened by this clarification and will henceforth participate with faith in the Eucharistic sacrifice15 according to the current rite of the Roman Church. ”16
The old Roman rite was more than ever proscribed. “ It is a juridical ruling, not a pastoral one ”, remarked Fr. de Nantes. “ The bishops oblige, forbid and condemn in the name of canon law, basing their legislative decisions on Rome and claiming the infallible sovereign authority of the Pope. ”17
Moreover, on December 12, at the Mutualité, Fr. de Nantes warned his audience that the visit of the two apostolic visitors to the seminary at Ecône in November appeared to him to be a very bad sign. It was true that those close to Archbishop Lefebvre said that the report of the two investigators would be very favourable. But Fr. de Nantes was persuaded that this was “ in no way a routine canonical visit. This enquiry ”, he explained, “ must be understood in the context of a process aiming to eradicate the Sacerdotal Fraternity of Saint Pius X. The countdown to the end of Ecône’s legal existence has probably already started. ”
The forebodings of Fr. de Nantes were confirmed by an inidiscreet remark from an archbishop who informed him that Rome was determined to decree the closure of the seminary at Ecône within three months.
ARCHBISHOP LEFEBVRE’S PROFESSION OF FAITH
OF NOVEMBER 21, 1974
From the opponents of the liturgical reform, corrupt and corrupting, there was soon a deplorable defection : that of a prestigious Benedictine abbey. “ The nuncio ”, reported Fr. de Nantes in January 1975, “ has passed the papal ultimatum on to Dom Roy, the Reverend Abbot of Fontgombault, and Fontgombault has reneged on its promises and abandoned the Mass of all times to adopt the new rite of Paul VI. This volte-face is a scandal. Such an act of renunciation turns them into liars, for it suggests that in this case obedience is obligatory and that even a very powerful abbey is forced to yield, whereas it is only a matter of their own interests, feeding arrangements and monastic comfort. They ‘ prefer the honour that comes from men ’, etc. (Jn 12.43). ”17
Unlike Dom Roy, the founder of the seminary of Ecône seemed decided on resisting the Roman injunctions. In January 1975, the review Itineraires published the profession of faith which Archbishop Lefebvre had signed and sent to every member of his Fraternity a few days after the two apostolic visitors, their Lordships Descamps and Onclin, had left Ecône. Here is the text in full, dated November 21, 1974 :
“ We hold firmly with all our heart and with all our mind to Catholic Rome, Guardian of the Catholic Faith and of the traditions necessary to the maintenance of this faith, to the eternal Rome, mistress of wisdom and truth.
“ We refuse on the other hand, and have always refused, to follow the Rome of neo-Modernist and neo-Protestant tendencies which became clearly manifest during the Second Vatican Council, and after the Council, in all the reforms which issued from it.
“ In effect, all these reforms have contributed and continue to contribute to the destruction of the Church, to the ruin of the priesthood, to the abolition of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments, to the disappearance of the religious life, and to a naturalistic and Teilhardian education in the universities, in the seminaries, in catechetics : an education deriving from Liberalism and Protestantism which has been condemned many times by the solemn Magisterium of the Church.
“ No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can compel us to abandon or to diminish our Catholic Faith, so clearly expressed and professed by the Church’s Magisterium for nineteen centuries.
“ ‘ Friends, ’ said St. Paul, ‘ though it were we ourselves, though it were an Angel from Heaven that should preach to you a gospel other than the gospel we have preached to you, a curse be upon him ’ (Gal 1.8).
“ Is it not this that the Holy Father is repeating to us today ? And if a certain contradiction were to manifest itself in his words and deeds as well as in the acts of the dicasteries, then we cleave to what has always been taught and we turn a deaf ear to the novelties which destroy the Church.
“ It is impossible to profoundly modify the lex orandi without modifying the lex credendi. To the New Mass there corresponds the new catechism, the new priesthood, the new seminaries, the new universities, the ‘ charismatic ’ Church, Pentecostalism : all of them opposed to orthodoxy and the never-changing Magisterium.
“ This Reformation, deriving as it does from Liberalism and Modernism, is entirely corrupted ; it derives from heresy and results in heresy, even if all its acts are not formally heretical. It is therefore impossible for any conscientious and faithful Catholic to espouse this Reformation and to submit to it in any way whatsoever.
“ The only attitude of fidelity to the Church and to Catholic doctrine appropriate for our salvation is a categorical refusal to accept this Reformation.
“ That is why, without any rebellion, bitterness, or resentment, we pursue our work of priestly formation under the guidance of the never-changing Magisterium, convinced as we are that we cannot possibly render a greater service to the Holy Catholic Church, to the Sovereign Pontiff, and to posterity.
“ That is why we hold firmly to everything that has been consistently taught and practised by the Church (and codified in books published before the modernist influence of the Council) concerning faith, morals, divine worship, catechetics, priestly formation, and the institution of the Church, until such time as the true light of tradition dissipates the gloom which obscures the sky of the eternal Rome.
“ Doing this, with the grace of God, the help of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and St Pius X, we are certain that we are being faithful to the Catholic and Roman Church, to all of Peter’s successors, and of being the ‘ faithful dispensers of the mysteries of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit ’. Amen. ”18
In his editorial to the Catholic Counter-Reformation, under the title “ In communion with Paul VI ? ” Fr. de Nantes will publish and comment on this “ profession of faith ”, explaining in particular to what extent this text could and should be considered as a manifesto of the Counter-Reformation.
“ Never before has Archbishop Lefebvre or any other bishop in the world expressed so vigorously – in the name of his very loyalty to Catholic Rome, the eternal Rome – his opposition to that other Rome which is protestant, liberal and modernist, the Rome of the Council and of all the reforms that issued from the Council. It is a rejection that is justified both a posteriori (this conciliar Reformation leads to the demolition of the Church) and a priori (it falls under the hammer of several previous condemnations made by the infallible Magisterium).
“ Archbishop Lefebvre states – as a bishop fully conscious of the gravity of his words – that it is not possible for a Catholic to accept this Reformation in any of its parts without abandoning himself to the heresy with which it is wholly poisoned. The sole path to salvation today lies in the categorical rejection of this Reformation. One must continue to live as a Catholic according to tradition, without concerning oneself with the reforming Pope and his Council. One must simply wait in peace for the dark smoke of Satan to disperse in the skies above Rome. ”
However, “ Archbishop Lefebvre does not specifically equate the heretical and truly diabolical Reformation being pursued today with the Acts of Vatican II – which, unlike ourselves, he does not explicitly reject19 – nor with the Discourses and Acts of Paul VI or even his deepest thoughts and convictions. To do so would apparently be to go too far in his view, so he deliberately leaves a margin of vagueness and uncertainty between that which he anathematises and the persons themselves, the moral person of the Ecumenical Council and the person of the reigning Pope. ”20
The last part of this commentary will show to greater advantage if deferred till later.
It may be noted that in publishing his “ Profession of faith ” in the review Itineraires, Archbishop Lefebvre had begun to cast off his previous reserve. He began to reveal convictions that up till then he had concealed or had only displayed with discretion and restraint, hoping in this way that the hierarchy would show more tolerance to his foundation. From now on he would put forward doctrinal reasons to justify his rejection of the liturgical reforms. However – and this was very regrettable – he did not relinquish his deferential attitude to Paul VI. He remained fixed in this attitude of official submission to the Pope, as though he were incurably marked and practically paralysed by the formation he had received at the French Seminary in Rome, where papal infallibility and the sanctity of the Eternal City were exalted to an exaggerated degree.21
In the beginning of that year 1975, Archbishop Lefebvre gave his moral backing to the association “ Credo ”, founded by the writer Michel de Saint-Pierre, whose first article, dealing with the statutes, indicated that the action he was going to undertake would be “ carried out in perfect communion with the Sovereign Pontiff, guardian and defender of the Catholic faith ”.
ARCHBISHOP LEFEBVRE’S PRIVATE CONVICTIONS ABOUT
Such an attitude, such a determination not to confront the Pope head on, was all the more regrettable in that Archbishop Lefebvre had in fact no illusions about the personality of Paul VI. Remember the judgements he had expressed in 1967 in his letters to Fr. Felix Bourdier and to Fr. de Nantes.22
Archbishop Lefebvre used to read the writings and listen to the recordings of the conferences given by the theologian of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. He even happened to say in private that he approved of the Liber accusationis and that at heart he was not unhappy that Fr. de Nantes had taken to Rome such an accusation against Paul VI.
Let us quote here what he wrote on June 9, 1973 to one of the benefactors of his seminary, a member of the CRC League :
“ Your generosity towards the seminary touches me deeply and your encouragement is very precious to me.
“ When all is said and done, your conformity to the thinking of Fr. de Nantes is certainly correct, and whatever comes of this process in Rome, one result is certain : the problem will have been made public.
“ One day it will have to be resolved. For we cannot indefinitely place our trust in him who has the greatest responsibility for the destruction of the Church and of Christian civilisation.
“ The denial of the whole Tradition of the Church stems in fact from a senseless pride. That is why, whatever the cost, we must continue to build on Tradition in every domain. We cannot be wrong about this.
“ There will be no excommunication [of Fr. de Nantes], have no fear. And anyway, it would have no value. It would need a serious offence to justify it. Where does the offence lie ? In speaking the truth. ”23
In the course of several private conversations, Archbishop Lefebvre would sometimes have some terrible words for Paul VI, which tell us about his private convictions. He expressed judgements, sentences of condemnation, which Fr. de Nantes would never have allowed himself to formulate. One day, at Vannes, a member of the CRC League heard him criticise the Pope so forcefully that he asked him, “ Do you think that Paul VI will be converted ? ” Archbishop Lefebvre replied, “ He does not deserve to ”.
It seems that from one year to the next Archbishop Lefebvre was always expecting that the Pope would soon die.24 He was counting on this, or at any rate hoping that his death would occur before his personal relations with him deteriorated further.
THE NECESSITY OF APPEALING TO THE APOSTOLIC SIGNATURE
AGAINST THE RULING OF THE FRENCH BISHOPS
At the beginning of 1975 Fr. de Nantes observed that, by not publicly citing any dogmatic disagreement with the Pope, Archbishop Lefebvre was placing himself at the mercy of his arbitrary behaviour. He was also convinced that in the coming conflict over the canonical existence of the seminary at Ecône, its founder would be the loser if he did not rapidly and radically change his attitude towards Paul VI.
As we have already recounted, the Saint Pius X Fraternity was founded in evident submission to the authorities of the Church and was provided with the required authorisation. Thus, Paul VI could legally, whenever he saw fit, withdraw this authorisation and order that the seminary at Ecône be closed and the Fraternity dissolved. Archbishop Lefebvre would then be faced with the following alternative : Either submit and accept the disappearance of his work, or rebel and commit himself to a series of disciplinary offences leading to schism.
But the founder of the seminary at Econe might still have averted this dilemma. On January 6, 1975 in Paris, during his news conference, Fr. de Nantes suggested that someone “ more worthy than himself ” should make a public and canonical appeal to the tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura against the ruling of the French bishops which proscribed the old Roman Mass. “ There does not exist ”, he explained, “ an ecclesiastical tribunal superior to that of the Apostolic Signatura. Such a recourse is addressed to the very person of the Roman Pontiff. Now, although Paul VI wants to see his new rite adopted throughout the whole Church, he will not however dare to formulate a firm and precise ban against the old rite. Therefore, it is at the court of Rome that the French bishops’ abuse of power should be attacked and their heretical intentions exposed and denounced. If the authoritarianism of the reformers is checked, if Paul VI is forced to retreat over this matter, it will perhaps be the beginning of the Counter-Reformation in the Church. ” It was clear that Fr. de Nantes was hoping that Archbishop Lefebvre would place himself as quickly as possible, legitimately, canonically, and publicly, in a position of strength against Paul VI.
In his Letter to our friends on February 11, 1975, the theologian of the Counter-Reformation was even more explicit about the opportunity that Archbishop Lefebvre had of henceforth entering into open opposition against Pope Paul VI :
“ All the appearances would seem to suggest that we are losing the battle and that the banning of the Mass of Saint Pius V, the ultimatum already issued against Fontgombault and the next one soon to follow against the Saint Pius X Seminary at Ecône, will be the final blow brought by the Pope and the bishops against the last bastion of traditionalism. Nevertheless, I believe that on the contrary we are close to triumphing. How can this be ? It is very simple.
“ To the extent that the ban [of the Mass of Saint Pius V] is made formal, that is to say put into legal form, it would show how unacceptable and totally illegitimate it is – and it would force even the blindest traditionalist to question the Pope about his ‘ ecumenical ’ passion, his destructive desires, and his sectarian despotism. Either one gives in to the episcopal and papal injunction, as at Fontgombault. Or one resists and crosses this Rubicon, this barrier which up to this day one had refused to clear, in order to accuse the Pope himself and to resist him to his face ; it is then that one enters the Counter-Reformation. This is what is now taking place at Ecône.
“ Please God that, as in the game of the forbidden circle, it may not involve any jumping too far and going beyond our Counter-Reformation into a Counter-Church, a total revolt, a schism, which would in its turn be quite unjustified and indeed more criminal than the crime being denounced.
“ The hour of the CRC has sounded, when the abuse of power by the reformist sect becomes evident. In order for us to succeed, it only requires that our refusal to give in to the injunctions of the Pope and the bishops is expressed in dogmatic and juridical terms, obliging the Roman authorities to justify the unjustifiable. Being unable to do this, they will retreat. Through fear of being thwarted, I am sure that Paul VI will desert the party and leave the bishops in the cold. He will assure people that he never made the change of the missal obligatory… Today we are stronger in this affair than is the coalition of our adversaries. That is why, moreover, the defection of Fontgombault seems deplorable and truly scandalous to me, and why at the same time Econe’s resistance seems to me wise, prudent, and courageous. Their position is impregnable. It is only necessary that they should not maintain a traitor in their midst, and now this process must be conducted with the full doctrine which our CRC, alone, has developed over the last ten years : that of a legal and legitimate opposition to every claim or action of Paul VI which is heretical, schismatic or scandalous. ”25
“ STRIKE AT THE HEAD ! ”
Such was the eloquent title of the editorial of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in the 20th Century which Fr. de Nantes published in the first few days
Having mentioned the latest scandalous acts of Paul VI and demonstrated that the disorder, perversion, and inversion even, were all down to the head of the Church, the theologian of the Counter-Reformation remarked : “ It was predictable that the ones to capitulate to the first injunction of superior Authority, would be all those who swore to resist the grip of Masdu, to remain faithful to the Church of their baptism, to the Mass of their ordination, to the Credo of Nicaea… but always ‘ in perfect communion with the Sovereign Pontiff ’, in ‘ total submission to his wishes ’. Now, the Pope’s wish is to invert all these things. So they have been hoodwinked. ”26
“ A BISHOP MUST BREAK COMMUNION WITH PAUL VI ”
Fr. de Nantes finally put this anguishing question : “ Has the whole thing become impossible to resist ? Can no one in the world any longer do anything to oppose this ” To which he went on to answer :
“ Yes, there remains a weapon, a deed, an action. To strike at the Head of him who has the Powers of a Lamb, but who speaks in the language of the Dragon (Ap 13.11). Regicide, the remedy to the tyrannical anarchy of power in the State, is forbidden to the faithful of the Church, no matter how bad or wicked the Pope might be. It belongs to them to pray and to wait patiently in hope. The public accusation of the Head of the Church for heresy, schism and scandal, is the province of the priest, the theologian, someone capable of knowing the reality of the situation with certainty and of drawing up a canonical act, the Libellus accusationis. That is what we have done. But if it is not even acknowledged and if the supreme Judge, flagrantly abusing his position of authority, disregards it, the process is suspended before it has even been opened.
“ There remains then but one final remedy, a heroic one, the only one dreaded by Him who has knowingly and obstinately inverted the true meaning of his divine and apostolic mission. It needs a bishop – one who is himself a successor of the Apostles, a member of the teaching Church, a colleague of the Bishop of Rome and ordained like him to the common good of the Church – to break his communion with him for as long as he fails to prove his fidelity to the responsibilities of his supreme pontificate.
“ The Pope who receives Jews and speaks with of them of reconciliation, whilst denying Christ, is heretical.
“ The Pope who practically abrogates and forbids the Mass of the Roman Church promulgated and granted to the universal Church for all times by Saint Pius V is schismatic.
“ As long as you spare the Head, you will not control the members. As long as you obey the Head, you will be crushed by the claws and the teeth of this Masdu. One must strike the hydra of the Antichrist at its Head, in order to free the Church of Jesus Christ. ”26
At the end of the first page of this editorial, Fr. de Nantes quoted in an inset a wonderful text from Saint Augustine against schism.27
Then, as a postscript, he published a notice concerning the pilgrimage to Rome organised by the association “ Credo ”. “ Certainly, our friends will take part in great numbers in this pilgrimage to Rome presided over by Archbishop Lefebvre. They will play an important role in the ‘ conscientisation ’ of the masses of pilgrims. ”26
It was evident that Fr. Georges de Nantes hoped Archbishop Lefebvre would declare his withdrawal of obedience from Paul VI as quickly as possible, breaking his communion with him according to the ancient formulas of Saint Basil28 or Saint Columbanus29. Yes, this was vital, before there broke out a disciplinary conflict with the bishop of Fribourg and the Roman authorities.
To operate a rupture of communion – one that was public, solemn, and motivated by a complaint for heresy, schism and scandal against Pope Paul VI, held in legitimate suspicion by this fact – would have led Archbishop Lefebvre to at last have had a share in the great work of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in the twentieth century. He would even have become its leader since, being a member of the episcopal body, he belonged to the teaching Church.
This canonical process for heresy brought against the Pope would also have guaranteed Archbishop Lefebvre judicial immunity. Such a process effectively suspends every disciplinary sanction taken against the accuser until a dogmatic sentence is given.
FR. DE NANTES VISITS ECONE IN FEBRUARY 1975
To encourage Archbishop Lefebvre to perform such an act, to explain to him how urgent and necessary it was, Fr. de Nantes wished to speak to him personally. He therefore visited Ecône in mid February.
The League of the CRC took advantage of his visit to Switzerland to organise a dinner-debate at Lausanne on February 13 and a conference the following day at Sion. Brothers Bruno and Joseph, who accompanied their Father during this journey, presented themselves at the door of the seminary at Ecône several hours before him, on Thursday February 13. Let us listen to Brother Joseph telling Brother Christian, in a letter dated Sunday February 16, about their arrival and their stay at the seminary :
“ It was the hour for dinner. While Brother Bruno was admitted to the table where the professors sat, I was shown to a seat among the seminarians, right next, of course, to my Brother Michel, who was very surprised to see us. The welcome was very cold. None of the seminarians spoke a word to us and several, it seems, gave us an icy look. ” But these “ first impressions were not sufficient in themselves for us to form any firm conclusions ”. On our arrival we had been informed “ that Archbishop Lefebvre had left for Rome and would be away until Monday February 17, even though, at the very beginning of the week, he had been advised of our visit. When our Father and Monsieur Perrin arrived, we held a short conference and explained to them our first impressions. Our Father was not surprised at the news of the Monsignor’s absence. We would simply have to wait for him. All the same, there was little cause for rejoicing.
“ The next day, Friday, our Father celebrated the holy Mass in the crypt. At breakfast and during the whole of the morning, the Father’s presence did not seem to interest them very much, given that none of them visited him. Right up to noon on Saturday the attitude of the professors and seminarians, with a few exceptions, seemed very hostile to us.
“ During recreation, things turned out a little better. Several seminarians gathered round our Father on one side and round Brother Bruno on the other, in order to learn some news about the Father’s conference at Sion on Friday evening. About one hundred people had taken part ; the subject was the Holy Year. The debate at the end was very interesting ; there were lots of intelligent questions and several subscriptions.
“ Our stay at Ecône comes to an end this evening. ” It “ leaves us with little hope of a change in their attitude on the question of the Pope ”.30
As Archbishop Lefebvre was absent, Fr. de Nantes was received by Canon Berthod. Together they reviewed the situation of the Fraternity and the menaces weighing over it. Finally our Father asked him :
“ Why does Archbishop Lefebvre not attack, in the court of Rome, the French bishops’ decision to forbid the celebration of the old Roman Mass ? He should address a recourse to the Apostolic Signatura against the ruling of the French bishops. Archbishop Lefebvre will then have the support of all traditionalist priests. If such a process were initiated, Paul VI would be in a difficult position. I know his psychology. He has asked the bishops to do what he dare not undertake himself, and he will not have the audacity to confirm the proscription of the old rite.
– Do you really believe, replied Canon Berthod, that it is still possible
– Yes, you must act now and obtain the opening of a process at Rome, before a decree to suppress your Priestly Fraternity is published.
– No, it is not worth the effort. We will obtain nothing. We will not be listened to. There are no judges in Rome any longer. ”
On Monday February 17, a few minutes before leaving Ecône, Fr. de Nantes had a very brief interview with Archbishop Lefebvre who clearly viewed him as someone unwelcome. Our Father was therefore unable to speak with him as he had hoped, and the bishop did not discuss his meetings at Rome nor his appearance on the previous Thursday, February 13, before the members of the ad hoc commission of cardinals designated by Paul VI, namely three cardinals from the Curia : Garrone, Tabera and Wright31. He was also careful not to tell him that he had been summoned to Rome on 3 March for a second interrogation.
It was probably in the course of his second appearance that the cardinals brandished before him the editorial of the Catholic Counter-Reformation “ Strike at the Head ”, which had appeared a few days earlier, insisting that Archbishop Lefebvre state, yes or no, whether he was going to oppose Paul VI32. “ Are you going to break your communion with the Pope ? ” – “ Oh, no ! ” exclaimed the poor bishop33.
The reader will have noticed that our Father had arrived at Ecône precisely on Thursday February 13. How can one not see in this coincidence of dates a very special design of the good Providence ? Although he had no knowledge of the timetable for the appearances of the traditionalist bishop before the commission of cardinals – and was even unaware of its existence – Fr. de Nantes had wished to meet Archbishop Lefebvre at a moment which seems capital to us today : immediately after his first appearance and three weeks before the second.
Alas ! on his return to the seminary at Ecône on Monday February 17, Archbishop Lefebvre disdained the theologian of the Counter-Reformation, who would have counselled him to take advantage of his appearances before the commission of cardinals to engage in the doctrinal debate, a debate that was essential and primordial. He would have strongly recommended him not to limit the discussion to “ mixed matters ”, namely the liturgy, the sacraments, in short, questions of rites, but to resolutely pursue the controversy into the domain of dogma, and to attack the evil at its primary source, that is to say in the Acts of the Second Vatican Council and in the teachings of Pope Paul VI.
MARCH 3, 1975, AT ROME, ARCHBISHOP LEFEBVRE
IS PRESSED TO DISOWN FR. DE NANTES
The almost complete transcription of the second interrogation of Archbishop Lefebvre was published in 197634. On reading this text35, one observes how the cardinals, who had clearly received precise directives from the Pope, were in the grip of an obsession : they were fearful that Archbishop Lefebvre would join in the doctrinal combat of Fr. de Nantes. Also they wanted him at all costs to declare himself in communion with Paul VI, and they even pressed him to write to the Pope to explicitly express his union with His Holiness. There is little doubt that they were acting under instructions !
In the course of the interrogation, the cardinals constantly came back to the questions which Fr. de Nantes had discussed in depth in his writings. Now, if Archbishop Lefebvre, in order to refute the debatable theories and the erroneous and peremptory affirmations of these prelates, had based himself on the demonstrations of the latter, if he had referred to the solutions provided by him, he would easily have come away victorious in each of the jousts that marked this encounter.
But see how instead Archbishop Lefebvre attempted to defend himself. Here are some of the outstanding scenes of this long conversation of March 3, 197536 :
Cardinal Garrone : As you were informed during the last meeting, your position as formulated in the manifesto [the declaration by Archbishop Lefebvre of November 21, 1974 which we have quoted above], is unacceptable. A text like your manifesto is harmful to the souls of the young men being prepared for the priesthood. I do not say that one cannot do good with the Mass of Pius V ; but if you join to it a kind of radical doubt regarding the authority of the Church, you are not preparing priests of the type wanted by the Church. You insinuate doubts into the very conscience of these young men which make them believe that it is for them to judge. It is they who shall decide what the Church thinks. Withdraw this text. It is unacceptable.
Archbishop Lefebvre : So, according to you, there is no crisis. There exist no reasons for one.
Cardinal Garrone : The crisis exists, but it is not connected to the Council. The Council was willed by the Pope and inspired, I think, by the Holy Spirit. The Church had great need of it. And if the Church needed it, it is because she found herself in dramatic circumstances.
Archbishop Lefebvre : The Pope said himself in December that, in the Council, there were texts which necessarily lent themselves to different interpretations. He said so himself.
Cardinal Garrone : He is the only judge.
Archbishop Lefebvre : But these things are not insignificant !
Cardinal Garrone : You have written in your manifesto : “ If a certain contradiction were to manifest itself in his words and deeds as well as in the acts of the dicasteries, then we cleave to what has always been taught… ” You think therefore that the Pope might have said things which are contrary to the faith. You state it in formal terms. Mr. Lemaire himself does not accept your statements.
Cardinal Tabera : Your Excellence’s attitude is contaminated by other attitudes which surely it does not share. For example, everyone is drawing a parallel between you and Fr. de Nantes.
Archbishop Lefebvre : Ah no ! not that ! If someone writes this and alludes to my person, I am not responsible for it. It gives me great displeasure to be associated with Fr. de Nantes.
Cardinal Garrone : And the pilgrimage to Rome ? Was there any contact between you ?37
Archbishop Lefebvre : It is true that that is what some have said, and it displeases me greatly. When he made an allusion to me and also to the seminary of Ecône, I was disturbed. I wrote to him and told him not to liken me to himself in his writings. What can I do about it ? He is a strange man. I have nothing to do with him. I refuse to allow him to speak in my Seminary. He used to come every week, but he went away very angrily when I refused to allow him to speak.38
I refuse to allow anyone in my Seminary to say anything that is in any way irreverent about the Holy Father.
Cardinal Garrone : In this matter, it is obedience that counts above all, and in this text your young men can only find so many reasons to disobey. One can be in no doubt about this. In fact, you write : “ If a certain contradiction were to manifest itself in the words and deeds of the Pope… ”. There we have it… their motive for disobedience !
Archbishop Lefebvre : This example is phrased in the future tense and specifically concerns communion in the hand. You say that this is of little importance, but for me it is a serious matter.
Cardinal Tabera : Excellence, might not this be an opportunity for you to write a letter to the Pope, a letter that would say, “ I am in sincere and cordial union with Your Holiness ”. For our part, we recognise the existence of abuses, abuses against which one cannot oppose by fighting the Pope and the Council.
Monsignor Lefebvre :For me, it is not a question of fighting, but of seeing what is the “ true ” reality. There may be things in the Council that are ambiguous. The Pope has said so himself.
Cardinal Garrone : That is all well and good, Excellence. If you are happy to limit your thoughts to this, how could you write things of this kind (the manifesto) ?
Archbishop Lefebvre : I wrote them in a moment of indignation provoked by what the Visitors had said. It gave me pain to see Visitors from Rome say to my seminarians “ that truth is not something one can put in a box ”. I myself heard Msgr. Descamps speak about the ordination of married men. On this matter, he was to declare very spontaneously : “ Whether you wish it or no, it will have to happen ! ” And these men came from Rome. They took no account of the fact that at the Synod the Pope had said the contrary.
I cannot accept these things, for they are wholly contrary to what the Pope said two years ago. For these reasons I indicated my displeasure and stated that I did not accept a Rome of this kind – a Rome that told me things that were contrary to doctrine… That is why I took up my pen and wrote : “ I do not accept the modernist Rome that brings me such things. ” I do not accept things of this kind… It is true that I expressed myself a little sharply, but I was still suffering from the shock of this impression.
Cardinal Tabera : According to you, the [conciliar] Reformation derives from liberalism. It is completely poisoned. But if one cannot accept the doctrine of the Church at a particular moment, as in the present case, it is all over with the magisterium.
Cardinal Garrone : If this (the manifesto) represents your real state of mind, it cannot serve as the basis for either a seminary or a confraternity. It is impossible, for it would mean admitting that one can build on the foundations of a radical contestation of the Magisterium of the Church. This is the state that things have come to. If you see liberalism everywhere, I for my part must tell you that I cannot find a worse variety than this (that of the manifesto).
Archbishop Lefebvre : On certain points of the Council, one can express… reservations.
Cardinal Garrone : But you write : “ The whole Council ”. You do not accuse the Council of simply being a little tendentious, but of being fundamentally orientated in a modernist and protestant direction. What impression can a seminarian reading your “ manifesto ” draw from it ? It will be the source of the orientations which will inform his conscience. Will this young man be formed in the Catholic Church ? I say no ! He will not be a Catholic but a sectarian. He will follow Archbishop Lefebvre and not the Pope.
Archbishop Lefebvre : No, that is an exaggeration. I do not say that one must follow me, but the Magisterium.
Cardinal Garrone : But this (the manifesto) says the opposite !
Archbishop Lefebvre : It is not so !
Cardinal Garrone : You recognise the Magisterium of yesterday, but not that of today.
Archbishop Lefebvre : The Church is thus : she keeps her tradition and cannot break with ; it is not possible.
Cardinal Garrone : Who then is the judge of fidelity to tradition ? Who then is the judge ? Not you, nor I ! It is the Council, it is the Pope !
Archbishop Lefebvre : The Pope himself draws distinctions in the Council, whereas you accuse me of…
Cardinal Garrone : There is absolutely no relationship between the observations you are making, observations which might be justified, and the crass statements contained in your document.
Archbishop Lefebvre : I recognise that my “ declaration ” is an exaggeration, but I believe that it is no less of an exaggeration to wish at all costs to give the impression that no crisis exists, that there is nothing to reform, that all the difficulties can be explained away through the general situation of the world and our materialist society, and that one does not know exactly where the current crisis of the Church originates from.
Cardinal Garrone : In any event, the causes are [not] located39 where you put them.
Archbishop Lefebvre : But how can one find a remedy to these things, to this crisis ?
Cardinal Garrone : Certainly not by diminishing the authority of the Pope in the minds of your young people.
Archbishop Lefebvre : That is not what I am trying to do.
Cardinal Garrone : No ? You write that if you came to discover in the words or the writings of the Pope something that contradicted tradition, it would be necessary to stick to tradition and to abandon the Pope. That is what you say.
Archbishop Lefebvre : No. I said this in relation to communion in the hand. In that case…
Cardinal Garrone : That is not what you have written. But anyway, communion in the hand has been prescribed by the Pope. One cannot condemn a custom practised in the Church for centuries. It makes no sense. One may consider it inopportune, but not as something to be condemned. As for whether it is opportune or not, the Pope has left this matter to the judgement of the bishops. What is serious, is the presumption of those who claim that the Pope has no right to change anything in the liturgy.
We agree with you about various things ; for example, about the existence of a profound crisis, a crisis in which the Church finds herself. But we take issue over the causes through which you attempt to explain the said crisis. One should not try to find these in that Magisterium which you are so critical of. According to you, the culprit is the Magisterium. And that is the worst species of liberalism.
Archbishop Lefebvre : Nevertheless, in the Magisterium there are things that are contradictory.
Cardinal Garrone : That is what you say and it is the worst form of liberalism. One cannot say that contradictions exist in the heart of the Magisterium.
Archbishop Lefebvre : So many opinions contrary to the Magisterium have been spread.
Cardinal Garrone : The hypothesis of a heretical Pope is found in theology.
Archbishop Lefebvre : If that is true, I am not aware of it.
Cardinal Garrone : Oh yes you are ! One learns it in theology.
Archbishop Lefebvre : For my part, I was only making an allusion to certain bishops.
Cardinal Garrone : Your judgements, however, implicitly lead to this conclusion.
Archbishop Lefebvre : But why do you refuse to allow me to experiment with tradition ? Today people carry out every possible kind of experiment. Freedom is granted to every daring venture. And now, faced with a traditional experiment which seems to have succeeded, which bears good fruit, you want to suppress it.
Cardinal Garrone : It is an experiment that is carried out against the law. Think, Monsignor, about those who try to divert your efforts in a direction totally opposed to the Holy Father. They are capable of distorting your work. You say that these are only abuses, but consider, for example, Fr. de Nantes, who has formally accused the Pope of heresy. There will always be men capable of abusing even the best initiatives. I think that we have more or less exhausted all the arguments that can be developed. We have had the opportunity to verify our judgement on many points. It only remains for us now to make an objective report for the Sovereign Pontiff, who will tell us what our attitude should be. In any case, I cannot see how your works will be able to continue, if Msgr. Mamie (the Bishop of Fribourg) withdraws his approbation. As for us, we believe there is a living Magisterium ; but as for you, you in your text deny this. That is clear. You may object that I am exaggerating, but objectively that is how things stand. You say to your seminarians that one must conform in the first place to tradition. And as for the Pope, if he does not conform to tradition, or if he does not seem to conform to it, then one must choose tradition against the Pope.
Archbishop Lefebvre : Evidently. But one can state a priori that such a situation will never arise with the Pope. That is plain. There may always be different interpretations about texts which…
Cardinal Garrone : The best example is the Mass. You say to your seminarians : “ Do not adopt this Mass ; it is dangerous. Let us take up the old Mass that the Pope wrongly thought fit to modify. ” Where will these young men get… where will they find their rule of faith from now on ?
Archbishop Lefebvre : You are not being realistic. You should see the letters that arrive on my desk from every corner of the world, in which people beg me to do something to help them.
Cardinal Garrone : Fine. But your manifesto is not the solution. The solution cannot consist in disobedience to the Pope.
Archbishop Lefebvre : But neither does the solution lie in the anarchy that currently reigns in the celebration of the Mass, with all these Masses for little groups…40
At the end of this interview, the cardinals might well be satisfied. They had accomplished their mission without difficulty. The Pope had no reason to worry : Archbishop Lefebvre had decided not to join in the doctrinal combat of Fr. de Nantes. He would not be making his own the accusations that the theologian of the Catholic Counter-Reformation had made against the Pope.
In the course of this conversation, Archbishop Lefebvre had not ceased to draw back, to take flight, to beat a retreat. Finally, he even retracted his “ profession of faith ” of November 21, 1974. In listening to his successive replies and observing the way he wriggled and manoeuvred, always with an eye to reconciliation, it appears that the traditionalist prelate was guided and governed, not by dogmatic requirements, but by the concern to preserve and to save his work at all costs.
Cardinal Garrone, the reader will have noticed, reproaches Archbishop Lefebvre vehemently for refusing to submit to the Rome of today in the name of the Rome of all times. He attacks and contests the claim of the unhappy bishop to discern by himself which teachings of the Pope conform to the Tradition of the Church and which are contrary to it.
It would be highly instructive to compare Archbishop Lefebvre’s “ profession of faith ” with the formula of unity written and then published by Fr. de Nantes41 one month before the apostolic visitors arrived at Ecône. One would observe that the latter had foreseen the unfortunate error of Archbishop Lefebvre who substituted his own personal judgement for that of the Roman Church.
By explicitly accusing the Pope of heresy, Fr. de Nantes was asking the Pope to judge himself. He was appealing to the infallible Pope about the fallible Pope, thereby recognising the fact that Paul VI was the sovereign judge in his own case. When it was objected to him that the novelties propagated by the Council and by Paul VI were claimed to be the work of the Church’s Magisterium, he demonstrated that such a claim was both fraudulent and malicious :
“ I submit to the Pope’s Magisterium ”, he stated, “ provided that he exercise it. Paul VI has only to take a moment, to launch an anathema, to define a dogma. Let him pronounce, by virtue of the infallibility of his solemn Magisterium, on each and every one of the novelties that I impute to him as heresy, schism and apostasy, and I will abide by his sentence, persuaded that I have been totally misled, and there will never be any question of my not submitting as a member of the Roman Catholic Church to his sovereign Authority. ”
ARCHBISHOP LEFEBVRE’S REPLY
TO FR. DE NANTES, MARCH 19, 1975
Furthermore, Fr. de Nantes considered that Archbishop Lefebvre would undoubtedly be vanquished should he profess the least theological error, concerning the Mass for example. Now, in that year, 1975, the validity of the new ordo missae continued to be contested and even denied by extremist integrists, such as Fr. Ducaud-Bourget. This contestation was extremely serious, and the bishops, taking issue with these rebels, rightly declared : “ He who declares the Mass of Paul VI to be invalid cuts himself off from the community of the Church. ”42
What then was the belief and the position of Archbishop Lefebvre concerning the validity of the new ordo missae ? Certain integrists had attested that he was opposed to the teaching of Fr. de Nantes on this subject. Now, the bishop did not deny what they said. He let them say these things. Evidently he was reluctant to offend these extremists, even if he was not absolutely convinced by their theories.43 So little by little he let himself be influenced and carried away by the integrist movement of opinion to the point where he became its prisoner.
Furthermore, his practical conduct, his public and exclusive attachment to the old Roman Mass, and the reasons he gave his benefactors to justify the founding of his seminary, led one to believe that he doubted the validity of the new rite of Mass.44
Therefore, on March 6, 1975, in an attempt to hold him back from the slope of schism and to encourage him to break with the extremist integrists, Fr. de Nantes wrote him the following letter, which he published several days later in the Catholic Counter-Reformation :
I was very sorry to find that you were not present at Ecône during my journey to Switzerland and my stay at your Seminary. But perhaps it was better that I should ask you in writing if you would not mind explaining to me what you think of the views I have expressed concerning the validity, the lawfulness and the evil character of the “ New Mass ”. A number of fellow priests and friends in fact tell me that you consider my views to be “ absolutely implausible ” and “ insupportably illogical ”, etc. But none of them was able to explain to me the reasons for this judgement which dismays them as much as it does ourselves.
I hope, indeed I feel certain, that once again there has been some mistake or misunderstanding on the part of our friends in the CRC, many of whom are, as you know, generous benefactors of your magnificent work.
I therefore ask you, Monsignor, to let me know the precise reasons for your criticisms, so that I may bring them to the notice of all our readers in order to enlighten their consciences. I have great hopes of thus helping to remedy the sad divisions which exist among those whom the one Catholic Counter-Reformation should unite in the service of the same faith and the same charity.
Please assure Canon Berthod, Father Barrielle and Dom Guillou of my heartfelt gratitude for their very affectionate welcome, and convey my best wishes to the Professors. Be assured, Monsignor, of my most profound and religious respect,
Georges de Nantes45
Archbishop Lefebvre will reply to Fr. de Nantes in a letter dated March 19 which he will send not to its addressee, but to Jean Madiran, and the latter will publish it immediately as a loose supplement to Itineraires. Here it is :
You will admit, I think, that it is not I who wished that our correspondence should become public. I have already told you so in writing. Controversy such as this cannot but weaken the spiritual forces which we require to combat error and heresy.
The indelicacy of your action is such that I would have kept silent if you had not written most insidious articles prejudicing me personally in your last two issues.
The first concerned a bishop’s breaking with Rome – which you deemed to be desirable. Undoubtedly, no explicit allusion was made. However, in the next few lines you mentioned my name in connection with the Credo Pilgrimage, and uninformed readers automatically linked the person named with the preceding lines. This kind of thing is odious. I would have you know that if a bishop breaks with Rome, it will not be me. My “ declaration ” stated this explicitly and emphatically enough.
And it is in this connection that I must also tell you of my utter disagreement with the commentaries further to this in your last issue, which express what you are hoping for, what you would like to see, but not what is.
We think that when the Apostle Paul reproached Peter, he preserved and even manifested towards the head of the Church the affection and respect that were due to him. St Paul was, at one and the same time, “ with ” Peter the head of the Church who, at the Council of Jerusalem, had given clear directions, and “ against ” Peter who, in practice, acted contrary to his own instructions. Are we not sometimes tempted to feel similarly today ? But this does not authorise us to despise the successor of Peter. It must make us pray for him with ever increasing fervour.
With Pope Paul VI, we denounce neo-Modernism, the self-destruction of the Church, the smoke of Satan in the Church, and consequently we refuse to co-operate in the destruction of the Church by the propagation of Modernism and Protestantism, by involvement in the reforms which are inspired by these errors, even if they come to us from Rome.
As I had occasion to say recently in Rome concerning the Second Vatican Council : Liberalism has been condemned by the Church for a century and a half. It has found its way into the Church via the Council. The Church is dying of the practical consequences of this Liberalism. We must therefore do everything to help the Church and those who govern it to free themselves from this Satanic influence.
That is the significance of my “ Declaration ”.
As for your illogicalities and the fact of your not having met me at Ecône46, I shall not speak of these. They are trifles compared with the main problem to which I have just referred.
Please accept, dear Father, my respectful and cordially devoted greetings, in Christo et Maria.
There we have a disavowal which is violent to say the least.
So what were Archbishop Lefebvre’s motives ? By the publication of such a letter, was he hoping to evade the threats hanging over his work ? As far as we are aware, he had not complied with the pressing recommendation put to him Cardinal Tabera during the discussion on March 3. He had not written to Paul VI : “ I am in sincere and cordial union with Your Holiness. ” Nevertheless, by broadcasting his letter to Fr. de Nantes three weeks later in the supplement of Itineraires, he publicly declared his “ utter disagreement ” with the latter. Was he seeking to reassure and placate the cardinals and Pope Paul VI himself ? It is probable.
But the disavowal was monstrous. One could not more greatly distort and betray the thinking and conduct of our Father. “ Know that if a bishop breaks with Rome, it will not be me. ” Archbishop Lefebvre was openly accusing Fr. de Nantes of pushing him into schism, whereas the latter was in fact seeking to lead him away from such dissidence. He had suggested to him, not to break with the Roman Church, but to operate a severance of communion with Paul VI, motivated by a complaint against him for heresy, schism and scandal.
If Fr. de Nantes, when commenting on his profession of faith, had expressed “ what he was hoping for, what he would like to have seen, but not what was ”, this was done intentionally in order to encourage the founder of the seminary at Ecône to place himself canonically in a position of strength against Paul VI. Let us quote the passages from our Father’s commentary47 which the unhappy bishop disapproved of :
“ Archbishop Lefebvre is here expressing, still in a conditional form, a firm resolve by himself and the members of his Fraternity, to resist any orders that they might be given, even by the supreme Authority of Rome or the Pope himself, forcing them to submit to all these postconciliar reforms which, for them, go completely against traditional and preconciliar dogma, morals and liturgy.
“ Despite its veiled form, this is a reasoned declaration of a withdrawal of obedience from a pontifical and collegial authority which is devoting itself unswervingly to the enforcement of this Reform in the life and institutions of the Church. ‘ A categorical refusal to accept this Reformation ’ can only be maintained by total disagreement, dissension, legitimate suspicion and the withdrawal of obedience from a tyrannical Authority which abuses its power.
“ It is not a schism. Archbishop Lefebvre take care to point this out. There is no question of doubting the Church, nor of questioning the authority of the Vicar of Jesus Christ or the other bishops who are successors of the Apostles in the whole vast domain where such authority is legitimately and canonically exercised. No, we adhere fully to that longstanding and universal communion which defines the Roman Catholic Church.
“ Neither is it a rebellion. Faced with cancerous innovations in the heart of the Church, invasive and unrelenting innovations in doctrines, decisions and activities which are incompatible with our dogmatic, moral, liturgical, and canonical Traditions, we are merely acknowledging the fact of an enforced rupture of communion, of a mutual excommunication, the initiative and responsibility for which does not lie with us. ”48
For having been unwilling to formulate a statement of a rupture in communion with Paul VI, for having refused to “ strike the Head ” before the authorities withdrew the decree of erection from his Fraternity, Archbishop Lefebvre will soon find himself caught in the snares of disciplinary sanctions from which he will no longer have a legitimate reason to escape.
In that spring of 1975, the major contradiction of the prelate – officially obedient to the Pope, but in rebellion against the new rites promulgated by him – was clearly set out in an article of the very weighty Civilta Cattolica of March 1.
“ The author of this article, Fr. Caprile ”, explains Fr. de Nantes, “ was, under Pius XII, and still is, so it is said, the private secretary of superior Authority. Speaking of the liturgy, the Reverend Father lists the opponents of the Mass of Paul VI, mentioning our CRC and its January editorial on page 2 first. We are the only ones mentioned by name in France, at the head of this bogus, not to say grotesque, list. In Switzerland only the seminary at Ecône is mentioned. The Reverend Father treats us as “ absolute or quasi absolute immobilists ” and he intends to demonstrate to us that the Mass of Saint Pius V is forbidden and that of Paul VI obligatory.
“ Although he piles one text on top of another, his only serious argument is this : ‘ It is difficult to see how one can proclaim one’s personal fidelity to the Pope and at the same time be the propagandist for such calumnies ’, as ‘ that the texts of the New Mass are ambiguous and suitable for promoting heresy. ’ That is evident !
“ In fact, if one is faithful to Paul VI, one must accept the Mass of Paul VI on trust ! But if, through fidelity to Jesus Christ and to the Church of all times, one practises the separation of body – I do not say divorce –, the rupture of communion – I do not say schism –, with the supreme Autodemolitionist of God’s Church, then it is only logical that one should abominate his ambiguous liturgical inventions and anathematise his heretical article 7. ”49
In his editorials for the spring and summer of 1975, Fr. de Nantes will apply himself to revealing and very vigorously denouncing the latest scandalous acts of Pope Paul VI, especially his odious betrayals of Christendom and his appalling policy of collaborating with the bolshevik persecutors. At the end of each of his analyses, he would always arrive at the same conclusion :
“ If a bishop, if a national episcopate, had risen up against Paul VI and his chimeras, just like that, with no other direct motive than the honour due to God and the love of the Church, whom the Pope is handing over to her enemies, and pity for the peoples whom his diplomacy is throwing to their martyrdom… if one part of the Church through the voice of its episcopate had refused communion with the purveyor of the world communist revolution, Pope Paul VI, yesterday in Portugal, today in Vietnam, and tomorrow in Spain or Ireland… then the bishops would have dismissed Casaroli, Poggi, Hussler and other Soviet agents ; the bishops of these threatened countries would not have been like mute dogs, but would have proved themselves just defenders of their people ; the heads of State would have been able to count on Catholics instead of considering them as the most dangerous traitors ; every nation would have put up an armed defence of its independence and legitimate order without being condemned by the conscience of the world ; and finally Christendom would be saved in its strongest parts and would spread peace.
“ It is true that in Chile the entire Catholic people did save themselves from communism in spite of Paul VI and Cardinal Silva Henriquez. But my view is that their safety will not last if the Church in Chile does not contest pontifical instructions and rise up openly against Roman treason.
“ And here I am not speaking of Pope Paul VI’s immense betrayal of the duties of his office as the defender of faith and morals and as the supreme guardian of the sacraments and prayer of the Church. For whether a Pope betrays or maintains the Church, everything he does stands together.
“ Either the Church will end by excommunicating the Pope, or the Pope will end by dragging the world to its ruin. There is absolutely no question of breaking with Rome and of founding another Church. But when there is a torrent of blood dividing the Church, then it is our supreme duty to be out of communion with the Judases who are handing over their brothers and their Master, in order that we may remain in the communion of the martyrs.
“ The greatest shame the Church has ever suffered is the fact that over the past ten years not one bishop has dared to undertake this saving action. ”50
“ LET HIM BE FOR YOU AS AN EXCOMMUNICATE ”
In this summer of 1975 Fr. de Nantes cried out loud and clear : “ John-Baptist Montini is now for us like the pagan and the publican (Mt 18.15-17), like one excommunicated. ”51 Thus he renewed the accusation that he had formulated for the first time in 1967, when he had written in his Letter to my friends n° 240 : “ Between the Pope and us, between this Council and us, there is a kind of permanent excommunication. ”52
Such an acknowledgement of a rupture of communion with Paul VI and with the reformist bishops was in no way a rupture with Christ and with His Holy Church. After the unworthy disavowal of Archbishop Lefebvre, Fr. de Nantes thought it would be very useful to demonstrate this truth again to his readers, which he did in his editorial of July 1975 entitled : “ Let him be for you as an excommunicate ”.
Straightaway, he makes a very telling comparison :
“ If, in a household, the husband imposes the presence of some strange woman on his wife, beats her, and is only interested in his illegitimate children… then she, whose husband is no more than a torturer and a mocker, has the right, according to the Gospel, to leave the home. This is called bodily separation. But for all that, she still has no right, whatever the cost to herself, to divorce and to take another husband, as though the first one no longer existed for her. Even though he is unfaithful and refuses to fulfil his duties and to exercise his role as a husband and a father, he nevertheless retains his title and his right, albeit in injustice.
“ Every contract entered into by human beings contains a set of reciprocal rights and duties of which the famous dialectic of Master and Slave is the barbarous caricature. In every human contract, each of the contracting parties is left the possibility of reappraising their commitment if the other party has unilaterally violated it or quite simply renounced it. Solutions vary according to the form and matter of the contract. Even the most sacred commitments allow for solutions of this kind, else they might become an inhuman slavery. Our hierarchy would be more honourable if it recognised this.
“ If we apply these quite general considerations to our contract of baptism and confirmation, whose twofold character is indelible, whose commitments are irrevocable and absolute, and if for many of us we add our religious vows, our priestly ordination, we must acknowledge that we are bound for ever and very closely to the Catholic Church, to the Sovereign Pontiff and to the bishops in communion with him, who have become our leaders and our pastors for always. Whence comes this terrible constraint that they can exercise over us, we who lack the option of exchanging them for others.
“ Bound to them for ever, we may never change them. To break this bond in order to discover somewhere a little peace and freedom, this would be schism, entailing spiritual death. We do not want that. They know this and they abuse the fact.
“ This is where we are faced with an alternative : either we enter into dishonourable and criminal complicity with this Pope, these bishops, these agitating and corrupting theologians, or else we embrace the equivalent of bodily separation, which in ecclesiastical terms is called excommunication. My husband always remains my husband, but I leave the marital home in order not to have to submit to his violence and his contempt, in order not to make myself an accomplice of his horrors, a companion who condones his debauchery. Pope Paul VI and the bishops of his reformist party are still our pastors, but we will never obey them if it means corrupting the innocence of children, dissolving Catholic belief and discipline and, worst of all, abandoning the world to communist brutality.
“ If there were a law court, a tribunal, to investigate this case, as there is in any other matter, – but the fact is that there is no longer such in the Church at this time, the High Judge being both judge and defendant in our dispute – then it would be necessary to determine to whose honour and advantage this excommunication redounds, and who is the one who is culpable and cut off from the Church of God. It would appear to be obvious and inevitable that the sacred communion should remain on the side of the Pope and the multitude of bishops, and that the one excommunicated is he who refuses to give them the kiss of peace and who rises up against their Magisterium. But the truth is not always what it seems, and obvious evidence can be deceptive. In these years in which we are living, do we not see an inversion of every value and the collapse of every principle ?
“ That the Pope is a driving force in the world Revolution and communist expansion, nothing is more certain. We oppose him, we and the Catholic martyrs. The line where communion is broken is once again a line of fire, an iron curtain and a torrent of blood. On the one side there are the Christians, on the other the apostates. Here we have the Camp of the Saints, over there the immense army of Satan and the traitors.
“ I say that charity is broken. In saying this, I am stating a fact of the spiritual and not of the legal order. For though it is true that the Church is constituted as a human society, she is also the Holy Mystical Body of Christ. Visibly governed by canonical rules, she is invisibly governed by the unique precept of charity. Of the Pope’s and the bishops’ canonical situation I am not the judge. Legally – according to a ‘ juridicism ’ which they affect to mock but which they take advantage of and abuse, a juridicism which we however respect – they are our Princes, our Doctors and Pastors. And so they will remain as long as no canonical action, establishing their heresy, schism and scandal, demotes and deposes them, or corrects and changes them.
“ But spiritually, according to the order of Charity, of ‘ pastoral theology ’ which they set such store by, of filial and fraternal communion, we no longer belong to them or are united with them, because they no longer belong to Christ and are against Him. We are in a permanent state of rebellion against their heretical thoughts, their schismatic desires, and their criminal decisions. We have warned them in secret and in public ; we have asked for justice, we have knocked on their doors and on their hearts. They have always rejected us, every one of them. In accordance with the very teaching of Our Lord and in order to remain faithful to His law, we must henceforth consider them as hardened public sinners. And ‘ let them be to you as the pagan and the publican ’, that is to say as ‘ excommunicates ’, notes the Jerusalem Bible !
“ We find such ruptures of communion, of varying degrees of severity, during times of crisis in the Church and, although Rome has usually had the advantage, it has sometimes happened that the insurgents were in the right against a hesitant or unfaithful Pope. Take the example of Saint Augustine and the 224 African bishops of the Council of Carthage who in 418 stood up to Pope Zosimus, a pope whoe was deceived rather than deceiving… But these divisions in charity were always brought to an end by the Authority of the Pope or of a Council. Never by hatred and contempt ! ”
The prince who governs us “ rages against us, his own children ”. In the meanwhile, once again, he gives a warm welcome to the Patriarch Nikodim, a top Bolshevik spy. “ According to the laws of the Church, this Nikodim is a schismatic ; according to the reality of his position, he is a Soviet official, an exterminator of the Church in the Ukraine, and a persecutor of Christians. The Pope will soon be shaking the bloody hand of Gromyko the Executioner for the fourth time ! I ask : is not Paul VI excommunicated by virtue of the decree of July 8, 1949 which excommunicates those who lend support to communism, a decree that was renewed on April 4, 1959 and again on April 13, 1966 ? I am not competent to decide on this. But the nausea I experience is sufficient to tell me that, if for him and his party we are the excommunicates, we the last defenders of the poor who are persecuted for the Name of Jesus Christ, then this Pope is outside of our communion and is an object of horror to the Angels and Saints. I say it to his face. And I wait in prayer and indignation for one bishop, just one, to break his communion with this communist Pope, this freemason Pope, this modernist Pope, thereby forcing him at last to open the trial for his own infamy. ”53
MAY 6, 1975 : THE WITHDRAWAL OF CANONICAL APPROBATION
FROM THE SAINT PIUS X FRATERNITY
After his disturbing conversations with the members of the commission of cardinals, Archbishop Lefebvre continued to keep his benefactors under a certain illusion. On July 16, 1975, he told them : “ In the midst of the trials that the Church undergoes today, our work continues on its path with God’s blessing, and even with a very favourable report by the visitors sent by Rome last November. ”54
Three weeks later, on May 6, the Bishop of Fribourg, Msgr. Mamie wrote to Archbishop Lefebvre to inform him that he was withdrawing the decree of erection of the Saint Pius X Fraternity, which therefore lost its canonical approbation ad experimentum. Furthermore, on that same 6 May, the three cardinals of the commission informed the traditionalist bishop that “ once the Fraternity was suppressed, ‘ it would have no legal basis, and its foundations, particularly the seminary at Ecône, would automatically lose their right to exist ’ ”55.
On May 15, in the Mutualité, Fr. de Nantes explained to his audience that if Archbishop Lefebvre entered into rebellion without openly declaring the dogmatic reasons for his refusal of the conciliar reforms, he would create “ a schism that was implicit and latent, but nevertheless very real. It is not legitimate for a bishop to suddenly refuse obedience and to maintain the existence of a seminary against the decision of the local bishop and against the will of the Roman authorities. ”
The three cardinals justified their decision against the foundation of Archbishop Lefebvre by accusing him of substituting his own authority for that of the Pope. “ It cannot be accepted ”, they wrote in their letter of May 6, “ that each should be invited to subordinate directives from the Pope to his own judgement, deciding whether to submit to them or to disregard them. ”55 The author of the editorial in the Osservatore Romano of May 8, 197556 will make a similar remark : “ To whom ultimately will they give their obedience, those who recognise themselves in this document [Archbishop Lefebvre’s ‘ profession of faith ’] ? Who will be the interpreter of that Tradition they base themselves on while continuing to suspect a priori the living Magisterium’s interpretation ? ”
Fr. de Nantes will observe that on this particular point the Roman authorities were correct : “ When Archbishop Lefebvre judges the Rome of today in the name of the Rome of always, he makes himself the sovereign judge of both the Rome of all times and the Rome of today ” by claiming to arbitrate in their presumed conflict.57
In his letter to his friends of May 22, he will deplore the “ sinister muddle in which people are lumped together with us or against us, regardless of our position ”. And he went on to explain : “ The idolising of the Pope, real or apparent, in other words sincere or hypocritical, is the cause of all this. One does nothing, one accepts everything or feigns to accept everything, because obedience to the Pope is ranked as the greatest of all virtues. That is to bind Paul VI to his maffia and to push him into following his demons instead of compelling him to distance himself from them, to oppose them, to fight them ! These fine tactics, this reverential indolence, this holy submission today paves the way for the seminary at Ecône to be wiped out with the stroke of a pen and, in its wake, all the other traditionalist congregations and religious houses. The reasoning is everywhere the same : your attachment to certain respectable traditions covers a rejection of the Acts of the Council and the wishes of Paul VI ! Well yes, of course ! There was no need to conceal this powerful artillery under so many neutral, reassuring and deceitful flags ! To do so would be like having one’s ship inspected and then scuttled before it even entered the battle ! ”58
After May 6, 1975, despite the uprooting of his Sacerdotal Fraternity, Archbishop Lefebvre continued to develop his foundations, all the while claiming that he was submissive, docile and attached to the Pope. On May 31, he wrote to him : “ Prostrate at the feet of Your Holiness, I assure You of my entire filial submission to the decisions that the commission of cardinals communicated to me regarding the Saint Pius X Fraternity and the Seminary ”59… On June 29,, in a typed letter signed by his own hand, Paul VI asked Archbishop Lefebvre for “ a public act of submission […]. Such an act necessarily implies, among other things, an acceptance of the measures taken with regard to the Sacerdotal Fraternity of Saint Pius X, along with all their practical consequences.60 In short, the Sovereign Pontiff was demanding the dissolution of the Fraternity.
Archbishop Lefebvre did not reply to this letter. Paul VI was astonished at his silence and wrote to him on 8 September : “ Each day We await from you some sign to indicate your submission – or better than that, your attachment and your fidelity – to the Vicar of Christ. Nothing as yet has arrived. It appears that you have not given up any of your activities and that you are even devising new projects. ”60 The Pope made it clear that a refusal to obey would be punished. Several days later, in a formal act of rebellion, Archbishop Lefebvre reopened the doors of the seminary at Ecône. It was the start of term ! Then, on September 24, he replied to Paul VI : “ I hasten to write a few lines to Your Holiness to express my unreserved attachment to the Holy See and to the Vicar of Christ ”…60
When this correspondence was made public several months later, Fr. de Nantes was concerned to note that Archbishop Lefebvre had not sent the Pope any reply at the beginning of the summer, after having received his letter of June 29. Paul VI was urging him to accept the reforms of Vatican II with such questionable arguments that it would have been easy to reply in a decisive manner and thus give a magnificent start to a doctrinal combat of the Counter-Reformation !
POPE PAUL VI DARES TO WRITE :
“ VATICAN II HAS NO LESS AUTHORITY THAN THE COUNCIL OF NICAEA. ”
For his part, in reply to the Pope’s letter, Fr. de Nantes published an editorial entitled : “ Paul VI lies ”.
“ This is not an insult ”, he stated right away. “ It is a statement of fact. Pope Paul VI lies, without in any way deceiving himself, with the intention of deceiving the world or rather of consolidating the lie upon which the whole Reform of the Church rests, over which he presides with sovereign power. The Pope’s lie is to be found in his letter of June 29, 1975 to Archbishop Lefebvre.
“ Paul VI affects to see in Archbishop Lefebvre’s opposition nothing but a disturbing revolt. He compares it with the indiscipline of the other side, which he says is also a major concern to him. In this way he appears as the man of the happy mean, outflanked on both wings. ” Then, “ wishing to convince the founder of the Fraternity of St Pius X that he has put himself and his ‘ young men ’ in an ‘ impasse ’, Paul VI continues : ‘ What meaning has a member who wishes to act alone, independently of the Body to which he belongs ? ’ This idea, this image, of one man alone against all, carries the Pope yet further. Indeed, too far…
“ ‘ You allow the case of St Athanasius to be invoked in your favour. It is true that this great bishop remained practically alone in his defence of the true faith and that he was assailed by contradictions on all sides. But, as a matter of fact, the issue here was the defence of the faith as recently defined at the Council of Nicaea. The Council was the norm which inspired his fidelity, as was also the case with St Ambrose. ’
“ Every time that an appeal is made to the history of the Church, the Truth pierces the gloom and right reason triumphs. Paul VI has just referred to the example of St Athanasius, but St Athanasius will be his undoing ! For this Patriarch of Alexandria, like his great emulator St Hilary of Poitiers, was almost alone in preserving intact his fidelity to the dogma of the Council of Nicaea (325) at the turn of the year 358-359… just when Pope Liberius was abandoning it and the defence of the true faith. It was then that an enormous double Council (a pastoral one !) was held, that of Rimini and Seleucia, which betrayed the faith by unanimously going over to the specious, liberal formulas of a semi-heretical compromise ! One has only to invoke St Athanasius and St Hilary, who stood alone against all, as well as St Basil of Cappadocia, a simple lector who broke communion with his bishop, and the imagination leaps ahead of the thought, linking the name of Paul VI with that of Liberius (‘ the Defectors ’), and the Rimini-Seleucia Council with that of Vatican II. The parallel is striking.
“ But there was one shameful act that Pope Liberius did not commit, that of justifying his abandonment of Athanasius and his own vacillation over dogma by proclaiming the recent Council of Rimini-Seleucia and its poisonous formulas to be equal in authority and superior in importance to the Council of Nicaea and its immortal Credo ! That is something which Liberius did not stoop to.
“ But it this shameful act, this indignity, which Paul VI is brazen enough to commit, as he attempts to destroy once and for all any counter-reformist opposition. Caught in the necessity of escaping from the trap in which he has ensnared himself, he exclaims : ‘ How could anyone today compare himself to Saint Athanasius whilst daring to combat a Council like the Second Vatican Council, which has no less authority – which is even, under certain aspects, more important still – than that of Nicaea ? ’
“ There is the lie, clear and undeniable. If it were established and certain that the Acts of Vatican II had the same absolute, incontestable and infallible authority as the dogma of the consubstantiality of the divine Persons, which is the essence of the Creed of Nicaea for which Saint Athanasius fought alone against all – and I leave aside the other proposition whose imprecise language cancels its force, for what can ‘ more important… under certain aspects’ mean ? – then the question would be settled : whoever opposes the faith of Nicaea ipso facto rejects the Christian faith and is excommunicated ; and likewise, we who have rejected the Acts of Vatican II since their promulgation as being stained with heresy, ambiguous and pernicious, would find ourselves ipso facto cut off from the Church… In which case it would be astonishing that the Pope should have waited ten years before notifying us of this fact. But he merely mentions it in passing, in an exclamatory way, in a private letter lacking any doctrinal authority. On the other hand, we, from the very first day, have declared and published the contrary and have even testified to it, without refutation, before the tribunal of the Holy Office in May 1968. No, this Council is not infallible. Its Acts have no dogmatic authority, and their novelty debars them from being imposed on the consciences of the faithful in opposition to the Church’s Tradition ! It would benefit the whole Church if, relinquishing his deferential submission, Archbishop Lefebvre were to formulate the same refusal and to denounce the Pope’s lie – a lie from which the Church is dying.
“ For the effect of this universal lie is disastrous. No one knows what Vatican II means. It is everything and nothing, a mixture of the traditional and the novel, the certain and the doubtful, the true and the false, the best being used to endorse the worst. To treat all this as equal to the Credo of Nicaea is to decerebrate the Church, to make the faith rot by giving it a confused and unintelligible object, one that defies analysis and resists any definition. That is what they wanted. They did this to bend the world to their arbitrary decisions and to bring it into line with the caprice of their new religion…
“ So, this Pope, who kisses the feet of a schismatic, who offers a chalice to a heretic, who receives the freemason… with no questions asked, this Pope who embraces everyone except genuine Catholics, whom he accuses of heresy, is he not worse than Liberius ? Is he not propping up a Council worse than those of Rimini and Seleucia ? Most definitely.
“ May God therefore remove this Liar from our midst. ”61
THE BAD BREAK
To justify his rebellion, Archbishop Lefebvre distinguished between two opposing Churches. Let us listen to him presenting to his benefactors, on September 3, the “ agonising dilemma ” he said he was confronting : “ One has either to accept the reformed and liberal Church, or to maintain one’s allegiance to the Catholic Church […]. This house [Ecône] has resolutely chosen the option of belonging to the Church of all times and refuses to belong to the reformed and liberal Church […]. The greatest service we can render to the Catholic Church, to the Successor of Peter, and to the salvation of souls including our own, is to reject the liberal reformed Church, for we believe in Our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, who is neither liberal nor reformable. ”62 He concluded his letter by stating in particular that : “ It is therefore necessary that we save the true Church… ”62 This view contradicted word for word the warning that Fr. de Nantes had frequently addressed to the members of his League : “ It is not we who will save the Church. It is the Church who will save herself, when her pastors once again fulfil the duties of their office. ”63
In a postscript, Archbishop Lefebvre gave news of his work and of the foundations being realised in different countries, for example in England, where the Fraternity had purchased, he said, “ a much larger house for the four priests who dispense true doctrine, the true Sacrifice and the true sacraments ”. As Fr. de Nantes will remark, all this was being realised “ apparently without any liaison with the hierarchy or the clergy of the local Church ”64.
In October 1975, the episcopal conferences of the entire world were informed by Cardinal Villot, Secretary of State, that Archbishop Lefebvre’s foundations had lost their right to exist : “ It is now therefore clear ”, stated the Cardinal, “ that the Sacerdotal Fraternity of Saint Pius X has ceased to exist, that a fortiori those who take their directions from it can no longer claim to escape the jurisdiction of the diocesan ordinaries, and finally that these same ordinaries are earnestly invited not to incardinate in their dioceses any young men who would declare themselves to be engaged in the service of the Fraternity. ”65
Now, at this very moment, Archbishop Lefebvre was proclaiming : “ No, there is no real conflict with the Pope. Paul VI is not hostile to the Saint Pius X Fraternity. It is the bishops of France, the members of the French coterie in the Vatican, the prelates close to the Pope like Msgr. Benelli and Msgr. Villot, who wish to destroy the seminary at Ecône. ” Or again : “ My seminary is the clearest expression of an attitude of obedience towards the Pope, Successor of Peter and Vicar of Jesus Christ. ” And he went on to claim that Paul VI had been misinformed on this matter by Cardinal Villot : “ There is a screen placed between the Sovereign Pontiff and me. ”66 An assertion which will be rejected by the Pope himself in an autograph to Cardinal Villot published on February 22 by “ Le nouvelliste de Fribourg ”.
The conflict hardened and got worse, as Paul VI was implacable – he was, to use his mother’s own words, uno uometto di fero, a little man of iron. In June 1976 he expressly forbade Archbishop Lefebvre from performing further ordinations. The latter, unperturbed, renewed his submission to the Pope, his full communion of thought and faith :
“ Your Holiness has known me since 1948 and knows perfectly well the faith I profess, which is that of his ‘ Credo ’, and is also aware of my profound submission to the Successor of Peter, which I renew in the hands of Your Holiness.
“ The turmoil and confusion spread throughout the Church over these last few years, which Your Holiness denounced in his speech at the last Consistory, are precisely the reason for the grave reservations we have about a perilous adaptation of the Church to the modern world.
“ But I am privately persuaded of being in full communion of thought and faith with Your Holiness. ”67
And the bishop ended his letter with a plea to the Holy Father to “ permit a dialogue ” with the cardinals, stating that he had no doubt that “ the difficulties ” would then be ironed out.
On June 25, Msgr. Benelli, the Secretary of State’s substitute, wrote to Archbishop Lefebvre to confirm on behalf of the Pope the measure ordered in his name by mandato speciali : “ You are to abstain forthwith from conferring any ordinations. ” He went on to remind him that in case of transgression, the newly ordained would be ipso facto suspended from the order received (can. 2374) and would be exposed to irregularity (can. 985, 7°), whilst the ordinant would be suspended from conferring orders for the duration of one year (can. 2373, 1° and 3°).
Notwithstanding this interdict, on June 29 Archbishop Lefebvre conferred ordination on fifteen priests at Ecône – ordinations that were certainly valid, but illicit. Archbishop Lefebvre then received a monition from the Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops. On July 22, the sanction fell : the founder of the seminary at Ecône was struck with suspens a divinis.
In this summer of 1976, the rebel bishop clearly benefited from the support of a substantial movement of opinion. Reactionary Catholics, exasperated by the homilies of the progressivist clergy, sickened by the liturgical disorders, and alarmed by the fall in vocations68, could not understand the intransigence and hard-heartedness of the Pope towards a bishop who had founded a flourishing traditionalist seminary.
It was in these circumstances, at a time when Archbishop Lefebvre was becoming, in the eyes of many of the faithful, the figurehead of resistance to the auto-demolition of the Church, that Fr. de Nantes stood out against this movement of opinion, motivated as he was by a horror of schism, the most serious of sins because it runs counter to charity69. In July and August he published two editorials entitled “ Voilà bien la gâchis ! ” (What a mess !) and “ La mauvaise cassure ” (The bad break), in which he retraced the history of the Sacerdotal Fraternity of Saint Pius X and emphasised the deplorable errors of its founder70. The theologian of the Catholic Counter-Reformation warned his friends and readers that it was henceforth “ not only useless, but in fact reprehensible ” to support Archbishop Lefebvre’s foundations. Admittedly, he said, Archbishop Lefebvre may still “ come to consider things more wisely, and each of his priests and individual followers also. But his work is for ever compromised. It has no future except outside the Church and against the Church. ”
THE UNIQUE AND ETERNAL CHURCH
To defend and justify his foundation, Archbishop Lefebvre went so far – let us recall – as to distinguish two Churches : “ The reformed and liberal Church ” and “ the Church of all times ”. Consequently Fr. de Nantes published a very firm Profession of faith in the one and eternal Church :
“ The Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. I believe this on the Word of God with an absolute certainty for life, as though I were seeing the invisible through a dark night. To speak and act to the contrary, or even to desire that things should be otherwise, would constitute an offence on our part, a sin against the Church and therefore against Christ-God, for he who wounds the Bride wounds the Bridegroom with the same blow. No excuse of friendship or self-interest can permit this.
“ It is contrary to the Catholic Faith, insulting to the Word of God and taking His Promises as vain, to declare : ‘ There are two Churches ’. Where do you see two Churches ? Here we have the Church of Rome, the historical, hierarchical, visible Church spread throughout the earth, and there… ? what ? Should anything claim to be or be shown to be the Other Church, it would be a new, private and therefore false Church, as Saint Augustine had already demonstrated to the Donatists.
For the Donatists of today, the malice of saying that there are two Churches is only a specious, transitory way of assuring the passage from the old universal Church to the new private one, which, we are told, is also the true and faithful Church, one day to be definitively proclaimed as the only Church that remains, the only one that is faithful and holy, since the Church of Rome will no longer count for anything.
“ That is a fine work of schism, which the Modernists have always been very careful not to commit, preferring instead to besiege, invade, dominate and then possess completely for themselves the Unique and Eternal Roman Church, without ever breaking with her or consenting to leave her or live apart from her ! He who leaves testifies to the littleness of his faith, and in his solitude he will perish.
“ What I have been tirelessly repeating for twenty years now – with a kind of foresight which is clearly attested by texts that continue to be re-published without change and retaining their original date – is that for almost a century a great apocalyptic combat has been going on : Two religions are fighting within the one Church, disputing for the minds and hearts of clerics in order to climb the hierarchical ladder and attain the supreme power of Council, Conclave and finally Papacy, and so spread unimpeded throughout the entirety of the faithful. On the one side there is the religion of Antichrist with its cult of Man, and on the other there is our Christian religion with its cult of God alone. The ancient and perfect revealed religion is grappling with the new religion invented by men, which bears a blasphemous resemblance to the old. But – and this is the fundamental doctrine of our League of the Catholic Counter-Reformation – we know that this cancer gnawing at the cells and today attacking the vital organs of the great Catholic Body will not prevail. We know that the organism will struggle, and that its uncreated Soul, the Holy Spirit, and its created soul, the divine hierarchy, will breathe such energy and such vitality into it that, no matter how great the damage may be for individuals (alas !), no matter how appalling the great Apostasy of the Princes and Priests of the Church, the modernist-progressivist cancer will finally be reduced, vanquished and excised. The Church will once again live resplendent in purity, sanctified in her Head and fortified in her members, on that so ardently desired day of the Church’s peace. ”71
IN THE DISCIPLINARY CONFLICT
AND THE LITURG ICAL DEBATE THE POPE COMES OUT ON TOP
The whole drama of Ecône stemmed from the plan conceived by Archbishop Lefebvre of instituting a “ Church that was unofficial, discreet, humble, silent, a faithful Church that would maintain Tradition through the traditions which are its ordinary vehicle ”. Such a project corresponded to the wishes of the refractory integrists who, simultaneously with the erection of the seminary at Ecône, created in the early 70’s “ religious Associations that were managed in an autonomous way, often by the laity themselves, for the purpose of praying and living in peace, apart from the official Church, in the true faith and according to the true unchangeable worship, thanks to true and proven priests untarnished by any compromise.
“ The process of two parallel, concurrent, irreconcilable Churches was launched under the transparent fiction of submission to the Pope and of love and veneration for his person, said to be the prisoner of his entourage or of his own character. Passion accelerated the process. In order to stress the utility and even the vital necessity of this parallel Church, the distrust felt by the faithful towards the New Mass was played up; the new rite was declared to be dubious, insulting to God, and sacrilegious ; in fact, no occasion was lost to declare it necessarily invalid and therefore idolatrous. The same was said of the new Confirmation rite, declared to be invalid whenever olive oil was not employed as its matter or whenever the new formula imposed by Rome was used, a formula judged insufficient for determining the sacrament. And so, step by step, life appeared to have withdrawn from the official postconciliar Church and to have concentrated itself in this Church of the Catacombs, of the nonjurors, this other Church !
“ As Archbishop Lefebvre went from town to town, from Australia to Canada, publicising his work and encouraging the faithful, he would be asked for the Sacraments. It is then that – heedless of the Church’s sacred canons which he was violating, albeit with a calm conscience – he began everywhere to act like a bishop, without anyone’s authorisation. Not only did he confirm children, but he re-confirmed them if their parents had doubts about the validity of their original Confirmation ! He made no secret of this. It was to satisfy the needs of souls – the supreme law ! ”72
Let us listen to Archbishop Lefebvre preaching in the Wagram hall in Paris on October 4, 1975 :
“ How can one hesitate between a Mass which is a true sacrifice and a Mass which, when all is said and done, is a protestant service, a meal, a communion, a Eucharist, a supper as Luther had called it ? How can one hesitate over the Sacraments that one receives ? That is what I replied to Cardinal Marty when he reproached me for coming to give the Sacrament of Confirmation to your children. I said to him : ‘ Parents have the right to know with certainty that their children are really receiving the grace of the Sacrament of Confirmation ; they have a right to this. ’ Now, at the present time, the manner in which the Sacrament of Confirmation is conferred can give rise to genuine doubts about its validity. ”73
Archbishop Lefebvre handed over to the faithful the job of deciding, according to their impressions, on the validity of formulas and the correctness of the intentions of celebrants74. This was not without its consequences. Such “ a general suspicion ”, will write Fr. de Nantes, “ has been felt by the clergy of the entire world to be an affront and, more seriously, to be an attack on the legitimacy of the organised hierarchical institution of the visible Church and on her daily, universally distributed Sacraments ”.75
Let us continue our reading of the editorials from the summer of 1976.
“ When Archbishop Lefebvre began to ordain numbers of priests and deacons, basing himself on his obedience alone, Rome decided to close Ecône and to eradicate his work. Since everything had apparently been done in sincere submission to the Pope, in obedience and with the necessary authorisations, Paul VI withdrew these authorisations and ordered that everything be instantly dismantled in the name of obedience !
“ The required permission had been granted and had been gratefully received. So, when it was withdrawn, how was it possible not to comply ? And what reason could there be for disregarding the interdicts, the sanctions, and general prescriptions of canon law, thereby mounting up the irregularities and becoming irretrievably ensconced in schism ?
“ Archbishop Lefebvre is now preparing to place the newly ordained priests of June 29 in houses bought in various parts of France and the world. ” Thus he will open priories and send priests there without any mandate or power from either the local hierarchy or Rome. He claims to confer on them “ the necessary powers… He does this, so he says, in submission to the Pope, in fidelity to the Church of all time, but in opposition to ecclesiastical discipline which has been rendered void by the universal apostasy… in partibus infidelium !76
“ To justify his passive resistance to orders received and his indifference to the sanctions brought against him and his followers, Archbishop Lefebvre invokes the necessity of maintaining a task without equal, that of forming true priests to celebrate the true Mass. The Pope, he says, cannot be opposed to this. So the disciplinary conflict turns into a liturgical debate. And it appears that the Pope is not reluctant to follow Archbishop Lefebvre onto this new terrain. ”
When the rebel bishop “ declares that, through him and his young seminarians, it is the Priesthood of all time and the Mass of all time that are being targeted for extinction, he is sure of being heard by the traditionalist multitude, not only by the elites but by the masses who are sickened by the present day anarchy ”.
Now, “ the heartrending speeches of Archbishop Lefebvre do not incommode the Pope. He foresees that in the eyes of all the Catholics in the world, except for a handful of aberrant spirits, there can only be one single Priesthood, of which the priests of Ecône form but a tiny part, and only one single Mass, be it old or new, Latin or Eastern, and only one single Church, of which our small traditionalist chapels constitute but a negligible fringe. ”
When Archbishop Lefebvre has fully deployed his liturgical argument to justify his rebellion, “ then the whole Church will understand that such a view of ecclesiastical institutions is false and heretical. It will be conceded that there have been defects, excesses and disorders in the Reform of the rites. But everyone will find themselves in agreement that the Church, the Priesthood and the Mass have not been lost and that they continue to exist outside the preserve of those proud souls who consider themselves to be their only depositaries, the last of the faithful, the sole saviours.
“ What an absurdity, what a muddle, what a drama ! It could not be worse. To be right about the essential issue and to have a serious advantage in those that are secondary, but then to put oneself in the wrong, to throw oneself into heresy, to separate oneself from the one Church of Jesus Christ !
“ In any disciplinary conflict and liturgical debate, the Pope and the conciliar bishops will always emerge victorious. So true is this that they are already saying that they are ready to welcome Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers with open arms when he finally decides to submit to the canonical sanctions incurred and to retract his errors in liturgical matters, before finally embracing the Reform with no reservations ! You would be right in thinking that in their position as delinquents, it would be out of place for them to engage in any further controversy and to accuse Paul VI and his Council of heresy and schism ! The mere mention of such grave charges would now be met with pitying smiles, even though they are far more serious than the previous accusations and have not as yet been discussed. Such charges would now have the unfortunate appearance of serving as new pretexts, new evasion tactics for continuing the rebellion.
“ In his speeches Archbishop Lefebvre is even now adding weight to his criticisms of the Conciliar Church by using dogmatic arguments. At long last he is making known the major and long-lasting reasons for his opposition to the Council and to the errors introduced into it, from whence they spread and were finally imposed by the implacable will of one man alone, Pope Paul VI. The arguments which now come spontaneously to Archbishop Lefebvre’s lips are his and they are also ours ; they represent our great combat during the years of the Council, 1962-1965; they make up the whole of our Libellus !
“ Rome remains obstinately silent on the matter. With plenty to say about canon law and very sure of herself when it comes to liturgical rites, she nevertheless remains mute when confronted with dogmatic accusations. This is a matter on which she knows she is guilty, absolutely speaking : guilty not before men or the masses or the modern World, but before God. She counts on the Power of this World, the Prince of this World, to stifle those voices which accuse her of infamy.
“ The misfortune is that in such a situation, having arrived at this point of rupture with the whole Church, what would previously have been legitimate for Archbishop Lefebvre and still is so for us, namely the quite feasible and unanswerable accusation of heresy directed against the men of the Church, be they theologians, bishops or the Pope, becomes today in his mouth an accusation of heresy, schism and infamy against the Church herself, the present day universal Church of Rome in her very Body ! And that is folly !
“ And since such an eventuality is inconceivable, and even to envisage it is already a sin against the faith, such an impossibility has a counter-productive effect on the matter of the accusation, making it unacceptable and ridiculous in the eyes of all. Coming from schismatics, it will not even be examined, and its rejection will only lead the Church to adhere more blindly and resolutely to the heresies and schisms of her Head.
“ It is the Head which one should strike at – as David struck Goliath with the three precious stones of Faith, Hope and Charity – instead of becoming embroiled in discussions on variable rites or disciplinary decrees. He fought his battle and he lost. Deprived of his best weapon, he is now in the Enemy’s hands. Let us hope that Israel’s next hero will make better use of his weapons and be victorious over the arrogant Philistine who challenges the Church of God. ”77
ARCHBISHOP LEFEBVRE’S WAY OUT :
“ PAUL VI IS A LIBERAL. ”
On October 11, 1976, one month after he had received him in an audience, Paul VI wrote a long heartfelt letter to Archbishop Lefebvre. With remarkable dignity, the Pope addressed a pressing admonition to the dissident bishop. He imputed to the unhappy prelate “ an ecclesiology that was false on certain essential points ” and he reproached him for “ acts of deliberate rebellion against the true Church of God ”.
“ What is actually at stake here ”, he said to the bishop, “ is the question, which must be regarded as fundamental, of your clearly proclaimed refusal to recognise, in its totality, the authority of the Second Vatican Council and that of the Pope, a refusal which is accompanied by a deliberate effort to organise and propagate what must, alas, be called a rebellion. That is the essential point, and it is absolutely intolerable […]. A solitary bishop without a canonical mission does not have, in actu expedito ad agendum, the faculty of making general decisions about the rule of faith and of determining the nature of Tradition. ”78
Thus Paul VI passed from the question of discipline to the domain of dogma, and the proceedings he was instituting against Archbishop Lefebvre started to focus on the latter’s rejection of the new conciliar religion.
Fr. de Nantes will inform his audience at the Mutualité that this letter contained “ an unsettling theological demonstration and assertions of an exceptional gravity ”79. Here is what Paul VI stated :
“ Not one of the things decreed by the Second Vatican Council or in the reforms decided on by Us to put them into effect, is opposed to anything fundamental or unchangeable in the bimillenary Tradition of the Church. We vouch for this not by virtue of any personal qualities of Ours, but by virtue of the office that Our Lord has conferred on Us as the legitimate successor of Peter and of the special assistance that He has promised to Us as He did to Peter : ‘ I have prayed for you that your faith fail not ’ (Lk 22.32). In company with Us the universal episcopate also vouches for this.
“ You may no longer invoke the distinction between the dogmatic and the pastoral to justify your accepting certain texts of this Council and rejecting others. Admittedly, everything stated by the Council does not call for an assent of the same kind : only what is affirmed through ‘ definitive ’ acts as an object of faith or linked to the faith, requires the assent of faith. But the rest also forms part of the solemn magisterium of the Church, and it should be confidently accepted and put into sincere practice by every one of the faithful.
“ Nevertheless, in conscience, you say, you do not always see how certain texts of the Council or certain arrangements we have made to apply them can be reconciled with the sound tradition of the Church and in particular with the Council of Trent or the statements made by Our predecessors, for example, concerning the responsibility of the college of bishops united to the Sovereign Pontiff, the new ‘ Ordo Missae ’, ecumenism, religious liberty, the attitude to dialogue, evangelisation in the modern world… This is not the place, in a letter such as this, to take up each of these problems. The precise significance of the documents, along with the totality of their nuances and the context in which they are set, as well as authoritative explanations and thoroughly researched and objective commentaries, should enable you to overcome these personal perplexities. Counsellors who are absolutely reliable, both theologians and spiritual advisers, could help you further, in the light of God, and We are ready to make this fraternal assistance available to you. But how could such a private personal difficulty – a spiritual drama which We respect – allow you to publicly set yourself up as the judge of what has been legitimately and practically adopted on a unanimous basis, and to knowingly lead a group of the faithful astray in your rejection ? […]
“ Ultimately you intend, you and those who follow you, to halt at a particular moment in the Church’s life. You refuse, by this very fact, to adhere to the living Church which is the Church of all times. You break with her legitimate pastors and you despise the legitimate exercise of their office. ”80
However, Archbishop Lefebvre was obliged to give the priests of his Fraternity and the seminarians of Ecône some explanations about his attitude. It was incumbent on him to justify his formal disobedience to Paul VI.
How then would he exculpate himself ? Was he officially going to sink into sedevacantism ? For by claiming that Paul VI and the bishops had fallen from office, he would have adopted a very clear-cut position, in perfect accord with his practical conduct towards the whole of the Catholic hierarchy83.
Well, let us take the opportunity to read the judgements and recommendations he communicated in writing to his seminarians at Ecône, on February 24, 1977, in answer to the following question : “ What should our attitude be towards Pope Paul VI ? ”
“ This attitude will vary according to the manner in which one defines Pope Paul VI, for our attitude towards the Pope, as Pope and successor of Peter, cannot change.
“ Ultimately then the question is : is it true that Pope Paul VI has ever been or is still the successor of Peter ? If the response is negative (Pope Paul VI has never been or is no longer the pope), our position will be that of the ‘ sede vacante ’ periods, and this would simplify the problem. Certain theologians make this claim, basing themselves on the statements of theologians of times past, statements which have been accepted by the Church. They studied the problem of a Pope who was heretical or schismatic or who practically abandoned his office as supreme Pastor.
“ It is not impossible that this hypothesis will one day be confirmed by the Church. For it has many serious arguments in its favour. Numerous indeed are the acts of Paul VI which, if carried out by a bishop or theologian twenty years ago, would have been condemned as suspect of heresy, favouring heresy. Faced with the fact that it is the very one sitting on the throne of Peter who accomplishes these acts, the Catholic world, what there is still left of it, feels stupefied and prevented from acting. It prefers to keep quiet rather than to condemn, and it prefers to watch the destruction of the Church rather than to oppose it, contenting itself with waiting for better days.
“ However, the question remains : to what extent is the Pope truly responsible for these acts favouring heresy ? Some reply that he is not responsible at all, that he is drugged, imprisoned, etc. Such a reply appears inadmissible. The Pope seems to be in full possession of his faculties and very conscious of his firm desire to promote the Council and the reforms that stem from it.
“ In addition to the two hypotheses of a heretical Pope who is therefore no longer the Pope and of a Pope no longer in control, incapable of fulfilling his role because of the tyranny exercised by his entourage, is there not another response which, although more complex, is perhaps more realistic : that of Paul VI, a liberal, and that to a profound degree. His liberalism has its roots in Luther, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Lammenais, and some of the influential figures he was acquainted with : Marc Sangnier, Fogazzaro, the ‘ bad Maritain ’, Teilhard de Chardin, La Pira, etc.
“ Steeped in liberalism – which is intellectual incoherence, practical incoherence, as Cardinal Billot defines it – he personifies a Catholic or Catholicising theory and a practice based on the false principles of liberalism and of the modern world, principles with which the Church’s enemies are imbued : Protestants, masons, Marxists ; principles derived from that Hegelian, subjectivist, idealist and evolutionist philosophy which lies at the base of of democracy and false individual liberty, all of which is propped up by the mirage of progress, change, the dignity of the human person, etc.
“ This fundamental incoherence gives the liberal two faces, a double personality, a constant duality which provokes auto-destruction.
“ One might say that there is no worse evil than that of having a convinced liberal on the Throne of Peter. That is why the Church’s enemies rejoice. They manifest their joy quite openly. That is also why any reaction from the Catholic faithful is inhibited, due to the apparently traditional face of the Pope.
“ He is a second Lamennais, tortured, disturbed, capable of both great sentimentalism and cruel reactions.
“ It seems to me that this response corresponds better with the history of liberalism and with that of Paul VI himself. It offers a better explanation of all that he has done and continues to do. It helps us to understand the Vatican Council and the postconciliar period. It casts a sombe light on the Vatican and its agents who act in the same ways as the true liberals of the last two centuries.
“ Our conclusion in this matter is as follows : we are with Paul VI as the successor of Peter, fulfilling his role ; but we refuse to follow Paul VI as the successor of Luther, Rousseau and Lammenais, etc.
” It is the official and perpetual Magisterium of the Church which allows us to discern when Paul VI is acting in one manner or the other.
“ We regard as vain all the efforts, all the acts, and all the trouble taken to oblige us to follow Paul VI the liberal and the destroyer of our faith. On the other hand, we accept all those acts which tend to sustain our Catholic faith, for in the Church, in accordance with her Founder’s will and the Church’s very own nature, everything is ordained to the faith, the pledge of eternal life. All her powers, all her laws are ordained to this end. To use these powers and these laws for the ruin of the faith and of the Church’s institutions is an evident abuse of power and an act of open disobedience against Our Lord. To collaborate in this ruin by submitting to an immoral command is to contribute to the disobedience to Our Lord.
“ If it appeared impossible, as the progressivists and those who follow Paul VI with their eyes closed claim, that Pope Paul VI could be the true Pope and yet at the same time favour heresy, and if, consequently, itappeared contrary to the promises of Our Lord Jesus Christ that a Pope could be profoundly liberal, then one would have to subscribe to the first hypothesis. But this does not seem to be at all evident. It was Cardinal Danielou who said in his last work to appear on this subject that Pope Paul VI is a liberal.
“ At any rate, we must pray for the Pope that he may faithfully preserve the deposit of faith confided to his care. ”84
Thus it was that Archbishop Lefebvre haughtily disdained all the studies, demonstrations and conclusions that Fr. de Nantes had published, initially in his Letters to my friends and then in the Catholic Counter-Reformation, on the subject of a heretical Pope and on the personality of Paul VI. The unhappy bishop considered every stance possible in the current circumstances, except the one proposed and practised by Fr. de Nantes since 196585, namely an appeal to the extraordinary magisterium of the Pope – that is to say, to his solemn ex cathedra magisterium, infallibly assisted by the Holy Spirit – in order that the Sovereign Pontiff settle outstanding questions on faith and morals by dogmatic or moral sentences backed up with anathemas86.
With his thesis of “ Paul VI the liberal ”87, Archbishop Lefebvre had found a way out, allowing him to emancipate himself from the sovereign authority of the Pope without professing sedevacantism. His resolution to obey or disobey the Pope as he saw fit, his decision to make his own judgement, without any appeal, about which of Paul VI’s teachings were in harmony with “ the Church’s official and perpetual magisterium ” and which were contrary to it, would allow him to maintain his foundations and continue his activities “ without any further examination of his faith and his works, and without the direction of any authority ”88.
When one reads Archbishop Lefebvre’s reply, it appears that he was adopting a clearly schismatic position by constituting himself the sovereign and supreme authority, when all the time there was a wise and supernatural solution to the crisis occasioned by the uncertain and questionable nature of Paul VI’s faith. Fr. de Nantes had in fact reminded his readers of this several months beforehand, during the summer of 1976, when he had refuted the worthless arguments advanced by the sedevacantists. In an article entitled “ The legitimacy of Paul VI ”, he referred to the pertinent remarks of Fr. des Graviers concerning the bull of Paul IV, Cum ex apostolatus, dated 1559. He continued : “ Fr. des Graviers very opportunely recalls that, since the constitution Providentissima of Benedict XV and the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law in 1917, a person may only be regarded as heretical if, after having professed some error contrary to the Catholic faith, he has been the object of a canonical monition and has refused to retract and abjure his error in the stated period. Such is the ‘ formal heretic ’, the one who is ‘ obstinate ’.
“ It follows that, whatever Cardinal Montini may have said or done – and the author shows too cautious a reserve regarding this chapter of his life – no one can accuse him of heresy in the canonical sense of the word.
“ Fr. des Graviers’ demonstration corresponds to what we have continually stated and written over the last twelve years against the two opposing ‘ papist ’ parties, one of which is unconditionally submissive to the Paul VI and the other of which no longer wants to recognise him as Pope.
“ However, his argument contains a certain deficiency, and I must draw attention to it, as it would seem to be detrimental to the Church. The fact is that I never claimed to bring a canonical monition against Paul VI when I took to Rome our Liber accusationis summarising the heresies, schisms and effective scandals of his pontificate. Nor did I claim to set myself up as his judge, as some have fallaciously stated. However, I did accuse him. By doing this, I wished to provoke a canonical process – even if it were one in which I would be accused of unjustly accusing Paul VI – in order that the light of an infallible dogmatic judgement might be cast on such grave debates. I thought and continue to think that this was necessary, and that it is still necessary, in order that the Church of Rome and the Roman clergy, who more than any other are invested with the right and duty of remonstrance, should be shaken out of their laziness, their cowardice and an inertia which borders on complicity.
“ Notice that I say : remonstrance. Should one not go further and say : canonical monition ? Is there really no authority that can and should bring a monition against the Pope, obliging him by force of law, not of course to condemn himself and to retract, but at least to sovereignly judge himself ? Let us put this question to Fr. des Graviers. A Pope, he notes, can condemn the errors of one of his predecessors. But he can do much more ; he can condemn this predecessor himself, in person. For example, Leo II confirmed the anathema of the Sixth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 681 against Pope Honorius… Would this anathema have been justified, if the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Saint Sophronius, had not in his own lifetime remonstrated with Honorius and warned him that he had to remain faithful to Tradition and to condemm heresy ? Was it not Honorius’ refusal to listen to Saint Sophronius that constituted the crime of heresy which, forty years later, was to justify the anathema brought against him ? (see the Letter to my Friends, no 188, November 12, 1964)
“ Such at least is my opinion, and it is this conviction that governs all our actions against Paul VI, a Pope who abuses his office. For we cannot accept that there is nothing one can do against an effectively heretical Pope except to fold one’s arms and to pray for him, whilst simply waiting for him to die and letting the whole Church flounder in mortal error with him… If that were so, then in condemning his error some while after his death, the Church would logically be condemning herself for not having noticed and rejected the error at the time ! Admonishment, remonstrance, and the canonical monition, these alone, brought against the Pope by the appropriate authority, can save the dogma of the perpetual infallibility of the Roman Catholic Church.
“ In conclusion, we should hold it as certain that Paul VI is the legitimate Pope, even if he utters and commits many faults of heresy and schism. But it seems to me no less certain that the Church has the duty to resist him to his face, to remonstrate with him and to urge the College of Cardinals to bring a monition against him. By this, I refer to a formal obligation to judge himself sovereignly, whether this leads to him justifying himself or to him condemning himself, and then either resigning from office or making amends by confessing his error. Therefore, our accusation against Paul VI stands firm, ever more insistently demanding a Judgement from him. ”89
Right up to the end of Paul VI’s papacy, Archbishop Lefebvre will remain deaf to Fr. de Nantes’ appeals. Then, ten years after the death of Paul VI, he will have the effrontery to write :
“ It is evident that one day the Church will have to judge the Council and these Popes [John XXIII and Paul VI]. This is unavoidable. How will Pope Paul VI in particular be judged ?
“ Some maintain that he was a heretic, a schismatic, and an apostate. Others believe it is possible to prove that Paul VI could not have had the good of the Church in mind, and that, consequently, he was not pope ; that is the Sedes vacans thesis. I do not say that these opinions are devoid of arguments in their favour. Perhaps, you will tell me, in thirty years time we will discover things that were hidden, or we will more clearly see elements that should have been blindingly obvious to our contemporaries, statements by the Pope that were absolutely contrary to the Church’s tradition, etc. Perhaps. But I do not believe there is any need to have recourse to these explanations. I even think that it is an error to follow such hypotheses.
“ Other people think, in a simplistic fashion, that there were two Popes at that time : one, the real one, being imprisoned in the Vatican dungeons, whilst the other, the look-alike, sat on Saint Peter’s throne, to the downfall of the Church. Books have appeared about the ‘ two popes ’, based on the revelations of a person possessed by the devil and on so-called scientific arguments which assure us, for example, that the voice of the double is not that of the true Paul VI !
“ Lastly, there are others who think that Paul VI was not responsible for his deeds, imprisoned as he was by his entourage, even drugged by them, as suggested by several pictures showing a physically exhausted Pope who has to be propped up, etc. Such a solution is rather too simplistic in my opinion, for in such a case we would only have had to wait for the next Pope. But we have had (and I do not speak of John Paul I who only reigned for one month) another Pope, John Paul II, who has invariably pursued the path traced out by Paul VI. ”90
Thus, in 1987, Archbishop Lefebvre referred to the accusation brought by Fr. de Nantes against Paul VI, presenting it as a simple “ hypothesis ” and placing it alongside other opinions which are clearly preposterous, ridiculous and unfounded, such as that of a drugged Pope or of a double of Paul VI sitting on the throne of Peter. Fr. de Nantes did not hesitate, therefore, to denounce the disloyalty, the hypocrisy and even the treason of the founder of the seminary at Ecône, designating him by name as “ the treacherous bishop ”. Indeed, Archbishop Lefebvre, as the reader will have noticed, had had the impudence to state : “ Perhaps, you will tell me, in thirty years time we will discover things that were hidden ”… About which our Father commented : “ ‘ Perhaps ’, continues the treacherous bishop, as he seeks to emphasise the point that up till now no one has put any argument forward or has even considered any argument which could support and justify our accusations. ”91
These “ hidden ” things, to use Archbishop Lefebvre’s own words, were they not “ blindingly obvious ” to the theologian of the Catholic Counter-Reformation since the beginning of Paul VI’s pontificate in 1964-1965 ? And these “ statements absolutely contrary to tradition ”, did they not constitute the whole matter of the Liber accusationis ?
The assertion “ that Paul VI was a heretic, a schismatic, an apostate ”, proved by fifteen years of consistent and continuous controversy, was finally rejected by Archbishop Lefebvre without his even having criticised it. It was rejected in favour of an explanation of Paul VI’s actions which Fr. de Nantes will call “ absolutionist ”. “ The real solution ”, wrote the bishop, “ seems to me quite different, much more complex, painful and distressing. It is provided by one of Paul VI’s friends, Cardinal Danielou. In his Memoirs, published by a member of his family, the Cardinal explicitly states : ‘ It is plain that Paul VI is a liberal ’. ” Then Archbishop Lefebvre went on to speak of the “ psychological weakness ” of the Pope Paul VI, of his “ two faces ”, etc.
Fr. de Nantes will reveal all the malice of such a speech : So we are presented with Popes who are not to be blamed but to be “ excused ”. Let no one take them for “ heretics, schismatics, or causes of scandal ”, and even less for “ perfidious apostates” ! No, it was not they who wanted the “ autodemolition ” of the Church and her “ self-abasement before the world” ! They should rather be considered as divided and unstable personalities, or… liberals ! capable of great good as well as great evil, depending on the influences and pressures brought to bear on them. They are complex beings, elusive and very probably sincere, whom we have no right to judge… except in order to excuse them. ”92
So what ultimately was Archbishop Lefebvre’s position regarding the Popes ? Did he claim to develop his work with the Pope, or despite the Pope, or against the Pope ? “ The answer has at last been given ”, remarked Fr. de Nantes. “ It is delightfully vague and rather too good. No, not against the Pope. In two murderous lines, excommunication is fulminated against us : It is an error to claim with inadequate arguments that anything can be discovered in the teaching of Paul VI and therefore of John Paul II which is ‘ absolutely contrary to the Church’s tradition ’. Archbishop Lefebvre, therefore, is not against the Pope…
“ With the Pope ? That would doubtless be an overstatement, and is impossible to prove. Despite the Pope ? Perhaps. But the word is probably too strong. In this complex reality one has to distinguish between the official and the public on one hand and the unofficial and the secret on the other. One has to distinguish between the Pope as the infallible vicar of Jesus Christ and the Pope as a liberal who is not exempt from errors and weakness, nor indeed from successive displays of sincerity and determination… Let us say that Archbishop Lefebvre – with his generations of young priests and his traditionalist Catholic faithful – are claiming to reconstruct the Church without the Pope, without his explicit consent, but in accordance with his deepest desire, which cannot be otherwise, since such is Our good pleasure, says God. ”93
SEDEVACANTIST SEMINARIANS AT ECÔNE
Let us go back ten years earlier, to 1977. It was true that Archbishop Lefebvre, with his thesis of of “ Paul VI the liberal ”, had found a way to avoid officially declaring himself a sedevacantist. But several of his seminarians at Ecône had already been won over to the theories of Fr. Barbara and Fr. Guérard des Lauriers concerning the invalidity of the so-called Mass of Paul VI and the vacancy of the papal See.
However, the superior of the seminary, Canon Berthod, rejected the theories of Fr. Barbara on the invalidity of the new rite, and he regretted the growing influence, in the heart of the Fraternity, of sedevacantist priests and seminarians whom Archbishop Lefebvre tolerated and even protected ! Unable to get them to change their views or to dismiss them from the seminary, Canon Berthod resigned from his position in 1977. Such indeed was one of the reasons for his departing from Ecône, along with a certain number of professors and seminarians, in August of that year.
A person close to Archbishop Lefebvre, who had lived in his seminary for several years, will write to Fr. de Nantes on August 15, 1977 : “ I do not know whether you have been kept up to date on the situation at Ecône, but the events of this last month have been decisive and the predicted split is practically consummated. I am one of those – and how numerous they are ! – who are making their arrangements to abandon the direction he is taking, since it is no longer that of the Roman Church. We know only too well that, since the beginning of the foundation, you clearly foresaw its outcome. Is it not distressing to see Monsignor so cleverly manoeuvred by Fathers Guérard, Barbara, and Coache, not to forget Dom Augustin ? The whole of this group hang about – I was going to write grovel [grenouillant] – in the bishop’s shadow, all flattering him. They spend their time cleverly directing several priests, doubtless of good faith, but of little common sense or even intelligence. Having obtained the Monsignor’s trust, they have become the main directors of the seminary, imposing on it their false liberalism and their anti-Roman conceptions of the Church. ”94
ARCHBISHOP LEFEBVRE ARROGATES TO HIMSELF A UNIVERSAL
JURISDICTION WHICH HE DOES NOT AND CANNOT HAVE
In the formula of union of the League of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, dated September 28, 1974, Fr. de Nantes had written : “ Schism declares itself through the rebellious rejection of the doctrinal, pastoral and judicial authority of the apostolic and Roman hierarchy. ”
By planting his priories in various countries, Archbishop Lefebvre was effecting a “ practical rupture of communion with the whole Church constituted as a hierarchical body ”95. He was establishing himself as a supreme and universal authority, one that was direct and immediate, distributing powers, jurisdictions and sacraments for the whole world… rather like a pope. In matters of sacramental and canonical jurisdiction he was substituting his own authority – not openly, but surreptitiously – for the unique hierarchical authority of the reigning Pope. His argument was that, according to canon law, the priests ordained by him possessed powers of jurisdiction throughout the world, owing to exceptional circumstances.
Let us listen to the reasons he developed at his press conference of September 15, 1976 :
“ Question : Monsignor, the young priests coming out of your seminary at the present time are not able to confer the sacraments in a valid manner. For example, if a priest were to officiate at the sacrament of marriage, would this sacrament be valid ?
“ Archbishop Lefebvre : In this matter of the jurisdiction of priests, we base ourselves on the extraordinary cases mentioned by canon law. Canon law has provided for extraordinary circumstances for all the sacraments, for the jurisdiction of confession, for marriages. And since, in my opinion, – and clearly this a judgement which is of course somewhat personal, if you like – we find ourselves in extraordinary circumstances, circumstances which are rarely seen in the Church, well then, I think that these young priests are in the position of being able to make use of those faculties allowed for by canon law in extraordinary circumstances. Take confession for example : if there is a road accident, even if you have no jurisdiction in the diocese, you can approach the dying and give him the sacraments. When a ship is sinking, you can also give the sacraments. You have jurisdiction ; the law gives you jurisdiction at that moment. Say a fire breaks out or war is declared, you have no time to ask the bishop for jurisdiction ; you already have jurisdiction. They are extraordinary circumstances. I think that we are in extraordinary circumstances, not physical but moral, such that our young priests have the right to make use of these extraordinary faculties. ”96
How pitiful ! “ Such a demonstration is, alas, quite worthless ”, Fr. de Nantes will write. ” And the theologian of the Catholic Counter-Reformation will prove this easily. Let us read what he says : “ The Code of Canon Law recognises objective extraordinary circumstances, that is to say, circumstances which are specified by law, incontestable, and necessarily recognised by episcopal and Roman authority. The Code provides for these circumstances precisely in order to prohibit any subjective interpretation and to put a stop to private judgements all too eager to find ways of avoiding ordinary episcopal jurisdiction.
“ Thus, it is recognised that any priest, even an irregular one, has the right to confer the sacraments of salvation on a person who is in positive and proximate danger of death. But in order for a priest to organise a regular Catholic ministry outside the knowledge and power of the local Ordinary, three conditions are necessary : 1) that he himself be a bishop, 2) that the local hierarchy has been destroyed, annihilated or impeded, and 3) that the moral consent of the Sovereign Pontiff is positively certain (cf. Dom Gréa, L’Église et sa divine constitution, p. 235-238).
“ Archbishop Lefebvre personally fulfils the first of these conditions. Not the others. To say that the second is realised, is to judge without appeal – and I employ the term in its strict juridical acceptation – that nowadays there is no longer any episcopal Body on earth, or at the very least that there is no longer any bishop in this country… As for the third condition, to maintain this, one would have to make out that the Pope is drugged, that he has a double, that he is confined to his room, or else roundly state that there is no longer a true Pope…
“ Consequently… Either there still exists on earth a visible and hierarchical Church, one that is Catholic, apostolic and Roman, whose divine order is established and maintained according to the rules of canon law in force. In this case, Archbishop Lefebvre’s attempted justification has no value ; confessions and marriages conferred without the ordinary powers of jurisdiction and, in the case of marriage, without the parish priest’s personal delegation, are indisputably null and void in law.
“ Or else, there is no longer a Pope in Rome ; there are no more bishops in our dioceses or elsewhere, other than Archbishop Lefebvre alone. But in that case, why bother to call on canon law, using a shaky argument ? If today he is the sole Successor of the Apostles, then it his authority alone that subsists as the fount of law in the eyes of men and of God. Let him concede powers throughout the world to whom he will, where he wills and as he wills ! But that is not what lies behind his thinking, as can be seen by the timid and hesitant justification we have just read. But it must be the thinking of a number of priests and faithful who follow him and urge him on.
“ It is extremely grave : for souls who receive absolutions that are invalid and who become accustomed to this protestant subjectivism ; for families that accept marriages which no ecclesiastical court, knowing of the facts, would hesitate to declare null and void ; for the undivided subsistence of Holy Church, broken by this reasoning and this behaviour, which can only be called schismatic, because that is what it is and, sad to say, is so even more formally than the latent schism of those who camp within the Church, taking advantage of the complicity and inertia of those who occupy the highest positions, the better to destroy her. ”97
Fr. de Nantes went on to recall the doctrinal combat that he had waged since his dramatic encounter with the integrist priests who had visited him at Maison Saint-Joseph on July 21, 1969. Had he not in fact denounced and refuted on several occasions in the Catholic Counter-Reformation the errors and schismatic theories of these priests who lacked knowledge and prudence ?
As he recalled some of his vigorous warnings against the integrist schism, he pointed out that, from 1970 onwards, one of his constant concerns had been to defend the unity of the Church. To maintain traditionalists in the visible, historical and hierarchical communion of the Church, he had sought to divert them from the path of perdition on which, alas, Archbishop Lefebvre had gradually ventured, to his very great misfortune.
“ The truth ”, he concluded, “ is that they do not want to take account of our warnings about the schism they have silently been preparing in France these last seven years. We have stated this over and over again : Neither schism nor heresy. We will remain Catholics, and we will oppose with all our might those who lead traditionalists into an impasse. ”98
All references to the CRC journal relate to the original French edition.
1. He had been Archbishop of Dakar and apostolic delegate to the whole of French-speaking Africa.
2. Archbishop Lefebvre had resigned from office on September 28, 1968, although his position as Superior should have lasted another six years, since he had been elected Superior General in July 1962 for twelve years.
3. Let us mention that on June 27, 1965, at Paray-le-Monial, Archbishop Lefebvre had confided to Brothers Gerard and Bruno that he was thinking of founding a seminary. He said he was sure that vocations would flood in and that by forming traditionalist priests in this way, he would provoke a marvellous renewal of the Church. When the brothers reported this statement to Fr. de Nantes, he was surprised and disturbed by it : was not Archbishop Lefebvre the Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers ? Now, his plan to found a seminary could only distract him and distance him from the obligations associated with his office, obligations which made it a duty for him to conduct such important struggles for the good of his Congregation, as well as in the Council chamber, in order to bring weight to bear decisively on the final decisions of Vatican II.
4. CRC n° 108, August 1976, p. 2.
5. Conference of August 1972, extracts. Quoted in Archbishop Lefebvre, Un évêque parle, vol. I, 3rd edition Dominique Martin Morin, 1976, p. 161-167.
6. Doc. cath. 1972, p. 1025. Letter by Msgr. Mamie to his diocese, published 25 January 1973; Doc. cath., 1973, p. 195.
7. Letter to friends and benefactors n° 4, March 19, 1973.
8. Letter to friends and benefactors n° 5, October 3, 1973.
9. Liber I, p. 54.
10. Here is the account of the conversation between Fr. de Nantes and Msgr. Gand, published in the League chronicle for July 1971 :
“ Msgr. Gand, bishop of Lille, received me with perfect courtesy. He was astonished at hearing me express in all sincerity the same accusations that I make in my writings against the Reform of Vatican II. Such an attitude seems unthinkable to him. And yet, an hour of conversation effectively persuaded both of us that we shared the same Catholic faith. How could this be ? Our disagreement lies somewhere in the thick fog of the conciliar controversy. Contrary to the position taken at Luçon, in Lille, to the extent that the “ healthy pluralism ” authorised by the Catholic faith allows, they do not regard us as outcasts …
“ However, Msgr. Gand did not accept what I asked of him : that he recognise that priests had full liberty to celebrate the old Roman Mass in public, and that everyone had the right to teach their religion to children according to the old catechism. The fact that we are forced to follow the new Ordo and the new catechism is for us an unjust act of disciplinary totalitarianism and the confession of a disturbing ideological sectarianism. We see in it a proof of the heresy of the novelties imposed on us. In a remarkably agile defence, Msgr. Gand ceded nothing : the wish of the Pope is that everyone abandon the old Missal, and the decision of the French episcopate imposing the new catechism manuals can suffer no exceptions.
“ I retained the impression that, were it not for the constraints to which he believes himself bound, Msgr. Gand (and many other bishops) would prefer, as a matter of personal inclination, to treat all priests and members of the faithful with equal regard, without imposing on them a Reform which is far from perfect – something they recognise – and which causes us insuperable problems of conscience. But today the constraint falls from on high, absolute. ” (CRC n° 46, p. 11 – French edition)
11. CRC n° 107, July 1976, p. 1.
12. Letter to our friends n° 2 of April 1, 1974, extracts.
13. Cf. CRC n° 88, January 1975, p. 1.
14. CRC n° 77, February 1974, p. 2.
15. Our Father will comment : “ Well might they use the term sacrifice ! They had never spoken of it before, never ! But to win over the scrupulous priest and the faithful worried about orthodoxy, they admit that it is indeed a Eucharistic sacrifice. Yes. And afterwards, when these people have given in, the game will be over and they will never speak of it again ! ” CRC n° 88, January 1975, p. 2 – French edition.
16. Communiqué of the episcopal assembly, Doc. cath., 1974, p. 1014.
17. CRC n° 88, January 1975, p. 2.
18. Quoted in CRC n° 90, March 1975, p. 1.
19. In this year 1996 in which we write, we can provide some clarification on this subject : Archbishop Lefebvre could only have rejected the acts of Vatican II by officially repudiating the signatures he had placed at the bottom of all of the Council’s decrees. Now, right up to his death, he will never make such a retraction. As he did not dare to go back on his formal act of heresy by publicly acknowledging his tragic weakness on December 7, 1965, he will claim from 1975 onwards that he did not sign the declaration on Religious Liberty nor the constitution Gaudium et spes; cf. his reply to Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber during the televised broadcast of February 5, 1978 and his reply to the review “ Fideliter ” in January 1991; quoted in CRC n° 127, March 1978, p. 17 and n° 284, August 1992, p. 17. The evidence of the facts is well established, beyond dispute, certain : Yes, Archbishop Lefebvre signed all the acts of Vatican II, including these two decrees. See the photocopy of Archbishop Lefebvre’s signature on the signature list of the declaration on Religious Liberty (below) and of the constitution Gaudium et spes, published by the review “ Sedes sapientiae ”, n° 31 (Winter 1990) and reproduced in CRC n° 266, July 1990, p. 4. Regarding the ensuing controversy, cf. the decisive clarifications published in CRC n° 297, December 1993, p. 29 and n° 298, January 1994, p. 26.
20. CRC n° 90, March 1975, p. 2.
21. In his conference, “ Archbishop Lefebvre, the one responsible. His life and doctrine ” (L65, “ Loyalisme français et catholique ”, cassettes 5 and 6), Fr. de Nantes demonstrated that the doctrine taught at the French Seminary in Rome, on the almost absolute indefectibility of the Popes and on the assistance, nay inspiration ! of the Holy Spirit preserving the apostolic See from all error, had prepared Archbishop Lefebvre very badly to confront our apocalyptic times, which are characterised by the apostasy of the Pope himself.
22. Cf. Pour L’Église, vol. II, p. 291.
23. Personal correspondence.
24. That was pretty much his view since 1965. “ Your Father ”, he had told Brothers Bruno and Gerard on June 27, 1965, “ is wrong to criticise Paul VI. God could make the Pope die immediately. It is nothing for God to make a man die. Let us leave God to act. ” (Cf. Pour L’Église, vol. II, p. 318)
25. Letter to our friends n° 8, 11 February 1975, extracts.
26. CRC n° 89, February 1975, p. 2.
27. Fr. de Nantes had already quoted this in his letter to Msgr. Le Couëdic on December 19, 1965. Letter to my friends n° 220, p. 9; cf. Pour L’Église vol. II, p. 236.
28. Letter to my friends n° 198, March 1965, p. 1-2.
29. CRC n° 91, April 1975, p. 1.
30. Letter of Brother Joseph to Brother Christian, February 16, 1975.
31. Each of these cardinals was a prefect of a Roman congregation : Garrone of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Tabera of that for Religious Orders, and Wright of that for the Clergy.
32. To our knowledge, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre has never written a detailed account of the interrogation on February 13, 1975. He has simply mentioned it in a few sentences : “ Cardinal Garrone vehemently reproached me on account of this declaration [that of November 21], even going so far as to imply that I was a ‘ lunatic ’ and telling me ‘ that I imagined myself to be an Athanasius ’, and this lasted some twenty-five minutes. Cardinal Tabera, going one better, told me that ‘ what you are doing is worse than what is being done by all the progressives ’ and that ‘ I had severed communion with the Church ’, etc. ” Account by Archbishop Lefebvre dated May 30, 1975, sent to Msgr. Benelli and to Cardinal Villot. Cf. Doc. cath., 1975, p. 741.
33. Cf. the current affairs conference of Fr. de Nantes on May 15, 1975.
34. Roland Gaucher, Mgr Lefebvre. Combat pour L’Église, published by Albatros, 1976, p. 215-261.
35. Archbishop Lefebvre did not contest the authenticity of the words reported in this transcription. However, he thought it was incomplete. Roland Gaucher in fact states : “ According to Archbishop Lefebvre, who has since seen this text, it is apparently missing one or two paragraphs. ” (Ibid., p. 137)
36. We will only quote short extracts from this transcription. When we omit certain passages, we will indicate this to our readers. The replies of the various contributors are frequently significant, but sometimes obscure. Moreover, this conversation did not develop along rigorously logical lines.
37. How can one not see in these words of Cardinal Garrone an allusion to the last lines of the editorial of the Catholic Counter Reformation “ Frappe à la Tête ! ” of February 1975 ?
38. Now here is a surprising statement ! No, Fr. de Nantes did not go Ecône every week. Up until 1996, the year in which we write, he had visited the seminary at Ecône only once in his life, from February 13 to 17, 1975, precisely two weeks before this interrogation took place. One may suppose that it is an error in the transcription of the recording of this conversation ; or else a lapse on the part of Archbishop Lefebvre, who really meant to say : “ He came several weeks ago. ” But it could also be an unfortunate expression used by the founder of the seminary of Ecône, that is to say an inexactitude.
39. One may suppose a transcription error. It is probable that Cardinal Garrone actually replied : “ In any event, the causes are not located where you put them. ”
40. Quoted in Roland Gaucher, Mgr Lefebvre. Combat pour L’Église, published by Albatros, 1976, p. 215-261.
41. Cf. pages 373-378 of this volume.
42. Declaration by Cardinal Marty, quoted by Fr. de Nantes in his current affairs conference of March 13, 1975.
43. On February 21, 1974, Fr. Coache had written to Fr. Barbara : “ The worst thing is the question of the Mass. Archbishop Lefebvre does not like Fr. de Nantes at all (he told me so and states that he maintains no relations with him); however his position agrees with his own ; in fact Archbishop Lefebvre has indicated to me his point of view : it is better to have the New Mass than to have no Mass ; to avoid losing one’s faith, it is safer to go to the New Mass than not to go to Mass at all… He does not seem willing to admit any discussion on this point. ” (review Forts dans la Foi, no 10, 1982, p. 29)
In 1975 Archbishop Lefebvre said in private that he was not convinced by the arguments put forth by the integrists against the validity of the new rite. On November 23, 1975 he wrote to one of his correspondents : “ I do not deny the possible value of Fr. Barbara’s arguments, but they still do not convince me, nor the professors at Ecône. That is why I cannot share the conclusions of Fr. Barbara, logical conclusions if one admits the invalidity of the New Mass. ” (personal correspondence)
44. Cf. supra, p. 381.
45. Quoted in CRC n° 90, March 1975, p. 15.
46. On the stay of Fr. de Nantes at Ecône, see above.
47. We quote the passages we had previously omitted. See above.
48. CRC n° 90, March 1975, p. 2.
49. CRC n° 92, May 1975, p. 11.
50. CRC n° 91, April 1975, p. 2.
51. CRC n° 93, June 1975, p. 2.
52. Pour L’Église, vol. II, p. 281.
53. CRC n° 94, July 1975, p. 1-2, extracts.
54. On the subject of this report which in April 1975 he claimed to be “ laudatory ”, Archbishop Lefebvre will confess a few months later : “ In fact, I do not know anything, since this report was not communicated to me. ” (Conversation with Louis Salleron, January 15, 1976, quoted in Un évêque parle, vol II, published by Dominique Martin Morin, 1976, p. 69) The arrival of the Apostolic Visitors in November 1974 had in fact given him immediate alarm. In May 1975 he will write : “ Convinced that this visit was but the first step on the road to our suppression, for so long desired by all the progressivists, and observing that the visitors had come with the desire to bring us into line with the changes effected in the Church since the Council, I decided to explain my thinking to the seminary. That is the origin of my declaration [of November 21, 1974], written, it is true, under a feeling of indignation and no doubt excessive. ” (Account dated May 30, 1975 and sent to Msgr. Benelli and Cardinal Villot ; ibid., p. 26)
55. Doc. cath., 1975, p. 614.
56. Italian edition.
57. Current Affairs Conference at the Mutualité, June 12, 1975.
58. Letter to our friends n° 10, May 22, 1975.
59. Un évêque parle, published by Dominique Martin Morin, 1976, vol II, p.29.
60. Doc. cath., 1976, p. 33-34.
61. CRC n° 102, February 1976, p. 1-2, extracts.
62. Letter to friends and benefactors of September 3, 1975.
63.One should read in full one of the pages of the Catholic Counter-Reformation for October 1969. There Fr. de Nantes gave this warning : “ If we were foolish enought to imagine that we could save the Church by dragging it off with us into the adventure of another schism, we who are nothing, it is only ourselves who would irremediably be the losers. ”
64. CRC n° 99, November 1975, p. 2.
65. Doc. cath.., 1976, p. 33.
66. Doc. cath.., 1976, p. 305.
67. Letter from Archbishop Lefebvre dated June 22, Doc. cath., 1976, p. 718.
68. A vertiginous fall ! Here are the figures that prove it. In 1963, in France, there were 917 new entrants to the major seminaries ; in 1971, 354; and in 1976, 155. As for ordinations, there were 573 in 1963; 237 in 1971; and 136 in 1976. Cf. Doc. cath., 1979, .p. 373.
69. CRC n° 57, June 1972, p. 12.
70. This criticism and this denunciation of Archbishop Lefebvre’s schism were very badly received by the integrist readers of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in the 20th century. It is notable that the circulation of the latter had continued to rise until December 1973. At that time it attained 38,000 copies. Then it dropped, especially in this year of 1976. There were in fact numerous subscription cancellations when our Father openly took up a position against Archbishop Lefebvre.
71. CRC n° 107, July 1976, p. 1.
72. CRC n° 107, July 1976, p. 2, extracts.
73. Pour l’honneur de l’Église, published by the Nouvelle Aurore, 1975, p. 20-21.
74. Subsequently, Fr. de Nantes will often take the opportunity to forcefully denounce this fault of the founder of the seminary at Ecône. For example, in criticising a pamphlet by Figueras, he will allow his indignation to break forth : “ How could Archbishop Lefebvre let the dogmas, the holy mysteries of the liturgy, and the canonical discipline of Holy Church fall to the level of the pleasure or displeasure, the feelings and resentments of lay people without instruction, without knowledge, and sometimes even, as in this case, without religious faith and hence without shame ! ” CRC n° 303, June 1994, p. 5.
75. CRC n° 127, March 1978, p. 14.
76. In the regions of the infidel.
77. CRC n° 107, July 76, p. 1-2, extracts ; no 108, August 76, p. 1-2, extracts.
78. Doc. cath., 1976, p. 1056-1061.
79. Current affairs conference on December 9, 1976.
80. Doc. cath., 1976, p. 1056-1061.
81. As Archbishop Lefebvre had not replied to the Pope, the latter wrote him a further letter on November 29, 1976 to notify him in particular of the publication of his letter on October 11. Archbishop Lefebvre then sent him a reply dated December 3, 1976; cf. Doc. cath., 1977, p. 229 and 254.
82. Current affairs conference of December 9, 1976.
83. Having been sanctioned with suspens a divinis in July 1976, Archbishop Lefebvre had presented his attachment to Catholic tradition and faith as the justification for his disobedience towards Paul VI. It was at this time that he stated : “ It appears to us much more certain that the faith taught by the Church over twenty centuires cannot contain error than that there is no absolute certainty that the Pope really is the pope. Heresy, schism, ipso facto excommunication, and the invalidity of the election are all potential reasons why a Pope was never really the pope or should cease to be the pope. In such a case, clearly a very exceptional one, the Church would find herself in a situation similar to that which she experiences after the decease of a Sovereign Pontiff. For, in a word, a very serious problem presents itself to the conscience and the faith of all Catholics since the beginning of the papacy of Paul VI. How is that a Pope, the true successor of Peter, assured of the assistance of the Holy Spirit, could preside over the destruction of the Church, the most profound and extensive in her history, in such a short space of time, something which no heresiarch has ever succeeeded in doing ? To this question there will one day have to be a reply. ” Declaration by Archbishop Lefebvre to Figaro, reproduced in Monde et Vie no 264, for August 27, 1976.
84. Text by Archbishop Lefebvre, addressed to the seminarians at Ecône, dated February 24, 1977 and published in Le coup de maître de Satan, Saint-Gabriel publications, 1977, p. 42 ff.
85. Cf. Pour l’Église, vol. II, p. 138 ff.
86. Ibid., p. 203 ff.
87. Fr. de Nantes will criticise this thesis of Archbishop Lefebvre’s when the latter expounds it in his book Ils ont découronné in 1987.
88. CRC n° 235, August 1987, p. 9.
89. CRC n° 107, July 1976, p. 13-14, extracts.
90. Archbishop Lefebvre, Ils ont découronné, published by Fideliter, 1987, p. 223-224.
91. CRC n° 235, August 1987, p. 8.
92. Ibid., p. 9.
93. Ibid., p. 10.
94. Personal correspondence.
95. CRC n° 110, October 1976, p. 15.
96. Quoted in CRC n° 114, February 1977, p. 13.
97. CRC n° 114, February 1977, p. 13-15.
98. CRC n° 114, February 1977, p. 15, extracts.