When will it finally be enough. As we consider these men who represent the modern Church, how can we help but see those described by St Paul; those who have "tasted of the heavenly gift" and yet have fallen away, crucifying again the Son of God and making a mockery of Him(3). Crucifying again. The Holy King of Glory. Yet it is important to remember that this crisis did not begin with Jorge Bergoglio. It began with the "bad Council", with Vatican II and the changes in Church teaching which made this pontificate possible. So much has been watered down and made common, from the Mass to catechetical instruction. Thus many people have fallen away. Fallen away, even, in the midst of the congregation; fallen away because no one has taught them the truth about the faith.
As such, it is helpful to reconsider the words and actions of the solitary leader who spoke up first, back in the beginning days of the crisis that has led to the confusion and disunification of the Holy Church of Christ. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was a student of Fr. LeFloch, an evangelizer to the poor in Africa, and a great defender of Traditional Catholicism.
As many Catholics--even Traditional Catholics--are rather wary of Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society he founded, it is important to consider the facts that led to the conflict between the Archbishop and the Roman authorities. For each of us must determine what is fair and what is true. We cannot depend upon modern Rome to teach us correctly; we must do our own investigation and study. As our obedience belongs to God and not to man, each of us must, according to St. Paul, work out our own salvation with "fear and trembling"(4).
The story of Archbishop Lefebvre's battle with the Vatican II Church began in 1968 when, after he retired at age 65, he was approached by a small group of seminarians who were attached to Tradition and were unwilling to conform to the reforms then well underway. This eventually led to the creation of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) and the establishment of the seminary in Econe, Switzerland in 1970. It is important to note that this new society was established with the full approval of both the local bishop and the authorities in Rome (5).
Holding Fast to the Deposit of Faith
However, almost from the beginning, controversies arose due to the new society's attachment to Tradition, because the hierarchy of the Church, under the leadership of Pope Paul VI, was determined to change, moving the Church away from her constant and true purpose--that of guardian, protector and authentic interpreter of the Deposit of Faith--in order to become a religion more accommodating and pleasing to modern man. This endeavor, the ambition to "modernize" the Church, moved forward swiftly at the time, with incredible strength and authority, seemingly intent on destroying everything holy in its path, like a monster in a horror movie, or perhaps, like a vision by the prophet Daniel (6). Only Archbishop Lefebvre stood in the way. He refused to be terrorized, he would not be moved. His first project was an attempt to restore the Traditional Latin Mass. Bringing together 12 theologians, a short, critical study of the Novus Ordo was prepared and presented to the Pope. By June of 1971, it was evident that the pontiff did not intend to respond to this criticism, or waiver from his promotion of the new Mass. Thus the Archbishop declared his own fidelity to the true Mass:
"How can I agree to abandon the Mass of all ages or admit to place it at the same level as the Novus Ordo, created by Annabale Bugnini, with the participation of protestants to make of it an equivocal supper that eliminates totally the offertory and touches the very words of consecration (5)."
So serious was his opposition to the Novus Ordo, he later proclaimed that the Mass had been "desecrated" as it no longer conferred grace or transmitted it. He further stated that the contempt for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was the most flagrant sign by which the "new mentality", "no longer Catholic", expressed itself, and he wondered how the bishops and priests could not fear to bring down wrath upon themselves and their people (7).
Perhaps if the Archbishop was alone in his refusal to accept the Novus Ordo, the Church reformists would have ignored him, expecting his little group to die a natural death. But in reality, the Society was growing rather rapidly. In 1971, 24 candidates entered the seminary, with an additional 32 entering in 1972. In 1973, a new SSPX seminary opened in the United States, and another opened in Rome in 1974. It was at this time the reformists decided the Society must be stopped, as they feared traditional priests would return to the dioceses and create a traditional Catholic resistance (5). This was not acceptable to them, as their ambition was to completely destroy the true Catholic religion and replace it with the watered-down protestant-style religion we have in the Novus Ordo Church today. It appears that the reformers had not expected resistance to the changes. As the new innovations honored man over God, they expected them to be widely accepted and even desired, for they expected all men to be like themselves.
Declaration of 1974
In June of 1974, a commission of three cardinals was formed in Rome to study the Society. This led to a canonical visit to the seminary in Econe which took place in November of 1974. In addition to interviewing professors and students, the two "Apostolic Visitors" expressed their own opinions regarding modern Church philosophies and reforms, which included questioning the existence of immutable Truth and the traditional concept of Christ's resurrection--opinions that Archbishop Lefebvre found offensive(8). After the visit, he decided to formally clarify his position regarding fidelity to Rome. Hence, he wrote the "Declaration of 1974(9)", which was originally intended to be a private document for the benefit and clarification of the professors and students at the seminary. However, as the document was somehow leaked to the outside world, and was then quoted out of context by the press, the prelate eventually published it in its entirety for all the world to see (8).
Today, after 50 years of the modern vision as taught in varying degrees throughout the Church, the words of the Declaration seem prophetic, and it is hard to imagine a prelate making such a strong, clear statement, with a zeal for the house of the Lord surpassing personal care and ambition, and also with a zeal for protecting the people of God as is the duty of all true shepherds. He professed fidelity to "Catholic Rome", "guardian of the Catholic faith", "mistress of wisdom and truth." He wrote specifically about the stark changes in the celebration of the Mass which, he said, went from an emphasis on "God and His holy works of mercy through the sacrifice of His Son" to an emphasis on "man and his communion with man." He pointed out the changes in teaching methods used in seminaries, universities and catechetics; methods he described as "naturalist", Teilhardian", and "born of liberalism and Protestantism;" all of which had been formerly condemned by the Magisterium.
With a battle cry that should touch the hearts of all faithful Catholics today, he proclaimed that no authority--not even the highest authority of the Church--could force the faithful to abandon or diminish the true Catholic faith as clearly professed by the Magisterium for 1900 years. Stating that the Vatican II reforms were "poisoned through and through," "beginning and ending in heresy," he said that the only way of salvation for the faithful and for the doctrine of the Church was "a categorical refusal to accept the reform".
Summoned to Rome
For those who are concerned about the current canonical status of the SSPX with Rome, it is important to note that the Archbishop and the SSPX were suppressed by Roman authority with no evidence of offense other than the commission's interpretation of this Declaration. After the publication, Archbishop Lefebvre was summoned to Rome. The commission refused to consider the intended context of the document, and rejected his attempt to defend its content (10). Under the advice of this commission, the new Bishop of Econe withdrew his predecessor's approval of the Society; thus, in the eyes of Rome, the Society was "suppressed", that is, the seminary had "lost its right to exist".
While the Archbishop attempted to appeal the decision, requesting a "reason of fault" to justify the suppression, no reason was ever provided and he was refused canonical appeal to the Supreme Apostolic Signature. It seems probable that this refusal by Rome to allow due process occurred because the Archbishop's Declaration did not stray from the constant teachings of the Magisterium. Since Vatican II was a pastoral rather than a dogmatic council, many concepts were left ambiguous and/or undefined, which allowed changes to occur in practice without contradicting Church dogma. If the Archbishop's contentions with the Council were brought before a court, the hierarchy would have needed to contradict his contentions, which had been dogmatically defined previously by the Magisterium, or admit the prelate was without fault.
Instead of allowing him his right to appeal, he was simply ignored, and the Secretary of State wrote to all the bishops of the world, requesting that they refuse incardination to Society members. Thus, if Archbishop Lefebvre would have obediently accepted the actions of the Roman authority, the Society would have simply faded away.
A Militant Intent to Protect the Church
However, as the Declaration expressed a militant intent to protect the True Church, Archbishop Lefebvre demonstrated his commitment to this intent by refusing to submit to the illegal suppression. He continued with plans to ordain 13 subdeacons and 13 priests, as was scheduled for June of 1976. Rome was aware of this intention, and in May of 1976, Pope Paul VI denounced the Archbishop as "disobedient to the new liturgy (5)." Although the Vatican offered a compromise that would have required that the Archbishop celebrate the Novus Ordo, he refused. He ordained the candidates according to the traditional rite as planned.
Due to his "disobedience", he incurred two suspensions; according to Rome, he could no longer lawfully ordain priests, and he no longer had the right to say Mass. Again, the Archbishop refused to recognize the suspensions as legitimate, explaining that as the seminary had been abolished "without any real judgment", and as he had never been to court, he held that his seminary was not abolished, his ordinations were lawful, and the suspensions were invalid (10).
Fidelity to Christ and the True Church
During the summer and early fall of 1976, Archbishop Lefebvre began speaking publicly, defending the rights of the Traditional Church. His sermons were very well attended, drawing thousands, and the news media (although usually critical) helped spread his message to a much broader audience. He told the world he had been suspended for refusing to say the Novus Ordo Mass. He wrote a letter to Pope Paul VI, requesting the return of the "Mass of all Time", the true Bible (such as the Vulgate), and the true catechism after the model of the Council of Trent (10).
He made these requests public by speaking about them in his sermons. Because of the publicity and due to the Archbishop's popularity, he was summoned to the Vatican for a meeting with Pope Paul VI on 9/11/76. Near the end of this rather tense encounter, Archbishop Lefebvre made a modest request on behalf of the faithful. He asked that the Pope instruct his bishops to give a "charitable welcome" to Traditionalist groups, and to provide them with places of worship. Pope Paul VI never officially responded to this request. Instead, he sent a letter to the prelate on 10/11/76, accusing him of "fomenting an unbearable rebellion" by refusing to accept all the reforms of Vatican II. He called upon him to "retract" and "adhere to the Council" and to "accept the renewed liturgy". He demanded that the Archbishop turn over the responsibility of his works and the houses he founded to Vatican authority. The Pope emphasized that the Archbishop was alone and stated that a single bishop without "canonical mission" "did not have the capacity to establish the rules of the faith or to determine the meaning of Tradition (10)."
Thus the Pope made clear that obedience to Rome and to the Vatican II Council were mandatory. But the Archbishop, although standing completely alone among his confreres, chose fidelity to God rather than obedience to a Pope and to a council clearly intent upon pleasing the world even at the cost of disrespecting the Everlasting Covenant. Archbishop Lefebvre did not waiver in his fidelity to Christ and the True Church. He responded publicly to this letter with a simple illustration. He explained that although he had been accused, he did not judge the Pope nor wish to do so. He said that a 5-year-old child who knew his catechism could say to a priest or a bishop that was teaching contrary to the truth, "You are not telling the truth". If the bishop or priest then responded by accusing the child of judging him, the child could rightly reply, "No. I am not judging you. My catechism is judging you (10)."
Faith is Not About Feelings, it is About Truth
These days we are all surely weary of attempting to document the numerous and horrendous abuses of power coming from the Vatican. Speaking of the Vatican II reforms, Archbishop Lefebvre once observed that faith had become a "fluid concept", charity a "kind of universal solidarity", and hope a "hope for a better world (11)". This seems to be a very accurate description of Pope Francis' vision of a new "church". But while the Pope, along with his prelate-allies seems to be intent upon completing the destruction of the Church of Christ, this is a work they can never accomplish, though they believe in their foolish hearts that such a goal is within their power. In a sense, Archbishop Lefebvre still stands firmly in their way by virtue of the humble little organization he founded.
In a conference held in Portland, Oregon in November of 2016, Fr. Jurgen Wegner, District Superior of the United States of America District, SSPX, explained the thought process by which the Archbishop was able to continue in faith and obedience to the one True Church, even in the midst of the current crisis of confusion and persecution. Fr. Wegner said that in order to protect and safeguard Tradition, Archbishop Lefebvre always took an objective approach: Faith is not about feelings, it is about Truth. The virtues that he lived by and expected his priests to embrace, were obedience, charity, and the willingness to suffer; traits of a true servant of Christ. He explained that it was never the Archbishop's desire to separate from the Church and that he always insisted on obedience to the Pope (whenever obedience did not contradict Church tradition) as the Pope is the rightful head of the Church. It is important to note that the issues which separated the SSPX from canonical status were not--in the mind of the Archbishop--caused by the SSPX, rather, the separation came from within--from those who had not followed Tradition themselves, and therefore had left the faith. Thus in his mind, the Society had not broken with the Tradition of the Church, and why, despite all the authoritarian gestures that have come out of Rome over the years, the Society still insists upon the right to be called Roman Catholic.
The Voice of a Stranger
This leads to the extremely grave situation the Church is in today. As Jesus said "My sheep know My voice and the voice of a stranger they will not follow (12)", it becomes obvious that believers have a responsibility, even a mandate to follow God, not a man who rejects Him, even if that man is in the position of highest authority. We must, rather, follow the example of the psalmists, who always sought the Lord directly: "Give ear, O Lord, to my words, understand my cry. Hearken to the voice of my prayer, O my King and my God (13)." And, "let all them be glad that hope in Thee: they shall rejoice forever, and Thou shalt dwell in them(14)."
Clearly, Archbishop Lefebvre understood this years ago as the crisis unfolded, and he stood up for the cause of Christ, accepting the consequences of disobedience to authority; the humiliations and persecutions. Today we must do the same, for the love of our God, who is rejected by the world. And while the world and this false church beckons, attempting to seduce or coerce us to fall in line, we must remember whom we serve, and keep our eyes on the Kingdom; the Kingdom of Christ, which is "not of this world (15)". In this world, and in this conciliar Church, we have a crisis. One so "profound" and "cleverly organized", that Archbishop Lefebvre concluded the mastermind must be Satan himself. And in a grave warning to Catholics who prefer to be content with the status quo, he proclaimed that it is a "masterstroke of Satan" to convince Catholics to "disobey the whole of Tradition in the name of obedience (16)".
1."Clear Ideas on the Pope's Infallible Magisterium", from SiSiNoNo, the Angelus English language article reprint, January 2002, extracted from The Infalliblity of the Church's Magisterium by Rev Canon Rene' Berthod, available at SSPX.org
2."Archbishop Scicluna: We are Following the Pope's Directives" by Edward Pentin, ncregister.com, January 30, 2017
3.Hebrews 6:5-6, DRV
4.Philippians 2:12, DRV
5."25 Years of the SSPX: Part 1", A presentation given by Fr. Ramon Angles in Kansas City, MO, reprinted in the January 1996 issue of The Angelus, available at SSPX.org
6.Daniel 7:7, DRV
7.Open Letter to Confused Catholics, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, published by Angelus Press 1986, p. 22
8."The Campaign Against Econe", from an extract of Michael Davies' 3-volume series Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre, available at SSPX.org
9."1974 Declaration of Archbishop Lefebvre", available at SSPX.org
10."Hot Summer of 1976 and Archbishop Lefebvre" from a conference by Jean de Viguerie originally published in Christendom, May-June 2006 #5, available at SSPX.org
11.Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p.5
12.John 10:4-5, DRV
13.Psalm 5:2-3, DRV
14.Psalm 5:12, DRV15.John 18:36, DRV
16.Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p.155