"If we do not maintain Justice, Justice will not maintain us." – Sir Francis Bacon
Justice Denied to Archbishop Lefebvre
Since before the judgment seat of the eternal king a person will not be held guilty when a judge unjustly condemns him, according to the words of the prophet, the Lord will not condemn him when he is judged, ecclesiastical judges must take care and be on the watch that in the process of justice dislike has no power, favour does not take an undue place, fear is banished, and reward or hope of reward does not overturn justice. (First Council of Lyons, 1245, Constitution 1, #37 ‘On Judges who give dishonest judgement’)
Are we on the brink of a new Dark Age of irrationality and superstition? We could be forgiven for thinking so in the aftermath of Vatican II whose proponents continue to suppress the expression of Catholic Truth in order to protect and guard their most cherished premises. An egregious example of this policy can be seen in the treatment of Archbishop Lefebvre, an ardent and lifelong defender of the Faith and the Papacy, who suffered opposition from Rome for taking the necessary steps to preserve the Church from the destructive effects of Vatican II and its “reforms”.
Prophetic insight or fertile imagination?
I read with amusement, amazement and disbelief an article in The Remnant of 15th April 2005 by Fr Brian Harrison who made the outrageous suggestion that Archbishop Lefebvre incurred God’s disfavour and merited excommunication for consecrating bishops without a papal mandate, a conclusion he came to by no other means than the superstitious practice of Bibliomancy – a method of divination (akin to Tarot) of seeking spiritual insight by consulting a random text from a book, usually the Bible or another sacred text. Oblivious to the fact that under the New Covenant all divination is forbidden(1), Fr Harrison invites Remnant readers to believe that a chance opening of his post-conciliar Breviary on 30th June 1988, the very day of the Consecrations, revealed to him God’s negative judgement on the Archbishop’s action: for there before his eyes was the story of Oza (II Kings 6: 6-7), a layman who was struck dead on the spot by God for having dared to touch the Ark of the Covenant (which was the sole prerogative of the priests), thereby usurping rightful authority and deciding for himself that a “state of necessity” existed.(2)
Now Fr Harrison jumps to the unwarranted conclusion that just as Oza “stretched forth his hand” to touch the Ark and was struck dead for his “rashness”, so Archbishop “stretched forth his hand” to consecrate bishops without papal permission, and the Pope (who is God in the eyes of some modern Catholics when it suits them) also “stretched forth his hand” to strike the Archbishop ‘dead’ with excommunication and cut him off from the living Body of the Church!
If that sounds too much of a stretch, it is. First of all, while Oza acted on the spur of the moment, it was never the way of Archbishop Lefebvre to act with “rashness”, as all the important events of his life were preceded by prayer, motivated by the highest principles and executed after patient reflection and with consideration for the common good of the Church. Secondly, Pope John Paul II did not excommunicate Mgr Lefebvre, but stated that he had excommunicated himself. And thirdly, Mgr Lefebvre remained very much alive for some time afterwards, labouring in the Lord’s vineyard and producing much spiritual fruit. Both he and the Society he founded have done more than anyone else, including the Pope and hierarchy, to build up the Church by fidelity to Tradition and to support the true notion of the Papacy which was instituted by Our Lord for that very purpose.
The Old Testament passage which Fr Harrison quotes yields a different interpretation when read with a Catholic mind, as Cardinal Newman explains:
In all defences of the Catholic Church, we must remember the history of Oza, 2 Reg. VI, and beware of irreverence, presumption, impatience.(3)
The key is obviously that God is offended by the presumption of anyone treating the sacred with irreverence – an accusation that no-one could possibly impute to the Archbishop. A more suitable analogy for Oza would be the numerous laymen and women who daily “stretch forth their hand” to touch the Sacred Body of Our Lord with the complicity of novus ordo priests, including Fr Harrison himself.(4)
In order to lend a spurious credibility to his case, Fr Harrison has worked out by mathematics that the coincidence of the Old Testament passage occurring on the day of the Consecrations is too statistically significant to be a random effect: Oza’s condemnation must have been put there intentionally by divine ordination in order to incriminate Mgr Lefebvre millennia later! Fr Harrison is playing fast and loose with the truth and has turned Scripture into a secret mystery document that contains esoteric truths (in some ways similar to the ancient heresy of Gnosticism). His misreading of the Scriptures is not a biblically accurate prophecy of the events of 1988, but a trumped-up charge to bring false witness against the Archbishop, and is no less superstitious a fiction than the Omega Code.(5) One might have as much chance of success in predicting the assassination of President Kennedy or the election of Tony Blair from decoding the text of Moby Dick.
Fr Harrison writes as if he were unaware that the role of a man of God is not to strike a prophetic note or cultivate oracular utterances, but to tell the truth. Even if he was writing in jest, he would do well to consider that myth-making (not to mention mischief-making) and mendacity go hand in hand, and that the unimpeachable reputation of Archbishop Lefebvre is at stake.
What was the charge against Archbishop Lefebvre and what was the evidence?
“Schism”, “disobeying the Pope”, “contempt of the keys” – these are all accusations leveled against Archbishop Lefebvre on the totally unwarranted assumption that he wanted to usurp papal authority, ordain his own bishops and found a breakaway sect. Add a touch of the “recklessness” of Oza (the ancient Greeks had a name for it: ‘hubris’ from the Greek word hybris , meaning “overweening pride and self-assertion”, “wanton violence” and even “defiance of the gds” leading to retribution or ‘nemesis’), and hey presto, you have a ready-made myth surrounding the Archbishop in his relationship with Rome.
Hubris is the premise underlying the Legend that is now told throughout the mainstream Church that Mgr Lefebvre was a “renegade Archbishop”, a “dissident prelate”, and a “rebel” who founded a “schismatic society” in order to challenge the supremacy of the Pope. It does not take a great deal of mental ability to see that, in Macbeth’s words: “it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” (6)
A point which the Archbishop’s detractors would do well to consider is that where no substantial and incontrovertible evidence can be produced, their words of personal disparagement amount to public calumny and character assassination.
"Oh, what a tangled web…"
Let us proceed to cut through all the sound and fury:
Myth No. 1 accuses Archbishop Lefebvre of being a “Renegade”, that is one who betrays, a person who deserts his cause or faith for another. The Archbishop has never denied a single article of the faith or swerved from the path of orthodoxy to the least degree, and has consistently upheld Catholic Truth in doctrine, discipline and liturgy. In a sermon he gave at the Church of St Simon Piccolo in Venice, on the 7th April 1980, he explained:
Ten years ago I began this work - this Society of St. Pius X - with the intention of wanting always to serve the Church…I have never changed in any way, whether it was when I established new seminaries in Africa, or when, as Apostolic Delegate of His Holiness Pope Pius XII, I visited the sixty-four dioceses of French Africa during the course of eleven years…I have never changed. I have preached and done what the Church has always taught. I have never changed what the Church said in the Council of Trent and at the First Vatican Council. So who has changed? (7)
Myth No. 2 characterises Lefebvre as a “rebel Bishop”. This particular calumny was largely got up by the Catholic press. With complete lack of professionalism or reference to any journalistic code of ethics, liberal Catholic journalists succeeded in implanting in the minds of the ordinary faithful the notion that the Archbishop was pursuing an agenda of subversion against the Church and the Pope. In this connection it should be noted that the Seminary at Ecône, from the moment of its foundation, had been a victim of a campaign of denigration by the Catholic press which was instrumental in spreading the calumny, initiated by the French and Swiss episcopate, that it was a “wildcat seminary”.
Myth No. 3 states that Lefebvre was a “dissident Bishop” who disobeyed Pope after Pope, broke with the Church and is no longer in communion with the Holy See. No one can rationally claim that the Archbishop and the priests and faithful who keep the Faith as they have received it from the Church can be accused of disobedience to the Church! But all the condemnations issued against Archbishop Lefebvre rest on a single foundation, on his refusal to acknowledge the initial and uncanonical suppression in 1975 by Mgr Mamie, Bishop of Fribourg, of his seminary and priestly Society of St Pius X.
• Not only did this act of suppression contravene Canon Law,(8)but it was also an act against natural justice to close the most flourishing and orthodox seminary in Europe even though the official Apostolic Visitation revealed no cause for complaint.
• This initial order was the outcome of “friendly” discussions with three Vatican Cardinals in March 1975 to which Mgr Lefebvre was invited, concealing from him the fact that he was in reality a defendant in a trial against him. The “trial’ ended with a condemnation not from the Cardinals or even from the Pope, but from an anonymous judge whose identity was not stated in the official verdict given to him. The Archbishop was never granted a canonical hearing and all his attempts to obtain one were blocked. (9)
• No evidence has ever been produced to prove that the Commission of Cardinals (February-March 1975) had been constituted by the Pope or that the Pope had personally ratified its deliberations before Mgr Lefebvre lodged an appeal. The chronology of events is important here: in the absence of such evidence, Pope Paul’s subsequent letter of condemnation (June 1975) must be construed as an attempt to give retroactive effect to an already illegal process, thus making the earlier breach of natural justice pale in comparison.
The rational basis for the Archbishop’s refusal to comply with Vatican orders is clear: a condemnation arising from deceit or illegalities removes the legitimacy of any action taken against the accused. As the legality of the initial suppression is clearly not in line with Canon Law, Mgr Lefebvre could not logically admit the legality of the suspensions inflicted on him for not accepting it. It follows therefore that he was justified in carrying on his priestly work using the powers with which he had been invested at his ordination and which have not validly been forbidden to him.
Myth No. 4 attempts to undermine Mgr Lefebvre’s justification for consecrating bishops without a papal mandate grounded in the “state of necessity” to minister to the pastoral needs of the faithful at a time of crisis in the Church. The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts (PCILT), the Vatican’s think-tank in legal matters, did more tanking than thinking when it proclaimed:
As for the state of necessity in which Mons. Lefebvre thought to find himself, one must keep before one that such a state must be verified objectively.(10)
This statement is a complete fabrication and is not supported in any section of the Code of Canon Law which the PCILT purports to be interpreting. The relevant Canons referring to “states of necessity” either exonerate a person from blame if he violated a law out of grave fear or necessity (Canon 1323 #4) or prescribe a diminished penalty if he “erroneously but culpably” thought that a state of necessity existed (Canon 1324 #8). Either way, there is no obligation to prove objectively that a state of necessity existed.
But who, according to the PCILT, is to verify the state of necessity, if not Mgr Lefebvre? No person or official body is mentioned, but the clear implication is that a crisis in the Church entailing a state of necessity cannot truly exist unless it has first been identified and evaluated by the reigning Pontiff. So “verified objectively” means “verified by the Pope”, which is not at all the same thing. The weakness of this argument can be seen in the fact that since Vatican II, it is the Popes themselves who have caused, contributed to or failed to stop the very crisis in the Church which justified the actions of Archbishop Lefebvre.
Myth No. 5 proclaims that “it is never necessary to consecrate bishops against the will of the Pope.” That is exactly what the PCILT said and what Archbishop Lefebvre did. But how can one accept such a statement without believing that the Pope is inerrant (incapable of making a mistake), impeccable (incapable of committing a sin), omniscient (seeing and knowing all things) and almighty (enjoying absolute power over the Church)? And it was on this purely gratuitous statement simply plucked out of the air that the PCILT came to the conclusion that the Consecrations were a “schismatic act” and furthermore that “the whole Lefebvrian movement is to be held schismatic, in view of the existence of a formal declaration by the Supreme Authority on this matter.” (11)
Even the Pope’s 1988 motu proprio, Ecclesia Dei , came to no such conclusion about the status of the priests and faithful who support the SSPX. Besides, a schism cannot be “declared” into existence, nor can a person be cut off from the Mystical Body of Christ simply on the say-so of another, even of the Pope. In the absence of a canonical trial, the PCILT merely presumes that Archbishop Lefebvre was guilty without taking into account the fact that he never fulfilled the conditions for schism.
What all this amounts to is a miscarriage of justice: Archbishop Lefebvre was presumed guilty without due process and declared “excommunicated” for a crime he did not commit. Proof of a miscarriage comes from the following facts:
1. From the outset he was treated by the Commission of Cardinals as guilty until proven innocent – an action which is the hallmark of a totalitarian state. Presumption of innocence is part of natural justice and is also an integral part of international human rights law.(12) This was in breach of his right
a)to know the nature of the 1975 “trial” and to prepare a defence
b)to know the identity of his judge
c)to appeal against the order from the Cardinals to close his seminary, withdraw canonical approval for his Society and suspend his priests from exercising their priestly functions – all of which is tantamount to the destruction of his life’s work
2. With regard to the Decree of Excommunication issued by the Congregation of Bishops,
a) the interpretation of the Canon prescribing excommunication for “schism” was undertaken in breach of Canon 18 which says that “Laws which impose a penalty are to be interpreted strictly” by which is meant that only actions which clearly and incontestably constitute schism – e.g. involving a complete rejection of the Pope’s authority to rule (which the Archbishop, a pillar of the Papacy, cannot be accused of) - are to be considered excommunicable offences. Neither the old nor the new Code of Canon Law considers consecration of bishops without a papal mandate a schismatic offence. To declare otherwise is to go beyond the narrow scope of the relevant Canon and the remit of Canon Law.
b) Archbishop Lefebvre was given no benefit of the doubt as stipulated in Canon Law as a right of all the accused.(13) Both justice and charity demand that any reasonable doubt must be applied in favour of the accused. All who knew the Archbishop, whether friend or foe, were struck by his complete integrity and sincerity. Even if some commentators referred to his steadfastness as “obstinacy”, they still regarded him as a man of honour and good conscience. So there were no grounds to doubt his intentions. As all participants in a judicial enquiry should be motivated only by a concern for the better argument, it is evidence of bias that the Archbishop’s accusers interpreted his action in the worst possible light. How could Mgr Lefebvre, whose whole life had been dedicated to upholding the authority of the Papacy, be suspected and accused of wanting to destroy it?
c) no account was taken of the Canons which exempt from or diminish penalties of those who act against an order of the Supreme Pontiff. For a just condemnation, no relevant argument should be suppressed or excluded. To get to the truth, we must consider all the evidence and omit none. If evidence is omitted that is crucial to prove that the conclusion is wrong, then the truth has not been arrived at and justice is clearly not done.
Hubris repeats itself – in Rome!
It is evident from the manner in which Mgr Lefebvre has been treated by the Vatican, reminiscent of the high-handed tactics of the former Soviet Union, that hubris – a common theme in Greco-Roman tragedies and mythology – has returned with a vengeance to plague the Church since Vatican II. For its part in the “excommunication” set-up, the Political Hubris Trophy goes to the Holy See. When Pope John Paul deprived the Archbishop of his apostolic right to consecrate bishops, it was for ‘political’ reasons: everything about the Archbishop - his fidelity to Tradition, his outspoken criticism of the “reforms”, his rejection of the novus ordo and the novelties of Vatican II, even the success of his priestly Society – were perceived as a grave and growing threat to the Modernists’ plans to replace the traditional Faith with a new religion of their own construction based on Religious Liberty, Ecumenism and the autonomy of worldly values. So he had to be put out. (No one, of course, can in reality be put out of the Church for an unjust reason.) But is the Church a manifestly holier and more Catholic place now that she has supposedly rid herself of “this troublesome priest”?
Having no real case against the Archbishop, and unable to produce any reason why he needed to be punished at all, the enemies of Tradition set about peddling cynical and pernicious falsehoods to gain ‘political’ advantage. “Schism” and “excommunication”– to employ these expressions as a weapon without any evidence of guilt betrays the unlovely face of tyranny and superstition. They are no more than a bureaucratic device to allow the Vatican to turn its back on Tradition and engage in its pet projects of Ecumenism, Religious Liberty and Collegiality without interference from a bishop “in good standing”. It is also a measure intended to ‘put the frighteners’ on the faithful. The mere fact that the Pope has condoned the decree of excommunication is enough to make most people stand off the SSPX, even though some may realize that it was unjust and therefore null and void.
But why do people believe such outrageous things? Ignorance, hostility, fear, apathy and self-interest all play important roles. Of particular significance, however, is simply the fact that people are prone to believe so many things without any attempt to think critically about them or even to use their common sense. What we see here is the development of a sort of "mob mentality" — people going along with what they hear because others are doing the same.
The Straw Man/Straw Person Fallacy
While immense damage has been done to the development of Mgr Lefebvre’s work (the faithful are still being intimidated by bishops and priests who cry “schism” and threaten them with excommunication if they attend SSPX Masses), all is not lost. For all the condemnations issued by the Vatican were based on a misrepresentation of Mgr Lefebvre, and have therefore been directed against a straw man! Vatican officials have set up a man of straw, attributed base motives to him, attacked him and proclaimed victory. But all the while the real Archbishop Lefebvre stands by untouched! In memoria aeterna erit justus. (The just man will be remembered for ever. - Ps. CXI, 7) And what is more, the Society he founded, uncontaminated by Modernist errors and the spirit of the world, continues to preserve the Catholic Faith intact and provide a living opposition to the novelties imposed by Rome.
The Pox Romana
Vatican II can be compared to a plague (Pox Romana) that ravaged the entire Church and virtually wiped out the true Mass and almost extinguished the Catholic Faith. The Pox Romana marks the collapse of the Church as we knew her and her emergence, blinking, into a Church substantially changed where the priesthood is in shreds, the liturgy devastated, and chaos rules in every diocese. As a result of the “reforms” which are not grounded in Catholic truth, the Church has been thrown into a new Dark Age where irrationality and superstition hold sway. It is as if the holy Church has been turned into a prison for consciences instead of a place where the faithful can be free to follow the traditions of their spiritual forebears. And when the faithful call out for heroes to guard the priesthood and save souls, they are given compromising popes and bishops who spoon-feed them with useless pabulum about “dialogue”, the “dignity of man” and universal salvation.
A medieval flashback
When Robert Grosseteste, the thirteenth-century Bishop of Lincoln, refused to obey an order from Pope Innocent IV to appoint the Pope’s nephew, Frederick di Lavagna, to the canonry in Lincoln Cathedral, he did so from the highest of motives – the good of souls under his care. In spite of the fact that nepotism was a practice that was capable of undermining the fabric of the Church, the Pope threatened to excommunicate anyone who opposed his choice of candidate. But Bishop Grosseteste, a zealous defender of the papacy, argued that he was not bound to obey an abuse of authority:
Because of the obedience to which I am bound, and of my love of my union with the Holy See in the Body of Christ, as an obedient son I disobey, I contradict, I rebel. You cannot take action against me, for my every word and act is not rebellion but the filial honour due by God’s command to father and mother. As I have said, the Apostolic See in its holiness cannot destroy, it can only build. This is what the plenitude of power means; it can do all things to edification. But these so-called provisions (14)do not build up, they destroy. They cannot be the work of the Blessed Apostolic See, for ‘flesh and blood’ which do not possess the Kingdom of God ‘hath revealed them’, not ‘our Father which is in heaven’.” (15)
Even though the Pope was intending to use his “plenitude of power” to do the devil’s work (and thus make it legal!), he yielded to his counsellors’ advice not to take action against the Bishop because he was an innocent man:
We cannot condemn him. He is a Catholic and a holy man, a better man that we are. He has not got his equal among the prelates. All the French and English clergy know this and our contradiction would be of no avail...He is esteemed as a great philosopher, learned in Greek and Latin literature, zealous for justice, a reader in the schools of theology, a preacher to the people, an active enemy of abuses. (16)
There are some obvious parallels here. (This could almost have been a portrait of Mgr Lefebvre!) Although the circumstances of Bishop Grosseteste and Mgr Lefebvre differ, the principles that motivated the two prelates to disobey the Pope of the day remain the same – concern for the good of souls. But unlike the medieval Pope who knew an innocent man when he saw one, the Popes of Vatican II treated Mgr Lefebvre with contempt and refused to give him his due. But one day justice will be done for this great son of the Church. Meanwhile, let his detractors remember: “While you live, tell truth and shame the devil.” (17)
(1) The Bible condemns the pursuit of secret mysteries and esoteric messages (Col 2:3-9; 1 Tin 6:20).
(2) In the reign of King David, w hen the Ark of the Covenant was being transferred to the royal city of Jerusalem in a cart pulled by oxen, Oza, the son of Abinadab noticed that the Ark was about to topple and quickly put out his hand to steady it and prevent it crashing to the ground. The relevant passage reads: “Oza put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it: because the oxen kicked and made it lean aside. And the indignation of the Lord was enkindled against Oza, and He struck him for his rashness: and he died there before the ark of God”.
(3) See Wilfrid Ward, Life of Cardinal Newman, 2 vols., vol. 1, Chapter 14
(4) Fr Harrison minimizes the gravity of the current practice when he condones Communion in the hand, describing it as “at least limited in scope by being a private and voluntary gesture” in comparison to female altar service. (‘The New Feminist Face of the Roman Liturgy’, Living Tradition, No. 58, May 1995) He evidently does not condemn this current practice as an attempt to relativize the essential differences between priests and laity, and therefore an element in the wholesale destruction of the Catholic liturgy by the Modernists and neo-Protestants in the Catholic Church.
(5) An apocalyptic film, starring Casper Van Dien and Michael York, about a hidden code of prophecy contained in the Bible which can be interpreted only by certain mystics practising occult arts.
(6)Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, scene v.
(7) The Angelus, October 1980
(8) Canon 493 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law which was in force at the time stated that it was reserved to the Holy See alone to suppress a Religious Society previously approved by the local Ordinary, as the seminary at Ecône had been. A bishop has authority to suppress a religious house when it is one that he has erected within his own diocese. But if the order to which the house belongs extends beyond the boundaries of his own diocese, he has no such authority, since he would be trespassing on the jurisdiction of other bishops.
(9) Full documentation of this travesty of justice is provided in Michael Davies’s Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, Vol. 1.
(10) Annex to Protocol 5233/96, 24 August 1996
(12) laid down in Article 11 of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights (December 10, 1948)
(13) Canon 14 says: "Laws, even invalidating and incapacitating ones, do not oblige when there is a doubt of law."
(14) A papal provision took the form of a request from the Pope to an ecclesiastic to appoint a papal nominee to a canonry, a prebend, or a benefice. The system degenerated into nepotism whereby absentee pastors used their benefices as a source of monetary income without the care of souls.
(15) F.M. Powicke, King Henry III and the Lord Edward, Oxford, 1950
(17) Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1