The 1988 Consecrations and Accusations of Schism

May 19, 2022

Our first article focused on considering the basis of the condemnation pronounced by the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, which consists of an erroneous conception of Tradition being conceived as living. This second part asks whether the 1988 consecrations intrinsically bad, because they undermined an essential element of the Catholic faith, unity.

In the second interview, from the “theology” section, published on the April 27, 2022 page of the “” site, Fr. de Blignières indicates what, according to him, is “the criterion for evaluating the 1988 consecrations.” The priests and the faithful who did not want to follow Archbishop Lefebvre would not have acted by virtue of an erroneous conception of obedience, nor either in a purely tactical way or with a view to obtaining some advantage.

What would have been and would be in question, “is a fundamental judgment on hierarchical communion as an essential element of the faith and of the structure of the Catholic Church.” Indeed, the episcopal consecration accomplished against the will of the Pope would be “an intrinsically bad act because it undermines an element of Catholic faith.”

This element is that, to be not only validly but legitimately consecrated, a bishop must receive episcopal consecration “within the hierarchical communion among all Catholic bishops,” the guarantor of which is the bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter. In this way, episcopal consecration, received without the pontifical institution, constitutes “a very serious attack on the very unity of the Church.”

2. Fr. de Blignières refers here to the Encyclical Ad Apostolorum Principis of Pius XII as well as to number 4 of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei afflicta. However, neither of these two quoted texts is pertinent to evaluation the June 30, 1988 consecrations.

3. The text that would put us on the right track is the one that Fr. de Blignières does not quote: it is number 3 of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei aflicta. Contrary to what the founder of the Fraternity of St. Vincent Ferrier asserts, in an overly simplistic leap, the consecration of a bishop accomplished without a papal mandate and committed against the explicit will of the Sovereign Pontiff, does not constitute in itself “an act of a schismatic nature.”

Rather, John Paul II’s Moto proprio begins by saying that a consecration of this kind “is in itself a disobedience against the Roman Pontiff” [1]. Now, disobedience is something quite different from schism. [2] This is why, consecrating a bishop without a pontifical mandate and making a schism are two fundamentally different acts.

The first can be the occasion of the second, but not necessarily. To make a schism is in fact to refuse in principle the supreme authority of the Pope, and this takes place in the person who claims to give a power that only the Pope (and not a simple bishop) can give, that is, the power to govern in the Church.

To consecrate a bishop without a pontifical mandate is to disobey the Pope by communicating a power that any bishop can give, the power to sanctify in the Church, but only with the agreement of the Pope.

4. In fact, a bishop is a bishop because he receives and holds two different powers: the power of orders or the power to sanctify by validly performing the sacraments; and the power of jurisdiction or the power to govern by making laws.

The bishop receives the power to sanctify through his consecration and he receives the power to govern through the canonical mission, by means of which the Sovereign Pontiff communicates to him this power to govern [3].

The ordination of bishops is not, as such, sacramentally or ritually speaking, the act by which the power to govern is communicated. This power is communicated in the exact measure which the consecrated bishop receives from the Pope, the Sovereign Pontiff, – that is to say, in addition to his consecration, which only confers on him the power to sanctify – the canonical mission.

Ordinarily and most of the time, the consecrated bishop receives the two powers, the power of orders and the power of jurisdiction, at the same time. But it can also happen that a bishop is consecrated without receiving the power to govern. Such are the titular bishops [4] or ad honores consecrati.

And in fact, we can clearly see that there also exist outside the Church (for example among the schismatics) validly consecrated bishops, who consequently really have the power of orders, received by a consecration, but who have not received from the Pope the power to govern, since the sect to which they belong does not recognize the authority of the Pope, willed by Christ for His Church [5].

These bishops are not only disobedient, they are moreover schismatic insofar as the bishop who consecrates them arrogates the authority of the Pope to give them a power to govern that only the Pope can give.

This is the case with the schismatic bishops consecrated in the Patriotic Church of the Communist State in China, mentioned in Pius XII’s encyclical Ad Apostolorum Principis of June 29, 1958 [6]:

“Bishops who have been neither named nor confirmed by the Apostolic See, but who, on the contrary, have been elected and consecrated in defiance of its express orders, enjoy no powers of teaching or of jurisdiction since jurisdiction passes to bishops only through the Roman Pontiff.”

“Acts requiring the power of Holy Orders which are performed by ecclesiastics of this kind, though they are valid as long as the consecration conferred on them was valid, are yet gravely illicit, that is, criminal and sacrilegious.”

5. Now, it is clear – for he said so explicitly in his June 30, 1988 homily – that Archbishop Lefebvre had no intention of giving the power to govern to the bishops consecrated by him, by assuming the very authority of the Pope, which would have been a schism.

“We are not schismatics!” he said. “If an excommunication was pronounced against the bishops of China, who separated themselves from Rome and put themselves under the Chinese government, one very easily understands why Pope Pius XII excommunicated them. There is no question of us separating ourselves from Rome, nor of putting ourselves under a foreign government, nor of establishing a sort of parallel church as the Bishops of Palmar de Troya have done in Spain. They have even elected a pope, formed a college of cardinals.”

“It is out of the question for us to do such things. Far from us be this miserable thought of separating ourselves from Rome!” In Archbishop Lefebvre’s intention, the consecrations he accomplished at Ecône, even being done without a papal mandate, gave neither more nor less than the power of orders and in no way the power of jurisdiction. Therefore, they cannot represent an act of a schismatic nature, and constitute, at most, disobedience.

6. However, an act constitutes disobedience if and only if it opposes the legitimate command desired by the superior. So there would therefore be no disobedience for two reasons.

Either because the one who commands is not the superior and, as in this case, those who consecrate bishops without a pontifical mandate justify themselves by saying that John Paul II was not pope, which is the thesis of sedevacantism.

Either because the one who commands, although being a superior, does not express a legitimate command, due to the very fact that this human command is opposed to the command of God, who is superior to him [7].

However, as we have shown in the previous article here, the command by which John Paul II told Archbishop Lefebvre not to proceed with the planned episcopal consecrations is opposed to the will of God which is to ensure the survival of Tradition in the Church, thanks to the priesthood, survival seriously jeopardized by the false idea of ​​Tradition, “contradictory and incomplete,” imposed and spread by the Roman authorities, including John Paul II himself.

The June 30, 1988 consecrations, therefore constitute neither a schismatic act nor even an act of disobedience.

7. It was “Operation Survival” for Tradition, as Archbishop Lefebvre explained very well: “Today, this day, is ‘Operation Survival.’ If I had made this deal with Rome, by continuing the agreements we had signed, and by putting them into practice, I would have performed ‘Operation Suicide.’”

“There is no choice. We must live! That is why today, by consecrating these bishops, I am convinced that I am continuing to keep Tradition alive, that is to say, the Catholic Church.”

8. Fr. de Blignières therefore commits a double error here. No, it is not true that a consecration against the will of the Pope is intrinsically bad because it undermines an element of the Catholic faith, with everything depending on the will, legitimate or not, of the pope. No, it is not true either that “the 1988 consecrations constituted a very grave attack on the very unity of the Church.”

To be continued.

Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize.

[1] In semetipso talis actus flit inoboedientia adversus Romanum Pontificem.

[2] Cajetan, Commentary on the Summa Theologica, 2a2ae, question 39, article 1, no. VII; cf. the April 2018 issue of Courrier de Rome.

[3] This is St. Thomas’ teaching in the Summa Theologica, 2a2ae, question 39, article 3, corpus. This is also the teaching of such authors as: Louis Billot, “De episcopatu, thesis 32, §1” in De sacramentis, t. 2, p. 315; and Charles Journet, The Church of the Incarnate Word, volume 1: “The apostolic hierarchy,” Desclée de Brouwer, 1955, p. 34-35 and 637-640. At the time of the Second Vatican Council, the member fathers of the Coetus recalled this doctrine, to denounce the errors present in the outline of the future constitution on the Church. See in the Acta synodalia concilii Vaticani secundi, vol II, pars I, the written observations of Dom Jean Prou ​​(p. 557-559) at the end of the 2nd session of the Council (1963) and vol. III, pars I, those of Cardinal Browne (pp. 629-630) and those of Bishop Carli (pp. 660-661) on the diagram De Ecclesia, at the end of the 3rd session of the Council (summer 1964).

[4] They were formerly called bishops in partibus infidelium, a designation abrogated by a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda on February 27, 1882. The appellation of “titular” comes from the fact that they receive the title of a former diocese, inhabited now chiefly by infidels or schismatics. Cf F. Claeys-Bouuaert, “Bishops” in the Dictionary of Canon Law by Raoul Naz, t. V, col 574.

[5] Louis Billot, “De episcopatu, thesis 32, § 1” in De sacramentis, t. 2, p. 317.

[6] AAS, vol. L, p. 601 and sq. The French translation can be found in the Pontifical Documents of His Holiness Pius XII, Editions Saint-Augustin, Saint Maurice (Switzerland), vol. of the year 1958, p. 327-338.

[7] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a2ae, question 104, article 5.