30 Years Ago Operation Survival: The Story of the Episcopal Consecrations (1)

Source: FSSPX News

Archbishop Lefebvre at Econe

The Announcement of the Consecration

When Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the Priestly Society of St. Pius X in 1969, the former missionary, who had served as archbishop of Dakar then bishop of Tulle and governed the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers for six years, had already reached the age of retirement. Born on November 20, 1905, the archbishop who had traveled the world was often taken ill, due to the infirmities of old age and the fatigue of a life entirely devoted to the Church. The question of what was to become of his work was inevitable.

After the suspens a divinis inflicted upon him in 1976, the “iron bishop” was very alone. Only one single bishop in Brazil, in the diocese of Campos, Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, publicly sided with him. In 1983, they published together an Episcopal Manifesto denouncing the increasingly serious consequences that the ecclesiological errors of Vatican Council II were causing in the Church, particularly with the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law on January 25, 1983.

And yet, Archbishop Lefebvre still had hope. On July 4, 1984, in the conclusion to his Open Letter to Confused Catholics, he wrote: “It has also been said that after me, my work will disappear because there will be no bishop to replace me. I am certain of the contrary; I have no worries on that account. I may die tomorrow, but the good Lord answers all problems. Enough bishops will be found in the world to ordain our seminarians: this I know. Even if at the moment He is keeping quiet, one or another of these bishops will receive from the Holy Ghost the courage needed to arise in his turn.  If my work is of God, He will guard it and use it for the good of the Church. Our Lord has promised us, the gates of Hell shall not prevail against her. (Mt. 16:18)

“This is why I persist, and if you wish to know the real reason for my persistence, it is this:  At the hour of my death, when Our Lord asks me, ‘What have you done with your episcopate, what have you done with your episcopal and priestly grace?’ I do not want to hear from His lips the terrible words, ‘You have helped to destroy the Church along with the rest of them’.”

And yet, four years later, he consecrated four bishops to be his successors and keep alive his work of restoring the priesthood and preserving Tradition. What happened?

The State of Grave Necessity

In fact, he was forced to admit the obvious: the crisis in the Church was much more serious than it seemed. The 1985 Synod confirmed the will of the authorities to make Vatican II, twenty years later, “an ever more living reality.” The cry of alarm that Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer sent to John Paul II on August 31 had no effect. In their letter, the two prelates denounced the poisonous fruits of the conciliar declaration on religious liberty: “the religious indifferentism of States, even Catholic States”; “the ecumenism condemned by the Church’s Magisterium and in particular by the Encyclical Mortalium Animos of Pius XI”; “all the reforms carried out over 20 years within the Church to please heretics, schismatics, false religions and declared enemies of the Church, such as the Jews, the Communists and the Freemasons.”

Armed with the most solemn documents of the Church’s Magisterium, such as the Symbol of St. Athanasius, the Councils of Lateran, Trent and Vatican I, the Syllabus, etc., the French archbishop and Brazilian bishop dared to write to the successor of Peter: “Holy Father, your responsibility is heavily engaged in this new and false conception of the Church which is drawing clergy and faithful into heresy and schism. If the Synod under your authority perseveres in this direction, you will no longer be the Good Shepherd.” The authors of the letter declared that they could “only persevere in the Church's holy Tradition and take whatever decisions are necessary for the Church to keep a clergy faithful to the Catholic religion…”

A Sign from Providence: The Scandal of Assisi

The following year was that of the first inter-religious meeting in Assisi, that John Paul II took the initiative of organizing on October 27, 1986, for the world year of peace decreed by the UN. Archbishop Lefebvre denounced this meeting as an imposture.

Two months before it took place, he wrote a desperate appeal to eight cardinals. He expressed to them his indignation: “He who now sits upon the Throne of Peter mocks publicly the first article of the Creed and the first Commandment of the Decalogue.” Indeed, “if faith in the Church, the only ark of salvation, disappears, then the Church herself disappears.”  Archbishop Lefebvre spoke out strongly against these public sins that destroy the Catholic Faith by placing false cults and false religions on equal footing with the one Church founded by Jesus Christ, and that in the city of Assisi that was sanctified by St. Francis.

This scandal came after many other initiatives from Pope John Paul II, his visit to the synagogue in Rome on April 13, for example. Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer came together in Buenos Aires and published a declaration on December 2, 1986, in which they accused “this modernist and liberal religion of modern and conciliar Rome” that breaks with the previous Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

Another Sign from Providence: False Religious Liberty Justified

On March 9, 1987, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, acknowledged the reception of the study on religious liberty that Archbishop Lefebvre had submitted to him in October 1985. An exchange of letters followed and confirmed the rupture between the new magisterium and the magisterium of all time.

On June 29, 1987, at the priestly ordinations in Econe, the archbishop announced, “It is likely that I will give myself some successors in order to be able to continue this work, because Rome is in darkness. For now, Rome is no longer listening to the voice of Truth.” Doubtless he saw the need not to leave his seminarians orphans as his work reached international proportions. But above all, he saw the lack of any reaction from the bishops of the Catholic world, who were all won over to modernism, the spirit of Assisi and false doctrines. He explained that the past year had been a very serious year for the Catholic Church, and that he saw in it the signs he was waiting for from Providence “to carry out the acts that seemed to me necessary for the continuation of the Catholic Church.”

Indeed, he was convinced that two signs clearly showed God’s will: Assisi and the answer to his objections on religious liberty. For Archbishop Lefebvre, “In itself the answer from Rome to our objections on the errors of Vatican II relating to religious liberty is even more serious than Assisi. Assisi is an historical fact, an action. The response to our objections on religious liberty is an affirmation of principles, and so that is very grave. It is one thing simply to perform a grave and scandalous act; it is something else to affirm false and erroneous principles, which as a consequence have disastrous conclusions in practice.”

On July 8, 1987, the prelate sent Cardinal Ratzinger a study refuting the answer he had received from the authorities. Archbishop Lefebvre expressed his dismay at this obstinacy in defending the declaration Dignitatis Humanae that flagrantly contradicts the most solemn documents of the magisterium – the Syllabus, Quanta Cura, Libertas Praestantissimum. He insisted upon the responsibility “before God and before the history of the Church” for the rupture caused by the new magisterium. He concluded his letter by confirming what he had announced in Econe on June 29: “The permanent will to annihilate Tradition is a suicidal will, which justifies, by its very existence, true and faithful Catholics when they make the decisions necessary for the survival of the Church and the salvation of souls.”

Thus, in a few years’ time, Archbishop Lefebvre came to reconsider his initial position. With the absence of any reaction to the scandals and growing apostasy, the likelihood of seeing his work of formation and restoration of the Catholic priesthood reduced to naught after his death was increasing every day. There were many signs from Providence to help him make a wise decision, the most important ones being the scandal of Assisi in 1986 and the confirmation of the new doctrine on religious liberty in 1987.

At the age of almost 82, Archbishop Lefebvre therefore announced to the world that he would consecrate successors so as not to leave his seminarians orphans and in order to preserve the Catholic priesthood. As for Bishop de Castro Mayer, who was already over 83 years old – he was born on June 20, 1904 – he did not fail to participate in this important act that the archbishop was about to make. But there came an unforeseen development when the Holy See decided to react.

Read tomorrow: After the Announcement of the Consecration, the Proposal from Rome