Friday, 25 March 2011

Marcel Lefebvre RIP

Another week of blogging failure, thick with work and short on free thinking time. There is more to come. Tomorrow I head up to Durham for a conference where I will give a paper the preparation of which has filled up this last week. Hey ho.

But I could not let the 25 March pass by without calling to your attention the twentieth anniversary of the death of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Here we must tread lightly for we tread upon graves. De mortuis nihil nisi bonum.

I wonder now what his reputation is within the wider Church. One hears him mentioned so little in point of fact. The SSPX seems much more readily associated these days with his successors and their accompanying baggage. Perhaps it is only a trick of the light.

In some ways of course they are faithful to his fight, a fight which his occasionally intemperate and inaccurate theological language has unintentionally skewed. In other ways, I wonder whether Archbishop Lefebvre, as an old diplomatic operator, would have known more readily when to cut his losses and sign an accord with Rome. There is such a thing as the habit of union; it is not just a mark of the Church.

In other words, just as we can ask whether, if he were alive, Saint Thomas would be a Thomist, we can also ask whether, if he were alive, Archbishop Lefebvre would be a Lefebvrist. Still, thereby we are questioning the hegemony of his succession and are likely to be chased off the territory with a broomstick!

One thing is certain: whatever his faults, I don't think he would have ever discouraged anyone from becoming a Roman Catholic. I'm not about to push Archbishop Mennini into the dock. It's not as if he has hijacked the Apostolic Succession after all. But if his idea of preventing the Orthodox from thinking he is an ecclesial gerrymanderer consists in discouraging young men from reconciling themselves with the Bishop of Rome, then I think - to use an now defunct canonical category - that it's simply a bloody disgrace. I pray we have misunderstood him.

There are many kind of sins, and we are all guilty of them, even Archbishops Lefebvre and Mennini. Archbishop Lefebvre's, however, were sins of enthusiasm and commitment (like those of the Sons of Thunder); not sins of timidity and ingratiation (like the those of the Rock). They both, on this anniversary, deserve our prayers.


Anagnostis said...

I still have considerable reverence and affection for Archbishop Lefebvre; though I've often regretted his choice of patron, the practical bequest of which is a movement defined by Modernism (functioning as anti-modernism), and the ideological posturing of the 19th century. I wish he'd named the Society for St Gregory the Great (for example); we might have seen a more authentic and deeper-rooted conspectus for recovery than this endless straining at the Modernist gnat, while swallowing whole processions of camels.

Naturally I agree in principle with your comments about the Nuncio. The day I found myself earnestly recommending Orthodoxy to a Protestant while making no attempt whatsoever to bring him to Rome is the day I began to prepare for my own departure.

Richard Collins said...

A saintly man we owe him a great deal. RIP

Anonymous said...

Just as the saying goes "everybody knows where they were when JFK was shot", I think every traditionalist Catholic (whether an SSPXer or not) knows where they were when they heard of Archbishop Lefebvre's death. It doesn't seem like 20 years ago. How time flies.

I notice Fr. Z has also written a similar blog:

His is rather curious though. In 1991 Fr. Z. worked for the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. He claims to have had Archbishop Lefebvre's memorial card since then, and kept it, not just anywhere, in his Breviary all this time.

But Archbishop Lefebvre was 'allegedly' excommunicated and the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei

So is it permissible for one of the clergy, or anyone for that matter, to walkaround with an icon of a Catholic who was excommunicated and to pray to them. Request prays for them. For instance, can I have one printed for Queen Elizabeth I and put it in my Missal?

Not so long ago Bishop Fellay gave an interview with the Remnant:

In it Bishop Fellay explains the Holy See's two-pronged policy – an official de jure policy contradicted by de facto actions.

It seems there may be something similar with those clergy who worked for PCED. They claim "de jury" the excommunications were valid, but "de facto" they don't think this. Even the PCED president, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, admitted this:

James said...

It this really a post about Marcel Lefebvre or is it an excuse for a pop at the SSPX?

It is worth your readers comparing your post with that on Rorate Caeli,

You say "One hears him mentioned so little in point of fact."

They say "20 years after his death "the question of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre" is still discussed in the highest halls of the Church"


Cruise the Groove. said...

"...and inaccurate theological language"

Such as what may I please ask?

Anonymous said...

"Just as the saying goes "everybody knows where they were when JFK was shot", I think every traditionalist Catholic (whether an SSPXer or not) knows where they were when they heard of Archbishop Lefebvre's death. "

Er, no, can't say I do, and I have been a "traditionalist Catholic" since 1988.

Anonymous said...

Throughout the history of the church, errors have arisen in the Church as a result of opposite errors. One of the ironies of Archbishop Lefebvre’s movement, is that in opposing “false” ecumenism, it ended up opposing (de facto at least) “true” ecumenism. By which I mean unity in faith and communion with the Successor of St Peter. George.

GOR said...

Well as it is “a holy and wholesome thought…” we should pray for those who have gone before, regardless – or perhaps especially, because – of their earthly life and work. My Daily Missal is replete with In Memoriam cards of family and friends, some of whom - like myself - have not exactly been ‘walking saints’…

Ches said...


This was a post about Marcel Lefebvre in whose connection one cannot fail to mention the SSPX. I wouldn't know whether ML is mentioned in the highest halls of the Church. I only know that he is mentioned very little when the Society he founded is mentioned in the press.

Ches said...

Cruise the Groove,

I think one could regard as inaccurate the distinction between Eternal and Modernist Rome which he made in his declaration of 1974.

Ches said...


I agree this two-pronged approach is strange. I think, however, it comes out of a desire not to make it harder than it should be to find a workable entente.

As for Fr Z, I don't think he meant he was praying TO Archbishop Lefebvre; merely FOR him. When I was an SSPX seminarian, we had all kinds of names turn up on the November memorial cards which we placed on the altar during the month of the Holy Souls. While a public requiem was not traditionally permitted for those who died at odds with the Church, it has always been permissible for private prayers to be offered for them, and even Masses, so long as the intention is not made public.

Auricularis said...

Say what you like about the Archbishop, there is no question that he threw the post Vatican II church officials a bone, they were unable to swallow. Every question on Vatican II, will always have Lefebrve's shadow in the corner - even if poeple don't want to admit it.

I believe even Hans Kung once said that Archbishop Lefebrve asks the right questions, even if he didn't have the right answers.

Ches said...


I would agree entirely with you and it is something I have said for a long time. The SSPX ask a lot of the right questions. It's the answers they give that can become problematic.