Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was a bishop of uncommon accomplishment as a missionary in Africa and as the Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, one of the largest missionary orders. He had been born on November 29, 1905, ordained a priest on September 21, 1929 having doctorates in Philosophy and Theology from the Gregorian Pontifical University, and initially installed in a parish in the French town of Lille. Shortly afterwards he began his ministry in the African town of Libreville in Gabon and in 1934 became Rector of the Seminary there where he instituted a first-class educational system which boasts three bishops and two heads of state among its alumni. He was consecrated bishop on September 18, 1947, and began serving in Dakar, and there as bishop, and later archbishop, he founded many seminaries and twenty-one new dioceses.
In 1962 he was voted Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, a missionary order, and also asked by John XXIII to serve on the preparatory commissions for the upcoming Second Vatican Council. The preparatory commission on which he served prepared seventy-two totally orthodox schemas for consideration at that Council, and the first session (1962) accomplished nothing but the rejection of each and every one of them, one by one. By 1968 he was no longer able to function as their Superior General because of the new ways and constitutions which were being forced on that order (along with all others). As a result he then resigned with no other ambition than to live in a small apartment in Rome on his small pension and quietly devote the rest of his life, as the titular Archbishop of Tulle, to prayer and contemplation. But God had other plans for him.
Throughout his priestly career he had established a reputation for himself as a staunch supporter of the (traditional) Catholic faith. Almost no sooner did he go into retirement he was approached by young men who simply wanted to know where they could get a good priestly formation. For a short while, he simply directed them to the University of Fribourg where an old friend of his, Mgr. Francois Charriere, Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg had suggested. Before long, however, it became clear that Fribourg was increasingly infested with the new spirit of Modernism and not a suitable place for his seminarians. What happened next can only be described as an extraordinary act of God.
In 1968, a man by the name of Alphonse Pedroni happened to learn through a chance encounter that a property in the small Swiss hamlet of Ecône which had belonged to a novitiate of the Canons of Saint Bernard was up for sale, and that a communist group was interested in buying it, and in demolishing its chapel to make way for a shopping mall, bar, movie theater, or discotheque. With some money he and four friends of his came up with, he managed to buy the novitiate with the intent to give it to the Church in some way. By October of 1970, he and his four friends had decided to donate the property to the retired Archbishop to be used for his new seminary. Verbal permission from the local regular bishop (Mgr. Charriere) to found a seminary in his diocese had already been granted on June 6 of the previous year, and again in writing on August 18.
On November 1, 1970, Lefebvre gained official recognition in the form of a Decree of Erection issued by Mgr. Charriere, and on February 18, 1971, he obtained a Statute of Pontifical Right from Cardinal Wright, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, who wrote that "this Association ... has already exceeded the frontiers of Switzerland, and several Ordinaries in different parts of the world praise and approve it. All of this and especially the wisdom of the norms which direct and govern this Association give much reason to hope for its success." For the next several years after that, the seminary progressed nicely with many more seminarians coming for a traditional priestly formation and all blessings and support from Rome, and even the incardination of some of its priests into various dioceses.
However, since none of these priests were willing to say the new "mass," they soon found considerable opposition, first from the other French bishops who were totally taken in with the heresy of Modernism, and then later with higher and higher "authorities" within the Vatican establishment. In early 1974, the villainous Modernist elements began to circulate the false rumor that Ecône was some sort of "wildcat seminary" even though its official canonical status was a documented fact. In November 1974, Ecône was officially visited by representatives of Paul VI who found no fault with Lefebvre or his seminary, but determined to find some fault with him they said some scandalous things which were offensive to the pious sensibilities of the seminarians and which did not bode well for the future of the practice of the Catholic Faith in Vatican City.
In response to these things, on November 21, Lefebvre gave a short speech of encouragement to his seminarians. Although intended only for their ears, the press soon picked up on it as being the first truly well-stated manifesto of the traditional Catholic Faith in these times. It has since come to be known as a "Declaration." It read in its entirety:
We cleave, with all our heart and with all our soul, to Catholic Rome, the guardian of the Catholic Faith and of the traditions necessary for the maintenance of that Faith and to Eternal Rome, mistress of wisdom and Truth.
On the other hand we refuse and have always refused to follow the Rome of the neo-Protestant trend clearly manifested throughout Vatican Council II and, later, in all the reforms born of it.
All these reforms have contributed and are still contributing to the destruction of the Church, the ruin of the Priesthood, the abolishing of the Sacrifice of the Mass and of the Sacraments, the disappearance of the religious life, to naturalist and Teilhardian teaching in the universities, seminaries and catechetics, a teaching born of liberalism and Protestantism and often condemned by the solemn magisterium of the Church.
No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can force us to abandon or diminish our Catholic Faith, clearly laid down and professed by the magisterium of the Church for nineteen hundred years. "But," said St. Paul, "though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Galatians I. 8).
Is not that what the Holy Father is telling us again today? And if there appears to be a certain contradiction between his words and his deeds as in the acts of the dicasteries. We abide by what has always been taught and turn a deaf ear to the Church's destructive innovations.
It is not possible profoundly to modify the "lex orandi" without modifying the "lex credendi." To the new Mass there corresponds a new catechism, a new priesthood, new seminaries, new universities, the charismatic and pentecostal Church - - all opposed to orthodoxy and to the age-old magisterium of the Church.
Born of liberalism and modernism, this reform is poisoned through and through. It begins in heresy even if not all its acts are formally heretical. Hence it is impossible for any informed and loyal Catholic to embrace this Reform or submit himself to it in any way whatsoever.
The only way of salvation for the faithful and the doctrine of the Church is a categorical refusal to accept the Reform.
It is for this cause that with no rebellion, no bitterness, no resentment, we carry on our work of training priests under the star of the timeless magisterium, convinced that we can render no greater service to the Holy Catholic Church, the Sovereign Pontiff and future generations.
It is for this cause that we hold firmly by all that has been believed and practised in the Faith, in morals, in worship, in the teaching of the catechism, the moulding of a priest and the institution of the Church, that eternal Church codified in her books before the modernist influence of the Council made itself felt, awaiting the time when the true light of Tradition shall scatter the darkness clouding the skies of eternal Rome.
In so doing, by the grace of God, the help of the Virgin Mary, of St. Joseph and St. Pius X, we are assured of remaining faithful to the Holy Roman and Catholic Church, to all the successors of Peter, and of remaining "fideles dispensatores mysteriorum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi in Spiritu Sancto." Amen.
One can see in this declaration an embryonic understanding of the distinction between that which is really the Catholic Church (Eternal Rome) on the one hand, and the Vatican institution which has gone over to the false new religion (Modernist Rome) on the other. All the same, Lefebvre went to his death without ever understanding exactly what had happened to the Church at the second Vatican council.
Much as having such a declaration on record caused Ecône to gain prominence among real Catholics, it also occasioned excuses for the ex-Catholic Vatican institution to start trying to shut it down. Paul VI's declaration against the tridentine Mass had gone on record only few weeks before then. All of this was only the beginning of Lefebvre's troubles. Of greater concern was the retirement of Bishop Charriere which meant the loss of an important ally, and his replacement with Bishop Pierre Mamie who was no particular friend to the traditional Catholic Faith.
One might easily put down the resistance to change during those earliest days to mere human nature, but had that been so it would have soon died out. Both the remaining faithful Roman Catholics and the heretics in the Vatican institution underestimated the situation quite seriously. The Catholics, as yet still making the assumption that the Vatican institution was still simply the Roman Catholic Church, therefore assumed that it must soon return to its senses. Surely the Catholic Church must if She is to be an eternal institution capable of lasting through all of the vicissitudes of time and place.
Conservatives and Traditionalists alike were hoping to just "ride it out" or "wait it out" until such time as the madness would be over with. At the worst, maybe it would take clear until Paul VI dies. Then the next pope would be sure to put things back in order. Then again, maybe Paul VI might wake up some day and realize the damage he has done and begin trying to undo it.
But as we move into the next period, Conservatives and Traditionalists begin to part company as the madness dragged on and on, and fewer and fewer places of sound doctrine and reliable sacraments could be found. Over time, Conservatives came to be reduced from fighting for the true Mass to fighting for sound doctrine or reverence in worship, or even the use of Latin hymns. Finally their reduction brought them to the pathetic role of fighting to continue the use of incense or bells, or having statues and altar rails left standing in their parish churches, just like a mother having lost her child might cling tenaciously to that child's things. Eventually they got carried off with all of the rest, just a great deal slower. Many of them were quite old and began dying off. By all human standards, the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church should have been nothing more than a vague and confused memory in the back of the minds of a few elderly people. Another couple generations and it would be forgotten entirely.
Just as Conservatives and Traditionalists both underestimated the seriousness and possible duration of the crisis, so it is also true that the revolutionaries and radicals who sought to change the Church into some model of their own making had absolutely no idea just what they were up against. Since they don't really believe in God (except in the vague Masonic sense of some impersonal "Great Architect" who creates the world and then leaves man to his own devices), they think of the Catholic Church as merely a human organization. Since humans have made it (goes the reasoning), humans therefore have the power to change it or abolish it as they choose.
As for those of a rebellious disposition (the goats), the revolutionaries did not need to concern themselves on account of them, since they already had them on their side. But the sheep, being the faithful and innocent and naive and trusting sheep that they are, were expected to blindly follow their leadership into error. Is that not the natural behavior of sheep? If the pope says, "Today, we must worship the Devil," will not the sheep obediently worship the Devil? The revolutionaries, not believing in God, had no reason to expect that the sheep "will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers" - John 10:5.
In a strange and roundabout sort of way, one can even be grateful for their efforts. After all, without the betrayal by Judas, how would Jesus have ever been caught in order to be crucified? In a similar manner, the betrayal by the Vatican leadership of the Church is even now providing an opportunity for the most spectacular demonstration of God's power and glory and existence since the resurrection of Jesus Christ Himself. As it was in the case of Judas, those in the Vatican leadership who have betrayed the Church do not stand to gain any real and eternal advantage for themselves personally from their folly, but God works even the Devil's worst evils into His own divine plan.
As time dragged on without any end in sight to all of the madness which was going on in "the Church," Catholics became increasingly concerned about the future of the Church. Although thousands of faithful priests still remained worldwide, most of them were getting up there in years and others were caving in to the new religion. Soon it was not thousands but only hundreds of faithful priests left. Even worse, what few seminaries as still remained open at all were no longer turning out faithful priests but all sorts of clowns, revolutionaries, and other faithless losers who clearly didn't even know what a sacrament was, let alone a commandment of God. All the new seminarians were learning anymore was holding hands, singing Kum Ba Yah, and "building a community," whatever that meant. The prospect of "priests" like these becoming "bishops" (or "Pope"?) was unthinkable. Where would the Church get faithful priests and bishops for future generations?
It is with the increasing consciousness of this concern that attention became attracted to the seminary Archbishop Lefebvre had established in Ecône. As the seminary grew in importance to the faithful, so did the attacks upon it. Also, once Lefebvre's declaration became widely known (in early 1975), it immediately became a rallying cry for all true Catholics all around the world. With that, Lefebvre moved from the background into the foreground.
Griff L. Ruby
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