Part 2 of this book continues with a discussion of the life and career of one particular cleric, namely the Most Reverend Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục, the one man who single-handedly achieved more for the Church during the lowest part of Her sacred history than any other one individual. If ever there were a man of Divine Providence given to any age, it is he. Archbishop Thục was the first bishop of Holy Mother Church to recognize, early enough to take action, the full scope and scale of the disaster that had befallen Her with Vatican II. For his strong and truly heroic stand, many have maligned him, but history already more than begins to side with him and not with his detractors.
The SSPX book, in a rare and somewhat refreshing show of actually trying to live up to its initial promise of "avoid[ing] any personal references to or caricatures of individuals, their characters or possible personal defects," attempts to walk a tightrope, carefully balanced between this noble policy and the true facts of Archbishop Thục's career on the one hand, but on the other all the many lies and slurs that have been projected upon this most starkly courageous saint. After all, the SSPX also feels that it has something of a vested interest in minimizing the value and integrity of Archbishop Thục's accomplishments.
But then in another sense, such nobility may be somewhat cheaper and less noble that it might seem, for of course their own Archbishop, the Most Reverend Marcel Lefebvre, accomplished much the same thing on behalf of the SSPX, namely the consecration of episcopal successors. That great step, "Operation Survival," taken by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988, was in no way something new or unthought-of, there already was the established precedent of Archbishop Thục and his own attempt at something of an "Operation Survival" only a few years previous, most particularly his most successful consecrations, namely those of 1981.
Not wanting to portray Archbishop Thục as either crazy or malicious (for might not the same thing(s) be said of Archbishop Lefebvre if they did), they took the tack taking Thục to be someone who was easily tugged in this direction and that, as if he were easily tricked, time and time again. The book does this thusly:
Bishop Thuc is the fountainhead, beginning in the middle of the seventies, of an extremely numerous and complex episcopal genealogy which includes over a hundred bishops, although he himself consecrated only a few of this large number. These consecrations are often called into question, above all because of questions about the worthiness of those consecrated, in particular on moral grounds. We do not wish to descend to this level for two reasons: above all to remain in accordance with our initial intention not to enter into disputes, usually as easy as sterile, concerning single individuals; but also because Bishop Thuc did also consecrate some persons of irreproachable morals, such as Fr. Guérard himself. What does interest us is the value of such consecrations with respect to the Church. If we place ourselves in a sedevacantist perspective, they have an absolutely providential significance insofar as they in a certain way secure for sedevacantism and its indispensible witness the possibility of continuation in time.
Before going into more details about Archbishop Thục and the SSPX book's general take on him, I notice that in every place the book's writers call him merely "Bishop" Thục, never "Archbishop" Thục, with the only exceptions being the two places that Thục himself used the title "Archbishop" in his Munich Declaration. I am not sure about this, but somehow it does seem to me rather disrespectful to repeatedly refer to an Archbishop as "Bishop," as if one were refusing to acknowledge the "Arch" part of it. How would they feel about having Lefebvre being repeatedly referred to as merely "Bishop Lefebvre"?
Still, it is good to see the admission in print that "Thuc did also consecrate some persons of irreproachable morals, such as Fr. Guérard des Lauriers himself." That is more than many are willing to admit, and at least I can give them credit for this.
So then, the question is raised, what is the significance of Archbishop Thục's episcopal consecrations for the Church? I find it interesting that just as many rapidly knew to oppose and refuse all the innovations coming from the Council even before discovering the Sede Vacante situation in the Church, there was also the same realization that unquestionably valid episcopal consecrations would also be needed if the Church is to continue as a sacramentally valid hierarchical succession. And again, this realization on his part preceded his own discovery of the Sede Vacante situation in the Church.
Archbishop Thục's first attempt at creating bishops was obviously a grave failure. At the time he saw his initial going to Spain as being a call of our Lady to come and do something great for the Church. As he later spoke of that occasion, "If this is a service demanded by the Holy Virgin, I am ready to follow you to the ends of the earth." By all evidences he was no sedevacantist at the time, perhaps not having heard of the idea or thought about it, but he may have at least sensed some deficiency in the new manner of consecrating "bishops" recently conceived and imposed by the fallen Vatican. At the very least, he must have believed it to be of such value as Archbishop Lefebvre would similarly do the same while in no way being a sedevacantist at the time either.
Consistent with that view of things, there is little reason to see any inconsistency or flip-flopping in having gone from performing the Palmar de Troya consecrations to seeking (and obtaining) Vatican forgiveness for same. He certainly had no intention at that time to found a new papacy, as evidenced in that when the Palmar de Troya visionary and leader pronounced himself to be a Pope, Archbishop Thục publicly denounced that whole group and its new "pope." But there is something else about this whole Palmar de Troya episode in his life that no one seems to have brought out, but one that puts events in a whole new light.
As I said, the book portrays him as being used and taken advantage of and very much not in charge of his own actions. It states, "In all good will it seems impossible to perceive the Vietnamese bishop as the man of Providence. He appears rather as someone who was taken advantage of by many for the most divergent purposes." And again, it concludes the section on Archbishop Thục with the following:
Our conclusion is that it is much easier to see in Bishop Thuc a good man much abused by many on account of his own readiness (and weakness), but not one whom God chose as the instrument of His Providence, although his work has shown itself altogether "providential" for the sedevacantists!
But now, consider this: As we know, Archbishop Thục was not by any means the first person approached by the Palmar de Troya group for an episcopal consecration without Vatican approval. They, in the person of former Ecône Canon Law professor Fr. Revas (a Canon of St. Maurice), first approached Archbishop Lefebvre in Ecône. While there is some room to wonder what intention Lefebvre might have had in providing Fr. Revas with the name of another bishop (trial balloon for consecrations he may have been already considering or simple desire to get rid of him the only way he knew or something else of which we cannot imagine?), in any event, whatever the answer to that question would be, there remains this most important consideration:
Out of all the bishops and archbishops all around the world, how is it that Abp. Lefebvre came to think specifically and only of Archbishop Thục, and so quickly?
Bear in mind that as of that time Thục had not performed any consecrations other than those that were Papally directed for him to do as Bishop and then Archbishop of Huế, nor had anyone else done such a thing since Carlos Duarte Costa had begun consecrating bishops for his new "Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church," and obviously, that would hardly have done. And Archbishop Thục was quite an unknown, having been exiled from 1964 onward, and barely surviving though mostly hearing confessions in various small and obscure parishes in France and Italy. One could hardly expect anyone to even remember of his existence. So again I ask, why Thục?
Only one possibility presents itself. Archbishop Thục must had already expressed an intention to consecrate bishops, most likely within some private or personal forum, but one which was nevertheless within Lefebvre's hearing, or else one from which word of it came to Lefebvre's hearing possibly less directly. But this is key: Archbishop Thục was thought of precisely because he had expressed such an intention. This whole thing was therefore of his own initiative and not merely some result of being persuaded or maneuvered or fooled. It is what he had wanted to do since well before that first invitation came his way. This one fact alone completely destroys any claim that Archbishop Thục consecrated bishops merely due to requests for that from others, as if he were that easily manipulated or made to do things that supposedly no sensible person would ever do. Providing for the Church's future through episcopal consecrations was Thục's own idea and intention, long before the first of many such requests ever came his way.
No doubt, the only reason he had not as yet done so was that dilemma of choosing between those who are eager and willing but obviously unqualified and merely wanting a free consecration for their own selfish purposes versus those who are truly qualified and of sufficient reputation and dignity and who have a most well-evidenced sense of responsibility to Holy Mother Church but who had way too far yet to go up the learning curve so as to be willing to involve themselves with his goal to continue the Church. When a noted visionary and our Lady (and buttressed with the claim, as presented to him that fateful Christmas Eve, 1975, by Fr. Revas, that Archbishop Lefebvre had also supported it) asked for his services, who could blame him for going forth to Spain?
And recall that his being as yet not a sedevacantist throughout his entire Palmar de Troya episode goes a long way towards explaining his subsequent application to the Vatican for forgiveness. But his purpose endured. He had done the right thing, but with the wrong people. Why else should he be trying it again so soon? Again, the same dilemma continued to dog his efforts: The only people willing were not worthy, and the only people worthy were not willing. The few that seem to have persuaded him of their worthiness (prior to 1981) must have misrepresented themselves to him. I have speculated to this effect before, but since have come across actual documentation to the effect that many of those who came to him were, at least to some extent, deceiving him as to their worthiness and not at all thoughtlessly or maliciously chosen for their unworthiness.
But recently, I have encountered evidence that this indeed had been going on, and (ironically enough), even to a limited degree, with the highly respectable case of Fr. Guérard des Lauriers himself. By 1981, Archbishop Thục was already seriously considering sedevacantism, and quite specifically only absolute ("rigorist") sedevacantism at that. He had engaged two laymen who had earned his trust (Kurt Hiller and Dr. Eberhard Heller) who served as filters to prevent the opportunists from taking further advantage of him and to help seek out truly qualified candidates. Yet regarding the consecration of Guérard himself, Dr. Heller writes in his German publication Einsicht (translated by Emilia Vaiciulis):
Subsequently we contacted Mgr. Ngo-Dinh-Thuc. We referred to his Declaration made at the time of the episcopal consecrations at Palmar de Troya, Spain, in which he brought up the subject of the emergency situation in the Church resulting from its general breakdown.
Rev. Otto Katzer, doctor of theology, very much appreciated in Europe as a theologian and a spiritual guide by conservative Catholics and sedevacantists, had engaged in a discussion with Mgr. Thuc, Mr. Hiller and myself about the problem of the vacancy of the apostolic See and the danger of the apostolic succession disappearing. We concluded by asking Mgr. Thuc if he eventually agreed to consecrate a bishop.
Unfortunately because Fr. Katzer, who was a candidate for episcopal consecration died suddenly, we had to find another suitable candidate who enjoyed a good reputation amongst the faithful. It was Fr. Guérard des Lauriers, formerly a professor at the Gregorian in Rome, then a professor in Ecône for a certain time. He made a name for himself as co-author of the Critical examination of the Novus Ordo issued by the cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci. We wrote and asked him if he accepted to become a bishop.
Fr. des Lauriers sent an extraordinarily concerned and frank personal letter back: in which he too commented on the present condition of the hierarchy. For example, he knew the Italian bishops because he had previously had them as students at the papal University. There was a discussion about the general situation and the necessity of an eventual episcopal consecration at Etiolles, near Paris, at the house of Fr. des Lauriers. Also present were Professor Lauth and Mr. Hiller. They agreed on most of the points discussed. But there was one controversial point: the problem of the vacant Holy See. Fr. des Lauriers had decided to overcome this problem by his "Papa materialiter, non formaliter" thesis.
To discuss the theological value of an abstract thesis is one thing, but its practical application in the present combat of the Church for those who take a firm stance on sedevacantism like us, and later Mgr. Thuc [when he would finally be ready to announce it publicly in the 1982 Munich Declaration] is another. So, if we were to work together these divergences would have to be resolved. We were convinced that Fr. des Lauriers' thesis was erroneous.
As a conditio sine qua non of an eventual consecration of Fr. des Lauriers it was important for M. Hiller, M. Lauth and myself that he understand that his thesis was wrong, and that he would only be proposed as an episcopal candidate on condition that he renounced the thesis. So Professor Lauth returned to Etiolles to thoroughly re-interview the candidate to see whether this last obstacle could be lifted. When Lauth returned to Munich he assured Mr. Hiller and me that Fr. Guérard des Lauriers had abandoned his bizarre thesis and that he had adopted our position: that the apostolic See was vacant.
Thereupon we informed Mgr. Ngo-Dinh-Thuc who trusted in us because we had collaborated together in different matters in past years, and so a meeting with him and the episcopal candidate Guérard des Lauriers was arranged.
But immediately after the consecration on the 7th of May 1981, it seems that Professor Lauth had falsely informed us: the new bishop made it clear to us that he was not embarrassed to be found in schism from now on.
When he was asked, why he considered himself in schism, we learnt that he not abandoned his Papa materialiter non formaliter thesis, and that he therefore still rejected the sedevacantist position.
It must be clearly stated: Had we known of this beforehand, Mr. Hiller and I would never have recommended Fr. des Lauriers as an episcopal candidate.
And where we remarked that in the beginning Mgr. Guérard des Lauriers did not want to exercise his episcopal powers, we contacted Fr. Carmona and Mlle. Gloria Riestra de Wolff who published the periodical Trento, through the mediation of M. Moser to verify whether Fr. Carmona would eventually agree to become a bishop in order to assure the apostolic succession. He accepted, and it is known, that he and Fr. Zamora were consecrated on the 17th of October 1981.
So Archbishop Thục was never a formaliter/materialiter sedevacantist, but just as he had been tricked into consecrating certain unfit individuals in the 1970's (prior to his affiliation with Mr. Hiller and Dr. Heller of Einsicht), so was he (and they) tricked by Professor Lauth into his consecrating the formaliter/materialiter cleric. In all this one does however gain a glimpse of Thục as he was in those days, and his deliberate and clear and clear-headed participation in the decision-making process and his initiative in seeking worthy candidates to succeed him as the bishops of Holy Mother Church. The goal was taken as an assumed; evidently they were all working together towards it.
And so attempts to portray him as being weak or weak-minded or confused or not knowing what he was doing fall utterly flat on their face. He knew what he was doing; he was saving the Church to the best of his ability.
The book then attempts to make something of the fact that his famous Munich Declaration says rather little, much less than one might feel that it should have said. For that reason he affixed his short list of nine illustrious documents that provide all the enlargement and further detail that his short declaration lacked. He had got so far as determining that the Holy See was vacant, and so declared, as any truly responsible cleric should have done. There is no real evidence that he ever repudiated this declaration clear to his death. It was never, despite the book's fatuous and altogether unsupportable claim to the contrary, "ultimately [or otherwise] withdrawn" by him.
Others might fault how late it was, coming even after his three most important consecrations. But though he may well have been mostly convinced of it interiorly, enough to insist upon it in his choice of candidates, it still was a major proclamation to make before the Church, and one that required as much thought and meditation on his part as he felt he could muster before the end of his life would soon come. It is a most terrifying and awesome responsibility for someone, even or perhaps especially an Archbishop, to declare formally before the Church that despite some seeming appearances to the contrary, the Holy See truly is indeed vacant. One has to marvel that he had the decisiveness and courage to act upon his findings before the Novus Ordo would soon kidnap him, hold him incommunicado, and prevent him from doing anything more (other than offering up his prayers for the continuance of the Church in the episcopal line that he had founded.
From all of that one must now see just how blatantly unfair it is for the book's authors to have written "To begin with, the discontinuity of Bishop Thuc's position (oscillating between sedevacantism and reconciliation with the Vatican), taken together with the heterogeneity of those consecrated and the very grave consequences of some of his consecrations, suggests sufficient lack of judgment and will to call into question the very validity of the consecrations. In this regard there is disagreement even within sedevacantist circles - some maintain that Bishop Thuc was perfectly lucid, while others disagree."
There is no discontinuity. Like all of us he went through a learning curve from seeing what a disaster everything was becoming during and subsequent to Vatican II (no doubt brought all the more home to him through the tragedies endured by his family), realized the necessity for valid episcopal successors, struggled with the dilemma of willing but not worthy candidates versus those worthy but not willing, and waiting for some Divine intervention for guidance in this, for which he had already placed himself at God's disposal. The announcement from Fr. Revas that seemed to be from Heaven must have seemed like a Godsend to him as it seemed that God was finally vindicating the direction he knew he must take, and getting ready to finally crown his efforts with success. In learning the true nature of those at Palmar de Troya he soon repented of his choice of candidates, but never of his commitment to consecrate successors to keep the apostolic succession going validly.
Gradually he learned of the Sede Vacante situation of the Church and acquired trustworthy associates (who could still make honest mistakes but at least spared him the embarrassment of some of the more egregious sorts of choices he had made while still on his own). If he had known what they really were he would not have chosen them, but each had presented sufficient and seemingly reliable documentation that no person of good faith would even think to question, to the effect that they were worthy candidates (and their willingness was evident enough).
He never subscribed to the formaliter/materialiter position of Guérard des Lauriers but was tricked into believing that Fr. des Lauriers had set it aside or at least was willing not to press what could be at most a mere pet theory on his part. Firming up in his sedevacantist position he consecrated two more clerics of irreproachable morals (Frs.Moises Carmona and Adolfo Zamora) and promulgated his famous Munich Declaration. Then he was kidnapped by the Novus Ordo from New York and subjected to drugs and other treatments and confinement at a Vietnamese conciliar seminary in Carthage, Missouri of which little is known as to what all that did to him spiritually.
So was Palmar de Troya and the few pre-1981 clerics a mistake? Even Abraham from the Bible had to have his Ishmael before having his Isaac. And like Abraham of old, he had to abandon his spiritual children on the altar of his being confined and unable to reach out while lies were being put out in his name to the effect that he no longer wanted them to continue the Faith. That much we do know of the dry martyrdom of Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục, undeniably a genuine Man of Divine Providence, and definitely a most certain and safe point of reference for the Church's future.
His evident heroism is too great to be missed, at least to those who actually took the time to know him, or study his career honestly. For that reason, the book, wanting to sow some "bad blood" between their SSPX attached lay faithful following and Archbishop Thục threw in at a certain point the following: "he [Thục] acted only to save the Catholic Church from modernism (and Lefebvrism)." So, according to this book Archbishop Thục opposed "Lefebvrism," did he (Grrrr!)? How dare he! And what a nasty word, "Lefebvrism"! What person even remotely sympathetic to the goals and actions of Archbishop Lefebvre can help but bristle at the use of the very word?
But this is purely an insertion made by the book's authors and has no origin in Archbishop Thục himself, who probably never heard the word himself in his whole life, and who certainly could not have been opposed to Archbishop Lefebvre (who as of that time had merely created a seminary to preserve a traditional formation of priests). Even if Archbishop Thục were to have believed that Archbishop Lefebvre were in some way to blame for his Palmar de Troya fiasco, everyone who knew Archbishop Thục also knew that he was most certainly not one to hold a grudge. Archbishops Thục and Lefebvre were far more on the same side, for Tradition and against Modernism, than they were on anything like rival or opposing sides.
Finally, a brief and passing mention should be made of the other sedevacantist succession, though by far smaller and (so far) pretty much confined to the United States, namely that of His Excellency Bishop Alfred Francis Mendez y Gonzalez who consecrated Fr. Clarence Kelly, who in turn has consecrated one Fr. Santay, both for the Society of Saint Pius V, still based in Oyster Bay Cove, Long Island, New York. When the book makes a passing mention of the fact that "In this regard there is disagreement even within sedevacantist circles - some maintain that Bishop Thuc was perfectly lucid, while others disagree," this is a reference primarily to those sedevacantists of the SSPV (by no means all, but still all too many) whose denigration of the great work of Archbishop Thục is based far more on a perceived rivalry between Thục's succession and their own stemming from Bishop Mendez than from any real valid basis for criticism. The only other (very small) group of those who denigrate Thục's accomplishments or sanity are those who would similarly say the same things not only against Bishop Mendez, but who also denigrate the work of Archbishop Lefebvre, denying it a lawful status and/or even claiming it invalid due to Lefebvre's ordination and consecration by the supposed Freemason (and confirmed Modernist) Cardinal Achille Liénart. They would be the only sort who might yet actually stoop to claiming the end of the Teaching Church and Juridical Church.
The Church owes an inestimable debt to Archbishop Thục since even all the other few bishops who have provided for the future of the Church by providing the sole remaining valid and lawful (duly-appointed Apostolic Mission holding) episcopal successions that the Church will have to build on in the years to come, namely Archbishop Lefebvre, Bishop De Castro-Meyer, and Bishop Mendez, were all but following in Thục's footsteps. Their actions are affirmations of his, and yet not even any of them had any thanks to extend to him. Amidst persecution from those he ultimately had helped more than any of them can ever know, Archbishop Thục always held his calm, as one going to his own Cross and bearing it with the glory of Heaven shining on his face and nothing but forgiveness in his heart for those who maligned (and even those who now still malign) him utterly without cause, for "they know not what they do" (St. Luke 23: 34).