Canon Backfire! |
Part Three of the Series:
The Illicit Episcopal Consecrations of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
"Archbishop Lefebvre made it abundantly clear that he was acting out of grave necessity in order to ensure the faithful would have truly Catholic bishops. For the Church to have no really Catholic bishops (only modernists and doubtfully valid bishops) is indeed a "grave inconvenience" to say the least! And given the state of the Church, with modernist bishops everywhere, it was indeed a "grave necessity" to consecrate real Catholics as bishops! We could furthermore say that His Grace was acting out of "grave fear" that the faithful would be left with only wolves in shepherds' clothing and no true Catholic shepherds who would protect them from the heresies and errors of the day that would otherwise poison their souls."
On June 17, 1988, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, sent a canonical warning to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre on account of the imminent consecrations His Grace was about to perform on June 30 without a papal mandate. The canonical warning states:
Since on 15 June 1988 you stated that you intended to ordain four priests to the episcopate without having obtained the mandate of the Supreme Pontiff as required by Canon 1013 of the Code of Canon Law, I myself convey to you this public canonical warning confirming that if you should carry out your intention as stated above, you yourself and also the bishops ordained by you shall incur ipso facto excommunication latae sententiae reserved to the Apostolic See in accordance with Canon 1382. I therefore entreat and beseech you in the name of Jesus Christ to weigh carefully what you are about to undertake against the laws of sacred discipline, and the very grave consequences resulting therefrom for the communion of the Catholic Church, of which you are a bishop.
It goes without saying that a canonical warning from the legitimate authority is not to be taken lightly. And I am sure that Archbishop Lefebvre, Bishop de Castro Mayer, and the four ordinandi did not take it lightly.
However, given the gravity of the state of the Church, and thanks to canon law, the canonical warning was not justified inasmuch as Archbishop Lefebvre knew that neither he nor any of the other five (de Castro Mayer, Bishops Williamson, de Galarreta, Tissier de Mallerais, and Fellay) would actually incur excommunication per the 1983 Code of Canon Law (the Code then in force and still in force today, 2002)-as long as Lefebvre would not pretend to give his four new bishops jurisdiction (which he did not do, of course).
Lefebvre made clear in his sermon at the June 30, 1988, consecrations, that he was only consecrating those four priests bishops in order to be able to supply the faithful with all the sacraments and in order to be able to continue to ordain really Catholic priests:
You well know, my dear brethren, that there can be no priests without bishops. When God calls me - no doubt this will be before long - from whom would these seminarians receive the Sacrament of Orders? From conciliar bishops, who, due to their doubtful intentions, confer doubtful sacraments? This is not possible. Who are the bishops who have truly kept Tradition and the Sacraments such as the Church has conferred them for twenty centuries until Vatican II? They are Bishop de Castro Mayer and myself. I cannot change that. That is how it is. Hence, many seminarians have entrusted themselves to us, they sensed that here was the continuity of the Church, the continuity of' Tradition. And they came to our seminaries, despite all the difficulties that they have encountered, in order to receive a true ordination to the Priesthood, to say the true Sacrifice of Calvary, the true Sacrifice of the Mass, and to give you the true Sacraments, true doctrine, the true catechism. This is the goal of these seminaries.
So I cannot, in good conscience, leave these seminarians orphaned. Neither can I leave you orphans by dying without providing for the future. That is not possible. It would be contrary to my duty.
This is why we have chosen, with the grace of God, priests from our Society who have seemed to us to be the most apt, whilst being in circumstances and in functions which permit them more easily to fulfill their episcopal ministry, to give Confirmation to your children, and to be able to confer ordinations in our various seminaries. Thus I believe that - with the grace of God, we, Bishop de Castro Mayer and myself, by these consecrations, will have given to Tradition the means to continue, given the means to Catholics who desire to remain within the Church of their parents, their grandparents, of their ancestors. They built churches with beautiful altars, often destroyed and replaced by a table, thus manifesting the radical change which has come about since the Council regarding the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which is the heart of the Church and the purpose of the priesthood. Thus we wish to thank you for having come in such numbers to support us in the accomplishment of this ceremony.
In this sermon, Archbishop Lefebvre made his intentions entirely clear. He felt obliged in conscience to go ahead and ordain these four bishops in order to preserve the Faith. I wish to encourage you most strongly to read the entire sermon-it is very beautiful and gives a clear picture of just why Lefebvre was consecrating without, even against, papal mandate.
b) The Canonical Issues
So, now it is time to tackle the canonical issues. At first, let's look at what canons Rome accuses Lefebvre and the other five bishops of having violated. It was the very next day after the consecrations, on July 1, 1988, that Cardinal Gantin sent a decree of excommunication to Archbishop Lefebvre and the other bishops (it's amazing how fast Rome can act if they want to, don't you think!?). You can read the entire decree Decree of Excommunication.
In the decree, Lefebvre and the other five are accused of having violated Canon 1364 §1, and Canon 1382. Furthermore, we know from the canonical warning of June 17, 1988, that Lefebvre has also violated Canon 1013. Aside from that, the decree of excommunication, as well as John Paul II's motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, also allege that Archbishop Lefebvre has engaged in a schismatic act. However, for now, I wish only to consider the question of excommunication-I will leave the issue of schism to a later installment (note that schism and excommunication are not the same).
So let's look at the canons Rome adduces in their claim that the six bishops have excommunicated themselves:
No Bishop is permitted to consecrate anyone as Bishop, unless it is first established that a pontifical mandate has been issued.
Canon 1364 §1
An apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication, without prejudice to the provision of Can. 194 §1, n. 2; a cleric, moreover, may be punished with the penalties mentioned in Can. 1336 §1, nn. 1, 2 and 3.
Both the Bishop who, without a pontifical mandate, consecrates a person a Bishop, and the one who receives the consecration from him, incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.
Now, it is entirely clear, and no one denies, that Archbishop Lefebvre disobeyed Pope John Paul II. The Pope, knowing that His Grace had announced he would consecrate bishops on June 30, 1988, expressly forbade him to do so, and Lefebvre defied him and went ahead with the consecrations anyway. So yes, His Grace violated Canon 1013 indeed! As to that count, we plead: guilty!
But disobedience is not always sinful or wrong. It can be justified sometimes and, in fact, even be necessary in certain situations. Let me call your attention to Principle #1 that I outlined in my first installment, based on the authoritative teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas. But I will come back to this later and make a coherent case for it.
As for Canon 1364 §1, the accusation here implies that Lefebvre has committed a schismatic act and is therefore a schismatic. As I said, I will deal with this later, so we can skip this for the moment.
As for Canon 1382, I must first mention that in canon law there are two types of excommunication: ferendae sententiae and latae sententiae. An excommunication ferendae sententiae is one that is inflicted by the superior. For instance, the Pope could have said: "We, John Paul II, Servant of the Servants of God, by our Apostolic Authority, hereby excommunicate Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre." That would have been an excommunication inflicted by the Pope. This is not what happened in the case of Lefebvre and the other bishops. As explicitly stated in the decree of excommunication and Canons 1364 §1 and 1382, the excommunication was a latae sententiae excommunication. What is that?
It is an excommunication that has been inflicted by the perpetrator on himself, as it were, by his very act. No superior needs to pass a sentence on him for it to be valid - the act which he has engaged in has excommunicated him. So, for instance, a latae sententiae excommunication is incurred by every person who is engaged in an act of abortion (Canon 1398). These people are excommunicated from the Church by the fact that they have engaged in the grave evil of abortion. They are and remain excommunicated until they are validly absolved in the confessional.
Canon 1382 says that consecrating bishops without papal mandate is such an act for which one incur automatic excommunication - latae sententiae. That is, according to the Code of Canon Law, by consecrating bishops without papal mandate, you have excommunicated yourself.
So, isn't that it? Doesn't that pretty much settle the matter?
No. Not at all. This is only half the story. I think that once you hear the rest of the story, i.e. the other side, you will agree that Archbishop Lefebvre and the five other bishops did not incur the penalty of excommunication mentioned in Canon 1382.
So here's the other side. The same 1983 Code of Canon Law states that no one is validly excommunicated who acts out of necessity or grave inconvenience:
No one is liable to a penalty who, when violating a law or precept:
4° acted under the compulsion of grave fear, even if only relative, or by reason of necessity or grave inconvenience, unless, however, the act is intrinsically evil or tends to be harmful to souls.
The act of consecrating bishops without papal mandate is not harmful to souls (unless one sets up a counter-church or counter-magisterium, which Lefebvre manifestly didn't do), nor is it intrinsically evil as in situations of grave emergency (such as during a war when it is impossible to even have contact with the Pope; or if the Pope is in a long coma or otherwise incapacitated) it may be necessary to consecrate without papal mandate. Furthermore, the 1917 Code of Canon Law only imposes a penalty of suspension (not excommunication) for consecrating bishops without papal mandate (Canon 2370; this was upgraded to excommunication in 1951), so it is perhaps not impossible but unlikely that it is intrinsically evil.
Now, Archbishop Lefebvre made it abundantly clear that he was acting out of grave necessity in order to ensure the faithful would have truly Catholic bishops. For the Church to have no really Catholic bishops (only modernists and doubtfully valid bishops) is indeed a "grave inconvenience" to say the least! And given the state of the Church, with modernist bishops everywhere, it was indeed a "grave necessity" to consecrate real Catholics as bishops! We could furthermore say that His Grace was acting out of "grave fear" that the faithful would be left with only wolves in shepherds' clothing and no true Catholic shepherds who would protect them from the heresies and errors of the day that would otherwise poison their souls.
So, I think it is clear that Lefebvre has a solid canonical basis on which to rest his case that he did not incur excommunication latae sententiae. However, some might object that Lefebvre was simply wrong about the grave inconvenience and grave necessity for consecrating bishops. Someone may object that the situation in the Church really isn't bad and that there are no modernists in the hierarchy and that the Lefebvre was simply out of his mind with his analysis of the situation.
For the sake of argument, let's say that's true. Let's say that Lefebvre was wrong, that there was no grave inconvenience. Then we still have the 1983 Code of Canon Law on our side, for it says:
No one is liable to a penalty who, when violating a law or precept:
7° thought, through no personal fault, that some one of the circumstances existed which are mentioned in nn. 4 or 5.
To recap, the circumstances mentioned in n. 4 (n. 5 is irrelevant to our issue) refer to someone who: "acted under the compulsion of grave fear, even if only relative, or by reason of necessity or grave inconvenience."
Thus, even if Lefebvre was objectively wrong about his assessment of the state of the Church and the modernist infiltration and destruction of our religion, he would still incur no excommunication based on Canon 1323 7°.
OK, but let's play devil's advocate yet again. Let's say Lefebvre knew full well that his assessment of the situation in the Church was wrong. Now what? Again, the Code of Canon Law comes to our rescue:
§1 The perpetrator of a violation is not exempted from penalty, but the penalty prescribed in the law or precept must be diminished, or a penance substituted in its place, if the offence was committed by:
8° one who erroneously, but culpably, thought that some one of the circumstances existed which are mentioned in Can. 1323, nn. 4 or 5;
§3 In the circumstances mentioned in §1, the offender is not bound by a latae sententiae penalty.
Now, excommunication is the highest penalty in the Church. According to Canon 1324 §1, just quoted, we see that the penalty has at least to be diminished if Archbishop Lefebvre had culpably been wrong in his assessment of the "grave necessity" in which he claimed he found himself. Moreover, as the quoted §3 makes indisputably clear, any latae sententiae excommunication is definitely not incurred even if His Grace had been culpably wrong about his grave necessity analysis.
And so we have all our bases covered. No matter how the Neo-Catholic wishes to twist and turn it, neither Lefebvre nor de Castro Mayer, nor Fellay, nor de Galarreta, nor Williamson, nor Tissier de Mallerias incurred the penalty of excommunication.
Now, this is still not the end of it yet. I'll continue after Thanksgiving with more evidence that will leave no doubt as to the moral justification of Archbishop Lefebvre's consecrations.
Editor's Note: So many of the post-conciliar bishops today refer to those clinging to the true Roman Catholic traditions that were in vogue for 2000 years prior to the reforms of Vatican II as 'fossils,' 'dinosaurs,' 'old folks who will die off soon.' We beg to differ and offer as proof the youthful wisdom and enthusiasm of the younger generation in the Traditional Insights of Mario Derksen who exemplifies the thinking of many more young men and women today who realize the new thinking of the post-conciliar church does not add up to true Catholic teaching. Thus they long for those traditions so tried and true. His insight shows great promise, optimism and hope for the future of Holy Mother Church.
Note: [bold, brackets and italicized words used for emphasis]
For past columns by Mario Derksen, see Archives for www.DailyCatholic.org/2002mdi.htm
November 22-24, 2002
volume 13, no. 142
Mario Derksen's young and refreshing TRADITIONAL INSIGHTS