The Illicit Episcopal Consecrations of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
Refuting Claims of Excommunication Before June 30, 1988
"Laws may be unjust in two ways: first, by being contrary to human good, through being opposed to the things mentioned above - either in respect of the end, as when an authority imposes on his subjects burdensome laws, conducive, not to the common good, but rather to his own cupidity or vainglory - or in respect of the author, as when a man makes a law that goes beyond the power committed to him - or in respect of the form, as when burdens are imposed unequally on the community, although with a view to the common good. The like are acts of violence rather than laws; because, as Augustine says (De Libero Arbitrio i,5), 'a law that is not just, seems to be no law at all.' Wherefore such laws do not bind in conscience, except perhaps in order to avoid scandal or disturbance. . . . Secondly, laws may be unjust through being opposed to the Divine good: such are the laws of tyrants inducing to idolatry, or to anything else contrary to the Divine law: and laws of this kind must nowise be observed, because, as stated in Acts 5:29, 'we ought to obey God rather than man.' . . . "
Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica,
Disobedience, excommunication, and schism-that's serious business, no doubt about that. Schism is a great evil and can never be defended, endorsed, or tolerated. Schism, above all, is never necessary - for any reason whatsoever.
I want to make sure this is understood from the outset. What follows here is a defense of the Society of St. Pius X's founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's illicit consecrations of four priests to the rank of the episcopate-that of bishop-on June 30, 1988.
My main argument will be that Lefebvre, his co-consecrator Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, and the four ordinandi, Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Alfonso de Galarreta, and Richard Williamson did not incur the grave penalty of excommunication; additionally, Lefebvre and de Castro Mayer did not commit a schismatic act in consecrating those four bishops illicitly, i.e. against the express will of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II.
I will defend and support my thesis fully and beyond reasonable doubt - the arguments, statements, and declarations of Pope John Paul II, the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts (PCILT), and canon lawyer Peter J. Vere notwithstanding.
I will demonstrate that, though the declarations of Pope John Paul II and the PCILT are authoritative and ordinarily require submission, in the case at hand they are not binding upon the faithful's consciences because they are objectively wrong and therefore unjust, and hence do not require the submission of the faithful.
I will uphold and acknowledge the primacy of Pope John Paul II, that he is the Supreme Legislator and has the right and the authority to command. I will also uphold, again, that schism is never justifiable and cannot be defended.
However, I will argue - and this is very important - that no schism or excommunication exist as far as the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is concerned, and therefore I am not defending schism or excommunication but I am defending against the false charges of schism and excommunication.
Finally, one more note. I will be using the 1983 Code of Canon Law throughout this treatise, unless otherwise specified. While we are not sure about exactly how valid, i.e. how binding, the new 1983 Code is (for various reasons), since this is the Code the Neo-Catholics use, it is best to disprove them using their own tools.
These preliminary observations should be constantly kept in mind as you read through what follows.
A law that is unjust or evil is not a law at all and therefore does not bind.
In his Summa Theologica, Question 96, Article 4, St. Thomas Aquinas writes:
"Laws framed by man are either just or unjust. . . . Laws may be unjust in two ways: first, by being contrary to human good, through being opposed to the things mentioned above - either in respect of the end, as when an authority imposes on his subjects burdensome laws, conducive, not to the common good, but rather to his own cupidity or vainglory - or in respect of the author, as when a man makes a law that goes beyond the power committed to him - or in respect of the form, as when burdens are imposed unequally on the community, although with a view to the common good. The like are acts of violence rather than laws; because, as Augustine says (De Libero Arbitrio i,5), 'a law that is not just, seems to be no law at all.' Wherefore such laws do not bind in conscience, except perhaps in order to avoid scandal or disturbance. . . . Secondly, laws may be unjust through being opposed to the Divine good: such are the laws of tyrants inducing to idolatry, or to anything else contrary to the Divine law: and laws of this kind must nowise be observed, because, as stated in Acts 5:29, 'we ought to obey God rather than man.' . . . Laws that are contrary to the commandments of God . . . [are] beyond the scope of (human) power. Wherefore in such matters human law should not be obeyed. . . . A law that inflicts unjust hurt on its subjects . . . the power that man holds from God does not extend to this: wherefore neither in such matters is man bound to obey the law, provided he avoid giving scandal or inflicting a more grievous hurt."
In short, the Angelic Doctor insists that laws that are unjust or require a man to do evil are not binding on the conscience of the faithful, because they are not from God and carry no weight. A man must never obey an order that entails committing sin; and he need not obey a law that causes him unjust harm, unless disobeying would give scandal or would cause a more serious problem.
The Popes' endorsement of the Summa Theologica as an authoritative treatise of theology that all Catholics should go by is beyond question. Pope Leo XIII recommended two books for all seminarians - the Catechism of the Council of Trent and the Summa Theologica. But, notes the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), "the chief and special glory of Thomas, one which he has shared with none of the Catholic doctors, is that the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of the conclave to lay upon the altar, together with the code of Sacred Scripture and the decrees of the Supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason, and inspiration. Greater influence than this no man could have" (s.v. "Thomas Aquinas, Saint"). In his encyclical Aeterni Patris (1879), Pope Leo XIII exhorted the Church once again to adhere to the teachings of St. Thomas. So, the authority of the Summa is not disputed. Therefore, what St. Thomas says about just and unjust laws is endorsed by the entire Catholic Church.
An excommunication without proper cause is null and void.
This principle, too, comes from the great Thomas Aquinas. He writes:
"An excommunication may be unjust for two reasons. First, on the part of its author, as when anyone excommunicates through hatred or anger, and then, nevertheless, the excommunication takes effect, though its author sins, because the one who is excommunicated suffers justly, even if the author act wrongly in excommunicating him. Secondly, on the part of the excommunication, through there being no proper cause, or through the sentence being passed without the forms of law being observed. In this case, if the error, on the part of the sentence, be such as to render the sentence void, this has no effect, for there is no excommunication; but if the error does not annul the sentence, this takes effect, and the person excommunicated should humbly submit. . . ." (S.T. Supplement to Part 3, Q. 21, Art. 4)
Thus, though not all unjust excommunications are ipso facto invalid, those that have been imposed without proper cause or without the law being observed, are invalid.
The Church's laws all exist for but one ultimate end: the salvation of souls. That is the ultimate purpose of all the Church's laws.
This principle should be so obvious that one could relegate it to common sense, but it is proved by quoting canon 1752 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law: ". . . the salvation of souls . . . in the Church must always be the supreme law." That is to say, all the canons in the code are there for the well-being of the Church and, ultimately, the salvation of souls.
These are three major principles that will be made use of in what is to follow.
It will be sufficient for me to prove that Archbishop Lefebvre and the other people involved (Bishops de Castro Mayer, de Galarreta, Tissier de Mallerais, Williamson, and Fellay) have not incurred valid excommunication in order to prove that they are not in schism, for Pope John Paul II has based his charge of schism against the SSPX on his charge of ipso facto excommunication supposedly incurred at the illicit episcopal consecrations on June 30, 1988. Therefore, if I can prove that no excommunication has taken place, it follows that no schism has taken place, either.
I will proceed now as follows. I will demonstrate that Archbishop Lefebvre was not schismatic nor excommunication before June 30, 1988, and I will demonstrate that he was neither schismatic nor excommunicated on or after June 30, 1988, either.
I. No Schism or Excommunication Before June 30, 1988
This is fairly simple to prove. In Cardinal Bernardin Gantin's official canonical warning dated June 17, 1988, the cardinal, at that time Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops (1984-1998) explicitly affirmed Archbishop Lefebvre's membership in the holy Catholic Church: "I . . . 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" (italics added).
This suffices as irrefutable proof that, at least as of June 17, 1988, His Grace was in full communion with the Catholic Church. And since he did not engage in any act that would have resulted in excommunication until June 30, 1988, it is therefore easily apparent that, at least until June 29, 1988, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was a member of the Catholic Church.
So this proves my first point that there was no schism or excommunication before June 30. The next installment will focus on the second point, that no excommunication or schismatic act occurred on June 30, 1988.
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 8-10, 2002
volume 13, no. 132
Mario Derksen's young and refreshing TRADITIONAL INSIGHTS