volume 14, no. 1

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Schism or the Syllogism of Truth?

    Part Five of the Series:

    The Illicit Episcopal Consecrations of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre

       "Lefebvre’s 'crime,' for which he immediately earned Rome’s strictest condemnations, was making sure that what he had received and entrusted with teaching and transmitting would be perpetuated, that countless souls would not be poisoned by error but fortified by sound doctrine. In short, his 'crime' was being a Catholic. Yes, that is a 'crime' nowadays in the Newchurch, which instead prefers to 'dialogue' with pro-abortion perverts in bishop’s costumes, expresses 'respect' for Voodoo witchdoctors, and asks Protestant theologians for input on how the papacy could be reformed to be more acceptable to Protestants. Oh, how awful the times we live in! But this is the essence of the conciliar religion: everything goes, except the Old Faith."


   Even if we supposed, for the sake of argument, that Archbishop Lefebvre indeed excommunicated himself on June 30, 1988, by performing episcopal consecrations without papal mandate, the accusation that Lefebvre, de Castro Mayer, and the four newly-ordained bishops engaged in a schismatic act is utterly untenable. In this article, I will demonstrate why.

   What evidence does the neo-catholic side bring up in order to substantiate its claim that Archbishop Lefebvre, Bishop de Castro Mayer, and the four new bishops of June 30, 1988, are in schism?

   The only evidence I’m aware of is the Decree of Excommunication of July 1, 1988, and the Pope’s motu proprio of July 2, 1988, Ecclesia Dei. Let me quote to you the relevant parts:

   "The priests and faithful are warned not to support the schism of Monsignor Lefebvre, otherwise they shall incur ipso facto the very grave penalty of excommunication."

—Cardinal Gantin, Decree of Excommunication, 07/01/1988

   Now, this is particularly amazing, as what I just quoted is the only reference to "schism" in the decree. The word simply pops up—without having been canonically substantiated. Cardinal Gantin says that Lefebvre and the other five bishops have excommunicated themselves—so far, one can follow, even though what he says is not true—, but then, all of a sudden, Gantin mentions the word schism in passing, as if it were clear that a schismatic offense had been committed. This could only be justified if everyone who is excommunicated is automatically also a schismatic, but this is not so. For instance, someone who is involved in an act of abortion is automatically excommunicated from the Church. He is not, however, thereby a schismatic, since, even though gravely evil, the offense is not directed against the unity of the Church.

   An offense of schism is one in which the unity of the Church is hurt. Any act of schism carries with it an automatic excommunication: "An apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication" (Canon 1364 §1). This would make little sense if an excommunicated person is a schismatic necessarily. On the other hand, a schismatic is necessarily excommunicated by virtue of his schism.

   But in the case of Cardinal Gantin’s decree, it was argued that Lefebvre and the other bishops had committed an excommunicable offense and had therefore become schismatics. But the Code of Canon Law nowhere says that illicit consecration of bishops is a schismatic offense. In fact, since schism is defined by the same Code as "the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him" (Canon 751), Lefebvre could only be accused of schism if he had by the consecrations started his own church and/or attempted to give jurisdiction to the bishops he consecrated. This would have been an act of withdrawing submission from Rome and of hurting the unity of the Church.

   But he expressly did not do this! He only consecrated bishops in order to ensure the faithful would always have the sacraments and orthodox teachers who can ordain priests. His intention was only one of feeding the sheep, of making sure that the few faithful sheep would not be left only with wolves!

   Fr. Franz Schmidberger, the former Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, writes:

   In his statement regarding the episcopal consecrations Archbishop Lefebvre declares that they were in no way carried out in a spirit of schism or breach with the Church but, on the contrary, intended to come to the help of a Church which finds itself in the most serious straits ever experienced in its long history. He adds, "We confirm our adherence and subjection to the Holy See and the Pope," and in a letter to the prospective bishops he implores them to remain attached to the See of Peter and the Roman Church, mother and mistress of all churches.

   [Schmidberger, The Episcopal Consecrations of 30 June 1988 (London: Society of St. Pius X, 1989), p. 40]

   There is no question that Archbishop Lefebvre certainly did not intend to sever himself from communion with Rome.

   Now, the Pope’s motu proprio dated July 2, 1988, also repeats the accusation of schism:

   "In itself, this act was one of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the church, such as is the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated. Hence such disobedience - which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy - constitutes a schismatic act [Can. 751]."

—Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia Dei, No. 3, 07/02/1988

   The Pope is simply wrong in his suggestion that an act of disobedience such as consecrating bishops illicitly is necessarily an expression of a schismatic attitude. There is no reason whatsoever for John Paul II to believe that Archbishop Lefebvre rejects the Roman primacy. Lefebvre was an orthodox Catholic, and the Roman primacy is a dogma. If Lefebvre had really rejected the Roman primacy, he would not have given a hoot about Rome and the Pope’s opinion on anything he was doing. He would simply have consecrated bishops as he saw fit, entirely ignoring what the Vatican might say about the matter.

   But the direct opposite was the case. Lefebvre had numerous dossiers sent to the Vatican that contained information about fitting candidates to be ordained to the episcopate, he went along with pretty much everything the Vatican asked of him, until he finally said, "No more. This cannot go on forever. They do not want to give me a bishop. I have to act. The faithful need really Catholic bishops. Time is running out. I will consecrate on June 30, 1988."

   So, while some acts of disobedience are schismatic, to suggest that Lefebvre’s 1988 consecration of bishops is such a schismatic act is simply false. He acted out of grave necessity and inconvenience for the good of the Church and the salvation of souls. Granted, the Pope disagreed with Lefebvre, but the Pope does not, unfortunately, have the charism of infallibly discerning God’s will in every instance. The infallibility of the Pope has nothing to do with this, and so even the neo-catholic would have to admit that the Pope could be wrong in saying that Lefebvre’s consecrations were a schismatic act.

   That the illicit consecration of bishops cannot be an intrinsically schismatic act can be demonstrated as follows. Under the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the punishment for illicitly consecrating bishops was not excommunication but mere suspension (this was changed to excommunication in 1951). However, if consecrating bishops without papal mandate were an inherently schismatic offense, then the 1917 Code would have had to require excommunication for this offense, because the very same Code teaches, as the 1983 Code does, that schismatics incur latae sententiae excommunication (Canon 2314 in the 1917 Code; Canon 1382 in the 1983 Code). Therefore, consecrating bishops without papal mandate is not an inherently schismatic offense. And therefore, Pope John Paul II’s claim that Archbishop Lefebvre’s disobedience in consecrating the bishops constitutes a schismatic act lacks foundation and hence validity.

   Since Canon 751 of the 1983 Code defines schism as "the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him," some object by saying that since Lefebvre disobeyed the Pope, he thereby withdrew submission. But this is not true. A withdrawal of submission means a denial of the superior’s authority to command. The Catholic Encyclopedia (!) teaches this manifestly: "[N]ot every disobedience is a schism; in order to possess this character it must include besides the transgression of the commands of superiors, denial of their Divine right to command" [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13529a.htm]. Otherwise, every single act of disobedience, no matter how trifling, would be a schismatic act and put one outside of the Church—which is absurd.

   Lefebvre did not deny that the Pope has the right to command bishops to refrain from ordaining bishops he has not approved of. The difference was only that in Lefebvre’s case, because of the gravity of the state of the Church and the horrendous loss of faith and true doctrine, he felt in conscience obliged to disobey this particular command, for the good of souls and the good of the Church! He knew, after all, that the men he was consecrating were God-fearing, holy men fit to be bishops. At least Pius XII had put enough trust into Archbishop Lefebvre’s ability to discern such (as mentioned earlier).

   In any case, even if Lefebvre was wrong in his conviction about the state of the Church, as I mentioned previously, he still did not incur excommunication based on Canon 1323 7°! We have all bases covered. But of course Lefebvre was not wrong about the state of the Church. Now, some argue that if the Church is going to hell (humanly speaking, of course), that’s the Pope’s problem to deal with and Archbishop Lefebvre should not have taken it upon himself to try to right it. Well, here’s what Pope Pius XII taught about the matter in his encyclical Fidei Donum of April 21, 1957:

42. It is an undoubted fact that it was to Peter alone and to his successors, the Roman Pontiffs, that Jesus Christ entrusted the entirety of his flock: "Feed my lambs; feed my sheep" [John 21:16-18]. But even though each bishop is the pastor of that portion only of the Lord's flock entrusted to him, nevertheless as lawful successor of the Apostles by God's institution and commandment he is also responsible, together with all the other bishops, for the Apostolic task of the Church, according to the words of Christ to the Apostles: "As the Father has sent me, I also send you" [John 20:21].


   Yes, it was in fact the good archbishop’s responsibility to care for the flock if all the other shepherds have abandoned this sacred duty or even turned into wolves themselves.

   But let’s return to the question of schism. Even some Vatican authorities admit that the consecrations of 1988 were not schismatic. For instance, in an October 7, 1988 article in the Italian paper La Repubblica, Cardinal Lara conceded that "the act of consecrating a bishop (without papal mandate) is not in itself a schismatic act" (quoted in Ferrara & Woods, The Great Façade, pp.257-58).

   Likewise, when in 1994 Cardinal Cassidy, then head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, was asked why the Church did not engage in ecumenical dialogue with the Society of St. Pius X, he made clear that the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity "is not concerned with the Society of St. Pius X. The situation of the members of this Society is an internal matter of the Catholic Church" (emphasis added; quoted in Ferrara & Woods, The Great Façade, p.259, n.304). He thereby admitted that the Society of St. Pius X (which Archbishop Lefebvre founded and the four bishops he ordained are part of) is part of the Catholic Church—and therefore, by definition, not schismatic.

   As far as the grave evil of schism goes, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Universal Doctor of the Church, teaches:

   [T]he sin of schism is one that is directly and essentially opposed to unity. For in the moral, as in the physical order, the species is not constituted by that which is accidental. Now, in the moral order, the essential is that which is intended, and that which results beside the intention, is, as it were, accidental. . . . [The] schismatic intends to sever himself from that unity which is the effect of charity. . . Accordingly schismatics properly so called are those who, wilfully and intentionally separate themselves from the unity of the Church. . . .

[Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 39, Art. 1; http://www.newadvent.org/summa/303901.htm]

   There is no question that in order to be a schismatic, Lefebvre would have had to intend to deny the authority of the Pope to command. This he expressly did not do. If he had been a true schismatic, i.e., if he had willfully desired to separate himself from Rome and refuse to recognize the Pope’s authority, then he could easily have done so. Why, in fact, engage in the lengthy struggle with the Vatican? Why bother to write letters, send dossiers and more dossiers, travel here and there, meet with Cardinal Ratzinger, etc.? The archbishop’s patience with Rome’s modernists was truly heroic, but at one point it was simply necessary to act.

   In any case, his long dealings with Rome are evidence enough that Lefebvre made every effort not to have to act against the Pope’s wishes. There was no intention whatsoever on his part to separate himself from the Church, nor did he ever deny the primacy of the Roman See—much less intentionally so. It is therefore false and slanderous to say that Archbishop Lefebvre committed a schismatic act or became a schismatic.

   Before closing, I ought to mention one most curious thing. When Archbishop Lefebvre was sent the canonical warning by Cardinal Gantin on June 17, 1988, the warning did not include mention of schism anywhere. Here is what it said:

   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.

   Why is no mention of schism made? This is a canonical warning, i.e. a warning of what will happen, what penalties will be incurred, based on canon law, if Archbishop Lefebvre follows through with the illicit consecrations. Why is it not mentioned that the offense would be a schismatic offense? Why does Cardinal Gantin not plead that Archbishop Lefebvre not become a schismatic? I find it most curious that no mention is made of schism, a gravely evil offense, on June 17, when less than two weeks later, on July 1, it is treated as manifestly obvious that the act the June 17 note warned about was in fact clearly schismatic.

   Now, I could go into what I think are the real reasons behind Rome’s harsh crackdown on Archbishop Lefebvre and the conspicuous absence of the word "schism" in canonical warning. And I could talk about Rome’s behavior and attitude toward real schismatics, like the Communist Church in China and the Russian-Greek "Eastern Orthodox" Church to demonstrate a complete double-standard.

   However, even though very revealing, mentioning these issues is not necessary as they have nothing to do with the reasons why the accusation of schism against Archbishop Lefebvre and the other bishops is entirely unwarranted, which was the aim of this article.

   Let me point out, however, one particular way in which the illicit consecrations have harmed the Newchurch, besides the obvious fact that we now have traditionalist bishops who ordain real priests and teach sound doctrine. As Fr. Schmidberger states:

   In principle the episcopal consecrations deal a fatal blow to the Pope’s current ecumenical programme, which is increasingly undermining the Church. How can the embrace he extends to all religions still appear credible when he tries to exclude six Catholic bishops from communion with the Church? . . . What credibility is to be ascribed to the Peace Congresses held jointly with the world’s major religions when a religious war has broken out in his own ranks?

[Schmidberger, The Episcopal Consecrations, pp. 48-49]

   Indeed, though the state of the Church is bad enough today, it would probably be much worse if it had not been for the consecrations of June 30, 1988!

   Let us always remember the reasons Archbishop Lefebvre saw no other way than to go ahead with the episcopal consecrations. Among others, the reasons were to ensure the preservation of the Catholic Faith, to guarantee really Catholic priests for the faithful, to guarantee really Catholic sacraments for the faithful, and in order to continue an orthodox voice of Catholic bishops in the midst of the modernist siege of the Church. All of these reasons are totally compatible with the Supreme Law of the Church, namely, the salvation of souls, as I discussed in the last installment.

   So, Lefebvre’s "crime," for which he immediately earned Rome’s strictest condemnations, was making sure that what he had received and entrusted with teaching and transmitting would be perpetuated, that countless souls would not be poisoned by error but fortified by sound doctrine. In short, his "crime" was being a Catholic. Yes, that is a "crime" nowadays in the Newchurch, which instead prefers to "dialogue" with pro-abortion perverts in bishop’s costumes, expresses "respect" for Voodoo witchdoctors, and asks Protestant theologians for input on how the papacy could be reformed to be more acceptable to Protestants. Oh, how awful the times we live in! But this is the essence of the conciliar religion: everything goes, except the Old Faith.

   What’s left for me to say?
Merci Beaucoup, Archbishop Lefebvre!
Thank you!
Thank you!
Thank you!

PS: In my next installment, I will answer numerous objections that have been brought up against what I (and the SSPX) have argued. This will include objections by Pete Vere and Bill Grossklas.

Mario Derksen

    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

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