June 30, 1988 – 2018

30 Years since the SSPX Episcopal Consecrations of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre

In 1988, June 30 was a Thursday. Liturgically, it was the Commemoration of St. Paul the Apostle. That day, all eyes were on a tiny settlement in the southwest of Switzerland by the name of Écône. At a press conference on June 15, the French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (1905-1991) had announced that on the 30th of the month he was going to consecrate four bishops in Econe, even against the express prohibition of the man he acknowledged to be the Vicar of Jesus Christ, the Polish apostate Bp. Karol Wojtyla, otherwise known by his stage name, “Pope John Paul II”.

All negotiations between the Novus Ordo Sect and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) for the consecration of one Rome-approved bishop having failed, Abp. Lefebvre proceeded to consecrate to the episcopate four men of his own choosing: The Englishman Fr. Richard Williamson, the Spaniard Fr. Alfonso de Galarreta, the Frenchman Fr. Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, and the Swiss Fr. Bernard Fellay. He did so in order to ensure the survival of his priestly society (founded in 1970 with the approval of the local Novus Ordo bishop) and the valid transmission of the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders. This had become necessary as the Novus Ordo rite imposed by “Pope” Paul VI in 1968 was clearly invalid. Although the Church prescribes two co-consecrating bishops for an episcopal consecration, only one man in the entire world was willing to join Lefebvre in this ordination ceremony: Bp. Antonio de Castro Mayer (1904-1991), the retired ordinary of Campos, Brazil.

On June 17, 1988, “Cardinal” Bernard Gantin (1922-2008), then the Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, had sent the following formal canonical warning to Abp. Lefebvre, announcing to him that automatic excommunication would be the consequence should he indeed consecrate the four bishops as planned:

Canonical Warning

Congregation for Bishops to His Excellency Archbishop
Marcel Lefebvre, Archbishop-Bishop Emeritus of Tulle

Since on June 15, 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 1983 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 latæ sententiæ 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.

Given at Rome, from the Office of the Congregation for Bishops, June 17, 1988.

By Mandate of the Supreme Pontiff,

Bernardin Card. Gantin
Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops

(Source: “Canonical Warning”, in Archbishop Lefebvre and the Vatican, p. 112; italics given.)

Needless to say, this warning did not have the desired effect, and Abp. Lefebvre proceeded with the consecrations on June 30. A video clip summarizing the highlights of the ceremony can be viewed here:

The day after the consecrations, July 1, the Vatican sent the threatened declaration of excommunication:


Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre, Archbishop-Bishop Emeritus of Tulle, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning of June 17 last and the repeated appeals to desist from his intention, has performed a schismatical act by the episcopal consecration of four priests, without pontifical mandate and contrary to the will of the Supreme Pontiff, and has therefore incurred the penalty envisaged by Canon 1364 §1, and Canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law.

Having taken account of all the juridical effects, I declare that the above mentioned Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Alfonso de Galarreta have incurred ipso facto excommunication latæ sententiæ reserved to the Apostolic See.

Moreover, I declare that Archbishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, Bishop Emeritus of Campos, since he took part directly in the liturgical celebration as co-consecrator and adhered publicly to the schismatical act, has incurred excommunication latæ sententiæ as envisaged by Canon 1364 §1.

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

From the Office of the Congregation for Bishops, July 1, 1988.
Bernardinus Card. Gantin
Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops

(Source: “Decree”, in Archbishop Lefebvre and the Vatican, p. 126; italics given.)

The following day, July 2, John Paul II released a so-called motu proprio (“on his own initiative”) document, the “Apostolic” Letter Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, in which he declared that by carrying out these episcopal consecrations against his express prohibition, the bishops involved had become guilty of a “schismatic act”.

Furthermore, he announced the creation of a special commission (Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”) to humor those who were attached to the pre-Vatican II liturgy but didn’t want to follow the Lefebvrists in their schism. A few days later, a new order of priests was founded to this end, called the Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). The FSSP was going to be just like the SSPX in terms of liturgy, but it would be in “full communion” with the Vatican II Sect, accepting the Council and the New Sacraments as valid and licit and being obedient to the “Pope”. A number of priests and laity left the SSPX and joined the new FSSP instead.

On July 6, the SSPX leadership — the Superior General at the time was Fr. Franz Schmidberger — sent what could be called its “official response” to the excommunication decree. It was an open letter to “Cardinal” Gantin, in which the Lefebvrists essentially declared their joy and gratitude at being considered excommunicated by a false church. Since it is not that well known and its contents are rather explosive, we reproduce it here in full:

Open Letter to Cardinal Gantin
Prefect of the Congregation
for Bishops

Ecône, July 6, 1988


Gathered around our Superior General, the Superiors of the Districts, Seminaries and autonomous houses of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X think it good to respectfully express to you the following reflections.

You thought it good, by your letter of July 1st, to inform Their Excellencies Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, and the four Bishops whom they consecrated on June 30, at Ecône, of the excommunication latæ sententiæ. We let you judge for yourself the value of such a declaration, coming from an authority who, in its exercise, breaks with all its predecessors down to Pope Pius XII, in worship, teaching and government of the Church.

As for us, we are in full communion with all the Popes and Bishops before the Second Vatican Council, celebrating precisely the Mass which they codified and celebrated, teaching the Catechism which they drew up, standing up against the errors which they have many times condemned in their encyclicals and pastoral letters. We let you judge on which side the rupture is to be found. We are extremely saddened by the blindness of spirit and the hardening of heart of the Roman authorities.

On the other hand, we have never wished to belong to this system which calls itself the Conciliar Church, and defines itself with the Novus Ordo Missæ, an ecumenism which leads to indifferentism and the laicization of all society. Yes, we have no part, nullam partem habemus, with the pantheon of the religions of Assisi; our own excommunication by a decree of Your Eminence or of another Roman Congregation would only be the irrefutable proof of this. We ask for nothing better than to be declared out of communion with this adulterous spirit which has been blowing in the Church for the last 25 years; we ask for nothing better than to be declared outside of this impious communion of the ungodly. We believe in the One God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and we will always remain faithful to His unique Spouse, the One Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church.

To be publicly associated with this sanction which is inflicted upon the six Catholic Bishops, Defenders of the Faith in its integrity and wholeness, would be for us a mark of honor and a sign of orthodoxy before the faithful. They have indeed a strict right to know that the priests who serve them are not in communion with a counterfeit church, promoting evolution, pentecostalism and syncretism. In union with these faithful, we make ours the words of the Prophet: “Præparate corda vestra Domino et servite Illi soli: et liberabit vos de manibus inimicorum vestrorum. Convertimini ad Eum in toto corde vestro, et auferte deos alienos de medio vestri—Open your hearts to the Lord and serve Him only: and He will free you from the hands of your enemies. With all your heart return to Him, and take away from your midst any strange gods” (I Kings 7:3).

Confident in the protection of Her who has crushed all the heresies in the world, we assure Your Eminence of our dedication to Him Who is the only Way of salvation.

Fr. Franz Schmidberger, Superior General
Fr. Paul Aulagnier, District Superior, France
Fr. Franz-Josef Maessen, District Superior, Germany
Fr. Edward Black, District Superior, Great Britain
Fr. Anthony Esposito, District Superior of Italy
Fr. François Laisney, District Superior, United States
Fr. Jacques Emily, District Superior of Canada
Fr. Jean Michel Faure, District Superior of Mexico
Fr. Gerard Hogan, District Superior of Australasia
Fr. Alain Lorans, Superior, Seminary of Ecône
Fr. Jean Paul André, Superior, Seminary of France
Fr. Paul Natterer, Superior, Seminary of Germany
Fr. Andrès Morello, Superior, Seminary of Argentina
Fr. William Welsh, Superior, Seminary of Australia
Fr. Michel Simoulin, Rector, St. Pius X University
Fr. Patrice Laroche, Vice-Rector, Seminary of Ecône
Fr. Philippe François, Superior, Belgium
Fr. Roland de Mérode, Superior, Netherlands
Fr. Georg Pflüger, Superior, Austria
Fr. Guillaume Devillers, Superior, Spain
Fr. Philippe Pazat, Superior, Portugal
Fr. Daniel Couture, Superior, Ireland
Fr. Patrick Groche, Superior, Gabon
Fr. Frank Peek, Superior, Southern Africa

(Source: “Open Letter to Cardinal Gantin”, in Archbishop Lefebvre and the Vatican, pp. 136-138; italics given; underlining added.)

The Vatican never responded to this missive; at least the SSPX says they never received a reply, and there is no reason to doubt it.

This July 6 letter to “Cardinal” Gantin showcases the utter unreasonableness of recognizing as legitimate Catholic authorities manifest non-Catholics who impose non-Catholic doctrine, worship, and discipline. It is an impossible squaring of the circle and itself heretical or at least proximate to heresy, since it implies that the Catholic Church can defect from the true Faith, the true worship, and salutary universal discipline. If that were possible, the Church would not be protected by the Holy Ghost, she would not be the Ark of Salvation, and the gates of hell would have prevailed.

Notice that the letter clearly states or implies that the Novus Ordo authorities are part of a false church (“counterfeit church”), a church that is contrasted with the true Church (“the One Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church”), which the signatories insist they are being faithful to. So far, so good — yet what throws a monkey wrench into it all is the fact that the SSPX insist that these very Modernists are nevertheless legitimate authorities of the true Church; authorities, however, which must be disobeyed and resisted, else we risk being poisoned by their heretical religion. This is absurdity on stilts!

It is because the SSPX have never resolved this contradiction in their theology — how could they! — that the Lefebvrist communities always have within themselves the potential to either reconcile with Rome or else go off completely on their own. We see the former in the FSSP, in individual defections to the Novus Ordo Sect, and in the internal SSPX movement (spearheaded by Bp. Fellay) seeking official acceptance by Rome even as a “genuine Modernist” (Fellay’s words) is recognized as Pope. We see the latter in the so-called “resistance priests” who left the SSPX or were expelled (they call themselves “SSPX of the Strict Observance” or “SSPX-Marian Corps”), among whom are numbered Bp. Richard Williamson, Fr. Francois Chazal, Fr. David Hewko, Fr. Joseph Pfeiffer, and others.

The only thing they can apparently all agree on: Sedevacantism — the only reasonable and doctrinally sound position that can justify refusal of submission to the Modernists in Rome — is not the way to go. How interesting.

Here are a select few of our many blog posts against the SSPX, refuting its false, anti-Catholic theology:

In 2009, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger — then claiming the title “Pope Benedict XVI” — ordered the remission of the excommunication of the four bishops still living: Fellay, Williamson, de Galarreta, and Tissier de Mallerais. Just as the 1988 decree of excommunication had been issued by the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops (then “Cardinal” Gantin), so too was the 2009 decree issued by the same Novus Ordo authority (then “Cardinal” Giovanni Battista Re).

This remission came without any prior conditions, and Benedict XVI released a letter to the world’s Novus Ordo bishops explaining his decision. However, the decree of remission did say: “It is hoped that this step will be followed by the prompt attainment of full communion with the Church on the part of the whole Society of St Pius X, which will thus bear witness to its genuine fidelity and genuine recognition of the Magisterium and authority of the Pope by the proof of visible unity.” After continued negotiations failed to bring about this hoped-for “full communion” between the SSPX and Modernist Rome, however, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prepared a new decree of excommunication in 2013, but Francis the Merciful refused to sign it.

Since then, Francis has been gradually making concessions to the SSPX: In 2015, he appointed Bp. Fellay to judge cases of SSPX priests in the first instance, and he granted to all SSPX priests and bishops the faculties to “validly and licitly” absolve from sins in confession during the “Year of Mercy”. Not surprisingly, when the Year of Mercy was up, this concession was extended indefinitely. Then the Vatican began to float the idea that the SSPX would not have to accept all of Vatican II in order to be regularized, and the offer of a personal prelature was made. At one point Bp. Fellay jovially proclaimed that Francis considers the SSPX Catholic, adding — apparently totally unaware of the fatal irony — that “doctrine is not that important to him.” It appeared that a reconciliation between the two parties was imminent.

When in 2017 the Vatican issued a cunning document permitting Novus Ordo bishops to allow SSPX weddings in their dioceses, this was too much for seven SSPX deans in France, and they began to rebel. Bp. Fellay acted decisively, quickly removing all seven deans from their posts. (Years prior, a number of French SSPX laity had already demanded the resignation of Bp. Fellay from his post as Superior General.) The same year, Bp. Fellay announced that he had been granted permission by Rome to ordain priests freely. Although not everyone in the SSPX was as gung-ho about an agreement with Modernist Rome as the leadership, everything seemed to be smooth sailing for the Lefebvrists.

But then, everything changed. Out of the blue, “Cardinal” Gerhard Ludwig Muller threw a monkey wrench into the negotiations, suddenly requiring the SSPX to accept every jot and tittle of Vatican II and the post-conciliar Magisterium, as well as the legitimacy of the Novus Ordo sacraments, as a precondition for any kind of reconciliation. This effectively killed the entire thing. “It’s like the game of the goose”, Bp. Fellay lamented, referring to the popular family board game in which people can be required to start over just before they reach the finish line.

This is, more or less, where the SSPX is at this point with Rome. They are still doing their own thing, and they have been given all sorts of concessions, but in terms of an agreement they are back to square one. Depending on whom in the Novus Ordo Sect you ask, opinions as to the precise status of the SSPX range from “in schism” all the way to “they can be accepted as they are”.

Bp. Antonio de Castro Mayer (1904-1991)

As for Bp. de Castro Mayer, after the 1988 consecrations he continued to lead his resistance movement in Campos, the Priestly Fraternity of St. John Mary Vianney, in defiance of the local ordinary who had replaced him in 1981. Like Abp. Lefebvre, de Castro Mayer died in 1991, after which three of the four new SSPX bishops consecrated Fr. Licinio Rangel (1936-2002) to succeed him. The Vatican eventually persuaded Bp. Rangel to sign an agreement to enter into “full communion” with John Paul II, transforming his Society of St. John Vianney into the “Personal Apostolic Administration” of St. John Vianney. This was in January of 2002. At the time, the SSPX under Bp. Fellay warned the Campos resistance not to make a deal with the Vatican (see here and here), predicting that the Roman Modernists were simply trying to neutralize their resistance to Vatican II and the New Mass — which is precisely what happened.

Although the Vatican did permit the (valid!) consecration of a new bishop in 2002 (Bp. Fernando Rifan) as part of the agreement, one can truthfully say that, for all intents and purposes, the Campos resistance is no more. Although the “Personal Apostolic Administration” still exists, they are in effect simply another indult organization whose “resistance” to Vatican II and the New Sacraments, if it exists at all, is minimal at best. Today Campos is utterly irrelevant. They still have the beautiful traditional externals and even valid clergy, but on the inside they are thoroughly a part of the Vatican II Sect. In 2013, Bp. Rifan was caught happily concelebrating the Novus Ordo worship service with “Pope” Francis in the Casa Santa Marta. Bp. de Castro Mayer must be turning in the grave.

Clearly, the Campos resistance is history. The Vatican’s deal turned out to be the kiss of death for them. It is thus all the more astonishing that the same Bp. Fellay who once warned Bp. Rangel not to sign the agreement offered to him by John Paul II, today is eagerly wishing for a so-called “personal prelature” arrangement under Francis, something he confirmed once more in a new interview published in the June 28 edition of the German paper Die Tagespost (see Regina Einig, “Wir sind ein Störfaktor in der Kirche”, Die Tagespost LXXI: 26, p. 3).

The episcopal consecration of Bishops Tissier de Mallerais, Williamson, de Galaretta, and Fellay

As regards the 30th anniversary of Lefebvre’s consecrations this year, we anticipate that the SSPX leadership will keep the commemoration fairly low-key. In recent years they have bent over backwards to be conciliatory towards the Modernist Vatican — under Francis, of all people! –, and Bp. Fellay has even disingenuously claimed that the SSPX has never wanted to be schismatic or separated from Rome. Yet the July 6 letter to “Cardinal” Gantin reproduced above tells a different story.

But still today Bp. Fellay repeats the same claim: “I insist: We have never separated ourselves from the Church”, he says in the Tagespost interview (p. 2; our translation). Perhaps according to his own peculiar definition of “Church” he has never separated himself, but that’s not for him to play around with. The Eastern Orthodox have long claimed the same thing, and for them Pope Pius IX had a clear message: “…whoever the Roman Pontiff judges to be a schismatic for not expressly admitting and reverencing his power must stop calling himself Catholic” (Encyclical Quartus Supra, n. 9).

To those who may object that the Lefebvrists do acknowledge the primacy of the Pope, we answer with Pope Pius IX once more:

What good is it to proclaim aloud the dogma of the supremacy of St. Peter and his successors? What good is it to repeat over and over declarations of faith in the Catholic Church and of obedience to the Apostolic See when actions give the lie to these fine words? Moreover, is not rebellion rendered all the more inexcusable by the fact that obedience is recognized as a duty? Again, does not the authority of the Holy See extend, as a sanction, to the measures which We have been obliged to take, or is it enough to be in communion of faith with this See without adding the submission of obedience, — a thing which cannot be maintained without damaging the Catholic Faith?

…In fact, Venerable Brothers and beloved Sons, it is a question of recognizing the power (of this See), even over your churches, not merely in what pertains to faith, but also in what concerns discipline. He who would deny this is a heretic; he who recognizes this and obstinately refuses to obey is worthy of anathema.

(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Quae in Patriarchatu [Sept. 1, 1876], nn. 23-24; in Acta Sanctae Sedis X [1877], pp. 3-37; English taken from Papal Teachings: The Church, nn. 433-434.)

How ironic: It turns out that the supposed defenders of Tradition themselves embrace a position that is contrary to the received teaching of the Church.

By the way: Bp. Fellay’s second twelve-year term as Superior General is up. The SSPX General Chapter will be meeting from July 11-21 of this year, at the end of which the new Superior General will be elected. If the rumors can be believed, then the candidates with the best chances are Fr. David Pagliarani, Fr. Jurgen Wegner, Fr. Yves Le Roux, and Fr. Niklaus Pfluger. This will be a decisive event for the SSPX and determine whither the Lefebvrist society will go in the next twelve years, when, we may surely imagine, the conferral of at least one episcopal consecration will once again have to be considered.

Alas, one thing seems certain: No matter what the SSPX may decide to do with regard to the Modernist Vatican, an orthodox Catholic position will not be forthcoming.

Image source: seminaire-econe.ch / fsspx-sudamerica.org / seminaire-econe.ch
License: Fair use

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