Archbishop Lefebvre and Vatican II
A Bishop Speaks at the Council
The Defense of Tradition
by John Vennari
This is an edited transcript of a lecture given on October 16 at the SSPX’s 40th Anniversary Conference in Kansas City October 2010.
“A Revolution in Catholic Attitudes”
Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton was one of the most eminent American theologians of the first half of the 20th Century. He had been trained at the Angelicum in Rome, wrote his doctoral dissertation under the revered Thomistic theologian Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, and for 20 years–from 1944 to 1963–he was editor of the theological journal, The American Ecclesiastical Review.
He defended the Church’s doctrine that outside the Church there is no salvation, and the doctrine on the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ at a time when it was becoming increasingly unpopular to do so.
In the July 1961 issue of the American Ecclesiastical Review, he published a piece entitled “Revolutions in Catholic Attitudes.”
He was reacting against a speech given to the Australian Catholic Press Association by a Fr. James Murtagh, who was then-president of that Association. The speech ran in the June 11 edition of Our Sunday Visitor, which was one of the most widely-read Catholic newspapers in the United States.
Here is the quote that touched off Msgr. Fenton. Fr. Murtagh said:
"The Church has entered the Age of Dialogue and the Age of Public Relations–dialogue with non-Catholic Christians and public relations with the community at large…I don’t think it an exaggeration to say that we are on the threshold of a revolution in Catholic attitudes and policies in the Church’s confrontation with the world. The revolution has already begun. It may well be signed and sealed and directed at the Second Vatican Council and will mark the end of the Reformation era."
Fr. Murtagh’s quote concludes:
"When the directives of the Council are handed down, they may well call for a considerable readjustment of attitudes and ideas and a deliberate re-setting of editorial sights."1
Keep in mind the date this was published in Our Sunday Visitor: June 1961–nearly a year and a half before the Council opened.
And Msgr. Fenton was horrified that this revolutionary notion would be proposed, as it is contrary to the entire nature and stability of the Faith.
Firing back at this madness, Msgr. Fenton says: “There will not be, and there can never be, any modification of a truth proposed and defined by the magisterium.”2
He insisted in detail that there will be no change in doctrine from that proposed by Vatican I, Leo XIII, or from any of Pius X’s directives against Modernism. He even went on to say, “The statements that will come from the forthcoming Council and in the future documents of the Papal magisterium will be more adequate in the lines of clarity. They will more and more effectively avoid ambiguity.”3
There is a lot we could talk about regarding Msgr. Fenton’s article, but his main and final point was: “There is not going to be any revolution in Catholic attitudes.”4 Msgr. Fenton was well aware of the many doctrinal deviations whirling throughout the Church at the time. He was not naïve, yet he insisted there would be “no revolution in Catholic attitudes.”
Now, I’m opening with Msgr. Fenton for two reasons. First, I think it represents the mindset of the good churchmen at the time–I’m taking about the good men. Sure, there might be doctrinal deviations running rampant throughout the Church. Sure, there might be trouble-makers such as Hans Kung and Karl Rahner and de Lubac and Congar on the loose. But no matter what these deviations, there is no way the Pope of the Catholic Church will go along with them. There is no way the Vicar of Christ will imbibe these revolutionary attitudes himself, and there is certainly no way the Sovereign Pontiff will confirm these new attitudes by means of Council that is meant to teach the whole world. In other words, a lot of good men–men who were some of the most orthodox, learned and well-informed in the Catholic world–would have never dreamed that the Council would be the unprecedented catastrophe that it was. (In fact, Archbishop Lefebvre, in 1965, before the disaster fully hit, was still optimistic that the Pope would not confirm and adopt the new thinking.)5
Second, I think it helps us to step back to recognize the extraordinary period in Church history in which we find ourselves. It is unspeakably abnormal. What men of the theological caliber of Msgr. Fenton considered virtually impossible is now the “norm” in our time. The Papacy itself has undergone a “Revolution in Catholic Attitudes.” We are no longer shocked when the modern Popes continually commit heretofore unthinkable acts, such as visiting synagogues, mosques, or Lutheran places of worship, or exalting the secular state. We live in an extraordinary period in Church history in which the deviations from the Faith come from the highest pinnacles. That which was deemed virtually impossible–a series of Popes promoting liberal ideas and incorporating these ideas into ecclesiastical policy—is now the norm. We live in a time of systemic aberration. In other words, we have lived, and we continue to live, in an enduring state of emergency within the Church.
And the cause of this systemic aberration–the cause of this enduring state of emergency–is the Second Vatican Council. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre labored with all his strength that the Council would not become this disaster. But he was aware that he and the good bishops with whom he worked at Vatican II were not completely successful. He writes:
"We were able…to limit the damage, to change the inexact or tendentious assertions, to add a sentence to rectify a tendentious proposition or an ambiguous assertion. But I have to admit that we did not succeed in purifying the Council of the liberal and modernist spirit that impregnated most of the schemas. The drafters [of these Vatican II schemas] were precisely the experts and Fathers tainted with this spirit. Now what can you do when a document is in all its parts drawn up with a false meaning? It is practically impossible to expurgate it of that meaning. It would have to be completely recomposed in order to be given a Catholic spirit."6
The Rhine Flows…
I am taking for granted that you know the basic facts about Vatican II:
• That it was called by Pope John XXIII in 1959, and a central theme for the Council would be aggiornamento–which means a “bringing up to date” of Catholic teaching;
• That the Pope formed a Preparatory Commission that took two years preparing the schemas that would be discussed by the bishops once the Council opened; and that Archbishop Lefebvre was a member of that Preparatory Commission, working with Cardinal Ottaviani, head of the Holy Office;
• That the documents produced by that Preparatory Commission were in conformity with the traditional Catholic magisterium of the centuries. Archbishop Lefebvre wrote, “I was nominated a member of the Central Preparatory Commission by the Pope and I took an assiduous and enthusiastic part in its two years of work….This work was carried out very conscientiously and meticulously. I still possess the seventy-two preparatory schemas; in them the Church’s doctrine is absolutely orthodox. They were adapted in a certain manner to our times, but with great moderation and discretion.”7
I am taking for granted you are also aware that this agenda was never followed because a group of progressivist bishops and theologians hijacked the Council from the first day it opened. These progressivists are well known: Karl Rahner, Joseph Ratzinger, Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, Dominic Chenu, Hans Küng, Edward Schilebeeckx, Cardinal Suenens, Cardinal Frings–the list goes on.
The progressive theologians mentioned were invited to the Council at the insistence of John XXIII, even though a number of these theologians had been censured by Pius XII’s Vatican, and had not retracted their deviant theological positions.
On this point, Archbishop Lefebvre revealed what happened at a meeting of the Preparatory Commission prior to Vatican II. The Archbishop was horrified to see a list of modernist theologians who were scheduled to attend the Council as expert theological advisors. Archbishop Lefebvre made an intervention at a meeting of the Central Commission on June 5, 1961, expressing his dismay that these theologians were to be admitted to the Council. After the meeting, Cardinal Ottaviani said privately to Archbishop Lefebvre, “I know. But what can be done? The Holy Father wants it like that. He wants experts with a reputation.”8
The progressive prelates and theologians came to the Council with an agenda to remake the Church unto their own image and likeness. They did not want to work on the original documents that had been drawn up by the Preparatory Commission, because if they had, then the discussions would have been channelled into a kind of traditionalist straight-jacket, and they could not have brought in their modernist ideas.
From day one, the progressives organized a fierce opposition to these schemas, and within three days of the Council’s opening, they voted successfully to get rid of the documents that had been prepared. The progressivists also immediately manoeuvred themselves into the positions of power at the Council, by which they could steer the Council’s program.
Archbishop Lefebvre, who experienced all of this first hand, tells us:
"From the very first days, the Council was besieged by the progressive forces...fifteen days after the opening sessions not one of the seventy-two schemas remained. All had been sent back, rejected, thrown into the waste-paper basket."9
This scrapping of the original schemas left 3,000 bishops in Rome without an agenda. The bishops then relied on the progressive theologians to draw up new documents that would be discussed by the Council.
The liberal bishops and theologians drew up these documents in a new “pastoral” language that was marked by imprecision, ambiguities, deliberate omissions and a spirit of liberalism. The ambiguities, as you know, were planted in the documents so that the progressivists could exploit them afterwards. Archbishop Lefebvre called these “time bombs” in the Council texts.
The documents of Vatican II are thus flawed documents because of their deliberate ambiguity, lack of precision, countless omissions, and because of the novel concepts advanced.
Two Opposing Forces
During the preparation for the Council, two forces were working against one another. On the one side were the “Romans” with the Theological Commission of Cardinal Ottaviani, head of the Holy Office, always defending traditional doctrine. On the other was the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity under Cardinal Bea and assisted by Jan Willebrands.
There were fierce battles during these two years between the two forces. For example, Cardinal Bea would attack the “scholastic language” of the original schematas written by Cardinal Ottaviani’s group. Archbishop Lefebvre witnessed these clashes first hand. He said:
"It was clear to all the members who were present that there was a division inside the Church. It did not come about by chance and neither was it superficial, and deeper still between cardinals than between the archbishops or bishops."10
To give a quick idea of the different approach of the two groups, we will mention the rival schematas concerning religious liberty. The first was from Cardinal Ottaviani and was called “Relations between Church and State and Religious Tolerance.” There were nine pages of text and fourteen pages of endnotes with numerous quotations from the papal teaching of Pius XI and Pius XII.
The other, written by Cardinal Bea’s Secretariat for Christian Unity, was entitled, “On Religious Liberty.” It contained fifteen pages of text, only five pages of notes, and no references to the magisterium of the Church.11
Archbishop Lefebvre said of these two schemas: "The first [Ottaviani’s] is Catholic Tradition: but the second? What on earth is that? They want to introduce Liberalism, the French Revolution, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man into the Church. This cannot be."12
You will notice I said Cardinal Bea attacked the scholastic language of the text–and by scholastic language, I mean the precise language of St. Thomas Aquinas that the Church has praised and incorporated over the centuries as the clearest expression of philosophy and theology.
Of scholastic philosophy, Leo XIII said:"We think it hazardous that its special honor should not always and everywhere remain, especially when it is established that daily experience, and the judgment of the greatest men, and, to crown all, the voice of the Church, have favored the scholastic philosophy."13
St. Pius X further taught that the modernists have “only ridicule and contempt” for “scholastic philosophy and theology” and that “there is no surer sign that a man is on the way to modernism than when he begins to show his dislike for the [scholastic] system.”14
The New Theology
So then, why would Cardinal Bea attack the Council text because of its scholastic language? Clearly, Bea was influenced by the partisans of the “New Theology.”
It is impossible to have a correct understanding of Vatican II–and to have a full understanding of the battles Archbishop Lefebvre was fighting during the Council–unless one appreciates the New Theology, which was a repackaged version of Modernism gaining ground in the 1940s, ’50s, and early ’60s. Theologians such as Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, and, most especially, Fr. Henri de Lubac, were at the very center of the movement. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange warned in his landmark 1946 article that the New Theology leads us straight back to modernism.
It’s a hugely important subject that we don’t have time to fully explore, so I will summarize the New Theology in three quick points:
1) It is the belief that theology must keep adapting itself to the changing circumstances from age to age; theology must always be in a state of flux. Fr. Henri Boulliard, a proponent of the New Theology, said in the mid-1940s: “A theology which is not current [does not keep changing] will be a false theology.”15
2) It consists of a confusion concerning the distinction between the natural and supernatural orders.
3) It consists of a rejection of the scholasticism of St. Thomas Aquinas in order to form a new synthesis between the Greek Fathers and modern philosophies. To put it simply, the system claims that scholasticism is too foreign to modern man, traditional Catholic terms are too foreign to modern man. It thus seeks to speak to modern man in a language that he understands.
So in light of the little I’ve said about the New Theology, and in light of Cardinal Bea’s denouncing the “Scholasticism” in Cardinal Ottaviani’s original schemas, we can see the forces of this modernist New Theology at work at Vatican II at the most fundamental level.
And the man who threatened to spoil the party more than anyone else was Archbishop Lefebvre.
Lefebvre’s Scholastic Solution
Archbishop Lefebvre made, I believe, his most important intervention at Vatican II even before the Council opened (and it was reiterated in November 1962, after the close of the First Session). This intervention was fiercely rejected by the innovators, for obvious reasons. Had the intervention been successful, it would have gone a long way in saving the entire Council from being the catastrophe that it was.
Archbishop Lefebvre pointed out–and he did this with clarity and great statesmanship–that the Council is attempting something extremely difficult.
On the one hand, he said, the Council wants employ pastoral and ecumenical language in order to speak in a some sort of easy-to-understand language to all men. On the other hand, the bishops of the Church have the “grave responsibility” to instill in our priests, and in our future priests, a love of “sound and unerring doctrine.”
Now Archbishop Lefebvre was a magnificent pastor–Apostolic delegate to French Speaking Africa, one of the greatest missionary bishops of the 20th century, and Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers. We’re talking about a man who knew how to be pastoral, and he had the decades of stupendous growth of the Church in his territories in Africa that he could point to as proof of his theological and pastoral prowess.
And in so many words, he said, yes! When I speak to theologians, I speak to them in a different manner from the way I speak to lay people, or to the average man on the street.
So that’s the double problem the Council faces.
The Archbishop proposed a solution. His solution was “that each Commission should put forth two documents: one more dogmatic [that is, in scholastic language], for the use of theologians; the other more pastoral in tone, for the use of others, whether Catholic, non-Catholic or non-Christians.”16
And the theological documents–drawn up in traditional scholastic language “to eliminate all ambiguity and error”–would serve as the ‘official interpreter,’ as it were, to the points in the pastoral documents.17
Needless to say, Archbishop Lefebvre’s proposal was immediately shot down. It did get the support of various conservative Fathers such as Cardinal Ruffini and then-Archbishop Roy, but overall, as Archbishop Lefebvre said, “The proposal was met with violent opposition.” The progressives bleated, “The Council is not a dogmatic but a pastoral one; we are not seeking to define new dogma, but to put forth the truth in a pastoral way…”
The Archbishop saw through this ruse. He said: "Liberals and Progressives like to live in a climate of ambiguity. The idea of clarifying the purpose of the Council annoyed them exceedingly. My proposal was thus rejected."18
Archbishop Lefebvre at the Council
As for the progressivist takeover of Vatican II, Archbishop Lefebvre would say that the Council came to be controlled by the forces of modernization. We felt it, we sensed it, and when I say “we” I mean the majority of the Council Fathers at the time; we had the impression that something unusual was going on.19
In response to this progressive onslaught, the opening of the second Session of Vatican II–October 1963–saw the formation of the International Group of Fathers. It was formed by Brazil’s Bishop Proença Sigaud, who wanted to organize the scattered conservative prelates who were resisting the liberal alliance, and Archbishop Lefebvre was a major player in this conservative group.
The Archbishop himself said: "The soul of Coetus was Bishop Proença Sigaud as Secretary, I myself as a former Apostolic Delegate and the Superior General, was the “public face” in the role of chairman. Bishop de Castro Mayer was vice chairman and “the thinker,” while Bishop Carli was “the pen,” with his talents, his lively mind, and his Italian know-how."20
In fact, Bishop Carli of Italy was so formidable that the progressive Cardinal Dopfner, who was one of the Four Council Moderators of the Council, would later say there was no bishop of the Council whom he feared more than Bishop Carli.21
Other bishops and theologians united themselves with this International Group of Fathers, as did eventually a number of Cardinals, and they became a substantial force resisting the liberal revolution at Vatican II.
They were a group of small means and modest funds, but they accomplished a great deal. They ended up with a printing press by which they could spread their writings. They held regular meetings and lectures in Rome, especially on Tuesday nights, and the Great Abbey of Solemnes was particularly sympathetic and helpful to their cause.
Regarding his interventions at the Vatican, Archbishop Lefebvre said, “I consider my duty to speak out,” and he never ceased speaking out against the Vatican II revolution until death sealed his lips on March 25, 1991. Archbishop Lefebvre himself made at least twelve major interventions at Vatican II, which are contained for our benefit in this slim little book, I Accuse The Council. For some of the details of Archbishop Lefebvre’s interventions at the Council, we will look at six topics: Collegiality, Sacred Scripture, the proper ends of marriage, the condemnation of Communism, ecumenism, and religious liberty.
Collegiality was a new doctrine advanced at Vatican II. There was the “extreme liberal” version of collegiality, which held that the bishops formed a college of which the Pope was only the head, and the Pope would need to consult the bishops before making decisions.
Then there was the “moderate liberal thesis,” which basically held that supreme power in the Church would be exercised by two authorities; the Pope on the one hand, and the college of bishops on the other, even though the Pope retained his personal power as defined by Vatican I. This new arrangement that gave the college of bishops a kind of juridical power in the Church that had no basis in Tradition.
Archbishop Lefebvre supported the intervention against collegiality written by a traditional Vatican II theological expert named Fr. Berto. Fr. Berto explained that the Pope was the only leader of the Church with the plenitude of supreme power, and that the bishops do not constitute a college by Divine Right “in the juridical sense of being the subject of a common action.” The bishops only exercise this power in extraordinary circumstances, such as an ecumenical council. And even then, this power must be delegated to them by the Pope.
At the time, Archbishop Lefebvre also pointed to the practical consequences of this new position. In an interview he gave to Fr. Ralph Wiltgen’s Divine Word News Service, Archbishop Lefebvre warned that collegiality “is a new kind of collectivism invading the Church…individual bishops would be so restricted in the government of their diocese as to lose their initiative.22 On the doctrinal level, he warned that if the new collegiality was accepted, it would mean that for the past 2,000 years, “the Roman Church has erred in not knowing the fundamental principles of her divine Constitution.”
Despite these objections, and the opposition of the conservative Council Fathers, Paul VI insisted on incorporating the moderate liberal position into the Council document Lumen Gentium. There was even a point when the Council’s theological Commission broke the rules of the Council by ignoring a modi that the conservative Fathers had submitted regarding collegiality. Though Paul VI learned of this outrage and insisted that the conservative Fathers modi be included, he also insisted on the “moderate liberal” thesis becoming the teaching of the Council. More battles ensued.
And then, very late in the game, a liberal Council peritus made the mistake of putting in writing how he and the other liberals would interpret the new teaching on collegiality after the Council closed, which would have been along the lines of the “extreme liberal” position. That document was found and shown to Paul VI, who broke down in tears when he read it. The Pope realized that he had been deceived, and immediately insisted that an “Explanatory Note” be drawn up on the subject. This Note is not an integral part of the Council document itself; it was published in the Acts of the Apostolic See.23 And though the Note upholds papal authority as defined by Vatican I, it does not clarify exactly what collegiality is, so the confusion about collegiality remains to this day.
Regarding Divine Revelation, and problems concerning a new definition of Tradition that is found in Vatican II’s Dei Verbum, it seems Archbishop Lefebvre and the conservative Fathers had to channel their energies into reaffirming the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture, which was threatened by the original liberal schemata. If Vatican II ended up reaffirming the traditional teaching on the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture, it was due to the fight from Archbishop Lefebvre and the International Group of Fathers.
There was also the battle to retain the proper ends of marriage. In Catholic doctrine, and in natural ethics–if the ethician is honest–the primary end of marriage is the begetting and education of children, and the second end is conjugal love. But in the Council document Gaudium et Spes, we see that the two ends of marriage are made equal. Archbishop Lefebvre intervened that this was contrary to the entire doctrine of the Church and would lead to enormous negative consequences. The conservative Fathers lost that battle, and the error remains in Gaudium et Spes, which effectively says that procreation and conjugal love are equal ends in marriage. This has led to tremendous moral problems that we won’t discuss here.24
Then there was the request for the condemnation of Communism, in which Archbishop Lefebvre played a major role. In October 1964, the Council was debating what would come to be Gaudium et Spes, the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.” Chapter XIII of the text, which dealt with atheism, contained no mention of Communism, which was the most global, organized, and brutal system of evil in the modern world. So the International Group of Fathers marshaled their energies in an attempt to ensure that Communism be condemned by name at the Council.
Bishop Carli wrote a letter requesting the condemnation of Communism and it was circulated by Archbishop Sigaud and Archbishop Lefebvre. Initially they collected 332 signatures requesting this condemnation, and the petition was hand-delivered by Archbishop Lefebvre on November 9. This was delivered within the proper time limit, and it ensured there would be ample time for the letter to be considered.25
But then on November 13, when the new version of the schema was produced, there was no mention of the petition for Communism’s condemnation.
Bishop Carli immediately protested and lodged a formal complaint. He also decided to renew the request in the form of an amendment. The International Group of Fathers leapt into action, and their helpers drove throughout Rome hand-delivering the petition to the Council Fathers, by which they picked up even more signatures; the final count would be 454.
In spite of this, no mention was made of the petition in the new schema. Upon an inquiry ordered by Cardinal Tisserant, it was discovered that the petition had been conveniently “lost” in a drawer. In fact, Msgr. Achille Glorieux, secretary for the Commission, had received the petition but did not pass it on to the commission. Because it was not passed on, there was now no more time for the paragraph condemning Communism to be added.
The reason Communism was not condemned was due to the Vatican Moscow Agreement. This is the pact Pope John XXIII made with Moscow to secure the attendance of members of the Russian Orthodox establishment as Observers. Moscow insisted–and John XXIII agreed–that in order for the Russian Orthodox Observers to be present, there would be no condemnation of Communism at the Council. The condemnation of Communism was sacrificed for the sake of a bogus ecumenism.
The end result is that Gaudium et Spes only speaks in general about modern atheisms and merely footnotes Pius XI’s 1937 encyclical against Communism. But tellingly enough, the footnote only references the Encyclical’s Latin title, Divini Redemptoris. It does not mention the word “Communism” at all, ensuring that the word “Communism” appeared nowhere in the documents of Vatican II.
Archbishop Lefebvre would rightly say: "The refusal of this pastoral Council to issue any official condemnation of Communism alone suffices to disgrace it for all time, when one thinks of the tens of millions of martyrs, of people having their personalities scientifically destroyed in the psychiatric hospitals, serving as guinea-pigs for all sorts of experiments."26
On this note, Vatican II can truly be said to be an anti-Fatima Council. Not only did it refuse to condemn Russia’s errors by name, but Paul VI also rejected the request of the collected signatures of 510 bishops, representing 78 countries.27 This petition, which was initiated by Archbishop Sigaud, was a request for him to use the occasion of the Council to consecrate Russia and the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in union with the world’s bishops as requested by Our Lady of Fatima. Paul VI refused.
Then there was the new ecumenism, which was a defining element of the Second Vatican Council. Archbishop Lefebvre, true to form, presented interventions against this new spirit.
• He warned against what he described as a “false irenicism which tampers with the purity of Catholic teaching or obscures its true and certain meaning.” In the schema, “the most fundamental truths in this sphere are watered down.”28 The plain truths of Catholicism were being diluted in an attempt to make them more palatable to Protestants.
• The Archbishop had plenty to say against the schema calling the Church a “general help to salvation.” A general help? He reiterated the traditional doctrine–and quoted the 1951 Letter of the Holy Office–that “Our Lord indeed not only commanded all men to enter the Church” that was “divinely instituted” by Him, but that Our Lord “instituted the Church as the means of salvation without which no one can enter the kingdom of Heavenly glory.” Thus, said the Archbishop, it is obvious from this traditional teaching that “the Church is not seen merely as a ‘general help to salvation’.”29 No, it is necessary for salvation.
• He further warned against the schema’s statement: “The Holy Ghost does not refuse to make use of these churches and communities.” In response, the Archbishop said: This statement contains error: a community insofar as it is a separated community, cannot enjoy the assistance of the Holy Ghost. He can only act directly on souls or use such means as, of themselves, bear no sign of separation.30
What resulted was Vatican II’s new ecumenical approach—a revolution in Catholic attitudes—wherein Catholic prelates and clergy no longer were interested in working towards conversion of non-Catholics, but rather, in convergence with non-Catholics. In the spirit of the “New Theology,” theology, in order to remain alive, had to “move with the times”–and the times were ecumenical.
It is worth noting on this point that Dr. Robert McAfee Brown, a Protestant observer at Vatican II, was quick to praise Vatican II’s new approach. Dr. Brown was well aware of the traditional Catholic teaching on Christian unity, and celebrated the drastic change of attitude that Vatican II wrought. He did not see continuity in Vatican II, but rupture with the past, and he rejoiced. In his 1967 book, The Ecumenical Revolution, he applauds the Council’s Decree on Ecumenism:
"The document makes clear how new is the attitude that has emerged. No more is there talk of “schismatics and heretics” but rather of “separated brethren.” No more is there an imperial demand that the dissidents return in penitence to the Church who has no need of penitence; instead there is recognition that both sides are guilty of the sins of division and must reach out penitentially to one another. No more are Protestants dismissed merely as “sects” or psychological entities alone; instead it is acknowledged that there is a measure of “ecclesial reality” to be found within their corporate life."31
This last point made McAfee Brown is precisely what Archbishop Lefebvre was warning against when he made the intervention against the notion that “a community [that is, for example, a Protestant sect], insofar as it is a separated community, cannot enjoy the assistance of the Holy Ghost.” The Protestant McAfee Brown celebrates that Vatican II confirmed the opposite when the Council claimed that these Protestant groups have a measure of “ecclesial reality.”
Archbishop Lefebvre clearly saw the danger of these new teachings at the time of the Council. In 1964, he said that the Conciliar schemas “have a spirit of rupture and suicide,” and went on to say, “There exists a spirit of non-Catholic or rationalist ecumenism that has become a battering ram for unknown hands to pervert doctrine.”32
And while so many other highly-placed churchmen were predicting the great renewal that the Council would bring, Archbishop Lefebvre was far more realistic. He said: "In an inconceivable fashion, the Council promoted the spreading of liberal errors. The Faith, morality, and ecclesiastical discipline are shaken to their foundations as the Popes have predicted. The destruction of the Church is advancing rapidly."33
Of course, Archbishop Lefebvre was most active opposing the new notion of religious liberty that would emerge at Vatican II. This innovation states that all men have the positive right to practice their false religion in public. Archbishop Lefebvre made numerous interventions against this novel tenet. He noted that the new doctrine shifts the focus away from the rights of the objective truth given to us through Divine Revelation to the right of the human person to embrace religious error, which is contrary to the traditional teaching of the Church.
This traditional teaching is summarized by Pope Pius XII in the 1950s, who taught that “what is not in accord with truth and the moral law has objectively no right to exist, to be promoted or to be practiced,” and that “no human authority can give a positive mandate to teach or do things contrary to religious truth.”34
Archbishop Lefebvre further noted that the progressive Fr. Yves Congar openly admitted Vatican II’s new doctrine of religious liberty is a rupture with the past. Congar said: "What is new in this teaching in relation to the doctrine of Leo XIII and even of Pius XII…is the determination of the basis peculiar to this liberty, which is sought not in the objective truth of moral or religious good, but in the ontological quality of the human person."35
Of special note was Archbishop Lefebvre’s predicted consequences of the new doctrine. During the Council, he warned that “religious liberty is the right to cause scandal” because it gives civil rights to spread religious error and its moral consequences. Among these consequences, Archbishop Lefebvre spotlighted the following:
• Immorality: “The liberty of all religious communities in society mentioned in No. 29, cannot be laid down, without at the same time granting moral liberty to these communities: morals and religion are very closely linked, for instance, polygamy and the religion of Islam”;
• The death of the Catholic States: “A civil society endowed with Catholic legislation shall no longer exist”;
• “Doctrinal Relativism and practical indifferentism”;
• “The disappearance in the Church of the missionary spirit for the conversion of souls.”36
The consequences that the Archbishop predicted, and worse, have come to pass due to the Council’s new program. Cardinal Ottaviani likewise predicted that the Council’s religious liberty would result in South America’s being overrun with Protestantism. He too is proven correct. Of course, the most damning indictment of the Council’s religious liberty came from the synagogue of Satan itself. Archbishop Lefebvre noted:
"This very year , Yves Marsaudon, the Freemason, has published the book L’oecumenisme vu par un franc-maçon de tradition [Ecumenism as Seen by a Traditional Freemason]. In it the author expresses the hope of Freemasons that our Council will solemnly proclaim religious liberty....What more information do we need?"37
An End and a Beginning
You remember I opened with Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, where he said with full conviction there was no way that the Council would propound a “revolution in Catholic attitudes.” Here is the sad conclusion.
Msgr. Fenton was a peritus at Vatican II, working with Cardinal Ottaviani. On November 11, 1963, there was a crucial meeting between the Roman theologians: Cardinal Ottaviani and Msgr. Fenton and others on one side, and the proponents of the new teaching (Cardinal Bea, John Courtney Murray, Rahner and the rest), on the other. A vote was taken at that meeting which secured John Courtney Murray’s new teaching on religious liberty as the official position at the Council. This was the position that Fenton understood well, and had consistently fought throughout the entire 1950s.
Shortly after this meeting, Msgr. Fenton left the Council, returned to the United States and immediately resigned as Editor of the American Ecclesiastical Review.38 Yesterday’s heresy had become today’s orthodoxy, and Msgr. Fenton would not cooperate in the defense of a new teaching he knew to be contrary to the Church’s traditional doctrine. He ceased writing and died in a parish in Massachusetts in 1969. Archbishop Lefebvre likewise knew that with Vatican II, yesterday’s heresies had become today’s orthodoxy. Not long after the Council he too resigned his position of Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, and quietly retired in Rome.
But Providence had other plans for him, and the Archbishop always followed the designs of Providence. From giving advice in the late 1960s to troubled seminarians, who were dissatisfied with the formation they were receiving from seminaries that were ravaged by the Council’s new program, he would go on to found the Society of St. Pius X. This Society was the lone international institution preserving the true Faith and the true Mass during those dark decades after the Council, and which continues–and please God will always continue–the uncompromising struggle against liberalism that Archbishop Lefebvre waged manfully during Vatican II and in the tumultuous post-Conciliar period.
What Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton in 1961 said was virtually impossible is now the norm in the Church. The “revolution of Catholic attitudes” comes from the papacy itself and is spread throughout the Church by means of a liberal Council. The systemic aberration continues, the state of emergency continues, and so must be our respectful and uncompromising resistance.
We thank God for giving us Archbishop Lefebvre as a model who was willing to endure a constant barrage of calumny to remain steadfast in the Faith, and who publicly defended the Faith in the face of unspeakable opposition from those who should have been his protectors.
John Vennari is Editor of the traditional Catholic monthly Catholic Family News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in the July 2011 Catholic Family News
1 Quoted from “Revolutions in Catholic Attitudes,” Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, American Ecclesiastical Review, July 1961 (emphasis added).
2 Ibid., p. 123.
3 Ibid., p. 124 (emphasis added).
4 Ibid., p. 128 (emphasis added).
5 In 1965, just before the fourth and final session of the Council, Archbishop Lefebvre publicly stated his belief that despite what went on at the Council and despite the progressivist “magisterium” at the Council that had done so much damage, “The Church in the person of Peter’s successor has not yet substituted the traditional Magisterium with this new one and neither has the Church of Rome....The majority of the Cardinals and especially the Cardinals of the Curia, ...do not look to the new magisterium. Neither collegiality nor the ill-conceived religious liberty, both of which are contrary to the doctrine of the Church, will succeed.” More than two decades later, when re-reading what he had said at the time, Archbishop Lefebvre said, “I admit that the optimism I showed regarding the Council and the Pope was ill-founded.” Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, Marcel Lefebvre (Kansas City: Angelus Press, 2004), p. 331.
6 Marcel Lefebvre, p. 296.
7 Open Letter to Confused Catholics (Kansas City: Angelus Press, 1996), p. 102.
8 Marcel Lefebvre, p. 275.
9 Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p. 102.
10 Marcel Lefebvre, p. 277.
11 The original schema written under the direction of Cardinal Ottaviani is now published as an Appendix in Archbishop Lefebvre’s They Have Uncrowned Him.
12 Marcel Lefebvre, p. 282.
13 Aeterni Patris, On the Restoration of Christian Philosophy, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII.
14 Pope St. Pius X said in his Encyclical against Modernism: “We admonish professors to bear well in mind that they cannot set aside St. Thomas, especially in metaphysical questions, without grave disadvantage.” Pius even went so far as to formally proclaim in Sacrorum Antistitum, which was the document that promulgated the Oath Against Modernism, that “In the future the doctorate in theology or Canon Law must never be conferred on anyone who has not first of all made the regular course in scholastic [Thomistic] philosophy. If such a doctorate is conferred, it is to be held as null and void” (emphasis added). Pascendi, No. 42.
15 Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, “Where Is the New Theology Leading Us?” First printed in the Rome’s Angelicum in 1946. Translated into English by Catholic Family News and published in August 1998. On line at: www.cfnews.org/gg-newtheo.htm.
16 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, I Accuse the Council, rev. ed. (Kansas City: Angelus Press, 2009), p. 6.
17 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, A Bishop Speaks, 2nd ed. (Kansas City: Angelus Press, 2007), p. 16.
18 I Accuse the Council, p. 4.
19 Marcel Lefebvre, p. 288.
20 Ibid., p. 291.
21 Fr. Ralph Wiltgen, S.V.D., The Rhine Flows into the Tiber (Rockford: Tan, 1983), p. 89.
22 Marcel Lefebvre, p. 322.
23 Michael Davies, Pope John’s Council, 2nd ed. (Kansas City: Angelus Press, 2007), pp. 105-6.
24 On the level of doctrine, this new approach to marriage can appear to reaffirm the false notion that doctrine can change. Again, we have the New Theology at work: Theology to remain alive had to “move with the times.” We see the “Revolution in Catholic attitudes.”
25 Archbishop Lefebvre was given a receipt as proof that the document had been received.
26 Letter to Friends and Benefactors, No. 9. Quoted from Pope John’s Council, p. 245.
27 Frère François, Fatima, Intimate Joy, World Event, Vol. IV, Tragedy and Triumph (Buffalo: Immaculate Heart Publications, 1995), p. 82.
28 I Accuse the Council, p. 17.
29 Ibid., pp. 17-18 (emphasis added).
30 Ibid., p. 18.
31 Robert McAfee Brown, Ecumenical Revolution, 2nd ed. (1967; Garden City: Doubleday, 1969), pp. 67-8. (emphasis added)
32 Marcel Lefebvre, p. 330.
33 Ibid., p. 335.
34 Quoted from ibid., p. 310.
35 I Accuse the Council, p. 21.
36 Marcel Lefebvre, p. 329.
37 Ibid., p. 328. (emphasis added)
38 Michael Davies, The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty (Long Prairie: Neumann Press, 1992), pp. 11-12.