Rorate Caeli

Archbishop Lefebvre and relations with Rome

A guest-post by 
Côme de Prévigny

Following the consecrations conferred in Écône, Switzerland, on June 30, 1988, the founder of the Society of Saint Pius X, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, did not maintain further discussions with the Holy See while he lived. The grave decision to move forward with this ceremony doubtless had consequences for the relations between the Holy See and the Archbishop. The tension had reached strong levels, and the excommunication decree of July 2 proved it. Is it possible, without much imagination, to explain things otherwise?

An act of survival

We could carelessly think that the Archbishop had finally reached the conclusion that pursuing discussions with a  world of hardened neo-Modernist ideas would prove nefarious for the progression of his foundation, which only could prosper far away from this darkened world. However, it seems that this impression is nothing more than an unfortunate ommission.

Let us recall the context: up to the eve of the consecrations, Abp. Lefebvre tried to reach an agreement with the Holy See by all possible means. He did not cease to write to and communicate with some Cardinals and prelates whom he knew, in the heart of the Curia, during the 1970s-1980s, and he repeatedly affirmed that the solution would come from Rome. He went so far as to sign a protocol in May 1988. Concluding that he would have changed his mind diametrically within a single month would show him to be an ill-tempered and impulsive man - which was not the case. On the contrary, the affair of the consecrations came along as the fruit of long reflection, which did not prevent him from simultaneously pursuing discussions with the Apostolic See, as much as his strength allowed him to do. Only the approach of death constrained him to move on with "Operation Survival".
The May 5 Protocol is signed

In order to understand the mind of Abp. Lefebvre, it is necessary to note that he truly acted in articulo mortis. He says it himself in the consecration sermon. His death would come soon: "This will happen soon." And the ceremony of the consecrations would probably not have taken place if its author had not justified the state of necessity with the fact that he was out of recourses, and that soon he would be gone. To go back to negotiations following the consecrations would have inevitably meant going back on the act he had just accomplished. His action is explained solely by the fact that he felt he was at the eve of his death, and that it was a last resort, after which there would not be any humanly possible exchanges while he lived.

The talks after 1988

Beyond the 'in extremis' position in which he found himself, Abp. Lefebvre envisaged, in any even, a very quick resumption of the discussions with Rome. He wished that his successors would relaunch the process. In the press conference granted on June 15, 1988, to journalists assembled in Écône, in which he announced his firm decision to move forward with the consecrations and suspend relations with Rome, he reckoned that the interruption of this exchange would last, considering the gravity of the consecrations, for approximately two or three years.

"These events that we will live in these days will certainly be talked about, and there will be unexpected crowds at the June 30 ceremony for the consecration of these four young bishops who will be at the service of the Society. This was foreseen as such by Rome. The bishops consecrated for the Society will be at the service of the Society. And, well, these four bishops will be at the service of the Society, that is it. The one who will therefore have responsibility, as a matter of principle, for relations with Rome when I am gone will be the Superior General of the Society, Father Schmidberger, who still has six years of leadership before him. He is the one who will, eventually, maintain contacts with Rome from now on, in order to continue the discussions, if these discussions go on, or if contact is kept, which is unlikely for some time, because in L'Osservatore Romano a large headline will say, 'Schism of Abp. Lefebvre,' 'Excommunication'... Therefore, for x years, perhaps two years, three years, I don't know, there will be separation."
 It can be noticed there the great optimism of Abp. Lefebvre. He realized that there would be a temporary separation for a certain lapse of time. He himself outlived the consecrations by two and a half years. The absence of relations seemed natural to him, not due to a radical change, but due to the jolt provoked by the act of the episcopal consecrations. From 1988 onwards, Father Schmidberger became the designated responsible for relations with Rome, as the founder had desired. He did not resume relations after two or three years, or at the moment of the death of Abp. Lefebvre, as the latter might have imagined. Twelve years passed by, after six years of leadership of Father Schmidberger, plus six years of leadership of Bp. Fellay, for the "talks to continue". As it happens, the Society could be reproached more for their extreme prudence than by their rashness. But the sole judge for this chronology was, in any event, the man mandated to appraise this delay, that is, the Superior General of the SSPX. Thus wished the founder.

[Note: as always, guest-posts reflect the view of the author, and do not necessarily reflect an editorial position of the blog.]


  1. Marcel Lefebvre, pray for us!

  2. Deo Gratias for ++Lefebvre ! I'd hate to think of what matters would be like now had he and the several priests who followed along with him lacked the instinct for survival.

    God bless the good archbishop!

  3. Dorotheus8:33 AM

    Is not the SSPX in the same position as those whom traditionalists deride as liberal dissenters? They do not like some official teachings and claim the right to reject them for that reason. The main difference is that the SSPX wishes Vatican II had never happened, while liberals only want its teachings to be implemented and the current leadership to stop undermining the council and its heritage. So who are the real dissenters?

  4. Picard10:26 AM


    the difference is: whilest both "do not like some official teachings" the liberals do not like and therefore do reject them because this teachings go against what they subjektively prefere whilst the traditionalist reject the teachings because they go against some other official teachings of higher degree.

  5. Dorotheus,
    What are the teachings of Vatican two, official or otherwise? I would maintain that there are no teachings of the last council that a catholic is required to believe that he was not required to believe prior to the aforementioned council. The trouble is that the documents of the last council were written in such ambiguous language as to provide fertile ground for the promotion of various heresies. This was done deliberately and with malice aforethought as was admitted by various periti after the council. The sooner it is forgotten the better. As Pope Gregory the Great counseled silence regarding the second council of constantinople we await a future pontiff with similar strenght to do the same regarding Vatican two.

  6. Dorotheus:

    "The real dissenters", these can be found in the Collegial Bishops' Conferences worldwide, not to mention the Modernist 'Clergy Associations' which have sprung-up over the years.

    The one-time Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool proposed that women be empowered to hear Confession, administer The Last Rights and conduct funerals - and probably a lot more beside. Liverpool also have a very active clergy association. This sort of thing is replicated ad nauseam.

    Which side are you on?

  7. Côme de Prévigny wrote:

    "It can be noticed there the great optimism of Abp. Lefebvre"

    Holy optimism
    Never wants a schism
    But as he slept near death
    For Mother, his last breath.

    Merci Marcel!

  8. At the root of all the problems is the mass.

    No sane person could attend the Tridentine Mass which has been declared free of error by the Papal Bull Quo Primum . .
    Then attend the Novus Ordo . .even if said in Latin and as traditionally as possible and claim that they are of "equal" standing.

    They are chalk and cheese.

    Further, the Novus Ordi is never said in Latin and has been almost universally corrupted so much so that it is hard to find any two priests who say the same mass . .mostly small differences . .but more than a few priests are making up their own masses on the hoof . .with altar girls . .silly hymns and all the rest.

    Liverpool is a dump, but no worse than all the other dumps in England, Ireland and Scotland. Every diocese should be suspended A Divinis . . Until every priest is retrained and instructed in how to say a Proper Catholic mass.

    Then every parish must be required to prefer the real mass over the failed Novus Ordo . .nothing less will suffice.

  9. Though the SSPX and their founder is right in many, many ways, they still posess no canonical mission from the Church.

  10. Truth Seeker2:59 PM

    Dorotheus, you've hit the nail on the head. Dissent exists on the right as well as on the left. The fathers say we are to avoid both errors, but to stay on the Royal Path.

  11. John McFarland3:08 PM

    Well, what ++Lefebvre said was:

    "Therefore, for x years, perhaps two years, three years, I don't know, there will be separation."

    So what he said regarding resumption of discussions with Rome was not, in two or three years. What he said was, I don't know, but it will happen.

    And so it did, although the x was more than a decade.

    Working from memory, there was also an interview in Fideliter in 1989 entitled One Year after the Consecrations, in which ++Lefebvre made essentially the same prognostication. It's on

    The publication of M. Come's piece comes at a good time. A Colombian priest working in the U.S. has just resigned from the SSPX, making thus far a grand total of four U.S. "Williamsonite" defections (two Americans, one Frenchman, one Colombian) from the Society. One of his arguments is the standard Williamsonite canard that after the 1988 consecrations, the Archbishop rejected all further contact with Rome. Some of the Williamsonite laity look at this blog, and it is good to have their noses rubbed still another time in the realities.

  12. Who is Côme de Prévigny?

  13. Dorotheus said, "Is not the SSPX in the same position as those whom traditionalists deride as liberal dissenters? They do not like some official teachings and claim the right to reject them for that reason. The main difference is that the SSPX wishes Vatican II had never happened, while liberals only want its teachings to be implemented and the current leadership to stop undermining the council and its heritage. So who are the real dissenters?"

    Dorotheus, point well taken. It would seem pretty much the same side of the coin, HOWEVER, it's not the same. What the SSPX holds and teaches can be found consistently across the two-thousand-year history of the Church. Where that doesn't coincide with the Vatican-II made-up stuff, yes, it's rejected. The liberal/modernists on the other hand, reject the consistency of the past two-thousand years and want all of the weird nonsense junk coming right out of the gates of Hell.

    The Society as such doesn't condemn the Second Vatican Council for what it is. It was a historical event in the Church. What the Society does condemn are the falsehoods and the silliness which actually go against the Biblical and Sacred Traditional teachings of the Church. Yes, of course, things have been tweaked and adjusted over time but the core of the Faith has always been vigorously maintained. With churches closing, the Faithful leaving in droves, conversions poor and seminaries and religious orders having barely any vocations... are great indicators of a terrible wrong going on today. Compare that to the SSPX seminaries which are bursting at the seams even the point her US seminary is relocating and building a yet larger facility to accommodate such increasing numbers.

    God Save the SSPX.

  14. Mr. McF.

    "Some of the Williamsonite laity look at this blog, and it is good to have their noses rubbed still another time in the realities."

    Please, I believe you are better than the phrase, "have their noses rubbed" as the phrase applies to an unfortunate and ignorant method of pet training. Opinions expressed in crude, base language detract from the point of the post.

  15. Well let the Williamsonites go . .if any are foolish enough to follow +Williamson then they are too far gone to be of much use.

    His 2+2 = 5 routine has driven him mad, and it will drive his followers mad as well if they are not careful.

    There should be a "deal" with Rome, as good a deal as possible . .let Bishop Fellay sign the deal . .and let the laity loose to kick the backsides of the Vatican II loving priests and Bishops . . .and Popes . .if need be.

  16. As for me I've been attending SSPX masses since 1981 . .on and off, I started afresh in 1988 , just before the consecrations . .for I thought it right to stand with the underdog . .I fully support Bishop Fellay and Fr Schmidberger.

  17. Truth Seeker7:33 PM

    "No sane person could attend the Tridentine Mass which has been declared free of error by the Papal Bull Quo Primum . .
    Then attend the Novus Ordo . .even if said in Latin and as traditionally as possible and claim that they are of "equal" standing."

    Are you saying His Holiness Benedict XVI is insane?

    BTW, "insane" is a legal term, not a medical or psychiatric one.

  18. Tommaso de Gaeta8:41 PM

    On the basis of the powers expressly granted by the Holy Father Benedict XVI to Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregration of Bishops, the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae incurred by Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta was remitted on 21 January 2009. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, however, died an excommunicant.

    In 1518, just about the time Cardinal Cajetan (Tommaso de Vio, OP) was crossing the Alps on his way to Augsburg, Martin Luther was preaching a sermon on the Church’s excessive use of the censure of excommunication. Luther claimed that excommunication merely severed an external bond and the excommunicant still maintained an interior communion with Christ and His Church. In his "Augsburg Treatises" of 1518, Cajetan responded to this bold claim of Luther with a section on “The Effects of Excommunication.”
    For the edifiction of your readers, here is a part of Cajetan’s theological explication: “From what we have said, it is evident that excommincation separates a person from the actions entailed in the communion of ecclesiatical charity. By being placed outside the communion of the Church, he is also excluded from receiving the blessings deriving from the same actions. But many interior gifts are included among these blessings. Consequently excommunicantion excludes the excommunicant from sharing in many of the internal blessings. The exclusion from the Church’s communion by excommuncation becomes manifest in the fact that the Church does not pray for the excommunicated. One is thus excluded from the actions on which the other aspects depend. For instance, one is not allowed to celebrate mass for excommunicants. St Bernard [of Clarivaux] pointed to the dire character of excommunication, in that the Church prays on Good Friday for Jews and pagans, but not the excommunicated [cf. "De gradibus humilitatis et superbiae," 56]…. This means therefore that by excommunication she [the Church] takes away the prayers, suffrages, and the like, that she by her actions and institution confers on her ordinary members. It is to these that she readmits by reconciliation. Excommunication is supposed to be the Church’s supreme penalty. But it would not be such if it did not take away all that the Church confers.”

    This passage places in better perspective the magnitude of the gracious gesture made by Pope Benedict XVI to the four excommunicant bishops.

  19. The Pope has the right of interpretation about what constitutes dissent, and what does not. To claim otherwise is not be Catholic. End of story. So it's the SSPX and Lefebrve vs. the Pope, what is to be done?

  20. Truth Seeker said...

    "Dissent exists on the right as well as on the left."


    In the middle of the Church
    There’s a very safe spot
    Where it’s not very cold
    And it’s not very hot.

    You can say a little prayer
    In a Latin cant one day
    On another take the Host
    Serve yourself walk away.

    It’s the middle of the Church
    And a very safe spot
    Where it’s not very cold
    And it’s not very hot.

    There are no schools for minds
    Or for little Catholic souls
    But at least there are no fights
    How to clean the toilet bowls.

    For the classrooms they are empty
    And the lavatories too
    No daily Mass, religion class
    For little Don and Sue.

    But it’s really very middle
    In a very safe spot
    Where it’s not very cold
    And it’s not very hot.

    The new Mass has its many
    Approved have many too
    But approved must keep their silence
    While sitting in their pew.

    Approved brings in good money
    The new says, “that is great!”
    And priests who go between them both
    Can really celebrate…

    For they’re really in the middle
    In a very safe spot
    Where it’s not very cold
    And it’s not very hot.

    Approved can say the old -
    Approved can say the new -
    For when you’re in the middle
    You accommodate the two.

    So new, approved and middle
    Give all a chance to view
    And each will save a spot
    For you & you & you…

    In the middle of the Church
    In a luke warm spot
    Where you’ll never fight the cold
    And you’ll never fight the hot!

  21. Good grief! I can't believe we are still having this discussion. There is almost nothing left of the Church that existed prior to the destruction of the liturgy. And how could there be? Lex orandi = lex credendi. It's as simple as that. When you celebrate clown "masses" you believe in clowns. Clowns are all-inclusive... almost. Those people "outside" of the Church are the ones who point out the obvious wrong turn of the 1960s that led us to this circus, the ones who suggest we return to the fork in the road.

  22. Dave K5:08 AM

    One wonders how Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers can reconcile their admitted disunion with the Holy See with the dogmatic teaching of Vatican Council 1. That council declared that the office of the Pope was established by Our Savior to secure the perpetual welfare and lasting good of the Church. That it is necessary at all times to be united under his authority and to submit to his judgment in all matters pertaining to the faith, government and discipline of the Church. Is this central tenet of Catholicism no longer operative or relevant to the SSPX which prides itself on pristine orthodoxy?

  23. Matthew Rose5:42 AM

    Tommaso de Gaeta,

    What do you think of St. Joan of Arc?

  24. Barbara6:17 AM

    "Good grief! I can't believe we are still having this discussion. There is almost nothing left of the Church that existed prior to the destruction of the liturgy"

    This is true, Dr. Williams: the state of necessity is propably MORE severe now than when the good Mons. Lefebrve was still walking the earth.

    @Tommaso de Gaeta

    That was a grim and terrifying quotation from Catejan on excommunication. You have some nerve throwing it around in accusation of Mons. Lefebrve - there were other "SAINTS" who were excommunicated and died so. Do some more homework - instead of proclaiming dammanation to a soul that you have no idea of the suffering that provoked such a drastic decision.

    As for me, I have been around "tradition" for a little more than 5 years, the more I learn about how the Church has been turned upside down to practically unrecognizabe as The True Catholic Church - the more I sympathize with Mons Lefebvre and his actions - he saw what was coming.

    Try reading Michael Davies "Apologia Mons. Lefebrve" and maybe some prejudices will fall away from you as they did from me.

    Seeing reality does not equal disloyalty to the Pope. It is simply seeing reality. I haven't the faintest idea why most of the hierarchy in the Church do not see the reality of devasation and loss of souls all around us - I am faced with it everyday as I work in a "Catholic" school - and most of the parishes around are - heaven help me - frighteningly superficial - if not downright protestant. "They" say Traditionalists complain too much - and I say why shouldn't we? There is a state of emergency not only necessity - who cares if "they" complain that we complain too much - in charity of course?

    The criteria, in my view, is true love for the Church and the Truth and what it cost Our Blessed Lord to save us. Difficult to find the Catholic Identity in the the post-conciliar Church. Not imposssible - but rare.


    P.S. great poem Long-skirts - captures the situation perfectly!

  25. Dorotheus9:38 AM

    'Which side are you on?' asks Sixupman. I am on the side of the angels, how about you?
    To Mr. Brady:- can you be a true Catholic if you reject wholesale a general ecumenical council - which has not been rejected by the Church? Where is your Catholic obedience? Or do you do what everyone does, SSPX et al, whatever they claim - accept the bits they like and reject those they don't? It's a very silly game really, isn't it?

  26. How many abusive priests and bishops were excommunicated . .???

    How many of the lesbian nuns were excommunicated . .??

    Google Culture wars American nuns ans see the real first fruits of Vatican II . .not for the faint of heart . .you have been warned.

  27. Tommaso de Gaeta11:29 AM

    The Church "nullified" Joan of Arc's excommunication, declaring her a martyr unjustly executed.

    Cajetan does cover the problem of unjust excommunication. In such as cases, the effects of excommunication are merely in the external forum. Nevertheless, as he states: "The one who is unjustly excommunicated must obey it in avoiding external communion, since he is bound in the external forum" (Augsburg Treatises, 1518).

    Often what a document "does not state" is as important as what it does state. The excommunication of four bishops was publicly remitted. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's excommunication still stands. Benedict XVI must of had his reasons to choose that Lefebvre's excommunication remain in vigour. Thus, Cajetan's reflection on the external and internal forums of excommunication still seems very apropos.

  28. OKC Catholic1:18 PM


    Watch this lecture. It will tell you everything you need to know.
    On the excommunications

  29. Truth Seeker2:58 PM

    "No sane person could attend the Tridentine Mass which has been declared free of error by the Papal Bull Quo Primum . .
    Then attend the Novus Ordo . .even if said in Latin and as traditionally as possible and claim that they are of "equal" standing."

    May I also point out that all approved rites of the Church are of equal standing?

  30. My car is a humble Skoda . . Your car may be a grand Bentley, but as far as the road surface is concerned they are equally cars with all wheels touching the ground . . .unless the momentarily slip the surly bonds of earth as they glide over the void that is a pot hole . . .!!!!

    The Novus Ordo may be of equal standing if you or the Pope wants to see it that way . . .

    Me, I'd rather stand by a massive water filled pot hole awaiting a juggernaut to pass by at 60 miles per hour before momentarily slipping the surly bonds of earth then landing with a great splash . . .forcing the water from pot hole . . .all over poor innocent Moi . . Than get down and dirty with the Novus Ordo.

    The Novus Ordo is pure pot hole . .no reliable surface . .

    The church is being damaged by the Bishops and Priests who . .GOT. IT. WRONG . . .they know fine well what the remedy is . . .but these losers . . Thousands of them . . Refuse to see the truth

    If you can't tell that the Tridentine Mass is a country mile better than the Protestant Novus Ordo . .then there is no point in talking to you.

    We will wait as the parishes loose ever more parishioners . . .did I mention that our Novus Ordo parish has just over 200 parishioners at Sunday mass these days . .it was over 1200 back in 1968 . . .???

    Needless to say even I hardly ever darken the church door . .I attend the SSPX . . .the average weekly collection at our parish is around £3.50 / head . . .personally I give many times more than that . . .but I'd rather it went to the SSPX . .than to a bunch of losers who point black refuse to see the truth when it staring them in the face.

    Dude . . The Novus Ordo is useless . .as are the people it corrupts . . Get over it

    And return to aTHE. real Catholic Mass

  31. Picard6:19 PM

    Mr. McFarland, Crouchback,

    but "the Willamsonites" are not against any contacts with Rome but they say that a) Rome must convert b) especially the Pope - and he is still modernist and c) before this conversion we should not make any practical (or in fact unpractical!) deal.

    And this comes from me who was long time also kind of "anti-Williamsonite" and "pro-deal" and under some illusions re the Pope that I only lost when Müller was appointed.

    I always thought you, McF, did not live under illusions re the Pope and the necessitiy of his conversion. (Or is this your father, so McF senior?)

  32. Dorotheus said

    Certainly not because The SSPX defends Sacred Tradition and will not compromise with the consistent teachings of The Roman Catholic Church. They also along with other independent Traditionalists provide a harbour of stability and safety from the liberal modernism condemned by many of our great Holy Fathers prior to the councils of the 1960s. Liberal dissenters are a more radical version of this protestantism which currently drives the contemporary church with its parallel liturgy.

  33. Thank God for Archbishop Lefebvre and all those committed traditional priests who have saved the Sacred Traditonal Holy Mass in latin for the Latin Rite Church and its accompanying Sacraments so tragically gutted by the post-conciliar aftermath.

  34. NIANTIC12:03 AM

    Archbishop Marcel LeFebvre was a Lion and Warrior in defense of the Traditional Faith, Mass and Sacraments. With God's Grace he was able to prevent the extinction of the Church. May his memory be eternal!

  35. Dear Dorotheus,

    You pose a rhetorical question: "It's a very silly game really, isn't it?", which nevertheless can be answered as follows: For you maybe, but for many it is not a game, but a question of life and death - of the soul.

    So, perhaps, instead of blithely patting yourself on the back, you should in humility make an effort to deepen your understanding of reality on the one hand, and of love of neighbour on the other.

    Yes, some saints were very simple in their approach, but it was not because of glibness or shallowness or smugness. It was because they understood only too well what the consequences were of taking a stand against the world, the flesh and the devil. And they were not afraid to follow such a stand to its logical conclusion, even if
    that conclusion was martyrdom.

    Do you have that simplicity, Dorotheus? Are you willing to be a martyr for the Truth? Do you have the courage?

  36. Gratias10:22 AM

    Having turned down the welcome of Benedictus XVI was a strategic error. This was the moment. We Una Voce/Diocesan types will continue to fight but are very weakened by this refusal. The next Pope will not want to touch the SSPX with a 10-foot pole, I predict.

    For those of us fighting from within the Church the failure of the negotiations will mean many more good traditional priests transferred to the boonies, demoted and marginalized as the bishops feel their Novus oats. But we are Catholics and not more Papists than the Pope and will continue to stand with our Good Shepherd Benedict.

  37. Didimaya3:06 PM

    Crouchback wrote:

    "The Church is being damaged by the Bishops and Priests...WHO GOT IT WRONG...they know fine well what the remedy is...but these losers...Thousands of them...Refuse to see the truth."

    I know you mean well, Crouchback, but the bishops and the priests whom you refer to did not install the Novus Ordo. Rather, it was promulgated by Pope Paul Vl. The bishops and priests are simply going along in obedience with what they are given. Surely you can't fault them for that. If our beloved TLM gains a wider foothold in the Church, then we can all rejoice, surely. But our attitude will no doubt contribute to the possible wider acceptance of the TLM in the Church.

    As far knowing what "truth" is, attending an SSPX Mass will not necessarily lead one to automatically knowing what "truth" is. Where Peter is, there is the Church.

  38. Gratias said...

    "Having turned down the welcome of Benedictus XVI was a strategic error. This was the moment."

    Not necessarily.

    "We Una Voce/Diocesan types..."


    Bring your
    Things and
    Follow me."

    Said the
    Rich man
    To the

    So many
    Golden rings

    For they
    Trust a
    Rich man's

    Now rich man
    Can be
    Of course

    But money
    In the

    Pales 'fore the priest
    Birthed on
    Thursday's great

    And can
    Pass on
    What he's

  39. Gratias6:11 AM

    Long-skirts, you are a great poet. I appreciate your writings here, especially because my sainted mother was one too. However, eppur si muove. Pax Tecum.

    Not a rich man.


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