It was in 1975, that I met Archbishop Lefebvre for the first time. He came to our monastery of Sainte Marie-Madeleine in Bédouin in the south of France, to confer the minor orders to two of our brothers, Brother Jean de Belleville and Brother Joseph Vannier. The Archbishop’s sermon struck me by its serenity. It exuded peace, that same peace which is the Benedictine motto and which he seemed to possess more than any of us.
That ceremony did not go unnoticed by the modernists who did not forgive us. To receive Archbishop Lefebvre, to allow him to confer the orders to our students, that required an exemplary punishment. The superior general of our congregation came to visit us, dressed in a suit and tie as the modern times required. The tie may be the work of my imagination, but I remember the suit quite well. In conclusion of that visit, we were excluded from the Benedictine order. In truth, it was Archbishop Lefebvre which they were aiming at, or better, it was Our Lord whom they were persecuting.
In 1976, I heard Archbishop Lefebvre preaching in Écône at the beginning of that memorable summer. Memorable because of the gravity of the events which marked the life of the Society of Saint Pius X and the Church during those heroic days. Questioned by journalists about his attitude, Archbishop Lefebvre replied simply: “When I stand before my Judge, I do not want Him to say: ‘You, also, let my Church be destroyed’”.
But it was only in 1984, that I was personally acquainted with Archbishop Lefebvre. Being already a priest, I had been sent to Écône to complete my studies and rest.
Taking advantage of the Archbishop’s presence, I was able to see him frequently. His paternal kindness made conversation easy and, since I had made a habit of writing down an account of our discussions after each meeting, I will now use my notes to write these lines.
On Tuesday the 6 th of November 1984, Archbishop Lefebvre spoke to me about ecumenism:
If the other religions are not the work of the devil, there is no reason to reject them, there is no reason to combat them. However, all the religions, except the Catholic Faith, are works that do not come from God. “He that is not with me is against me,” says Our Lord (Matthew 12:30). All religions, except the Catholic religion, are works of the devil. Any diminishing of this truth concurs towards the loss of souls. This heresy is spread in such a manner that even our faithful do not fully escape from its influence. I think that we are faced with a veritable heresy. I think like Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer, but I have not wanted to say it publicly until now.
On March 12 th , 1985, Archbishop Lefebvre spoke to me about an agreement with Rome. I believe that Archbishop Lefebvre broached this subject because of Dom Gérard, who, at the time, sought the support of the Archbishop in what he wanted to do. Dom Gérard later said that it was possible to agree with Cardinal Ratzinger and that Archbishop Lefebvre was not open enough. Even then, Dom Gérard was seeking the Archbishop’s approval, without which he would not get the approval of the traditionalist faithful.
To submit to men who do not have the entirety of the Catholic Faith? To submit ourselves to men who proclaim principles contrary to the principles of the Church? Either we will be obliged to break away again and the situation will be worse than before or we will be guided imperceptibly to a diminishing and loss of the Faith.
There is yet another possibility. A very difficult life because of the frequent contact with men who do not have the Catholic Faith, leading to disorientation and diminishing of the fighting spirit in the faithful.
This led Archbishop Lefebvre to speak of the episcopal consecrations:
I waited as long as possible so that God would enlighten me on the subject. In Rome, they are burying themselves under more and more errors. I believe that it is necessary to preserve the permanency of Catholic priesthood. I waited for confirmation of this obligation. It seems to me that I have it more and more confirmed. Liberalism is a heresy. I have not wanted to say it until now. We could not imagine that a pope would ever get to this point. Is he not pope anymore because of that? I do not think that we can affirm this. It is something that we could never have imagined.
And coming back to the question of an agreement:
Our position, as it is now, permits us to remain united in the Faith. All those who wanted a compromise with the modernists have deviated. I think that we must not submit ourselves to them. I am very wary. I spend my nights thinking about it. It is not we who must sign something. It is they who must sign a guarantee that they will accept the doctrine of the Church. They want our submission, but they do not give us the doctrine.
Good conclusion. Submission? Yes, but with the doctrine. Without the revealed Truth, without Tradition, there is no question about it, because it would be a suicide of the Faith and the loss of eternal life.
On the 30 th of March 1985, Saturday in Passion Week, in a conversation with the teachers of the seminary in Écône, Archbishop Lefebvre made some interesting observations concerning government.
Instead of the UN, the Vatican should encourage the union of the Catholic states. There was a time, after the war, when there were Catholic leaders in Europe: Salazar in Portugal, Franco in Spain, De Valéra in Ireland, Alphonsini in Italy, Cotty in France and Adenauer in Germany, who, despite not being a Catholic, had a few Catholic principles.
Speaking of Salazar, Archbishop Lefebvre, told us that the great Portuguese president was complaining about the bishops of his country:
We need to reform the universities, but the bishops don’t help me, they do not seem to see the importance. But without that, how will we obtain a truly Catholic generation?
That same day, or not long after, Archbishop Lefebvre, commenting on the illusion of some who still believed in a compromise, said:
Mr. So-and-so is always ambiguous. He wants to make us compromise. If the mass is not heretical, it is orthodox, says Mr. So-and-so. How? What about all the nuances and degrees between heresy and orthodoxy?
And speaking of the bishops who seek to establish that climate of ambiguity:
They seek to propagate the indult mass1 , but with the aim of making the faithful come in contact with the new mass and the doctrine of Vatican II.
On May 14 th , 1985, in his office, Archbishop Lefebvre spoke to me about the Council:
They are living a lie. Unconsciously, maybe. But objectively, they are living a lie. At the Council, they said: ‘The Council is pastoral.’ The Pope himself said: ‘The Council is pastoral and not dogmatic.’ But now, they seek to impose it like they would a dogmatic council.
On Pentecost Monday, Archbishop Lefebvre spoke to us about the retreat which he was supposed to preach to us in the Barroux. At that time, the relations between Dom Gérard and the Archbishop were very strained because of the agreement which Dom Gérard wanted to make with Rome.
I feel very disconcerted, very bothered, [said Archbishop Lefebvre.] I fear that the words will not come out of my mouth.
A touching confession which shows that, although Archbishop Lefebvre was a fighter, he was not insensitive and it was hard for him to face certain situations. But, even so, he came to the monastery and preached the annual retreat in 1985.
That retreat was another occasion to speak to the Archbishop. The question of the episcopal consecrations was becoming more and more eminent.
Must I consecrate a bishop? I am reluctant to do so,” [he said], “but find me one bishop who has a seminary where a Catholic formation is given without being tainted with modernism. I think that if I do nothing, Our Lord will scold me after my death, telling me: ‘You had the episcopal mark, you should have assured the continuity of Catholic priesthood.’
Another time, Archbishop Lefebvre gave another reason for the consecrations, a reason which seemed to me to be decisive and which I have kept in my mind:
If Rome was capable of forming Catholic priests, I would have no reason to consecrate without Rome’s permission. But Rome is no longer capable of that.
It was becoming necessary to consecrate new bishops. However, Archbishop Lefebvre was going to wait two more years, proof of his prudence. Maybe he also wanted to prepare the priests and the faithful for this necessary act, which some feared.
Being on a visit in Écône, in January of 1986, I seized the opportunity to see the Archbishop. Among other things, he told me:
The Pope has announced a meeting of all religions in Assisi. A meeting of all religions! What God will they invoke? I see no other than the Grand Architect! All this is a masonic idea. I believe that there will be reactions. Italy. Assisi. All that is still too catholic. They might ask for a less Catholic place. Jerusalem, maybe.
I then grasped the opportunity to ask Archbishop Lefebvre about the essence of the Holy Father’s doctrine. The Archbishop answered:
That there is no truth. That truth evolves. What counts is life.
But that is the essence of modernism, I said.
They are modernists, [said the Archbishop.] “Ratzinger and the Pope are modernists. It is for that reason that they understand nothing of what we ask. They say: ‘But what is wrong with all this?’ It is for that reason that they have been chosen. Because of their imprecise spirit. Never would those seats be filled by someone with a scholastic spirit, a clear and limpid spirit. No. They do not want that.
It is freemasonry which leads the Vatican. The Cardinal Gagnon said it, himself. Those who occupy the main positions are not necessarily masons, but the masons are placed so that they can rule everything.
At the end of 1986, Dom Joseph Vannier and myself were sent to see a piece of land which was offered to us for the foundation of a new monastery in Brazil. Before leaving Europe, we went to Écône to take leave of Archbishop Lefebvre. He spoke to us then of a drawing on Assisi which he wanted to spread to warn the faithful of the gravity of this ecumenical reunion. He showed us two rough copies. One was from a seminarian and the other was from a sister of the Society. That of the seminarian was better but the sister’s was more respectful. Archbishop Lefebvre chose that of the sister. He did not want a caricature. He simply wanted to explain through pictures the grave sin of Assisi. Before leaving, I assured the Archbishop of our adherence without restriction to the idea of the drawing.
Having left for South America, our first step was to visit the seminary of the Society of Saint Pius X in Argentina. Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer had met there for the ordinations of that year, in which two priests of Campos, Reverend Father Hélio Rosa and Reverend Father José Paulo Vieira, as well as the Reverend Father Alvaro Calderon and a few other priests of the Society of Saint Pius X received Holy Orders.
Meeting Archbishop Lefebvre, he spoke to us again about Assisi and commented on the reactions that the famous drawing had caused:
I was surprised by the reaction. I was expecting something, but not such a big reaction. It is a catechism lesson. We can say the same thing about all the sins. In heaven, there is no ecumenist, as, in heaven, there is no divorcee. In heaven, there is no one in the state of mortal sin.
I ask God that this drawing be put in the Pope’s hands and that he may awaken and say: ‘Where will I go if I continue like this?’ The Pope must save his soul!
He invited the leaders of false religions to pray in their errors. It is an invitation to remain in error. It is an acceptance of these errors.
After that, I said that all that was needed was to dance with the devil. It seems that the Pope has already done so, dancing to rock music, with a stole, amid young girls in Australia. Some are more scandalized by that than by Assisi. It is a lack of the spirit of faith. Assisi is graver. It is more theological.
The reunion which occurred the evening before was worse. The words of the prince of Edinburgh were blasphemous.
This prince, husband to the queen of England, said that it was necessary to end this scandal, which has lasted for two thousand years now, of a man who said: ‘I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.’ (John 14:6). What else could we expect when we invite all the heretics, schismatics and infidels to manifest themselves?
Again, speaking of the consecrations, Archbishop Lefebvre said:
From a theological point of view, Bishop de Castro Mayer sees no difficulty, but we think that it is best to wait a little.
Concerning the Pope, he added:
As to saying that the Pope is not pope, I cannot say, but the theologians do not agree on this subject. I do not wish to enter this debate. It does not seem clear enough to me. I prefer to say that he is a public sinner. A council will decide after his death, whether or not he was pope.
He then spoke to us about Cardinal Villot:
Villot lied to Paul VI, telling him that I had made the seminarians sign a document against the pope. When I was able to see Paul VI, Villot was furious. He demanded that Benelli be present during the conversation. The Holy Father spoke to me about the famous document that I was supposed to have made the seminarians sign. I told Paul VI clearly that there was nothing of the sort. After that, Cardinal Benelli, in the Observatore Romano, denied that we had discussed this subject. They are villains. They do not even have the most elementary honesty.
Villot had organized everything. He said that in the space of six months the Society would no longer exist. There was the canonical visit to Écône, the call to Rome, the interview with Garrone, Tabéra, Wright and all that followed. Worse than the Soviets: not even the semblance of a judgment. I told John-Paul II that. He smiled. Nothing more. He, too, is a villain.
Speaking of Montini and Pius XII, Archbishop Lefebvre told us:
“At the beginning of the council, I was informed of Montini’s story. ‘Promoveatur ut removeatur’2 . And, on the day of Montini’s consecration, Pius XII made a dithyrambic speech. What disastrous custom! Even Pius XII.”3
Then came the years of the foundation of Santa Cruz, during which Archbishop Lefebvre helped us with his precious advice. My conscience was bothered by the liturgical reforms introduced in the mass by Dom Gérard. It wasn’t yet the new mass, but it was no longer the missal of John XXIII, of 1962. It consisted of a few modifications introduced by Paul VI and Dom Gérard himself. I then wrote to Archbishop Lefebvre, who although disapproving Dom Gérard, advised me to keep good relations with the monastery in France, Le Barroux. We can see through this that he was very conciliatory. If he opposed the Holy Father, it was because there was really no other solution.
But the good relations with our monastery in France were not to last long. Dom Gérard, after the consecrations, made an agreement which placed our monasteries under the authority of the modernists.
Then, Archbishop Lefebvre sent me a letter, dated August 18 th , 1988, in which he wrote:
How I regretted that you left before the events of the Barroux.4
I returned to Brazil before the conclusion or, at least, before the publication of the agreement between Dom Gérard and Rome.
It would have been easier to consider the situation caused by Dom Gérard’s disastrous decision.
Father Tam offered to visit you on his return from Mexico and give you this letter.
In his declaration, Dom Gérard summarizes all that he was given and accepts to place himself under obedience to modernist Rome, which remains essentially anti-traditionalist, and which was the cause of my distancing.
At the same time, he wishes to retain the friendship and the help of the traditionalists, which is inconceivable. He calls us ‘resistentialists’.
I warned him, but his decision was already made a long time ago and he did not want to listen to reason.
The consequences are now inescapable. We will no longer have any contact with the Barroux and we will warn our faithful not to support a work, which is now in the hands of our enemies, of the enemies of Our Lord and of his Universal Reign.
The Benedictine sisters are distressed. They came to see me. And I advised them as I did you: keep your freedom and reject any agreement with modernist Rome.
Dom Gérard is using all the arguments to put those who resist to sleep [...].
You should have a reunion with Father Laurent and the Argentinian father5, as well as with your novices [...].
You three, with the novices of Campos, you can continue and constitute a monastery independent from Rome. You must not hesitate to proclaim it publicly. God will bless you.
And you could, after some time, rebuild a monastery in France, you would be helped and you would have vocations.
Dom Gérard killed his work.
Father Tam will tell you what I have not written. I pray Our Lady that she will assist you in the defence of the honour of her divine Son.
May God bless you and bless your monastery.
This is how Archbishop Lefebvre saw the situation. We followed his advice. A public declaration was made and we separated from Dom Gérard. This declaration was made with the help of Fathers Fernando Rifan and Tam, as well as that of Mr. Julio Fleichman, Father Laurent’s father. Archbishop Lefebvre wanted this declaration to be known by the monks of the Barroux so that they might depose Dom Gérard if he did not want to break with Rome.
The consecrations brought new life to tradition, [wrote the Archbishop.] The faithful are happy. That is why Dom Gérard’s defection is harshly criticized and no one follows him, except a few false traditionalists.6
After the consecrations and the events that quickly followed, Archbishop Lefebvre had to live through the Morello affair in Argentina. That did not, however, prevent him from continuing to guide us with his paternal solicitude.
Not only were we helped by him, but also Campos and, more especially, Father Rifan. However, it was mostly Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer, his friend and his brother in the episcopate, who occupied the heart of the Archbishop.
Echoes reach me from Brazil, [he wrote to Bishop de Castro Mayer,] concerning your declining health! Is God’s call near at hand? That thought fills me with profound sorrow. In what solitude I will remain without my elder brother in the episcopate, without the exemplary fighter for the honour of Jesus Christ, without my faithful and only friend in the fearful desert of the conciliar Church!7
Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer were to leave almost at the same time, in 1991, leaving behind them the example of their faith and of their spirit of combat received in Rome during their seminary years near the tomb of the prince of Apostles.
May their heroic virtues and their merit obtain for us the grace of fidelity in the same combat which they waged and of which Archbishop Lefebvre said: “Prepare for a long fight.”
Remembering these words, we can only repeat these others which came so often to his lips and which maintained the spirit of combat in us all: “We must continue”.
+ Thomas Aquinas OSB
- 1. Indult in 1984: to celebrate the mass of Saint Pius V, conceded by Pope John Paul II, but with a restriction: not to reject the mass of Paul VI. Conclusion: the indult only for those who did not have a motive strong enough to make use of it. In truth, as Archbishop Lefebvre points out, this indult had for objective to accustom the priests and the faithful to the two masses and, in this manner, make them accept the new mass, as in the case of Bishop Fernando Rifan and all the others.
- 2. “Promoted to be changed.”
- 3. Montini was the secretary of state of Pius XII. He betrayed the Holy Father and was dismissed. However, the Pope made him archbishop of Milan and gave a eulogistic sermon for his bad servant.
- 4. I returned to Brazil before the conclusion or, at least, before the publication of the agreement between Dom Gérard and Rome.
- 5. Father Juan de La Cruz
- 6. Letter of September 2nd , 1988
- 7. Letter of December 4 th , 1990