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Marcel Lefebvre

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Marcel Lefebvre

Archbishop-Bishop Emeritus of Tulle
Archbishop Lefebvre, c. 1962.
Appointed23 January 1962
Term ended7 August 1962
PredecessorAimable Chassaigne
SuccessorHenri Clément Victor Donze
Other post(s)Founder and Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X (1970–1982)
Ordination21 September 1929
by Achille Liénart
Consecration18 September 1947
by Achille Liénart
Personal details
Marcel-François Marie Joseph Lefebvre

(1905-11-29)29 November 1905
Died25 March 1991(1991-03-25) (aged 85)
Martigny, Switzerland
BuriedInternational Seminary of Saint Pius X, Écône, Switzerland
ParentsRené Lefebvre (father)
Gabrielle Watine (mother)
Previous post(s)
Alma mater(Pontifical) French Seminary, Rome
MottoEt nos credidimus caritati
(And we believed in charity)[1]
Coat of armsArchbishop Lefebvre's coat of arms
Styles of
Marcel Lefebvre
Reference styleHis Excellency
Spoken styleYour Excellency
Ordination history of
Marcel Lefebvre
Priestly ordination
Ordained byAchille Liénart
Date21 September 1929
Episcopal consecration
Principal consecratorAchille Liénart
Co-consecratorsAlfred-Jean-Félix Ancel [fr],
Jean-Baptiste Victor Fauret [fr]
Date18 September 1947
Episcopal succession
Bishops consecrated by Marcel Lefebvre as principal consecrator
Georges-Henri Guibert19 February 1950
Prosper Dodds [fr]26 October 1952
François Ndong [fi]2 July 1961
Bernard Tissier de Mallerais30 June 1988
Richard Williamson30 June 1988
Alfonso de Galarreta30 June 1988
Bernard Fellay30 June 1988

Marcel François Marie Joseph Lefebvre CSSp FSSPX (French: [maʁsɛl fʁɑ̃swa maʁi ʒɔzɛf ləfɛvʁ]; 29 November 1905 – 25 March 1991) was a French Catholic archbishop who influenced modern traditionalist Catholicism. In 1970, five years after the close of the Second Vatican Council, he founded the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX),[2] a community to train seminarians in the traditional manner, in the village of Écône, Switzerland. In 1988, Pope John Paul II declared that Archbishop Lefebvre had "incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law" for consecrating four bishops against the pope's express prohibition[3] but, according to Lefebvre, in reliance on an "agreement given by the Holy See ... for the consecration of one bishop."[4][5]

Ordained a diocesan priest in 1929, he had joined the Holy Ghost Fathers for missionary work and was assigned to teach at a seminary in Gabon in 1932. In 1947, he was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Dakar, Senegal, and the next year as the Apostolic Delegate for West Africa. Upon his return to Europe he was elected Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers and assigned to participate in the drafting and preparation of documents for the upcoming Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) announced by Pope John XXIII. He was a major leader of the conservative bloc during its proceedings. He later took the lead in opposing certain changes within the church associated with the council. He refused to implement council-inspired reforms demanded by the Holy Ghost Fathers and resigned from its leadership in 1968. In 1970, he founded the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) as a small community of seminarians in the village of Écône, Switzerland, with the permission of the local bishop.

In 1975, after a flare of tensions with the Holy See, Lefebvre was ordered to disband the society, but ignored the decision and continued to maintain its activities and existence. In 1988, against the express prohibition of Pope John Paul II, he consecrated four bishops to continue his work with the SSPX. The Holy See immediately declared that he and the other bishops who had participated in the ceremony had incurred automatic excommunication under Catholic canon law,[a] which Lefebvre refused to acknowledge.[6][7]

Early life and family

The Lefebvre family

Marcel Lefebvre was born in Tourcoing, Nord.[8][9] He was the second son and third child of eight children[10] of textile factory-owner René Lefebvre[11] and Gabrielle, born Watine, who died in 1938.[9]

His parents were devout Catholics who brought their children to daily Mass.[10] His father, René, was an outspoken monarchist, devoting his life to the cause of the French Dynasty, seeing in a monarchy the only way of restoring to his country its past grandeur and a Christian revival.[9][12]

His father ran a spy-ring for British Intelligence when Tourcoing was occupied by the Germans during World War I. René died at age 65 in 1944.[13]



In 1923 Lefebvre began studies for the priesthood; at the insistence of his father he followed his brother to the French Seminary in Rome, as his father suspected the diocesan seminaries of liberal leanings.[14] He later credited his conservative views to the rector, a Breton priest named Father Henri Le Floch.[15] He interrupted his studies in 1926 and 1927 to perform his military service.[16] On 25 May 1929 he was ordained deacon by Cardinal Basilio Pompili in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.[17] On 21 September 1929 he was ordained a priest of Diocese of Lille by its bishop, Achille Liénart.[18][19] After ordination, he continued his studies in Rome, completing a doctorate in theology in July 1930.[20]

Lefebvre asked to be allowed to perform missionary work as a member of the Holy Ghost Fathers, but in August 1930 Liénart required him to first work as assistant curate in a parish in Lomme, a suburb of Lille.[21][22] Liénart released him from the diocese in July 1931 and Lefebvre entered the novitiate of the Holy Ghost Fathers at Orly in September.[10] On 8 September 1932, he took simple vows for a period of three years.[23]

Lefebvre's first assignment as a Holy Ghost Father was as a professor at St. John's Seminary in Libreville, Gabon.[24] In 1934 he was made rector of the seminary.[25] On 28 September 1935 he made his perpetual vows. He served as superior of a number of missions of the Holy Ghost Fathers in Gabon.[b] In October 1945 Lefebvre returned to France to become rector of the Holy Ghost Fathers seminary in Mortain.[21]

Bishop in Africa


On 12 June 1947, Pope Pius XII appointed him Vicar Apostolic of Dakar in Senegal and titular bishop of Anthedon.[26] On 18 September 1947 he was consecrated a bishop in his family's parish church in Tourcoing by Liénart, now a cardinal, with Bishops Jean-Baptiste Fauret and Alfred-Jean-Félix Ancel as co-consecrators.[27][28] In his new position Lefebvre was responsible for an area with a population of three and a half million people, of whom only 50,000 were Catholics.[29]

On 22 September 1948, Lefebvre, while continuing as Vicar Apostolic of Dakar, received the additional responsibilities of Apostolic Delegate to French Africa, with his title changed to titular archbishop of Arcadiopolis in Europa.[30] He became responsible for representing the interests of the Holy See to Church authorities in 46 dioceses[31] in "continental and insular Africa subject to the French Government, with the addition of the Diocese of Reunion, the whole of the island of Madagascar and the other neighbouring islands under French rule, but excluding the dioceses of North Africa, namely those of Carthage, Constantine, Algiers and Oran."[32][c]

In the late 1940s, Lefebvre established a ministry in Paris to care for Catholic students from the French colonies in Africa. He and other missionaries in Africa thought young Africans would otherwise be attracted to radical ideologies, including anti-colonialism and atheism. This idea of "safeguarding the Catholicism of the emerging African elite" was later adopted by Pope Pius in his encyclical on the missions, Fidei donum (1957).[33]

Lefebvre's chief duty was the building up of the ecclesiastical structure in French Africa.[34] Pope Pius XII wanted to move quickly towards an ecclesiastical structure with dioceses instead of vicariates and apostolic prefectures. Lefebvre was responsible for selecting these new bishops,[31] increasing the number of priests and religious sisters,[35] as well as the number of churches in the various dioceses.[8] On 14 September 1955, Pope Pius decreed a complete reorganization of the ecclesiastical jurisdictions in French Africa. The Apostolic Vicariate of Dakar was made an archdiocese and Lefebvre became its first archbishop.[34][36]

Transition years, 1959–1962


Lefebvre's career shifted rapidly with the death of Pope Pius XII, moving from the missions to Rome, though not directly, and with indications he was at times favored and at times disfavored by the new pope. Pope John XXIII replaced Lefebvre as Apostolic Delegate to Dakar on 9 July 1959, a position that would quickly evolve as the colonies gained their independence in the 1960s.[37] The next year, Pope John appointed Lefebvre to the 120-member Central Preparatory Commission for the Second Vatican Council.[38]

After Senegal declared its independence in June 1960, its first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor proposed the country adopt its own form of socialism, which he as a Catholic believed compatible with Church doctrine. Lefebvre, still Archbishop of Dakar, criticized Senghor's views in a March 1961 pastoral letter and then in a personal audience with Senghor, drawing on Pope Pius XI's denunciation of socialism in his 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo anno. Now at odds with the government, Lefebvre watched as the Holy See replaced European missionary bishops with Africans and tried to delay his own removal by asking for the appointment of a coadjutor, which met with no response.[39][d] He told Pope John "the Africans are not yet ripe" and did not want to be responsible. Pope John said he took the responsibility and would see Lefebvre was taken care of properly.[41]

On 23 January 1962, Lefebvre was transferred to the Diocese of Tulle, one of the smallest in France, while retaining the personal title of archbishop.[39][42][e] On 4 April 1962, he was named a consultor to the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.[43]

On 26 July 1962, the Chapter General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, dominated by those in leadership positions with fewer representatives of local communities, elected Lefebvre to a 12-year term as their Superior General. He won 53 of the 75 votes cast on the first ballot, though some delegates had "strong misgivings". This meeting also moved the order's headquarters from Paris to Rome.[44][45] Upon being elected Superior General, Lefebvre resigned as bishop of Tulle; Pope John accepted his resignation on 7 August and named him titular archbishop of Synnada in Phrygia.[46]

Second Vatican Council


As a member of the Central Preparatory Commission Lefebvre participated in drafting documents for consideration by the Council Fathers, meeting in seven sessions between June 1961 and June 1962. Within the first two weeks of the first session of the council (October to December 1962)[47] the Council Fathers rejected all the drafts.[48][f]

Lefebvre and some like-minded bishops became concerned about the direction of the council's deliberations and, led by Archbishop Geraldo de Proença Sigaud of Diamantina, formed a bloc that became known as the Coetus Internationalis Patrum (CIP) or International Group of Fathers, with the aim of guaranteeing their views were part of every council discussion.[51][52]

The CIP was especially concerned about the principle of religious liberty. During the council's third session (September to November 1964), Archbishop Pericle Felici, the secretary of the council and a prominent Curial conservative, announced that Lefebvre, with two other like-minded bishops, was appointed to a special four-member commission charged with rewriting the draft document on the topic,[53] but it was soon discovered that this measure did not have papal approval, and major responsibility for preparing the draft document was given to the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.[54]

The CIP managed to get the preliminary vote (with suggestions for modifications) on the document postponed until the fourth session of the council, where, on 7 December 1965, an overwhelming majority approved the final text of the declaration Dignitatis humanae. Lefebvre was one of the 70, about 3%, who voted against the declaration, but he added his signature to the document after that of the pope, though some withheld their signatures.[55][g]

The Council and the Holy Ghost Fathers


At one point during the Council, some 40 bishops who were members of the Holy Ghost Fathers met with him to express their disagreement with his views and the role he was playing at the Council. He heard their views but did not engage in dialogue. His closing statement, "We all have a conscience: everyone must follow his own.", left them dissatisfied. One said: "He seemed to have a blockage. He seemed incapable of reviewing his ways of thinking."[57]

Lefebvre felt the Council's impact directly when the Holy Ghost Fathers held an Extraordinary General Chapter to respond to it. The order's leadership, though their terms had years remaining, tendered their resignations effective with the close of the meeting as was traditional. The membership had insisted on a larger role for elected delegates, and they constituted half of the body. Lefebvre's opponents were well organized, and when he tried to assume the chair, they insisted that the Chapter was a legislative body entitled to elect its own officers. On 11 September 1968 the Chapter supported that position on a vote of 63 to 40, and Lefebvre stopped attending. The Chapter then elected its leaders and proceeded with intense but respectful debate on the critical issue: the balance between the constraints of the order's religious life and the exercise of its missionary charge. Lefebvre returned on 28 September and addressed the issue in uncompromising language. He predicted any changes would lead to "a caricature of community life where anarchy, disorder, and individual initiative have free rein". His tone and arguments won him no support; the convention elected Fr. Joseph Lécuyer, a French theologian, his successor as superior general on 26 October.[58]

Theological and political positions




Lefebvre belonged to an identifiable strand of right-wing political and religious opinion in French society that originated among the defeated royalists after the 1789 French Revolution. Lefebvre's political and theological outlook mirrored that of a significant number of conservative members of French society under the French Third Republic (1870–1940). The Third Republic was reft by conflicts between the secular Left and the Catholic Right, with many individuals on both sides espousing distinctly radical positions (see, for example, the article on the famous Dreyfus affair). Thus it has been said that "Lefebvre was... a man formed by the bitter hatreds that defined the battle lines in French society and culture from the French Revolution to the Vichy regime".[59]

Lefebvre's first biographer, the English traditionalist writer Michael Davies, wrote in the first volume of his Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre:[60]

In France political feeling tends to be more polarized, more extreme, and far more deeply felt than in England. It can only be understood in the light of the French Revolution and subsequent history... At the risk of a serious over-simplification, it is reasonable to state that up to the Second World War Catholicism in France tended to be identified with right-wing politics and anti-Catholicism with the left... [Lefebvre's] own alleged right-wing political philosophy is nothing more than straight-forward Catholic social teaching as expounded by the Popes for a century or more...

In similar vein, the pro-SSPX English priest Michael Crowdy wrote, in his preface to his translation of Lefebvre's Open Letter to Confused Catholics:[61]

We must remember that Lefebvre is writing against the background of France, where ideas are generally more clear‑cut than they are in Great Britain. ... Take the word "socialism", for example; that means to some of us, first and foremost, a social ideal of brotherhood and justice. We have had our Christian socialists. On the Continent, however, Socialism is uncompromisingly anti‑religious, or almost a substitute for religion, and Communism is seen as the natural development from it. This is the Socialism the Archbishop is writing about. And when he rejects Liberalism, he is not thinking of the [British] Liberal Party ... but of that religious liberalism that exalts human liberty above the claims of God or of His Church ...

Theological positions


Lefebvre was associated with the following positions:

Political positions


Political positions espoused by Lefebvre included the following:

  • Condemnation of the 1789 French Revolution and what he called its "Masonic and anti-Catholic principles".[66]
  • Support for the "Catholic order" of the authoritarian French Vichy government (1940–1944) of Marshal Philippe Pétain.[67]
  • Support for the National Front led by Jean-Marie Le Pen.[68]
  • Opposition to Muslim immigration into Europe. In 1990, Lefebvre was convicted in a French court and sentenced to pay a fine of 5,000 francs when he stated in this connection that "it is your wives, your daughters, your children who will be kidnapped and dragged off to a certain kind of places [sic] as they exist in Casablanca".[69][70]

Society of Saint Pius X


Lawful formation


After retiring from the post of Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, Lefebvre was approached by traditionalists from the French Seminary in Rome who had been refused tonsure,[71] the rite by which, until 1973,[72] a seminarian became a cleric. They asked for a conservative seminary to complete their studies. After directing them to the University of Fribourg, Switzerland,[73][74] Lefebvre was urged to teach these seminarians personally.[74] In 1969, he received permission from the local bishop to establish a seminary in Fribourg which opened with nine students, moving to Écône, Switzerland in 1971.[75] [irrelevant citation]

Lefebvre proposed to his seminarians the establishment of a society of priests without vows.[74] In November 1970, Bishop François Charrière of Fribourg established, on a provisional (ad experimentum) basis for six years, the International Priestly Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) as a "pious union".[76]

Early opposition


In November 1972, the bishops of France, gathered as the Plenary Assembly of French Bishops at Lourdes, whose theological outlook was quite different from Lefebvre's, treated the then-legal Écône seminary with suspicion and referred to it as Séminaire sauvage or "Outlaw Seminary".[73][77] They indicated that they would incardinate none of the seminarians.[78] Cardinal Secretary of State Jean-Marie Villot accused Lefebvre before Pope Paul VI of making his seminarians sign a condemnation of the Pope, which Lefebvre vigorously denied.[79]

Apostolic Visitors

Cardinal Secretary of State Jean-Marie Villot

In November 1974, two Belgian priests carried out a rigorous inspection on the instructions of a commission of cardinals,[78] producing, the SSPX claims, a favourable report.[80] In what he later described as a mood of "doubtlessly excessive indignation",[78] on 21 November 1974, Lefebvre wrote a "Declaration" in which he attacked the modernist and liberal trends that he saw in the reforms being undertaken within the church at that time:[81]

We adhere with all our heart and all our soul to Catholic Rome, guardian of the Catholic Faith and the traditions necessary to maintain it, and to Eternal Rome, mistress of wisdom and truth. On the other hand we refuse and have always refused to follow the Rome of the neo-Modernist and the new Protestant trend which was clearly evident in the Second Vatican Council and, after the Council in all the reforms which flowed from it.

The Commission of Cardinals declared in reply that the declaration was "unacceptable on all points".[73]

In January 1975, Bishop Pierre Mamie, who had succeeded Charrière in Fribourg in 1970, determined that the SSPX's status as a "pious union" should end. On 24 January 1975, he asked the prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Religious, Cardinal Arturo Tabera, to terminate its status as a "pious union".[82]

On 13 February, Lefebvre was invited to Rome for a meeting with the commission of cardinals,[73] which he described as "a close cross examination of the judicial type", regarding the contents of his "Declaration", followed by a second meeting on 3 March.[73] In May, the commission announced it approved Mamie's plan. Lefebvre contended that canon law gave the pope alone the authority to suppress a religious congregation, and only by his direct decree.[73]

Tabera responded in April expressing full agreement and telling Mamie to proceed himself, and Mamie suppressed the SSPX on 6 May 1975, effective immediately.[82][h] This action was upheld by Pope Paul, who wrote to Lefebvre in June 1975. Lefebvre nevertheless continued his work citing legal advice from canon lawyers that the Society had not been "legally suppressed" and that the Society continued to enjoy the privilege of incardinating its own priests.[84] Lefebvre also argued that there were insufficient grounds for suppression as the Apostolic Visitors, by the Commission's own admission, delivered a positive report, and that since his Declaration had not been condemned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he appealed, twice, to the appellate court of the church, the Apostolic Signatura.[73] Lefebvre later wrote that Cardinal Villot blocked the move,[73] and one of his supporters wrote that Villot threatened the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, Cardinal Dino Staffa, with dismissal if the appeals were not denied.[85]

In 1976, Mamie warned Lefebvre that saying Mass though Catholic Church authorities had forbidden him from exercising his priestly functions would further exacerbate his relationship with Rome.[86]

Disagreement with the Vatican

Lefebvre in 1981

During the consistory of 24 May 1976, Pope Paul VI criticized Lefebvre by name and appealed to him and his followers to change their minds.[40][87]

Lefebvre in Córdoba, Argentina, in 1980

On 29 June 1976, Lefebvre went ahead with planned priestly ordinations without the approval of the local bishop and despite receiving letters from Rome forbidding them. As a result Lefebvre was suspended a collatione ordinum, i.e., forbidden to ordain any priests. A week later, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops informed him that, to have his situation regularized, he needed to ask the pope's pardon. Lefebvre responded with a letter claiming that the modernization of the church was a "compromise with the ideas of modern man" originating in a secret agreement between high dignitaries in the church and senior Freemasons prior to the council.[88] Lefebvre was then notified that, since he had not apologized to the pope, he was suspended a divinis,[89] i.e., he could no longer legally administer any of the sacraments.[90] Lefebvre remarked that he had been forbidden from celebrating the new rite of Mass.[91] Pope Paul apparently took this seriously and stated that Lefebvre "thought he dodged the penalty by administering the sacraments using the previous formulas".[92] In spite of his suspension, Lefebvre continued to celebrate Mass and to administer the other sacraments, including the conferral of Holy Orders to the students of his seminary.

Pope Paul received Lefebvre in audience on 11 September 1976,[93] and one month later wrote to him a letter severely admonishing him and repeating the appeal he had made at the audience. In his letter to Lefebvre, Paul VI ordered him to accept the documents of the Second Vatican Council in their obvious meaning (sensu obvio) and the subsequent reforms, to retract his accusations against the Roman Pontiff and his collaborators and recognise the authority of the local bishops; furthermore, he demanded that Lefebvre hand over all activities of the FSSPX to the Holy See. The Pope reminded Lefebvre of his duty of obedience to the Chair of Peter, quoting the dogmatic constitutions Pastor aeternus (1870, First Vatican Council) and Lumen gentium (1964, Second Vatican Council).[94]

Following the death of Paul VI, both Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II made various attempts to reconcile the FSSPX with the Church; the latter received Lefebvre in audience sixty days after his 1978 election, where he repeatedly expressed his desire for peace.[95][96]

Écône consecrations


In a 1987 sermon, Lefebvre, his health failing at age 81, announced his intention to consecrate a bishop to carry on his work after his death.[97] Under Catholic canon law, the consecration of a bishop without the permission of the pope incurs excommunication: "A bishop who consecrates someone a bishop without a pontifical mandate and the person who receives the consecration from him incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See".[98]

During 1987 Lefebvre tried to reach an agreement with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.[99] However, on 4 September 1987, in Ecône, Lefebvre stated that the Vatican was in apostasy and that he would no longer collaborate with Ratzinger.[100]

On 5 May 1988, Lefebvre signed an agreement with Ratzinger to regularize the situation of the Society of St Pius X. Ratzinger agreed that one bishop would be consecrated for the Society, to be approved by the pope.[101]

Breaking of the agreement, consecrations

Antônio de Castro Mayer in 1980

Shortly after the agreement, however, Lefebvre announced that he had received a note from Ratzinger that asked him "to beg pardon for [his] errors", which he interpreted to mean that he would be made to accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and the "spirit of Assisi". Lefebvre referred to the alleged prophecy of Our Lady of La Salette that "Rome will lose the Faith" and declared himself obliged to consecrate a successor—if necessary, without papal approval.[6] As the agreement did not specify a date for the episcopal consecration, should Lefebvre have died before it was granted, the Society would have been unable to ordain any seminarians and forced into submission to the Holy See.[7][102]

Lefebvre dubbed his plan "Operation Survival":[6]

That is why, taking into account the strong will of the present Roman authorities to reduce Tradition to naught, to gather the world to the spirit of Vatican II and the spirit of Assisi, we have preferred to withdraw ourselves and to say that we could not continue. It was not possible. We would have evidently been under the authority of Cardinal Ratzinger, President of the Roman Commission, which would have directed us; we were putting ourselves into his hands, and consequently putting ourselves into the hands of those who wish to draw us into the spirit of the Council and the spirit of Assisi. This was simply not possible.

Pope John Paul II appealed to him not to proceed in "a schismatic act", warning of "theological and canonical consequences".[103]

On 30 June 1988, Lefebvre, with Bishop Emeritus Antônio de Castro Mayer of Campos, Brazil, as co-consecrator, consecrated four SSPX priests as bishops: Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, Alfonso de Galarreta and Bernard Fellay.

Shortly before the consecrations, Lefebvre gave the following sermon:

... this ceremony, which is apparently done against the will of Rome, is in no way a schism. We are not schismatics! If an excommunication was pronounced against the bishops of China, who separated themselves from Rome and put themselves under the Chinese government, one very easily understands why Pope Pius XII excommunicated them. There is no question of us separating ourselves from Rome, nor of putting ourselves under a foreign government, nor of establishing a sort of parallel church as the Bishops of Palmar de Troya have done in Spain. They have even elected a pope, formed a college of cardinals... It is out of the question for us to do such things. Far from us be this miserable thought to separate ourselves from Rome![6]

The next day, 1 July, the Congregation for Bishops issued a decree stating that this was a schismatic act and that all six direct participants had incurred automatic excommunication.[104]



On 2 July, Pope John Paul II condemned the consecration in his apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei, in which he stated that the consecration constituted a schismatic act and that the bishops and priests involved were automatically excommunicated:[105]

In itself, this act was one of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the church, such as is the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated. Hence such disobedience – which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy – constitutes a schismatic act. In performing such an act, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning sent to them by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops on 17 June last, Mons. Lefebvre and the priests Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta, have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1382).

Lefebvre responded by contradicting Pope John Paul II, saying that he and the other clerics involved had not "separated themselves from Rome" and were not schismatic.[6] He invoked canon 1323 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law that they "found themselves in a case of necessity", not having succeeded, as they said, in making "Rome" understand that "this change which has occurred in the Church" since the Second Vatican Council was "not Catholic".[i] In a letter addressed to the four priests he was about to consecrate as bishops, Lefebvre wrote: "I do not think one can say that Rome has not lost the Faith."[107]

On 18 July, twelve priests and some seminarians led by Josef Bisig left the SSPX because of the Ecône consecrations.[108][109] Bisig became the first superior general of the newly formed Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), a group that reached an agreement with the Holy See.



Lefebvre died from cancer on 25 March 1991 at the age of 85 in Martigny, Switzerland.[110] Eight days later he was buried in the crypt at the society's international seminary in Écône. Archbishop Edoardo Rovida, Apostolic Nuncio to Switzerland, and Bishop Henri Schwery of Sion, the local diocese, came and prayed at his body.[111]

Legacy of the 1988 consecrations


Lifting of excommunications


On 10 March 2009, at the request of the four surviving bishops, Pope Benedict XVI lifted their excommunications.[112][113][114][115] In a letter to the bishops of the entire Church, Benedict offered this clarification:

The fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons. As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church.[116]

One of the four bishops, Richard Williamson, was subsequently expelled from the FSSPX in 2012 and excommunicated again in 2015 by Pope Francis for consecrating a bishop without permission of the Holy See.[117]

Episcopal lineage


The lineage originated by the 1988 consecrations amounts to 9 bishops as of 2019, out of whom 8 are alive:

Decorations and awards


During his career, Lefebvre was decorated by several governments, including:


  • Lefebvre, Marcel (1998). A Bishop Speaks: Writings & Addresses, 1963–1974. Kansas City, Mo.: Angelus Press. ISBN 0-935952-16-0.
  • Lefebvre, Marcel (1998). I Accuse the Council! (2nd ed.). Kansas City, Mo.: Angelus Press. ISBN 978-0-935952-68-1.
  • Lefebvre, Marcel (1987). Open Letter to Confused Catholics. Kansas City, Mo.: Angelus Press. ISBN 978-0-935952-13-1. Translated from the original book: Lefèbvre, Marcel (1985). Lettre Ouverte aux Catholiques Perplexes (in French). Paris: A. Michel. ISBN 978-2-226-02325-4.
  • Lefebvre, Marcel (1997). Against the Heresies. Kansas City, Mo.: Angelus Press. ISBN 978-0-935952-28-5.
  • Lefebvre, Marcel (1988). They Have Uncrowned Him: From Liberalism to Apostasy, the Conciliar Tragedy. Dickinson, Tex: Angelus Press. ISBN 0-935952-05-5.
  • Lefebvre, Marcel (2000). The Mystery of Jesus: the Meditations of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Kansas City, Mo.: Angelus Press. ISBN 978-1-892331-02-1.
  • Lefebvre, Marcel (2001). Religious Liberty Questioned – The Dubia: My Doubts about the Vatican II Declaration of Religious Liberty. Kansas City, Mo.: Angelus Press. ISBN 978-1-892331-12-0.
  • Lefebvre, Marcel (2007). The Mass of All Time: the Hidden Treasure. Kansas City, Mo.: Angelus Press. ISBN 978-1-892331-46-5.

See also



  1. ^ Code of Canon Law 1983, Canon 1382: "A bishop who consecrates some one a bishop without a pontifical mandate and the person who receives the consecration from him incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See"
  2. ^ St. Michel de Ndjolé (May 1938 – August 1939), Ste. Marie de Libreville (December 1939 – August 1940), St. Paul de Donguila (August 1940 – April 1943), and finally St. François Xavier de Lambaréné (April 1943 – October 1945)
  3. ^ That is, all French Africa – including two départments of today's France proper, Réunion and Mayotte – with the exception of Tunisia and mainland Algeria (the latter then considered part of France proper), but not excluding the Algerian southern territories.
  4. ^ Lefebvre's successor in Dakar was Hyacinthe Thiandoum, who was made a cardinal in 1976 at the consistory where Pope Paul decried Lefebvre's actions.[40]
  5. ^ As bishop of Tulle, he was a suffragan to the archbishop of Bourges, his cousin Cardinal Joseph-Charles Lefèbvre (1982–1973).
  6. ^ The council rules required a two-thirds vote to approve a schema. After conservative supporters of the schemas attempted to manipulate the procedures to require a two-thirds vote to reject a schema, Pope John intervened to make a majority sufficient to reject a schema and require a new draft.[49][50]
  7. ^ Lefebvre later said that the paper that he signed did not represent his endorsement, but only recorded his presence at the meeting,[56] but that claim is disputed.[55]
  8. ^ Pope Paul canonically suppressed the SSPX and its seminary in 1975.[83]
  9. ^ "Thus, we find ourselves in a case of necessity. We have done all we could, trying to help Rome to understand that they had to come back to the attitudes of the holy Pius XII and of all his predecessors. Bishop de Castro Mayer and myself have gone to Rome, we have spoken, we have sent letters, several times to Rome. We have tried by these talks, by all these means, to succeed in making Rome understand that, since the Council and since aggiornamento, this change which has occurred in the Church is not Catholic, is not in conformity to the doctrine of all times. This ecumenism and all these errors, this collegiality — all this is contrary to the Faith of the Church, and is in the process of destroying the Church."[106]


  1. ^ Credidimus Caritati Archived 15 October 2010 at the Wayback Machine. Sspxseminary.org. Retrieved on 1 November 2013.
  2. ^ "A Story of Providence: Born in a Time of Confusion for Holy Mother Church". SSPX. Retrieved 20 October 2023.
  3. ^ "Apostolic Letter "Ecclesia Dei"".
  4. ^ "Other Letters: Correspondence between Cardinal Ratzinger and Archbishop Lefebvre". FSSPX. Retrieved 20 October 2023.
  5. ^ "Protocol of Agreement, May 5, 1988". FSSPX. Retrieved 20 October 2023.
  6. ^ a b c d e Lefebvre, Marcel (June 1988). "Sermon on the occasion of the Episcopal Consecration".
  7. ^ a b "One Year After the Consecrations". archives.sspx.org.
  8. ^ a b Davies 1980, Chapter 1
  9. ^ a b c Dinges 2003, p. 446
  10. ^ a b c "Monsignor Lefebvre in his own words". Archived from the original on 6 December 2006. Retrieved 6 December 2006.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link). Society of St. Pius X – South Africa. sspxafrica.com. February 2002.
  11. ^ René Lefebvre, a factory owner The ghost at all our tables Archived 24 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Oriens, Summer 2005
  12. ^ A Calvary 1941–1944 René Lefebvre Part 1, June 1984, Volume VII, Number 6, The Angelus
  13. ^ René LeFebvre, Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database
  14. ^ The ghost at all our tables Archived 24 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Oriens journal
  15. ^ "Archbishop Lefebvre readily admitted that were it not for the solid formation he received from Fr. Le Floch, he too might have succumbed to the creeping liberalism of the age." John Vennari (August 2005)"I have handed on what I have received". Archived from the original on 14 February 2009. Retrieved 1 November 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link), The Angelus.
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  17. ^ Tissier de Mallerais 2004, p. 77
  18. ^ Ordained priest at Lille, France, by Msgr Achille Liénart, Bishop of Lille, on 21 September 1929"Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre – Useful Information". Archived from the original on 3 July 2004. Retrieved 25 August 2006.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link). Society of Saint Pius X, District of Great Britain
  19. ^ Laudenschlager 1978: "His Grace, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was ordained to the priesthood on 21 September 1929, and consecrated a bishop on 18 September 1947, by Achille Cardinal Lienart, Bishop of Archbishop Lefebvre's Diocese of Lille (France)."
  20. ^ Seminary training: 1923–29 in the French Seminary, Rome, Doctor in philosophy and in theology. I – Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre Archived 24 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ a b Davies 1980, Chapter 3
  22. ^ Tissier de Mallerais 2004, p. 83
  23. ^ "Monsignor Lefebvre in his own words". Archived from the original on 22 March 2004. Retrieved 22 March 2004.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link). Society of St. Pius X – South Africa. sspxafrica.com. June/July 2002
  24. ^ Sister Marie Christiane Lefebvre (November 1980). "Some Memories of Archbishop Lefebvre's childhood". The Angelus. Vol. III, no. 11. Archived from the original on 31 January 2009. He entered the Holy Ghost Fathers in 1930 and was assigned to the Seminary of St. Mary at Libreville (Gabon) from 1932 to 1945.
  25. ^ Anglés 1991, "Teacher of Dogma and Holy Scripture in the Seminary of Libreville, Rector from 1934, he managed to be at the same time teacher, bursar, printer, plumber, electrician, driver... maybe having already in mind his Society's Priests!"
  26. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. XXXIX. 1947. p. 639. Retrieved 10 January 2024.
  27. ^ Tissier de Mallerais 2004, pp. 170–172
  28. ^ Anglés 1991, "on 18 September 1947, he was consecrated bishop in his hometown by Cardinal Liénart, Bishop Fauret – his former superior at Libreville – and Bishop Ancel."
  29. ^ "Monsignor Lefebvre in his own words". Society of St. Pius X – South Africa. September 2002. Archived from the original on 7 November 2003. Retrieved 7 November 2003.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  30. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. XL. 1948. p. 560.
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  32. ^ Filipazzi 2006, p. X
  33. ^ Foster, Elizabeth A. (2019). African Catholic: Decolonization and the Transformation of the Church. Harvard University Press. pp. 129–30. ISBN 9780674239449. Retrieved 19 September 2021.
  34. ^ a b Anglés 1991[page needed]
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  36. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. XLVIII. 1956. pp. 113ff. Retrieved 19 September 2021.
  37. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. LI. 1959. p. 722. Retrieved 19 September 2021.
  38. ^ "An Interview With Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre". Interviewed by Louis Moore. 3 May 1982. Archived from the original on 31 January 2009.
  39. ^ a b Cleary, William (2018). "Mgr. Marcel Lefebvre" in "Chapter 2: The Spiritan Congregation, Change, and Vatican II". Spiritan Life and Mission Since Vatican II. Wipf & Stock. ISBN 9781532634703.
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  41. ^ Capovilla, Loris F. (2013). Juan XXIII: En el recuerdo de su secretario Loris F. Capovilla (in Spanish). Interviewed by Marco Roncalli. Palabra. p. 78. ISBN 9788498409888. Retrieved 21 September 2021.
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  43. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. LIV. 1962. p. 301. Retrieved 19 September 2021.
  44. ^ Cleary, William (2018). "GC XII (1962)" in "Chapter 2: The Spiritan Congregation, Change, and Vatican II". Spiritan Life and Mission Since Vatican II. Wipf & Stock. ISBN 9781532634703.
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  54. ^ "In interviews with Bea and Frings, Paul VI agreed that the Christian Unity office would bear the major responsibility for revising the two declarations."(Cum Magno Dolore[permanent dead link], Time Magazine, 23 October 1964)
  55. ^ a b Harrison 1994
  56. ^ Angelus magazine of January 1991 Archived 23 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine. Angelusonline.org (1 November 1990). Retrieved on 1 November 2013.
  57. ^ "1962–1980: A New Age of Mission". Congregation of the Holy Spirit, Rome. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
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  59. ^ "Did the Pope Heal or Deepen a Catholic Schism?". Newsweek. 25 January 2009.
  60. ^ Davies 1980, Chapter 13
  61. ^ Lefebvre 1987
  62. ^ "This spirit of adultery is also made clear in the ecumenism instituted by The Secretariat for the Unity of Christians.""Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's June 1988 Public Statement against False Ecumenism". Archived from the original on 13 October 2006. Retrieved 2 September 2006.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link), 19 October 1983, hosted by the United States district of the Society of Pius X
  63. ^ Bernard Tissier de Mallerais"Archbishop Lefebvre preparing the council". Archived from the original on 24 February 2003. Retrieved 3 November 2006.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link) . Fideliter. The English translation was taken from the May 2002 issue of The Angelus. "Hence, to accept Religious Liberty was in principle to accept the "rights of man" within the Church. Now, the Church has always condemned these declarations on the "rights of man" which have been made against the authority of God." Conference Of His Excellency Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre Archived 24 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Long Island, New York, 5 November 1983, hosted by SSPXasia.com
  64. ^ Reese 1988, "Archbishop Lefebvre is known most widely for his support of the Tridentine liturgy and his attacks on the liturgical changes initiated by Vatican II. But his complaints against Vatican II go far beyond liturgical reforms. He also rejects conciliar developments in collegiality, religious liberty and ecumenism. These are seen by him as corresponding to the Revolution's égalité, liberté and fraternité."
  65. ^ Vere 2001: "However, Lefebvre's continued use of the Tridentine Mass eventually became an issue with the Vatican."
  66. ^ Lefebvre 1987, Chapter 13
  67. ^ Jeremy Rich, "Marcel Lefebvre in Gabon", in Kevin J. Callahan and Sarah Ann Curtis, eds., Views from the Margins: Creating Identities in Modern France (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2008), 62–63. ISBN 0803215592
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  72. ^ motu proprio "Ministeria quaedam". Ewtn.com. Retrieved on 1 November 2013.
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  76. ^ Pia unio – the preliminary stage towards becoming an officially recognized religious institute or Society of Apostolic Life. For the decree seeDavies 1980, Appendix V
  77. ^ Davies 1980, Chapter 2
  78. ^ a b c Davies 1980, Chapter 4
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  80. ^ Archbishop Lefebvre was told that this examination was very positive and that he just had to come to Rome and clarify some questions. Conference of Father Franz Schmidberger, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X Archived 31 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine at Rockdale, Sydney, Australia 16 October 1990 by Father Gerard Hogan and Father François Laisney
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  85. ^ Hanu, José. Vatican Encounter. pp. 85, 191.
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  98. ^ 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon 1382
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  104. ^ Decree of Excommunication. Cin.org (1 July 1988). Retrieved on 1 November 2013.
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  112. ^ Pope Benedict XVI & March 2009
  113. ^ Pope Benedict XVI & July 2009: "I wished to remit the excommunication of the four Bishops illicitly ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre. With this decision I intended to remove an impediment that might have jeopardized the opening of a door to dialogue and thereby to invite the Bishops and the "Society of St Pius X" to rediscover the path to full communion with the Church."
  114. ^ Re 2009
  115. ^ Luxmoore 2009
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  117. ^ Glatz, Carol (19 March 2015). "Bishop Williamson is excommunicated after illicitly ordaining a bishop". Catholic Herald. Archived from the original on 17 January 2019. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  118. ^ "Fourth Bishop | St. Marcel Initiative". stmarcelinitiative.com. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  119. ^ "Ex-Lefebvrist prelate illicitly consecrates a fourth bishop". international.la-croix.com. 11 January 2023. Retrieved 19 May 2023.
  120. ^ "Eleison Comments DCCCXXXV". St. Marcel Initiative. 15 July 2023. Retrieved 15 July 2023.
  121. ^ a b c Fathers of Holy Cross Seminary (1997). Most Asked Questions About the Society of Saint Pius X. Kansas City: Angelus Press. p. 109. ISBN 0-935952-43-8.


Publications of the Society of Saint Pius X
Publications of the Holy See
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by — TITULAR —
Bishop of Anthedon
12 June 1947 – 22 September 1948
Succeeded by
Preceded by — TITULAR —
Bishop of Arcadiopolis in Europa
22 September 1948 – 14 September 1955
Succeeded by
Preceded by Apostolic Vicar of Dakar
12 June 1947 – 14 September 1955
New title Archbishop of Dakar
14 September 1955 – 23 January 1962
Succeeded by
Preceded by Archbishop1-Bishop of Tulle
23 January 1962 – 11 August 1962
Succeeded by
Preceded by Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit
27 July 1962 – 29 October 1968
Succeeded by
Preceded by — TITULAR —
Bishop of Synnada in Phrygia
7 August 1962 – 10 December 1970
Notes and references
1. Retained Personal Title