1, Chapter 1
LEFEBVRE was born at Tourcoing in northern France on 29 November
1905. His parents were exemplary Catholics. His father owned a textile
factory and was a daily communicant who would assist at Mass at
a quarter past six each morning and recite his rosary before arriving
at the factory to begin work ahead of his employees. Each evening
he would be the last to leave. The welfare of his employees was
always a primary consideration for him. The textile industry was
to a very large extent dependent upon fluctuations of the market
and in 1929, the year of Marcel's ordination, Monsieur Lefebvre
was declared bankrupt and the family suffered financial ruin. But
with characteristic resolution he set to work and succeeded in building
up his business again.
From the age
of eighteen he had been a brancardier at Lourdes, work to
which he remained faithful throughout his life. He was also a tertiary
of the Third Order of St. Francis. When the First World War broke
out he joined a society dedicated to saving wounded soldiers and
he made frequent trips to Belgium, passing through the crossfire
of the French and German armies to bring back wounded soldiers to
hospital in Tourcoing. When Tourcoing came under German occupation
he organized the escape of British prisoners. He later escaped to
Paris and worked for the French Intelligence Service under the name
of Lefort for the rest of the war, frequently undertaking the most
dangerous missions. All this became known to the Germans who kept
his name on record. When Tourcoing was occupied during the Second
World War he was arrested and sent to prison at Sonnenburg where
he was confined in the most degrading conditions and treated with
extreme brutality His companions in prison have testified to his
extraordinary courage, his complete resignation to the decisions
of divine Providence, and the inspiration he imparted to them all
in the midst of terrible suffering. His greatest sorrow was that
he had to die without seeing his children again.
of the Archbishop was born Gabrielle Watine. All who knew her considered
her to be a saint. The story of her life was written by a French
priest in 1948. Gabrielle was celebrated not simply for sanctity
but for strength of character. During the absence of her husband
in the First World War she directed the factory, looked after her
children, cared for the wounded, found time to visit the sick and
the poor, and organized resistance against the Germans. She was
arrested and subjected to an extremely harsh imprisonment, was distraught
at the separation from her children, and became gravely ill. The
German Commandant, anxious and embarrassed, promised to release
her if she would write a note begging him to pardon her. She refused
to do so, being prepared to die rather than compromise on a matter
of principle. Fearing the consequences of her death, the Commandant
ordered her release and she returned to her children broken in health
but unbroken in spirit. When she eventually died after long years
of suffering all who knew her testified that her death was the death
of a saint, and there are numerous testimonies to favors obtained
through her intercession.
brought up in a family characterized by the highest standards of
piety, discipline, and morality - and it was the example of the
parents which above all formed the characters of the eight children.
Five of them are now priests or religious and the entire family
still remains closely united. As a child Marcel was always good
humored and industrious with a particular love of manual work. While
a seminary student he installed an electrical system in his parents'
home with all the skill of a professional electrician.
After his vocation
to the priesthood became apparent he studied in his own diocese
and then in the French Seminary in Rome. He obtained doctorates
in philosophy and theology. He was ordained priest on 21 September
His first appointment
was to the working-class parish of Marais-de-Lomme, where he was
extremely happy and well loved by the parishioners. The impact he
made is well illustrated by an incident involving the death of a
virulent anticlerical. This type of person is virtually unknown
in English-speaking countries, where those who are not religious
tend to be indifferent. In most Catholic countries there are people
possessed by a fierce hatred for the Church and above all for the
clergy, whom they associate with everything that is retrogressive
and repressive in life. This particular individual remained inflexible
until the end, but just before his death he said that he would see
a priest - but it would have to be the young curate as he at least
wasn't "one of them"!
In 1932 Father
Lefebvre joined the Holy Ghost Fathers and was sent to Gabon as
a missionary, where he remained throughout the war. This was, he
testifies, one of the happiest periods of his life.
In 1946 he
was recalled to France to become Superior of a seminary at Mortain,
but he returned to Africa when he was appointed Vicar Apostolic
of Dakar on 12 June 1947. On 22 September 1948 he was appointed
Apostolic Delegate (the Pope's personal representative) for the
whole of Frenchspeaking Africa - a mark of the great confidence
placed in him by Pope Pius XII. He was appointed as the first Archbishop
of Dakar on 14 September 1955.
Even Mgr. Lefebvre's
most severe critics have been forced to testify to the efficacy
of his apostolate in Africa. In 1976, a Swiss priest, Father Jean
Anzevui, who had been welcomed as a guest at Ecône on a number of
occasions, published a most distasteful attack upon the Archbishop,
entitled Le Drame d’Ecône. Father Anzevui's assessment of
Mgr. Lefebvre's apostolate is all the more remarkable from an avowed
opponent. He states:
thirty year apostolate in Africa the role of Mgr. Lefebvre was
of the very highest importance. His fellow missionaries still
remember his extraordinary missionary zeal which was revealed
in his exceptional abilities as an organizer and a man of action.
He persuaded a number of congregations which had previously shown
no interest in the missions to undertake work in Africa. He was
responsible for the construction of large numbers of churches
and the foundation of charitable works of every kind . . . . they
are all agreed in recognizing his magnificent career, his courtesy,
his affability, his natural and simple distinction, the dignity
of his perfect life, his austerity, his piety and his absolute
devotion to any task which he undertook.1
Testimony of Father Cosmao
On 8 September
1977 Suisse Romande Television devoted a long programme to the Ecône
seminary and Mgr. Lefebvre. During the programme there was a discussion
between the commentator and Father Cosmao, a Dominican who had been
Superior of the house of his order in Dakar for several years while
Mgr. Lefebvre was Apostolic Delegate and Archbishop of Dakar. The
testimony of Father Cosmao carries considerable weight and it is
included here in full together with some comments by Louis Salleron.
Text and commentary
appeared in the Courrierde Rome, No. 175, p. 12.
Was the prelate (Mgr. Lefebvre) an important person in the Church?
had complete power in the Church in the whole of French Africa,
from the Sahara to Madagascar. In the Africa which at that time
was still French. And he was one of the most important personages
in the Church at the end of Pius XII's pontificate.
Did he do well, standing for the Church in Africa of that period?
did indeed. Christians and priests thought of him as one of themselves.
He really stood for that Church at the time. The fact is, it is
the Church which has changed, not Mgr. Lefebvre. The Church has
changed most profoundly and in particular because she has come
to accept what has been happening in Europe since the end of the
18th century, in the train of the philosophy of illuminism and
the French Revolution.
What, in fact, has been happening?
then the Church made the kings, and by that made the organization
of society sacrosanct. When that organization of society no longer
corresponded to the actual relations between social groups, it
was necessary, in order to transform that social organization,
to take away its sacred character, and in so doing to tear the
Church away from the position she held in European societies;
and finally the Church, in the course of the decades, has come
to understand that the criticism of her role under the Ancien
Regime was justified, and that it was that very criticism
which could renew her from top to bottom. I think that Vatican
II, in large part, is the conclusion of that process of growing
awareness; and it is that conclusion and the whole process leading
it which Mgr. Lefebvre cannot accept, because, to my mind, he
is really the representative of that Church which as sure of its
truth, its right, its power, and which thought she alone had the
power to say how society should be organized. And today Mgr. Lefebvre
reproaches the Church not with no longer speaking Latin and no
longer offering Mass in the rite of Saint Pius V but, as others
put it, surrendering the World on the pretext of a desire to enter
it, and subjecting herself to the new world. That is the reproach
which issued logically from the Church of yesterday. It is he
who is faithful, in a certain way; but his fidelity is to a Church
whose attitude in history, as we have come to understand, some
more quickly than others, is in contradiction with the demands
of the Gospel.
Fr. Cosmao's candor there can be nothing but praise. In his opinion,
it is not Mgr. Lefebvre who has changed but the Church. In a certain
way it is Mgr. Lefebvre who is faithful. The fact is that Mgr.
Lefebvre's reproach to the church of today concerns not Latin
and liturgy primarily but her alliance with the World etc....
Vague remorse? Provocation? Indifference? It hard to discover
Fr. Cosmao's secret feelings. But he bears witness to a fact:
the Church has changed, and changed ‘most profoundly,' on that
fact we agree - everybody agrees. But we need to know how deep
that profound change goes: or better, what is the nature of the
It was in
1950 that Teilhard de Chardin wrote to a priest who had left the
Church: `Essentially I think as you do that the Church (like any
living reality after a certain time) comes a period of "moulting",
or "necessary reform." After two thousand years it is
inevitable. Humanity is in process of moulting. How can Christianity
avoid doing the same? More
I think that the Reform in question (much more profound than that
of the 16th century) is no longer a simple matter of institution
and morals, but of Faith . . . .'
of Teilhard's is now widespread. Officially it is rejected, but
semi-officially it is propagated in theology, liturgy, catechism,
and the Catholic press, with an ambiguity less and less ambiguous-why
bother, when you have the `machine' under your control? There
is no need to recall the most striking examples: they have appeared
time and time again in the Courtier de Rome, La Pensee catholique,
Itineraires, the Courtier de Pierre Debray, and many
other publications. That the Histoire des crises du clergé
français contemporain of Paul Vigneron should, in spite of
its moderation, have been passed over in silence or merely mentioned
in the semi-official Catholic press, while Le christianisme
va-t-il mourir? of Jean Delumeau, which condemns 1500 years
of the Church's history and announces, as the Good News, the era
of the Liberal Evangelical Church, should have received the Catholic
Grand Prix de Littérature, is a 'sign of e times' of tragic
dimensions. It is indeed a New Religion which the innovators are
promising us. Fr. Cosmao bears witness to the fact. It
is a pity he has not told us clearly what he thinks of it."
II and Retirement
was appointed to the Central Preparatory Commission of the Second
Vatican Council in 1960 by Pope John XXIII - proof that the confidence
placed in him by Pope John was no less than that of Pope Pius XII.
On 23 January
1962 he resigned his archbishopric in favor a native African, now
His Eminence Cardinal Hyacinthe Thiandoum, who had been ordained
by Mgr. Lefebvre, who regards himself as his spiritual son, and
who did all in his power to effect a reconciliation between the
Archbishop and Pope Paul VI.
On 23 January
1962, Mgr. Lefebvre was appointed Bishop of Tulle in France, upon
the personal insistence of Pope John XXIII, despite opposition from
the already Liberal-dominated French hierarchy. Then, in July 1962,
he was elected Superior-General of the Holy Ghost Fathers (the world's
leading missionary order). After some hesitation he accepted this
post upon the insistence of the General Chapter and the advice of
Pope John. It involved him in travelling all over the world to visit
the various branches of the order. There were few other prelates
on the eve of the Council with his first-hand experience of the
state of the Church throughout the world.
A series of
draft documents for the Council Fathers to discuss had been drawn
up by scholars selected from the entire world. These draft documents
(schemata) were the fruit of an intensive two year effort by 871
scholars ranging from cardinals to laymen. Mgr. Vincenzo Carbone,
of the General Secretariat, was able to claim with perfect accuracy
that no other Council had had a preparation "so vast, so diligently
carried out, and so profound."2
Mgr. Lefebvre writes:
I took part
in the preparations for the Council as a member of the Central
Preparatory Commission. Thus, for two years I was present at all
its meetings. It was the business of the Central Commission to
check and examine all the preparatory schemata issued by
all the committees. Consequently I was well placed for knowing
what had been done, what remained to be examined and what was
to be put forward during the Council.
was carried out very conscientiously and with a concern for perfection.
I possess the seventy-two prepatory schemata and can state,
speaking generally, in these seventy-two schemata the doctrine
of the Church was absolutely orthodox and there was hardly any
need for retouching. There was, therefore, a fine piece of work
for presentation to the Council - schemata in conformity
with the Church's teaching, adapted to some extent to our era,
but with prudence and wisdom.
Now you know
what happened at the Council. A fortnight after its opening not
one of the prepared schemata remained, not one! All had
been turned down, all had been condemned to the wastepaper basket.
Nothing remained, not a single sentence. All had been
course of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Mgr. Lefebvre
was one of the leaders of the International Group of Fathers (Coetus
Internationalis Patrum) which sought to uphold the traditional
Catholic faith. The role of Mgr. Lefebvre during the Council will
not be discussed in this book as it is fully documented in his own
book, A Bishop Speaks, and in my own account of Vatican II,
Pope John's Council. The texts of Mgr. Lefebvre's interventions,
and a good deal of supplementary information, are now available
in French in his book, J'Accuse le Concile. An English translation
of this book is pending. All that needs to be stated here is that
Mgr. Lefebvre, in his criticisms of the reforms which have followed
the Council, and of certain passages in the documents themselves,
is not being wise after the event. He was one of the very few Fathers
of Vatican II who, while the Council was still in progress, had
both the perspicacity to recognize deficiencies in certain documents
and the courage to predict the disastrous results to which these
deficiencies must inevitably give rise.
By 1968 the
General Chapter of the Holy Ghost Fathers had become dominated by
a Liberal majority which was determined to reform the Order in a
sense contrary to Catholic tradition. Mgr. Lefebvre resigned in
June of that year rather than collaborate in what would be the virtual
destruction of the Order as it had previously existed. He retired
to Rome with a modest pension which was just sufficient to rent
a small apartment in the Via Monserrato from some nuns. After a
full and active life devoted to the service of the Church and the
glory of God he was more than content to spend his remaining years
in quietness and prayer. In the light of subsequent events, Mgr.
Lefebvre's unobtrusive retirement is a fact upon which considerable
stress must be laid. Some of his enemies have accused him of being
proud and stubborn, a man who could not accept defeat. He is portrayed
as a proponent of an untenable theological immobilism totally unrelated
to the age in which we are living. Although this untenable theology
was defeated, discredited even, during the Council, Mgr. Lefebvre's
pride would not allow him to admit defeat. The Seminary at Ecône,
it is maintained, is his means of continuing the fight which he
waged so unsuccessfully during the conciliar debates.
But Mgr. Lefebvre's
retirement proves how baseless, malicious even, such suggestions
are. Those who have met him know that he is not a man who will fight
for the sake of fighting - he has always been a realist. No one
could have compelled him to resign as Superior-General of the Holy
Ghost Fathers - he had been elected for a term of twelve years.
But he could see quite clearly that the Liberals dominated the General
Chapter; that they were determined to get their way at all costs;
that resistance on his part could only lead to unedifying division.
"Je les ai laissés à leur collégialité,"
he has remarked. "I left them to their 'collegiality'."4
J. Mzevui, Le Drame d'Ecône
(Sion, 1976), p. 16
See The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, p. 22.
A Bishop Speaks, p. 131. The story of how the Liberals managed
to consign a preparation "so vast, so diligently carried out,
and so profound" to the wastepaper basket is told in detail
in Chapter V of Pope John's Council.
J. Hanu, Non, Entretiens de Joss Hanu avec Mgr. Lefebvre
(Editions Stock, 1977), p. 189 (161). Now available in English as
(Kansas City, 1978), available from the Angelus Press and Augustine
Publishing Co. Wherever this book is referred to the page reference
will be to the French edition with the equivalent page in the English
translation following in parentheses.
Courtesy of the Angelus
Press, Regina Coeli House
2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109