1, Chapter 2
Lefebvre would have earned a distinguished and honored place in
the history of the Church even if he had retired finally from public
life in 1968, as he had intended. No one had done more for the Church
in Africa in this century; no one had done more to uphold the true
faith during Vatican II. But the most important task for which God
has destined him had not even begun. When he retired in 1968 he
could not have imagined that God had reserved for him what was possibly
the most important role assigned to any prelate during this century.
An exaggeration? Mgr. Lefebvre was to be given the task of preserving
the Catholic priesthood in the West during what is proving to be
a period of universal apostasy. But he did not seek to undertake
this task. He was sought out by the young men who proved to be the
first seminarians of Ecône - but when they came they were quite
unknown to him and, as for Ecône, he did not know of its existence.
The young men
had been sent to the Archbishop because they wished to become priests
but could find no seminary offering a truly traditional Catholic
formation. They had asked older priests for advice and had been
told to go to Mgr. Lefebvre. He was reluctant at first but they
insisted. He told them that if he undertook their direction their
studies would be long and intense and they would lead a life of
prayer and sacrifice, the formation necessary to prepare them for
the priesthood in these times. They insisted that this was what
they wanted. But where could they study? Unfortunately, nowhere
suitable could be found in Rome itself; but an old friend, Mgr.
Charrière, Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg, suggested that
the students pursue their studies at the University of Fribourg.
The Fraternité Sacerdotale de Saint Pie X was established
in his diocese on All Saints' Day, 1970, with all the necessary
Alas, it soon
became clear that this university was infected with Modernism and
Liberalism. With the approval of Mgr. Nestor Adam, Bishop of Sion,
Mgr. Lefebvre obtained a large house which had belonged to the Canons
of St. Bernard in this diocese. The house was at Ecône, no more
than a hamlet near the small town of Riddes in the Catholic Canton
of Valais. The name of Ecône is now known throughout the world,
and thousands of visitors from all over the world come there each
year. But until the foundation of the Seminary of St. Pius X it
is doubtful whether the name would have meant anything to anyone
not living in the immediate vicinity.
was formally opened on 7 October 1970. A fascinating account of
the events leading up to its acquisition by Mgr. Lefebvre was provided
by Father Pierre Épiney, Parish Priest of Riddes, in an address
which he gave at the opening of the Priory of St. Pius V at Shawinigan-Sud,
Quebec, on 19 March 1977. Father Épiney spoke from his heart
as a priest and pastor.2
The circumstances in which this saintly young priest was deprived
of his parish are described under the date 15 June 1975. Father
Épiney's account follows:
Beginning of Ecône
My dear colleagues
and Canadian friends, I am not going to talk abstractions. All
I want to do is give my own testimony, for Providence willed that
I should be the first eyewitness of what happened at Ecône.
will soon be known throughout the world
ago I was appointed parish priest of Riddes, in which Ecône is
situated. That was in 1967. At that time Ecône was nothing in
particular. Only one Canon of the Grand-Saint-Bernard remained,
and he just looked after some dogs and a few calves. The place
was up for sale. In 1968, on 31 May, the Feast of the Queenship
of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of my parishioners, M. Alphonse
Pedroni (he has already been to Canada with me and also with Mgr.
Lefebvre) overheard a member of the Communist Party say in a local
café: "is for sale: we're buying it. And the first
thing we'll do is destroy the chapel." Alphonse went home,
took up the telephone, and called the Canon:
it true that Ecône is for sale?"
buy it at the price you have been offered."
four friends to help him buy that house and insure that it kept
its religious character. The property had belonged to the Canons
of Saint-Bernard for over 600 years.
men improved the land (in our country it is all vineyards) and
waited for the providential moment.
day Mgr. Lefebvre appeared. He was in touch with some young men
who wanted to become priests. He had tried opening a house in
Fribourg, in Switzerland, but it had become too small. Providence
led him to a meeting with these men who were happy to put the
house they had bought at his disposal.
I shall always
remember that visit of Mgr. Lefebvre's. We had a meal together
in a local restaurant. He did not know us. He seemed perplexed
at the attitude of M. Pedroni, who said not a word all during
the meal. In the end Mgr. Lefebvre urged him to say something.
Monseigneur. We are happy to entrust that house to you. I should
just like to say this: Ecône will soon be known throughout the
difficult summer we have just lived through at Ecône, Mgr. Lefebvre
reminded me of that: "Alphonse was a true prophet."
As for me,
what opened my eyes was a retraining course for priests ten years
ordained, at Montana in Switzerland. It was to last fifteen days,
I stuck it for ten! Then I left and went on a pilgrimage to Fatima.
Back home, I told myself I must do something: things could not
go on as they were. The theories taught in the retraining were
not the Catholic faith we were taught in the seminary. They were
hazy theories leading nowhere.
So I thought:
"You are no theologian; you are not going to write articles
for the papers; you are just a parish priest. You must try to
adopt at least two supernatural means to stem the damage and to
restore to the parish - with the smallest proportion of practicing
Catholics in the whole country - some enthusiasm and a little
more love of God."
to begin with the Rosary: the Rosary every day, and on Thursday
evenings before the Blessed Sacrament. I decided to go back to
the traditional Mass, but with the Epistle and Gospel in French,
and every Friday to hold catechism classes for adults. I was astonished
at the graces received. The people came. I had a hundred to a
hundred and fifty at catechism. I was amazed; and preparing catechism
did me a lot of good, because it made me go back over the whole
of traditional doctrine. People came to say the Rosary, including
a good pagan.
I had to
build a church, but I had nothing. I turned to St. Joseph. (I
thanked him specially this morning, on his feast day: he has given
me such help.) We managed to overcome all difficulties so well
that the bishop himself, the day he came to consecrate the church,
said to me: "You can thank God. I know this parish - there
were not even two men who came to Mass." (He was himself
a Canon of Saint-Bernard, and had been parish priest at Ecône.
He knew the people.) "You can thank God. What I have seen
this morning is beyond anything I could have imagined."
seminary at Ecône: What will happen?
So I am telling
you that I have been well rewarded spiritually and materially.
And then Providence pitched the Ecône Seminary into my parish.
You can imagine how interested I was, seeing what was going on
(for these newcomers do exactly the opposite of what the retrainees
are doing). Mgr. Adam, my bishop, was also interested. He twice
asked me to pick him up and bring him to the Seminary. He was
delighted with what he saw there. Of course there were others,
incited by the French progressives, who took a poor view of it.
But at last the enterprise started, and I saw the seminarians
arriving one by one.
week at Ecône they had nothing, so they came to eat at my table.
For example, I witnessed the arrival of Denis Roch, a converted
Protestant, an engineer. I shall not forget his first visit. After
we had talked for an hour he said to me: "Father, Providence
arranged for us to meet today. If you please, shall we say a decade
of the Rosary together?" We knelt down in the room. It is
not every day that you meet a young man like that, a convert from
Protestantism, who says to his parish priest after a conversation:
"Shall we say a decade of the Rosary?"
So, I witnessed
the birth and the growth of this great work. I had the good fortune
to be close to Mgr. Lefebvre and to learn much from him. I can
therefore tell you without fear of being mistaken: He is truly
a man of God; he is a good and a great missionary. Someone said
to me one day: "He makes me think of Saint Pius X."
Yes, that is so. He has only one desire: that Our Lord Jesus Christ
shall reign over all hearts, over all families, over all nations,
and that souls shall be saved - for he is a missionary. He does
not theorize; he can talk very simply to people because his purpose
is the conversion of people: he wants all souls to go to heaven.
one day, a year ago, Cardinal Thiandoum, Archbishop of Dakar,
was with me. He had come to topple me into the New Mass. I let
him talk; and then I said:
Eminence. Do you know who Mgr. Lefebvre is? Must I, a simple parish
priest, remind you what he has done for you in Dakar? Eminence,
who made you a priest?
who founded the major seminary?
who made the Archdiocese of Dakar?
who made the Dakar Carmel?
who made the monastery of Vieta in Dakar?
He is my father, I am his son. You are right.
Eminence, now that Mgr. Lefebvre finds himself in a situation
like this, attacked, calumniated, ridiculed, dare you let your
father be so defamed, and say nothing?
Then it is
your duty to defend your father and to defend Holy Church. You
are too afraid. You must not be afraid, especially when you are
invested with authority. What do you risk? - losing your position?
losing your life? Good! you will go to heaven."
As for Mgr.
Lefebvre, he has no fear. Yet his temperament is very gentle.
There is nothing swaggering or bellicose about him. But I have
rarely in my life met a man with such courage, such strength of
will, such firmness in decision, such persistence and perseverance.
And I can say - for I lived with him, at his side, this difficult
summer - that he has come to the fight, this year, with redoubled
courage. Providence has blessed him with extraordinary powers,
for, humanly speaking, he should have been crushed. That proves
we have to do with a man of God. I think Providence has made us
a great present in giving us this missionary.
That is just
what the opposition is now most afraid of, for the missionary
in Mgr. Lefebvre has set about "having children." You
may laugh at that, but it is true. It was thought that "Vatican
II" had won. A few old priests were still resisting, but
they would die off. The matter was clear: the whole post-conciliar
renewal would be put into effect, as well in the great cities
as in the African bush. Fine! - and they were already rubbing
their hands. Then, all of a sudden, in a tiny corner of Switzerland,
an Archbishop appears who sets about "having children,"
giving to the Church priests who celebrate the traditional Mass.
So the enemy, occupying a strong position in the Vatican, saw
red and trained all its guns on Ecône; and Ecône, till then unknown,
became famous the world over.
because of the ordinations, the Vatican launched a press campaign
to discredit Mgr. Lefebvre and his young priests, to have them
taken for schismatics and rebels. But that very press campaign
turned against the Vatican; for when people have been able to
see and hear Mgr. Lefebvre their Catholic Faith has revived, and
they have said: "He is the one who is right. He, at least,
can be known for what he is. We can see that he is an archbishop
and that his priests are priests. As for the others, we just do
not know what they are." So a large part of public opinion
turned in favor of Mgr. Lefebvre and his work.
It soon became
known that there was an orthodox seminary in Switzerland. More young
men with vocations came forward and financial support began to arrive,
first from Switzerland and France, then Germany, then Britain, Australia,
the U.S.A. and now from all over the world. Mgr. Lefebvre has rejected
as totally false the claims that Ecône relies for its support on
rich European industrialists or American millionaires. There are
a few large donations (which are very welcome, and why not?) but
the major part of the financial support for Ecône is made up of
tens of thousands of small gifts, the sacrifices mainly of Catholics
of modest means or even the very poor.3
The Archbishop has made St. Joseph responsible for the financial
support of the Seminary - and has had no cause for complaint. The
number of vocations was so great that an ambitious building program
was undertaken. Three new wings have been added and the Seminary
is now able to house 140 seminarians and their professors in accommodation
of high quality - in fact all the facilities of the Seminary, lecture
hall, kitchen, dining hall, and living accommodation are almost
certainly of a far higher standard than those of any other seminary
in Europe. This was, to a certain extent, a matter of necessity
as the standards demanded by the Swiss planning authorities are
very high. It was even necessary to incorporate - at very great
cost - an atomic bomb proof shelter, a feature which is obligatory
in all new public buildings in Switzerland.
I have tried
to evoke the spirit of the Seminary, and life there, in Chapter
VI, which includes an account of my first visit to Ecône in 1975.
In its early
years the Seminary received the enthusiastic support of at least
some sections of the Vatican, that of Cardinal Wright, Prefect of
the Congregation for the Clergy, in particular. A letter which he
wrote in 1971, expressing his satisfaction at the progress of the
Seminary, is reproduced in Appendix V. He was still recommending
young men with vocations to apply for admission to Ecône as late
as 1973. I possess the written testimony of one of the seminarians
to this effect.
also been opened in a number of other countries, one of them at
Albano, near Rome. This house at Albano was obtained with all the
authorization required by Canon Law. It is being used at present
for the religious order for women founded by the Archbishop but
will eventually be used for sixth year training for the newly ordained
priests of the Society. This will not only free accommodation at
Ecône for new entrants but, in Mgr. Lefebvre's own words, will also
"enable our young priests to draw upon all the resources of
the eternal Rome, its Tradition, its martyrs, its magisterium, its
monuments, and also to deepen their attachment to the Bishop of
Rome, the successor of Peter. "4
The aim of
the Seminary is to form good and true priests, devoted to Our Lord,
to Our Lady, to the Church, and to the Mass; men burning with pastoral
is convinced that such a formation can be achieved only by means
of a traditional seminary formation based, above all, on Thomism
and the traditional Latin Liturgy.
This view certainly
seems to be confirmed by the position in France, where half of the
major seminaries have already been closed. In France, between 1963
and 1973 there was an 83 per cent drop in the number of men studying
for the priesthood. In 1963 there were 917 seminary entrants. In
1973 there were only 151.5 So
great indeed is the excess of priests who die or abandon the priesthood
over the number of new ordinations to replace them that a spokesman
for the French Bishops' Conference has gone so far as to suggest
the ordination of married men as a possible solution.
There is, incidentally,
a very high "drop-out" rate in the remaining French seminaries,
422 students having "dropped out" in 1973.6
trend continue it is quite within the bounds of possibility that
within ten years the Society of St. Pius X could be ordaining more
priests than all the seminaries in France put together.
There can be
no doubt that it was the escalating success of Ecône in the face
of the accelerating decline in the French seminary system which
initiated the campaign against Ecône.
It will be
shown in Chapter III that Mgr. Lefebvre was far from popular with
the more Liberal French bishops even before the Council. As Appendix
VIII to Pope John's Council makes clear, the post-conciliar
"renewal" in France had proved to be a débâcle
almost as catastrophic in its dimension as that in Holland.
The success of Ecône provided so dramatic a contrast to this débâcle
that its very existence became intolerable for some French bishops.
They referred to it as Le Séminaire Sauvage - the
Wildcat Seminary - giving the impression that it had been set up
illegally without the authorization of the Vatican. This appellation
was seized upon gleefully by the Liberal Catholic press throughout
the world and soon the terms "Ecône" and "Wildcat
Seminary" became synonymous.
Canonical Status of Ecône
In view of
the frequency of the allegation that Mgr. Lefebvre established his
seminary without canonical authorization, the canonical status of
the Seminary at Ecône is examined in some detail in Appendix V.
At this point I will refer briefly to some of the evidence which
makes it quite clear that the Seminary was established legally.
Firstly, at no stage in the campaign against Ecône did any Vatican
spokesman ever allege that the canonical basis of the Seminary was
in doubt. Had there been any weakness in the canonical status of
Ecône the Vatican would certainly have used this in its campaign
to discredit the Archbishop. On the contrary, in 1974 two Apostolic
Visitors were dispatched by the Vatican to conduct an official inspection
of the Seminary (see the entry for 11-13
November 1974). The letter of condemnation sent to Mgr. Lefebvre
by the Commission of Cardinals stated that the Society "no
longer having a juridical basis, its foundations, and notably the
Seminary at Ecône, lose by the same act the right to existence."
Obviously, the Vatican would not conduct an official inspection
of an unofficial seminary nor would it withdraw the right to exist
from a seminary which had never possessed such a right.
(The Cardinals' letter is included under the date 6
that the Society of St. Pius X and the Seminary enjoyed Vatican
approval well after the foundation of Ecône is provided by the fact
the members of three religious orders were transferred from their
own orders to the society of St. Pius X by the Sacred Congregation
for Religious. I have documentary proof that this was done in 1972
before me as I write. The Vatican would hardly have allowed members
of religious orders to be transferred to a Society which had established
a "wildcat seminary." Again, in February 1971, Cardinal
Wright wrote to Mgr. Lefebvre expressing his pleasure at the progress
and expansion of the Society and mentioning that it was receiving
praise and approval from bishops in various parts of the world
(this letter is reproduced in full in Appendix
V). It has been alleged that this letter could not have involved
praise for the Seminary as it had not yet been founded in February
1971.7 On the contrary,
it was formally opened on 7 October 1970. On 6 June 1971 the Archbishop
blessed the foundation stone of the new buildings, an event which
some of his opponents have confused with the foundation of the Seminary.
from a number of countries incardinated priests from Ecône into
their dioceses, observing all the required canonical procedure.
This could not have taken place had the canonical basis of the Seminary
not been sound.
Importance of Cardinal Villot
bishops held what they believed to be a trump card - Cardinal Villot,
Secretary of State and the most powerful man in the Vatican, in
de facto terms probably even more powerful than Pope Paul
VI himself. As well as holding the all-powerful office of Secretary
of State, Cardinal Villot controlled twelve other key Vatican positions.8
Ecône could not be allowed to survive if the French bishops were
to retain any credibility. They could count on Cardinal Villot -
and with his support there was no hope for the Seminary. It had
been sentenced to death. Before examining the campaign designed
to implement this death sentence it will be of considerable value
if readers are enabled to form an impression of Mgr. Lefebvre for
themselves. Ideally they should meet him, but short of doing this
the best alternative is to read what he has to say about himself.
Chapter III is an account of his life given in his own words - but
this should obviously be supplemented by reading his book A Bishop
it is presumed throughout the present work that the reader already
has a copy of this fundamental text.
The text of the Decree of Erection is contained in Appendix V.
Father Épiney's account was published in the French-Canadian
traditionalist journal Le Doctrinaire, No. 30, April 1977.
Hanu, p. 194 (165-166).
See Ecône Newsletter No. 5.
Report issued by the French National Center for Vocations and cited
in the Irish Catholic, 20 March 1975.
The Tablet, 27 January 1973 and 1 June 1974. The same reports
reveal that in 1971, for example, the excess of deaths over ordinations
was 465 and that in the same year almost 200 priests left the priesthood.
In 1967 there were 40,994 priests in France. The French Bishops'
Conference estimated that by the end of 1975 there would be only
21,820. The number of actual ordinations has declined as follows;
1966-566, 1970-284, 1973-219, 1976-136.
See Father Milan Mikulich's Orthodoxy of Catholic Doctrine, April
1977, p. 4.
Hanu, p. 238.
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