Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 1

Author’s Introduction

I must begin my introduction with an explanation of the title of this book. Many of those who read it will know little or nothing about Archbishop Lefebvre when they begin. If they are Catholics they will have gathered from the official Catholic press that he is a French bishop who refuses to use the new rite of Mass and has a seminary in Switzerland where he trains priests in defiance of the Vatican. He will have been presented to them as an anachronism, a man completely out of step with the mainstream of contemporary Catholic thought, a man who is unable to adapt, to update himself. He is portrayed as little more than an historical curiosity, of no significance in the post-conciliar Church, a man whose views do not merit consideration. The Archbishop is often subjected to serious misrepresentation; he is alleged to have totally rejected the Second Vatican Council or to be linked with extreme right-wing political movements. A sad example of this form of misrepresentation is a pamphlet published by the Catholic Truth Society of England and Wales in 1976. It is entitled Light on Archbishop Lefebvre and the author is Monsignor George Leonard, at that time Chief Information Officer of the Catholic Information Office of England and Wales. I wrote to Mgr. Leonard pointing out that he had seriously misrepresented the Archbishop and suggested that he should either substantiate or withdraw his allegations. He answered in strident and emotive terms refusing to do either. I replied to Mgr. Leonard's attack on the Archbishop in a pamphlet entitled Archbishop Lefebvre - The Truth. This evoked such interest that several reprints were necessary to cope with the demand and it gained the Archbishop much new support. In this pamphlet I explained that the only way to refute the type of attack made by Mgr. Leonard was to present the entire truth - to write an apologia. The early Christian apologists wrote their "apologies" to gain a fair hearing for Christianity and dispel popular myths and slanders. It is in this sense that the word "apologia" is used in my title, i. e. as "a reasoned explanation" and not an "apology" in the sense of contemporary usage.

The classic apologia of modern times is the Apologia Pro Vita Sua of Cardinal Newman. Newman had been seriously misrepresented by Charles Kingsley who refused to provide the unqualified public apology which was requested. Newman's reply proved to be one of the greatest autobiographies in the English language and almost certainly the greatest prose work outside the realm of fiction to appear in English during the nineteenth century - and ironically our thanks for it must be directed to an implacable opponent of Newman and Catholicism.

My own Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre may be devoid of literary merit but it is certainly not without historic interest and those who appreciate its publication must direct their thanks to Mgr. Leonard without whom it would never have been written.

Incidentally, my pamphlet replying to Mgr. Leonard proved so popular that the publisher followed it up with others and thus began the Augustine Pamphlet Series which now has sales running into tens of thousands and includes works by theologians of international repute.

Although this book certainly would not have been written had it not been for Mgr. Leonard it could not have been written had it not been for Jean Madiran, the Editor of Itinéraires. Itinéraires is certainly the most valuable Catholic review appearing in the world today. It contains documentation that would not otherwise be published together with commentaries and articles by some of France's most outstanding Catholic intellectuals; men, alas, who have no counterpart in the English-speaking world. The debt my book owes to Itinéraires is incalculable. It provides the source for most of the original documents included together with the articles by Jean Madiran and Louis Salleron which I have had translated. Some of the material in my commentaries on the documents also originates with Itinéraires. A detailed list of sources for all the material in the Apologia will be provided in Volume II.

The scope of the Apologia is limited. It deals principally with the relations between the Archbishop and the Vatican. It does not deal with the activities of the Society of Saint Pius X in any individual country. I am certainly not committed to the view that every action and every opinion of the Archbishop, still less of every priest in the Society, #4, rue Garanciere, 75006, Paris, France is necessarily wise and prudent. I mention this because the reader who is not familiar with the "Econe affair" may consider that my attitude to the Archbishop and the Society is too uncritical and therefore unobjective. My book is objective but it is not impartial. It is objective because I have presented all the relevant documents both for and against Mgr. Lefebvre, something his opponents have never done. It is partial because I believe the evidence proves him to be right and I state this. However, the reader is quite at liberty to ignore my commentary and use the documentation to reach a different conclusion. Clearly, the value of the book derives from the documentation and not the commentary.

I am convinced that the Apologia will be of enduring historical value because I am convinced that the Archbishop will occupy a major position in the history of post-conciliar Catholicism. The most evident trend in mainstream Christianity since the Second World War has been the tendency to replace the religion of God made Man with the religion of man made God. Although Christians still profess theoretical concern for the life to come their efforts are increasingly taken up with building a paradise on earth. The logical outcome of this attitude will be the discarding of the supernatural element of Christianity as irrelevant. Since the Second Vatican Council this movement has gained considerable momentum within the Catholic Church, both officially and unofficially, and, during the pontificate of Pope Paul VI, appeared to be sweeping all before it. No one was more aware of this than Pope Paul VI himself who made frequent pronouncements condemning this tendency and stressing the primacy of the spiritual. But in practice, Pope Paul VI did little or nothing to halt the erosion of the traditional faith. He reprimanded Modernists but permitted them to use official Church structures to destroy the faith, yet took the most drastic steps to stamp out the Society of St. Pius X. At the time this introduction is being written, June 1979, there are signs of hope that Pope John Paul II will be prepared not simply to speak but to act in defense of the faith. This is something we should pray for daily. It hardly needs stating that the criticism of the Holy See contained in this first volume of the Apologia applies only to the pontificate of Pope Paul VI. Not one word in the book should be construed as reflecting unfavorably upon the present Holy Father. It is my hope that in the second volume I will be able to give the details of an agreement between the Pope and the Archbishop. This is also something for which we should pray.

The reason I believe that Archbishop Lefebvre will occupy a major position in the history of the post-conciliar Church is that he had the courage and foresight to take practical steps to preserve the traditional faith. Unlike many conservative Catholics he saw that it was impossible to wage an effective battle for orthodoxy within the context of the official reforms as these reforms were themselves oriented towards the cult of man. The Archbishop appreciated that the liturgical reform in particular must inevitably compromise Catholic teaching on the priesthood and the Mass, the twin pillars upon which our faith is built.1 The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers had also realized that if they could undermine the priesthood there would be no Mass and the Church would be destroyed. The Archbishop founded the Society of St. Pius X with its seminary at Econe not as an act of rebellion but to perpetuate the Catholic priesthood, and for no other purpose. Indeed, as my book will show, the Society at first enjoyed the approbation of the Holy See but the success of the seminary soon aroused the animosity of powerful Liberal forces within the Church, particularly in France. They saw it as a serious threat to their plans for replacing the traditional faith with a new ecumenical and humanistically oriented religion. This is the reason they brought such pressure to bear upon Pope Paul VI. There is no doubt that the demands for the destruction of Econe emanated principally from the French Hierarchy which, through Cardinal Villot, the Secretary of State, was ideally placed to pressurize the Pope.

A number of those who have reviewed my previous books have been kind enough to say that they are very readable. Unfortunately, the format of Apologia is not conducive to easy reading. My principal objective has been to provide a comprehensive fund of source material which will be useful to those wishing to study the controversy between the Archbishop and the Vatican. After various experiments I concluded that the most satisfactory method was to observe strict chronological order as far as possible. This meant that I could not assemble the material in a manner that was always the most effective for maintaining interest. The fact that I had to quote so many documents in full also impedes the flow of the narrative. However, if the reader bears in mind the fact that the events described in the book represent not simply a confrontation of historic dimensions but a very moving human drama, then it should never appear too dull. Mgr Lefebvre's inner conflict must have been more dramatic than his conflict with Pope Paul VI. No great novelist could have a more challenging theme than that of a man whose life had been dedicated to upholding the authority of the papacy faced with the alternative of disobeying the Pope or complying with an order to destroy an apostolate which he honestly believed was vital for the future of the Church. Let no one imagine that the decision the Archbishop took was taken lightly or was easy to make.

The reader will find frequent suggestions that he should refer to an event in its correct chronological sequence and to facilitate this a chronological index has been provided. If this page is marked it will enable the reader to refer to any event mentioned in the book without difficulty.

As the reader will appreciate, I could never have written a book of this extent without considerable help - particularly as I was working on two other books simultaneously. Some of those who gave their help unstintingly have expressed a wish to remain anonymous, including the individual to whom I am most indebted for help with the translations. I must also thank Simone Macklow-Smith and my son Adrian for assistance in this respect. I must make special mention of Norah Haines without whose help the typescript would still be nowhere near completion. I am indebted to David Gardner and Mary Buckalew whose competent proof-reading will be evident to the discerning reader. Above all I must thank Carlita Brown who set the book up single-handed and had it ready for publication within three months. She would certainly wish me to mention all the members of the Angelus Press who have contributed to the publication of the Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre.

Despite all our efforts, a book of this size is certain to contain at least a few errors and I would appreciate it if they could be brought to my attention for correction in any future printing or for mention in Volume II. I can make no promise regarding the publication of the second volume of Apologia beyond an assurance that it will appear eventually. It will almost certainly be preceded by a book on the treatment of the question of religious liberty in the documents of Vatican II. The Archbishop's stand on the question of religious liberty is less familiar to English-speaking traditionalists than his stand on the Mass but it is no less important as it involves the very nature of the Church. He refused to sign Dignitatis Humanae, the Council's Declaration on Religious Liberty, because he considered it incompatible with previous authoritative and possibly infallible papal teaching. My book will provide all the necessary documentation to evaluate this very serious charge which is also examined briefly in Appendix IV to the present work.

Finally, I would like to assure the reader that although I have written much that is critical of the Holy See and Pope Paul VI in this book this does not imply any lack of loyalty to the Church and the Pope. When a subordinate is honestly convinced that his superior is pursuing a mistaken policy he shows true loyalty by speaking out. This is what prompted St. Paul to withstand St. Peter "to his face because he was to be blamed" (Galatians 2:11). The first duty of a Catholic is to uphold the faith and save his own soul. As I show in Appendices I and II, there is ample precedent in the history of the Church to show that conflict with the Holy See has sometimes been necessary to achieve these ends. Archbishop Lefebvre has stated on many occasions that all he is doing is to uphold the faith as he received it. Those who condemn him condemn the Faith of their Fathers.

Michael Davies

20 June 1979
St. Silverius, Pope and Martyr.

Si diligis me, Simon Petre.
pasce agnos meos,
Pasce oves meas.


1. Let anyone who doubts this compare the new and old rites of ordination. A detailed comparison has been made in my book The Order of Melchisedech.


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