An Open Letter to Confused Catholics

His Grace Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre


21. Neither Heretic Nor Schismatic

My statement of November 21, 1974, which triggered off the proceedings of which I have spoken, ended with these words: “In doing so... we are convinced of remaining loyal to the Catholic and Roman Church and to all the successors of Peter, and of being faithful dispensers of the Mysteries of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” When publishing the text, the Osservatore Romano omitted this paragraph. For ten years and more our opponents have been set on casting us out of the Church’s communion by presenting us as not accepting the Pope’s authority. It would be very convenient to turn us into a sect and declare us schismatics. How many times the word schism has been applied to us!

I have not ceased repeating that if anyone separates himself from the Pope, it will not be I. The question comes down to this: the power of the Pope within the Church is supreme, but not absolute and limitless, because it is subordinate to the Divine authority which is expressed in Tradition, Holy Scripture, and the definitions already promulgated by the Church’s magisterium. In fact, the limits of papal power are set by the ends for which it was given to Christ’s Vicar on earth, ends which Pius IX clearly defined in the Constitution Pastor aeternus of the First Vatican Council. So in saying this I am not expressing a personal theory.

Blind obedience is not Catholic; nobody is exempt from responsibility for having obeyed man rather than God if he accepts orders from a higher authority, even the Pope, when these are contrary to the Will of God as it is known with certainty from Tradition. It is true that one cannot envisage such an eventuality when the Papal infallibility is engaged; but this happens only in a limited number of cases. It is an error to think that every word uttered by the Pope is infallible.

Nevertheless, I am not among those who insist or insinuate that Paul VI was a heretic and therefore, by that very fact, no longer Pope.  John Paul I and John Paul II would then not have been legitimately elected.  This is the position of those called “sede-vacantists.”

It has to be admitted that Paul VI has posed a serious problem for the consciences of the faithful. This pontiff has done more harm to the Church than the French Revolution. There are definite acts of his,  such as his signature to Article 7 of the Institutio Generalis of the new Mass, and likewise to the Council’s document on Religious Liberty, that are scandalous. But it is not a simple problem to know whether a Pope can be a heretic. A good many theologians think he can be as a private teacher but not as a teacher of the Universal Church. We have to consider the degree to which the Pope intended to involve his infallibility in cases such as those I have quoted.

Now, we have already been able to perceive that he behaved more like a liberal than as one attached to heresy. In fact, as soon as the danger he risked was brought to his attention, he rendered the text contradictory by adding a formula meaning the contrary of what was already in the draft. A well-known example is the explanatory foreword to the Council’s Constitution Lumen Gentium on collegiality.

Paul VI's liberalism, recognized by his friend Cardinal Daniélou, is sufficient to explain the disasters of his pontificate. The liberal Catholic is two-sided; he is in a state of continual contradiction. He would like to remain a Catholic but he is possessed by a desire to please the world. Can a Pope be a liberal and still remain a Pope? The Church has always severely reprimanded liberal Catholics, but has not always excommunicated them. Another argument put forward by the sede-vacantists is that the exclusion of Cardinals of eighty years and over, and the secret meetings which preceded and organized the last two conclaves render the election of those two Popes invalid. To assert that they were invalid is going too far; doubtful, perhaps. Nevertheless, the subsequent unanimous acceptance of the elections by the Cardinals and the Roman clergy suffices to validate them.  That is the opinion of theologians. 

The reasoning of those who deny that we have a Pope puts the Church in an inextricable situation. The visibility of the Church is too necessary for its existence for it to be possible that God would allow it to disappear for decades. Who would be able to tell us where the future Pope is? How can he be elected if there are no more Cardinals? We detect a schismatic spirit behind those reasonings, and our Society utterly refuses to follow them.  While rejecting Paul VI’s liberalism, we wish to remain attached to Rome and the Successor of St. Peter out of fidelity to his predecessors.

It is obvious that in matters such as religious liberty, eucharistic hospitality as authorized by the new Canon Law, and collegiality considered as the affirmation of two supreme powers within the Church, it is the duty of every priest and every faithful Catholic to refuse obedience.  This resistance must be made public if the evil is public and constitutes a cause of scandal for souls.  This is the reason why, taking our line from St. Thomas Aquinas, Bishop de Castro Mayer and I on November 21, 1983 sent an open letter to Pope John Paul II begging him to denounce the principal causes of the dire situation which is dividing the Church.  All the steps we have taken in private during the last fifteen years had proved unavailing; yet to remain silent would have seemed to make us accomplices in the unsettling of the faithful that is a fact throughout the world.

“Most Holy Father,” we wrote, “it is an urgent matter that this unrest be quieted, because the flock have scattered and the abandoned sheep are following hirelings.  We urge you, for the well-being of the Catholic faith and the salvation of souls, to re-affirm the truths contrary to these errors.” Our cry of alarm was rendered even more urgent by the errors in the new Code of Canon Law, not to say its heresies, and by the ceremonies and speeches marking the fifth centenary of the birth of Martin Luther.

We have had no reply, but we have done what we ought to do. We must not despair as though it were a human undertaking.  The present convulsion will pass away just as all heresies have passed away.  One day a return will have to be made to Tradition: in the Papal authority the powers signified by the tiara must again re-appear; a tribunal for the protection of the truths of faith and morals must be restored permanently, and bishops must regain their powers and their personal initiative.

True apostolic work will have to be freed of all the impediments that now are paralyzing it by obscuring the essentials of the message. Seminaries must be brought back to their true function, religious orders revived, Catholic schools and universities restored by freeing them of secular State curricula. Support must be given to employers’ and workers’ organizations determined to collaborate in a fraternal manner,  respecting the duties and rights of all, and renouncing that social scourge the strike, which is nothing better than a cold war within the nation. It will be necessary, too, to promote civil legislation that is in harmony with the laws of the Church, and to encourage the putting forward of Catholics for public office, who are actuated by the will to guide society towards the official recognition of the social rule of Christ the King.

For, after all, what do we say each day when we pray? “Thy kingdom come,  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And in the Gloria of the Mass? “Thou alone art the Lord, Jesus Christ.”  We sing that, but as soon as we get outside we say, “Oh no, these ideas are out of date: impossible to think of talking about the Kingdom of Christ in the world of today.”  We are living a contradiction.  Are we Christians or not?

Nations are struggling with insoluble difficulties. There is endless war in many areas, and all mankind trembles in contemplating the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe. Solutions are sought that will restore the economy, stabilize money, eliminate unemployment, and make industry prosperous. Well, even from the economic point of view, it is necessary that Christ should reign, because that means the reign of love and of the commandments of God, which ensure a balance in society and bring justice and peace. Is it a Christian attitude to set one's hopes on this or that politician, or combination of parties, in the hope that eventually one program or another will definitely and finally solve our problems, when the one and only Lord is deliberately excluded as if He had nothing to do with human affairs? What sort of a faith have people who live their lives in two compartments with a rigid barrier separating their religion from all their political, professional and other preoccupations? Is not God, who created heaven and earth, able to solve our wretched material and social problems? If you have ever prayed yourself in difficult moments of your life, you will know by experience that He does not give stones when His children ask Him for bread.

The Christian social order is at the opposite pole to the Marxist ideas which, in whatever part of the world they have been applied, have never brought anything but misery, oppression of the weakest, contempt for man, and death. Christian social order respects private property, protects the family against corrupting influences, and encourages large families and the presence of the mother in the home. It allows private enterprise a proper independence, and encourages medium and small businesses. It is in favor of a return to the land and appreciates agriculture as its true value. It supports professional associations, freedom of education, and the protection of the citizens against every form of subversion and revolution.

This Christian order is quite different also from those liberal systems based on the separation of Church and State, whose powerlessness to overcome crises becomes increasingly obvious. How could it be otherwise when they have deliberately cut themselves off from Him who is “the light of men?” How could they muster the energies of their citizens when they have no ideal to put to them beyond prosperity and comfort? They have been able to maintain an iilusion for some time because the people have retained Christian habits of thinking and their rulers have more or less consciously kept some values. But at a time when everything is being questioned, these implicit references to the Will of God fade away. Liberal systems, when they are left to themselves and are no longer motivated by any higher idea, become exhausted and fall an easy prey to subversive ideologies.

To speak, then, of the Christian social order is not to cling to an out-moded past. On the contrary, it is a standpoint for the future which you should not hesitate to adopt. You are not fighting a rear-guard action; you are among those who know what's what because they take their lessons from Him who said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” We have the advantage of possessing the truth. It is not our doing, we must not be conceited about it; but we must act accordingly.  The possession of the truth is the advantage the Church has over error.  It is up to her, helped by the grace of God, to spread it, and not timidly hide it under a bushel.

Still less should it be mingled with falsity, though this is what we are constantly witnessing. I read in L'Osservatore Romano (January 18, 1984) an interesting article by Paolo Befani about the favor shown to socialism by the Vatican.  The author compares the situation in South America and that in Poland, and he writes:

“Leaving aside the situation in Europe, the Church finds herself confronted on the one hand by the situation in the Latin American countries and the influence over them of the U.S.A., and on the other hand by the situation of Poland in the orbit of the Soviet empire. Faced with these two frontiers the Church, which in Vatican II accepted and surpassed the liberal-democratic conquests of the French Revolution, and in her forward march proposes herself as the post-revolution to the Russian Marxist revolution, now offers a solution to the failure of Marxism of which the key idea is a post-Marxist, democratic, Christian-based, self-governing and non-totalitarian socialism.

“The Church's answer to the East is represented by Solidarity, raising the Cross in front of the Lenin ship-yards. Latin America's mistake is to seek the solution in Marxist communism, that is, in a socialism with anti-Christian roots.”

There we have a fine example of liberal illusions, associating contradictory words in the conviction of expressing the truth! It is to these adulterous dreamers obsessed with the idea of marrying the Church to the Revolution that we owe the present chaos in the Christian world which is opening the doors to Communism. Saint Pius X said of the Sillonists, “they hanker for socialism, their eyes fixed on a chimera.” Their successors are continuing to do so.  After Christian Democracy comes Christian Socialism. We shall end up with Christian Atheism!

The solution that we seek must bring the answer not only to the failure of Marxism but also to the failure of Christian Democracy, which no longer needs proof.   There has been more than enough of compromise and of unnatural unions.  What is it we are fishing for in these muddy waters? The Catholic holds the real key-idea; and his duty is to work with all his might, either personally in politics or by his vote, to provide his country with representatives, both at the local and at the national level, who are resolved to re-establish a Christian social order, such as is alone capable of bringing peace, justice and true liberty.  There is no other solution.


To Chapter 20

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