Open Letter to Confused Catholics
His Grace Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
While presenting in English Archbishop Lefebvre's
recently published book (his only one apart from some collections
of addresses), I feel there is a need also of some words of introduction
to the author himself - so well known by the name, but so little
known as he truly is.
Beginning life in an exemplary Catholic family of
the north of France, Marcel Lefebvre knew his vocation from an early
age. He joined the Holy Ghost Fathers, and, after the usual training,
his life was that of a missionary and seminary professor. It became
recognized that he had, to an exceptional degree, the qualities
of a bishop, and he was promoted to Archbishop of Dakar and eventually
became Apostolic Delegate, the Pope's representative, to all of
French speaking Africa. For six years he was also Superior General
of his Order, the largest of the missionary congregations.
So Archbishop Lefebvre is, first and foremost, a missionary bishop,
and typical of what a bishop should be. His qualities are not showy,
they are those of a Christian ruler, which is what a bishop is:
reliability, straightforwardness, calmness, approachability, with
the capacity for making decisions and sticking to them. Such a man
would never, in ordinary times, have been controversial, he would
have continued administering and inspiring day‑to‑day
work of the missions until his eventual retirement to the position
of "elder statesman." What brought him into the limelight,
and made him an object of opprobrium - or admiration - all over
the Catholic world, is the revolutionary situation in the Church
- it is nothing less - that has been developing since the Second
There is no need for me to enlarge on that situation now: it is
the subject matter of this book, the first part of which is a factual
study of what is going on in the Catholic Church, while in the second
part, the causes of it are examined. Here readers will also find
the answers to their questions about the author's personal involvement.
The Archbishop's wide experience makes his analysis an authoritative
one. His writing has also a quality that may be unexpected, for
all who have only heard about him - it is so eminently reasonable.
If he is a "rebel;" (as we never cease being told!), he
is an uncommonly calm and courteous one. If this comes as a surprise,
it is because he has been given little opportunity to make himself
known. He has been conveniently buried in silence, except when quoted
as an example of obstinate backwardness, by all who are embarrassed
by the accusations he makes, or simply the positions he adopts.
In view of this, the publishing of this book is a belated act of
He causes embarrassment in the manner of the little boy in Hans
Christian Andersen's parable, who alone spoke the obvious truth:
"The Emperor has no clothes!" Among the chorus of satisfaction
at the renewal of the Church by Vatican II, the Archbishop asks
what, precisely, this renewal consists in. And he points out the
facts that can be shown by statistics: the dramatic decline in baptisms,
confirmations and ordinations, in the number of monks and nuns,
and of schools; not to mention the confusion among the faithful,
especially the rising generation, about what Catholic belief is.
In this situation, he asks first and foremost for truthfulness (which
in revolutions is always one of the first casualties)-truthfulness
as to the facts of the present situation, and also with regard to
the established teaching of the Church. He knows that the blurring
with a view to some immediate advantage is disastrous for the faith
of Catholics, and unjust to the others for whose supposed benefit
it is usually done. His frank acceptance of established doctrine
gives the Archbishop's writing another characteristic that one is
grateful for: its perfect clarity. He knows his mind because he
knows what his faith is.
It is likely that some who read these pages will be alerted for
the first time to the extent of the disintegration of the Catholic
Church. If they are shocked into a realization that a revolution
is in progress which, if it continues, will eventually engulf their
parish also, they may nevertheless find some of the Archbishop's
language a little exaggerated: he may seem too absolute. How,
for example, can he calmly dismiss as unfit for Christian ideas
like Liberalism, Religious Liberty and Socialism?
Here, a word of explanation is called for. We must remember that
His grace is writing against the background of France, where ideas
are generally more clear‑cut than they are in Great Britain,
or at any rate, in England. 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 Liberal Party, or of the virtue of liberality, but of that
religious liberalism that exalts human liberty above the claims
of God or of His Church, and which Newman said that it had been
his life's work to combat. It is because Vatican II's Declaration
on Religious Liberty contains phrases that encourage this liberalism
that the Archbishop asks for its revision. Modernism, too, has a
special meaning: not a simple urge to be up‑to‑date,
but the particular system of ideas which was condemned by Pope St.
Pius X on the grounds that, on the pretext of making Revelation
acceptable to the modern mentality, it destroyed the very foundations
of belief in revealed Truth. And while making these clarifications,
we may mention the word "Revolution," as used by the author.
Sometimes he is referring to the French Revolution of 1789, with
its slogan of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"; but he
also, especially in Chapter XV, uses the word to indicate the general
revolt against the Church which made its appearance in some aspects
of the Renaissance, was nurtured by the Freemasons, burst out violently
in 1789, and proceeded to produce Marxist Communism. The same rejection
of God and His Revelation inspires all these.
A Catholic facing the evidence of disintegration presented here
might well be tempted to despair. Archbishop Lefebvre does not despair
because he knows that the Church, despite all appearances, is guaranteed
by Our Lord Jesus Christ as being His chosen representative on earth,
by which He conveys to all men the benefits of the Redemption. It
is this unwavering faith that gives him what is perhaps his outstanding
quality - the courage that was needed to stand firm, isolated, against
the urgent pressures of those who were ready to welcome him with
open arms in return for some simple compromise. So exposed a position
is perilous and, and he has a right to expect the support of the
prayers of those of us who recognize his special service to the
Church: that of training priests and nuns who preserve the tried
traditions that are the foundation on which an eventual, true renewal
can be based.
Though responsibility for the translation is mine, it has been
a team enterprise, which will have its sufficient reward in the
appearanceof the book. Credit for it is due first to Mr. John Noon,
who broke the back of the work, and also, for different sections,
to Mr. Malcolm Potter and to Father Philip M. Stark; and not least
to Mrs. Ann Nott for typing the scripts for printing.
Father Michael Crowdy 1986