this second installment, The Angelus continues its series
of excerpts from "Vatican Encounter: Conversations
with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre" by José Hanu.
SUPERFICIAL, EVEN A FALSE, IMAGE
Hanu: Some of your enemies continue to repeat that
you are the son of a textile industrialist from Tourcoing.
Marcel Lefebvre: I could have been the son of a farmer,
a lawyer, a miner, a deep-sea fisherman, etc. Do I owe my parents
to accident, as you might term it, or to Providence, as I prefer
to see it? In any case, these are the facts: I belong to an industrial
family from the North. Is this a taint?
Hanu: A socio-political taint! Many "progressive"
Catholics who believe that the family environment conditions the
individual seem to think so anyhow. I have even heard one of them
say that, given your origins, you are "congenitally and therefore
irreparably reactionary." ln short, unredeemable. To buttress
his case the man brandished all sorts of clichés which contain some
truth and which you know so well.
from the region of Lille, Roubaix and Tourcoing built their fortune
on the labour of twelve-year-old children who have to work in their
factories bare-chested and bare-footed in the stifling and humid
atmosphere of the textile mills. Those industrialists take out insurance
against Hell by obliging their workmen to arrive five minutes early
for work so that they can recite a "Hail Mary" and protect
themselves against revolutionary atheism by regularly exacting what
they call "letters of confession" from their workers,
which are proof that they are being taken in hand by a clergy devoted
Those are the
industrialists who had children by the dozen, and whose wealth,
amassed from the toil of poor people, was so great that they could
give a "chimney" - that is, a plant, to every one of their
sons, and a "brick," that is, a million francs, to each
of their daughters.
Marcel Lefebvre: Let's be serious! Somewhere in the
past, this picture may have had the semblance of truth. But to be
rightly understood, it has to be put into historical context and
completed. Even if some of the industrialists from Lille-Roubaix-Tourcoing
have behaved in this manner, many others had displayed remarkable
social concern. There are many witnesses to this.
profession of woolweaver, as my father's was, has always been hazardous
because it is closely related to the fluctuations of the market.
And how many men, some of them most competent and most prudent,
have not fallen by the wayside in this venture? I know what I am
talking about because my own father found that be was ruined in
1929, the year of my ordination. My young brothers still remember
how our parents tried to protect from seizure their furniture and
other family possessions. During those trying times, my father and
mother behaved admirably.
I take great
pride also in insisting that they led exemplary lives in every way,
especially religious, civic and social. They could not have been
like that, if their ideas had not been diametrically opposed to
what you have just described.
Hanu: It is true, Excellency, your parents were quite
unusual Catholics. That is why I wanted to learn their views before
I questioned you. From many points of view, theirs were saintly
lives. I am not going to ask you to tell me about yourself. On the
one hand, family modesty will prevent you from telling everything
and on the other hand, one might believe that your love for your
father and mother might transfigure them. However, because I think
that character or action or a vocation are determined to a certain
extent by the family environment, I find it necessary to speak of
your parents. I shall therefore tell you what I learned. Please
correct me, if my information is wrong.
It was easy
for me to learn the memory your parents left with their fellow citizens,
for they were typical of certain Catholic couples of the past (I
am a child of such myself), for whom the idea of duty dominated
everything: religious duty, patriotic duty, duty toward the state,
duty toward the family. And it must be stated here that this sense
of duty was common to Northern families, workers and middle class
alike. Naturally, the lives of your father and mother were tied
together inseparably, but for greater clarity I shall recall them
I can easily
picture your father. I am not at all surprised to hear that he,
the head of an enterprise, got up early in the morning to attend
the six o'clock Mass, receive Holy Communion and recite a decade
of the rosary, and went to work ahead of any of his employees: he
was far from being the only one to behave like that.
It was normal,
too, that he should be the last to leave the workshop and the office
and that he would lead the evening family prayer, kneeling before
a crucifix, just before the younger children were sent to bed. There
was no scarcity of small children: your father gave your mother
eight of them. With many other Catholic families in the North in
those days, they considered a large family a gift from God.
To your father's
religious profile, already quite pronounced I should say, two other
traits must be added.
At age eighteen,
your father had joined the stretcher-bearers of Notre Dame de Lourdes,
and never abandoned this helpful mission. He also joined the Third
Order of St. Francis, and thus wore a scapular to recall the hard
rules of that order which he had vowed to follow in part. He wanted
to be "one of the best Children of Mary" and he certainly
imposed great sacrifices upon himself "to merit Heaven."
Today this seems like a dream, but it was a fact. I have to repeat,
furthermore, that the case of your father was not an isolated one.
War I broke out in 1914, he was only thirty-five years old but he
already had six children, which brought him exemption from frontline
duty. He should have been glad about it but, instead, he felt ashamed.
After the first
battle in nearby Belgium, he joined a society for injured war veterans.
At the wheel of his own automobile, he crossed the French and German
lines several times to collect, under fire, the most seriously wounded
French and Allied soldiers and to transport them to the military
hospital at Tourcoing.
After the Germans
occupied Tourcoing, he organized the evacuation of English prisoners
and helped the Belgian secret service. Finally, in January of 1915,
when he heard that his exhausted country was mobilizing new recruits,
he went to Paris, hoping that he could enlist in the regiment in
which he had served once before. It was in vain: in the eyes of
the recruiters six children were reason enough to stay out of battle.
Since he spoke
English and German fluently (as, by the way, most of the Northern
industrialists did), he presented himself to the secret service.
For the rest of the war, he was one of their most active liaison
agents for the Intelligence branch. He had taken the name of Lefort,
constantly scurrying between England and France, Belgium and Holland,
and, of course, constantly in danger of his life.
Such a valiant
man was not going to give in when, eleven years later, misfortune
struck. He repeated with Job: "God has given me everything,
God has taken everything, praised be the name of God," but
he also professed: "Help yourself and God will help you.” He
succeeded in reestablishing himself, with "the help of Providence,"
as he used to say regularly.
At the end
of the second war there was another occupation. He was sixty-two
years old, but where would he be found? In the service of France,
of course. But his patriotism proved to be fatal for him. The Germans,
who had put him under surveillance, distrusted him more than anyone
else: arrest, trial and deportation to Sonnenburg followed, and
finally death. His comrades in captivity reported his extraordinary
courage in the midst of indescribable privations, under the fists
of his jailers and, even, of his male nurses, in a repugnant cell.
They told, above all, how his unshakeable faith was of immense help
to all those around him.
father was allowed to write from prison to his family. Your family
was good enough to let me see the text of a letter he wrote on September
9, 1941. This document in some way constitutes his testament. Here
are the most moving passages:
awaiting the hour of Providence. What is certain is that here we
are gaining some small merits and getting a good foretaste of Purgatory.
I am sorry for those who are in my circumstances but lack the comfort
were terrible moments, but I have felt God's help. I could see that
I was helped in the moments when I felt the lowest. For all this,
I thank God. Suffering purifies.
“It will be
a great sacrifice not to be able to see my children before I die.
I bless them with all my heart and confide them to Our Lady, the
Virgin Mary, who was so good to me. She loves my family, who will
always remain consecrated to her and who will always seek through
her the extension of the reign of her Divine Son."
The life of
your father, Excellency, was thus an exemplary one for a Christian
and a patriot. I cannot help thinking that his example had far-reaching
effects on you. For there are many similarities between you and
this scrupulous and ardent Catholic; that fighter that Resistance
man who never gave in to the enemy not even when the enemy seemed
to triumph - that obstinate man who accepted adversity without bowing
devotion to the Virgin Mary and to what you mystically seem to call
the reign of Christ, one has the impression that this last message
still lives in you as vibrant and as clear as when you received
it thirty-five years ago.
AND MORAL STRICTNESS
the members of your family have confided to me without prodding,
the extreme moral strictness of your father was often very difficult
for the young people. His severity may have been excessive.
Marcel Lefebvre: Why talk about strictness and severity?
We should rather call it "austerity." But an austerity
which was mellowed and - oh, how much - refined by a perfect family
life! It was a perfect union which the family members still remember
- all the brothers and sisters who are still living - across the
abyss of fifty years!
Hanu: That severity of your father, it is true, did
not lead the children to rebellion, not to a nervous breakdown,
nor to vice.
Marcel Lefebvre: Look at this family photo: Five
of the children became priests or nuns, all happy in their
lives consecrated to God, whereas a "modern" psychiatrist,
looking at a person of such background and education, would probably
have sworn that they all left the house, slamming the door behind
them, to embrace drugs and prostitution!
As for the
others, established in the world, you have been able to assume yourself
that they are not alienated. When we were young, all Catholic children
were educated in the same manner, whereas, today, families who still
have the courage to have their offspring so educated find themselves
pitched into a climate so permissive that it often undermines their
efforts or even nullifies them.
It can therefore
happen that the son of a Catholic who is "rigid" finds
himself encouraged by his friends, or by a teacher in high school,
or by modern Catholic literature, to revolt, and that this revolt
leads him to the worst degradation. But the environment, not the
parent; is to blame for this.
I referred to certain high school teachers and modern Catholic literature,
for the spectacle of our times is that the teaching clergy, whose
mission is to put backbone into characters and souls, have permitted
themselves to be led astray or have even gone halfway to perversion.
Today, "authority" is always wrong, especially when vested
in a person. And the atmosphere, since we are, above all, people
steeped in Christianity, is gravely affected by this situation.
You will now understand why I bless the "rigorism" - the
severity of the home where I first saw the light of the world.
SHALL DIE A MONARCHIST
Hanu: But your father was a dyed-in-the-wool monarchist,
wasn't he? The letter I cited does not make any bones about it:
good courage and patience, for the situation will clear up and we
shall have good days for Our Dear Country, returned to its beautiful
traditions, which the disorder will have reduced to ruin.
that I am dying a Catholic, a Frenchman and a monarchist. For I
think that it is only with the establishment of Christian monarchies
that Europe and the world can retain their stability and true peace."
Maybe it is
here, in the piety of the son or in the piety of the family, that
one could find an explanation of some of the passages of your sermon
at Lille, which has astonished so many people? I have an exact transcript
of that sermon. May I quote some excerpts?
the theses and the principles of liberal Catholicism are officially
accepted. And what did the liberal Catholics desire for the last
century and a half, if not the marriage of the Church to the Revolution?
This is the reason why, for a century and a half, the Supreme Pontiffs
have condemned liberal Catholicism: they have refused to bless the
marriage with those who worship Reason, who sent priests to the
scaffold and persecuted nuns. Remember the prison ships of Nantes,
where the faithful priests were crammed together to send them to
is what the Revolution did. But let me tell you, my dear brethren,
what the Revolution did was nothing compared to what Vatican II
did by espousing liberalism. It would have been much better if the
40,000 or 50,000 priests who abandoned the cassock all over the
world, who have gone back on their vows before God, would have died
as martyrs, had gone to the gallows. At least they would have gained
their souls! Now they risk losing them.
of Church and Revolution is adulterous. And from such an adulterous
union, nothing but bastards can come forth. And who or what are
the bastards? Our rites. The rite of the Mass is a bastard rite!
. . . "
I have to admit
that your choice of words - "bastard" seemed bold to
me, but it also struck me as very well chosen. It gives me a certain
exhilaration. But there is this spectre of liberalism. M. Giscard
d'Estaing speaks of "advanced literalism," that spectre,
above all, of the Revolution. Are you too a royalist? A belated
royalist? Because the Revolution has done a lot of damage, but it
has permitted the breakup of feudalism, and feudalism, especially
in the social field, had few elements that were Christian.
Marcel Lefebvre: Yes, my father was a monarchist
but I do not think that this constitutes a blemish. As far as I
am concerned, I have never lent my name to any kind of political
party whatever. Besides, the example of so many monarchs who betrayed
their mission, as have so many bishops, certainly does not encourage
one to be a monarchist! In the meantime this is the fact and we
cannot deny it: the Church is a monarchy.
As far as my
sermon at Lille is concerned, it was an echo of what all the Sovereign
Pontiffs have always alleged, and that which they always have condemned,
except since Vatican II. That's why the sermon was Catholic, not
certainly abuses to be reformed in 1889, but there is a wide abyss
between those reforms and destroying religion itself and, furthermore,
tearing down kings because they upheld religion. The last Council
has acted in nearly the same fashion, but in order to put through
some useful reforms it has gone in search of the leading principles
of liberalism. And these principles, logically enough, have given
the deathblow to the Church.
To get back
to my father, do you think he asked, while he was risking his life
in 1914 to save the wounded, "Are you a royalist?" And
that he abandoned those who were not? Many of the people who testified
with great emotion to the physical and moral help he gave them in
the German Sonnenburg Prison held political opinions, which were
diametrically opposed to his.
is one fact, which is of special significance for his social ideas:
In 1920 he entered the city council of Tourcoing, where he remained
to the day of his arrest in 1941. Would one have had confidence
in him for so many years, especially during the major social trouble
which marked that period, if he were not a just man and profoundly
human? In fact - and all opinions tend to agree on this point -
he was a moderate and tender man. Considering himself a brother
in Jesus Christ to his fellowmen, he thought that he had to set
an example to his brethren, whatever the cost. This is undoubtedly
the most beautiful lesson he could give me and I shall remember
it to my dying days in my heart and in my spirit.
Hanu: Here is an interesting question: Did your father
conform at the time of the Vatican's censure of Action Française?
Look how history is written! My father had monarchist convictions
but he was far too levelheaded to get involved in the Action Française!
What a pity for my enemies!
I, Part II, Part
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