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Monday, November 13, 2023

Archbishop Lefebvre and the Rupture Between the Synodal Church and the Catholic Church

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Archbishop Lefebvre and the Rupture Between the Synodal Church and the Catholic Church

“[W]e have never wished to belong to this system which calls itself the Conciliar Church, and defines itself with the Novus Ordo Missæ, an ecumenism which leads to indifferentism and the laicization of all society. . . We ask for nothing better than to be declared out of communion with this adulterous spirit which has been blowing in the Church for the last 25 years . . . We believe in the One God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and we will always remain faithful to His unique Spouse, the One Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church.” (SSPX District Superiors, Open Letter to Cardinal Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, July 6, 1988)


In his 1990 letter to Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, Archbishop Lefebvre described the apparent rupture between the Conciliar Church and the Catholic Church:

“[B]ecause the Conciliar Church, having now reached everywhere, is spreading errors contrary to the Catholic Faith and, as a result of these errors, it has corrupted the sources of grace, which are the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments. This false Church is in an ever-deeper state of rupture with the Catholic Church. Resulting from these principles and facts is the absolute need to continue the Catholic episcopacy in order to continue the Catholic Church.” (Letter to Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, December 4, 1990)

These are strong words, and those who revere John Paul II would presumably take issue with the characterization of the Conciliar Church he oversaw as a “false Church” in an “ever-deeper state of rupture with the Catholic Church.” Earlier in 1990, Archbishop Lefebvre expressed similar ideas about the so-called Conciliar Church in his short book addressed to the priests and seminarians of the Society of St. Pius X, Spiritual Journey:

“The Secretariat for the Unity of Christians by favoring the granting of mutual concessions — dialogue — leads to the destruction of the Catholic Faith, the destruction of the Catholic priesthood, and the elimination of the power of Peter and of the bishops. . . . For as long as the Secretariat keeps the false ecumenism as its orientation and Roman ecclesiastical authorities approve it, we can affirm that they remain in open, official rupture with all the past of the Church and with its official Magisterium. It is, therefore, a strict duty for every priest wanting to remain Catholic to separate himself from this Conciliar Church for as long as it does not rediscover the Tradition of the Church and of the Catholic Faith.” (p. 13)

This last sentence is arguably one of Archbishop Lefebvre’s most contentious statements, but it is certainly compatible with the practical relationship of the SSPX to the anti-Catholic “spirit of Vatican II,” especially when we recognize that he was not advancing a sedevacantist position. Still, it is reasonable to ask whether he meant something more: did he truly see the “Conciliar Church” as a separate church from the “Catholic Church”?

God will eventually intervene to crush the Synodal Church, which is essentially the Conciliar Church having come out of the closet.

In his 2013 interview with Angelus Press, Fr. Michel Gleize, professor of theology at the seminary of Econe, addressed the question of whether the expression “Conciliar Church” implies an institution distinct from the Catholic Church. Fr. Gleize argued that the existence of a “Conciliar Church,” that was truly a distinct institution, would lead to untenable conclusions:

“If I follow your logic to the end, I must conclude that the conciliar Church exists therefore as a schismatic sect formally different from the Catholic Church. Therefore, all its members are materially at least schismatic, including all those who have rejoined it; they are outside the Church; one cannot give them the sacraments until they have publicly recanted; the conciliar popes are anti-popes; if we are the Catholic Church either we have no pope (and then where is our visible character?), or else we have one (and then who is it and is he the Bishop of Rome?).”

Fr. Gleize elaborated by saying that such a situation — in which the Church would be “habitually deprived of her head” — “is an absurdity and contrary to the promises of indefectibility.” On this point. Fr. Gleize quoted Archbishop Lefebvre’s October 5, 1978 conference in Econe:

“One of the reasons the founder of the Society of St. Pius X could rely on to reject the sedevacantist hypothesis was that ‘the matter of the visibility of the Church is too essential to its existence for God to be able to do without it for decades; the reasoning of those who assert the non-existence of the pope places the Church in an insoluble situation.’”

Thus, according to Fr. Gleize’s interview, because the visibility of the Church is essential to the Church’s indefectibility, one cannot go down the path of seeing the Conciliar Church as a truly separate church.

The SSPX’s Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais also addressed this topic in 2013 and concluded, among other things, that “formally considered the conciliar church is a sect which occupies the Catholic Church”:

“From all that has been said, it is clear that the conciliar church is not only a sickness, nor a theory, but that it is an association of high ranking catholic Churchmen inspired by liberal and modernist thinkers, who want, according to the goals of the one worlders, to bring to fruition a new type of church, with many Catholic priests and faithful won over by this ideal. It is not a pure association of victims. Formally considered the conciliar church is a sect which occupies the Catholic Church.”

Bishop Tissier acknowledged that the existence of two churches could be viewed as confirming the sedevacantist position, but responded that Prima sedes a nemine judicatur’ (the Apostolic See is judged by no one):

“If the Pope directs another church, he is an apostate and he is no longer pope and the sedevacantist hypothesis is verified. – We simply need to respond that Prima sedes a nemine judicatur’ and that by consequence, no authority can pronounce obstinacy, declaring the pertinacity of a sovereign Pontiff in error or deviance; and that on the other hand in case of doubt, the Church supplies at least the executive power of the apparent Pope (can. 209 of the Code of Canon law 1917 4).”

Bishop Tissier separately offered another way in which to avoid impugning the Church’s teaching on indefectibility (discussed below), but for present purposes we should note his observations about how to potentially evade the difficulty of having the same hierarchy for two distinct churches:

“One could thus try to deny the existence of the conciliar church as an organised society and which is directed by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, or to extenuate the membership of its adherents to this conciliar church.”

Thus, if we combine Fr. Gleize’s arguments with those of Bishop Tissier, we can see at least three potential ways to avoid the sedevacantist conclusion:

  • If the Conciliar Church is not actually an institution distinct from the Catholic Church;
  • If the Conciliar Church is not actually directed by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church; and/or
  • If the membership of the Conciliar Church could be reduced to simply a material (as opposed to formal) membership for most adherents.

On this latter point, which is far from intuitive, Bishop Tissier provided the following elaboration:

“On the other hand, if one accepts the image of a society, a counterfeit church, yet while wishing to avoid affirming its [actual] existence, [then] one could reduce the membership of most of its adherents to a simple material [as opposed to formal] membership, from the fact that most of the members follow the movement by conformity, without knowing or sharing the goals of the conciliar church, which would be almost void of real members and reduced to the state of a phantom in that which concerns the members, and to a skeleton when it comes to the hierarchy.”

Thus, if the Conciliar Church has almost no real members, it may not actually exist. In any case, the relevant points to draw from the observations of Bishop Tissier and Fr. Gleize are that (a) the existence of an actual Conciliar Church (truly distinct from the Catholic Church) poses some difficulties, but (b) there are certain factors about the actual characteristics of the so-called Conciliar Church that could resolve those difficulties.

One way or another, though, God wins and those who remain faithful to His Church will share in that victory.

With that in mind, it is stunning to consider that Francis has designed and promoted his Synodal Church to apparently thwart the possible avenues to avoiding the serious difficulties presented by the Conciliar Church. As discussed in a previous article, Francis and the Synodal architects have taken several highly visible steps to convince us that they have attempted to create a different church:

  • Francis himself described the objective of the Synodal process as an attempt to “create a different church.”
  • Francis and the Synodal leaders now refer to that different church as the “Synodal Church.”
  • The Synodal documents indicate that the membership of the Synodal Church includes all baptized souls, which includes those who reject the Catholic Church’s fundamental teachings.
  • The Synodal Church has abandoned Catholic Tradition both in its content and in the manner of discovering and preserving it, replacing it with a process of “listening” to heretics to discover what they want the Synodal Church to be.
  • Francis and the Synodal leaders routinely attack the immutable Catholic Faith as rigid and backwards, making it clear that their process involves a departure from that set of religious beliefs.
  • Similarly, Francis openly attacks those who adhere to what the Church has always taught — by limiting the Traditional Latin Mass, berating Traditional Catholics, and persecuting faithful clerics — which emphasizes the distinction between the Synodal Church and what it seeks to eclipse.
  • All of this has been imposed throughout the world in a very visible manner for over two years, such that even non-Catholics can understand that Francis is creating a new church.

Thus, each of the potential arguments presented above to address the problems related to the Conciliar Church do not appear to apply to the Synodal Church. Indeed, it is almost as if Francis and Satan read the 2013 assessments of the Conciliar Church from Bishop Tissier and Fr. Gleize and learned what they needed to do to make it unambiguously clear that they were creating a new church — the Synodal Church — that is in complete rupture with the Catholic Church. Now what?

It is worth considering two additional points Bishop Tissier made in his study. The first point, which is by no means universally accepted, seems to propose a more limited scope of indefectibility (which he suggests with two separate passages):

  • “And as for the indefectibility of the Church it does not hinder the fact that it can come to be that the Church, following a great apostasy as that announced by St. Paul (2 Thess, 2,3), is reduced to a modest number of true Catholics.”
  • “And beside this vulgar conciliar church, what remains of the Catholic Church? We respond that, even reduced to the modest number the sane faithful comprising its ‘healthy part,’ and perhaps one only faithful bishop, as may be the case according to Father Emmanuel, of the Church at the end of time, the Catholic Church remains the Catholic Church.”

To this we can add a passage from Archbishop Lefebvre’s Spiritual Journey:

“The current Pope and bishops no longer hand down Our Lord Jesus Christ, but rather a sentimental, superficial, charismatic religiosity, through which, as a general rule, the true grace of the Holy Ghost no longer passes. This new religion is not the Catholic religion; it is sterile, incapable of sanctifying society and the family. One single thing is necessary for the continuation of the Catholic Church: fully Catholic bishops, who make no compromise with error, who found Catholic seminaries, where young candidates for the priesthood can nourish themselves with the milk of true doctrine, placing Our Lord Jesus Christ at the center of intellects, of their wills, of their hearts; who have a living faith, profound charity, a devotion without bounds, uniting them to Our Lord.” (p. ix)

While we do not necessarily need to read this in a manner that harmonizes with Bishop Tissier’s words above, it is certainly possible to do so. If our understanding of indefectibility — and thus our conviction that God truly established and protects the Catholic Church — hinges upon Francis not being a formal heretic, then this more modest appreciation of what the Church needs for its continuation could eventually be of some comfort. 

Until then, this great crisis is an opportunity for faithful Catholics to demonstrate their love for God in a special way, by fighting the enemies of the Faith and striving to do all we can to become saints.

Bishop Tissier’s second point is even more consoling. After warning that we can make ourselves perpetually “unhappy and worried” if we are always looking for a solution to the crisis, he suggests a more peaceful path:

“If on the other hand we have the faith and simplicity of a child we will look simply for what witness we can give to the Catholic faith. And we will find that it is first the witness of our existence, of our permanence, of our stability, as well as the profession of our Catholic faith whole and entire and our refusal of the conciliar errors and reforms. A witness is absolute. If I give witness to the Catholic Mass, to Christ the King, I must abstain from conciliar Masses and doctrines. It is like the grain of incense to the Idols; it is one grain or no grains at all. Therefore it is ‘not at all.’ And after this witness there is also persecution, which is normal on the part of the enemies of this faith, who want to reduce to nothing our diametrical opposition to the new religion, and this will go on for as long as it pleases God that they persevere in their perverse plans. Is it not God himself who put this enmity between the race of the devil and the children of Mary?”

This is the pure Catholic faith we need now more than ever. God will eventually intervene to crush the Synodal Church, which is essentially the Conciliar Church having come out of the closet. Perhaps that will involve the remaining faithful bishops taking concrete action to resolve the crisis; one way or another, though, God wins and those who remain faithful to His Church will share in that victory. Until then, this great crisis is an opportunity for faithful Catholics to demonstrate their love for God in a special way, by fighting the enemies of the Faith and striving to do all we can to become saints. We cannot afford to lose any time doing this. Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!

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Last modified on Monday, November 13, 2023
Robert Morrison | Remnant Columnist

Robert Morrison is a Catholic, husband and father. He is the author of A Tale Told Softly: Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Hidden Catholic England.