A Lay Perspective on the Episcopal Elephant in the Traditional Catholic Room

Source: District of Australia and New Zealand

An article written by David Massey and Michael Massey.

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski’s recent article for LifeSite entitled ‘Why Vatican II cannot simply be forgotten, but must be remembered with shame and repentance’ provides an interesting perspective on the controversial council and those engaged in the debate surrounding it. Dr. Kwasniewski is to be commended for wading into the dangerous waters of Vatican II criticism, but what is notable about the article is not what it contains, however, but rather what it omits. Dr. Kwasniewski wrote:

Most of those who have “responded” to Viganò have, to varying degrees, walked right past the most important questions. It’s as if they’ve arrived very late to a party where an in-depth conversation has been going on for a long time — in this case, ever since Dietrich von Hildebrand’s The Trojan Horse in the City of God and Romano Amerio’s Iota Unum, down to Henry Sire’s Phoenix from the Ashes and Roberto de Mattei’s The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story — and they burst in with observations that were taken up and thrashed out hours before. After an awkward pause, the conversation resumes among the serious participants, while the interrupters stroll away for a cocktail, feeling satisfied that they’ve 'made their point.' Alas, it was beside the point; it didn’t advance the discussion, but merely interrupted it.

As insightful as these authors have been and as vital as their works are to understanding Vatican II and the errors which sprang from it, all of these men wrote in the shadow of the most outspoken and authoritative critic of Vatican II, the episcopal elephant in the Traditional Catholic room – Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Dr. Kwasniewski rightly gives credit to Archbishop Viganò for “re-igniting” the debate on Vatican II, yet there is another figure even more deserving of credit – the one who ignited the debate. When discussing the most insightful critics of Vatican II it is remiss to avoid mention of Archbishop Lefebvre whose insights into the council revealed the inconsistencies, errors and legacies of the Council – these same errors onto which Archbishop Vigano has again thrown the spotlight. Indeed, the Archbishop was the first person to arrive at the ‘party’ described by Dr. Kwasniewski. One might even say that Lefebvre is the party’s host. To this day he remains the most imposing and significant presence at it, even if the latest guests are reluctant to even whisper his name. Dr. Taylor Marshall is one of the few recent “converts” (for lack of a better term) to the traditional Catholic movement who is not afraid to openly acknowledge that the traditional movement is the child of Archbishop Lefebvre. Because of his significance, the virtue of justice, therefore, demands that Archbishop Lefebvre be acknowledged.

Von Hildebrand’s Trojan Horse in the City of God was published in 1967, Amerio’s Iota Unum in 1985, de Mattei’s The Second Vatican Council – An Unwritten Story in 2010, and Sire’s Phoenix From the Ashes in 2015. Even before Von Hildebrand’s insightful work was published, Archbishop Lefebvre, along with Cardinal Ottaviani, was already engaged in the fight against Vatican II and its errors from deep within the Council itself, both men being Council Fathers. In 1966 Archbishop Lefebvre wrote to Cardinal Ottaviani:

In a more or less general way, when the Council has introduced innovations, it has unsettled the certainty of truths taught by the authentic Magisterium of the Church as unquestionably belonging to the treasure of Tradition.[1]

54 years later, Archbishop Lefebvre’s words have found an echo in Archbishop Viganò’s recent criticisms of the Council.

While Viganò is to be applauded for his courageous analysis of the Council (which has brought this debate into the mainstream), Viganò is largely repeating conclusions that Archbishop Lefebvre predicted and warned about long ago. He is the cover band playing Archbishop Lefebvre’s greatest hits (though he sounds almost as good as the original). While his episcopal colleagues remained ignorant of the Council’s errors, remained silent out of a misguided obedience, or actively enabled the Council’s errors and its prevailing ‘spirit’, Archbishop Lefebvre was one of the first, and certainly the most prominent Churchman to tell the emperor Council that it had no clothes. Viganò has the benefit of hindsight when critiquing Vatican II, whereas Archbishop Lefebvre had the gift of foresight. All those now praising or defending Viganò should have the intellectual honesty to acknowledge this fact and admit that Archbishop Lefebvre was right from the beginning. Vatican II is dangerous. It contains errors and ambiguities which led the Church to the brink of liturgical, doctrinal and moral destruction.

The pagan idolatry of the Amazonian Synod adduced universal outrage among the traditional Catholic movement, yet the first prelate to decry idolatry at the feet of the Roman Pontiff was not Archbishop Viganò, nor was it Bishop Schneider. Rather, it was Archbishop Lefebvre in 1986. He decried the sacrileges of the Assisi World Day of Prayer under Pope John Paul II, in which the pope encouraged prayers to pagan deities, and a pagan idol was placed upon the tabernacle of the Church of San Pietro. In response to the sacrilege of Assisi Archbishop Lefebvre stated:

No, this is a scandal, a public blasphemy: think of the Catholic missionaries in Africa who saw on television the representatives of the animist religions praying in Assisi at the Pope’s invitation.... In what spirit will they be able to continue their arduous work of evangelization among the populations who follow those pagan rituals? If salvation is possible even without conversion to Christ in the Church, and while continuing to adore one’s own false gods, what sense does mission work make?

While Viganò has been praised among the traditional Catholic movement for calling upon the Pope to make reparation for the Amazonian idolatry, Archbishop Lefebvre was pilloried for his opposition to John Paul II’s similarly sacrilegious Assisi meeting. If Archbishop Viganò was correct in decrying the Amazonian idolatry, one must recognize that Archbishop Lefebvre was correct in his denunciation of the Assisi sacrilege.

Long before Viganò exposed the ‘equivocal’, ‘intentionally imprecise’ and ‘subversive’ language of the Council, Lefebvre had already warned the Church decades before:

Innumerable propositions [from the council] contain ambiguities because in reality the doctrine of those who drafted them is not traditional Catholic doctrine, but a new doctrine, made up of a mixture of Nominalism, Modernism, Liberalism and Teilhardism.[2]

Before Viganò questioned the destructive ideals of religious liberty, collegiality and ecumenism, Lefebvre had already exposed their dangers and logical consequences.

Lefebvre foresaw that the religious liberty of the Council would result in the destruction of the Church’s missionary ideal:

Why go to the missions if all religions are good, if each one is free to have his own religion? Therefore one can no longer preach the Gospel; It is no longer possible to be a missionary. This declaration of religious liberty is a text that ruins the Church, which is in the process of being ruined in its most solid foundations because it is the ruin of the missionary spirit and the ruin of all Catholic states, of all Catholic societies.[3]

Lefebvre saw that the collegiality espoused by the Council was a novelty, not grounded in Tradition, that would destroy the principle of authority and attack the Primacy of Peter:

Now, this principle of collegiality goes exactly counter to this authority, in creating councils, synods, priest senates, episcopal conferences, which make it so that authority practically, morally, can no longer act alone, even if physically it still can. It can no longer practically because it knows that it risks having considerable difficulties put up against it if it does not employ this means. The bishop no longer can do anything without his priest senate, the pastor can no longer do anything without his parish council, the Pope can no longer do anything practically if he does not consult the synod or the episcopal conferences.[4]

Lefebvre predicted the logical consequence of the pastoral and ecumenical reforms initiated following the Council:

All these changes [post Council reforms] have but one justification… an aberrant senseless ecumenism that will not attract a single Protestant to the Faith, but will cause countless Catholics to lose it, and will instill total confusion into the minds of many more, who will no longer know what is true and what is false.[5]

In addition to the theological battles which Archbishop Lefebvre fought he also engaged in the most bitter of struggles over the liturgy. Lefebvre fought valiantly to retain the ancient and sacred traditional Latin Mass. He was persecuted and suffered an unjust latae sententiae excommunication in his pursuit to preserve the Mass outlawed by Pope Paul VI. Archbishop Lefebvre died while fighting this battle, a battle from which he would posthumously emerge victorious with the publication of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Summorum Pontificum. Where were Lefebvre’s multitude of detractors (and those who choose simply to ignore him) ready with their contrite apologies when Benedict XVI confirmed that Lefebvre was right all along in his opposition to Paul VI’s illegal and immeasurably harmful ‘abrogation’ (de facto if not de jure) of the traditional Latin Mass?

This battle over the liturgy is one which Archbishop Viganò has not had to fight, because before him Archbishop Lefebvre had already fought the good fight and preserved the traditional Latin Mass and emerged victorious. Archbishop Lefebvre’s actions permeate every aspect of today’s traditional Catholic movement, from its theological arguments to its liturgical core and for this, in justice, he deserves more credit than he is given.

Viganò stands tall, arguably tallest, among the princes of the Church today, but he stands upon the shoulders of a giant. Justice demands that Archbishop Lefebvre be acknowledged as the one who forged the traditional Catholic movement, the foremost defender of Catholic doctrine of our age, and the most penetrating theological critic of Vatican II.

Cardinal Silvio Oddi visited the tomb of Archbishop Lefebvre shortly after Lefebvre’s death in 1991. After kneeling in prayer in front of the Archbishop for some time, before leaving, he stood tall and said clearly for all to hear, “Merci, Monseigneur.” Let us say likewise and acknowledge that the very traditional Catholic movement of today, with all the liturgical and theological positions it entails, is built upon the foundation laid by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Merci, Monseigneur.


See also Archbishop Viganò's praise of Archbishop Lefebvre.


[1]Archbishop Lefebvre, Marcel, I Accuse the Council! (Angelus Press, 1982) p 102.

[2]Ibid, p 84.

[3]Archbishop Lefebvre, Marcel, Liberalism (Angelus Press, 1980) p 8.

[4]Ibid, p 9.

[5]Davies, Michael, Liturgical Time Bombs in Vatican II (TAN Books, 2003) p 66.