Archbishop Lefebvre’s Eyewitness Testimony to the Church Revolution

At the recommendation of my husband, I have just read a 1982 conference given in Montreal, Canada by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre – the founder of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) – as it had been translated into English in 1992 by the Fideliter Magazine and as it has just recently been re-published and commented upon by Dr. Peter Chojnowski, a former student of my husband and a friend of our family, on his own blog, RadTradThomist. (Since Dr. Chojnowski has made his own emphases and comments in the text, I have decided to make use of the original text as it has been published by the SSPX itself. I would highly recommend to our readers to read the full 20 pages of this 1982 conference.)

In this 1982 conference, Archbishop Lefebvre tries to describe and explain some of the developments – before, during, and after the Second Vatican Council – which clearly show the growing power and influence of Liberalism and Modernism within the Catholic Church, even up to the pope. What may well be striking for readers of today are two things. First: there are to be seen some strong parallels between that period of time and our own, especially with regard to the personnel decisions made by some popes and the very effective strategies used by the Modernists. Second: one may grow in a deeper understanding of the purposes of Archbishop Lefebvre as of 1982, early in the reign of Pope John Paul II and before the ecumenical event in Assisi in 1986.

At the same time, this presentation of events – as Archbishop Lefebvre recounts them based on his own experiences and conversations – gives us, as I believe, a deeper understanding of some of the surrounding historical events. They might help us to understand why our beloved Church is right now in such a weakened condition and why it would not be sufficient for us just to wish to return to the optimistically imagined state of the Church before the papacy of Pope Francis. This Lefebvre conference might also be of interest in the context of the debate which has been recently started by Professor de Mattei’s strong words about the Second Vatican Council. He said:

On the historical level, however, Vatican II constitutes a non-decomposable block: It has its own unity, its essence, its nature. Considered in its origins, its implementation and consequences, it can be described as a Revolution in mentality and language, which has profoundly changed the life of the Church, initiating a moral and religious crisis without precedent. If the theological judgment may be vague and comprehensive, the judgment of history is merciless and without appeal. The Second Vatican Council was not only unsuccessful or a failure: it was a catastrophe for the Church. [my emphasis]

In addition to de Mattei’s clear and strong assessment of the Second Vatican Council, Eric Sammons, a contributor to OnePeterFive, has raised the question of self-censorship with regard to the Vatican II discussion and thus invites an honest and courageous debate about the matter. Phil Lawler has already himself responded to that invitation. For all of us, Roberto de Mattei’s own 2012 book on the Second Vatican Council, entitled The Second Vatican Council (an unwritten story), would be a very helpful source of solid and well-researched information.

In the following, I shall present mainly two parts of the longer (20-page) conference of Archbishop Lefebvre which I – together with my husband – consider to be of abiding importance.

The first part we would like to highlight here is his description of Cardinal Bea’s own struggle with, and against, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani (the Secretary of the Holy Office) with regard to the matter of religious liberty. As Lefebvre states, the clashes between the two prelates had already begun during the preparation for the Second Vatican Council. As he says:

I describe the following incident in one of my books A Bishop Speaks. I often mention it because it truly characterizes the end of the Central Commission and the beginning of the Council. It was during the last meeting, and we had received beforehand ten documents on the same subject. Cardinal [Augustin] Bea had prepared a text “De Libertate Religiosa,” “Concerning Religious Liberty.” Cardinal [Alfredo] Ottaviani had prepared another, “De Tolerantia Religiosa,” “Concerning Religious Tolerance.”

The simple fact [of] the two different titles on the same subject was significant of two different conceptions. Cardinal Bea spoke of freedom for all religions and Cardinal Ottaviani of freedom for the Catholic religion along with tolerance of error and false religions. How could such a disagreement have been resolved by the Commission?

From the beginning Cardinal Ottaviani pointed the finger at Cardinal Bea and said, “Your Eminence, you do not have the right to present this document.”

Cardinal Bea replied, “Excuse me but I have perfectly the right to put together a document as President of the Commission for Unity. Consequently, I have knowingly put together this document. Moreover, I am totally opposed to your opinion.”

Thus two of the most eminent Cardinals, Cardinal Ottaviani, Prefect of the Holy Office, and Cardinal Bea, former Confessor of Pope Pius XII, a Jesuit having a great deal of influence on all the Cardinals, who was well known in the Biblical Institute and responsible for advanced biblical studies, were opposed on a fundamental thesis in the Church. Unity for all religions is one thing, that is to say that liberty and error are placed on the same footing; but liberty of the Catholic religion along with tolerance of error is something quite different. Traditionally the Church has always been for the opinion of Cardinal Ottaviani and not for that of Cardinal Bea, which is totally liberal.

Then Cardinal [Ernesto] Ruffini, from Palermo, stood up and said; “We are now in the presence of two confreres who are opposed to one another on a question which is very important in the Church. We are consequently obliged to refer to a higher authority.”

Quite often the Pope [John XXIII] came to preside over our meetings. But he was not there for this last meeting. Consequently the Cardinals requested to vote: “We cannot wait to go and see the Holy Father. We are going to vote” We voted. Just about one half of the Cardinals voted for the opinion of Cardinal Bea and the other half for that of Cardinal Ottaviani. All those who voted for Cardinal Bea’s opinion were the Dutch, German, French and Austrian Cardinals, and all those in general from Europe and North America. The traditional Cardinals were those of the Roman Curia, from South America and in general those of Spanish Language.

It was a true rupture in the Church. From this moment I asked myself how the Council could proceed with such opposition on such important points. Who would win? Would it be Cardinal Ottaviani with the Cardinals of Spanish or [other] romance languages or would it be the European Cardinals and those of North America? [my emphasis]

After describing the initial conflict between Ottaviani and Bea which took place during the reign of Pope John XXIII, Archbishop Lefebvre also touches upon the measures later taken by Pope Paul VI as soon as he became pope:

Pope Paul VI came along. It is obvious that he gave his support to the liberal wing. Why was that? From the very beginning of his pontificate, during the second Session of the Council, he immediately named four Moderators [three of whom were progressivists, one was a moderate conservative].  […] Clearly the traditional Cardinals and Bishops were from this very moment put aside and despised.

When poor Cardinal Ottaviani, who was blind, started to speak, boos could be heard amongst the young Bishops when he did not finish at the end of the ten minutes allocated to him. Thus did they make him understand that they had had enough of listening to him. He had to stop; it was frightful. This venerable Cardinal, who was honored throughout Rome and who had had an enormous influence on the Holy Church, who was Prefect of the Holy Office, which is not a small function, was obliged to stop. It was scandalous to see how the traditionalists were treated.

Monseigneur Staffa (he has since been named Cardinal), who is very energetic, was silenced by the Council Moderators. These were unbelievable things. [emphasis added]

Archbishop Lefebvre concludes, after these few examples, by saying:

This is what happened at the Council. It is obvious that all the Council documents and texts were influenced by the liberal Cardinals and Commissions. It is hardly astonishing that we have such ambiguous texts, which favor so many changes and even a true revolution in the Church. [emphasis added]

Let us now go over to the period after the Second Vatican Council and one of its most disruptive subsequent developments: namely, the introduction of the Novus Ordo Mass. Archbishop Lefebvre gives us much historical information when he says:

The most serious of the consequences was the liturgical reform. It was accomplished, as everybody knows, by a well-known priest, [Annibale] Bugnini, who had prepared it long in advance. Already in 1955 Fr. Bugnini had asked Msgr. [Arrigo] Pintonello, general Chaplain of the Italian army, who had spent much time in Germany during the occupation, to translate Protestant liturgical texts. For Fr. Bugnini did not know German.

It was Msgr. Pintonello himself who told me that he had translated the Protestant liturgical books for Fr. Bugnini, who at that time was but an insignificant member of a liturgical commission. He was nothing. Afterwards he became professor of liturgy at the Lateran. Pope John XXIII made him leave on account of his modernism and his progressivism. Hence surprise, surprise, and he is found again as President of the Commission for Liturgical Reform. This is all the same, unbelievable.

I had the occasion to see for myself what influence Fr. Bugnini had. One wonders how such a thing as this could have happened at Rome. At that time immediately after the Council, I was Superior General of the Congregation of the Fathers of the Holy Ghost and we had a meeting of the Superiors General at Rome. We had asked Fr. Bugnini [to] explain to us what his New Mass was, for this was not at all a small event. Immediately after the Council was heard of the Normative Mass, the New Mass, the Novus Ordo. What did all this mean?

It had not been spoken of at the Council. What had happened? And so we asked Fr. Bugnini to come and explain himself to the 84 Superiors General who were united together, amongst whom I consequently was.

Fr. Bugnini, with much confidence, explained what the Normative Mass would be; this will be changed, that will be changed and we will put in place another Offertory. We will be able to reduce the communion prayers. We will be able to have several different formats for the beginning of Mass. We will be able to say the Mass in the vernacular tongue. We looked at one another saying to ourselves: “But it’s not possible!”

He spoke absolutely, as if there had never been a Mass in the Church before him. He spoke of his Normative Mass as of a new invention.

Personally I was myself so stunned that I remained mute, although I generally speak freely when it is a question of opposing those with whom I am not in agreement. I could not utter a word. How could it be possible for this man before me to be entrusted with the entire reform of the Catholic Liturgy, the entire reform of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, of the sacraments, of the Breviary, and of all our prayers? Where are we going? Where is the Church going?

Two Superiors General had the courage to speak out. One of them asked Fr. Bugnini: “Is this an active participation, that is a bodily participation, that is to say with vocal prayers, or is it a spiritual participation? In any case you have so much spoken of the participation of the faithful that it seems you can no longer justify Mass celebrated without the faithful. Your entire Mass has been fabricated around the participation of the faithful. We Benedictines celebrate our Masses without the assistance of the faithful. Does this mean that we must discontinue our private Masses, since we do not have faithful to participate in them?”

I repeat to you exactly that which Fr. Bugnini said. I have it still in my ears, so much did it strike me: “To speak truthfully we didn’t think of that,” he said!

Afterwards another arose and said: “Reverend Father, you have said that we will suppress this and we will suppress that, that we will replace this thing by that and always by shorter prayers. I have the impression that your new Mass could be said in ten or twelve minutes or at the most a quarter of an hour. This is not reasonable. This is not respectful towards such an act of the Church.” Well, this is what he replied: “We can always add something.” Is this for real? I heard it myself. If somebody had told me the story I would perhaps have doubted it, now I heard it myself.

Afterwards, at the time at which this Normative Mass began to be put into practice, I was so disgusted that we met with some priests and theologians in a small meeting. From it came the “Brief Critical Study,” which was taken to Cardinal Ottaviani. I presided [at] that small meeting. We said to ourselves: “We must go and find the Cardinals. We cannot allow this to happen without reacting.”

So I myself went to find the Secretary of State, Cardinal Cicognani, and I said to him: Your Eminence, you are not going to allow this to get through, are you? It’s not possible. What is this New Mass? It is a revolution in the Church, a revolution in the Liturgy.”

Cardinal Cicognani, who was the Secretary of State of Pope Paul VI, placed his head between his hands and said to me: “Oh Monseigneur, I know well. I am in full agreement with you; but what can I do? Fr. Bugnini goes in to the office of the Holy Father and makes him sign what he wants.” It was the Cardinal Secretary of State who told me this! Therefore the Secretary of State, the number two person in the Church after the Pope himself, was placed in a position of inferiority with respect to Fr. Bugnini. He could enter into the Pope’s office when he wanted and make him sign what he wanted.  [my emphasis]

Does not such a professed sense of powerlessness (and paralysis) – as described here with reference to Cardinal Cicognani – remind us of our own current situation, where we are told my high-ranking prelates and even prefects of congregations that they cannot do anything about the revolutionary things that are happening in the Vatican? Here it might be worthwhile to add another example given by Archbishop Lefebvre:

A third fact, of which I was myself the witness, with respect to Fr. Bugnini is also astonishing. When permission was about to be given for Communion in the hand (what a horrible thing!), I said to myself that I could not sit by without saying anything. I must go and see Cardinal [Benno Walter] Gut – a Swiss – who was Prefect of the Congregation for Worship. I therefore went to Rome, where Cardinal Gut received me in a very friendly way and immediately said to me: “I’m going to make my second-in- charge, Archbishop Antonini, come that he also might hear what you have to say.”

As we spoke I said: “Listen, you who are responsible for the Congregation for Worship, are you going to approve this decree which authorizes Communion in the hand? Just think of all the sacrileges, which it is going to cause. Just think of the lack of respect for the Holy Eucharist, which is going to spread throughout the entire Church. You cannot possibly allow such a thing to happen. Already priests are beginning to give Communion in this manner. It must be stopped immediately. And with this New Mass they always take the shortest canon, that is the second one, which is very brief”

At this, Cardinal Gut said to Archbishop Antonini, “See, I told you this would happen and that priests would take the shortest canon so as to go more quickly and finish the Mass more quickly.”

Afterwards Cardinal Gut said to me: Monseigneur, if one were to ask my opinion (when he said “one” he was speaking of the Pope, since nobody was over him except the Pope), but I’m not certain it is asked of me (don’t forget that he was Prefect for the Congregation for Worship and was responsible for everything which was related to Worship and to the Liturgy!), but if the Pope were to ask for it, I would place myself on my knees, Monseigneur, before the Pope and I would say to him: ‘Holy Father, do not do this; do not sign this decree.’ I would cast myself on my knees, Monseigneur. But I do not know that I will be asked. For it is not I who command here.”

This I heard with my own ears. He was making allusion to Bugnini, who was the third in the Congregation for Worship. There was first of all Cardinal Gut, then Archbishop Antonini and then Fr. Bugnini, President of the Liturgical Commission. You ought to have heard that! Alas, you can now understand my attitude when I am told: you are a dissident and [a] disobedient rebel. [my emphasis]

This example might make us think of the current Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship – Cardinal Robert Sarah – and of how much his own authority has been increasingly limited. Additionally, I myself felt very much reminded of some currently powerful influences in the Church in 2017 – such as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández (who are both not holding a significant office in the Vatican but who seem to have an excellent access to the pope) – when I read the following comment of Archbishop Lefebvre made here with regard to the unusual influence of Annibale Bugnini (who is rumored to have been a Freemason):

How can a priest who is not a Cardinal, who is not even a Bishop, who was still very young at the time and who was elevated against the will of Pope John XXIII (who had chased him from the Lateran University), how can such a priest go to the very top without taking any account of the Cardinal Secretary of State, nor of the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Worship? How can he go directly to the Holy Father and make him sign what he wants? Such a thing has never before been seen in the Holy Church. Everything should go through the authorities. That is why there are Commissions. Files are studied. But this man was all powerful! [my emphasis]

Was not Cardinal Gerhard Müller – who was supposed to study and comment on Amoris Laetitia before its publication – himself sidelined and bypassed by people like Archbishop Fernández, whom Sandro Magister calls a “theologian universally considered less than mediocre”?

The impression that Archbishop Lefebvre’s description of events has left upon me is that the professedly conservative prelates at that time also had regrettably felt bound to adhere to, and to defend, a Council and its novel teaching and the related liturgical developments that contain revolutionary elements; and that they did so seemingly in a false understanding of holy obedience. As Archbishop Lefebvre so clearly said: the Faith comes first, and then obedience. No Catholic faithful is obliged to obey a Catholic superior if he is teaching or inflicting a false or an ambiguous doctrine.

One last incident and personal experience as presented by Archbishop Lefebvre himself will also make us consider some currently equivocal developments about the decentralization of authority in the Church, such as the purportedly autonomous authority of the national bishops’ conferences. It will also make us more aware of the grave duty to teach our children the Catholic Faith whole and entire. This presented incident occurred during the reign of Pope Paul VI:

One day I went to see Cardinal Wright [i.e., the American Cardinal John Wright] with respect to the Canadian Catechism. I said to him: “Look at this catechism. Are you aware of those little books, which are entitled ‘Purture’? It’s abominable that children are taught to break away. They must break with their family, with society, with tradition. ..this is the catechism, which is taught to the children of Canada with the Imprimatur of Monseigneur Couderc. It’s you who are responsible for catechism in the entire world. Are you in agreement with this catechism?“No, no,” he said to me: “This catechism is not Catholic” – “It is not Catholic! Then immediately tell the Canadian Bishops’ Conference. Tell them to stop and to throw this catechism in the fire and to take up the true catechism.” His answer was: “How can I oppose myself to a Bishops’ Conference?”

I then said: “It’s over and done with. There is no more authority in the Church. It’s over and done with. If Rome can no longer say anything to a Bishops’ Conference, even if it is in the process of destroying [our] children’s Faith [as in the revolutionary Scholas Occurrentes children’s books], then it’s the end of the Church.” [emphasis added]

“Let the Little Ones come to Me,” said Our Lord. And our love for the Little Ones and our desire to protect them and to help lead them to Our Lord for eternity should give all of us – prelates included – the courage to fight where it is fitting and urgently necessary – and even if it means to resist a national bishops’ conference.

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