¶ … Second Vatican Council and the Traditionalist Backlash
The Second Vatican Council is unique in the Catholic Church's near 2000-year history. From 1962 to 1965 the massive council met in Vatican City to update the Church's stance on liturgical and theological matters. By adopting what Popes John XXIII and Paul VI called a "pastoral attitude" toward the fulfillment of the needs of modern man, the Council attracted media coverage unparalleled by past councils.
The Council was enormous. It had eleven times as many members from fourteen times as many countries as the First Vatican Council. It was an occasion of "shock and awe." Those who anticipated "an event" were awed; those who anticipated the assertion of Catholic theology were shocked. For example, when Cardinal Larraona wrote to Pope Paul VI in preparation for the Third Session concerning the schema Constitutionis de Ecclesia, he said, it "brings us…inaccurate, illogical, incoherent and encouraging -- if it were approved -- endless discussions and crises, painful aberrations and deplorable attacks on the unity, discipline and the government of the Church" (Lefebvre 16). The Holy Father replied:
The 'Personal Note' concerning the Conciliar schema De Ecclesia has caused Us…surprise and concern, as much by the number and high office of the signatories as by the gravity of the objections raised on the subject of the schema's doctrine and of the fundamentally contradictory statements… (However) the 'Note' reached Us the night immediately prior to the Third Session of the Second General Vatican Council, when it was no longer possible to submit the schema to fresh examination, by reason of the very grave and harmful repercussions, easy to foresee, on the outcome of the Council and hence upon the whole Church…that the suggestions of the 'Note' itself would have had, had they been put into practice. (Lefebvre 17)
Part of the reason for this response was that when in 1962 Pope John XXIII had called the Second Vatican Council, he believed he had been motivated by God to convene over 2400 Cardinals, bishops, and priests. He openly welcomed the media, a gesture that symbolized the Vatican's good will towards the watching world, and when Paul VI succeeded John, he did not want to do anything to reverse the optimistic buzz around the council. The warning of Cardinal Larraona represented just such a reversal. Therefore, the Pope had to ignore it.
What followed was that 16 documents were issued by the Council in the four years it convened. Those documents contained "time bombs," as Archbishop Lefebvre, Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer and many others called them -- ambiguously worded texts that could and did lead to a variety of interpretations by churchmen around the world over the next several decades.
Statistics prove to a degree the danger that Larraona warned of. The number of vocations to the priesthood dropped drastically. Churches closed. A sexual crimes epidemic was uncovered. Liturgical abuses were seen everywhere. Anything discernibly "Catholic" in the "traditional" sense was gone and replaced by a new-age style of worship which took its inspiration from Protestant supper services (White 147). It was, according to Lefebvre and his "Traditionalist" followers, a new faith, a "Conciliar" Church, as Mgr. Benelli called it; -- and for this reason Archbishop Lefebvre and Bp. Antonio de Castro Mayer said they would have nothing to do with it (Lefebvre 34).
Bp. de Castro Mayer led the priests of his diocese in what became known as "Traditional Catholicism." Catholics who wished to remain with the faith that had brought the Church into the 20th century felt the need to qualify themselves adjectivally in order to distinguish their belief from what they in turn called the "novus ordo," or "new order" Church. Archbishop Lefebvre, likewise, led the priests of his seminary, and those priests led people in pockets of "resistance" around the world. They were resisting more than change -- they were resisting a spirit of "modernism" and "liberalism" as Pope St. Pius X had described in his encyclical Pascendi in the early 20th century. The "Traditionalists" who shunned the decrees of the Second Vatican Council believed that modernism and liberalism had permeated...
Some wished to draw comparisons between these and ancient times, as when the Arian heresy nearly overran the Catholic Church, but ultimately comparisons paled before the reality: nothing like this had ever happened in the entire history of the Church, according to Lefebvre.
Abp. Lefebvre met with the Roman Churchmen in the Vatican following the Council in order to discern just how deeply the "synthesis of all errors" had embedded itself within the Church hierarchy. He never refrained from speaking his mind or describing the crisis of faith (as it appeared to him) to those who rallied around him. The Vatican initially allowed him to start a seminary for seminarians who wanted to train under him and follow the "Traditional" ways of saying Mass and preserving doctrine. But later the Vatican stopped granting permission for the seminary and called it a "wildcat" seminary and said that Lefebvre had to stop because he refused to recognize the legitimacy of the New Mass and the decrees of the Second Vatican Council. Lefebvre refused those and he also refused to stop his seminary. He continued training priests in spite of the Vatican's orders to stop. He said the orders were unjust (Lefebvre 25).
Thus, in 1988, Bp. Marcel Lefebvre and Bp. Antonio de Castro Mayer made what they described as a formal act of allegiance to Eternal Rome and consecrated four bishops to the Catholic Church. This act was deemed "schismatic" by the Vatican and Lefebrve and Mayer along with the four bishops they consecrated were told by the Vatican that they were automatically excommunicated.
In response to this message of excommunication, Lefebvre wrote to Cardinal Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, explaining his actions: "The Catholic faithful have a strict right to know that the priests to whom they have recourse are not in communion with a counterfeit Church which is evolutionary, pentecostalist, syncretist" (Lefebvre 87).
Before his death on March 25, 1991, Marcel Lefebvre laid down the conditions for his followers regarding talking to the Vatican about Tradition: Rome would have to make an act of faith, said Lefebvre, showing that it still believed in the Church that Pope St. Pius X had led. It would have to recognize the legitimacy of St. Pius X's warnings regarding modernism and liberalism and denounce as illegitimate the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, since the two were opposites. Lefebvre said that Rome would have to return to the Church because during the Second Vatican Council, it had left the Church by putting forward a new doctrine. Till that day, Lefebvre's followers would adhere to the Traditional ways and doctrines of the Church that had preceded the Council (Lefebvre 165).
In one of the last interviews he gave, he was asked whether his relations with Rome were completely severed. He answered that there could be no more discussions with Rome until Rome had turned back to the faith. He called dialogue with the Vatican a "dialogue of death" ("Interview with Archbishop Lefebvre") because the Vatican, he said, was like a sneaky serpent and would seduce the Traditionalists if they listened to it long enough just like Satan seduced Eve in the Garden of Paradise.
Six years later the Groupe de Reflexion Entre Catholiques (Reflection Group Between Catholics), or the GREC, was formed. Founded by Mrs. Gilbert Perol, the wife of France's former Ambassador in Rome, the group's golden rule was to dialogue "without getting angry." Fr. Lorans of the Lefebvre's Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) participated in the GREC, keeping then Superior General of the SSPX Bp. Bernard Fellay informed as to the meetings' progress. The objective was to approach a happy reconciliation between the successors of the Traditional Movement of Lefebvre and Mayer and the representatives of the new order, positioned as they were in Rome.
The Fraternity of St. Peter, formed (with Rome's approval) by priests who abandoned Archbishop Lefebvre at the time of the consecrations in 1988, also took part in the dialogue. It was represented by Fr. Ribeton, the FSSP Superior of France. Later, the head of the Institute of Christ the King joined the dialogue as well. The dialogue focused on a return of the SSPX to "full communion." For example, Michel Lelong writes, "One can hope that these meetings will lead to an agreement without delay. But the SSPX must understand that if it has much to offer to Rome, it also has much to receive from it. It must therefore stop rejecting Vatican 2 outright and accept the guiding principles in interpreting them as proposed by the Holy Father today" (Lelong).
In 2001, the priests that Bp. Antonio de Castro Mayer had trained in Brazil reconciled with the Vatican. Leaders of the SSPX, such as Bp. Richard Williamson, spoke out publicly against it. Privately, it was a different story. The golden…
"Archbishop Di Noia Admits." CFNews. Web. 9 Apr 2015.
"Bishop Confirms." CFNews. Web. 9 Apr 2015.
"Interview with Archbishop Lefebvre." Sacricium. Web. 9 Apr 2015.
Lefebvre, Marcel. I Accuse the Council. Kansas City: Angelus Press, 1988. Print.
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