Was Archbishop Lefebvre Really Excommunicated?
#1
Was Archbishop Lefebvre Really Excommunicated?

Written by  Chris Jackson | Remnant Columnist

Sadly, in the current catastrophe that is the Post-Conciliar Church, some blinded men, instead of joining the fight against the heresy, apostasy, and de facto schism around us, insist on melodramatically condemning, with the most condescending and arrogant invective, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Although any excommunication that was previously levied against the living bishops of the SSPX has long since been remitted, some hardened Neo-Catholics insist that Abp. Lefebvre himself remains perpetually excommunicated, one Neo-Catholic priest even going so far as to presume his damnation. Thus the same Neo-Catholics who tell us that the Church’s perennial teachings on religious liberty, ecumenism, and collegiality are confined to past times and changeable, treat a 1988 letter from a pope as if its infallibility ranked somewhere between Dogma and Holy Writ.

The 1988 letter I am referring to, of course, is John Paul II’s Ecclesia Dei adflicta. Twenty-six years later, Neo-Catholics cling to this letter as it represents, in their minds anyway, the one infallible document that ensures Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre can never be rehabilitated or declared a Saint in the future. As usual, the irony of the Neo-Catholics, on the one hand preaching the Mass of Pius V is changeable at the whim of future popes, while on the other hand preaching John Paul II’s excommunication is certainly valid and binding for all time, escapes them entirely.

Nevertheless, at the risk of beginning yet another dialogue of the deaf (as Bishop Fellay recently described his meetings with Rome), I would like to present a book review that first appeared in The Catholic University Bulletin in the year 1900 by the Rev. Doctor John T. Creagh. Rev. Creagh was reviewing a book by the Rev. James Louis O’Neill, also written in 1900, entitled, Was Savonarola Really Excommunicated? An Inquiry. (For background on Savonarola, click here.) Anyone who is familiar with the canonical details of the Archbishop Lefebvre case will find the similarities striking.

Consider.

First, much to the shock of our Neo-Catholic friends, nowhere in the apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei adflicta, does John Paul II actually excommunicate Archbishop Lefebvre. Instead, he states that the involved bishops, “have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law.” The pope is referring to an earlier July 1, 1988 decree by Cardinal Gantin, who was then the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. Cardinal Gantin, in his own decree, did not give a judicial sentence, but instead stated that the bishops, by the very act of consecrating without papal mandate, had incurred the penalty envisaged by Canon Law. In other words, they had incurred an automatic excommunication from the law itself. The problem for Cardinal Gantin, and the Neo-Catholics, has always been the pesky Canon Law, which states if one sincerely believes one is acting under necessity, even if the necessity does not objectively exist, no automatic excommunication can apply.

Similarly, Pope Alexander VI did not issue a judicial sentence upon Savonarola, but instead declared in 1497 that Savonarola had been automatically excommunicated for not complying with the pope’s previous warning. There was only one problem. The offense Pope Alexander cited in his excommunication decree was not the same as the one previously warned against. Thus, a sitting pope had declared a priest excommunicated based on a factual error. In Archbishop Lefebvre’s case, Cardinal Gantin had declared an archbishop excommunicated based on a legal error. The common theme here is that just because a pope makes a declaration of excommunication does not, per se, make that excommunication valid. We are not here talking about an infallible declaration of dogma, but a fallible disciplinary decision. Thus, just like any other canonical pronouncement, a declaration of excommunication must be correct in law and fact in order to be valid and binding. In addition, like Savonarola, the Archbishop was not given due process, no proof was offered to demonstrate that he did not act out of necessity, and no judicial determination was rendered.

Thus, we have below, two priests from the year 1900, one a Doctor, who both have serious doubts as to the validity of Savonarola’s excommunication despite the fact that Pope Alexander VI, by all accounts, both willed that Savonarola be excommunicated and firmly believed that he had been excommunicated through his decree. Unless the Neo-Catholics can prove that SSPX priests invented a time machine and penned these pieces under pseudonyms 144 years ago, their de fidei belief in the infallibility of papal excommunications seems to be in trouble.

I now present to you, without further ado, a review of the book, Was Savonarola Really Excommunicated? An Inquiry,  by the Rev. James L. O'Neil, O. P.

Chris Jackson


Read the rest HERE.
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#2
Thanks for this, Chris.

I am sure I do not qualify for the distinguished title of Trad, and probably I am merely a low-down Neo-Cath, but I have always been sympathetic to Archbishop Lefebvre and have never felt that he was in some way condemned, damned or anything of the sort. Your article is really good, but it raises some questions for me, and maybe you can answer some or all of them:

1. If we say that a person is not excommunicated if he sincerely believes in his "necessity," is this the same thing as saying that one is never condemned unless in conscience, that is to say, is this a sort of 'excommunication-version' of 'invincible ignorance', a way out of what excommunication literally means based on the internal forum of conscience? The answer to this neither condemns nor exonerates Msgr. Lefebvre. I am just wondering.

2. If a Pope wills that a man be excommunicated, and believes that he has excommunicated said man, but the intricate legalities of canon law are not exactly followed, does the pope's will and belief in the man's excommunication 'override' so to speak the fact that he may not have crossed his Ts and dotted his Is properly? Who has the greater authority here, the legal complexities, or what the Pope meant and willed?

3. The non-Trad Catholics I have met do not see Abp. Lefebvre as condemned to hell, but as one who died in a dangerous manner, one who we are to hope either really knew what he was doing or who died in God's grace with the repentance that we all wish to have at the end. I think that for most non-Trads, the issue is not at all whether or not Abp. Lefebvre was truly excommunicated, but whether or not the Church forbids the faithful from attending services of any sort with the SSPX, whether all or some of their sacraments are valid or invalid, whether the Church discourages or condemns the views held by the SSPX, because deep down, the problem for many non-Trads today is practical, not speculative. It is speculative and debatable whether or not Abp. Lefebvre or Savonarola were condemned by the Church; the practical question is what are we to make of their followers today, now. Anyway, this one is not a question, but just my observations of how non-Trads view Abp. Lefebvre.

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#3
In response to your third question, nobody can seriously bring into doubt the validity of the sacraments in thee SSPX. It would be the height of foolishness to call the schismatic "orthodox" sacraments valid yet deny those of the SSPX, and no Church authority I have ever heard of has even so much as questioned the validity of the schismatic sacraments.
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#4
In fact, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei has written on several occasions that an SSPX Mass, for example, fulfills a Catholic's Sunday obligation.  The text I keep in my missal is from a Commission finding dated Jan. 18, 2003. The only "real" question regarding the sacraments are those in which faculties "have" to be approved by a local bishop, e.g. hearing confessions. The same criteria, that of extraordinary circumstances which call into question the validity of existing sacraments, however, can apply in that case as well.

I decided I was probably okay with SSPX confessions--you know, where they really hold you responsible and accountable for numbers of sins in categories called things like mortal and venial and you get a scary tough penance if you've committed serious sin. I decided that  after attending a "new church" confession one Saturday afternoon. Time ran out before the Saturday Mass (which somehow in the last 45 years has become Sunday) and he called all of those remaining into the large room where he heard confessions. He wore jeans, sandals and a t-shirt and a really snazzy stole with flowers on it and he told all of us to think "really hard" about one of our sins that we would have confessed to him. No act of contrition. And, of course, he did not use the required form for absolution. But he smiled a lot and told us to all go forth in the love of God. My wife and I felt we could not accept that as valid and headed for a real confession, in our estimation, at the SSPX chapel the next day before Mass (on what actually was Sunday).

Somehow we felt clean and at peace with ourselves and our God after that. We came out of the really "cool" priest's confession feeling like we had somehow cheated on our repentance and might have added another to our list of offenses if we had left it at that. But the others with us in that group hand-holding and hugfest seemed to be having a swell time with lots of smiling and--what seemed to me--great relief at not having to really tell anything bad they might have done.  They had all caught a break.  But that might be why they were at the end of the confession line in the first place, I guess.

Anyway, I didn't have any question as to the validity of the SSPX confession.  And on the OP...let's see, the Archbishop might be "excommunicated," but Cardinal Dolan (and dozens, perhaps hundreds or thousands) of others like him aren't? The longer I live and the more I see of what's going on, the more saintly the Archbishop seems.
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#5
(10-09-2014, 04:53 PM)tradprof Wrote: In fact, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei has written on several occasions that an SSPX Mass, for example, fulfills a Catholic's Sunday obligation.  The text I keep in my missal is from a Commission finding dated Jan. 18, 2003. The only "real" question regarding the sacraments are those in which faculties "have" to be approved by a local bishop, e.g. hearing confessions. The same criteria, that of extraordinary circumstances which call into question the validity of existing sacraments, however, can apply in that case as well.

I decided I was probably okay with SSPX confessions--you know, where they really hold you responsible and accountable for numbers of sins in categories called things like mortal and venial and you get a scary tough penance if you've committed serious sin. I decided that  after attending a "new church" confession one Saturday afternoon. Time ran out before the Saturday Mass (which somehow in the last 45 years has become Sunday) and he called all of those remaining into the large room where he heard confessions. He wore jeans, sandals and a t-shirt and a really snazzy stole with flowers on it and he told all of us to think "really hard" about one of our sins that we would have confessed to him. No act of contrition. And, of course, he did not use the required form for absolution. But he smiled a lot and told us to all go forth in the love of God. My wife and I felt we could not accept that as valid and headed for a real confession, in our estimation, at the SSPX chapel the next day before Mass (on what actually was Sunday).

Somehow we felt clean and at peace with ourselves and our God after that. We came out of the really "cool" priest's confession feeling like we had somehow cheated on our repentance and might have added another to our list of offenses if we had left it at that. But the others with us in that group hand-holding and hugfest seemed to be having a swell time with lots of smiling and--what seemed to me--great relief at not having to really tell anything bad they might have done.  They had all caught a break.  But that might be why they were at the end of the confession line in the first place, I guess.

Anyway, I didn't have any question as to the validity of the SSPX confession.  And on the OP...let's see, the Archbishop might be "excommunicated," but Cardinal Dolan (and dozens, perhaps hundreds or thousands) of others like him aren't? The longer I live and the more I see of what's going on, the more saintly the Archbishop seems.

I wonder if you realise that your positioned is based on a sentimentality that the SSPX accuses to be at the base of most of the doctrines surrounding Vatican II?

It felt good to you, therefore it's a-ok?  Really?
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#6
Was Archbishop Lefebvre really excommunicated?

Nah! What does a pope know?

Besides, doesn't canon law give Remnant columnists and suppressed priestly organizations the right to review papal decisions anyway?

:)
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#7
The issue of the validity of SSPX confessions has always been a very serious doubt. The whole issue is a serious issue. You need faculties for this. Technically, the SSPX do no thave faculties for this. The same authority that informs us that attendance at an SSPX Sunday Mass fulfills our Sunday obligation is the authority that also tells us that the SSPX priests "exercise no legitimite ministry" at all. I am all for the SSPX. But let us not pretend that these issues are not serious ones. And let us not pretend that the Church authorities are to be taken seriously when they some things about the SSPX and not when they say others, i.e. taken seriously when they agree with us and not taken seriously when we disagree.

In addition, no amount of references to Orthodox schisms or Cardinals Dolan et al. are going to be relevant reasons one way or another to deal with the practical problems of whether or not one may in good conscience attend SSPX services etc. I believe that one can, in the case of Sunday Masses, but not because Cardinal Dolan is a fool or because the Church seems less severe with other churches. These are unrelated. It is like saying that the holiness of cardinals is a pre-requisite for one's disposition to listen to Church authorities or not. This is absurd.

I am not sure I can speak to what Fr. Cekada said above, but there is something sound about what he has said, whether it is what he meant or not. I mean the whole idea of picking and choosing what to take from a pope and what to reject, in serious issues, based on our own whims, or fancies, or desires, or on what the news presents to us as taking place in Rome, seems far removed from a serious position of filial obedience to a pope that is required of Catholics. And I find that in the words by Bishop Fellay, there is a lot more of this disposition of filial obedience than I find in many who claim the SSPX as their place of choice, because in the former there are arguments, whereas in the latter, I find mostly feelings .
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#8
From the cod of Canon Law;

Can. 1382 A bishop who consecrates some one a bishop without a pontifical mandate and the person who receives the consecration from him incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P54.HTM
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#9
(10-09-2014, 09:37 PM)maldon Wrote: I am not sure I can speak to what Fr. Cekada said above, but there is something sound about what he has said, whether it is what he meant or not. I mean the whole idea of picking and choosing what to take from a pope and what to reject, in serious issues, based on our own whims, or fancies, or desires, or on what the news presents to us as taking place in Rome, seems far removed from a serious position of filial obedience to a pope that is required of Catholics..

That, of course, is exactly my point.

Catholic teaching doesn't allow you to treat a pope's doctrinal pronouncements and disciplinary decrees like trip to Country Buffet.

If you say you recognize JP2 as the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth and JP2 announces that you've incurred an excommunication, well, end of story. Why? Because the pope is the supreme judge of ecclesiastical law.

The idea that you can sit in the office of The Remnant's editor or the SSPX Superior General and say, "No, the pope didn't do it right" is not only absurd, but also overthrows the very PURPOSE of the papacy: "He who hears you, hears me -- except when The Remnant or Bp. Fellay decide otherwise."

Which is why I've always said that conservative/Motu Proprio types and sedes at least seem to share the same ecclesiology on the issue of the pope, whereas R&R types have made up one of their own.
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#10
No they weren't.

But the internet is not a good place to seek information about the status of the SSPX. There is no shortage of self-appointed little Chestertons who fancy themselves experts on Theology and Canon law, not on this forum, but certainly on Catholic Answers.

The best people to ask would be the CDF, the Pontifical Ecclesia Dei commission (write to them, and get a personal letter from these two), whose responses most neo-Catholics would certainly be surprised by (the Opus Dei conservative Fr Paul Nicholson for example, would probably think the two dicasteries are now infested by the Devil), and the SSPX's own priests, who can be expected to give a rather impressive defence of their own status.

I am biased as you can tell, but so are most trads and neo-Catholics. Even diocesan sources are unreliable in this matter. There was the rather amusing case of the American diocese of Richmond, who very confidently made various assertions to its faithful regarding the status of the society when the new SSPX seminary opened on it territory, a stance which they were forced to recant. http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2013/07...-sspx.html
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