On June 21, Pope Francis will travel to Geneva to participate in the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the World Council of Churches. This year, 2018, also marks the anniversary of the episcopal consecrations made by Archbishop Lefebvre with the assistance of Bishop de Castro-Mayer on June 30, 1988, at the Seminary of Ecône, exactly 30 years ago.
In many respects, the event on June 30 was the crowning of the fight begun by the Fathers of the Coetus during Vatican Council II. The former Archbishop of Dakar and the Bishop Emeritus of Campos turned out to be the only survivors, the only ones to remain faithful and defend the Tradition of the Church to the end against the novelties introduced into Holy Mother Church by the liberals and modernists. In a sense, the consecrations in Ecône were already included in the resolution made by the two prelates just after the Council, 20 years before June 30, 1988, as can be seen in this letter sent by Bishop de Castro-Mayer to Archbishop Lefebvre on May 21, 1968: “Allow me, dear Archbishop Lefebvre, to ask you most frankly: can we, by our attitude, make people believe that every one of the Council’s documents can be admitted without reserve?”1
Thirty years later, we would like to offer our readers a glimpse of the correspondence between Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro-Mayer during the first 10 years after the end of the Council. These archives kept at the Seminary of Ecône2 offer an enlightening testimony of these decisive years, during which Tradition’s “Operation Survival” took shape little by little, leading up to the historic day of June 30, 1988. They reveal the role of the bishop of Campos at the side of the Founder of the Society of Saint Pius X, but also the latter’s constant support of his fellow bishop.
Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro-Mayer knew at the end of the Council that the fight was only just beginning, for Vatican II had laid down evil principles that would need to be uprooted: “Does not the declaration on Religious Freedom require an exegesis that interprets it in terms that go against the words we read in it? Can we apply to all the passages of Populorum Progressio the words of Our Lord: ‘He who hears you hears me’, when it takes mental gymnastics to avoid saying that they contradict the teaching of Pius XI or St. Pius X? Either we prepare a clear document to enlighten the conscience of the faithful or it would be better to say nothing and pray that God will maintain the faith of His people.”3 The two prelates had very precise plans: they intended to gather together men capable of developing a doctrinal study of the texts of Vatican II and pointing out the major errors; they planned to reaffirm the traditional doctrine by writing a Profession of Faith that would clearly contrast with the errors denounced and serve as a reference; and they intended to start a journal.4 They saw clearly that they would have to warn the faithful and react against the pastoral consequences of these errors. In Brazil, immorality was being preached by those who should have been fighting it, and on the political level, priests were encouraging a regime inspired by the ideas of Fidel Castro, while the spiritual life was being steadily reduced to a Catholicism without mortification and centered on earthly happiness.5 Lastly, they intended to fight against the evil influence of the Episcopal Conferences that the Bishop of Campos considered to be a “Monster in Church Law” and against the Communist infiltration.6 He believed that the Faith was no longer being defended and that the faithful would soon have to do without the hierarchy.7 The Episcopal Conferences of Brazil and South America were the spearhead of post-conciliar progressivism.8 The root cause of all these disorders was the Council itself with all its errors that were now beginning to reveal their true gravity, so much so that they now needed to think of forming future priests in a context free of any contamination from these errors.9
In a letter to Archbishop de Proença Sigaud, Archbishop Lefebvre pointed out, as he would never cease to do, the true causes of these harmful consequences. “The disorder,” he said, “is very serious in all the Roman Curia. They condemn the effects but uphold the cause. Rome has imprisoned herself in a contradiction that they do not wish to abandon because that would reveal the scandalous responsibilities in the Council’s proceedings.”10 Alluding to Ralph Wiltgen’s book The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, he added that this book “reveals the conspiracy of the progressivists and the weakness of the popes.” Bishop de Castro-Mayer echoed his words: “I believe the time has come to say openly that in the Church there is a very great and very widespread heresy and that the faithful must defend their Faith in a very personal way because they will receive no help from the hierarchy.”11 […] “I am convinced of what I said to you in a previous letter: today the faithful can no longer depend on the hierarchy as they used to; they must nourish themselves on the Church’s Tradition if they wish to maintain a solid spiritual and doctrinal formation.”12 The bishop of Campos received a copy of I Accuse the Council: “Bravo and when will it be translated into Portuguese?”13 He was also sent the Vade-Mecum by Frs. Coache and Barbara, but the text seemed weak to him, as it insisted only upon the liturgical deviations, but said nothing about doctrinal relativism and Communism, even though these are the two main errors that destroy the Faith.14
During the year 1968, Bishop de Castro-Mayer was put in a difficult position by the three religious congregations of Dutch priests in his diocese: the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, the Redemptorist Fathers, and the Priests of the Holy Cross. The first two were revolutionary and subversively opposed him in the name of the Council. The priests published a book full of “insolence, an invitation to disobedience and insults to the bishop.”15 They stirred the people up against him. “These are men with no religious spirit and no education. They are doing much harm to souls and that with the approval of the Nuncio. That is why many Brazilian bishops have had to resign, because the Nuncio was not supporting them.”16 The Nuncio was playing so well into their hands that he was likely to send an unfavorable report to Rome on the Bishop of Campos. So Bishop de Castro-Mayer asked for Archbishop Lefebvre’s help.17 Thanks to his help, Bishop de Castro-Mayer held strong. On December 31, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart were forced to hand over their parishes to priests chosen by the bishop. They lost their jurisdiction in the diocese. On January 10, 1969, they left, “taking with them two cars that were needed by the country parishes.” But two of these Missionaries remained; “welcomed by the Redemptorists, they visit their former parishes and do great harm.”18 The Nuncio accused the bishop of inflexibility and wrote to tell him he had reported him to the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy. There was likely to be an apostolic visit to the diocese. Bishop de Castro-Mayer ended his letter informing Archbishop Lefebvre of the latest developments of this sad story with these words: “I apologize for sending you such a small sum. I would like to help your apostolate more effectively. Alas! My poverty makes it impossible. God will fill up what is lacking. […] Please excuse my poor French. In Portuguese, we say that an old parrot no longer learns how to speak.”19
Archbishop Lefebvre was dismayed and indignant,20 but he had to admit that the same situation was occurring elsewhere in Los Angeles with the poor Cardinal MacIntyre, in Spain, and in Portugal. In Rome, there was dialogue with theologians from Holland, and with 600 dissenters from France. Things continued to degenerate. They needed to stay strong, to stick together and support each other, “for the time is coming when many priests and perhaps bishops will fall into total apostacy. […] Do not worry about the money or about your French that I admire. If only I could speak as much Portuguese!” This affair is revealing, for it was a joint maneuver against Tradition. The Nuncio acted as the accomplice of the modernist revolutionaries. Bishop de Castro-Mayer won his case, but it was not easy: the Roman Congregation for the Clergy intended to disavow him.21 It was Archbishop Lefebvre who made the happy ending possible with his diligence; from Rome, he facilitated all the negotiations, and he advised the Bishop of Campos on the procedure he should follow and warned him against his false brethren.22
Archbishop Lefebvre kept Bishop de Castro-Mayer informed on Paul VI’s liturgical reform that ended with the promulgation of the New Mass, for Brazil was far from Rome. Bishop de Castro-Mayer reflected and slowly clarified his position; Archbishop Lefebvre helped him with his advice. Both prepared a doctrinal counterattack. This Novus Ordo, believed the Bishop of Campos, was “the beginning of the capitulation to Protestantism.”23 He was pessimistic as to the outcome, for the reform had been approved and the majority of the bishops were following it. “Those bishops who are not reflecting are not of those who die for the Faith.”24 Bishop de Castro-Mayer was tormented, however, and turned to his brother bishop for enlightenment. “How can we reconcile the Faith we say we profess with a Mass that moves away from this Faith?” […] “After reading the pamphlet you sent me [the Brief Critical Study of the Novus Ordo Missae], I am convinced that I cannot in conscience follow the New Mass. Am I being radical or am I with the truth? In the second case, can I by my silence allow my flock to follow the New Mass? Can I leave them in good faith? Would I not be deceiving them by my silence? Would you be so good and kind as to send me a few words on all these questions? I thank you ever so much. Pray for me, dear Excellency.”25
The practical solution came to light little by little, for the facts and events called for a proportionate reaction. Nonetheless, the Bishop of Campos kept a circumspect and measured attitude, and took the time to reflect and weigh the pros and cons. “And yet, the matter is very grave. We are on the path to a new Church. I think that we cannot accept the new Ordo. In my diocese, I do not say anything to the priests who wish to follow it because the Holy See has direct and immediate jurisdiction in omnes et singulos fideles; and I think that the time has not yet come to publicly denounce the heretical direction that can be found in several official documents and in the attitudes of some of the highest ecclesiastical authorities. Am I exaggerating? I do not think so. What you say of the teaching in the Roman universities sounds like a modern-day Honorius. It is Rome that is leading souls to heresy.” […] “It seems to me that we cannot accept all the documents of Vatican II. Some of them cannot be interpreted according to Trent and Vatican I. What do you think?”26 In the end, he made the firm decision to refuse the Novus Ordo Missae of Paul VI.
Bishop de Castro-Mayer had the Brief Critical Study presented by Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci to Paul VI translated into Portuguese and distributed: “It seems preferable to me for the scandal to erupt before the creation of a situation in which we slip into heresy. After thorough reflection, I am convinced that we cannot participate in the New Mass and that even to be present at it we must have a serious reason. We cannot collaborate in spreading a rite that although not heretical leads to heresy. That is the rule I give to my friends.”27 The following events confirmed that he was right to be firm: “A letter from Switzerland has come saying that Bishop Adam of Sion and Bishop Charrière of Freiburg have forbidden the Mass of St. Pius V in all the churches and chapels of their dioceses, including the chapel of your Seminary. The letter explicitly says so. Is this true? You would do me a great favor if you were to send me a few words on all of this.”28 As for the Episcopal Conference of Brazil, it considered Bishop de Castro-Mayer guilty of schism because of his refusal of the Novus Ordo.29 Bishop de Castro-Mayer was almost the only one to react and he was saddened by the weakness of the resistance around him. It was mostly laymen who took up a stance, but only timidly. “That is to say, without studying the question more deeply, and always leaving a door open for retreat. That is the impression I get from an article by Gustave Corçao in the S. Paulo Globo et O Estado. Plinia Correa de Oliviera, apparently neutral, has written on the question in the S. Paulo Fohla, pointing out the dangers of the New Mass.”30
Nonetheless, the New Mass was but a consequence, the result of a deeper evil. Bishop de Castro-Mayer always saw the root of this evil in the initial Modernism of Vatican II. “We are in a situation that the Church has never experienced in history. I think that we are wasting our time if we do not tear off the neo-modernist mask of those now leading the Christian people. How? That is the question.”31 […] “The responsibility for the evils afflicting the Church falls upon a Council from which the scholastic philosophy was banished.”32 This judgment did not change over the years. “In my opinion, we have no other option than to accomplish Canon 1326, §1: publicly denounce the heresy in the hierarchy and in the official documents. That is why I think that the means in our hands is prayer, mental prayer. We have to lead the faithful to constant prayer begging for the preservation of the Faith in the Church. This does not mean that we admit the Church could fail. This means that the Faith within the Church can be so lessened that it confirms the words of Scripture: when the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on all the earth?”33
This fight was very trying for Bishop de Castro-Mayer, who wrote: “In order to maintain the true doctrine and my authority despite the deaf opposition of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, I have to keep up a very exhausting mental tension.”34 With time, he became the target of an increasingly subversive and hateful maneuver: “The circle to make me resign is growing tighter.”35 […] “Parish priests who have resigned, civil court cases, slander in the newspapers, and a series of persecutions that require a response since it is always the Faith they are trying to distort. All of this takes up all my time and the war goes on. To sum up the present episode, the current technique is attempting to discredit us in the eyes of the people, while feigning a true desire for dialogue and reconciliation. They portray us as the stubborn, proud ones who give in on nothing because we have a monopoly over the truth. In this climate, they can declare everywhere that the Masses are valid and licit, and it is not easy for us to convince the simple people of the contrary. You can well imagine the obstacles we have to deal with constantly.”36
Desertions added to their troubles: little by little Bishop de Castro-Mayer and Archbishop Lefebvre watched the ranks around them grow thinner and thinner. The most resounding desertion, in 1969, was that of Archbishop de Proença Sigaud (1909-1999), Archbishop of Diamantina, Brazil, and secretary of the Coetus during the Council. Archbishop Sigaud took a stand against the Bishop of Campos in a press conference, criticizing his book on the social doctrine of the Church. Later, during the general assembly of the archbishops and bishops of Brazil, he “warmly promoted married priests; not yet the marriage of priests, but the first step in that direction.” And his former comrade-in-arms concluded sadly: “He has received his reward: he has been applauded by the left, even by Archbishop Helder Camara. Shortly before, he encouraged a course at the seminary for men and women, a preparation course for Eucharistic ministers; that is what they call those who receive the power to distribute Communion. Archbishop Sigaud encouraged this course against the will of the majority of his clergy!”37 The following year, Bishop de Castro-Mayer told how Archbishop Sigaud “wrote up a whole decree to introduce the New Mass in his diocese.”38 Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro-Mayer found themselves alone very early on, as early as the 1970’s, alone as they would be on the historic day of June 30, 1988. The application of the Council would be a long war of attrition, trying the perseverance of the early fighters and their fidelity to their initial positions.
These initial positions regarding both the Council and the New Mass would hardly change. They found their full expression in the Open Letter that the two prelates addressed to Pope John Paul II on November 21, 1983. The facts show that this fight did not begin in 1969 with the New Mass; it was simply the continuation of the fight begun by the Coetus Internationalis Patrum during the Council. Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro-Mayer’s first care was to defend the Faith of the faithful against the errors of the Council by their acts as much, if not more than, by their words. And their attitude was dictated by great prudence: the positions they took up with regards to the New Mass and the pope were formulated little by little.
A Head of State who could have served his country better, Charles de Gaulle, had at least the perspicacity to say that “clarity and firmness are always the supreme skills.” The great merit of Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro-Mayer was that they practiced this supreme skill to the end, and in their case, it was clearly the fruit of the Holy Ghost’s inspirations. Their clarity and their firmness were a dike to keep out the harmful consequences of Neo-modernism and made themselves felt not only in the face of the errors but also in the face of the craftsmen of these errors, Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, the major craftsmen of this “Conciliar Church.” Such is the example the act of June 30, 1988, offers us.
1 Letter to Archbishop Lefebvre, May 21, 1968, kept in the Archives of the Seminary of Ecône.
2 Archives of the Seminary of Ecône, filed under the reference E 05-01 in Archbishop Lefebvre’s office. All the letters we quote here are taken from this file. We will abbreviate Archbishop Lefebvre’s letters to Bishop de Castro-Mayer with an “L” and Bishop de Castro-Mayer’s letters to Archbishop Lefebvre with a “CM.”
3 CM, May 21, 1968.
4 CM, February 27 and May 21, 1968; L, May 28, 1968.
5 CM, June 29, 1968 ; March 7, 1969.
6 CM, August 4, 1968 ; June 29, 1968 ; October 1, 1968.
7 CM, February 20, 1969.
8 CM, March 7, 1969.
9 CM, January 28, 1969.
10 L, Janaury 28, 1969 (Letter addressed to Archbishop Sigaud and communicated to CM).
11 CM, February 20, 1969.
12 CM, March 7, 1969.
13 CM, October 1, 1968.
14 CM, October 1, 1968.
15 CM, January 26, 1969.
16 CM, January 26, 1969.
17 CM, December 12, 1968.
18 CM, January 26, 1969.
19 CM, January 26, 1969.
20 L, February 2, 1969.
21 CM, December 12, 1968 ; January 26, 1969 ; February 2, 4 and 20, 1969 ; April 27, 1969 ; May 28, 1969 ; June 1, 1969.
22 CM, February 2 and 4, 1969.
23 CM, October 5, 1969.
24 CM, October 6, 1969.
25 CM, October 12, 1969.
26 CM, December 8, 1969.
27 CM, January 29, 1970.
28 CM, February 10, 1973.
30 CM, January 29, 1970.
31 CM, September 7, 1970.
32 CM, February 10, 1973.
33 CM, October 5, 1983.
34 CM, October 5, 1969.
35 CM, February 3, 1972.
36 CM, October 5, 1983.
37 CM, October 5, 1969.
38 CM, January 29, 1970.