May 2013 Print

The Other Witness

by Fr. Dominique Bourmaud, SSPX

If the witness of one can easily be discarded, this is not so with that of two persons. Divine Providence afforded indeed a second witness for the momentous act of the episcopal consecrations. Such act consists of a spiritual generation, and as such one bishop alone suffices to transmit the pontifical life to another subject. Yet, the presence of a second co-consecrator multiplied exponentially its impact and import. This action was a witness of two Romans who would not budge in the face of a Catholic Church turned largely modernist.

The media, to cut short, could not bother with a second witness, a back stage man, who cried out the non possumus before the Catholic world. He was a bother to the world and the world would hear nothing of him. One loner is easy enough to turn into a madman and a rebel, two of them becomes a problem. Another distant bishop turns the local problem into a universal question: It forces the interlocutor to go beyond the person and ask the vital question of the purpose of their strange activity.

Double Duty of a Catholic Bishop

These two witnesses stood squarely in the face of the Roman authorities, and both of them invoked their episcopal function as the reason for their act. Now, this function can be summed up in transmitting (tradere, traditio) what he has received, but its content of is double, not simple.

And in time of difficulty, the Church has seen bishops react to the crisis, like the Arian crisis when the whole world suddenly woke up Arian, by consecrating bishops along the way to perpetuate the hierarchy according to the true faith. In our difficult times, there have been bishops like Ngo Dinh Thuc who went ahead and ordained priests and consecrated bishops with little or no discernment and prudence. The Thuc lineage has produced the Spanish Palmar de Troya visionary group headed by ‘Pope’ Clement XV, and other such self proclaimed ‘popes’ elsewhere in the world. The problem with such consecrations is that they were done haphazardly, imposing hands on persons unfit for such positions. Besides, most of them were avowed sedevacantists and have done little to promote the salvation of souls and a return of Rome to its senses.

So, the simple fact of begetting another bishop and priests is not the only function of a Catholic bishop in good standing in the Church. Besides the episcopal function of regenerating the Church by preserving the hierarchy, his prime obligation, for which he is, so to speak, married to a diocese, is that of teaching, upholding and defending the faith and the sacraments. And here is what made the two witnesses outstanding. If the legacy of Bishop de Castro Mayer and Archbishop Lefebvre could survive, it was only because it was grounded on the rock-solid foundation of the faith in the Roman Catholic Church and of Christian prudence. This is what the Brazilian bishop expressed in his speech of the Consecration ceremony:

“My presence here at this ceremony is a matter of conscience.…When the Faith is in danger, it is urgent to profess it, even the at the risk of one’s life. This is the situation in which we find ourselves.…The continuation of the priesthood and of the Holy Mass is at stake, and in spite of the requests and the pressure brought to bear by many, I am here to accomplish my duty: to make a public profession of Faith.

“I wish to manifest here my sincere and profound adherence to the position of His Excellency Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, which is dictated by his fidelity to the Church of all the centuries. The two of us have drunk at the same source, which is that of the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church.”

Castro Mayer Goes to Campos

Antonio de Castro Mayer (1904-1991) was a Brazilian who earned a degree in theology at the Gregorian University in Rome before he was ordained priest in 1927. There, for several years, he must have crossed the path of Marcel Lefebvre, who was ordained two years later. He was made the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo, but, because of his strong involvement against the pro-communist agrarian reform, he was ‘purged’ by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. He spent a few years working behind the scenes, in a remote place, where he could learn a valuable lesson about the power of enemies of the faith within the Church. However, with the blessing of Pius XII, signified to him by a certain J. B. Montini acting as secretary, he was promoted auxiliary bishop of Campos by Pius XII, and governed the diocese until his demotion in 1981.

No doubt, Bishop de Castro Mayer’s portrait reveals the features of an intellectual. He was well read, had been raised in the midst of intellectual circles in Rome and in Sao Paolo, and had acted as Archdiocesan theological censor. He remained the spiritual advisor of the intellectual resistance in Brazil during the years preceding the Council.

Perhaps no other document penned by him as a bishop reveals the acuity of this intellectual as the pastoral letter of 1953 “On the Problems of the Modern Apostolate.” Dr. David Allen White in his book The Mouth of the Lion describes the work as “a little catechism of eighty propositions in which a Truth is stated, but, next to it, a slightly altered version of that Truth, an alteration that tips into error, is also given. Each pair of seemingly identical statements is then followed by a brief commentary explaining the differences between the two statements, why one is true, why the other is touched with error.…Here in 1953 is a bishop training his diocese to spot modernist error, to recognize crucial distinctions between apparently identical assertions.”

The Common Fight During the Council

The name of Bishop de Castro Mayer came to the attention of the superior of the Holy Ghost Fathers precisely thanks to this pastoral letter of 1953, which he had published in France in the magazine Verbe of Jean Ousset. On the eve of the Council, the Campos bishop presented his desiderata as a declaration of war: the council was “to denounce the existence of a conspiracy against the City of God…the priestly training ought firstly to form priests ready for combat against the anti-Christian conspiracy.” His close friend Proença Sigaud denounced “the implacable enemy of the Church and Catholic society…the Revolution,” and called for “counter-revolutionary combat,” especially against Communism.

Right during the first Council session of 1962, these two Brazilian bishops suggested to Archbishop Lefebvre the formation of a piccolo comitato, or study group, to oppose liberal ideas in the Council. The Archbishop explained the ring­leaders of the group: “The soul of the Coetus was Bishop de Proença Sigaud as secretary. I myself, as a former Apostolic Delegate and Superior General of a congregation, was the ‘public face’ in the role of chairman. Bishop de Castro Mayer was vice-chairman and ‘the thinker,’ while Bishop Carli was ‘the pen,’ with his talents, his lively mind, and his Italian know-how.”

From this small group the Coetus came about. It comprised in its heyday about 250 members only loosely associated through personal contact, whose meetings were held on Tuesdays during the Council sessions. To counteract the powerful and resourceful liberal wing which had the Pope’s backing, they worked on slowing down the modernist grinder. As the Archbishop explained:

“We were able all the same to limit the damage, to change these inexact or tendentious assertions, to add that sentence, to rectify a tendentious proposition or an ambiguous expression. But I have to admit that we did not succeed in purifying the Council of the liberal and modernist spirit that impregnated most of the schemas. Their drafters indeed were precisely the experts and Fathers tainted with this spirit… What we were able to do was, by the modi that we introduced, to have interpolated clauses added to the schemas.…The additions made to lessen or to counterbalance the liberal assertions remain there like foreign bodies” (Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, Marcel Lefebvre, p. 295).

Only months after the Council, as the abuses were becoming endemic, Cardinal Ottaviani led an inquiry about the results of the Council. The Archbishop was already putting the blame on the Council itself. He replied that the existence of a most serious crisis was revealed in the “extremely confused ideas, the break-up of Church institutions: religious orders, seminaries, and Catholic schools… Through the preparatory commissions, the Council readied itself to proclaim the truth in the face of these errors.…It was horrible to see all this preparation rejected, to be followed by the most serious tragedy that the Church has ever suffered. We have witnessed the marriage of the Church with liberal ideas.”

The Archbishop had gathered about 30 ultramontane colleagues who agreed to publish a common magazine which would expose their ideas against the modernist wing. Although he managed to launch Fortes in Fide, yet soon enough, the confreres became reticent to offer an active participation, busy as they were with their own problems. Proença Sigaud already was increasingly involved in Brazilian politics, and by the following year he had gone along with the New Mass. Not so with the bishop of Campos!

Two Immovable Bishops

Although not directly involved with Fortes in Fide, Bishop de Castro Mayer and his French colleague remained in contact, albeit sporadic, on questions which were becoming increasingly crucial. The Archbishop wrote him in May 1968:

“Has the moment perhaps not arrived to say what we think about the council, to conduct a study on each schema so as to show their ambiguities, their disastrous tendencies, to ask that a commission be appointed to interpret and revise them? Personally I do not hesitate to say so in all my conversations.…For my part, I am convinced that what we are presently witnessing is a direct result of the council. One does not dismantle all the truths of tradition without ruining the edifice of the Church.

“You mention then a very serious problem that we can no longer remain silent about, at least in our private conversations, namely: the Holy Father’s attitude in some documents, but especially in his acts. How to describe it? How do we judge it when the whole tradition of the Church condemns it?” (De Mattei, The Second Vatican Council, p. 538).

This letter is interesting in that both bishops were addressing the all too evident conciliar ambiguities which they themselves had tried to alter, but also the increasing difficulty in justifying the Pope’s behavior before the judgment seat of Tradition. Likewise, on the question of the Mass, the bishop of Campos, after divulging to his priests the Ottaviani intervention (which had been penned by the Archbishop’s active group of theologians), had qualms of conscience and wrote him on October 5, 1969:

“And so, I dare once again to have recourse to your charity, to your advice. The situation of the Church could not be more terrible! The new Ordo Missae does not agree well with dogma. It is the beginning of a capitulation to Protestantism. It is the disavowal of Trent and of Pius V. Can we pastors of souls follow a ‘via media,’ without saying anything and allowing each priest to follow his own conscience or lack thereof, with the resulting dangers for many souls? And if we say openly what we think, what will be the consequences? Dismissal, which causes confusion for many believers and scandal for the weakest! I do not know what support the good cause has in Rome” (De Mattei, The Second Vatican Council, p. 538).

By early January 1970, he had already solved his doubts. His other letter to the Archbishop anticipates what the latter would only later be forced to do. But it also reveals both the suffering of a good Shepherd of souls and his firmness in the now terribly obvious dilemma between apparent obedience and the Faith. This final decision would cause the bishop and his diocese to be ostracized by the national episcopate before the Pope forced another bishop who would create a de facto double diocese and a double parish life in each village.

“It seems to me preferable that scandal be given rather than a situation be maintained in which one slides into heresy. After considerable thought on the matter, I am convinced that one cannot take part in the New Mass, and even just to be present one must have a serious reason. We cannot collaborate in spreading a rite which, even if it is not heretical, leads to heresy. This is the rule I am giving my friends” (Tissier, Marcel Lefebvre, p. 417).

What this short correspondence illustrates is the intimacy which these two bishops enjoyed while suffering for holy Mother Church. It was because they had both drunk at the same source, because they prized their episcopal duty above any human interest, above Roman sympathy, that they faced the tempest painfully but firmly. Though of a different background, endowed with different gifts, one an intellectual the other a born organizer; and working on a different scale, one a modest-sized diocese and the other a globe-trotter with his connections in Rome, they both used their episcopate to the full in their own way. That is why it was no surprise to see a jubilant Bishop de Castro Mayer fulfilling his office of ‘other witness’ on that memorable day of June 30, 1988.

Fr. Dominique Bourmaud has spent the past 26 years teaching at the Society seminaries in America, Argentina, and Australia. He is presently stationed at St. Vincent’s Priory, Kansas City, where he is in charge of the priests’ training program.