Edward Oakes: Surveying the Damage Schismatics Do

Posted by Kendall Harmon

On the 21st of this month, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops at the Holy See, issued a decree in the name of Pope Benedict XVI lifting the excommunication imposed on Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta, which they had incurred when, on June 30, 1988, they let themselves be ordained as schismatic bishops by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in Écône, Switzerland.

Lefebvre, although himself a voting participant at the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965, had come to believe that Vatican II had deviated so fundamentally from the received tradition of the Catholic faith as to be heretical. At first, his movement -- although often disobedient -- was only a form of protest inside the precincts of the Catholic Church. As long as he did not ordain bishops, his protest would remain an intra-Catholic affair, and it would probably have died out after his death. Fearing just such an eventuality, he finally went ahead and ordained, without permission, the four men named above, who by that act incurred automatic excommunication along, of course, with Archbishop Lefebvre himself (he died an excommunicate on March 25, 1991). At that moment, protest became schism.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesRoman Catholic* TheologyEcclesiology

23 Comments
Posted January 30, 2009 at 1:06 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. evan miller wrote:

Hmmm.  Well, I guess I would have liked Lefebvre, since I also supported Salazar, Franco and Pinochet, all of whom were superior to their alternatives.  I also like the idea of restoration of the monarchy in France.  I’ve never attended a Tridentine mass, but it certainly wouldn’t be hard to improve on the RC’s current lackluster liturgy.

January 30, 2:53 pm | [comment link]
2. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

I’m sure those Republicans who labored in El Valle de los Caidos would have agreed with you about Franco, Evan.

January 30, 3:15 pm | [comment link]
3. evan miller wrote:

As would the priests and nuns murdered by the Republicans, Jeremy.

January 30, 3:24 pm | [comment link]
4. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

No doubt Evan, but it makes no more sense to see the Nationalists as Christian crusaders than to see the Republicans as a solid mass of priest killers.

Gerald Brennan in The Spanish Labyrinth pointed out long ago some of the ambiguities of the protagonists of the Civil War, not least the profound transformation that the Spanish Church underwent from eighteenth century crusader for the powerless to nineteenth century defender of its own self-interest. For that decision of the hierarchy many ordinary clergy and nuns paid the price (not that they deserved to do so, but their murders did not occur in a vacuum).

For that matter, one might consider the far from Christian sentiment expressed by Jose Millan Astray to the members of his Spanish Foreign Legion on the eve of conflict: Viva la Muerte, Abajo Intelligencia! That was the other side of the Great Crusade (also carried out, ironically, by descendants of the Moors whom Ferdinand and Isabella had expelled from the continent in 1492).

January 30, 3:38 pm | [comment link]
5. Kevin Montgomery wrote:

Maybe I’ve missed something in the stories, but is it simply a lifting of excommunication, or are they’re episcopal orders recognized?  Are they accepted as Roman Catholics in communion with the Pope, are they being received as Roman Catholic bishops?

January 30, 3:54 pm | [comment link]
6. evan miller wrote:

We’ll just have to disagree Jeremy.  I see the Spanish Republicans as every bit as vile as the Stalinists in Russia.  The Spanish Civil War was undeniably brutal all the way around.  As was WWII.  That doesn’t mean there weren’t the good guys and bad guys.  The nationalists were the good guys.  You believe otherwise and that’s your priviledge.

January 30, 3:55 pm | [comment link]
7. Don R wrote:

Evan, one of the main reasons that they were every bit as vile as the Stalinists in Russia is that, at some point in the proceedings, Russian Stalinists essentially took over the Spanish Republican movement from the indigenous socialists.  I’ve always wondered whether that’s part of the reason Franco sent troops to support Germany on the Eastern Front against the USSR, while refusing to help against England, France, and the US.

January 30, 4:17 pm | [comment link]
8. evan miller wrote:

Don R,
I realize that Stalin supported the Republicans and they were cut from the same cloth.  The Blue Division went to the Soviet Union to fight Communism, just as its members had done back home in Spain during their civil war.  Just as many other non-Germans who fought on the German side.

January 30, 4:33 pm | [comment link]
9. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

And, of course, the only reason we have the testimony of Homage to Catalonia against Spanish Communism is a matter of timing. Orwell himself admitted that had he arrived even a few months later, he would most likely have been recruited into one of the International Brigades and have helped liquidate his erstwhile comrades in the POUM. As it was, he got to document the reality.

January 30, 5:01 pm | [comment link]
10. John Wilkins wrote:

The republic should not have been as anti-church as it was.  But it was a republic.  To assert easily that the alternative was better is to easily justify Hussein and Castro. 

To assert that the Republicans were from the same cloth seems to avoid the recognition that the prime minister was a liberal, and not a socialist.  Lots of people supported the Republic, and not just Stalinist, in part because of the principle that parliamentary democracy (and less centralized government) is better than a dictatorship.

As it is, Spain is now a socialist country.  It just happened much later, and it seems to be doing fine.  The church there, is moribund and dying.

January 30, 7:42 pm | [comment link]
11. episcopalienated wrote:

evan miller:

I’ve never attended a Tridentine mass, but it certainly wouldn’t be hard to improve on the RC’s current lackluster liturgy.

Let me strongly encourage you to attend a Tridentine Latin Mass at your earliest opportunity.  For some idea of what you’ve missed, this is a link to the video of a Mass celebrated at the SSPX parish of St. Nicolas-du-Chardonnet in Paris:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xK8jPgJeGuA&feature=related 

I find it simply incredible that Rome could set this Mass aside in favor of the Novus Ordo Missae.  This is also one of the reasons why my traditionalist Catholic acquaintances can tempt me somewhat in a Romeward direction in a way that no mainstream “spirit of Vatican II” Roman Catholic ever has.

January 30, 9:30 pm | [comment link]
12. Branford wrote:

Kevin Montgomery - my understanding is that they are NOT being received as bishops, at least at this time. From here:

. . . The Decree from the Congregation of Bishops begins by recalling a letter dated December 15, 2008 written by Bishops Bernard Fellay on behalf of the other three bishops who were consecrated on June 30, 1988. The letter, addressed to Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, “requested the lifting of the excommunication latae sententiae formally declared by decree of the Prefect of this Congregation for Bishops dated July 1st 1988.”

The Congregation’s decree quotes the passage from Bishop Fellay’s letter released by the Vatican Press office and continues: “His Holiness Benedict XVI – fatherly sensitive to the spiritual suffering expressed by those who face the sanction of excommunication” and who also trusts in the bishop’s commitment “not spare any effort to further engage in the necessary dialogue with the authorities of the Holy See over the unanswered questions…has decided to reconsider the canonical situation of bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta created by their episcopal consecration.”. . .

January 31, 2:09 am | [comment link]
13. Conchúr wrote:

As it is, Spain is now a socialist country.  It just happened much later, and it seems to be doing fine.  The church there, is moribund and dying.

Never let reality get in the way of a good bias.

January 31, 6:51 am | [comment link]
14. Words Matter wrote:

#11 -

Well, it’s true that the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM or “Tridentine”; properly, “Mass of Pius V”) offers a spirituality different than that of the Novus Ordo (more properly, “Mass of Paul VI”). However, the NO can be celebrated reverently, with ceremonials appropriate to the occasion.  My own spirituality was shaped in my early years as a Catholic by exposure to the simple dignity of the Cistercians, hence I feel rather comfortable with the relative simplicity of the NO. It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it when Father fires up the thurible and pulls out his cope for special days, but Sunday by Sunday, a quiet Mass is a good Mass for me.  Other folks are spiritually nourished on the TLM, and that’s good, too.

It’s true that you can attend a TLM and see a group of people united in reverent worship. When every parish and every Mass was a TLM 50 years ago, what would you have seen? When it wasn’t a special and unique thing, do you think that reverence would have been so obvious?  The modern fantasy is that the Latin Mass left those ig’nert Catlicks sitting there not comprehending; it’s equally fantastic to believe they were all in reverent awe at the beauty and majesty before them. Then, as now, people who care know what is happening. Then, as now, many people don’t have a clue what is going on.  In all liturgical settings, the key is catechesis and conversion, not only the external forms.

Which is not to say the NO couldn’t use some work, particularly in translation, but the work should proceed with a realistic eye to the issues, not to fantasies about the glories of the TLM as it was actually lived pre-Vatican II.

January 31, 10:34 am | [comment link]
15. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

Thanks for that Words Matter.

My own researches into a diocese with a strong commitment to the Novus Ordo in the early days suggests that many of the pioneers took the liturgical meaning of what they were doing very seriously and were concerned that many worshipers did not have any real sense of what TLM meant in a catechetical sense. That didn’t prevent certain people from either going off the liturgical rails or becoming overly dismissive of what went before, but NO deserves to be treated on its own merits, not simply with reference to the ways in which it has been imperfectly applied.

January 31, 11:07 am | [comment link]
16. episcopalienated wrote:

Words Matter:

What a thoughtful comment.  However, I’m not so sure that I’m entertaining “fantasies about the glories of the TLM as it was actually lived pre-Vatican II.”  I have little idea, and no direct experience, of what things must have been like back then.  For that, comments from older Roman Catholics who grew up with the Latin Mass would obviously be necessary.  What I’m doing is simply daring to notice how glorious that Mass still is in the present day.  I have no difficulty understanding why traditionalist Catholics (including, but not limited to, groups like SSPX) wish to preserve it for future generations.

My personal encounter with the Novus Ordo Mass has been radically different.  I’ve tried sticking my toe in the water at a local Roman parish that’s over 100 years old.  A magnificent edifice with a marble high altar and some of the finest stained glass windows I’ve ever seen.  A holy and dignified place that exudes a spirit of reverence and devotion.  But the Masses I’ve attended there were as dismal as the Church was beautiful.

At an approximate length of 45 minutes, the service is about half an hour shorter that what I’m accustomed to in the Episcopal Church.  It all seemed so abbreviated.  Some people were dressed in Bermuda shorts and tank tops (no joke!), and some arrived late and left immediately after receiving Holy Communion.  It had an air of “get in and get out” about it.  Very little participation in singing the hymns.  I was surrounded by silence and it almost felt like I was performing a solo as I tried to sing along.  It was all I could do to remain in place while people clambered past me to exit the pew during the recessional hymn.  Still a “Christ centered” form of worship, of that I have no doubt, but definitely not for me.

By contrast, the first time I attended a Latin Mass celebrated by some independent traditionalists, I was left with the feeling that I did not know if I was now in heaven or still on earth.  And this was in a very simple little chapel which these folks had rigged up as best they could, but with none of the glories of the big church downtown, never mind St. Nicolas-du-Chardonnet.  That’s part of the reason why I don’t believe that an appreciation of traditional liturgy can be dismissed as mere aestheticism.  The Latin service was very much on a par with the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the Eastern Church, as well as our own Anglican liturgy.  A wonderful foretaste of heaven which can be experienced every Sunday.

Enough to convert me to Roman Catholicism?  No, not at all.  Being somewhat tempted is not the same as being entirely persuaded.  But certainly enough to make me sit up and take notice of the tremendous differences between the two services, and to wish my traditionalist friends every success in bringing about the restoration of the one they prefer.

If we could turn the clock back fifty years, would I undergo the same dilemma at the Latin Mass that I encountered at the Novus Ordo church?  Well, I might, although I rather doubt it.  Even if the entire congregation had shown up dressed for a trip to the beach back then, I dare to suspect that the quality of the Mass itself could have helped me to avoid all the unpleasant distractions. 

But as I said, we might benefit by hearing from older Catholics who have an experience with that which neither of us appears to possess.  And for what it’s worth, I do take pleasure in noting that your experience with the Novus Ordo Missae has apparently been quite different from my own.  I thank God for it and wish you every success as well.

January 31, 12:25 pm | [comment link]
17. Irenaeus wrote:

Episcopalienated [#16]: Thank you for the link to the mass from St. Nicholas of Chardonnet in Paris. The musical setting is beautiful.

I want, as you do, to see the Latin Mass preserved. The RCC erred in largely suppressing Latin after Vatican II.

But think what this service would be like without the music if the congregation (1) had to remain silent during the Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and much more, and (2) could barely, if at all, hear the eucharistic prayers? That, as I understand it, was the Tridentine Mass as commonly experienced before the 20th century.

Against this background, the liturgical reforms made by and after Vatican II make enormous sense. Enforced passivity invites daydreaming; participation goes to the heart. And nothing in the Novus Ordo precluded traditional music.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

PS: Does anyone recognize the organ processional? To my untutored ear, the harmony and melody sound Renaissance and the rhythmic pattern sounds like it might have come from a dance form. Can anyone shed light here?

January 31, 1:38 pm | [comment link]
18. episcopalienated wrote:

Irenaeus:

I want, as you do, to see the Latin Mass preserved. The RCC erred in largely suppressing Latin after Vatican II.

But think what this service would be like without the music if the congregation (1) had to remain silent during the Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and much more, and (2) could barely, if at all, hear the eucharistic prayers? That, as I understand it, was the Tridentine Mass as commonly experienced before the 20th century.

Against this background, the liturgical reforms made by and after Vatican II make enormous sense. Enforced passivity invites daydreaming; participation goes to the heart. And nothing in the Novus Ordo precluded traditional music.

Glad you enjoyed the link.  That celebration of the Mass actually reminded me of St. Clement’s, Philadelphia—although Bishop Griswold has been seen prowling about there and I fear we may be losing her to “Affirming Catholicism” (aka: Liberal Modernism in drag). 

I thought the problem of the Mass being largely silent while people engaged in private devotions dated back to the Middle Ages and was corrected by the Council of Trent, but then I really don’t know.

I did notice that parts of the Tridentine Latin Mass are still said inaudibly by the priest, including the prayer of consecration, and folks just have to follow along in their missals as I did when I visited the Latin Mass parish.

I don’t see how anyone could reasonably object to the Mass being in the vernacular, and the addition of another reading from Scripture is certainly welcome.  Perhaps all the prayers should be audible.  But as for the rest of it, looks to me like they tried to fix too much that wasn’t broken.

Of course, I’m an Episcopalian and I need look no further than my own denomination for liturgical disasters, and horrendous ones at that.  I don’t doubt that the Novus Ordo might be an improvement over what goes on in some of our parishes, but thankfully not in mine.

And I’m sure that for those who become or remain Roman Catholics out of deep personal conviction this is a matter of secondary importance at best, and ultimately none of my business.

But those censer-swinging Latin mass-mongers sure gladdened this High Church heart and left me with some pep in my step. wink

January 31, 4:04 pm | [comment link]
19. Words Matter wrote:

episcopalienated -

The “fantasy” remark wasn’t aimed at you particularly. Of course, my own observations have developed from conversations with pre-VII folks and reading.  You might be interested in The Heresy of Formlessness, which goes into some of this. I put it down in frustration when I thought he was making the same errors I complained of in my last comment. But a friend recommended it, so I’m going to man it us and try to get through it.

Of course, I’ve seen most of the things you describe, and some arguably worse in various parishes over the years. I am fortunate to be in a parish led by a former Episcopal minister with excellent liturgical sensibilities. We are about 5 years into the switch from Catholic trash-music to more serious hymnody and the people sing it better than not, depending on it being familiar and all of that.  Our Director of Religious Education is a friend and knows that parish in and out. I noted once that the 10am English Mass congregation doesn’t sing as well as the other two English Mass groups. Her reply was that the 10am crowd don’t know their Faith as well.

It’s all about the Faith, anyway. I have also wondered if I would have been a Catholic 50 years ago, but finally decided that I came to the Church because I became convinced of the Faith. My conscience would not allow me to continue out of Communion with the successor of Peter (though I did SO like being Episcopalian) so I became Catholic. I think that would have happened whatever the Mass was like.

One story and then I will shut up. It’s about translations. Years ago I belonged to an Anglican Use parish and had occasion to invite cradle Catholic friends to Mass at times. Their comments went something like: that’s how I remember Mass before the changes. Of course, an AU Mass is in English, includes hymnody rather than psalms (hymns are not proper to Mass in the Latin Rite, but were used in the Daily Office and special services), and, more to the point, the AU Rite II is virtually identical to the NO, except that the Roman Canon is a vastly superior translation. Yet my friend found it familiar. I guess that’s why I tend to look toward the inner spiritual worship than the specific liturgical forms. 

All of which is not to say that the specific forms don’t matter - of course they do, and I am hopeful that by embracing the TLM, the Church will gradually correct and balance what we would all agree has been a difficult situation.

January 31, 8:23 pm | [comment link]
20. episcopalienated wrote:

Words Matter:

It’s all about the Faith, anyway. I have also wondered if I would have
been a Catholic 50 years ago, but finally decided that I came to the Church
because I became convinced of the Faith. My conscience would not allow me to
continue out of Communion with the successor of Peter (though I did SO like
being Episcopalian) so I became Catholic. I think that would have happened
whatever the Mass was like.

Well, God be praised for an honest man who does things with a pure heart and for the right reasons.  It certainly sounds to me like you went about things in the proper way. 

I’m convinced that you simply cannot argue yourself into the Roman Church one doctrine at a time.  If you are persuaded that, by God’s own design, the Bishop of Rome is head of the Church on earth, then you must become a Roman Catholic.  And if you believe that the Church over which he presides is endowed with the charism of infallibility, the rest will fall into place.

But I would have guessed you for a cradle Catholic, and that’s a high compliment.  This is so because your comments are remarkably free of the bitterness and frustration that Anglican converts to Rome sometimes (dare I say often?) display whenever any aspect of their newfound faith is called into question, however slightly. 

My concern for them is that their conversion will not be complete until they are finally set free from even the vestigial remnants of their Anglican past.  There is nothing wrong with maintaining a sympathetic interest in the fate of those you’ve left behind, but too many backward glances at the asylum from which you’ve managed to escape can’t be healthy.

Of course, there are exceptions, and I’ve been pounced on by “lifers” as well, but I know how to give as good as I get so I’m not too concerned.  My traditionalist Roman friends offer up the most scathing denunciations of “Henry VIII’s Church” and his bastard offspring that I’ve ever heard, but they do it with some style and with no animosity towards me, so I remain willing to listen.

They delight in telling me the most horrible things.  Did you know that Ann Boelyn had six fingers on one hand, or was it both?  If only she had managed her affairs properly, she might have been able to keep her head (I am told she had only one of those) and those extra digits.  Oh, well. wink

But somehow, and on some level, a kind of “cor ad cor loquitur” exchange still takes place between us.  I suspect it’s the case that traditionalists of whatever sort have an ability to commune with each other in a way that transcends denominational differences, even if only for a while.

In your case, it is wonderful to engage in dialogue with someone who does such a superb job of commending himself and his faith to others.  Please do remember me in your prayers at Mass tomorrow and I will do the same for you.  And do tell your parish priest that at least one Episcopalian (although I suspect there may be others) thinks you’re doing a fine job in dealing with our lot. 

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum.

January 31, 9:50 pm | [comment link]
21. Words Matter wrote:

episcopalienated,

Thank you for your kind words, though I must demur at the “pure in heart” business.  I know better!  grin

I will say that my experience has been more of bitterness toward Catholics from Anglicans, not so much in theological disagreement, but in the sort of snobbishness the TEC presiding bishop has displayed from time to time about matters Roman and in other ways. Most Anglicans-turned-Catholic I know are like me, remembering fondly, sometimes with sad nostalgia, our Anglican parishes and friends. I suppose our differing experience on that follow from our differing situations.  Certainly, all converts to all things, religious or otherwise, exhibit a certain zeal for their new-found joy, be it church, sobriety, a diet that works, or some worldly toy. For myself, 21+ years a Catholic have seem zeal wax and wane, but conviction strengthened, usually through my own failures.

Indeed, I will offer my prayers for your own journey this morning, and thank you for your prayers.

p.s. Really? Six fingers!?  :-O

February 1, 11:29 am | [comment link]
22. libraryjim wrote:

Tried to find ‘evidence’ of the six fingers allegation.  According to most websites, including tudorhistory-dot-org*, it has never been substantiated. I would imagine a simple examination of the body would do it, but no one has.


*The legend of Anne Boleyn always includes a sixth finger and a large mole or goiter on her neck. However, one would have to wonder if a woman with these oddities (not to mention the numerous other moles and warts she was said to have) would be so captivating to the king. She may have had some small moles, as most people do, but they would be more like the attractive ‘beauty marks’.

The Queen Elizabeth I website:
There were also historical accounts that Anne Boleyn had six fingers. There are still debates about this six fingers story of Anne Boleyn.

February 1, 11:29 pm | [comment link]
23. evan miller wrote:

#10
Let’s see, so a country that is socialist, with a church that is “moribund and dying,” is “doing fine.”  Got it.

February 2, 9:12 am | [comment link]
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