SSPX news & events

When held in esteem: Archbishop Lefebvre

October 18, 2013

Archbishop Lefebvre was held in high esteem as an ecclesiastical leader before the post-conciliar crisis firmly took hold of the Church.

Image above: Archbishop Lefebvre giving his address of gratitude after receiving the Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa, from Duquesne University.


This accolade was given to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre during his lifetime:

You lead by example the congregation of priests of the people which more than two centuries ago chose as its apostolate the neglected of the world."

Is this in reference to his Priestly Society of St. Pius X and traditionalists? Read again, for the SSPX is not even 50 years old, let alone "two centuries".

Rather, this citation refers to the Congregation of the Holy Ghost, also known as the "Spiritans", "Holy Ghost Fathers" and even the "White Fathers", of which Archbishop Lefebvre was a member and once their Superior General.

The excerpt is from a formal announcement of the rector of the Duquesne University of the Holy Ghost, a Catholic institution located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and founded by the missionary Spiritans in 1878. The letter goes on to announce that the university is bestowing "the degree of Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa" in recognition of Archbishop Lefebvre's missionary achievements in Africa and with the Holy Ghost Fathers.

It's Fall 1967—October 21st to be exact—midway between the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council and the founding of the Society of St. Pius X, an important project of the Church that has yet to be conceived in the mind of Archbishop Lefebvre. The post-conciliar crisis has begun to set in, but still (and in spite of his outspoken resistance to the Modernists during the Council), the archbishop continues to be held in great esteem throughout the Church, particularly in the Congregation of the Holy Ghost.

His Excellency will not resign as the Holy Ghost Fathers' Superior General until October 28, 1968—under pressure from certain liberals within the Spiritans to implement "reforms" that he knows will spell disaster for his beloved congregation—that is, nearly exactly a year to the day of the conferring of the honorary degree.

The decree's accompanying letter admirably explicates the cause for bestowing a doctorate in Law upon Archbishop Lefebvre:

Scholar and educator, philosopher and doer—you have through your dedicated labors earned the acknowledgements of the Popes of Rome. Duquesne is proud to add her highest praise to a man in whom are met the qualities that are the essence of our university."

But how fickle are men and their honors—even those granted via the Church—for less than a decade later, instead of praiseful decrees, Archbishop Lefebvre will be maligned as a "renegade", a "rebellious prelate" and the like for his continued defense of the Catholic Faith, of Tradition.

This change in attitude towards His Excellency caused him to state the obvious during his famous 1976 sermon at Lille, France (after being declared suspended for refusing to say the New Mass):

And now when I am doing the same thing, exactly the same thing I have done for 30 years, all of a sudden I am suspended a divinis, and perhaps I shall soon be excommunicated, separated from the Church, a renegade, or what have you! How can that be? Am I also at risk of being suspended a divinis because of the work I did for 30 years?

I think, on the contrary, that if then I had been forming seminarians as they are being formed now in the new seminaries I would have been excommunicated. If then I had taught the catechism which is being taught in the schools, I should have been called a heretic. And if I had said Mass as it is now said I should have been called suspect of heresy and outside of the Church. It is beyond my understanding. It means something has changed in the Church..."

Rather than being concerned how he was viewed in the eyes of men, Archbishop Lefebvre's preoccupation as a bishop was to faithfully transmit the Catholic Faith for the salvation of souls, as summed up in his episcopal motto, Credidimus Caritati. Thus it comes as no surprise when we read his response given during a 1989 interview entitled One Year after the [1988 Episcopal] Consecrations:

Question: Of course you realize that your name has disappeared from the latest edition of the Annuario Pontifico, the 'Papal Year Book' edited in Rome.

Archbishop Lefebvre: I think that my name has not disappeared from the Annuario of the Good Lord, at least I hope so, and that is what matters."

For those interested, we have provided a PDF of the Duquesne degree letter to Archbishop Lefebvre.