Archbishop Lefebvre justified his
act by appealing to the state of necessity. The force of this excusing cause was
not undervalued by Vatican authorities, who did not contest it on the doctrinal
level, but responded with an argument of fact, namely, that there was not a
state of necessity, knowing full well that,
if it had been, the action of Archbishop Lefebvre would have been fully
justified, even as much as it concerns the "no" of the pope, according
to Catholic doctrine on the state of necessity.
strength of the justification adduced by Archbishop Lefebvre escapes, on the
contrary, most people through the simple fact that Catholic doctrine on the
state of necessity is little known. We will try to explain it. The principles we
will use are found in any traditional treatises regarding moral law or canon
law. It is an absurdity to admit an extraordinary crisis in the Church and, at
the same time, to pretend to measure what has been done in such extraordinary
circumstances with the rule of norms valid in ordinary circumstances. It
is contrary to logic and to the doctrine of the Church Law, in fact:
to be established on the more ordinary conditions of social life and,
in consequence, necessarily leaves out of consideration those things
which occur only rarely [emphasis added].
St. Thomas Aquinas reinforces
laws…are established for the good of the whole. Therefore, in establishing
them the legislator bears in mind that which happens ordinarily and in
the greater number of the cases (Summa Theologica, II-II,
Q. 147, A. 4) [emphasis added].
Therefore, in cases "that happen rarely" and in which "one
happens to have to act outside the ordinary laws," "it is
necessary to judge on the basis of principles higher than the ordinary laws"
(ST, II-II, Q. 51, A. 4). These "higher principles" are
the "general principles of divine and even human law" (Suarez, De
Legibus 1. VI c. VI n. 5) which supply for the silence of positive law.
Church is authorized to apply said principles when, because of cases not
foreseen by the law, it defers to the general principles of law and to the
common and constant judgment of the Doctors, which, precisely because common and
constant, must be considered canonized by the Church.
That having been set forth, we
offer for the convenience of readers a summary of the arguments that we will
treat here in succession.
I. Duties and powers of a
bishop in a state of necessity
A. State of necessity and its
state of necessity consists in "a threat to the spiritual goods of life,
of liberty or other earthly goods."
the threat regards earthly goods, we have material necessity; if it
regards spiritual goods, we have spiritual necessity, a necessity all the "more urgent than that material" to the extent that spiritual
goods are more important than material goods.
In reality various
degrees of spiritual necessity can be given, but theologians commonly
distinguish five of them:
(or common) spiritual necessity is that in which any sinner
finds himself in ordinary circumstances;
spiritual necessity is that when a soul finds herself threatened in
spiritual goods of great importance (e.g., faith and morals);
necessity almost extreme is the status of a soul which, without
someone else’s help, could be rescued only with great difficulty;
spiritual necessity is that status of a soul is situated which,
without the help of someone else, could not be able to be saved or would
be able to do so with such difficulty that her salvation would be
considered morally impossible;
(or public) spiritual necessity is that when several souls
find themselves threatened in spiritual goods of great importance (e.g.,
faith and morals). Canonists and theologians commonly adduce as examples
of grave general or public spiritual necessity epidemics and the public
spreading of a heresy [emphasis added].
B. Today’s state of grave
general spiritual necessity
Today a state of grave general (or public) spiritual necessity exists because
many Catholics are threatened in faith and morals by the public and
undisputed spreading of neo-modernsim or self-styled "new theology,"
already condemned by Pope Pius XII as the assembly of errors which "threaten
to destroy the foundations of the Catholic Faith," a revival of that
modernism previously condemned by Pope St. Pius X as "the synthesis of
public diffusion of errors and of heresies was dramatically denounced by Pope
Paul VI who went so far as to speak of the "auto-destruction"
of the Church and of the "smoke of Satan in the temple of God,"
and was admitted by Pope John Paul II at the beginning of his pontificate on the
occasion of a Congress on missions to people:
There is need to admit
realistically and with a deep and sober sensibility that Christians today, for
the most part, are dismayed, confused, perplexed and even frustrated; ideas
conflicting with revealed and constantly taught Truth have been scattered by
handfuls; true and real heresies in the sphere of dogma and morals have been
spread, creating doubts, confusions, rebellions; the liturgy has been violated;
immersed in intellectual and moral "relativism," and therefore in
permissiveness, Christians have been allured by atheism, by agnosticism, by a
vaguely moralistic enlightenment, by a socialistic Christianity, without defined
dogma and without objective morals.
There is, therefore, a state of grave public or general necessity: grave,
because faith and morals have been threatened; public or general, because these
spiritual goods, indispensable to salvation, have been threatened among a
large part of the Christian people. The situation has grown worse after 20
years of Pope John Paul II:
It was believed [Pope Paul VI
once acknowledged] that after the Council there would have come a sunny day in
the history of the Church. There came, on the contrary, a day of clouds, of
storm, of doubt.
Under these "clouds," in this "storm," amidst
these "doubts," souls nevertheless must direct their course to
the harbor of eternal salvation in the brief time of trial allotted to them. Who
can deny that today, generally, many souls live in a state of "grave
Motu proprio of July 2, 1988.
Brisbois Apropos des lois purement penales in Nouvelle
revue theologique, 65 (1938), p.1072
3 V. can. 20 of the Pian-Benedictine Code ["The 1917 Code of
Canon Law is also called the Pian-Benedictine Code because it was
compiled through the initiative of Pope Pius X and promulgated under Pope
Benedict XI (Sept. 15, 1917)". The 1917 Code of Canon Law is a known for
its conceptual and systematic vision (excerpted from ff 10 of the online
The 1988 Consecrations: A Canonical Study, Part II)
- webmaster] and F. M. Cappello,
S.J., Ius suppletorium in Summa iuris canonici, vol. I (Roma, 1961),
4 V.E. Eichmann-Kl. Morsdor, Trattato di diritto
canonica, and G. May, Legittima difesa, resistenza, necessita.
5 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Suppl, Q. 8,
A. 6; v., also P. Palazzini, Dictionarium morale et canonicum, under the
word, "caritas" (erga proximum).
6 See, for example, P. Palazzini, Dictionarium morale et canonicum, under
the word "caritas"; Billuart, De charitate, diss. IV, art. 3;
Genicot, S.J., Institutiones Theologiae moralis, vol. I, 217, A and B,
7 Pope Pius XII,
Humani Generis, 1950 (Kansas City:
8 Motu proprio, Nov. 18, 1907.
9 Discourse of Pope Paul VI at the Lombard Seminary in Rome,
Dec. 7, 1968.
10 Discourse of Pope Paul VI, June 30, 1972.
L’Osservatore Romano, Feb. 7, 1981.