Originally published in the July 1988 issue of The Angelus
The rector of the
seminary of the Society of
St. Pius X in Switzerland, Fr. Lorans, having asked me to help
in drawing up this issue of the Letter from Econe, it seemed to
me, in these circumstances, that it would not be without benefit
to put before you again what I wrote on January 20, 1978,
concerning certain objections which could be made as to our
attitude with regard to the problems created by the present
situation of the Church.
One of these questions was: ''How do you see
obedience to the pope?" Here is the reply I gave ten years
The principles governing obedience are known
and are so in conformity with sane reason and common sense that
one is driven to wonder how intelligent persons can make a
statement like, "They prefer to be mistaken with the pope, than
to be with the truth against the pope."
That is not what the natural law teaches, nor
the Magisterium of the Church. Obedience presupposes an authority
which gives an order or issues a law. Human authorities, even
those instituted by God, have no authority other than to attain
the end apportioned them by God and not to turn away from it. When
an authority uses power in opposition to the law for which this
power was given it, such an authority has no right to be obeyed
and one must disobey it.
This need to disobey is accepted with regard to
a family father who would encourage his daughter to prostitute
herself, with regard to the civil authority which would oblige
doctors to perform abortions and kill innocent souls, yet people
accept in every case the authority of the Pope, who is supposedly
infallible in his government and in all words. Such an attitude
betrays a sad ignorance of history and of the true nature of papal
A long time ago St. Paul said to St. Peter that
he was "Not walking according to the truth of the Gospel"
(Gal. 2:14). St. Paul encouraged the faithful not to obey him, St.
Paul, if he happened to preach any other gospel than the Gospel
that he had already taught them (Gal. 1:8).
St. Thomas, when he speaks of fraternal
correction, alludes to St. Paul's resistance to St. Peter and he
makes the following comment:
To resist openly
and in public goes beyond the measure of fraternal correction. St.
Paul would not have done it towards St. Peter if he had not in
some way been his equal... We must realize, however, that if there
was question of a danger for the faith, the superiors would have
to be rebuked by their inferiors, even in public.
This is clear
from the manner and reason for St. Paul's acting as he did with
regard to St. Peter, whose subject he was, in such a way, says the
gloss of St. Augustine:
that the very
head of the Church showed to superiors that if they ever chanced
to leave the straight and narrow path, they should accept to be
corrected by their inferiors (St. Thomas [in the Summa Theologica] IIa,
IIae, q.33, art. 4, ad 2).
The case evoked by St. Thomas is not merely
imaginary because it took place with regard to John XXII during
his life. This pope thought he could state as a personal opinion
that the souls of the elect do not enjoy the Beatific Vision until
after the Last Judgment. He wrote this opinion down in 1331 and in
1332 he preached a similar opinion with regard to the pains of the
damned. He had the intention of putting forward this opinion in a
But the very lively action on the part of the
Dominicans, above all in Paris, and of the Franciscans, made him
renounce this opinion in favor of the traditional opinion defined
by his successor, Benedict XII, in 1336.
And here is what Pope Leo XIII said in his
Encyclical Libertas Praestantissimum, June 20,1888:
If, then, by any
one in authority, something be sanctioned out of conformity with
the principles of right reason, and consequently hurtful to the
commonwealth, such an enactment can have no binding force of law.
And a little further on, he says:
But where the
power to command is wanting, or where a law is enacted contrary to
reason, or to the eternal law, or to some ordinance of God,
obedience is unlawful, lest while obeying man, we become
disobedient to God.
Now our disobedience is motivated by the need
to keep the Catholic Faith. The orders being given us clearly
express that they are being given us in order to oblige us to
submit without reserve to the Second Vatican Council, to the post-conciliar
reforms, and to the prescriptions of the Holy See, that is to say,
to the orientations and acts which are undermining our Faith and
destroying the Church. It is impossible for us to do this. To
collaborate in the destruction of the Church is to betray the
Church and to betray Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now all the theologians worthy of this name
teach that if the pope, by his acts, destroys the Church, we
cannot obey him (Vitoria: Obras, pp.486-487; Suarez: De
fide, disp.X, sec.VI, no.16; St. Robert Bellarmine: de Rom.
Pont., Book 2, Ch.29; Cornelius a Lapide: ad Gal. 2,11,
etc.) and he must be respectfully, but publicly, rebuked.
The principles governing obedience to the
pope's authority are the same as those governing relations between
a delegated authority and its subjects. They do not apply to the
Divine Authority which is always infallible and indefectible and
hence incapable of failing. To the extent that God has
communicated His infallibility to the pope and to the extent that
the pope intends to use this infallibility, which involves four
very precise conditions in its exercise, there can be no failure.
Outside of these precisely fixed conditions,
the authority of the pope is fallible and so the criteria which
bind us to obedience apply to his acts. Hence it is not
inconceivable that there could be a duty of disobedience with
regard to the pope.
The authority which was granted him was granted
him for precise purposes and in the last resort for the glory of
the Holy Trinity, for Our Lord Jesus Christ, and for the salvation
Whatever would be carried out by the pope in
opposition to this purpose would have no legal value and no right
to be obeyed, nay, rather, it would oblige us to disobey in order
for us to remain obedient to God and faithful to the Church.
This holds true for everything that the recent
popes have commanded in the name of Religious Liberty or ecumenism
since the Council: all the reforms carried out under this heading
are deprived of any legal standing or force of law. In these cases
the popes use their authority contrary to the end for which this
authority was given them. They have a right to be disobeyed by us.
The Society and its history show publicly this
need to remain faithful to God and to the Church. The years 1974,
1975 and 1976 leave us with the memory of this incredible clash
between Econe and the Vatican, between the Pope and myself.
The result was the condemnation, the suspension
a divinis, wholly null and void because the pope was
tyrannically abusing his authority in order to defend laws
contrary to the good of the Church and to the good of souls.
These events are an historical application of
the principles concerning the duty to disobey.
That clash was the occasion for a departure of
a certain number of priests who were friends or members of the
Society, who were scared by the condemnation, and did not
understand the duty to disobey under certain circumstances. Since
then, twelve years have passed. Officially, the condemnation still
stands, relations with the pope are still tense, especially as the
consequences of this ecumenism are drawing us into an apostasy
which forced us to react vigorously. However, the announcement of
consecration of bishops in June stirred Rome into action: it at
last made up its mind to fulfill our request for an Apostolic
Visitation by sending on November 11, 1987, Cardinal Gagnon and
Msgr. Perl. As far as we were able to judge by the speeches and
reflections of our Visitors, their judgment was very favorable
indeed, and the Cardinal did not hesitate to attend the Pontifical
Mass on December 8th, at Econe, celebrated by the prelate
suspended a divinis.
What can we conclude from all this except that
our disobedience is bearing good fruit, recognized by the envoys
of the authority which we disobey? And here we are now confronted
with new decisions to be taken. We are more than ever encouraged
to give the Society the means it needs to continue its essential
work, the formation of true priests of the holy, and Catholic, and
Roman Church. That is to say, to give me successors in the
Rome understands this need, but will the pope
accept these bishops from the ranks of Tradition? For ourselves it
cannot be otherwise. Any other solution would be the sign that
they want to align us with the conciliar revolution, and there our
duty to disobey immediately revives. The negotiations are now
under way and we shall soon know the true intentions of Rome. They
will decide the future. We must continue to pray and to watch. May
the Holy Ghost guide us through the intercession of Our Lady of
+ Marcel Lefebvre