Society of Saint Pius X Africa

April 2, 1999

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

To this day there must be many good Catholic souls longing to follow Archbishop Lefebvre or his Society of St. Pius X, but who hesitate to do so because they feel he went against Catholic principles, especially when he made four bishops in Ecône, Switzerland, on June 30,1988. Let such souls read a theological study of the consecrations that appeared three months ago in the Italian bi-weekly, "Si Si No No", and many may hesitate no longer. The article's first part proves that those episcopal consecrations were even a duty for the Archbishop, the second part proves that the Pope's explicit prohibition made no difference to that duty!

Not that the Archbishop himself did not know what he was doing. He explained himself clearly and often. Nor that Catholic souls following him then and since have not known what they were doing, because all along they have recognized the true Catholic bishop. "I am the good shepherd", says Our Lord, "and I know mine and mine know me" (Jn X,14).

The problem is rather that since in the circumstances of the 1970's and 1980's the Archbishop had to break a number of the Church's normal rules in order to maintain the Society of St. Pius X and in particular to consecrate four bishops, then it always looks as though he had the Catholic rule-book against him. And this is what made - and makes - so many Catholics hesitate. At last, the article of "Hirpinus" in "Si Si No No" has gone deep into those rule-books and shown, in a way I think nobody has shown before, that the Archbishop's action was fully in conformity with the truest principles of Catholic theology and Canon Law.

It stands to reason. After all, how could the Archbishop's work have borne so much good fruit if it was out of line with Catholic principles? That makes no sense. Yet to this day enemies of his Society, even conservatives whose survival is one of his fruits, cast in the Society's teeth the Catholic rule-book: "Where the Pope is, there the Church is", "Catholics must obey the Pope", "Obedience is a virtue", etc., etc.. Let us with Hirpinus take a good look at the Catholic rules, however briefly.

The first major principle that comes into play is that while ordinary cases are dealt with by ordinary laws, cases out of the ordinary, or emergency cases, need to be dealt with by principles behind and above the ordinary laws. That is common sense. For instance, in front of the hospital there is normally no parking, but if I am rushing my wife to the emergency room, then I can park wherever there is a space.

Now if, as the Vatican claims, there is no emergency in the Catholic Church today, then of course there can be no appeal to higher principles. However, as Hirpinus points out, Popes Paul VI and John Paul II have themselves by moments admitted that there is a very serious problem in the post-Vatican II Church. Paul VI's references to the Church's "self-destruction" (Dec. 7, '68) and to the "smoke of Satan in the temple of God" (June 30, '72) are famous. Similarly in a speech quoted in the "Osservatore Romano" of Feb. 7, '81, John Paul II referred to the "upset, confusion, perplexity, even delusion" of a "great part" of Christians. So Hirpinus' article is not for those who deny there is a post-conciliar emergency, rather it is for those who recognize the emergency, but fail to see how the episcopal consecrations were justified by that emergency.

The whole first part of the article examines then what are the duties and powers of a bishop in an emergency. Grave spiritual need is that of any soul whose Catholic faith or morals are threatened. Extreme spiritual need is that of any soul virtually unable to save itself, without help. Grave general or public spiritual need is where many souls are being threatened in their faith or morals, for instance where heresy is being spread in public. Today numberless Catholics are being threatened in their faith and morals by the public spread of neo-modernism, which is the re-invigorated "synthesis of all heresies". So today the Catholic Church is filled with grave general or public spiritual need.

Now wherever there is grave public spiritual need, the Catholic theologians teach that the situation is equivalent to that of extreme individual spiritual need, because for instance in a grave general need, many individuals will be in extreme need. So what a bishop or priest may or must do in an individual's extreme need, he may or must do in grave general need, like today's.

Now all legitimate pastors are bound in JUSTICE to help souls in a state of need, but if these pastors fail for whatever reason, then in CHARITY anyone else is bound to help who can, notably other bishops or priests. These latter will have no normal Church jurisdiction over souls coming under other pastors, but, by their ordination as bishops or priests charity includes for them a duty of state to help as they can. Now as the duty of charity binds under pain of mortal sin to help an individual neighbour in extreme need (especially spiritual), so it binds gravely to help a people in grave need (see above), even requiring if need be the sacrifice of life, reputation or property (Archbishop Lefebvre certainly sacrificed his reputation!).

If then today's neo-modernist errors and heresies are being put forward, or silently approved, or at least left unopposed, by the legitimate pastors themselves, Pope and bishops and priests, it follows that today's state of general need is without hope of relief from the legitimate pastors, in which case any other pastors are, by their ordination which empowers them to give spiritual relief, gravely bound in charity to help such needy souls as best they can (Just as, if a husband refuses to look after his family, the wife under him must supply as best she can, so if a Pope refuses to look after the Church, a bishop under him must supply as best he can).

And what gives such emergency pastors the right (or jurisdiction) to supply for the legitimate pastors? The grave need of many Catholics. The Church teaches that according as needy souls resort to emergency pastors, so these pastors receive from the Church emergency, or "supplied", jurisdiction. For as in a (genuine!) physical emergency all property belongs to all men, so in a spiritual emergency all episcopal and priestly powers are at the disposal of all souls. Divine and natural law then override normal Church law restricting jurisdiction, otherwise too many souls would be eternally lost. Jurisdiction is for souls, not souls for jurisdiction.

Now this principle of emergency rights, or "supplied jurisdiction", applies also to the case of a bishop consecrating bishops without the Pope's approval, because of grave public need. Certainly Christ instituted Peter as head of His Church, with the fullest possession of Church power to govern souls, towards eternal life. But that power, while wielded by Peter, is owned by Christ. It is to benefit souls, not its possessor. It is to save souls, not damn them. As for the machinery of Peter's control of the consecration of bishops, Christ left it flexible, so that Peter could, down the ages, tighten or loosen that machinery according as different historical circumstances would require for the good of the Church. Medieval popes tightened it, as did Pius XII because of a problem in China, but the Church has approved of Eusebius of Samosate consecrating bishops without the Pope's permission in the 4th century. Therefore if a Pope by his fallibility were to tighten that control to the grave harm of souls, the Church would supply jurisdiction for a bishop to take that consecration into his own hands, as did Archbishop Lefebvre. For the manner of episcopal consecrations is a matter not of divine law, but of human Church law, allowing for the exceptions possible in all human Church law.

Objection: but Eusebius of Samosate consecrated bishops without but not against, the Pope's express will. How could Archbishop Lefebvre go against the known and expressed "No" of the Pope? This question takes up the second part of Hirpinus' article. The answer flows from the principles laid out in the first part: however much the Pope said "No", he could not exonerate the Archbishop from his higher duty in charity to help souls in grave and general need.

Firstly, as to the subject, charity looks to the need, not to the cause of the need. When a road accident happens, helping the injured comes first, questions come later. Charity binds whoever can succour souls in grave need to do so, even if, especially if, legitimate Superiors are causing that need.

Secondly, as to the Superior, if he refuses to help souls in grave need, he has no power to bind others from doing so, any more than a husband refusing to provide for his children has power to bind his wife from doing so. The Pope is no exception to this rule, because while his authority is unlimited from below, it is limited from above by divine law, natural and positive, which binds gravely in charity whoever can to succour souls in need. Archbishop Lefebvre was uniquely able, by being a bishop refusing neo-modernism, to succour souls wishing to remain Catholic.

Thirdly, as to the situation, it is natural to necessity to know no law, or, to place the subject in the impossibility of obeying the lower law, because the subject could only do so by disobeying a higher law. The Pope as Superior is no exception because even he comes under divine law. And if it is he who creates the necessity, as does John Paul II by favouring neo-modernism, then it is the Superior himself who is making it impossible for his subject to obey him!

Notice however that whosoever disobeys in an emergency is disputing neither the authority nor its lawful exercise, but merely its unlawful exercise. He is not judging the lower law to be bad but merely inapplicable in the given emergency. Thus Archbishop Lefebvre contested the Pope's right to control episcopal consecrations not in general, but only in the particular emergency of the grave need of souls for the Society of St. Pius X to survive his own imminent death. The Church's supreme law is the salvation of souls, to which the law of papal primacy must, if necessary, give way. The Catholic's supreme virtue is charity, not obedience.

Therefore as soon as the Archbishop had prudently established that divine law was entering into play, he was not only entitled but even bound to disregard the Pope's express prohibition. For when divine law came into play, the Archbishop had to consider not the Superior's will which may be what it may be, but his power, which is fixed by Catholic theology and law. These say that once the emergency is reasonably proved, the subject may and must act on his own authority without recourse to the Superior, because the emergency need firstly to obey God makes that recourse irrelevant, because even if the Superior wanted to bind his subject against God, he could have no power to do so.

In conclusion, Archbishop Lefebvre was bound in charity to help souls, once they were in grave need with no hope of relief from their lawful superiors. He was bound by his episcopal powers to consecrate bishops to ensure for many needy souls the doctrine and sacraments owed to souls by the Church for their salvation. He was absolutely bound not to heed the Pope's "No", because by so doing he would have sinned gravely against the higher duty of charity. By consecrating bishops despite that "No", he neither denied the Pope's primacy nor in any real sense disobeyed the Pope's authority which cannot oppose divine law.

That is only the skeleton of Hirpinus' article. Its muscle consists in a mass of quotations from the most respected Catholic theologians, saints and lawyers. Of course! Catholic principles are in line with common sense, and Archbishop Lefebvre acted in line with both. Praise be to God! Make sure to read the complete article when it appears in English in the Angelus. Truth is mighty, and will prevail. Blessed are the souls who never took scandal from the Archbishop!

As for world events, our sins have deserved much tribulation. Pray mainly that souls be saved.

Most sincerely yours in Christ,

+ Richard Williamson

Archive of Bishop Williamson's Letters

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