Catholic Family News


Archbishop Lefebvre and Vatican II

The Council in light of Tradition?


By John Vennari


            Now that the “excommunications” have been withdrawn from the four SSPX bishops, it is wise to restate the position of the SSPX regarding the Second Vatican Council.

Shortly after Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, was granted a private audience with Pope Benedict in August, 2005, Bishop Fellay made the following comment: “Benedict XVI pointed out that there can be only one way of belonging to the Catholic Church: i.e. by having the spirit of Vatican II interpreted in the light of Tradition, that is to say according to the intention of the Fathers of the Council and the letter of the text. This is a perspective that rather frightens us.”1

            It is understandable that the SSPX should find this frightening, since it is questionable whether Vatican II can be interpreted in light of Tradition. I am one of many who believe it cannot realistically be done, nor do I think it should be attempted. It seems to me impossible to separate the verbose and ambiguous texts of Vatican II from the revolutionary spirit that inspired the texts — a non-Catholic spirit of liberalism that would have been condemned by every Pope prior to Vatican II
In fact, those “conservatives” who deny that various points of Vatican II constitute a break with Tradition and with previous Magisterial pronouncements - at least by ambiguity, implications and omissions - have failed to listen to the very movers and shakers of the Council who openly acknowledge it.
ves Congar, one of the artisans of the reform, remarked with quiet satisfaction that “The Church has had, peacefully, its October Revolution.”

            The same Father Yves Congar stated that Vatican II's 'Declaration of Religious Liberty' is contrary to the Syllabus of Pope Pius IX.Regarding Article 2 of the Declaration, he said: “It cannot be denied that a text like this does materially say something different from the Syllabus of 1864, and even almost the opposite of propositions 15 and 77-79 of that document.” 

            Statements such as this led theologian Father Gregory Hesse to often remark, “How can I accept documents that no Pope or bishop from the 19th Century would have signed?”

            Yet every traditionalists group that is “reconciled” with post-Conciliar Rome must agree to accept Vatican II; an act I believe to be suicidal, for it always neutralizes the group in its fight against the Council and its destructive progressivism. I know of no exceptions.  For example, I know of no “approved” Tridentine group that has published books or booklets equivalent to Iota Unum, Si Si No No, or Archbishop Lefebvre’s They Have Uncrowned Him.

            What is written here is not intended to be a definitive treatment of whether or not Vatican II can be interpreted in light of Tradition.2 I think, however, it worthwhile to address the notion that traditional Catholics should not hesitate to accept Vatican II in light of tradition, since the traditionalist Archbishop Lefebvre signed the Council documents. Thus, the reasoning goes, there really cannot be much wrong with the texts.

            The facts of the matter, however, are a bit more complex, which I will demonstrate in four quick points:

            1) The Archbishop and the International Group of Fathers at Vatican II fought the liberal orientation of Vatican II throughout the entire Council, and yes, were successful in making the documents better than they would have been otherwise. The main point, however, is that Archbishop Lefebvre was well aware of the liberal spirit that took hold of the Council even before the Council began.3

            2) Archbishop Lefebvre, like many other prelates at the time, felt himself under moral pressure to sign the documents. Archbishop Lefebvre was a man with a life-long career of serving the papacy. He was Apostolic Delegate to French speaking Africa and had worked closely with Pope Pius XII. In light of this filial devotion to the Holy See, the Archbishop said he believed himself “morally obliged to sign” the document if the Pope had signed it.4

            3) Years after Vatican II, he said that at the time of the Council, in some ways, he was far too optimistic. Here he is referring to a statement he made toward the end of Vatican II.

            In 1965, just before the fourth and final session of the Council; he publicly stated his belief that despite what went on at the Council, and despite the progressivist “magisterium” at the Council that had done so much damage, “The Church in the person of Peter’s successor has not yet substituted the traditional Magisterium with this new one and neither has the Church of Rome ... The majority of the Cardinals and especially the cardinals of the Curia, ... do not look to the new magisterium. Neither collegiality nor the ill-conceived religious liberty, both of which are contrary to the doctrine of the Church, will succeed.”

            In other words, he never dreamed that the disastrous liberalism inherent in Vatican II would actually be promoted as Church policy by the Pope and the Roman Curia.

            More than two decades later, when re-reading his words from 1965, Archbishop Lefebvre said, “I admit that the optimism I showed regarding the Council and the Pope was ill-founded.”5

            4) To his dying day, he never formally consented to accept Vatican II “in light of Tradition”.6 He steadfastly fought the Vatican II revolution without comprise until his last breath.

            That is a good model for us.


1 2005 DICI Interview.
2  I treat this topic in much more detail in my talks: “Vatican II: The Best Council the Protestants Ever Had; “The Tiber Flows Into the Tiber: Who was Really Responsible for the Progressivist Takeover of Vatican II?”, and “The Oath Against Modernism vs. the ‘Hermeneutic of Continuity'” (on DVD and CDs respectively)
3 For an in depth look at Archbishop Lefebvre’s activities at Vatican II, as well as the many problems with the Council, see The Biography of Marcel Lefebvre, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais [Kansas City: Angelus Press, 2004], particularly Chapter 12: “In the Turmoil of the Council” and Chapter 13 “Herald of Christ the King”.
4 Ibid,  p. 312.
5 Ibid., p. 331.
6 Though Archbishop Lefebvre had signed the 1988 Protocol, he felt uneasy from the moment he signed it and withdrew his signature within 24 hours, never to sign another.




    Declaration of

    Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
      November 21, 1974
 This well-known declaration was contained in the Media Brochure issued by the
         SSPX on January 24. 2009, which must be taken as the SSPX reaffirming Archbishop Lefebvre's position as its own.



    We adhere with our whole heart and our whole soul to Catholic Rome, the Guardian of the Catholic Faith and of those traditions necessary for the maintenance of that Faith, to eternal Rome, Mistress of Wisdom and Truth.

    Because of this adherence we refuse and have always refused to follow the Rome of neo-Modernist and neo-Protestant tendencies, such as were clearly manifested during the Second Vatican Council, and after the Council in all the resulting reforms.

    All of these reforms  have, indeed, contributed and still contribute to the demolition of the Church, to the ruin of the priesthood, to the destruction of the Holy Sacrifice and the Sacraments, to the disappearance of religious life, and to naturalistic and Teilhardian teaching in universities, seminaries and catechesis, a teaching born of Liberalism and Protestantism many times condemned by the solemn magisterium of the Church. No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can constrain us to abandon or diminish our Catholic Faith, such as has been clearly expressed and professed by the Church's magisterium for 19 centuries.

    "But though we, or an angel from Heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema." (Gal. 1:8).

    Is this not what the Holy Father is repeating to us today? And if a certain contradiction is apparent in his words and actions, as well as in the acts of various Roman Congregations, then we choose what has always been taught, and we turn a deaf ear to the innovations which are destroying the Church.

    The lex orandi (law of prayer) cannot be profoundly changed without changing the lex credendi (law of belief). The New Mass is in line with the new catechism, the new priesthood, new seminaries, new universities, and the charismatic or Pentecostal church, all of which are in opposition to orthodoxy and to the age-old magisterium.

    This reform, since it has issued from Liberalism and from Modernism, is entirely corrupt. It comes from heresy and results in heresy, even if all its acts are not formally heretical. It is thus impossible for any faithful Catholic who is aware of these things to adopt this reform, or to submit to it in any way at all. To ensure our salvation, the only attitude of fidelity to the Church and to Catholic doctrine, is a categorical refusal to accept the reform.

    It is for this reason that, without any rebellion, bitterness or resentment, we pursue our work of the formation of priests under the star of the age-old magisterium, in the conviction that we can thus do no greater service to the holy Catholic Church, to the Sovereign Pontiff, and to the future generations.

    For this reason we hold firmly to all that has been believed and practiced by the Church of all time, in her faith, morals, worship, catechetical instruction, priestly formation and her institutions and codified in the books which appeared before the Modernist influence of the late Council. Meanwhile, we wait for the true light of Tradition to dispel the darkness which obscures the sky of eternal Rome.

    By acting thus we are sure, with the grace of God, and the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and St. Pius X, of remaining faithful to the Catholic and Roman Church, to all the successors of St. Peter, and of being fidelis dispensatores mysterium Domini Jesu Christi in Spiritu Sancto.


+ Marcel Lefebvre

Rome on the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary



Posted January 29, 2009 by
Catholic Family News

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