Archbishop Lefebvre

Marcel Francois Lefebvre was born in Tourcoing in northeastern France on Nov. 29, 1905, the son of Rene and Gabrielle Lefebvre. His father, an official in a textile company, was a monarchist and a devout Catholic who said daily prayers in Latin. Of his seven brothers and sisters, four others became priests or nuns.

He obtained doctorates in theology and philosophy before being ordained in 1929. He joined a missionary order, the Holy Ghost Fathers, and in 1932 was sent to Gabon, then a French colony. He spent most of the next three decades in Africa, and from 1955 to 1962 he was Archbishop of Dakar, Senegal. He left Senegal after it won independence.

In a move that chagrined many proponents of change, Pope John XXIII named him to the commission that prepared the Second Vatican Council. The bishops who attended the Council, which met from 1962 to 1965, rejected the traditionalist documents drafted by Archbishop Lefebvre and others, and that was the wedge that began to divide him from the church. Later he declared that «the devil» and «Antichrists» had inspired Vatican II.

He was especially disheartened with the abandonment of Mass said in Latin and other changes relating to the liturgy, including the placement of the altar so the celebrant faces the congregation. He also rejected Vatican II’s affirmation of religious liberty and its abandonment of the church’s assertion that it held the only universal truth.

«The church in Africa was respected because it clearly told the truth,» Archibishop Lefebvre said. «But Vatican II gave the impression that one truth could be as good as another. That has resulted in a general deterioration of moral values.»

In 1969, he established the Fraternity of St. Pius X to train priests according to his traditional model. He lambasted the modern Mass, calling it a «bastard rite.» As a result of his defiance, Pope Paul VI suspended him from his priestly work in 1976. This meant he could no longer celebrate Mass or administer the sacraments.

But he carried on in his crusade undeterred. He celebrated a Mass before 6,000 people in Lille, near his hometown, saying, «Let us carry on the religion of our fathers.»

In 1978, John Paul II tried to establish a truce with the Archbishop, allowing him to resume his priestly functions. In 1988, the Pope sought to head off the schism by offering to name a traditionalist bishop whom Archbishop Lefebvre would nominate.

Eventually, the Archbishop rejected the compromise, which would not have obliterated the changes that he so disdained. This led to his consecration of the four bishops, a move that according to Catholic doctrine can be done only with the Pope’s approval.

«It is to show our attachment to the Rome of forever that we perform this ceremony,» he said.

Archbishop struggled with changes in the doctrines of the church. For him, it was anathema that the church decided to open a dialogue with Protestants, Muslims and Jews, a move that he said mistakenly lent credibility to other religions. He rejected Vatican II’s acceptance of «religious freedom,» which he asserted was misguided because it put Catholicism on an equal footing with other faiths.

In politics, he was known for right-wing views. He supported Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the right-wing National Front, and often had kind words for Franco of Spain and the Chilean general Augusto Pinochet. An avowed opponent of the French Revolution, he also supported the restoration of the French monarchy. «Our future is the past,» he often said.

Archbishop Lefebvre, a soft-spoken, stubborn Frenchman, was excommunicated in June 1988 for consecrating four bishops to help carry on his battle to return to a Latin Mass and to preserve other practices rejected in the wake of the ecumenical council Vatican II.

«I prefer to be in the truth without the Pope than to walk a false path with him,» he said in explaining his course. Archbishop Lefebvre died on 25 March 1991 at the age of 85 from cancer in Martigny, Switzerland.