TRADITIONAL CATHOLICISM: MARCEL LEFEBVRE (FRANCE) AND PLINIO CORRÊA
DE OLIVEIRA (BRAZIL)….
Lefebvre’s religious traditionalism adopts its political reaction almost by osmosis in the milieu of its gestation and following, but the Catholic societies for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) began with a strong political orientation. The TFP societies reflect Latin American neo-Christendom as strongly as Lefebvre reflects French integralism.
– Eric O. Hanson, The Catholic Church in World Politics 1
Historian Eric Hanson attempted to analyze the traditionalist reaction to the crisis in the Church in the 1980s within the context of the first decade of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. When Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre spoke to the newly elected pope in 1978 about the traditional papal doctrine of the Social Kingship of Christ, as taught in Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quas Primas, John Paul II responded by suggesting that Pius XI would have taken a different approach if he were writing in more recent times. But Archbishop Lefebvre interpreted Pope Pius XI differently. The divergent papal perspectives, from before and after the Second Vatican Council, centered around two different attitudes toward the relationship between the Church and the world, and specifically around the relationship between the Church and Communist governments. This distinction in both doctrinal and pastoral perspectives came to light on June 26, 2000 at the press conference led by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, on the occasion of the publication of the Third Secret of Fatima, an event that was carefully analyzed by Antonio Borelli Machado in October of 2016.2 The historical circumstances relating to what Dr. Borelli Machado described centered around the two petitions submitted to the Council, and signed by 510 and 213 bishops respectively, for the consecration of Russia and the condemnation of Communism, but which the Council did not act upon. Presented to the Council by bishops representing the signatories,3 the two documents had been written for them by laymen, members of the TFP, in circumstances described in the autobiographical transcripts of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira.4 This was not the first time in the history of the Church that laymen influenced the actions of bishops at an ecumenical council. The first ecumenical council, that of Nicaea, had been assembled by the emperor Constantine. Roberto de Mattei’s history of Vatican II serves to show an analogous influence of the laymen of the TFP who worked to assist the traditionally minded bishops, action which was due to their devotion to the traditional doctrine of the Kingship of Christ in temporal society, manifesting their doctrinal affinity with the same position taken by Archbishop Lefebvre. 5 However, the fundamental distinction between the roles of bishops and laymen is not to be confused in this lay collaboration with bishops, but instead must be clearly defined. For it was this profound difference between the two states of life within the Church, priestly and lay, that traditionalists upheld in opposition to a new theology of the priesthood and of the laity which was to emerge after the Council. In recent years this has been carefully documented by Brian McCall of Catholic Family News, and by TFP author José Antonio Ureta.6 In the new liturgical rite, Pope Paul VI abolished tonsure, minor orders and the subdiaconate, and in their place there began to emerge a new concept of lay “ministries.” In the traditional rite the order of Acolyte is a clerical function, and only by delegation is it granted to a layman who serves at Mass. But in the new rite, in the absence of tonsure and the minor orders, it becomes a “ministry” in which the distinct roles of clergy and laity are obscured. In the face of the resulting crisis that affected priestly and lay apostolates alike within the Church, Archbishop Lefebvre assumed the responsibility of assisting seminarians who approached him for help, when these seminarians found the formation they were receiving in their seminaries to be inadequate. And in the years immediately before this development among the clergy, when the Council was still in session, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira found his native Brazil facing an imminent Communist threat, and realized that he must act promptly – not waiting for leadership from the bishops when the task was entirely within the realm of the lay apostolate, as taught by the Popes in the early decades of the twentieth century. If the analysis of these historical developments were to depend on study alone – even with the assistance of theologians who might evaluate the value of such an analysis – it might still lack a deeper supernatural certitude that could come only from divine intervention. It is for this reason that one finds in the revelations of Our Lady of Good Success an additional confirmation of important significance. One can draw conclusions by human means and natural evidence regarding the history of the Church, but the confirmation from Our Lady gives these conclusions a certainty that is no longer merely natural. This is why we have given an account in Part I of the interventions of Our Lady of Good Success, regarding the leaders in the present crisis whom She herself has singled out. In the present commentary we have added additional evidence from the twentieth century, to relate the events to Our Lady’s testimony – as She inspired through grace two Catholic leaders, a bishop and a layman, to guide Catholics seeking to remain faithful to Tradition during the crisis of the Church in our time.
1 Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987, pp. 102, 104.
2 Antonio Borelli Machado, “Why Was the Third Secret Not Released in 1960?” – appendix to Fatima and the Third Secret (Boonville, New York: Preserving Christian Publications, 1917), pp. 43-62.
3 Cf. Antonio Augusto Borelli Machado, ed., Half a Century of Epic Anticommunism (Mt. Kisco, New York: The Foundation for a Christian Civilization, 1981), pp. 86-87. The petitions were delivered by the Brazilian prelates, Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer and Archbishop Geraldo de Proença Sigaud – the first, for the condemnation of Communism, on December 3, 1963 to the Vatican Secretary of State, and the second, for the consecration of Russia, to Pope Paul VI on February 3, 1964.
4 Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Minha Vida Pública: Compilação de Relatos Autobiográficos de Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (My Public Life: [Posthumous] Compilation of Autobiographical Accounts of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira) (São Paulo: Artpress Indústria Gráfica e Editora Ltda, 2015), pp. 292 ff. “Two initiatives of historical relevance, in which we were deeply involved, were also boycotted during the Council. The first was a request for the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the second, that the Council issue a condemnation of Communism. “The idea for the first initiative had its roots in a conversation – which should be recorded in the annals of our history – with Archbishop Sigaud and Bishop de Castro Mayer in a living room of the Morro Alto farmhouse in Amparo [etc.].”
5 Cf. Roberto de Mattei, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: Prophet of the Reign of Mary (Boonville, New York: Preserving Christian Publications, 2019), p. 261.
6 Brian M. McCall, “The Doctrine of Lectresses and Serviettes: Give them a minor order and they will take the Priesthood,” Catholic Family News, vol. 28 (February 2021), pp. 1, 17, 26 & 28, and José Antonio Ureta, “‘Ministries with An Amazonian Face’: An Eclipse of the Catholic Priesthood and the Hierarchical Character of the Church,” in four articles: (1), https://panamazonsynodwatch.info/articles/eclesiology/ministries-with-an-amazonian-face-an-eclipse-of-the-catholic-priesthood-and-the-hierarchical-character-of-the-church-1/ (2), https://panamazonsynodwatch.info/feature/ministries-with-an-amazonian-face-an-eclipse-of-the-catholic-priesthood-and-the-hierarchical-character-of-the-church-2/ (3), https://panamazonsynodwatch.info/articles/eclesiology/ministries-with-an-amazonian-face-an-eclipse-of-the-catholic-priesthood-and-the-hierarchical-character-of-the-church-3/ (4), https://panamazonsynodwatch.info/feature/ministries-with-an-amazonian-face-an-eclipse-of-the-catholic-priesthood-and-the-hierarchical-character-of-the-church-the-end/