A priest of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) replied to our recent announcement of Roberto de Mattei’s book, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: Prophet of the Reign of Mary, by raising a delicate question: Why had Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer of Campos, Brazil “condemned” Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira? The word condemned suggests a grave censure, in this case of a lay apostolate, by an ecclesiastical authority. On the other hand, one of this priest’s superiors in the SSPX, Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, wrote two articles on the lay apostolate that were published in the SSPX journal The Angelus, in August 2003 and October 2011. In both articles Bishop Tissier de Mallerais expressed disagreement with Bishop de Castro Mayer’s understanding of the lay apostolate. Therefore, the SSPX priest’s question gives rise to another question: Why did a superior within the SSPX oppose the theology of Catholic Action as explained in a pastoral letter of Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer?
The SSPX is known for its justifiable concerns about the orientation that much of the Church has taken since the Second Vatican Council, and it has upheld the traditional Magisterium of the Popes as the norm by which the Council itself must be understood and evaluated. From St. Pius X to Pius XII, the Popes had explained Catholic doctrine regarding the lay apostolate by using the term Catholic Action. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira upheld that papal teaching in his 1943 book, In Defense of Catholic Action, and Bishop de Castro Mayer did the same in his Pastoral Letter on Problems of the Modern Apostolate of January 6, 1953. But on the question of the lay apostolate, Bishop Tissier de Mallerais expressed disagreement with the doctrine on Catholic Action not only of Bishop de Castro Mayer, but also of the two Popes immediately prior to the Council, Pius XI and Pius XII. And in a brief introduction to the second article of Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, it was suggested that his disagreements with Bishop de Castro Mayer were related in turn to opposition to the TFP, the lay apostolate founded by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, but the reasons given were not clear. Nevertheless, these facts, indicating the existence of concerns among some members of the traditionalist clergy regarding the TFP, must be understood in relation to this disagreement of Bishop Tissier de Mallerais with Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer on the doctrine of Catholic Action.
Opposition to Dr. Plinio and the TFP among some of the traditionalist clergy – while they were simultaneously respected and admired by other traditional clergy – had found its most vehement expression in the late 1970s, when a controversy erupted at a school in France, l’Ecole St. Benôit, where the TFP came under severe attack. But that controversy did not deter Bishop de Castro Mayer from continuing to support the work of the TFP. Then in 1980 Bishop de Castro Mayer went to Rome for his ad limina visit. Archbishop Lefebvre wanted Bishop de Castro Mayer to visit the SSPX seminary in Ecône, Switzerland, and he sent a priest and a seminarian, both Italians, to Rome to extend the invitation. Although Bishop de Castro Mayer was not able to visit the SSPX seminary at the time in response to Archbishop Lefebvre’s invitation, his secretary, Father Fernando Arêas Rifan, made the trip to Switzerland instead, helping to further the contacts between the two bishops. Then a couple of years later the opposition to the TFP among some traditionalist clergy, both within the SSPX and among some of Bishop de Castro Mayer’s own priests, began to influence Bishop de Castro Mayer himself. And finally, after fifty years of mutual collaboration and support, Bishop de Castro Mayer severed ties with Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira and the TFP, and aligned himself with Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX instead
Among the critics of the TFP within Bishop de Castro Mayer’s own clergy was his secretary, Father Rifan. Then several years after the deaths of Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer, Father Rifan arranged for the Campos priests to end their affiliation with the SSPX, receiving the status of an Apostolic Administration from the Vatican, for which Father Rifan was eventually consecrated as a bishop. Meanwhile, among leading opponents of the TFP within the SSPX was Bishop Richard Williamson, who later was dismissed from the SSPX. Joining with him in separating from the Society were the Dominicans of Avrillé, France, who in their journal, Le Sel de la Terre, had published arguments against the TFP. That these specific members of the traditionalist clergy – Bishop Williamson, the Campos priests who sided with Bishop Rifan, and the French Dominicans – eventually separated from the SSPX, puts into perspective their earlier opposition to Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira and the TFP. For after having opposed the latter, they then positioned themselves in opposition to the former.
This brief historical account points to the background, theological as well as historical, of the disagreement that certain members of the traditionalist clergy began to have with Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, and the TFP which he founded and led. As these disagreements developed, however, other members of the clergy and hierarchy came to the TFP’s defense. As Bishop Athanasius Schneider mentions in his Preface to Prof. de Mattei’s new book, he as a bishop was following in the footsteps of Cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler, who had written the Preface to Prof. de Mattei’s earlier work, the biography of Dr. Corrêa de Oliveira. In this more recent book, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: Prophet of the Reign of Mary, Roberto de Mattei provides an extensive analysis of the philosophy and spirituality of a man whose life and work won the admiration and support of Catholics throughout the world, among clergy and laity alike. The full circumstances behind the fact that Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer ended his support for Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in the early 1980s, turning instead to collaborate with the work of Archbishop Lefebvre, is one of the untold stories of the history of the Church in our time, but a story for which Prof. Roberto de Mattei’s new book provides the doctrinal and historical background.
Preface by Bishop Athanasius Schneider
2019 xii 334 pages / sewn hardback $20.00 #55068