The validity of Archbishop Lefebvre's ordination and consecration

September 13, 1992

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

If one looks around one today for examples of insanity, there is not exactly a poverty of choice, but one of the choicest specimens within our ken must be the notion that Archbishop Lefebvre was invalidly ordained as a priest, and/or invalidly consecrated as a bishop.

It is an old piece of insanity which has been around for several years. It first appeared soon after the Archbishop rose to prominence in defense of Catholic Tradition. It has been firmly refuted, but every now and again it still gets wheeled out on stage by enemies of the Archbishop on the right, like an old cardboard cannon, to be fired off amidst theatrical effects with a tremendous pop of a bang, whereupon it disappears back-stage, waiting to be trundled out again for its next dramatic appearance.

Now people who love pops and bangs are thoroughly entitled to a bang for their buck. The only thing is that too many bangs are liable to damage the ear-drums so that one can no longer listen to reason. However, since there are interesting points of doctrine involved in this case, then for all those whose hearing is not too impaired, here are some arguments, drawn in large part from an article written on the question by Michael Davies in "Approaches" #71, November 1, 1980.

Archbishop Lefebvre is supposed to have been an invalid priest and/or bishop because he was both ordained priest and consecrated bishop by Cardinal Lienart, who was a Freemason, and who therefore cannot have had the sacramental intention necessary to perform validly the ordination or consecration of Marcel Lefebvre.

Michael Davies replies, firstly, it is not proved beyond doubt that Cardinal Lienart was a Freemason. Secondly, even if he was a Mason, he did not necessarily have an invalid sacramental intention in confecting a sacrament. Thirdly, every time he externally used the proper sacramental rite in a normal way, he may and must be presumed to have had internally the intention necessary for validity. Fourthly, even if the Cardinal both at the ordination in 1927 and at the consecration in 1947, secretly withheld the necessary sacramental intention, nevertheless Marcel Lefebvre became a valid bishop and priest by either or both of the two bishops co-consecrating him in 1947 with the Cardinal. Let us take each of these points in turn.

Firstly, it is not proved Cardinal Lienart was a Freemason. Michael Davies says that when he wrote his book on "Pope John's Council", he would have liked to show key figures of the Council, like Cardinal Lienart, to have been Masons, but when he examined the evidence, he found it insufficient: one French writer's allegation in one book, without supporting documentation. Whoever affirms Lienart to have been a Mason must bring his proof.

However, secondly, let us assume Lienart was a Mason. In that case, say the anti- Lefebvrists, Lienart cannot as a Mason have validly received and/or bestowed the sacrament of Holy Orders. Such a statement betrays a grave ignorance of Catholic doctrine of the sacraments. To receive or bestow a Catholic sacrament validly, the right sacramental intention suffices, an upright moral intention is not necessary. Just as, in the eating of an apple, whether I morally bought it or immorally stole it makes no difference to the validity of eating it — it fills my stomach just the same — so in the giving or receiving of a sacrament: whether my moral intention is lawful or unlawful makes no difference to the validity of my giving or receiving it so long as I fulfill the necessary sacramental conditions.

Thus as far as intention goes, to receive validly the empowering character of Baptism or Holy Orders, I need only intend in undergoing the rite to receive the sacrament; to bestow validly the character I need only (as a qualified minister) intend in putting together the requisite words and acts to do what the Church does. This is because the sacraments' primary cause is God, and the human minister need only do the minimum necessary to make himself God's instrument.

Thus immorality of intention need not invalidate the sacrament. Thus an unbeliever can validly baptize, an apostate priest can validly say Mass, and a Freemason can validly ordain or consecrate. Hence even if Lienart was a Freemason, he need not have given invalid Holy Orders to Archbishop Lefebvre.

Ah yes, thirdly, but even if Cardinal Lienart could have validly ordained and consecrated Marcel Lefebvre, still he will not in fact have validly done so, because although in 1927 and 1947 he went through all the correct external motions by saying the necessary words and performing the necessary acts, still, as a Mason who must wish to harm the Church, he will have invalidated the Holy Orders he bestowed by secretly holding back the necessary internal intention to do what the Church does.

Reply: in theory such a purely internal withholding of the necessary sacramental intention is possible whenever a bishop or priest or minister of a sacrament goes through the correct external motions, and any such withholding would indeed invalidate the sacrament. But since any such withholding can by its nature be known to God alone, then the Catholic Church teaches that whenever a sacramental minister correctly performs the externals, he can and must be presumed to have had the corresponding internal intention unless and until there is clear proof to the contrary.

Now in general nothing proves that all Masons believe that the best way to hurt the Church is by invalidating any Orders they bestow (for instance they may well believe they will hurt her more by gaining higher positions inside the Church by gaining all the Catholics' confidence by the most perfect performance of their sacramental functions); and in particular, it is certain that Cardinal Lienart in 1927 and 1947 correctly used the proper external rite. Therefore the burden of proof is on the anti-Lefebvrists to prove that this Cardinal on these occasions withheld the necessary intention. What evidence do they have? None. They cannot even prove he was a Mason, let alone that he withheld an intention on this or that occasion.

But again, fourthly, let us assume that Lienart was a Mason and let us assume that he deliberately invalidated the Orders he conferred on Marcel Lefebvre. The Anti-Lefebvrists have still not won their point, because, as Michael Davies quite correctly argues, Marcel Lefebvre would still have become bishop and priest in 1947 at the hands of either or both of the two bishops co-consecrating him then with Cardinal Lienart: he would have become bishop, because out of the three bishops performing the. rite of his consecration, one alone needs to have had the correct intention for the sacrament to have been valid, and the odds against all three having secretly withheld their intention are simply astronomical; he would have become a priest because as the greater contains the lesser, so bishopric contains priesthood. For to receive higher Orders without first receiving the preceding lower Orders is in the Catholic Church today unlawful, but as Michael Davies learnedly argues, the position of some theologians and canonists that it is also invalid is having to be abandoned. For instance, St. Cyprian was made a bishop without first being made a priest.

Now this fourth point, always assuming that Cardinal Lienart was a Mason and that he withheld the sacramental intention in 1927, does leave open the possibility that Archbishop Lefebvre was not a priest until 1947.

To which one can only reply, fifthly, that the most elementary Catholic common sense, going by the fruits as our Savior commanded us to do, observes the marvellous fruits of Fr. Lefebvre's priestly ministry in French Central Africa and concludes that these could not have come from a non-priest. Still less could the fruits of the Archbishop's episcopal ministry in all French Africa, and then his defense of Tradition throughout the world, have come from a non-bishop.

But our cardboard canonists stand this argument on its head: since Archbishop Lefebvre's so-called defense of Tradition is in fact a sham and a sell-out to Rome, they say, then he cannot be a real bishop, and this is why they grasp after the Lienart argument. To which the only reply left is that they may not be sedevacantists, but they surely are mentevacantists!

Archbishop Lefebvre's work continues to bear fruit. Fourteen new candidates for this Seminary are due by the end of this month to join 34 seminarians from last year. We enclose a Seminary Continuous Support Fund, or S.C.S.F., card, which if you fill it out and send it back to us, will make it easier for you to contribute regularly to the Seminary, because each month you will receive with the Seminary Newsletter a return envelope, and as your incentive or reward within the United States you will receive the letter by first class instead of by bulk mail. That is why some people receive the Newsletter ahead of others. All you need do is sign up to contribute!

We are steadily grateful to our regular contributors. The S.C.S.F. each month provides a substantial part of the Seminary's income. We are especially grateful when we think that the increasing difficulties of the economy in the USA must be making it less easy for many to contribute. But what happens to the USA - and to the world - if there are no priests? Also we must pray for vocations. What would the material seminary be if no young men came forward? Thank God for a steady flow of vocations here at Winona, but if this flow were twice the size, how many more of you would be happy in a few years' time!

Enclosed too is a flyer on praying the Rosary. Please God all of you readers know how to pray the Rosary, but keep the flyer to pass on to somebody else at the right moment, especially to a soul of good will that has never prayed the Rosary before. When the bombs start flying, Our Lady will be recruiting! Prepare to be her recruiting-agent!

Sincerely yours in her service,