From thearchives - Published from 1982-96, Fidelity magazine was the predecessor of Culture Wars.
The Story of the Vanishing Schism: The Strange Case of Cardinal Lara
By John Beaumont and John Walsh
From the March 1994 issue of Fidelity magazine
Writing the following article has been a sad but necessary task. As the article shows, a distinguished Catholic prelate has been the subject of much disinformation by a group which although now outside the Catholic Church, claims to uphold Catholic tradition. The authors have made many efforts in private to persuade those who have published this material to set the record straight. Sadly, this has not been done. We feel obliged therefore to bring the truth into the public domain in order that innocent Catholics may no longer be misled in this matter.
Rosalio Jose Castillo Lara was born on September 4th 1922 at San Casimiro, near Maracay, in Venezuela. He was ordained priest in 1949. He was consecrated a bishop, with the Titular See of Praecausa, in 1973 and then made an Archbishop in 1982. Pope John Paul II made him a Cardinal in 1985. As Cardinal he was President of the Pontifical Council for the interpretation of Legislative Texts from 1985 to 1990. He has also been President of the Disciplinary Commission of the Roman Curia since 1981 and is President of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See. Cardinal Lara is also Dean of Nostra Signora di Coromoto and is a member of the Congregation for Catholic Education, of the Supreme Tribunal of the Holy See, of the Papal Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and of the Papal Commission for the Vatican City State.
All in all the Cardinal's career has been that of an eminent Roman canon lawyer and diplomat. His life has been one of loyal service to the Catholic Church. However, surprising as it may seem, according to many so-called "traditionalist Catholics," belonging to the Lefebvrist Society of St. Pius X, or apologists for that group, Cardinal Lara is in reality something of an ally of their cause. Furthermore, he is said by them not just to be a closet sympathizer, but a man who has spoken out publicly. It has even been said that he supports their arguments. How on earth can this be, one might well ask. The answer to this, unpleasant though it is, reveals a great deal about the attitude of the Society of St. Pius X towards the truth. However, to understand the case of Cardinal Lara, we must first go back to the year of 1988. The story starts in June of that year.
Schism and excommunication: the events of 1988
The consecration of four bishops without a papal mandate by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre on June 30th, 1988, resulted in an automatic excommunication for the Archbishop, his co-consecrator, Bishop Antonio Castro de Mayer and the four new bishops. In addition, the Holy Father issued an Apostolic Letter, Ecclesia Dei in which he declared that the consecrations constituted an act of schism and that anyone formally adhering to the schism would also be guilty of that offense and automatically excommunicated. Despite the fact that the very tradition which the Society of St. Pius X purports to defend insists that Catholics must obey disciplinary decisions of the Apostolic See and that there is no appeal against such decisions (Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution, Pastor Aeternus, Ch.3), the SSPX rushed around trying to find a non-existent justification for Archbishop Lefebvre's actions. Among the many purported justifications, a favorite was to play "the Canon Law cards." The canon lawyers don't accept that there is a schism was a frequent cry. This plea is a superficially attractive one, since most people are used to seeing how in a municipal legal system the courts always have the last word and assume that this must also be the case in Church law. The impact of this form of pleading is particularly strong in the United States, given the role of the Supreme Court as the perceived guardian of the Constitution. However, Church law is not like municipal law. That this is so should, of course, be obvious in the light of Vatican I and Pastor Aeternus, referred to earlier. In view of the widespread ignorance of the teaching of the Church, it might be useful to quote directly from that document:
"We teach and declare. . . that by the disposition of the Lord, the Roman Church possesses preeminence of ordinary power above all the Churches: and that this power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff which is truly episcopal, is immediate. This power obligates shepherds and faithful of every rite and dignity, both individually and collectively, to hierarchical subordination and true obedience, not only in matters pertaining to faith and morals, but also in those pertaining to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world; so that by maintaining with the Roman Pontiff unity of communion and unity in the profession of the same faith, the Church of Christ may be one flock under one supreme Shepherd. This is the teaching of Catholic truth. No one can deviate from it without danger to faith." (emphasis added).
The Fathers of Vatican I further declared that: "[A] decision of the Apostolic See, whose authority has no superior, may be revised by no one, nor may anyone examine judicially its decision." The Council Fathers then went on to formulate the whole of this teaching in a canon to which an anathema was attached. Every true Catholic respects this teaching. It is the tradition of the Church. As evidence of this, one need only cite the consistory of March 10th, 1418, in which Pope Martin V asserted: "[N]o one may appeal from the supreme judge, that is the apostolic seat or the Roman Pontiff, Vicar on earth of Jesus Christ, or may decline his authority in matters of faith."
This teaching, which is binding on all Catholics, is enshrined in the Code of Canon Law: "The Bishop of the Church of Rome. . .Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth. . .enjoys supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power...which he can always freely exercise" (Canon 331, emphasis added). In addition "there is neither appeal nor recourse against a decision or decree of the Roman Pontiff." (canon 333 )
There is, then, no Supreme Court above the Pope. It is the Pope who possesses supreme legislative, executive and judicial power. Because he is the supreme lawgiver of the Church, he is not legally bound by past ecclesiastical laws, but by divine law alone. As the supreme judge of the Church, he himself is judged by nobody, because there is no higher judge on earth than he. He has the right to decide all Church disputes, and there is no appeal to a higher court against his judgment. As St. Augustine famously put it, "Roma locuta est, causa finita est." But, as we have said earlier this is not what the person in the street is accustomed to. On the contrary, what he or she sees every day, particularly in the American Judicial system, are seemingly secure judgments being overturned by a higher court until very often the Supreme Court has the final say. The law and the lawyers say what goes and thus the attraction to some of the opinions of eminent canonists. And they don't come much more eminent than Cardinal Rosalio Jose Castillo Lara.
Enter Cardinal Lara
So what does Cardinal Lara say about the question of Archbishop Lefebvre? And what do the apologists for the SSPX say that Cardinal Lara says? Well, as far as the latter is concerned, that is easy to discover. One only needs to look at almost any article written in defense of the SSPX (or any pro-SSPX web site; Ed. Note) in order to find the inevitable reference to the cardinal, usually prefaced by a comment about his great abilities as a canon lawyer, something which no one, least of all the present writers, would wish to deny. After this comment, the SSPX apologist will go on to say, in the most definite terms that Cardinal Lara believes that the episcopal consecrations by Archbishop Lefebvre on June 30th, 1988 do not constitute an act of schism. We could give many examples of such statements, but a selection of typical ones must suffice. Let us start with the (former; Ed. Note) Superior General of the SSPX, Fr. Franz Schmidberger. In his pamphlet, The Episcopal Consecrations of 30 June 1988 (London 1989), Fr. Schmidberger states that the view of Cardinal Lara is that the consecrations did not constitute an act of schism (p.47). Turning to the bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre, it is only necessary to quote one of them, Bishop Tissier de Mallerais. Again, we find the same view expressed shortly after the consecrations in a letter to the District Superiors of the SSPX. Cardinal Lara is cited as authority for the view that "le sacre du Juin 30 n'est pas un acte schismatique" (Lettre circulaire No.50 aux sup. de districts,..., Rickenbach, Sept. 15th, 1988).
The same approach is to be found when one turns from actual members of the SSPX to its supporters. For example, one Frank Denke, writing in the July 1990 issue of The Angelus, the SSPX in house journal, repeats the same party line. Another apologist, Teodoro Dominguez, again in The Angelus, this time in March 1993, gives the same account, just in case readers have not yet gotten the message. The former acknowledges his source, which unsurprisingly turns out to be Fr. Schmidberger's pamphlet referred to earlier. The latter gives no references at all.
Enter Michael Davies
Inevitably on a question of this kind, as with any question of whatever kind concerning the SSPX, the doyen of SSPX supporters, Michael Davies, has had his say. This was in the form of an article, "Who is Schismatic?," Part II of which (the relevant part in this context) appeared in the December 1990 issue of The Angelus (not another article on schism, one might well ask. Does the SSPX have nothing else to write about?!). Interestingly, and unlike most of the other writers, Davies purports to quote Cardinal Lara verbatim. Davies' treatment of this matter is worth considering in some detail, because it is very enlightening on the whole subject of SSPX apologetics and its methodology.
After the usual bending of the knee to the great ability of Cardinal Lara as a canonist ("It would be hard to imagine a more authoritative opinion" [p.201], Davies gives a direct quotation from the July 10th, 1988, issue of the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, in which Cardinal Lara is said to have commented on the episcopal consecrations. Here is what Cardinal Lara is supposed to have said, according to the quotation in Davies' article:
"The act of consecrating a bishop (without a papal mandate) is not in itself a schismatic act. In fact, the Code that deals with offenses is divided into two sections. One deals with offenses against religion and the unity of the Church, and these are apostasy, schism, and heresy. Consecrating a bishop with [sic] a papal mandate is, on the contrary, an offense against the exercise of a specific ministry. For example, in the case of the consecrations carried out by the Vietnamese Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc in 1976 and 1983, although the Archbishop was excommunicated he was not considered to have committed a schismatic act because there was no intention of a breach with the Church."
This quotation has become something of a sacred text within SSPX circles. It is frequently referred to when the question of schism and the SSPX is raised and appears in later writings, notably in Fr. David Belland's article on schism (yes, another one!) in the May 1993 issue of The Angelus (p.23).
But, let us return to the Michael Davies article. The rationale for the use of the quotation of Cardinal Lara's words there is easily stated. The central thesis of Davies' article is, of course, that Archbishop Lefebvre is not a schismatic. Davies begins this section of the article by stating: "Canon lawyers without the least shred of sympathy for Msgr. Lefebvre have repudiated the charge of schism made against him as totally untenable" (op cit, p.20). He then makes reference to Cardinal Lara, a canonist of course, with regard to various matters relating to the issue of schism. Davies then concludes by saying that there is no basis whatsoever in Canon Law for accusing Archbishop Lefebvre of the offense of schism. Now, it is inevitable that, in view of what Davies has written thus far, that his readers can only infer that Cardinal Lara is also of the opinion that there is no schism in the Lefebvre case.
So what is the truth about Cardinal Lara? Is he in reality a secret Lefebvre supporter, perhaps one of those people in high places about whom we were always being told by the SSPX. Readers may remember the standard account of this. These men, it was said, were sympathizers of Archbishop Lefebvre in private, but not prepared, or able, to act in public in accordance with their beliefs. On whether Cardinal Lara was a closet Lefebvrist, ready now to spring to the SSPX's defense in public, the present writers were naturally skeptical, though a little curious. Of course, as we have seen earlier, once one understands the true Catholic teaching on papal primacy, and sees the falsity of the version peddled by the SSPX, in which all papal decisions are up for review, one realizes that the opinions of a cardinal, however eminent, cannot stand against a clear decision by the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of St. Peter. However, as we have also seen earlier, once people are cast adrift from a true understanding of the role which law plays in the life of the Church, individual legal opinions take on a life of their own and are likely to be used as a purported justification for disobeying the Church authorities. And on that basis, what Cardinal Lara seemed to be saying did provide some encouragement to such people. Yet, could it really be the case that a man then in the position of being the President of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, was of the opinion that the major text in the Lefebvre case, the Apostolic Letter issued by Pope John Paul II under the name Ecclesia Dei, was wrong in its main conclusions? Surely not. There did, however, seem to be one obvious way in which to find out. Why not ask the cardinal himself? He was surely in the best position to know what he said, if anything on the occasion in question. The other obvious step to take was to find out whether the report of the Cardinal's comments contained in La Repubblica was in the same terms as in Michael Davies' article. So we decided to make some inquiries. The result of making them was interesting -- to say the least.
The real Cardinal Lara puts the record straight
The first thing we did was to write to Cardinal Lara, explaining that he was being quoted as stating that Archbishop Lefebvre was not in schism, and asking him to clarify exactly what he had stated on the occasion in question. Cardinal Lara's reply was as follows:
"You bring to my attention a matter of importance. You asked if I could tell you what exactly I said in the interview of 10th July 1988. The substance of what I said is as follows:'In the case of Lefebvre and the four priests consecrated bishops by him, there are two offenses canonically speaking, that they have committed. The fundamental offense is that of schism, that is, refusing submission to the Roman Pontiff and breaking communion with the Church. This offence they had already previously committed. Only that, now, the second offense, that of consecrating bishops, formalizes, in a certain sense, and concretizes the first, and makes it explicit. Schism is a delict which can be personal. It does not require having a number of people. Individuals can do it on their own. Lefebvre and his followers, inasmuch as they refused submission to the Pope, were already, by that fact itself, in schism. The intent of the act of consecrating bishops is already to create a church with its own hierarchy. In this sense, the consecration of bishops becomes an act of schism. One should keep in mind, however, that the act of consecrating bishops is not in itself a schismatic act. In fact, in the Code, where offenses are treated, these two are treated in two distinct headings. There are delicts against religion and the unity of the Church. And these are apostasy (i.e. renouncing the faith), schism and heresy. Consecrating a bishop without pontifical mandate is, on the other hand, an offense against the proper exercise of one's ministry. For example, there was an excommunication of the Vietnamese Archbishop, Ngo Dinh Thuc in '76 and '83 for an episcopal consecration, but it was not considered a schismatic act because there was no intent to break with the Church. Ngo Dinh Thuc represents a pitiable situation, as there is some mental imbalance.
With regard to Econe, Lefebvre and the four priests, they are under two excommunications: one for the offense of schism, the other, reserved to the Apostolic See, for the offense of consecrating a bishop without a pontifical mandate.' I hope that this is helpful for you." (Letter to John Beaumont, dated May 26th, 1993).
We next obtained a copy of the report in La Repubblica. We found that Cardinal Lara's statement to us was virtually word for word what he was reported as saying by La Repubblica (in the latter the cardinal then went on to answer other questions put to him by a journalist concerning the Lefebvre case).
Now compare Cardinal Lara's statement with his words as reported by Michael Davies, bearing in mind that, as we have seen, the express purpose of Davies' article is to establish that Archbishop Lefebvre was not in schism. What has happened is that in the Davies version two vital passages have been omitted, one which comes before the passage he quotes and one which comes after. Remarkably, or perhaps not, in both of these other passages Cardinal Lara states quite unreservedly that Archbishop Lefebvre committed the offense of schism. Thus, the cardinal whose statement is used to lead to an irresistible inference that there is no schism, turns out to believe the exact opposite.
Michael Davies is puzzled
What, it may be asked, does Michael Davies have to say about this matter? We wrote to him to find out and received a very interesting reply. In assessing this it must be stated firstly that we have no reason to doubt his statement to us that the quotation which he used had been taken from "a French Journal," where it had appeared in the same shortened form. What is disturbing, however, is his statement that: "I note firstly that he [Cardinal Lara] does not deny making the statement that I attributed to him in The Angelus" (letter to John Beaumont, dated June 11th 1993). He later adds: "As the Cardinal has reiterated his testimony in his letter to you I would appreciate knowing precisely what is the false impression given as a result of using this quotation in my article" (Ibid).
This expression of puzzlement by Michael Davies is surprising. It must surely be obvious that there is a false impression given and that it is caused by the omission of the vital passages which occur both before and after the passage quoted by Davies. The "before" and "after" set what Cardinal Lara says into its true context. Look at what the Cardinal does in fact say. He begins by stating that in the Lefebvre case there are two offenses, the fundamental one being that of schism (this alone is the exact opposite of the thesis of Davies' article). He then explains exactly what schism is and discusses various aspects of that offense. He then concludes with a final categorical statement that Archbishop Lefebvre and the four bishops have committed the offense of schism. Davies, therefore, omits two absolutely explicit statements by Cardinal Lara completely contrary to Davies' thesis and yet, despite all of this, claims to be puzzled that anyone should allege that he had given a false impression in his article.
According to Michael Davies, then, it is legitimate to use out of a quotation those words which, when quoted in isolation, superficially seem to support one's case, and to ignore the surrounding text. Does this mean then that the police, when told by a suspect in a murder investigation, "I did hit him, but it was in self-defense," are entitled to omit the second clause and put the first one in on its own as a full confession of guilt? Of course not. On reading Michael Davies' approach to this question the present writers were reminded of the world of Lewis Carroll's Alice. To Davies not only is it "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean," but "When you use another word, I can simply ignore it at my pleasure." (see Through the Looking-Glass, Ch.6).
Michael Davies' defense was to claim that the statement which he used from Cardinal Lara was "to reinforce the point I was making that consecrating a bishop without a papal mandate is not in itself a schismatic act" and that this was the "precise topic" which he was discussing in his article. But, once more this is misleading. We quote again what Davies writes in the paragraph immediately before that relating to Cardinal Lara: "Canon lawyers without the least shred of sympathy for Msgr. Lefebvre have repudiated the charge of schism made against him as totally untenable." (op cit, p 20).
In addition, as we have seen the fundamental thesis of the article was not whether consecrating a bishop without a papal mandate is an intrinsically schismatic act, but whether Archbishop Lefebvre was in schism; and on this question Cardinal Lara has something important to say which the reader does not get to know about.
Michael Davies on schism
Michael Davies' approach to the question of schism is a strange one. Davies seems to be obsessed with the question of the distinction between schism and consecrating a bishop without a papal mandate, arguing, it seems, that the two can never meet.
At one point in our correspondence he stated that consecrating a bishop without a papal mandate "is not a schismatic act." On another occasion he wrote that it "is not in itself a schismatic act" nor "an intrinsically schismatic act." The first statement is not anything stated by Cardinal Lara. It is also incorrect as a general proposition. The second and third statements are true, but Davies falls into error by concluding that what is meant by them is that such a consecration can never be an act of schism. This is not the case at all.
Cardinal Lara is not saying (nor does the Church) that consecrating a bishop without a papal mandate can never be an act of schism. All that he is saying is that such a consecration is not automatically always a schismatic act. As is clear, schism is, inter alia, the refusal of submission to the Pope on a matter relating to the unity of the Church. Theologians have shown that consecrations without a papal mandate may be performed in certain very narrowly defined emergencies without attacking the unity of the Church (witness the attempt by apologists for the SSPX in 1988 to use these cases until it became clear that none of them applied).
However, as the Holy Father pointed out in Ecclesia Dei the consecration of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated, is a matter of supreme importance for the unity of the Church. As a result, then, consecration without a papal mandate will usually amount to a schismatic act. Such an action is evidence of schism, and it is especially strong evidence where, as in the case of Archbishop Lefebvre, the consecrations were not just in the absence of a papal mandate, but also against the express will of the Pope as conveyed to Archbishop Lefebvre in the most formal and serious terms.
At one point in his correspondence with us Michael Davies did make something of a correction. He recognized that if he had access to the full statement of Cardinal Lara at the time he wrote his article, he would have prefaced the quotation with something on the following lines: "although he maintains that Msgr. Lefebvre was already a schismatic before the consecrations, Cardinal Lara accepts that the act of consecrating. . .etc."
Unfortunately, this is again misleading. Firstly, the reference to a possible schism before June 30th, 1988, distracts from the clear statement of the Cardinal that on June 30th "the consecration of bishops becomes an act of schism." Secondly, the whole idea of schism as something which always switches on and off at a specific instant in time is a flawed one, though one to which "traditionalists" are curiously prone. Schism is something which grows. It can suffuse a person or organization and develop over a period of time. That this is in fact the case can be shown, ironically enough, by a perusal of Michael Davies' own writings. That Archbishop Lefebvre and his organization were treated by Rome as having schismatic tendencies from a very early date can be seen from the following quotations, ail of which are taken from Volumes 1 and 2 of Davies' Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre:
"What is indeed at issue is the question--which must truly be called fundamental of your clearly proclaimed refusal to recognize, in its whole, the authority of the Second Vatican Council and that of the Pope. This refusal is accompanied by an action that is oriented towards propagating and organizing what must indeed, unfortunately, be called a rebellion." (letter of Pope Paul VI to Archbishop Lefebvre, October 11th 1976).
"We cannot therefore take your requests into consideration because it is a question of facts which have already been committed in rebellion against the one true Church of God." (Ibid).
"Pray to the Holy Spirit, dear Brother. He will show you the necessary renunciations to help you to reenter in the path of a full communion with the Church and with the successor of Peter." (letter of Pope Paul VI to Archbishop Lefebvre, September 8th 1975).
"It is so painful to take note of this: but how can we not see in such an attitude whatever may be these people's intentions the placing of themselves outside obedience and communion with the Successor of St. Peter and therefore outside the Church." (Consistory Elocution by Pope Paul VI, May 24th, 1976)
"We admonish you with all Our strength: do not worsen the bad example given by your attitude, do not make your break from the unity and charity of the Catholic communion irreparable." (letter of Pope Paul VI to Archbishop Lefebvre, June 20th 1977)
"If your words are taken in their full meaning, is there not justification for saying that you refuse, or are ready to refuse, communion with the members of the Church subject to the Pope?" (annex to letter of Cardinal Seper to Archbishop Lefebvre, January 28th, 1978)
"[T]he Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith considers that, by your declarations about submission to the Council and to the post-conciliar reforms of Paul VI--declarations with which your whole behavior and especially your illicit ordination of priests are in accord--you have fallen into grave disobedience, and that all these declarations and acts, by their own logic, lead to schism." (Ibid)
What, then, is the true picture? It can be expressed as follows: a) The Apostolic See recognized in Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX from the middle 1970s a schismatic spirit; b) while manifesting this schismatic mentality and practice, Archbishop Lefebvre did not at first get to the point of formally breaking unity with the Church. In fact, in his book, Open letter to Confused Catholics, written in 1986, Lefebvre deliberately pointed to another road rather than that of consecration without a papal mandate; c) in 1988 Archbishop Lefebvre carried out the "final rupture," as Cardinal Ratzinger put it in a letter to him a year before. What the consecrations of 1988 against the express will of the pope did was to, as it were, concretize and make explicit what was implicit before, namely that the SSPX, while paying lip service to the authority of the pope, refused the submission to him which is required of the Catholic faithful. Cardinal Lara expresses this in his letter to us. Schism, then, is not just a legal construct, absent one day and present the next it is a factual reality which develops until finally becoming formalized in a particular attack on the unity of the Church.
The Society of St. Pius X refuses to tell the truth
Correspondence with Michael Davies, then, brought a statement by him of the true position concerning Cardinal Lara no nearer. Other attempts on the writers' part to put the record straight have met with no greater success. The editor of The Angelus greeted our letter (and subsequent reminder) with a stony silence; not even the courtesy of a reply. Bishop Richard Williamson, from his power base in Winona, proved a little more forthcoming, but not much. The bishop thanked us for our letter and said only that it "has received some attention before being filed for future reference." Well, at least he replied and we shall continue to scour the pages of The Angelus for any evidence that our letter has "received some attention" (as of December 1993 there is nothing to report).
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais took a slightly different line. His response was as follows: "According to Cardinal Castillo Lara, the episcopal consecrations without mandatum of Rome are not a schismatic act in itself: this is what the cardinal said in La Repubblica . . . This declaration is sufficient for us." (letter to John Beaumont, dated December 30th, 1993)
That "this declaration is sufficient" for him comes as no surprise, since it completely distorts the import of what Cardinal Lara is trying to say. Bishop Tissier de Mallerais is prepared to quote Cardinal Lara when it supports the SSPX's case to do so. When, however, the cardinal sets out his authentic views, Bishop Tissier de Mallerais refuses to be moved. The attitude of the SSPX seems to be one of welcoming witnesses who appear to support them. Yet, these same witnesses are treated as non-persons when their true position (which is against the SSPX) emerges. The comments which we have made on Michael Davies apply just as clearly here as well.
Finally on the question of correcting errors and putting forward the truth, we come to Teodoro Dominguez, who had gone to the trouble of obtaining a glowing tribute from Michael Davies adjacent to his article in The Angelus, in which Davies referred to "the fearless approach of Attorney Dominguez in defending the faith." And the response to our inquiries of this fearless defender of the faith? Silence. Not a word. Let us hope that at least he has been supplied by Michael Davies with the Davies version of a retraction. That would be better than nothing, though not much better.
Cardinal Lara turns up in Ireland
The affair of Cardinal Lara would seem even now not to be over. We believed that even if we had not been favored with a reply from the SSPX and its various apologists, the message must surely have been sent round these circles that there was no further mileage in the Lara case.
How naive we were. We should have realized that if a lie is repeated often enough it can come to have more influence with people than the truth. Final realization of this came from where we had no reason to expect it, from Ireland. A friend of ours was sent a letter by a priest of the SSPX working in Ireland. Enclosed with the letter was a booklet containing the usual SSPX propaganda in defense of its actions. This would have been nothing out of the ordinary except for the remarkable fact that, according to the priest, the booklet had been given "the approbation of (guess who?) Cardinal Lara!"
Amazingly, the priest added that the booklet had been written by "an Opus Dei man." As far as the latter is concerned, we do not have any actual evidence, but it would seem more likely that the late Ayatollah Khomeini would support the SSPX than that a member of Opus Dei would do so. We can, however, comment with some degree of confidence on the question of whether Cardinal Lara is lending his name to an SSPX booklet, because we wrote and asked him. Back came another letter. This time the cardinal, no doubt weary at having his name taken in vain by a schismatic group, answered through his personal assistant, Fr. Joseph Fox, OP. The message was just as clear: "As you know from your previous correspondence with His Eminence, he is no proponent of the divisive activities of the deceased excommunicated Archbishop Lefebvre or his followers.... He would like you to know that he has never given his approval for the publications of those associated with the Lefebvre movement nor has he any intention of doing so in the future." (letter to John Beaumont, dated November 18th, 1993)
We have no doubt that readers will not be surprised at the reaction of the SSPX to this latest attempt by Cardinal Lara to put the record straight. Of course, we do not know if the SSPX in Ireland has issued a correction to the information given about the booklet. We do not have access to its literature in Ireland. All that we can say is that when we wrote to the priest in question, enclosing the letter from Cardinal Lara's office, we received the response which we have come to expect from these doughty defenders of "tradition." Yes, silence.
It is worth reflecting a little further on this case. In a sense it can be seen as a development in the process of disinformation employed by the SSPX. In the first case involving the use of his name, Cardinal Lara says something about an issue and is quoted wrongly. There is, then, a misunderstanding of what he says. In the second case, however, the cardinal says nothing at all and the SSPX makes up something for him to say. One can only ask, where will this end? Will it be said by Clemente Dominguez, the so called Pope Gregory XVII at Palmar de Troya, that Cardinal Lara recognizes him as Pope? Certainly, where "traditionalism" is concerned, nothing surprises us any more. Traditionalism has at least equaled, if not surpassed, Protestantism for producing the bizarre.
Another misrepresented canonist
Readers who have examined in detail the literature of the SSPX will have noted that when the SSPX plays the Canon Law card it quite often plays it in the plural, in the sense that the usual reference to Cardinal Lara is often supplemented by the names of other canonists. While not naturally suspicious, we have learned that "once bitten, twice shy," so we decided to write to one of them to investigate his Lefebvrist credentials. This was the Professor of Canon Law at the University of Munich, Professor Geringer. The latter's authority is appealed to by Fr. Schmidberger in the pamphlet referred to earlier. The professor was cited there as saying in a radio interview on June 30th, 1988, that "with the episcopal consecrations Archbishop Lefebvre was by no means creating a schism unless he was in fact intending to found his own church" (op cit, p.47). Professor Geringer also receives the nod of approval from the trinity of Davies, Dominguez (Teodoro, not Clemente of Palmar de Troya) and Denke, since although only the second and third referred to him expressly, it will be recalled that Mr. Dominguez's article received the imprimatur of Michael Davies. According to Frank Denke, Professor Geringer has no doubts at all on the question of schism. He is quoted as saying that "with the episcopal consecration, Archbishop Lefebvre was by no means creating a schism" (op cit. p.9, emphasis as in the original). Teodoro Dominguez's version simply lists the professor along with Cardinal Lara as supporting the view that Archbishop Lefebvre is not schismatic.
As with the case of Cardinal Lara, however, the version given by Professor Geringer was very different. In his letter to us he expressed his position as follows: "I would like to say that at the time in an interview with the radio I explicitly declared that through the consecration of the four bishops by Lefebvre the schism had become definitive, and that Lefebvre and his adherents had lost all their rights within the Church." (letter to John Beaumont dated August 17th, 1993)
Professor Geringer went on to make the point that in the interview in question he had also dealt with the need for moral fault before the incurring of a penalty and the question of a mitigation of a penalty where actions are done on the basis of personal conviction. He concludes his letter, however, with the statement that "there can be no doubt that Lefebvre and his adherents are de facto schismatic."
So there we have it. And the response of the SSPX? Well, having written twice to the editor of The Angelus over the Lara ease without any response, we decided to give that one a miss this time and save the postage. Bishop Williamson's somewhat brief response to the Lara issue was evidently meant for that of Geringer as well, since he had been sent both sets of correspondences. There was nothing from Dominguez, nor this time from Michael Davies (except a thank you). However, Bishop Tissier de Mallerais came up with a new tactic. We quote the relevant section from his letter:
"For Professor Geringer, in 1988, with the episcopal consecrations of Msgr. Lefebvre, 'there is no church of Lefebvre.' And for this very reason, he said, the faithful adhering to him are still Catholics." He adds: 'If, one day, Lefebvre should found a Church independent of Rome and if those want to adhere to him, then it would be another thing.'" (letter to John Beaumont, dated December 30th, 1993)
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais puts his faith in the 1988 version of Geringer. Now, we do not have access to a recording or transcript of the radio interview. We do not know what Professor Geringer said on that occasion. We do know, however, what the professor claims now to have said then. Maybe that is true, maybe it is not. There is a conflict. But what is clear is that the professor's claim is a piece of evidence which the inquirer should be entitled to take into account. Bishop Tissier de Mallerais' tactic of publicizing only one version prevents this from happening.
But, let us suppose for sake of argument that Professor Geringer has changed his mind on these issues between 1988 and today. Does that mean that his views today are to be given no credence at all? Before it says that this is the case, the SSPX ought to tread very carefully. Someone might remind them that on May 5th, 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre accepted and signed a certain protocol with Cardinal Ratzinger. Very shortly thereafter the Archbishop reneged on this agreement. Supporters of the SSPX would no doubt claim that the Archbishop was right in his later action. But, on the approach of Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, do we not have to say that Archbishop Lefebvre's original decision was the right one and that his later action must be rejected? Let us hope that Bishop Tissier de Mallerais will come to accept the logic of his own reasoning, because that may enable him to return to the Catholic Church. The key point here surely is that the SSPX and its apologists continue to state that Professor Geringer believes that there is no schism when clearly this is untrue.
What do the facts which we have brought out in this article say about the SSPX? First of all, they show clearly that the SSPX and its defenders have misinterpreted and misquoted Cardinal Lara (we concentrate on the most eminent of these canonists). Secondly, when this has been pointed out to these people they have failed to retract their errors or correct them. Thirdly, this whole affair illustrates to what extent the SSPX is committed to the truth.
We are forced to conclude that it is more interested in propaganda than the facts. The SSPX would never in a million years appeal to a Roman Commission such as the Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. But, when it believes that the President of that Council has said something which supports its case, he is quoted again and again by SSPX supporters. However, when the truth is known, either the same false propaganda is disseminated regardless, or Cardinal Lara is put to one side as if he never existed. There are shades of Stalinism here, where figures once seen to be part of one's movement are later treated as non-persons. It is evident that Cardinal Lara is only important insofar as he supports the SSPX in this case. The Lefebvre group, and its survival, are the criteria now. Truth comes a very poor second.
The whole approach of the SSPX is summed up by Michael Davies in his article in The Angelus when he wrote that "it would be hard to imagine a more authoritative opinion" than Cardinal Lara's. The sad thing for Michael Davies and other traditionalists is not just that they misinterpret the good cardinal, but that they fail to know what every Catholic knows. This is that it is not in fact hard to imagine a more authoritative voice than Cardinal Lara's. As Catholics we know and have the voice of Peter, the Vicar of Christ, and on this whole tragic episode he has spoken. It shows the condition to which traditionalism has come that it sees its duty as being to disobey and oppose papal teaching. The irony here is that the SSPX has ended up repudiating the very tradition which it claims to want most zealously to uphold.
John Beaumont is Principal Lecturer in Law at Leeds Metropolitan University.
John Walsh is a history graduate of the University of Leeds and has recently completed a Masters Degree in Theology.
Index of SSPX articles
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