The Right Reverend
Bernard Tissier de Mallerais
His Lordship Bishop Tissier de Mallerais offers us some useful reflections on the divine constitution of the Church, on the current crisis of the papacy and sedevacantism...
Fideliter: Your Excellency, didn't the prospect of being consecrated bishop without the consent, and even contrary to the explicit will, of the pope frighten you?
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: My feelings don't matter: whether I felt fear and anxiety, or doubt and hesitation, or, on the contrary, joy and enthusiasm, is only secondary. The most I would say is that I felt reassured about the fate of Catholic Tradition, which would be safeguarded by "Operation Survival."
Fideliter: Certainly, we understand that you might prefer to keep your feelings to yourself, but tell us, what were your thoughts?
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: Firstly, I was assured that, by such a consecration, even carried out against the will of the pope, neither Archbishop Lefebvre nor myself nor my confreres were creating a schism, since the Archbishop did not intend to assign us any jurisdiction, or a particular flock. "The mere fact of consecrating a bishop [against the will of the pope] is not in itself a schismatic act," declared Cardinal Castillo Lara (President of the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of Legislative Texts; quoted from an interview given to the newspaper La Repubblica, 10 July 1988.) a few days after the event; and Fr. Patrick Valdrini also explained, "It is not the consecration of a bishop [against the pope's will] that creates a schism...; what consummates the schism is to confer upon that bishop an apostolic mission." (Doyen of the Faculty of Canon Law of the Catholic Institute of Paris; interview appearing in Valeurs Actuelles, 4 July 1988.)
Fideliter: But didn't Archbishop Lefebvre confer upon you an apostolic mission?
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: Archbishop Lefebvre told us: "You are bishops for the Church, for the Society; you will give the sacrament of Confirmation and confer Holy Orders; you will preach the faith." That is all. He did not say, "I confer these powers to you"; he simply indicated to us what our role would be. The jurisdiction that he did not give us-which he could not give us-and which the pope refused to give us, has been supplied by the Church, who gives it to us because of the state of necessity of the faithful. It is a suppletory jurisdiction, of the same nature as that which is accorded to priests by Canon Law in other cases of necessity. An example would be the jurisdiction to administer the sacrament of confession validly in the case of common error or positive and probable doubt, of right or of fact, about the jurisdiction of a priest (canon 209). In such a case, the Church has the habit of supplying the jurisdiction that might be lacking to the minister: "Ecclesia supplet."
Fideliter: So, by receiving the episcopal consecration in such circumstances and by exercising its power, you were able to be sure that you were not usurping any jurisdiction.
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: Yes, no ordinary jurisdiction. Our jurisdiction is extraordinary and suppletory. It is not exercised over a determined territory, but case by case over the persons who are in need: confirmands, seminarians of the Society or candidates to the priesthood recommended by other traditional works.
Fideliter: Your consecration, then, Your Excellency, did not create a schism.
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: No, not in any way. But a touchier question was talked about as far back as 1983, when Archbishop Lefebvre, confronted with the 1983 Code of Canon Law published by John Paul II, began to seriously consider consecrating one or more bishops: would these bishops, not recognized by the pope, be legitimate? Would they enjoy the "formal apostolic succession"? In a word, would they be Catholic bishops?
Fideliter: And that is a more difficult question to resolve than the one about jurisdiction, you say?
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: Yes, because it has to do with the divine constitution of the Church, as all Tradition teaches: there can be no legitimate bishop without the pope, without at least the implicit consent of the pope, by divine right head of the episcopal body. The answer is less evident; in fact, it is not at all evident...unless you were to suppose...
Fideliter: Your Excellency, certainly you are not a sedevacantist?
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: No, in fact. But it must be recognized that if we could affirm that, for reasons of heresy, schism, or some defect in the secret election, the pope was not really pope, if we could pronounce such a judgment, the answer to the delicate question of our legitimacy would be clear. The trouble, if I can so express it, is that neither Archbishop Lefebvre nor myself were or are sedevacantists.
Fideliter: Yet Archbishop Lefebvre was very reserved about the situation of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II.
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: That is correct. He said more than once about these popes-about Paul VI from 1976, and about John Paul II, after the prayer meeting of religions at Assisi in 1986 - that he did not exclude the possibility that these popes were not popes, that one day the Church will have to examine their situation, that a future pope and his cardinals might have to pronounce the finding that these men had not been popes. But for himself, he preferred to consider them as popes. This supposes that he did not feel that he possessed sufficient knowledge of the pertinent facts nor the necessary power for making such a judgment. This is of critical importance to bear in mind.
For instance, the abrupt logic of a Fr. Guérard des Lauriers led to the former conclusion: "The pope promulgated a heresy [with religious liberty], hence he is a heretic, hence he is not formally pope." But the wisdom of Archbishop Lefebvre made him feel, to the contrary, that the premises of this reasoning were as shaky as the authority that formulated it, be it that of a theologian or even a bishop.
Fideliter: How then did Archbishop Lefebvre resolve the dilemma?
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: The Archbishop left the theological question open. Our venerable confrere, the late Alois Kocher used to say: "Let's leave this question to the theologians of the 21st century! " Our founder took the problem from a higher perspective and resolved it in the most down-to-earth manner possible. It is the mark of the supernatural intuition that he possessed, and of the action in him of the gift of wisdom, gift of the Holy Ghost.
Fideliter: Do you mean that Archbishop Lefebvre received a divine illumination to carry out these consecrations?
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: Not at all; but he had an exceptional understanding of the crisis of the papacy. Do not forget that this man who had been Apostolic Delegate in Africa for ten years, friend and confidant of Pope Pius XII, faithful disciple of Popes Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X and Pius XI, who had a perfect knowledge of the eternal Catholic Rome, was able to penetrate deeper than anyone the mystery of iniquity that had been unfolding at Rome since Vatican II: the mystery of the occupation of the See of Peter by a foreign, antichrist ideology, with its practical negation of the royalty, and hence the divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Do not forget, after all, that this is what the doctrine of religious liberty constitutes; that the Assisi reunion of 1986 was, as Bishop de Castro Mayer stated so magnificently in 1988, "the recognition of the divinity of paganism"; that ecumenism is nothing else than the quest for a universality greater than the Catholic Church. All these acts constitute as many execrable blasphemies, which Archbishop Lefebvre, because of his lively faith and his constant union with our Lord Jesus Christ, perceived as being addressed directly against our Lord.
So, confronted by this mystery, he did not wish to resolve it, but rather to make the practical decision rendered necessary by the needs of the body of the faithful, and justified by the existence of this mystery, a mystery of iniquity.
Fideliter: But what about the promises made to Peter that, the Church being founded upon the faith of Peter, the gates of hell would not prevail against her?
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: Archbishop Lefebvre believed with his whole heart in this truth of faith. But to what extent might this promise be nonetheless compatible with a serious deficiency of the pope in his preaching of the faith, a deficiency that would be obvious? Archbishop Lefebvre replied, "The facts speak for themselves!"
Fideliter: On the eve of the consecrations, didn't Archbishop Lefebvre speak to the four future bishops about this extremely grave problem and the wise solution he had adopted?
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: With an extraordinary wisdom, so profound and yet so practical, so as to astonish our limited minds, for in fact, he did not! On the eve of the consecrations, he simply gave us bits of practical advice on the way to preach, the use of the mitre keeping patience with the master of ceremonies, and so on. You see, it was really down to earth.
But if you want a brief expose of the wisdom of judgment about which we were speaking, it is to a writing of March 1984 that you must have recourse. Everything is set forth there with remarkable gravity, depth and force. I quote:
The current state of the papacy renders insignificant the difficulties over jurisdiction, disobedience and apostolicity, because these notions suppose the reign of a pope Catholic in his faith and government. Without entering into consideration of the consequences of an heretical, schismatic or non-existent pope, which would lead to interminable theoretical discussions, in conscience could we not and ought we not, after the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Carton Law which clearly affirms the new Church, and after his scandalous declarations concerning Luther, now affirm that Pope John Paul II is not Catholic? We say no more, but we say no less. We had waited for the measure to become full, and it is so henceforth.
Fideliter: What a terrible, a crushing, judgment. How could anyone dare to say such a thing? Who can say such a thing?
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: Archbishop Lefebvre alone could rightly make such a pronouncement. He was also the only one with the moral authority to make the decision to consecrate bishops. There was no one else. That is why it was not by my own insights that I agreed to receive the episcopal consecration, understand well. "Only Archbishop Lefebvre could decide to consecrate, he alone received the grace to make the decision. As for us, we have the grace to follow him." It is by these very simple, beautiful words of one of my confreres in the Society that I must conclude: they express my profound conviction, my unshakeable certainty, that I am in the right path.
And when Rome comes to herself, we four bishops, together with Bishop Rangel, or our successors, will depose our episcopacy between the hands of Peter, so that he may deign, Deo volente, confirm it or do with it what he will. Such was our disposition on June 30, 1988, such remains our resolve, our confidence, and our attitude. Meanwhile, let us carry on the fight for the Faith! W