Roberto de Mattei and “The Lefebvre affair”


This translation of some interesting pages of Roberto de Mattei’s great history of Vatican II was sent to us by a kind reader – it is a book we truly recommend to all Italian-speaking readers, and it would seem that translations should be published in French and English soon.

The following brief excerpt is a good introduction for those unaware of how many things began

[The early years of] The “Lefebvre Affair” 

Ten years after the conclusion of the Council the so called “Lefebvre affair” exploded. From 1974 onwards, the French Archbishop Lefebvre entered into open contrast with the Holy See in matters regarding the New Mass and the Council’s reforms.


On the 6th of June 1969, Mons. Charriere, Bishop of Freiburg, had given Mons. Lefebvre permission to open an international boarding school (St. Pius X) in his diocese. As a result of the many requests for admission, the Bishop procured a second house at Ecòne in Valise, which became the centre of formation for the International Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X established canonically on the 1st of November 1970 in the diocese of Lausanne – Geneva-Freiburg. In November 1972, seven years after the conclusion of Vatican II, Mons. Lefebvre delivered a speech, in which, for the first time, he expressed extremely strong negative judgments on the Second Vatican Council.

The Holy See warned Mons. Lefebvre not to ordain his seminarians. But, on the 29th June 1976, before a crowd of the faithful present from all over the world, the Archbishop conferred the sub-deaconate on his thirteen seminarians and ordained thirteen others to the priesthood, incurring “suspension a divinis”. A meeting with Paul VI at Castel Gandolfo on the 11th of September 1976 was to no avail in solving the problem.

In 1977, Princess Elvina Pallavicini [220] invited Mons. Lefebvre to her historic palace to explain his reasons.

This conference created immediate curiosity and attention about the presence of a patriciate of Roman nobility, still alive and combative and of which Princess Pallavicini was a fine example. The pressures that the Roman noblewoman went through to annul the conference [222] had no effect due to her strong, independent personality. Besides the four hundred people invited to the event which was held in the Throne Room of the palace on the hills of the Quirinale, just as many arrived to throng the antechamber.

Instead of giving answers in his talk, Mons Lefebvre calmly put forth some questions:

“One cannot imagine the Catholic Church without continuity, without tradition, without being the heir to Her own past. One cannot understand a Catholic Church that breaks with Her past, Her tradition and just because of the impossibility of conceiving such a thing, I find myself in a bit of an odd situation: that of a Bishop suspended for having founded a seminary in Switzerland, erected legally, canonically, a seminary that receives many vocations. It has been eight years since its foundation and we now have numerous houses in the United States, one in Canada, in England, in France, in Switzerland, in Germany and also in Italy, here in Albano.

How is it possible that continuing to do what I myself have done for 50 years of my life, receiving congratulations and the encouragement of Popes, and in particular from Pope Pius XII who honoured me with his friendship, that today I find myself considered as almost an enemy of the Church? How is this possible , how can you imagine it? I had the opportunity to say this to the Pope at the last audience I had with him on the 11th of September.

I said to him: I am unable to comprehend the reasons, why, all of a sudden, after having formed seminarians all my life as I form them today, that before the Council I received all the honours, excluding only cardinalship, now, after the Council, doing the same thing, I find myself suspended a divinis, to be almost considered schismatic, to be almost excommunicated as an enemy of the Church. I don’t believe that such a thing is possible or conceivable. Therefore, something has changed in the Church, something which has been changed by the men of the Church, in the history of the Church.” [223]

Mons. Lefebvre was presented as “head” of the traditionalists. In actual fact, fostered by the mass-media, he was just a more visible expression of a phenomenon that went far beyond his own person and that had its roots and cause before the problems raised by the Council and its application.

Resistance to putting into effect the Council’s reforms came from the sector of lower clergy and laity, as had happened during the French Revolution , when it had been parish priests and peasants (farmers) who promoted the revolt of the Vandea and the anti-revolutionary insurgences in Europe. The French Archbishop was the most well-known representative, but not the only one, of a vast and ramified resistance movement, which at times lead, unfortunately, to schism or the loss of faith.