Advance – and Betrayal
June 5, 1984
By His Excellency
Richard Nelson Williamson
Archbishop Lefebvre’s May visit to the United States unleashed another tremendous battle between Jesus Christ and Satan, his undying adversary! From this battle flowed good news and bad news. Let us start the good news!
Firstly, the Society has a new American priest, Fr. John Hogan from Michigan. His Grace, Archbishop Lefebvre, 78 years old, arrived from Europe on May 10 and gave tonsure or minor orders to twelve seminarians on Saturday morning, May 12, confirmation to nearly fifty children and adults in the afternoon, and major orders to the senior seminarians on Sunday morning, May 13.
It was a beautiful ceremony in front of the very impressive high altar put together (just in time!) inside the new church by a number of hardworking seminarians and lay-workers. Outside, the sun shone brilliantly to welcome some five hundred visitors coming from all over the United States and Canada. From various comments made in person and also frequently by mail, many were deeply impressed and moved by the majesty and beauty of Catholic traditionalism at its finest. In one of its noblest ceremonies, that of an ordination to the priesthood, what a feast for the eyes! What an uplift for the soul! What a hope for the future!
The Society’s Superior General, Fr. Franz Schmidberger, and the Society’s newest District Superior, Fr. François Laisney (pronounced Lay-nay), were also present as deacon and subdeacon of the ordination Mass, flanking the Archbishop. Immediately after the ceremony, both of them left for Michigan where I wish many of our people could have visited our church, St. Joseph’s Shrine in Armada. They would have been marvelously edified by the sight of over a dozen priests, mostly, but not all, from the Society, making a silent retreat for several days under Fr. Schmidberger. They came from all over the United States and Canada, united humbly in prayer to seek God and to pursue in common the arduous work of saving souls. What a hope for the future! Those priests are not fighting by themselves. Moreover, they have a father in the priesthood, a faithful and courageous bishop of the Roman Catholic Church! Archbishop Lefebvre visited them in the middle of their retreat after giving confirmation at a non-Society chapel in Pittsburgh, and he was able to talk at length to each of them who wished to see him. It makes an attractive and uniquely Catholic picture: the bishop amidst his priests, the priests around their bishop.
From there, the Archbishop went on to Minnesota where he administered confirmation to nearly 80 souls. Here, although he gave a sobering picture of the dark situation in Rome, the people were obviously uplifted and tremendously encouraged by his visit. His Grace then went on to St. Mary’s, Kansas, were he spent three happy days administering confirmation, talking to various laymen who are helping Fr. de la Tour to run his major educational establishment, and holding a Pontifical High Mass on Saturday morning. A full picture-story is in this month’s issue of The Angelus. He returned to New York for two more days before going back to Europe. Before leaving, the Archbishop said that he was very happy with the spirit of the Society such as he now found it flourishing at the seminary, at St. Mary’s, and in the various centers of the Society which he visited.
Fr. Schmidberger, who arrived in the United States on May 10, is spending over a month here until June 11, making a long and exhausting tour all around the United States, so as to make himself directly familiar with many of the Society’s endeavors, the better to build upon firm foundations for the future work of the Society in this country. For half of his tour, he is being accompanied by the new superior in America, Fr. Laisney, whose youth, energy and intelligence promise to make him a great acquisition for taking the Society’s work in the United States a major step forward. From the middle of June onwards, he is likely to settle (at least provisionally) in Dickinson, Texas, which becomes temporary headquarters for the whole Society in the United States.
Last – and most important – Fr. Schmidberger is anxiously making plans to stablish a cloister for praying and sacrificing nuns in the United States, with the help of Mother Marie-Christiane, presently head of three Carmels which are flourishing in Europe, attached to the Society of St. Pius X. He has been eager for her to come to the United States to inspect two possible locations for a fourth Carmel!
Mother Marie-Christiane, a natural sister of Archbishop Lefebvre and Carmelite nun herself for 56 years, has for the last year and half been wishing for a foundation in the United States. Fr. Schmidberger’s direct experience of the urgent need for holy prayer to draw down God’s grace in the United States has prompted him to expedite her longstanding aspiration. Let us pray it come to fruition!
All this work of building and rebuilding by the Society constitutes a resistance to the devil which he could not leave in peace. His reaction was not slow in coming!
On Sunday night, May 20, when the Archbishop arrived back at the seminary at a late hour from Kansas, somewhat tired and travel-weary, no sooner had he stepped out of the can than he was served with a civil court summons in a suit to evict the Society from the seminary property here in Connecticut, a suit filed by Fathers Cekada, Dolan, Jenkins, Kelly and Sanborn. Those standing by noticed and will not easily forget the look of pain on the face of the Archbishop, who it must be remembered was their Father in the priesthood. Now according to the old Code of Canon Law, anyone citing a Catholic bishop before a civil judge incurs automatic excommunication (canon 1341). Hence, according to the only Code of Canon Law which they themselves recognize, these five priests are excommunicated!
Then a few days later, an event which should have taken by surprise no Catholic familiar with the Gospel story of the betrayal of Our Lord, but which has nevertheless caused deep shock and heartache and scandal to countless Catholics: of the four newly ordained priests who had freely requested and received ordination within the Society of St. Pius X at the hands of its founder, Archbishop Lefebvre, after freely taking on the evening before with their hand on the Gospels a solemn oath of fidelity to their superiors, two of the four, on the stormy afternoon of May 23, amidst flashes of lightning and torrents of rain, walked out of the seminary and went to join the nine priests who defected last year, and two days later a third, already absent, announced that he was doing the same. And it was night.
A few facts will highlight the nature of this deed. Firstly, we now know that very soon after the defection of the Nine one year ago, these three actually told someone that they intended to lie low in order to get the priesthood. Certainly, over the course of one whole year their words and actions in the seminary were of a nature to persuade everyone, priests, seminarians and even visitors from outside, that they would be loyal to the Society. Did they for one whole year live a lie?
Secondly, on the very eve of their ordination, in accordance with the traditional requirements of Mother Church, all three took a solemn Oath of Fidelity at the altar of God, with their hand touching the Gospels before the Blessed Sacrament in the opened tabernacle, swearing amongst other things that they would respectfully obey their superiors in the Society of St. Pius X. The complete text of this oath and the signatures of all three are enclosed with this letter.
The alterations made to the text by one of them suggest he was not at ease, and indeed to swear such an oath at all each of them must have found, or been given, a way of justifying or rationalizing to himself and to others what he did. However, if before God they here committed perjury, then their receiving of holy orders in such a state will have been, thirdly, a grave sacrilege.
Fourthly, towards the end of the traditional ordination ceremony, each of the three placed his hands between the hands of the Archbishop, for the Archbishop to ask him in Latin, “Do you promise to me and my successors reverence and obedience?” Each of the three answered distinctly, “Promitto”, meaning “I promise”.
Fifthly, the at least apparent breaking, within ten days, of these solemn oaths and promises, taken together with all the other circumstances of this latest defection, has caused and will continue to cause a terrible scandal to Catholics, not only to those attached to Tradition who supported and assisted these three because they trusted them to follow Archbishop Lefebvre in defense of the Faith, but also to countless others not yet attached to Tradition who will wrongly but understandably say that if Tradition fosters such disloyalty, then they want none of it.
By way of comment upon these facts, let three quotations for the moment suffice. On May 27 of this year, Fr. Sanborn said from the pulpit in Traverse City, Michigan, “I am very pleased to announce three of the four priests who were ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre on May 13th have decided to come with us. This makes me very happy because I trained them, and so not all the fruits of my labor as rector of the seminary were lost.” (Does Fr. Sanborn realize what fruits he is laying claim to?)
On April 28 of last year, just after the split between the Society and the Nine, Archbishop Lefebvre said at the seminary to all the seminarians, including the three who have just defected:
I hope you will make the good choice. But you must choose. If you agree with the position and attitude and orientation of Fr. Kelly, then follow Fr. Kelly. If you think Mgr. Lefebvre is right, then follow the attitude of Monseigneur and the Fraternity. But you must be clear… honest. Do not say: I will be silent until after my ordination. That is wrong! God knows that! That is a lie before God… not before me. I am nothing. But before God! You cannot do that! That is precisely what Fr. Dolan said, i.e., “I knew how to keep quiet until my ordination”. I cannot understand him doing that! A future priest doing that??
And on May 30 of this year, one of the three latest defectors, when reproached by a lady that such a blow as these actions of their might have killed the Archbishop, replied, “Oh, he’s 78 years old anyway. Mark you, I’m grateful to him, because without him I wouldn’t be a priest.”
People might ask how such a thing could happen inside a seminary, and whether the same will not happen again. The answer is that Jesus saw to the very depths of the human heart (John 6:65, 71), but still chose to allow an Apostle to be unfaithful. As for Jesus’ priests, we can only see into human hearts, in the words of the ordination rite itself, “as far as human frailty allows us to know.” Also there comes a point of mistrust at which the service of God seizes up and a Catholic seminary can no longer operate, because charity “believes all things and hope all things” (I Cor. 13:7). However we are keeping our eyes open, and one seminarian has already been asked to leave since the defection, who under questioning clearly shared the defectors’ way of think.
To fortify your Faith, the seminary and St. Joseph’s Shrine are again this summer offering several courses of St. Ignatius’ great Spiritual Exercises. Make use of this unique opportunity to strengthen your spiritual life, which is more important than anything else. For our part, with the help of God, neither the Society nor the seminary will be shaken off course, but despite these trials or even because of them, both Society and seminary will thrive as God wills. Our next project is the opening of another mission on Long Island, where many Catholics are in distress.
May God’s most Holy and Unsearchable Will be always adored, and may His Blessed Mother, Virgin most Faithful, ever obtain for us in these faithless times the graces of fidelity and loyalty!
(Letters From the Rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminar, Volume 1: The Ridgefield Letters, p. 31 to 38)