Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre: A Small Signed Photo

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre: A Small Signed Photo

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre

Marcel Lefebvre
French Archbishop

 Marcel Lefebvre was born November 29, 1905, in Tourcoing, France, and died March 25, 1991, in Martigny, Switzerland. He was one of the most controversial and  ultraconservative Roman Catholic archbishops of the 20 century.  He opposed the liberalizing changes begun by the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) and was excommunicated in 1988 by Pope John Paul II for consecrating new traditionalist bishops without the approval of the Holy See. He created the bishops in order to perpetuate his crusade after his death.

Lefebvre studied at the Sacred Heart College in Tourcoing and at the French Seminary in Rome and was ordained a priest in 1929. After a brief assignment in Lille, France, he served in missionary posts in Gabon (1932–46) and Senegal (1947–62), becoming archbishop of Dakar, Senegal, in 1948.

As a member of the preparatory commission (1960–62) for the Second Vatican Council, he helped frame traditionalist proposals that the convening bishops in the subsequent council sessions strongly rejected. The bishops substituted more liberal reforms, such as saying Mass in the vernacular rather than in Latin, reconciling Roman Catholicism with other religions, and promoting the collegiality of the pope and the bishops in leading the church. Lefebvre came to denigrate such reforms as “heretical,” “anti-Christ,” and “satanic.”

From 1962 to 1968 Lefebvre was superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers. In 1969 he founded the Priestly Confraternity of Saint Pius X in Fribourg, Switzerland. He chose this name for his confraternity, because Pope (Saint) Pius X had been a staunch conservative.

In 1970 he established the society’s seminary at Ecône, a villa near Riddes in Valais canton, Switzerland, to train priests according to his traditionalist model. Soon the Vatican and Lefebvre were to exchange vigorous criticisms, and in 1975 the Vatican withdrew approval of the order.

In 1976 Pope (Saint) Paul VI suspended Lefebvre, forbidding him to carry out priestly and episcopal functions. Lefebvre not only defied Rome in continuing his priesthood but set about establishing regional headquarters in various countries for his variety of Roman Catholicism. Several negotiating efforts to avoid a schism failed.

On June 30, 1988, upon consecrating four traditionalist bishops at Ecône in defiance of Pope (Saint) John Paul II’s orders, Lefebvre was excommunicated. His group, then numbering more than 60,000 followers, was deemed schismatic.

Decree of Excomunication of Archbishop Lefebvre
 From the Office of the Congregation for Bishops, 1 July 1988
During the Papacy of Pope (Saint) John Paul II

Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre, Archbishop-Bishop Emeritus of Tulle, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning of 17 June last and the repeated appeals to desist from his intention, has performed a schismatical act by the episcopal consecration of four priests, without pontifical mandate and contrary to the will of the Supreme Pontiff, and has therefore incurred the penalty envisaged by Canon 1364, paragraph 1, and canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law.

Having taken account of all the juridical effects, I declare that the above-mentioned Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre, and Bernard Pellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta have incurred <ipso facto> excommunication <latae sententiae> reserved to the Apostolic See.

Moreover, I declare that Monsignor Antonio de Castro Mayer, Bishop emeritus of Campos, since he took part directly in the liturgical celebration as co-consecrator and adhered publicly to the schismatical act, has incurred excommunication <latae sententiae> as envisaged by canon 1364, paragraph 1.

The priests and faithful are warned not to support the schism of Monsignor Lefebvre, otherwise they shall incur <ipso facto> the very grave penalty of excommunication.

–Bernardinus Card. Gantin Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops

Pope Benedict XVI Offers a “Gesture of Mercy”
On the Remission of Excommunication of the Four Bishops Consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre
Author: Pope Benedict XVI
March 2009


A word of clarification for peace within the Church

“A word of clarification” so as to help comprehend the reasons and timeliness of a “gesture of mercy” that has become the pretext for polemics and tension even inside the Church. It is this that Benedict XVI intends to offer in his Letter “to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the remission of the excommunication”, which was released on Thursday morning, 12 March.

Dear Brothers in the Episcopal Ministry!

The remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre without a mandate of the Holy See has for many reasons caused, both within and beyond the Catholic Church, a discussion more heated than any we have seen for a long time. Many Bishops felt perplexed by an event which came about unexpectedly and was difficult to view positively in the light of the issues and tasks facing the Church today. Even though many Bishops and members of the faithful were disposed in principle to take a positive view of the Pope’s concern for reconciliation, the question remained whether such a gesture was fitting in view of the genuinely urgent demands of the life of faith in our time. Some groups, on the other hand, openly accused the Pope of wanting to turn back the clock to before the Council: as a result, an avalanche of protests was unleashed, whose bitterness laid bare wounds deeper than those of the present moment. I therefore feel obliged to offer you, dear Brothers, a word of clarification, which ought to help you understand the concerns which led me and the competent offices of the Holy See to take this step. In this way I hope to contribute to peace in the Church.

Here is a link to Pope Benedict XVI’s entire letter:

  • Date October 24, 2023
  • Tags Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre