Did Abp. Lefebvre Say the New Mass?
Kennedy Hall, the self-proclaimed lay apologist for the SSPX, recently released a video accusing Michael Lofton and me of calumny for claiming Archbishop Lefebvre celebrated the New Mass. Yes, this accusation comes from a man who falsely accused me of backing out of a debate, even though his own emails admit that he was the one to back out. (here) This also comes from a man who almost exclusively uses ad hominem arguments against his opponents, whom he labels “enemies of the Church.” Even though I have over 20 hours of podcasts and as many articles defending the Church by explaining the errors of the SSPX, Hall conspicuously avoids engaging my theological and canonical arguments on any meaningful level; he would rather attack my character with lies and misrepresentations, and claim that Marcel Lefebvre, who died under a declared excommunication for schism, is the victim. That is his approach.
Mr. Hall certainly has a distorted understanding of what calumny is. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines calumny as “the unjust damaging of the good name of another by imputing to him a crime or fault of which he is not guilty.” So, according to Hall, a priest who celebrates the Novus Ordo Mass – a rite promulgated by the Roman Pontiff for the entire Latin Church – is actually guilty of committing a crime or grave fault. And, in his mind, to falsely accuse a priest of celebrating such a legitimate rite of the Church is a mortal sin. All this would be news to the last five Popes, or actually, to all 266 of them. Needless to say, Hall not only has a distorted understanding of calumny, but also of the Roman Catholic Church and her Supreme Authority.
We should first note that our assertion that Archbishop Lefebvre celebrated the New Mass was not intended to damage his reputation, as Hall recklessly alleges. After all, how could asserting that a bishop celebrated a legitimate rite of Mass be harmful to his reputation? We do not need to, nor would we, fabricate testimony to harm Lefebvre’s reputation; the acts Lefebvre committed which led to his suppression, suspension, and excommunication speak for themselves.
Rather, our statement was to show that Lefebvre’s later rejection of the New Mass was inconsistent with his initial acceptance of it, and we have a factual basis to conclude Lefebvre celebrated the New Mass based upon historical accounts that even the Society acknowledges. From the SSPX website, which transcribes a talk given by Fr. Michel Simoulin in 2017, we read:
“Or when I was a young subdeacon, I went with Archbishop Lefebvre to his sister-in-law’s funeral. The Archbishop hesitated, then chose to assist at the new Mass before blessing the casket. A few days later, an article was published in certain bulletins: We must rally! The example is given from on high! Born of the Conciliar Church through Bishop Charrière on November 1, 1970, in the diocese of Freiburg, the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has today returned to the Conciliar Church! Its founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, gave a beautiful example on June 30, 1980, by participating ‘actively’ in the Conciliar rite” (emphasis added).
Lefebvre’s assistance at the new rite is also corroborated in the book Econe Full Stop (1983) by Fr. Noel Barbara, who states:
“We might add that in regard to the new mass, Mgr. Lefebvre knows how to join deeds with words and give an example. On 30 June 1980, on the occasion of the obsequies of a member of his family, accompanied by Fr. Simoulin, he assisted ‘actively’ at ‘Luther's mass’ completely in the modern fashion.” (emphasis added).
Thus, we have a reasonable, factual basis for our assertion that Lefebvre celebrated the new rite (which we assume would have been in Latin, ad orientem), and we say so to underscore that Lefebvre was in good standing with the Church at the beginning of his founding of the Society. It’s simply a matter of historical accuracy and fairness to note that Lefebvre showed initial support for the reforms, and didn’t go off the rails until later on. Lefebvre allowed Catholics to attend the New Mass, for a time, and even said “it is right to assist at this Sunday Mass in order to fulfill the obligation.” This demonstrates that Lefebvre did not initially have a schismatic spirit toward the new rite, until later. This seems to be something Kennedy Hall wishes to conceal. Why?
Now, we are well aware of the questions that some have raised about whether Lefebvre actually celebrated the New Mass, but those questions do not prevent one from concluding he did, and certainly without being accused of a calumny. This conclusion can be drawn not only from the references cited above, but also from the April 12, 1979 letter of Fr. Guerard des Lauriers, O.P., which refers to Lefebvre celebrating the New Mass from 1969 to December of 1970. When des Lauriers mentions that Lefebvre celebrated the New Mass in his letter to him, he refers to particular details (dates, places, witnesses, gestures), the inclusion of which would be unusual if he was just making it up. Such details give the testimony credibility, because they open up the witness to greater scrutiny.
Fr. des Lauriers also notes that Lefebvre was confronted by six other witnesses about his celebration of the New Mass, and des Lauriers does not record a denial by Lefebvre in that letter. This is also very significant. Finally, as Fr. Francesco Ricossa notes, from 1969 to 1975, Abp. Lefebvre’s official position was that the New Mass was legitimate and even obligatory in certain circumstances. Lefebvre acknowledged that there were both “good Masses” and “bad Masses” in the new rite, depending upon how they were celebrated.
We are also aware that Jean Madiran, a long-time ally of Lefebvre and founder of the French magazine Itineraires, wrote a retort to des Lauriers (in 1980), claiming that Lefebvre did not actually celebrate the New Mass. This is the evidence Hall relies upon to debunk our claim. We have read the letter in detail (we had it translated by a native French speaker) and note that Madiran provides absolutely no substantive rebuttal to des Lauriers’ conclusion that Lefebvre celebrated the New Mass. Anyone who reads the letter can see the same. Madiran simply accuses des Lauriers of being a liar. That’s it.
Now, Kennedy Hall may be persuaded by such “evidence” (which is no evidence at all), but we are not. In addition to the historical account already cited, Madiran’s credibility is also called into question because of false statements he had publicly made on another matter concerning the New Mass. Specifically, Madiran falsely claimed that Cardinal Ottaviani did not write his letter of commendation to Dom Gerard (on February 17, 1970). Ottaviani’s letter praised Gerard’s study of the New Mass, which was much less critical of the New Mass. It was also quite critical of the so-called “Ottaviani Intervention,” which is wrongly attributed to Cardinal Ottaviani, as if he were the author. Madiran’s false allegation was exposed by Ottaviani’s secretary, among others. Being an ally of Lefebvre and guilty of false statements on the topic of the New Mass does not make Madiran a credible witness, and one should not be accused of calumny for rejecting his testimony.
While des Lauriers, in his humility, was willing to give Madiran the benefit of the doubt and withdraw his conclusion that Lefebvre said the new rite, whether or not Madiran was telling the truth remains a question of fact, and we are free to reject his testimony without being guilty of calumny, based on the evidence. In addition to what we have already presented, des Lauriers continued to maintain that Lefebvre gave the appearance of saying the New Mass, which led him to his conclusion, because Lefebvre had engaged in movements and omissions that were not part of the rubrics of the Tridentine Mass (i.e., omission of genuflections).
Think hard about that. If Abp. Lefebvre was not saying the New Mass as Madiran claims, then we would have to conclude, based on des Lauriers’ testimony which Madiran does not refute, that Lefebvre instead engaged in illicit gestures in celebrating the Tridentine Mass, and these gestures were sufficient to “induce” des Lauriers (his words) and others into believing he was celebrating the New Mass (in part due to the omission of genuflections). Madiran categorically fails to refute des Lauriers’ claim, and des Lauriers even notes that the controversy precipitated a “very heated incident” among Lefebvre and the six other witnesses, which would not have been necessary if it had been a simple misunderstanding.
Thus, in light of des Lauriers’ testimony which Madiran does not refute, is it really reasonable to conclude that Lefebvre celebrated illicit Traditional Masses (insofar as he was deviating from the rubrics, including omitting the grave requirement of genuflecting before Our immolated Lord), as opposed to celebrating a licit Novus Ordo rite – the same rite that was being celebrated by the Pope and bishops throughout the Roman Church, and which Lefebvre had not yet rejected, in principle? After all, wasn’t Lefebvre an absolute stickler for the rubrics? Didn’t Lefebvre center his entire life around celebrating the Traditional Mass as reverent and “traditional” as possible? Or did Lefebvre routinely omit genuflecting after the consecration? Was Lefebvre really a liturgical innovator when he celebrated the old Mass? I and many others personally doubt it.
Again, which scenario seems more likely? That Lefebvre celebrated the new rite, in the traditional manner, borne from the council’s reforms which he himself approved, on at least a very limited basis, for a short period of time, during which time he maintained that the New Mass was even obligatory to attend, in certain cases, even under pain of sin? Or, rather, are we to believe that Lefebvre celebrated the Traditional Mass in an illicit manner, by deviating from the rubrics and introducing innovations, which included failing to genuflect before Our Lord when the rubrics required it, and which actions were sufficient to induce learned men to believe that he was celebrating the New Mass (along with the testimony of an unreliable witness, who himself rejected the liturgical reforms and was guilty of his own public misrepresentations concerning Cardinal Ottaviani’s support of Dom Gerard’s critique of the New Mass)?
We maintain the former is more likely than the latter, and cannot be accused of calumny for believing so – especially since calumny involves the accusation of committing a crime or grave fault, which celebrating an approved rite of Mass is not. We are simply making a judgment based upon all the evidence as we understand it. Of course, from 1976 and forward, all the Masses that Lefebvre celebrated were illicit, whether he followed the rubrics or not, given that he was suspended a divinis by the Pope himself and no longer had the faculty to say Mass or perform any priestly function.
That Archbishop Lefebvre would later deny that he celebrated the New Mass means very little in light of his track record. After all, Lefebvre signed all of the documents of Vatican II (as even Bp. Tissier admits) and then later publicly claimed that he didn’t. Lefebvre also entered into an oral and written agreement with the Supreme Pontiff, which would have given the SSPX a canonical status, before he disgraced himself by reneging on the agreement the very next day. Archbishop Lefebvre comes off as an ecclesiastical double-dealer, who even accused Popes Paul VI and John Paul II of being anti-christs who taught a false religion. In light of the history, it is difficult to give Lefebvre the benefit of the doubt.
Nevertheless, as an act of good faith, I and my fellow colleagues (which include Andrew Bartel, Dom Dalmasso, Matt Fradd, Michael Lofton and Robert Siscoe) submit that if it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Lefebvre never celebrated the New Mass in the face of the current evidence which says he did, then we will be happy to retract our assertion that Lefebvre celebrated the New Mass (although we don’t think such proof is possible). After all, we are not afraid of changing our views when the truth demands it, which our own track records demonstrate.
However, note well that this would actually make things worse for Lefebvre, Hall and the SSPX. Why? Because it would show that Lefebvre rejected the New Mass in principle, from the very beginning, even before the liturgical revolution gained a real foothold in the Latin Church. And by rejecting a rite of Mass that was legitimately promulgated by the Roman Pontiff and universally accepted by the College of Bishops, Lefebvre would have proven himself to be schismatic even before 1976 or 1988 – by refusing communion with 99.9% of the Roman Church which celebrated the new rite, as soon as it was promulgated.
Hence, Kennedy Hall’s claim that Archbishop Lefebvre refused to celebrate the New Mass only makes things worse for the SSPX and its adherents, because it underscores the schismatic position of the Society of St. Pius X. It also means Hall is effectively accusing every priest and bishop who says the New Mass of a crime or grave fault. That Hall does not recognize the consequences of his position reveals much about his understanding of the Roman Catholic Church. But this is not surprising, since Hall does not even recognize the legitimate factual basis for concluding that Lefebvre said the New Mass. To even entertain such a possibility is the mortal sin of calumny, according to Hall.
It is also extremely unfortunate that Hall consistently attempts to harm the reputation of his opponents by calling them “enemies of the Church” and imputes evil motives to them. A genuine disagreement of fact does not warrant such harsh indictments. This is likely a bitter fruit of Hall’s formal adherence to the SSPX schism, which ultimately destroys the virtue of charity. Hall is certainly doing no favors for the Society or himself. To the contrary, he is providing more evidence of the existence of the very schism he denies.
 On the SSPX Seeking Cooperation within the Church – Le Seignadou, https://sspx.org/en/news-events/news/sspx-seeking-cooperation-within-church-le-seignadou.
 Footnote 17.
 Letter to Mlle., T., March 15, 1974.
 Dates: From April 1969 to December 24, 1970; places: in the Roman basilica of St. Mary Major at the altar of St. Pius V; Fribourg; and Econe; witnesses: Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Paul Aulagnier, Bernard Waltz and three others.
 For example, see des Lauriers’ letter to Mr. Einsicht, February 1980.
Bravo!! What more can I say? May God bless you and your work, John. :) I wish Kennedy Hall could become a friend and leave off his antagonism. With God, anything is possible. :D
"When des Lauriers mentions that Lefebvre celebrated the New Mass in his letter to him, he refers to particular details (dates, places, witnesses, gestures), the inclusion of which would be unusual if he was just making it up."
But later you also say:
"While des Lauriers, in his humility, was willing to give Madiran the benefit of the doubt and withdraw his conclusion that Lefebvre said the new rite, whether or not Madiran was telling the truth remains a question of fact, and we are free to reject his testimony without being guilty of calumny, based on the evidence."
To give someone benefit of doubt (even "out of humility" as you say), you have to have the doubt. So he names dates, places and witnesses of something which he himself doubts... How can that be considered credible?
Abp. Lefevre before he changed his mind on the New Mass:
“if one does not have the choice and if the priest celebrating Mass according to the Novus Ordo is faithful and worthy, one should not abstain from going to Mass.”
"Make every effort to have the Mass of St. Pius V, but if it is impossible to find one within forty kilometers and if there is a pious priest who says the New Mass in as traditional a way as possible, it is good for you to assist at it to fulfill your Sunday obligation."
The doubt is not about the dates, places and witnesses; but only about whether or not Lefebvre was celebrating the New Mass on those dates, in those places, and before those witnesses. Even after des Lauriers modified his conclusion, he still had no doubts about the dates, places and witnesses, nor about the gestures and omissions (i.e., genuflections) that were witnessed.
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