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Vatican Excommunicates Lefebvre and Four Bishops He Consecrated With AM-Lefebvre Bjt

June 30, 1988 GMT

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ The Vatican excommunicated Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the four bishops he consecrated Thursday, and condemned the rebel French traditionalist for provoking a schism in the Roman Catholic Church.

A statement issued two hours after the consecration ceremony at Lefebvre’s seminary in Econe, Switzerland, said the five men excommunicated themselves by defying papal authority and by ignoring warnings and a last-minute appeal from Pope John Paul II.

Leading Catholic clerics rallied around the pope and urged Lefebvre’s supporters not to follow him out of the church.


John Paul performed his official duties as usual Thursday, including a meeting with five Soviet journalists, but Lefebvre’s decision to consecrate bishops without his approval caused considerable bitterness here.

A performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis scheduled for Thursday evening in the Paul VI Auditorium was canceled to express ″deep pain″ over the schism, the first major split in the church in 118 years.

An excommunicated Roman Catholic is not permitted to receive the church’s sacraments, which include communion and extreme unction, previously known as last rites.

″No one is put to hell or condemned,″ a Vatican official said, on condition of anonymity. ″He (Lefebvre) has put himself outside the communion of the church and takes responsibility before God.″

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro said only the pope can lift the sanction against Lefebvre, 82, and the four bishops.

Lefebvre caused the first schism, or formal break with the Vatican, since the so-called Old Catholics rebelled in 1970, after the first Vatican Council proclaimed the doctrine of papal infallibility.

Navarro’s statement said the consecrations were carried out ″explicitly against the pope’s will.″

″This is a formally schismatic act according to Canon 751, in as much he openly refused submission to the Holy Father and communion with the members of the church under his jurisdiction,″ and automatic excommunication was the result, it said.

The spokesman rejected claims by Lefebvre’s St. Pius X Fraternity that the consecrations could occur because of an ″emergency″ situation.

″The so-called ‘case of necessity’ has been intentionally fabricated by Monsignor Lefebvre in order to maintain an attitude of division within the Catholic church, notwithstanding the ecclesial communion and the concessions offered by the Holy Father John Paul II.″

Lefebvre and his followers reject many modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, 1962-65, including openings to other religions and Christian denominations.

Pope Paul VI suspended Lefebvre from priestly duties in 1976 but he has continued ordaining priests, including 16 on Wednesday.

John Paul, considered to be a doctrinal conservative, had hoped to woo the French archbishop back and the two sides were reported close to agreement last month, but Lefebvre reneged on a compromise.

Those excommunicated were Lefebvre and the four bishops: Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta.

Antonio de Castro Mayer, bishop of Campos in Brazil, assisted at the rites and also faced automatic excommunication. Navarro said, however, that the Vatican was awaiting clarification on his role in the ceremony.

The Italian Bishops’ Conference immediately called for prayers for the pope.

Archbishop Albert Decourtray of Lyon and president of the French council of bishops, said: ″It is a day of mourning for the Catholic church, for all those who are attached to Christian unity.″

Cardinal Basil Hume, archbishop of Westminster and head of the church in England and Wales, said: ″All Catholics will be saddened by the action taken today by Archbishop Lefebvre.″ He urged those sympathetic to Lefebvre to reaffirm their loyalty to the pope.

Navarro said recently that Lefebvre’s supporters numbered 80,000 to 100,000, but other Vatican officials have said about half a million people turn to his priests for various church functions.

The Vatican spokesman said he would announce Friday the position in the church of Lefebvre’s priests and lay followers.