Holy Cross Seminary

Most Asked Questions About the Society of Saint Pius X

Question 11:
Wasn't Archbishop Lefebvre excommunicated for consecrating bishops unlawfully?

June 29, 1987:

Archbishop Lefebvre, experiencing failing health and seeing no other way of assuring the continued ordination of truly Catholic priests, decided to consecrate Bishops and announced that, if necessary, he will do so even without the Pope's permission.

June 17, 1988:

Cardinal Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, officially warned the Archbishop that, in virtue of canon 1382 (1983 Code of Canon Law), he and the bishops consecrated by him would be excommunicated for proceeding without pontifical mandate and thereby infringing the laws of sacred discipline.

June 30, 1988:

Archbishop Lefebvre, together with Bishop de Castro Mayer, consecrated four bishops.

July 1, 1988:

Cardinal Gantin declared the threatened excommunication (according to canon 1382) to have been incurred. He also called the consecrations a schismatic act and declared the corresponding excommunication (canon 1364 1), as well as threatening anyone supporting the consecrations with excommunication because of "schism."

July 2, 1988:

In Ecclesia Dei Afflicta, the Pope repeated Cardinal Gantin's accusation of schismatic mentality and threatened generalized excommunications. (See QUESTION 12.)

     Now, the excommunication warned of on June 17, for abuse of episcopal powers (canon 1382), was not incurred because:

1) A person who violates a law out of necessity1 is not subject to a penalty (1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1323, 4), even if there is no state of necessity2 :

  • if one inculpably thought there was, he would not incur the penalty (canon 1323, 7),
  • and if one culpably thought there was, he would still incur no automatic penalties3 (canon 1324, 3; 1,8).

2) No penalty is ever incurred without committing a subjective mortal sin (canons 1321 1, 1323 7). Now, Archbishop Le-febvre made it amply clear that he was bound in conscience to do what he could do to continue the Catholic priesthood and that he was obeying God in going ahead with the consecrations.4 Hence, even if he had been wrong, there would be no subjective sin.

3) Most importantly, positive law is at the service of the natural and eternal law and ecclesiastical law is at that of the divine law (Principle 8). No "authority,"5 can force a bishop to compromise in his teaching of Catholic faith or administering of Catholic sacraments. No "law," can force him to cooperate in the destruction of the Church. With Rome giving no guarantee of preserving Catholic Tradition, Archbishop Lefebvre had to do what he could with his God-given episcopal powers to guarantee its preservation. It was his duty as a bishop.

4) The Church's approving the Society of Saint Pius X (QUESTION 2)allow it what it needs for its own preservation. This includes the service of bishops who will guarantee to maintain Catholic tradition.


1."The state of necessity, as it is explained by jurists, is a state in which the necessary goods for natural or supernatural life are so threatened that one is morally compelled to break the law in order to save them. "Is Tradition Excommunicated? p.26 (Appendix II).

2. And yet objectively there is. Cf. Is Tradition Excommunicated? pp.27-36 (Appendix II).

3. Excommunication for unlawful consecrations (canon 1382) or schism (canon 1364) are of this kind.

4. Cf. The Sermon of June 30, 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre and the Vatican p. 136 (Appendix II).

5. Principle 9.


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