"On [the illicit consecrations] let me say that at the time I believed he was wrong. Twenty years after his death, I believe he was right." Thus Mr Henry Sire in his must-read Phoenix from the Ashes (see earlier post). I suspect many readers have undergone this shift in attitude, taught by the history of those twenty years.
Sire situates Lefebvre historically, which is important because he has so often been seen as an isolated phenomenon. "There were many in the Church, like Cardinal Browne, who were more rigid in their theology; many, like Cardinal Bacci, who were more unconditional adherents of the old rite; many, like Cardinal Oddi, who subscribed to a cruder conservatism; many, like Cardinal Staffa, who were more addicted to ritual; many, like Archbishop Proenca Sigaud, who were politically further to the right." So how did Lefebvre become the pariah; the only post-Conciliar rebel? Read this book; you may not agree with Mr Sire's judgements, but at every turning point he gives you information and provokes you to thought. A point to which he alludes, which I would put more strongly, is the attitude of the French Church after the Liberation. There was a feeling that 'integral' Catholicism was tarnished by the Vichy years, from which the Church wished to distance herself. Furthermore, there was the malign influence of Cardinal Villot. But, as far as concerns the influence of the Freemasons in the post-Conciliar processes, I will perhaps speak at more length in a later post about this important book.
I found especially interesting Sire's account of the canonical irregularities involved in the treatment of Lefebvre and other traditionalists (one such was interested to find that his appeal to Rome was dismissed before he had put it into the letterbox). All of this reminded me of how, when attempts were being made from within the English hierarchy to prevent my entry into the presbyterate of the Ordinariate, I was never shown any written document, or told in any face-to-face interview, what the reasons were for the refusal of a positive votum. I remember thinking, month after month, "Do these people have no concept of Natural Justice?"
Sire's main criticism of Lefebvre is that he was not a natural politician; not a schemer; not a crafty networker able effectively to build up a party. Is Sire right? Tell me, but not until you've read his book.