Over the last 24 months or so my opinions on the SSPX situation have evolved to a more nuanced, though significantly more unsure position. Whereas in the past I might have said that Archbishop Lefebvre had many valid concerns, but was wrong in his addressing of them, today I'm not longer entirely comfortable saying even that.
Certainly he did have valid concerns. Few orthodox Catholics today will deny that a lot of things went wrong after the Second Vatican Council. As I remarked today before Mass, it's been a tough fifty years. I don't believe necessarily that all our struggles are because of the Council, though I'm also not willing to say that every aspect of the Council itself was blameless.
Archbishop Lefebvre was concerned especially about how the men of the Church understood religious liberty, ecumenism, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. These were all valid concerns. The issue closest to my heart is the Mass, and the utter chaos created by its wholesale renovation.
What strikes me as most concerning, most worthy of giving us pause, is that much of Archbishop Lefebvre's warnings, perhaps even all of them turned out to be true. I am very much appreciative of Humanae Vitae for this same reason; reading it today it is clear that there is a prophetic voice in that document. As much as I'm not Paul VI's greatest fan, I think he was cooperating with the Holy Spirit very closely when he wrote Humanae Vitae. However, if I respect Humanae Vitae for its prophetic voice, I'm forced also to acknowledge Marcel Lefebvre's farsightedness.
He predicted a lot of consequences that would arise from the new ways of thinking that permeated the Church in the late 50s and beyond. He predicted great struggles in missionary territories, specifically Africa and Latin America as a result of new, fashionable schools of 'ecumenical' theology. This happened. Latin America has for a long time been inundated with Liberation Theology and the vile influence of Marxism. Africa too has struggled, when compared with the enormous success of the missions in the first half of the 20th century. Both situations are, if I understand it, on the mend, and I think in part we have our Holy Father Pope Benedict to thank for that, but they did indeed struggle as predicted.
He predicted that seminaries worldwide would struggle tremendously. They absolutely have. Everyone, at least everyone in the western Catholic world, is familiar with the vocations crisis. Many awful rumours, some rather well documented, of a culture of homosexuality and heterodoxy in seminaries, have floated around for some time. Many great priests and former seminarians, for example the illustrious Father Z, can speak about the absolute shambles many seminaries were in during their studies. The sexual abuse scandal can attest to recklessly poor formation of priests in previous decades. Again, this situation too seems to be getting better, and thank goodness, but we're not out of the woods yet.
Archbishop Lefebvre foresaw a Church where priests, and even bishops have been infected with Modernism and its many errors. If we take an honest look at the state of the Church, I think we'd have a hard time disagreeing. We've all had our experiences with priests ad-libbing the Mass, or in the confessional or at the baptismal font to suit their whims. We've all sat through homilies that are the definition of heresy. We have seen bishops abandon their flocks morally, pastorally, and even physically. Some fostered unhealthy atmospheres for their orthodox priests. Some have taught things which go against the holy Tradition of our Church. Some have been excommunicated and laicized. All of these things, of course, will happen during any age of the Church, but today it happens far too often. How many Masses or confessions have been invalidated because of a defect of form? How many souls have been scandalized because bishops have not stood up for the Church's eternal teachings?
None of the problems in the Church today are unique to our age, but the scale of the issues we are dealing with has many times been described as a crisis. Perhaps one of the most serious since the Arian crisis. Certainly the worst since the attempted heretical 'reforms' of the Enlightenment period.
Does Archbishop Lefebvre's very often accurate predictions mean that he acted correctly after the suppression of the Society of St. Pius X, or during the Econe consecrations, or afterwards? Not necessarily. But at the same time, I think the history of the Church will look much more kindly upon the Archbishop than has been the case for the last fifty years.
In reading Marcel Lefebvre's biography by Bernard Tissier de Mallerais (which, by the way, I would recommend for anyone interested in the issue) the two greatest reactions I've experienced thus far have been first of regret at how harshly he was sometimes treated at the hands of other bishops, and many of the cardinals, and second, of regret at how profoundly he might have influenced the Church through the 60s until his death, had circumstances worked out differently. His work in Gabon and Dakar especially show that he placed faithfulness to the Church and carrying out of Her mission above all other things. How many great things might he have done, had he not spent the last decades of his life in a sort of exile?
Perhaps Bishop Bernard Fellay might show us.
Going back to where we began: do I think that Marcel Lefebvre acted wrongly with regards to the SSPX? I don't know. But I think we do a disservice to ourselves and to the Church by simply dismissing him. What I am confident in saying is that the circumstances which led up to the Society's suppression, and the events surrounding the Econe consecrations, should never have been allowed to develop. No one person is responsible for those circumstances, but perhaps many different men of the Church, from the late 50s onward, had a responsibility to lead the Church more fruitfully than they did.