In a secluded monastery in south-eastern Brazil, a breakaway group of ultra-conservative Catholics gathered to participate in an act of rebellion against the pope.Ultra -traditionalist bishops in Brazil claim to be leading The Resistance to Pope Francis’s religious revolution, despite their own excommunications.
Two renegade Catholic bishops plan to consecrate a new generation of bishops to spread their ultra-traditionalist movement in defiance of the Vatican, one of them said at a remote monastery in Brazil.
The setting could hardly have been more tranquil: rolling green hills, purple-glory trees, palm leaves swaying in the wind and a temporary chapel made of breeze block walls and a tin roof left partially open to the elements.
But the 50 or so priests, Benedictine monks, nuns and other worshippers who file into Santa Cruz monastery on Saturday were no ordinary congregation. Hailing from Europe, the US and Latin America, they described themselves as a “resistance” movement against Vatican reforms.
In favour of Latin services – and fiercely opposed to ecumenism, freedom of religion and closer relations with Judaism – they had come to defy the authority of Rome with the ordination of a new priest by an excommunicated bishop, Jean-Michel Faure.
French Bishop Jean-Michel Faure said on Sunday (March 29) the new group rejects Pope Francis and what it calls his “new religion.”
It was the second such ceremony in the past month: Faure was consecrated here without papal approval only two weeks ago by the Holocaust-denying British bishop Richard Williamson. In response, both clerics were automatically ejected from the church, but this has not stopped the group’s drive to build an unsanctioned clergy.
The ceremony harked back to an earlier, more conservative age. Women sat on one side of the aisle, their heads – even the youngest girls – covered in scarves. Over three hours, the liturgy was almost entirely in Latin, as were the hymns sung by a choir of monks accompanied by a nun on an electric organ.
Before his ordination, brother André Zelaya de León prostrated himself before the altar and then rose to his knees for a blessing on his tonsured head by Faure. At times, the prayers were so quiet that they almost drowned out by the cicadas and birds in the trees.
Bishop Richard Williamson and Faure initially belonged to a larger dissenting group that been a thorn in Rome’s side for years and have since broken off to form their own religious group. Asked what the new group called itself, Faure said it is firstly Roman Catholic, secondly St Pius X, and now “The Resistance”.
Faure did not give an estimate as to how many followers they have but their plans to consecrate bishops indicates potential for growth.
The Society of St Pius X (SSPX) is a larger ultra-traditionalist group that was excommunicated in 1988 when its founder consecrated four new bishops, including Williamson, despite warnings from the Vatican not to do so.
It rejected the modernizing reforms of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council and stuck with Catholicism’s old Latin Mass.
Former Pope Benedict readmitted the four SSPX bishops to the Catholic fold in 2009, but the SSPX soon expelled Williamson because of an uproar over his Holocaust denial.
The tension mounted two weeks ago when Williamson consecrated Faure without Vatican approval. In response, the two were subsequently excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.
The monastery had said Williamson would ordain a priest there this past weekend but he was not seen by reporters and clergy said it was impossible to talk to him.
Instead, Faure ordained the priest himself in a mass in which he told the sizable congregation that they were being deceived by the Vatican.
Apart from the digital cameras, cellphones – and the electric organ – the ceremony would have been recognisable to centuries of Catholic believers before what today’s ultra-conservatives consider to be the wrong turn taken by the Catholic church with the democratising reforms of the 1962 Second Vatican Council.
After the mass, Faure told the Guardian the Vatican was smashing tradition, and going against the teachings of Pius X, a staunch conservative who was pope between 1903 and 1914.
“We do not follow that revolution. The current pope is preaching doctrine denied by Pius X. He is less Catholic than us,” he said. “He does not follow the doctrine of the faith that are the words of Jesus Christ.”
The Vatican’s response to the ordination was unequivocal.
“Excommunication is automatic,” a spokesman said. He added: “For the Holy See, the diocese of Santa Cruz in Nova Friburgo does not exist. Faure can say what he wants, but a Catholic, and even more so a bishop, obeys and respects the pope.”
Faure, a French cleric who has worked in Mexico and Argentina, said he did not accept this ruling.
“Canon law states that excommunication is valid if it follows a mortal sin. But ours is not a mortal sin. We’re just following our religion. To do this, we need priests, and to have priests we need bishops.”
The church does not hide their objection to Pope Francis, saying they are more faithful to the teachings of the pre-Vatican two Roman Catholic Church.
“They are destroying your faith, your morals, with the pretext of false obedience, false humility, false charity. It is all a lie,” Faure told church-goers at Santa Cruz Monastery in Nova Friburgo, 140 km (87 miles) inland from Rio de Janeiro.
“He (Pope Francis) is using doctrine which is condemned by the Catholic Church. He is less Catholic than us,” the monastery prior Thomas Aquinas added.
“The Pope cannot do anything in the Church. The authority of the Pope is limited by the service of the truth and by the doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which has been in place for twenty centuries,” said Faure, who claims to follow all the popes of the past but not the current one.
He compared his situation to that of other Catholics in history, such as Joan of Arc, who were initially excommunicated but later recognised for their contribution to the Church. “Although we are a minority now, if you look at history, we are a majority. There all the saints, 250 popes and all the Catholics who think exactly as we think.”
In contrast to Benedict, Pope Francis pays little attention to the SSPX ultra-traditionalists, who claim to have a million followers around the world and a growing number of new priests at a time that Rome faces priest shortages. Their remaining three bishops have no official status in the Catholic Church.
Under Catholic law, Williamson and Faure are excommunicated from the Church but remain validly consecrated bishops. That means they can ordain priests into their schismatic group and claim to be Catholic, albeit without Vatican approval.
Faure claims his excommunication is invalid, however.
“An excommunication is valid, effective, if it follows mortal sin, what we call mortal sin, grave sin, public… And our sin is not a sin because it is only – our will is only to follow the religions they learn to us. We have been always in this religion and we stay in this religion. But of course, to stay in this religion we need priests and to have priests we must have bishops,” said Faure after the ordination ceremony.
Faure said he was not sure what it would take for Rome to return to its old traditions but conflict could be a catalyst.
Faure said he only reluctantly become a bishop in case Williamson died in an accident, which would leave the group without the means to ordain priests.
Though he did not say it, the French bishop may also be replacing his British counterpart as a spokesman for the movement. Williamson has repeatedly stirred up controversy with comments denying the Holocaust, praising the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as a peacemaker, warning that Muslims are taking over Europe, and claiming that women are dominating corporations and the military because they are not fulfilling their natural role “making babies”.
Williamson was one of four bishops illegally ordained in 1988 by a French Roman Catholic archbishop called Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the Society of St Pius X and an outspoken critic of the liberalisation of certain church practices following the Second Vatican Council, including the widespread use of vernacular language rather than Latin in mass, inter-faith dialogue and efforts to communicate with the secular world.
Lefebvre and all four bishops were immediately excommunicated for participating in the illicit ordinations, but their movement has been a thorn in the Vatican’s side ever since.
Only about one million Catholics – or 0.1% of the Catholic population – describe themselves as followers of St Pius X, but successive popes have attempted to heal the rift with them.
In 2009, Pope Benedict ignited controversy by lifting the excommunication of the four bishops and even promised the rebel group autonomy from bishops they considered too liberal.
This quickly backfired when it was revealed that Williamson had alleged that no Jews were killed in gas chambers, that the US orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that freemasons were conspiring to destroy Catholicism.
The Vatican said at the time that Benedict had not been aware of Williamson’s views on the Holocaust. In 2012, Williamson was dismissed by the St Pius X fraternity in part because he disagreed with their willingness to communicate with Rome. Faure has also been ejected by the society and his ordination unrecognised.
“All the declarations of Bishop Williamson and Fr Faure prove abundantly that they no longer recognize the Roman authorities, except in a purely rhetorical manner,” the society said in a communique issued after his ordination.
In contrast to his predecessor, Pope Francis has paid little attention to the ultra-conservatives.
Williamson has declared that he does not intend to start a new society, but the movement has now created a new bishop and a priest, and Faure claimed that there were at least two bishops in the Society of St Pius X who sympathised with the self-styled “Resistance”.
In conversation, the traditionalists appear to be hoping for a divine and dramatic intervention. Williamson, who describes himself as a “bloody-minded Brit”, has said he expects a “gigantic chastisement” such as Noah’s flood.
Faure talks more of a coming third world war.
“It would be horrible, but it would change the world. But the day after wouldn’t be like the day before,” Faure said, pointing to the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq. “It would change many things in the world. It would be a new approach in many aspects and why not, in religion.”
For the moment, however, their group of roughly 55 rebel clergy has to rely on stubborn faith. René Trincado, a priest from Chile, who was expelled from the Society of St Pius X in 2013 because he opposed an accord with the Vatican, is among those at the Santa Cruz monastery, which he described as the base of the resistance operations in Brazil.
“We’re not afraid of excommunication. It has no validity,” he said
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Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils – 1 Timothy 4:1 (KJV).
For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect -Matthew 24:24 (KJV).
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry – 2 Timothy 4:3-5 (KJV).
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ – Colossians 2:8 (KJV).