June 29, 1987, was the day when Archbishop Lefebvre publicly announced in Econe his decision to provide himself with successors who would assure the continuation of his ecclesiastical work of handing down the Catholic priesthood in all its doctrinal purity and missionary charity. Two very specific facts were at the origin of that historic decision, which he himself described as “Operation Survival” for Tradition.
The first was the inter-religious gathering in Assisi on October 26, 1986, when Pope John Paul II presided over a congress of religions for peace, an initiative formerly condemned by Popes Leo XIII (Testem benevolentiae, 1899), St. Pius X (Notre Charge apostolique, 1910) and above all Pius XI (Mortalium animos, 1928).
Then there was the confirmation, by Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, of the new theses concerning religious liberty, a doctrine proclaimed at the Second Vatican Council even though it contradicted the most solemn magisterium of the popes of the two previous centuries, in particular Gregory XVI, Pius IX (Quanta Cura and Syllabus, 1864), Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Pius XI (Quas primas, 1925) and Pius XII. This false liberty attributes to all religions the absolute right to profess, in public as well as in private, errors and doctrines that are diametrically opposed to the Gospel.
This confirmation of religious liberty, understood in a sense that is opposed to the constant Magisterium of the Catholic Church, finally convinced Archbishop Lefebvre of the gravity of the crisis in the Church and the universal loss of the sense of the Faith, even in Rome: a true mystery of iniquity.
Driven by this state of necessity—which is provided for by the Canon Law of the Church—and by the virtue of prudence, he decided to go ahead and consecrate bishops for the purpose of handing on his power to confer holy orders. He made sure not to give any jurisdiction to the bishops that he consecrated, so as to avoid any schism.
In keeping with the spirit of Canon Law, which intends that obedience should serve the salvation of souls and not their ruin, nor the destruction of works that have clearly been blessed by God, Archbishop Lefebvre preferred to appear disobedient by transgressing a law of ecclesiastical discipline. In doing so, he refused to cooperate in the universal destruction that he was witnessing.
And so, given the widespread disorders and scandals throughout the Church, given the corruption of the sacramental rites and the perversion of the Catholic priesthood, Archbishop Lefebvre restored holy orders and laid the foundations for a genuine renewal for the Church of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
For God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and world without end.