Mgr. François Charrière (1893-1976) was the bishop who blessed the foundation of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X. He was twelve years older than Mgr. Marcel Lefebvre (1905-1991), but they both received the episcopate a few years apart, under the pontificate of Pope Pius XII.
Bishop François Charrière
From Gruérien de Cerniat, Switzerland, then a student at the major seminary of Fribourg (1913-1917), Fr. François Charrière was ordained a priest on July 15, 1917. Vicar of the parish of Notre-Dame, in Lausanne, he attended the Social Weeks in France and raised the awareness of young Catholics to what was then called the social doctrine of the Church.
When the parish priest died in January 1920, he was appointed administrator of the parish until the installation of the new parish priest.
Bishop Marius Besson (1876-1945), new bishop of the diocese (June 23, 1920), then sent him to complete his studies at the Angelicum in Rome.
After obtaining a doctorate in canon law in 1923, Fr. François Charrière taught moral theology, ecclesiastical law and sociology at the major seminary of Fribourg.
In 1926, he founded, with Fr. Charles Journet (1891-1975), professor of dogmatic theology at the seminary of Fribourg, the review of Catholic culture Nova et Vetera, which aimed to shed the light of the Catholic faith and the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas on the great questions of the modern day.
In 1927, he created the Saint-Justin charity, in support of students from mission countries, to form an elite group capable of useful action in developing countries. He called hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Chinese, Japanese, and African students to Fribourg.
Director of the newspaper La Liberté (1941-1945), he was interested in new communication techniques (radio, TV) and their use in pastoral care.
He received episcopal consecration on November 21, 1945 from the hands of Mgr. Philippe Bernardini (1884-1954), apostolic nuncio to Switzerland, assisted by Mgr. Victor Bieler, bishop of Sion (1881-1952), and Mgr. Olivier Maradan (1899-1975), Bishop of Port-Victoria.
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
Marcel Lefebvre was born in Tourcoing, an industrial city in the North of France. Entering the French Seminary in Rome (1923-1930), he was the fervent disciple of Fr. Henri Le Floch (1862-1950), who, in his spiritual conferences, revealed to his students the providential role of the popes in the course of Church history, in particular the constant struggle of the later Roman pontiffs against the errors of their century: liberalism, socialism, modernism.
The young Fr. Lefebvre was on fire for the social reign of Christ the King as promoted by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quas primas (December 11, 1925). Becoming a doctor in philosophy and theology at the Gregorian University, ordained a priest at barely 24 years of age (September 21, 1929), Marcel Lefebvre began his ministry as second vicar of a working parish then, changing direction, became a missionary religious of the Holy Ghost Fathers (1932).
As a Spiritan, he was sent to Gabon, where he remained thirteen years: first as director of the seminary in Libreville (1932-1938), then as the head of the mission (1938-1945).
The ruins of the war recalled him to France, to take up the direction of the Spiritan scholasticate in Mortain (1945-1947), a position he held until Pope Pius XII recalled him to Africa, as apostolic vicar of Dakar in Senegal (June 12, 1947).
Mgr. Marcel Lefebvre received the episcopate on September 18, 1947 from the hands of Cardinal Achille Liénart (1884-1973), assisted by Bishop Jean-Baptiste Fauret (1902-1984), his former superior in Gabon, and Bishop Alfred Ancel (1898-1984), his former fellow student at the French Seminary in Rome.
The Same Zeal For the Missions
Both trained in Rome, attentive to the training of clerics, Mgr. Charrière and Mgr. Lefebvre shared the same zeal for the missions. In 1953, Archbishop Lefebvre came to visit the Little Sisters of Saint Paul in Fribourg in order to find out about the missionary activity of this work for which he showed great benevolence.
On October 23, 1955, on the occasion of Mission Sunday, at the cathedral of Fribourg, Bishop Charrière and the Apostolic Vicar of Dakar, also apostolic delegate for the Missions of French West Africa, took care of the preaching: “Mgr. Marcel Lefebvre… made a plea, moving in its simplicity, in favor of the missions and especially that of Africa. He showed that the black peoples there thirst for a higher religious doctrine and, realizing the poverty of their paganism, await the one who will bring them a monotheistic religion. Some turn to the doctrine of Mohammed or to Protestantism, for lack of hearing from Catholic missionaries. Those to whom the message of the Son of God has been brought quickly become fervent Christians, ready, if the Communist yoke – whose doctrine is already seeping into North Africa – were to weigh on them, to sacrifice their lives to keep their faith.
Delicately, the prelate recalled that his Vicar General and three Little Sisters of Saint Paul working in the territories under his jurisdiction are originally from Fribourg.”
At the end of the day, Bishop Charrière recalled the need to have a truly missionary soul: “This cause of the missions should not be seen as one work among others, but as an essential work: one is a Christian and then one is a missionary or one does not have the right to claim the title of Christian. Every Christian must have present in his heart the invocation of the Our Father: Adveniat regnum tuum [Thy kingdom come]. But for this reign to endlessly spread around us, it must first begin in us.”
Bishop Charrière in Senegal
In Fatick, Senegal, – a mission 150 kilometers from Dakar which then had 4,000 Catholics, i.e. 3,000 baptized and 1,000 catechumens – a church, dedicated to St. Joan of Arc, was built according to the plans of the Swiss architect Strobel, and in large part thanks to the generosity of Swiss Catholics. Archbishop Lefebvre then invited Archbishop Charrière to come and consecrate this new place of worship himself.
The trip took place over several days. The consecration of the church of Fatick took place on Sunday May 10, 1959. Bishop Charrière took the opportunity, with his colleague and friend in the episcopate, to visit the archdiocese of Dakar in which the Catholics were still only 97,000 out of a population of one million inhabitants:
• Dakar, a fully developed city already exceeded 300,000 inhabitants and in which churches were multiplying, as well as social works, the press, schools, dispensaries, and hospitals.
• Kaolack, seat of the Apostolic Prefecture entrusted to the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Issoudun, which has just over 4,000 Christians out of a population of over 500,000.
• Ngazobil, the oldest Spiritans mission in Senegal.
• Fadiout with its 5,000 Catholics crammed onto a small island.
• Thiès, an important mission of 9,000 Christians.
• The Sebikotane seminary in a green oasis.
• Popenguine, a fervent little Christendom.
• The Diohine dispensary where the infirmary sister, having no medicines and no money to bring it in, “paints the wounds with mercurochrome to at least give people the illusion of having been treated.”
The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)
The long reflection which will lead to the conciliar text Dignitatis Humanæ on religious freedom (December 7, 1965), began at the bishopric of Fribourg, on December 27, 1960. Mgr. Charrière and Mgr. Emile-Joseph De Smedt (1909-1995), bishop of Bruges, meet in the company of two theologians: Fr. Hamer, a Dominican, and Canon Bavaud. The latter was in possession of a four-page note on “Freedom of Conscience,” while the Belgian bishop brought a document entitled “Religious Freedom.”
During the Second Vatican Council, Mgr. Charrière did not appear much, but he had an ecumenical action that was appreciated in Rome (trip to Moscow, member of the Secretariat for Christian Unity).
For his part, Archbishop Lefebvre, president of the West African Episcopal Conference, was appointed in 1960 as a member of the central preparatory commission for the Second Vatican Council. John XXIII, who succeeded Pope Pius XII in 1958, did not hear the language of Archbishop Lefebvre. He appointed the Archbishop of Dakar to the humble bishopric of Tulle, France (1962), a troubled diocese whose seminary had just closed. But six months later, Archbishop Lefebvre was elected Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers.
At the Council Archbishop Lefebvre, assisted by two Brazilian bishops, Archbishop Antonio de Castro Mayer (1904-1991) and Archbishop Geraldo de Proença Sigaud (1909-1999), helped by Cardinal Arcadio Larraona (1887-1973), and with the help of friendly theologians, using makeshift means, informed the Council Fathers of what was going on while organizing the response. From the second session (1963), a group of about 250 fathers was formed, the Cœtus Internationalis Patrum (international group of fathers), over which he presided, to stand up against the schemas that were introducing new ideas in theology : collegiality, ecumenism, religious liberty, etc.
After the Second Vatican Council
One year after the Council, on July 24, 1966, the faith of many faithful having been so shaken, Cardinal Ottaviani wrote to the presidents of episcopal conferences and to the superiors general of orders and congregations asking them to respond to an inquiry into the danger facing certain fundamental truths of the faith.
In his response of November 25, 1966, Bishop Charrière said: “I believe I can say in all sincerity that priests and faithful, in our diocese, have hitherto very loyally resisted the erroneous and dangerous infiltrations mentioned in your letter. Not that we pretend to be better than the others, but because the Swiss are fiercely attached to the spirit of independence and instinctively mistrust what is brought to them from outside. But this outside influence is still exercised in the form of reviews and newspapers. Also in the form of retreat preachers who come to us mostly from France or Belgium. I have had complaints about this several times and have asked religious superiors to tell us exactly what is going on. I have already taken power away from priests who are too advanced. These are generally unacceptable positions regarding the cult of the Eucharist and the Marian cult. On this last point, it has even happened that I had set right some priests from our region. But this is a tiny minority.”
Archbishop Lefebvre’s response is dated December 20, 1966: “I venture to say that the present evil appears to be much more serious than the denial or calling in question of some truth of our faith….Thus, driven to this by the facts, we are forced to conclude that the Council has encouraged, in an inconceivable manner, the spreading of Liberal errors. Faith, morals and ecclesiastical discipline are shaken to their foundations, fulfilling the predictions of all the popes. The destruction of the Church is advancing at a rapid pace” (I Accuse the Council, p. 83).
When Bishop Charrière canonically erected the International Priestly Society of Saint Pius X in his diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, he was certainly referring to the decree Optatam totius (October 28, 1965) of the Second Vatican Council relating to the training of priests.
But above all, he trusts and encourages “a great friend and connoisseur of Fribourg and the Fribourgeois,” whom he knows well having worked with him both in Fribourg and in Africa, who shares his zeal for the missions, for the defense of the faith, and who “very loyally resisted the erroneous and dangerous infiltrations” of which Cardinal Ottaviani spoke.
On November 1, 1970, after having willingly authorized him to open in Fribourg a “convict” for seminarians from all countries, especially from South America (June 6, 1969), Archbishop Charrière gave Archbishop Lefebvre the means to continue a work of the Church in which he believed! Deo gratias!