Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục

thucThere is a new Facebook page on Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục who died in 1984. He was a Vietnamese Roman Catholic archbishop who was incredibly naive and fell between the cracks of Ostpolitik diplomacy after his family was brutally murdered in the 1960’s. He became extremely vulnerable to manipulation, particularly by the Palmar de Troya cult in southern Spain and a number of traditionalists and ecclesiastical adventurers in the 1980’s.

His biography is more or less well resumed here.

He is most known for having consecrated bishops for a cult in Spain (Palmar de Troya) whose leader claimed to have become Pope Gregory XVII in 1978 on the death of Paul VI. He was censured by Rome and later consecrated a number of “continuing Roman Catholic” bishops in the 1980’s. He also raised a few less strictly traditionalist men to the independent episcopate.

Archbishop Thuc died in America in 1984, possibly after having recognised the extent to which he had been manipulated by the unscrupulous.

Between about 1997 and the early 2000’s, I identified with this movement but became increasingly critical of its less tenable positions like sedevacantism. There are many points of comparison between continuing Anglicanism and traditionalist Roman Catholicism, simply the reaction against “liberalism” and the desire to continue with older liturgical forms. If one spends any amount of time in these milieux, the spirit of ideology and rigid intolerance become apparent. Such positions cannot be held for very long.

Archbishop Thuc possibly went through a similar crisis of mind as he encountered some very fanatical positions and people involved. Instability (or stability) like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some of the bishops consecrated by him or in his succession attempted to create some kind of mythology around this enigmatic personality, presumably to legitimise their own Orders. In many ways, he was a latter-day Arnold Harris Mathew, even though he came from a regular Roman Catholic background and was consecrated in the normal way. Some of the “Thuc” bishops in America, even if we disagree with their ideology, are respectable and educated men with a genuine ministry with lay Christians looking for an alternative to RC parish fare.

I’ll probably be criticised for “defending” independent bishops, as when I commented on other Old Catholic and “independent sacramental” movements. I am in no illusions about the fragility of most independent bishops, priests and lay faithful wandering from one to another. Some independent communities are stable and uphold the positions they believe to be right. Others are complete charlatans. Some of the most honest and promising clerics I “met” via the internet a few years ago seem to have given up and reverted to secular life. Perhaps that is a part of their priestly vocation after having stripped themselves of clerical illusions and pretences. Many things happened in my mind after I left the institute of Gricigliano and its gilded baroque trappings.

We can talk about them like washerwomen scrubbing their linen – or we can try to be good Christians ourselves and try to understand what went wrong to cause this kind of thing to happen from about the late nineteenth century. Comments are welcome, but please don’t tell me that Thuc was insane or that he consecrated invalidly or that he was [insert your preferred adjective]. My intention is to reflect in order to learn from history.

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8 Responses to Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục

  1. Patricius says:

    For me, the most damning thing about Thuc was not his personal beliefs or practices but his family. This may sound odd coming from someone who believes absolutely in the Truth of Christianity but French imperialism in Vietnam, having assumed the mask of missionary work, is just one of many stains visible on the “seamless garment of Christ.” Whenever I see Thuc’s face I am reminded of that monk who set himself on fire in the middle of Saigon in 1963 in protest against the persecution of Buddhists under a Catholic regime. Of course, that regime was backed solidly by the Evil Empire (or “united states of America”) and when it collapsed lead ineluctably to the Vietnam War. No, I think exile was the least penance Thuc could have done and he was welcome to his stupid beliefs and the manipulation of others. I’m afraid I have no sympathy.

    • I have to say I am rather inclined to agree. There are many things I detest about France, past and present. +Thuc was very stupid with the affair in Spain and then making a “declaration” that there was no Pope in order, presumably, to get money from Dr Heller in Munich. From the evidence, I don’t think he was insane, but he was incredibly weak-minded, gullible and willing to do and say anything to get looked after.

  2. As this “vagantepriest” has said so often before, both the mainstream and the margins, “vagante” or otherwise, have their share of toxic craziness. That found in the mainstream is usually more subtle and hides behind a veneer of social acceptability and respectability (and no, I am not speaking of theological deviation here at all. That is another matter). The toxic craziness found among us vagantes is usually pretty easy to spot and to stay away from. Again, I am making no theological references here either.

    At the same time, there are some solid, good and devout clergy and laity in both sectors as well.

    So, pick your poison, but above all, try to discern where the Lord is calling you. Those on the margins are at their best and most truly fulfilling their calling when they go places and serve people that those in the mainstream either cannot or will not deal with.

    “All who wander are not lost.”

    • It is all a question of our philosophy of life, capability of being realistic and ourselves. Some men become independent sacramental clergy because of some desired clerical status they wouldn’t find in the “mainstream”. People do what they want in life (within good morality and the law), and they are so marginal that few people know about them to be “scandalised”. The “mainstream” churches are on their way out as more people, even Christians and those interested in a spiritual life, are alienated from churches.

      Many of the stories are tragic, like that of Archbishop Thuc. The story of his family in Vietnam and his rise to the top was not very edifying. It usually happens when clerics get mixed up in politics and sees an opportunity to bring about a “Christian social order”. Archbishop Lefebvre was doing the same thing in Africa. Some independent sacramental clerics try to get in with humanitarian work, which is great – it has to be on a secular basis, and a humanitarian organisation would not like Archbishop So-and-so to be canvassing from his church. There isn’t an awful lot to be called to as a priest.

      I take a lot of inspiration from Blessed Charles de Foucauld and the worker priest movement of after World War II. Many foresaw the retreat of Christianity into the bourgeois classes and the alienation of country folk and the working classes. Christianity is tainted and discredited for most people. All we can do is to be a “leaven in the desert” – and that goes for all priests, no matter who ordained us and in which institutional church.

  3. Thuc is one of the more interesting figures of the traditionalist heyday (not as enigmatic as Malachi Martin, but certainly more worthy of discussion than most). The stereotype of him among more “mainstream” traditionalists (if one can indeed use that term) is a senile old man going up to men after church and asking “Are you Catholic, a man, and a traditionalist? Good! Poof! You are now a bishop!”

    How much of that is true, I cannot say. I had no contact with any Thuc-ites in my time as a Traditionalist. The SSPX was and still is willing to cooperate with the independents of the Trad world, but there is a very arbitrary and unclear point where they stop doing so. I’m not sure what their opinion of Thuc was.

    • Unfortunately, the impulse to perform ordinations willy-nilly is quite common among independent bishops, regardless of theological orientation. (I am happy to say that my own bishops seem to be immune.)

    • It is a long time ago when I ceased to have any interest in Archbishop Thuc or the world of sedevacantist bishops. There were many things written for and against in the 1980’s and 90’s. It is as much of a conflictual world as continuing Anglicanism of the same era, one of men vying for power and authority over others. Naturally, traditionalists like Bishop Kelly’s Society of St Pius V (they too took advantage of a retired Roman Catholic bishop) feared competition and insisted on the “madness” of Archbishop Thuc. Other former SSPX priests like Bishop Dolan and Fr Cekada wrote articles and gave talks about how Catholic Archbishop Thuc was. The two sides are partial, and there is little common ground on which to form a balanced judgement.

      As far as I am aware, the SSPX has always been hostile to the Thuc world and sedevacantism in general. Most SSPX priests I have met supported the theory according to which Archbishop Thuc was insane – and in their view would have made the consecrations invalid. Einsicht has some articles in English, among which there is Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo.

      I have no sympathy for sedevacantism, not because I have any affinity for the present Pope or the last few, but because of the untenable theological underpinning.

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