There 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.