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.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 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.

      • Andrew says:

        Thank you for your kind comment about our Priests & Bishops.

        Bp.Des-Lauriers taught at the Lateran university in Rome for many yrs before 1970 and wrote the rough draft for the official document explaining the Dogma of the Assumption.

        Bp.Carmona taught at a Mexican seminary with Fr.Arriaga. Fr.Arriaga wrote the seminal book, “The New Montinian Church.” He along with Fr.James Wathen were among the first who wrote comprehensive books explaining the doubtful sacrilegious nature of the Novus Ordo Missae.

        Both Bp’s Des-Lauriers & Carmona were educated knowledgeable capable clerics who knew correct Rubrics Liturgy Validily etc… Until 2007,the Des-Lauriers line consecrated Bishop’s who were ordained before 1965.

        If these Priests are ignorant stupid dizzy headed moronic slouches who know nothing of Catholicism, then logically people are unwittingly stating the Church were clueless stupid morons who had no idea how to confer sacraments before 1968.

        Simultaneously,both Bp’s Mendez + Lefebvre also have many many issues and both contradicted themselves,waffled back & fourth w the Novus Ordo,and the Bp.Mendez/Bp.Kelly affair is just as extreme unstable and chaotic as some say about Bp.Thuc. Bp.Lefebvre accepted both Novus Ordo clerics and trad-Rite Priests,had talks and agreements w Novus Ordo hierarchy,and would change his mind 1 or 2 days later,and publicly waffled between Sedevacantism and loyalty to the Novus Ordo. All 3 Bishops were fallible,made mistakes,betrayed,lied to,yet successfully kept apostolic succession alive for future generations.

        We should be thankful for them and pray that all 3 lines unite conditionally ordain/consecrate each other,and pray for these Bishops Souls in Purgatory.

        God bless my Friend,


        P.S.In my opinion,the Thuc orders you’ve received are valid,Catholic,and you need not worry about any doubtful conferral. From the few elderly and now deceased Thuc clerics I’ve talked with,very little is known about Bp. Thuc between 1977-1981. Apparently,he was deceived,lied to,betrayed in these 4 yrs and said nothing. Bp.Thuc was ordained by a Catholic Dutch Bishop,and consecrated by 3 Bishops with 3 Eastern Rite lines & 2 SEPARATE Roman Rite lines.(Bp.Drapier main consecrator)

      • I believe that Archbishop Thuc’s intention was pure and pious but incredibly naïve. I have appreciated Edward Jarvis book Sedevacantism. Jarvis is quite critical about the harsh and sectarian attitude of many sedevacantist groups. They lack temperance, a critical mind and the ability to doubt one’s own certitudes and pride. Fanaticism has been the order of the day, doubtlessly as it was in the days of the Russian Old Believers in the 17th century. Such polarisation differs by little from modern movements like Woke. I have met some very nasty and unchristian people in those groups – good persons too.

        Archbishop Thuc was a little like Marie-Antoinette in France. He had “never had it so good” except with his brother Ngo-Dinh-Diem who suffered the same fate as Louis XVI, only by a different method. I quote from the review of Jarvis’ book: “Archbishop Thuc, Godfather of Vietnam’s notorious ruling clan, key CIA contact, and apologist for a brutal, failing regime. But Thuc escaped, leaving behind a mysterious fortune, secret deals, abuse cover-ups, and the Vietnam War“.

        In a more polemical tone, the reviewer says: “In exile, Thuc helped launch the fanatical Palmarian cult (which later canonized Franco and Hitler), inspired assorted renegades, and reemerged as the icon of a new hardline movement called Sedevacantism“. I find the tone simplistic and harsh, unlike the book itself which is more academic in its use of language and ideas. Archbishop Lefebvre was also a ruthless dealer who encouraged the loose cannons to contact Archbishop Thuc – presumably to keep his hands clean.

        The Roman Catholic priests Guérard des Lauriers, Carmona and others acted no differently from the Jansenist Dutch priests in 1725 who were politically blocked by the Jesuits, and Bishop Dominique Varlet kindly did the deed to enable the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Utrecht to be perpetuated. They had the full curriculum of theological education required of all Roman Catholic priests. Guérard des Lauriers, a Dominican, had been a professor at the Angelicum and then at Ecône. He was too much of a loose cannon for the SSPX. I have no doubt about their intellectual integrity, but they didn’t always have the virtue of prudence.

        History is full of human stupidity, including our own. Frankly I have more esteem for the early Old Catholic Church of Utrecht. It makes more sense to ditch Papal ecclesiology and revert to the bishops, giving the possibility to reconstitute the Catholic Church that resides in any Church with a Bishop at its head. That is conciliar (referring to the Council of Constance of 1414 to 1418) ecclesiology, rejected by those who wanted to uphold the absurdity of a fallible infallible Pope. The Vatican I conditions for infallibility were a sop to the inopportunists (eg. J.H. Newman) and anti-infallibilists who formed the basis of German Old Catholicism. The sedevacantists were, to be honest, no more fanatical or toxic than some of those encouraging Pius IX’s movement in the 1860’s, conspiracy theories and all. The sedevacantists were the same type of zealots, only this time, their tide had ebbed and they were left on the beach.

        I don’t agree that only those Thuc and other bishops “saved” the priesthood. Novus Ordo orders are no less valid than Anglican orders and the orders of many other Churches – like the Orthodox for example. Perhaps sedevacantists should become Orthodox and do so humbly as fools for Christ with the words of the Jesus Prayer on their lips.

        There are various incarnations of the Old Roman Catholic Church. If sedevacantists would just drop the Papalist nonsense, they could centre in to the Old Roman Catholic ideal which is quite close to Continuing Anglicanism. That would give a lot of hope, stability and seriousness to a very fine idea from Utrecht in 1725. I see a lot of seriousness in Bishop Daniel Dolan and a few others in the US in spite of his continuing papalism. But there are a lot of charlatans and loonies out there too!

  4. A says:

    Fr..Bruno Schaeffer was ordained by Bp.Thuc in 1981.

    Fr.Bruno then went onto be pastor of the largest SSPX chapel in Paris for decades.

    Palmar De Troya was a responsible traditional organization for years which counted Doctors lawyers and valid priests ordained before July 1968 in it’s ranks.

    Bp.Gomez lost his marbles and direction after his infamous car crash which caused him to lose his eyes.(1978)

    Not much is known about Bp.Thuc between 1976-1982 nor can we presume to say what he thinking around these years.
    His ordinations and consecrations are presumed valid per Canon Law.

    • I don’t believe the convenient explanation about Abp Thuc being mentally ill and ordaining invalidly. I have read enough attestations about him being lucid to the end of his life. However, he was cash-strapped and livid about being deprived of his power. He was prepared to be sedevacantist, believing in apparitions at Palmar, anything to keep off the street. The early Palmar de Troya was a real mixture of genuine people and hangers-on. It was a lot easier to get through there than at Ecône! How Fr Schaeffer persuaded the SSPX to take him in is a mystery. I met him once at Gricigliano, but he wouldn’t talk about +Thuc or that aspect of his life. What a mess, which is why Rome says that those ordinations and consecrations might be valid, but will be treated in practice as if invalid – meaning that anyone who returns to Rome will only be taken as a layman.

      • A says:

        Personally I don’t consider the Novus Ordo a Catholic institution.

        That’s another story unto itself but I do know Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma accepted a Thuc priest from the Des Lauriers line and he offers Holy Mass for them.

        The clerics at our Trad Chapel are from Des Lauriers+McKenna+Slupski line.

        (All 3 Bishops are now deceased)

      • I am no longer bothered by traditional Roman Catholic questions like who is valid, licit, orthodox, etc. I do not use the Novus Ordo but the Use of Sarum of before 1549.

        I would be very surprised about Clear Creek monastery accepting a priest from the Thuc succession. The case would have to go through the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and I have never known such a priest to be accepted except as a layman. Some years ago, I wrote the article Valid but Irregular?

        As with all independent (and “regular”) bishops and priests, there are good well-intentioned men and there are the charlatans and liars. I trust your priests are pious men about the business of the Lord’s vineyard. I am no one to judge. It is no different for any of us in ecclesial bodies with different labels.

      • William Tighe says:

        Perhaps the “Society of St. Pius I” needs to be revived:

        (It was a spoof, but at the time [2005] some took it seriously.)

      • There was also the “Prelature Personnelle de l’Institut Sacerdotal International Mater Ecclesiae” headed by a Bishop de Pontbriand around the same time. It had a website which no longer exists. It was too “big” to be true. The idea was fairly eclectic but based on an “Opus Dei” with the old Roman Rite. Its approval by Rome was “secret”, yet this information was blazoned all over the Internet. If one is going to do a spoof that makes people ask questions, it has to be realistic and not grandiose! 😀

        Another one which is fairly well-known is H.I.R.H. Count Don Rutherford Cardinal Johnson-ffairclogh-de Sainte Animie, Count of Sainte Animie, PhD, STD, JCD, FPRS, FRGS. Pope Alejandro IX is also well known, and is absolutely a spoof.

        The Internet is useful but can do a lot of harm to the feeble-minded and uncritical.

Leave a Reply to Gregory N Blevins Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s