Born in 1897, Peter Martin Ngo Dinh Thuc was part of the repressive Ngo family regime of Vietnam, who came to power in 1955, with the backing of the US government and the CIA. The Ngo regime ended with the Buddhist Crisis of 1963 and the assassination of Thuc's brothers, President Ngo Dinh Diem and his advisor Ngo Dinh Nhu. Thuc's assets in Vietnam were seized on Dec 25, 1963. On Nov 11, 1964, Pope Paul VI stripped Thuc of control of the Archdiocese of Hue. Thuc was replaced by Bishop Philippe Nguyen Kim Dien.
Thuc was at the height of international fame in the fall/winter of 1963, until he was finally silenced by Paul VI in 1968 and stripped of all power. Thuc finally hit his low point in 1975 after the Fall of Saigon. Out of desperation and realizing he would die in obscurity & poverty, Thuc consecrated various people from 1975 to 1981 in Spain & France in order to obtain power & influence.
Child sexual abuse cover-up
Thuc described how he covered up child sexual abuse in his memoirs, published by the German sedevacantist magazine Einsicht in August 1982. Refer to the book Sede Vacante by Jarvis (2018) p. 36.
Thuc had been consecrated as the third Catholic bishop of Vietnam in 1938 and made Archbishop of Hue in 1960 by Pope John XXIII.
The U.S. government had supported the Ngo family until it became clear that their oppression of Buddhists was intolerable. The CIA then helped stage a coup which removed the Ngo family from power. The actions of the Ngo family led in large part to the Vietnam War.
Thuc was in Rome in 1963 for the Second Vatican Council and never returned to Vietnam after his family was removed from power.
In 1963 Thuc made a surprise visit to the US to meet his private friends, Cardinal Spellman & Bishop Fulton Sheen.
During Vatican II, Thuc was ruled out-of-order and silenced for demanding that non-Christians be allowed as observers at the council. Thuc was seen as one of the most liberal at the council.
AP reported that on March 30, 1968 Pope Paul VI deprived Thuc (then age 70) of all authority over the Archdiocese of Hue and he was replaced by the Most Rev. Philippe Nguyen Kim Dien. After 1968, Thuc had no diocese authority, but retained a post in the Vatican Curia, as titular Archibishop of Bulla Regia (Souk-el-Arba, Tunisia).
From 1963 until 1975, not much is known of Archbishop Thuc's life. His life from 1975 until his death in 1984 involves bizarre consecrations, and it's this time period that is the focus of the sedevacantists.
These writers give an outside view of Archbishop Thuc, the Ngo family regime, and the Palmarian Church:
- Sede Vacante: The Life and Legacy of Archbishop Thuc by Edward Jarvis, published in 2018 by Apocryphile Press (publisher page)
- The Sacred and The Profane by Clarence Kelly (SSPV), Seminary Press, 1997 (direct download)
- A Pope of their Own (Second Edition) by Magnus Lundberg, published in 2020 by Uppsala University (direct download)
- Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam by Edward Miller, published in 2013 by Harvard University Press (publisher page)
- Background to Betrayal: The Tragedy of Vietnam by Hilaire Du Berrier, published in 1965 by Western Islands (archive.org)
- CIA and the House of Ngo by Thomas L. Ahern, Jr. This was written by the CIA in 2000, and declassified in 2009 (direct download) or (download from CIA website)
Bishop Pivarunas was consecrated by Bishop Carmona in 1991, who was himself consecrated by Archbishop Thuc in 1981 (Archbishop Thuc was 84 years old at the time of this consecration). All of the CMRI priests derive their authority through the lineage of Archbishop Thuc. Traditionalist Catholics have been arguing about these consecrations for decades.
Did Archbishop Thuc consecrate men in order to promote sedevacantism? No. After his consecration of Bishop Carmona, he reconciled with The Vatican and apologized for what he'd done, saying the new Mass in the months leading up to his death, and asking that everyone return to the Catholic Church under Pope John Paul II. People used Archbishop Thuc in the late 1970s and early 80s for what they needed ("valid" apostolic succession) and then tossed him aside.
Archbishop Thuc was held a prisoner in upstate New York in the early 1980s until he was rescused and allowed to live in peace with the Vietnamese Catholic community in Carthage, Missouri where he died in 1984.
The CMRI is highly dishonest about Archbishop Thuc's later years from 1975 to 1984, only focusing on valdity and cherry picked statements that Archbishop Thuc made.
Focus on Validity
The CMRI doesn't want people to think about the numerous bizarre consecrations of Archbishop Thuc, as it may cause them to avoid the CMRI entirely. They want to focus only on the validity, and Archbishop Thuc's credentials, as if his other actions are meaningless. CMRI supporters have written vast amounts in defense of the validity of Archbishop Thuc's consecrations, totally dismissing the different groups who derive their orders from Thuc. Ultimately, they see consecrations as more like magic, where all that matters is "validity", and a look at all of his actions is unimportant.
The CMRI teach children the concept of "ex opere operato" in order to condition members to focus only on "validity" so that the questionable actions of their priests and bishops are ignored. Without this conditioning from a young age, most people would question Archbishop Thuc and all the priests who derive their orders from him. When an outsider looks at Archbishop Thuc, they see a bizarre and confused person, whose motivations for his actions are unclear.
Magnus Lungberg at Uppsala University in Sweden has written a book on the Palmarian Church and has numerous links to news stories on his site.
- A Pope of their Own (Second Edition) by Magnus Lundberg (2020) (direct download)
- Magnus Lungberg's Palmarian Page
Prior to his involvement with the sedevacantist groups, Archbishop Thuc consecrated Clemente Dominguez y Gomez and four others in the Spanish town of El Palmar de Troya. The Palmarian bishops then went on to found the Palmarian Church, and declared that the papacy had been mystically transferred from Rome to El Palmar de Troya. The group was largely unknown to most traditionalist Catholics, until they started publishing videos on Youtube in recent years. Their books and practices are now widely available (see their texts here).
Most of the contemporary writing about the Palmarian Church is in Spanish and hasn't been translated.
Bishop Thuc's Other Consecrations
In the course of six years, Bishop Thuc consecrated 15 men: 5 for the Palmarian Church, 5 for the Old Catholic church, and 5 for various sedevacantist groups (note: some claim the number is actually higher and some claim the number is lower, but these 15 men claimed to have received consecration from Bishop Thuc and are generally accepted as such.)
Was all of this done in an effort by Bishop Thuc to preserve Traditionalist Catholicism, as some claim? The answer to this question can be clarified by examining the conduct of Bishop Thuc himself, being cognizant of the fact that a man’s actions do indeed, speak louder than his words.
- On December 31, 1975, Bishop Thuc ordained Clemente Dominguez y Gomez and four other lay men to the priesthood, and just 12 days later he consecrated two of the five newly ordained men and three others to the episcopacy for the Palmar de Troya group. (As an aside, in less than 2 years Clemente consecrated to the episcopacy no less than 70 men.)
- On September 17, 1976, Paul VI “excommunicated” him. Thereupon Bishop Thuc quickly “repented” and renounced what he had done in Spain, and Paul VI lifted up the “excomunication”.
- On July 10, 1977, just six months after the Palmarian consecrations, we find Thuc consecrating his first bishop for the Old Catholic Church , Labat d’Arnoux
- On February 2, 1977, Bishop Thuc conditionally consecrated another Old Catholic by the name of Jean Laborie (who, incidentally, had been previously consecrated four other times)
- Over the next few years, Bishop Thuc will consecrate at least three more bishops for the Old Catholic Church. (Claude Nanta of Torrini – 3/19/77, Roger Kozik and Michel Fernadez – 10/19/78)
- In 1978, Bishop Thuc moved to Toulon, France and took up residence with a Buddhist Vietnamese family. While there, he regularly assisted Bishop Barthe de Frejus at his Cathedral in Toulon.
- On April 16th, 1981, Holy Thursday, Bishop Thuc was caught concelebrating the New Mass with Barthe de Frejus. Yet a mere three weeks after this event, Bishop Thuc had his first flirt with traditional Catholicism and consecrated Guerard des Lauriers on May 7, 1981.
- Then on October 17, 1981, Bishop Thuc consecrated two traditionalists Mexican priests, Moises Carmona and Aldolfo Zamora.
- On April 18, 1982, and then again on September 25, 1982, Bishop Thuc consecrated two more traditionalist bishops, Luigi Boni and Christian Datessen respectively.
- Later in 1982, Bishop Thuc moved to New York to live with a traditionalist bishop of Thuc lineage – Louis Vezelis.On March 12, 1983, John Paul II excommunicated Bishop Thuc for once again consecrating without a mandate from Rome.
- On January 8, 1984, Bishop Thuc moved to Carthage Missouri to live at a Conciliar Vietmenese seminary located there, and it is there that he died on December 13, 1984.
Last Years of Thuc's Life
Go to the main Carthage, Missouri page for additional information.
This section is reprinted from the website of Tuan Hoang at Pepperdine University. Bishop Thuc reconciled with The Vatican before his death in 1984, and was saying the Mass of Paul VI and living at the Vietnamese CMC community in Carthage, Missouri when he died. He is buried in Carthage.
The only time that I’ve seen anyone related by blood to Ngô Đình Diệm – Ngo Dinh Diem for readers that are used to the English spelling – occurred exactly thirty-three years ago this month. The town was Carthage, Missouri, best known as the American headquarters of a large Catholic order of Vietnamese American priests and brothers. The person was Ngô Đình Thục, Diệm’s older brother and the former archbishop of Huế. Along with tens of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics, I was attending the annual Marian Days weekend with my family and people from southern Minnesota. Unfortunately I don’t remember much about the Archbishop except that he presided over one of the masses with a visiting bishop from Vietnam.
This episode came back to my mind because I’ve been looking into a couple of things about Catholic refugees in the U.S. after the Fall of Saigon. The Marian Days were started in 1978 by the religious order widely known among Vietnamese American Catholics as Dòng Đồng Công: the Co-Redemptrix Congregation or Co-Redemptrix Society. It is shorthand for Dòng Đức Mẹ Đồng Công Cứu Chuộc: the Congregation of the Blessed Mother Co-Redemptrix (CMC, abbreviation of the formal name in Latin Congregatio Matris Coredemptricis). At the urging of the Vatican, however, the name was changed this past April to Dòng Mẹ Chúa Cứu Chuộc: the Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer (CRM for Congregatio Redemptoris Matris). Co-Redemptrix is a “theologically ambiguous” concept, according to the Congregation’s announcement. Historically, “Mary as co-redemptrix” had been quite ambiguous and controversial, and naturally I am curious on the reasons for the Vatican’s approval of the original name in the first place. More relevant to our time, Vietnamese and Vietnamese American Catholics are so much used to the name Dòng Đồng Công that I predict that it will take a pretty long time before they refer to it by another name.
In any event, the appearance of Archbishop Thục was something of a moral victory for the Catholic refugees in general and the CMC in particular. (In the interest of history, I am using the old abbreviation of the Congregation.) As the first major men’s religious order founded by a Vietnamese, it was born during the First Indochina War in the fiercely anticommunist northern region Bùi Chu. Its members moved south during 1954-1955, and they settled in a suburb of Saigon. In South Vietnam, the CMC was smaller than the Redemptorists, the Dominicans, probably even the Lasallians. But some 150 members left the country shortly before the Fall of Saigon: a number, I believe, that was considerably higher than any other religious order in South Vietnam. (The members that stayed behind were to face many political and economic difficulties, and the founder of the Congregation was imprisoned for many years.) This departure was fateful for the history of the Congregation as well as the history of Vietnamese Catholics in the U.S. Initially sent to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, they were sponsored by Bishop Bernard Law in Missouri – it was before his years in Boston – who offered them a large facility from a dying religious order for a symbolic rent of one dollar a year. From that point, the CMC grew to become one of the largest, if not the largest, Vietnamese religious order, men or women, in the U.S. Arguably, it has been the most influential as well.
As for Archbishop Thục, he was attending the second of four sessions of the Vatican II Council in the fall of 1963 and, therefore, was stranded in Europe when his younger brothers were overthrown and assassinated. Not only he never returned to Vietnam, but his life also took a fascinating turn in the next two decades. Supposedly on the more “liberal” side of the bishop attendants of the Council, by the 1970s he drifted towards some of the most reactionary and anti-Vatican II groups. Between 1975 and 1982, and without permission from the Vatican, he ordained several priests to be bishops, including a Spaniard by the name of Clemente Domínguez y Gómez. The latter was leader of a schismatic Catholic group in Spain and later claimed to be the true successor of St. Peter, not Paul IV or either of the John Pauls.
Because of the illicit ordinations, the Vatican excommunicated the Archbishop in 1976. He later received a pardon, only to be excommunicated again in 1983, this time for another illicit ordination in 1981. In between these events, Thục was invited by a schismatic group of Franciscans in Rochester, NY to come to America. The group was led by Louis Vezelis, another illicitly ordained bishop, who was ordained by one of the bishops that Thục had ordained without permission. Thục came to the U.S. in 1982 and stayed with this group in Rochester, and here comes the story that I’d like to tell you about.
From what I’ve gathered, it doesn’t appear that Archbishop Thục mingled among many overseas Vietnamese much between 1964 and 1982. Of course, there weren’t as many Vietnamese in Western Europe and the U.S. before the Fall of Saigon. Outside of Asia, the largest community before 1975 was in France. There were a number of Catholics, and they actively created and organized ethnic associations as early as the mid-1940s, including the Federation of Vietnamese Catholics in France (Liên Đoàn Công Giáo Việt Nam tại Pháp) that was initially classified as a Catholic Action organization. Perhaps Thục interacted with this organization and/or others; perhaps he didn’t. We can’t rule out any possibility, including the possibility after 1963 many overseas Catholics were ambivalent about remaining members of the Ngô family while non-Catholics were antipathetic towards them. There is a very large gap regarding our knowledge about Thục’s life during this period.
In any event, after Thục moved to the U.S., a Vietnamese priest in New York got a hold that the excommunicated cleric was living in the state. He passed this news to Trần Đình Trường, a former South Vietnamese military officer that made his fortune as a hotel owner in New York City after 1975. (Years later, one of his hotels was declared the worst in NYC, but it is a different story altogether.) The news traveled to Missouri, specifically to a refugee priest by the name of Trần Văn Điển. Fr. Điển wasn’t a member of the CMC, but a diocesan priest from Huế then living in retirement among the CMC. Fr. Điển wrote to a former employee of Thục then living in California, and asked him to call the Archbishop. The latter did, and during the conversation Thục expressed the desire to visit California but said he had no money at all.
Knowing about this situation, Fr. Điển and the CMC superior, Fr. Nguyễn Đức Thiệp, came up with a plan to take Thục out of upstate New York and to Southwestern Missouri. Here’s my translation of a key paragraph from one of the more detailed narratives that I’ve found online so far. (For the sake of history, let’s hope that more details are kept in an archival file somewhere.)
Around the lunar New Year of the Rat, 1984, the retired priest Fr. Điển flew to New York and asked to visit Archbishop Thục then staying with the [breakaway] Franciscans… Fr. Điển invited Archbishop Thục to attend the new year’s ceremony organized by Vietnamese in Washington, DC. The automobile took Fr. Điển, Fr. Thiệp, Mr. Trần Đình Trường, and Archbishop Thục. It stopped in New York City to pick up some items, then sped up to Washington [not to the Vietnamese event but] to the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See. The illicit Bishop Vezelis had sent a bodyguard to go with Archbishop Thục. Both sides fought and argued over Thục, and they called the police to intervene. The police declared that the Archbishop had the full right to choose his residence, and he loudly stated that he chose the Vietnamese community and the Roman Church.
The Archbishop stayed at one of Trường’s hotels in NYC and flew to Louisiana on February 2, 1984 to be with the CMC before heading to Missouri. It was only a matter of time and formality before the strayed cleric returned to the fold of the Roman Catholic Church. Seven months later, he said mass in front of thousands of his co-ethnics. Four months after that mass, he died in the care the CMC. Again, I can’t remember the reaction to his appearance in Carthage. (Please, someone that recorded the event, post your video on YouTube!) But it won’t surprise me a bit if they cheered loudly for him.
There is a lot more that I’d like to find out about these events, and a lot more to ponder about the larger context of this story of “rescue and return.” (On the other hand, the schismatic Franciscans referred to it as an abduction and called the Vietnamese priests “turncoats.”) Why, for example, did Thục agree to leave Europe for America in 1982? Who was the Vietnamese priest in New York, and how did he find out about the Archbishop’s whereabouts? Did the Vietnamese priests in Missouri coordinate the meeting with the Apostolic Nunciature before picking up Thục in January 1984? Anyway, I think that a case could be made that Thục’s return carried double or even triple meaning to the Vietnamese. It was a return to the Vatican and the Church, yes, but also return to Vietnamese Catholicism and, in some respects, return to history. Catholicism, nationalism, and historical memory interacted considerably in this case.
I also think that many of the Catholic refugees, especially members of the CMC, felt at least some closure and resolution about the last year of the Archbishop’s life. During the Vietnam conflict, northern Catholics that moved south provided a consistent anticommunist stand and support for Diệm when he was in power. They grieved gravely for Diệm after his death in 1963, and grieved a lot more after Saigon fell to the communists. The “rescue and return” of his older brother was nowhere dramatic as the assassination and aftermath. But, I think, it provided a small if not insignificant measure of solace to those refugees. In 1984, after all, they had no clear idea if they would ever see again their old churches, neighborhoods, the tombs of deceased family members, and of course loved ones still living. The “return” of the Archbishop, I think, offered some of them a psychological boost to the long-standing belief in the righteousness of their Catholic practices and anticommunist ideology.
Interviews: Upstate New York
Neil Webster & Francis Miller had lived with Archbishop Thuc in Rochester in the early 1980s. Neal Webster gave an interview to Michael Dimond, and Francis Miller gave a talk at the 2014 Fatima Conference hosted by the CMRI.
I would take what they say with an enormous grain of salt. However, these interviews do give some insight into the sedevacantists who were living with Archbishop Thuc in the early 1980s. I tend to distrust almost everything both of them say.
- Neal Webster's interview
- Fr. Francis Miller at Fatima Conference 2014
Death & Burial
Archbishop Thuc died at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin Missouri on December 13, 1984 and was buried at Resurrection Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri on December 22, 1984. In 2016, Archbishop Thuc's remains, along with those of other priests and brothers, were transferred to Park Cemetery (801 S Baker Blvd, 417-358-4534) in Carthage, Missouri.
Death Certificate: June 5, 1985
This letter from the CMC notes the death of Archbishop Thuc.
Declaration of Archbishop Thuc
In this article published in L'Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Thuc noted his regrets and retracted his previous consecrations. CMRI has either denied its authenticity & minimized its importance (i.e. "the consecrations were still valid even if he later changed his mind")
CMRI and the Thuc Bishops
Thuc Bishop 1: Bishop Musey
The CMRI first worked with Bishop Musey in 1985. In September 1986, Bishop Musey left the group on negative terms, taking 35 families (100 people) and some CMRI nuns with him.
Bishop George Musey (b.1928—d.1992), leader of the CMRI from 1985-1986 (who ordained the entirety of current CMRI leadership), was son of famous mob boss George Musey (b.1900—d.1935). George Musey, also known as "one-armed George Musey", was a mob boss in Galveston, Texas, during the Prohibition era. Along with Johnny Jack Nounes, he led the Downtown Gang, one of two gangs which controlled the Galveston underworld until the early 1930s.
Read the newspaper story on the fallout here: A1 and A8
Thuc Bishop 2: Bishop McKenna
After Bishop Musey, the group immediately brought on Bishop McKenna. Like Bishop Musey, he too left the group on negative terms.
Thuc Bishop 3: Bishop Carmona
Finally, the group found a bishop willing to consecrate one of their own, and in 1991, Bishop Pivarunas was consecrated by Bishop Carmona. 38 days after the consecration, Bishop Carmona died in a car crash.
His behavior from 1975 to 1984 can be explained by looking at the Ngo family variety of Vietnamese Catholic realpolitik. The sedevacantists either don’t understand this, or they hide the truth. American sedevacantists have made Thuc into someone he was not. Thuc always made his decisions with a clear mind, and he knew exactly what he was doing. Things such as “old age” or “being senile” were clever covers, and even his enemies didn’t understand his mafia-like behavior, since they were not familiar with the Ngo regime and how they operated. His specific motivations for each action are unknown (e.g. did these bishops pay him or give him something else he needed?) but this doesn’t matter. Thuc was an opportunist, and his principles would change to meet the circumstances. The bishops that he consecrated got what they wanted from him, and many of them built small empires from this. It’s the little people that follow these Thuc bishops who are the dupes and idiots, although many of these little people have their own motivations for getting involved with the sedevacantists, since they offer an insulated bubble to live in.
Thuc wanted independence from Rome, even before the 1960s. He would claim to be loyal to the Pope and church dogmas, while wanting independence from everything Rome attempted to impose on the Vietnamese people. This attitude has been modified by the American sedevacantists for them to build their own empires (Bishop Sanborn in Florida, St. Gertrude The Great in Ohio, Bishop Clarence Kelley in Ohio, Bishop Pivarunas in Nebraska). Thuc hated that Rome had so much influence over the liturgy and way-of life of the Vietnamese. Even before the Second Vatican Council, he allowed for liturgical freedom in his parishes, and resisted Rome’s influence. This is a completely different outlook than the sedevacantists who claim to keep to older liturgies exactly. It’s just a different political environment in America, so what worked for the con men in Vietnam doesn’t work for sedevacantist leaders here. The mindset is similar, but the tactics change.
Similar to the Sicilian Mafia, Thuc’s family was his primary focus. Thuc had serious disagreements with other bishops because these other bishops stood in the way of the Ngo family regime. Traditionalist Catholicism was able to give his family great power in Vietnam, but this was only a pretense for political power. He tried to hold anti-Communist rallies and arm his parishioners, but other bishops realized that this was simply a pretense to prop up the Ngo regime, and had nothing to do with anti-Communism.
After the fall of Saigon in 1975, he felt he had nothing left to live for. His family was dead and had lost power. His consecrations were done either for money or for attention in the moment. He realized all these groups were gullible, and he could play them against each other. It’s not a coincidence that he started his consecrations only months after the Fall of Saigon, this is probably the point when he realized he’d never return to power in Vietnam, so he needed to change tactics and get power & money through other means.