I have never believed any of the Conciliar Popes not to be truly popes. Modern thinking turns minds into mush, and I have always held the Conciliar Popes to be too modern to be capable of the clear firm thinking in matters of Faith necessary to make them such clear firm heretics as could no longer hold their high office in the Church.
By no means everybody agrees with me when I say this, but I do believe Archbishop Lefebvre was making the same point in a different way when he said that these popes were liberals, but being liberals did not necessarily put them out of the Church. Here for example is what he said in an interview he gave in 1987:
“I think we must judge of today’s churchmen in Rome, and of all churchmen and bishops coming under their influence, in the same way that Popes Pius IX and Pius X judged of liberals and modernists. Pius IX condemned liberal Catholics, going so far as to say that they were “the Church’s worst enemies.” What worse could he say of them? Yet he did not say that all liberal Catholics were excommunicated, or were out of the Church or had to be refused Communion . . . Pius X in ‘Pascendi’ was just as severe on modernism, saying it was “where all heresies come together.” Could any movement be more severely condemned? Yet he never said that henceforth all modernists were excommunicated, out of the Church and to be refused Communion. In fact he only excommunicated a few of them. So, following Pius IX and Pius X, I think we should judge of these churchmen in Rome severely, but without concluding that they are necessarily out of the Church.”
Two objections immediately come to mind. Firstly, how can a liberal Catholic be worse than the formal heretic who flatly refuses the Faith which is the foundation of Catholic living and of eternal salvation? Answer, the enemy without can never do so much damage as the enemy within. Whereas the heretic puts himself out of the Church, the liberal Catholic stays within, from where the higher his office, the more he can harm the Church. Is not the very havoc wrought upon the Church by recent popes better accounted for by their being the enemy within rather than, as “sedevacantists” would have it, the enemy without?
But then – second objection – if the Church cannot excommunicate such damaging enemies within, what means does she still have to her to defend herself? Answer, that is perhaps the most serious reason of all for thinking that only a divine chastisement comparable to the Flood can clean out the present corruption in Church and world. Catholic Tradition is today’s Ark.