Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre

Appendix V

By the Reverend Dr. Boyd A. Cathey

The first handful of seminarians of what was to become the Society of St. Pius X did their studies in the University of Fribourg. These young men had sought out Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, then in semi-retirement in Rome (1969), and with him as superior established a house of formation in Fribourg, with the encouragement of the bishop of the diocese, Francois Charriere (cf. Letter to Archbishop Lefebvre, 18 August 1970). Within a few months it became evident that like other Catholic universities in the years following Vatican II, Fribourg was succumbing to Modernism. The decision was taken to form a religious institute, with a proper house of studies, at Econe, in the Canton of Valais. Permission granted by Bishop Nestor Adam of Sion, Switzerland, the seminary opened its doors in October, 1970.

On 1 November 1970 the Society of St. Pius X was erected canonically in the diocese of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg by Bishop Francois Charriere, under the provisions of canons 673-674, and 488: o3, o4, for a period of six years ad experimentum. The Society’s statutes specify that it is a priestly society “of common life without vows, in the tradition of the Foreign Missionaries of Paris” (cf. Statutes of the Society of St. Pius X, No. 1).

Bishop Charrière’s decree of erection approving these statutes reads as follows :

Given the encouragements expressed by Vatican Council II, in the decree Optatum totius, concerning international seminaries and the distribution of the clergy;

Given the urgent necessity for the information of zealous and generous priests conforming to the directives of the cited decree;

Confirming that the Statutes of the Priestly Society correspond to its goals:1

We, Francois Charriere, Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg, the Holy Name of God invoked and all canonical prescriptions observed, decree what follows:

1.       The  "International Priestly Society of St. Pius X "  is erected in our diocese as a "Pia Unio " (Pious Union).2

2.       The seat of the Society is fixed as the Maison Saint Pie X (St. Pius X House), 50, rue de la Vignenaz, in our episcopal city of Fribourg.

3.       We approve and confirm the Statutes, here joined, of the Society for a period of six years ad experimentum, which will be able to be renewed for a similar period by tacit approval; after which, the Society can be erected definitely in our diocese by the competent Roman Congregation.

We implore divine blessings on this Priestly Society , that it may attain its principal goal which is the formation of holy priests.

Done at Fribourg, in our palace.
1st November 1970, on the Feast of All Saints,

François Charrière

The activity of the new Society of St. Pius X increased rapidly during the first four years of its existence. Archbishop Lefebvre received encouragement not only from many fellow bishops throughout the world, but also from Cardinal Hildebrando Antoniutti, the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Religious, and from Cardinal John Wright, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy.

On 18 February 1971, hardly five months after Econe opened its doors, Cardinal Wright wrote Archbishop Lefebvre (translated from the Latin):

With great joy I received your letter, in which your Excellency informs me of your news and especially of the Statutes of the Priestly Society.

As Your Excellency explains, this Association, which by your action, received on 1 November 1970, the approbation of His Excellency Francois Charriere, Bishop of Fribourg, has already exceeded the frontiers of Switzerland, and several Ordinaries in different parts of the world praise and approve it. All of this and especially the wisdom of the norms which direct and govern this Association give much reason to hope for its success.

As for this Sacred Congregation, the Priestly Society will certainly be able to conform to the end proposed by the Council, for the distribution of the clergy in the world.

I am respectfully, Your Excellency,
Yours in the Lord.

J. Card. Wright, Prefect.

With all matters canonically in order before the so-called "suppression" of the Society of St. Pius X on 6 May 1975, newly ordained priests were incardinated into the diocese of Siguënza-Guadalajara, Spain (by Bishop Laureano Castans Lacoma), and St. Denis de la Reunion (by former Bishop Georges Guibert, C.S.Sp.).

When a man is tonsured, thereby becoming a cleric, he must either be incardinated in a diocese or "adscriptus" in a religious institute or a society of the common life (c. 111). The word "incardination" is used only of a diocese, and religious or those seculars who are members of a society of the common life enjoying this privilege are "adscripti" not "incardinati. "

Since the suppression, priests are "adscripted" into the Society, under the provisions of canon 111. As early as 1971 Archbishop Lefebvre had been assured by Cardinal Wright that within a short time the Society of St. Pius X would enjoy the privilege of adscription into the Society.3 Moreover, it should be noted that on three occasions before the suppression priests received permission from the Sacred Congregation for Religious for adscription directly into the Society. In the opinion of noted canonists such as Father Emmanuel des Graviers and Don Salvatore di Palma this is sufficient to render the privilege of adscripting into the Society existent.

The success of the Society of St. Pius X could not continue for long without an eventual Modernist counter-attack. Thus, the French Bishops in 1974 labelled the Seminary of the Society a "wildcat" seminary ("seminaire sauvage"), an "illegal seminary." In November 1974 Rome sent an Apostolic Visitation which, ironically, only served to confirm the legality of the seminary .Why would Rome send an official Apostolic Visitation, as is normal with new seminaries, if there were no permission for it? Would it not have acted to close the seminary immediately after its foundation in 1970 if there had been some irregularity?

Following the Apostolic Visitation (November 1974), a special Commission of Cardinals was named by Pope Paul VI to "interview" Archbishop Lefebvre. Two long sessions occurred, on 13 February and 3 March 1975. His Excellency was given no transcript nor was he advised he was on trial (cfr. canons 1585: o1, o2142). The only legal document available to the Commission on which a possible suppression could be based was the favorable Apostolic Visitors' report. Yet it was decided to authorize the "suppression" of the Society of St. Pius X and its seminary based on the Archbishop's "Declaration" of 21 November 1974, which the Commission condemned as "unacceptable to us on all points" (p. 58). Bishop Pierre Mamie, who had recently succeeded Bishop Charrière as Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg, was accordingly instructed.

On 6 May 1975, Bishop Mamie wrote Archbishop Lefebvre: "I retire the acts and concessions granted by my predecessor in that which concerns the Priestly Society of St. Pius X, particularly the Decree of Erection of 1 November 1970." This action was completely illegal. The Society of St. Pius X, according to its Statutes approved by Bishop Charrière, is a priestly society "of common life without vows," coming under the provisions of canons 673-674 and 488, o3,o4. As such the Society of St. Pius X could only be suppressed by the Holy See, which alone has the power to suppress such an institute erected under diocesan law (c. 493).

An appeal, protesting Bishop Mamie's illegal action, questioning the strange procedure of the Commission of three Cardinals, and challenging their competence in this matter, was lodged with the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura on 5 June 1975 (Letter of Archbishop Lefebvre to Dino Cardinal Staffa, 21 May 1975; this was followed by the appeal itself on 5 June). It was returned on 10 June, when the Prefect of the Signatura, the late Dino Cardinal Staffa, declared himself "incompetent," under canon 1556, to judge a decision approved in forma specifica by the Sovereign Pontiff (“Prima sedes a nemine judicatur").

A second appeal was filed by the Archbishop's advocate, Corrado Bernardini, on 14 June 1975. To prevent its reception, Jean Cardinal Villot, the Secretary of State, personally intervened to interdict any further consideration of the question! (La Condamnation sauvage de Mgr. Lefebvre, 6th Edition, August 1976, p. 55, note).

Before analyzing these events, it might be helpful to explain the meaning of a confirmation in forma specifica. Dr. Neri Capponi, Professor of Canon Law in the University of Florence, Italy, in a study on the juridical problems in post-conciliar legislation, resumes the teaching of canonists in a most important study of the juridical aspects of the post-conciliar liturgical reform:4

The two forms of pontifical confirmation of acts emanating from inferior organs of government are the confirmatio in forma communi and the confirmatio in forma specifica respectively.5 In the case of a provision in forma communi the provision confirmed, as we have seen, does not change its nature. For this reason if the inferior body has presumed to legislate ultra vires contrary to a preceding papal or conciliar law, or has sought to introduce principles contrasting with such laws, such legislation remains invalid regarding such part of it as is not in conformity with the higher legislation. But if the confirmation is in forma specifica the provision is thereby assumed by the higher authority, who makes it his own, remedying any invalidity it might have. It is presumed, in fact, in such cases that the higher authority is fully cognizant of the ultra vires element in the provision and wishes, by making it his own, to confirm it, abrogating or derogating from what had previously been laid down (p. 16).

In the case at hand, this would have involved necessarily a specific confirmation, first of all, of the illegal delegation by the Cardinals to Bishop Mamie of a power he in no way enjoyed, and secondly, of the illegal exercise of that power by Bishop Mamie. Cardinal Staffa seems to have based his written refusal to consider the appeal on this assumption (no doubt, he had other, unwritten reasons not to get involved!); "the contested act," he wrote to Mgr. Lefebvre on 10 June, "is only the execution of decisions taken by the Special Commission of three Cardinal Fathers, and approved by the Sovereign Pontiff 'in forma speciali ' " (Letter cited in Yves Montagne, L'Eveque suspens, p. 158.)

This argument, however, doesn't seem to hold up under examination. As the Archbishop's advocate made clear in his second appeal, of 14 June, "the terms of the [Cardinals'] letter of 6 May 1975, that is 'It is with the full approval of His Holiness that we notify you...' do not seem to speak of a specific approbation [that would make the act or decree a true pontifical act] but rather the customary approval which is ordinarily given by His Holiness for all decisions, whether of Congregations, of the Apostolic Signatura, or of a special Cardinals' Commission." (Note, cited in L'Eveque suspens, pp. 159-160). Professor Capponi notes that curial officials tend to presume that certain formulae indicate confirmation in forma specifica without it following that the Pope must limit himself to these and that, in a case of doubt, it is presumed that one is dealing with a confirmation in forma communi (pp. 16-17).

Moreover, it is evident here that canon 1556 is cited out of its proper context. If we question the legitimacy of the acts of an extraordinary Commission of Cardinals, we do not thereby judge the pope, even if he had approved the Commission's existence or its acts in forma specifica. Rather, we question if, in effect, the Commission executed its mandate illegitimately by violating certain canonical prescriptions. According to one standard text on canonical procedure, Lega-Bardocetti (Commentarius in judicia ecclesiastica, Rome, 1941, Vol. II, p. 981), in such an hypothesis if an appeal from a judgment bearing on the essence of a question is excluded, nevertheless appeal is admitted for questions concerning the procedure (procedendi modus respicientes) and the procedure is rendered suspect. It was precisely on the illegality of the procedure followed that Archbishop Lefebvre's first appeal was based, that is, on the violation of norms which are prescribed to prevent unjust measures.

This argument applies for a measure taken by any organ, either ordinary or extraordinary, of the Holy See and approved in forma specifica by the Pope (cfr. "Justice et injustices romaines en l'Année Sainte de la Réconciliation 1975," Courrier de Rome, 153, January 1976, pp. 1-4). It should be stated that this was not the case with the action taken by Bishop Mamie, despite the pontifical approbation given to the letter signed by the three Cardinals. His suppression and the Cardinal's letter are two different documents; even if we were to admit that the latter had the approval of Pope Paul VI, the former would still be an illegitimate usurpation of authority, in flagrant violation of canon 493, and lacking the necessary confirmation (none has ever been produced, either by Rome or by Bishop Mamie). Cardinal Staffa’s reply glaringly omits any mention of the measure taken by Bishop Mamie to “suppress” the Society of St. Pius X, and yet in strictly juridical sense, this was the only action that really mattered.

Archbishop Lefebvre also appealed, protesting that the Commission of Cardinal was not competent to judge his “Declaration” of 21 November 1974, that rather the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (former Holy Office) was “alone competent in such matters.” Equally, a judgment  of his “Declaration” could not be construed as a judgement of  the seminary, especially since the results of the Apostolic Visitation were favorable.

Finally, the personal intervention of Cardinal Villot to prevent further consideration of these questions was anything but canonical. What did the Secretary of State have to fear if justice was on his side? As it is, the multiple irregularities and the obvious failure to render justice to Archbishop Lefebvre can only lead to one conclusion: the Society of St. Pius X continues to enjoy canonical existence, the measures taken against it and its founder lack validity.6

1. In view of the fact that allegations have been made that Archbishop Lefebvre was never authorized to found a seminary note carefully that the Decree of Erection authorizes the establishment of a “Priestly Society” for “the formation of zealous and generous priests” in an “international seminary.”

2.The Bishop’s use of the expression “pia unio” here is a little confusing. A “pia unio,” as canon 707-708 make clear, is not normally a moral person. It means a lay association. A religious “society of the common life,” as the approved statutes of the Society of St. Pius X specify it is, described in canon 673, is really very much like a religious institute but without public vows. It is possible that Bishop Charriere intended here “pia domus” since it is quite normal to erect a “pia domus” as the first step towards a new religious institute.

3. Cf. Letter to Archbishop Lefebvre, 15 May 1971.

4. Some Juridical Considerations on the Reform of the Liturgy. This invaluable study is available from the Angelus Press but readers are warned that it is of a technical nature and would not make easy reading for those unacquainted with Canon Law. It proves conclusively that no legal prohibition exists to prevent any priest celebrating the traditional Mass at any time.

5. See p. 114 for an explantion of these terms.

6. FOOTNOTE BY MICHAEL DAVIES. An alternative view to that of Father Cathey can be found in the extract from the Cambridge Review cited on p. 125. As Father Cathey explains in the citation from Professor Capponi, subsequent papal approval in forma specfica can remedy an existing invalidity .Pope Paul gave such approval in his letter of 29 June (p. 113) and the Cambridge Review concluded that this approval was valid in law although “illicit in its violation of natural justice.” Thus, even if Fr. Cathey’s conclusion is disputed and the Society has been legally suppressed the Archbishop’s refusal to submit can be justified on the grounds that natural justice has been violated (see pp. 121-124 and Appendix II).

Appendix IV

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