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 Societys 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).
decree of erection approving these statutes reads as follows :
the encouragements expressed by Vatican Council II, in the decree
Optatum totius, concerning international seminaries and
the distribution of the clergy;
the urgent necessity for the information of zealous and generous
priests conforming to the directives of the cited decree;
that the Statutes of the Priestly Society correspond to its goals:1
Charriere, Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg, the Holy
Name of God invoked and all canonical prescriptions observed,
decree what follows:
The "International Priestly Society of St. Pius
X " is erected in our diocese as a "Pia Unio
" (Pious Union).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.
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.
divine blessings on this Priestly Society , that it may attain
its principal goal which is the formation of
Fribourg, in our palace.
November 1970, on the Feast of All Saints,
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):
joy I received your letter, in which your Excellency informs me
of your news and especially of the Statutes of the Priestly Society.
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.
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,
in the Lord.
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
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
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?
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).
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).
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
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
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.)
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).
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.
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 Staffas 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.
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.
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
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.
Bishops 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.
to Archbishop Lefebvre, 15 May 1971.
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.
See p. 114 for
an explantion of these terms.
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. Catheys conclusion is disputed and the Society
has been legally suppressed the Archbishops refusal to submit
can be justified on the grounds that natural justice has been violated
(see pp. 121-124 and
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