1, Chapter 10
Letter from Mgr. Benelli
to the Apostolic Nuncio in Berne
letter from the Vatican Secretariat of State,
Registered under the number 307,554,
and addressed to Mgr. Ambrogio Marchioni,
Nuncio at Berne.
subject of Monseigneur Marcel Lefebvre, the Sovereign Pontiff
asks me to communicate to you the three following points, and
I ask you to bring them without delay to the knowledge of the
prelate, at the same time giving him a copy of this letter:
will hand over officially to Mgr. Lefebvre - who seemed to be
absent from Switzerland on the 24 May - the Latin text and the
French translation of the allocution given by His Holiness on
the occasion of the recent secret Consistory of Cardinals, which
all the bishops have already had opportunity of knowing.
official presentation of the Latin text and its French
translation: it is not that Mgr. Lefebvre is suspected of not
understanding Latin. It is the effect of the tendency to "officialize"
as "French translation " a version which is manifestly
translated not from the Latin text but from the Italian, which is
the original version. This new Vatican practice, which is a source
of defects, confusion, and anarchy, has been progressively extended
and imposed since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958.
should, at the same time, inform Mgr. Marcel Lefebvre that, de
mandato speciali Summi Pontificis, in the present circumstances
and according to the prescriptions of canon 2373,1°, of the Code
of Canon Law, he must strictly abstain from conferring orders
from the moment he receives the present injunction.
reference to Canon Law indicates suspension for a year from the
administration of the sacrament of Holy Order, suspension reserved
to the Holy See, and incurred ipso facto by one who ordains
a priest without authorization from the former's Ordinary: in precise
terms, without the "dimissorial letters" by which a bishop
"refers" one of his subjects to another bishop to receive
from him the sacrament of Holy Order.
the discourse to the Consistory on 24 May 1976, the Holy Father
was at pains to recall, himself, the fraternal approaches he had
several times tried to make to Mgr. Lefebvre. He has said repeatedly,
and now says again, that he is ready to receive him as soon as
he has given public testimony of his obedience to the present
successor of Saint Peter and of his acceptance of Vatican Council
II. The conditions are well known to Mgr. Lefebvre: they are still
those which I specified to him, in the name of His Holiness, when
we met on 19 March, and of which I reminded him in my letter of
21 April last.
had been approaches by Pope Paul VI, all mentioned in the preceding
pages: not one was fraternal; not one was paternal. It is not enough
to say it has been done for it to become true. Paul VI had refused
to take into consideration the letter that Mgr. Lefebvre sent him
on 31 May 1975; he has acted as though he did not know of this recourse
to him put into his hands.
there is indeed question of conditions which had been made known
by Mgr. Benelli in the name of His Holiness. If one refers
to Mgr. Benelli's letter of 21 April, it can be seen that there
was no explicit question of conditions made known in the name of
the Pope, but of "a step envisaged," which suggests the
idea of a friendly conversation rather than that of an ultimatum.
It is in euphemisms of this sort that the whole "fraternal"
character of Vatican approaches to Mgr. Lefebvre consists.
the Holy Father has confirmed that no such testimony has yet reached
him, in spite of the promises about it made several times.
Benelli no doubt means the promises that he himself had several
times made to Pope Paul VI. Mgr. Lefebvre, for his part, has never,
at any moment, promised to adopt the Mass of Article 7 nor to profess
that Vatican II has "as much authority as Nicea, and more importance.
scandal continues to be such that the Sovereign Pontiff could
wait no longer before asking the Sacred College to take notice
of the continuance of this non-ecclesial attitude. Today, also,
he can wait no longer. He therefore adjures Mgr. Lefebvre not
to harden himself in a position which would lead him further and
further into a blind alley, when he can still, "in humility
and edification," make the gesture which His Holiness awaits
"with paternal hope."
Monseigneur, with my thanks for your mediation in this grave matter,
the assurance of my faithful and cordial devotion in Our Lord.
+ J. Beneni
Letter of Mgr.
Lefebvre to Pope Paul VI
This letter was made public
by Mgr. Lefebvre on 12 July 1976. He added a "preliminary note"
which will be found below, in its chronological place.
Most Holy Father,
Will Your Holiness
please fully understand the sorrow which grips me, and my
stupefaction, on the one side at hearing the paternal appeals
Your Holiness addresses to me, and on the other the cruelty
of the blows which do not cease striking us, the latest
of them striking worst of all my dear Seminarians and their
families on the eve of their priesthood for which they have
been preparing for five or six years.
has known me since 1948, and you know perfectly well what
the faith is that I profess, the faith of your Credo,
and you know equally my profound submission to the Successor
of Peter which I renew into the hands of Your Holiness.
The trouble and
the confusion spread in the Church these last years, which
Your Holiness denounces in your last discourse to the Consistory,
are precisely the reason for the serious reserves I make
about the perilous adaptation of the Church to the modem
But I am deeply
convinced that I am in full communion with the thought and
the faith of Your Holiness. I implore Your Holiness, therefore,
to allow me to have a dialogue with envoys chosen by you
from among the Cardinals who have known me for a long time,1
and, with the help
of God's grace, there is no doubt that the difficulties
will be smoothed out.
this suggestion will be acceptable to Your Holiness, I assure
you of my entire availability, and of my respectful and
filial affection in Christ and Mary.
Letter from Mgr. Benelli to Mgr. Lefebvre
The Holy Father has received
your letter of 22 June. He desires me to inform you of his mind
on this subject. Certainly
as I myself said to you last April in a fraternal letter, what is
asked of you calls for courageous obedience on your part, the more
so as you have voluntarily pursued your course in what was manifestly
a blind alley. But you cannot describe as cruelty the attitude of
the Holy See, which is only registering your conduct and taking
the measures it calls for.
On 19 March, I told you
quite frankly what, in your negative judgments on the Council, in
your frequent statements on the offices of the Holy See and their
directives applying the Council, in your way of acting counter to
the responsibility of other bishops in their respective dioceses,
was inadmissible for His Holiness, contrary to ecclesial communion,
and damaging for the unity and peace of the Church. All that was
required of you was a clear admission that you were wrong on those
points necessary for every Catholic spirit, and after that one could
have considered the best way of facing the remaining problems arising
from your acts.
The "wrong" which
is Mgr. Lefebvre's, and which he is "asked only to admit,"
thus becomes almost imperceptible. It is limited to speaking freely
- supposedly too freely - too "negatively." Is that how
he has left the "communion" of Paul VI? Here, once more,
one sees the inability of the Holy See to state precisely with what
Mgr. Lefebvre is reproached. This imprecision in the complaints
contrasts with the precision of the conditions imposed for his submission
in the preceding letter of Mgr. Benelli (dated 21 April). It is
like-wise remarkable that, in enumerating "what is inadmissible
for His Holiness," Mgr. Benelli does not mention the celebration
of the traditional Mass. If that Mass is validly forbidden, why
this off-hand silence about a grave fault, the most grave?
But, not only have you
not done that during more than three months, in spite of your promises,
but you have continued on the same line, even taking new initiatives
in several parts of Europe and America. This public scandal could
not but draw on you a public admonition from the Holy Father, on
24 May last. You could see, moreover, that the Holy Father attacks
with the same firmness abuses committed in the other sense, outside
or contrary to the true sense of the Council, which you claim is
the origin of your attitude.
A flagrant untruth! In the
other sense the "same firmness" of Paul VI demands no
public submission, names no one, notably no bishop, and declares
no one to be "outside the Church."
But after this summons,
severe but paternal and hopeful, you remain obstinate and propose
to ordain priests in the same spirit, on your own responsibility,
independently of the Ordinaries, within the framework of a Society
which the competent ecclesiastical authority has juridically suspended.
The Holy Father charges
me this very day to confirm the measure of which you have been informed
in his name, de mandata speciali: you are to abstain, now,
from conferring any order. Do not use as a pretext the confused
state of the seminarians who were to be ordained: this is just the
opportunity to explain to them and to their families that you cannot
ordain them to the service of the Church against the will of the
supreme Pastor of the Church. There is nothing desperate in their
case: if they have good will and are seriously prepared for a presbyteral
ministry in genuine fidelity to the Conciliar Church.
Here we have it, then. Everything
is clear at last. The only priests acceptable to the Vatican are
priests prepared to make an act of "genuine fidelity to the
Conciliar Church." It is, therefore, not traditionalists who
are making a distinction between the Catholic Church, the eternal
Church, and the Church of Vatican II. This distinction is made by
an official spokesman for the Conciliar Church. Since the seminarians
at Econe have already promised their fidelity to the Catholic Church
they cannot transfer it to the Conciliar Church.
Those responsible will
find the best solution for them, but they must begin with an act
of obedience to the Church.
To the Church? Yes, but Mgr.
Benelli has already given the game away. It is to the Conciliar
Church that they must make this act of obedience. Here before our
eyes is the drama of the occupation of the Church Militant by an
alien power. In the name of the Catholic Church, Catholics
are required to subject themselves to the Conciliar Church.
They were informed in
good time. In case of transgression, they should know that they
expose themselves to the canonical penalty provided in canon 2374;2
and if, temerariously,
they disregard it, they expose themselves to irregularity3
(cf. canon 985, 7), while
the one who ordains them would incur suspension for a year ab
ordinum collatione, according to can. 2373, paras 1 and 3, independently
of the order recently communicated to him by the mediation of the
Rev. Father Dhanis, Consultor
of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and professor
at the Pontifical Gregorian University, will bring you this letter.
So that everything shall be perfectly clear, it goes without saying
that he is ready to give whatever explanations you may want.
Accept, Monseigneur, the
assurance of my prayer for your intentions in these grave circumstances,
and of my devotion in Our Lord.
Since Paul VI had constantly
refused to give him a personal hearing, Mgr, Lefebvre proposes that
the dialogue shall take place with Cardinals chosen from among those
who have known him for a long time (and not any more in the scandalous
conditions of 1975, with the three Cardinals of unworthy behavior).
i.e. the penalty of suspension.
the perpetual canonical impediment to the reception and exercise
of Holy Orders. The impediment can be removed only by dispensation,
as distinct from impediments called simple, which cease with the
cessation of their cause.
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