Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 1, Chapter 7

In a letter to Mgr. Mamie dated 31 May 1975, Cardinal Tabera reaffirmed his approval and support for Mgr. Mamie's action in withdrawing recognition from the Society of St. Pius X.

Within a few days of writing this letter, Cardinal Tabera died suddenly. Let us pray that God may have mercy on him.

31 May 1975 - Letter of Mgr. Lefebvre to Pope Paul VI


Most Holy Father,

Prostrate at the feet of Your Holiness, I assure you of my entire and filial submission to the decisions communicated to me by the commission of Cardinals in what concerns the Fraternity of St. Pius X and its Seminary.

However, Your Holiness will be able to judge by the enclosed account1 if, in the procedure, Natural and Canon Law have been observed.2 When I think of the toleration Your Holiness shows with regard to the Dutch bishops and theologians like Hans Küng and Cardonnel, I cannot believe that the cruel decisions taken in my regard come from the same heart.

If it is true that the only ground of accusation against me that is retained is my Declaration of 21 November 1974, I beg Your Holiness to refer me to the competent Congregation: the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Oh, how I wish Your Holiness would deign one day to welcome the members of the Sacerdotal Fraternity of Saint Pius X and its seminarians, with their poor superior! Your Holiness would see at once their deep devotion to, and veneration of, the Successor of Peter and their unique desire to serve the Church under his shepherd's crook.

There is no doubt that their concern to preserve a pure and full faith in the midst of the confusion of this world's ideas joins us with Your Holiness's concern, and if, at times, they express it in a somewhat impassioned way, I ask Your Holiness to pardon a zeal which is excessive but which comes from generous souls ready to give even their blood in defense of the Church and her Head, like the Machabees and all the martyrs.

May Mary the Queen, whose feast we keep today, bring Your Holiness the assurance of our filial affection.

And may God...

†Marcel Lefebvre.


On 2 June 1975, Mgr. Mamie published the Cardinals' letter of 6 May to Mgr. Lefebvre.

On 5 June Mgr. Lefebvre's lawyer lodged his appeal with the Court of the Apostolic Signature in Rome, listing serious breaches of Canon Law in the action taken against him and demanding the production of evidence that the Pope had in fact authorized the Cardinals to take their quite unprecedented action against the Society of St. Pius X. The text of  appeal is entered under 21 May 1975.

Bulletin No.17 of the International Federation Una Voce, published 6 June 1975, included a comment by its distinguished president, Dr. Eric M. Saventhem, concerning the action taken against Mgr. Lefebvre. His remarks included the following:

With Mgr. Lefebvre's reply to the Abbé de Nantes known in Rome, the article in L'Osservatore Romano {8 May 1975, p.63-67}stands revealed as a deliberate calumny.3 But this "Reply," Mgr. Lefebvre had given an answer to all L'Osservatore Romano's rhetorical questions even before they were formulated. To raise them all the same, in the Vatican's official newspaper, and without breathing a word about the "Reply," is rank dishonesty.

The Cardinals' letter shows the sanctions now imposed on Mgr. Lefebvre to be based solely on the accusation that his Declaration is "incompatible with authentic fidelity to the Church, the Pope and the Council." Implied in this reproach is the accusation of a schismatic intent. It is not suggested that the Declaration is in any way incompatible with the "authentic doctrine concerning the Church, the Pope and the Council" - the Cardinals know that they cannot fault the text of the Declaration on doctrinal grounds. And no proof is offered for the "schismatic intent" other than that strange reference to the "traditional language of the sects." One would like to know what sects the Cardinals were thinking of and one would ask them the following question: what about those who invoke the "Church of today" in order to shirk obedience to the "Church of all the ages"? Is that not much more typically a sectarian line of thought and argument?

More profoundly though: what are criteria for "authentic fidelity"? Surely the chief criterion is that of total acceptance and public profession of the Church's own doctrine concerning Herself and particularly Her supreme hierarchical authority, i.e. the Pope and any legitimate council whose decisions the Pope has endorsed? In that case the accusation of "lack of authentic fidelity" would have to be made in the first place against those who, like Professor Küng, have openly attacked this doctrine. And if the Cardinals have found it necessary, in the case of Mgr. Lefebvre, to withdraw the ecclesiastical approbation which makes Ecône a proper "seminary," then Professor Küng should have long since been deprived of his missio canonica, i.e. the authority by virtue of which he instructs future priests in fundamental theology.

Nothing can be more arbitrary than the Cardinals' decision - and this notwithstanding the fact that it is said to be fully endorsed by the Holy Father himself. There is no evidence of this endorsement, to begin with. Moreover, it is unheard of that a senior member of the episcopal hierarchy (Mgr. Lefebvre has been a bishop for nearly 30 years and has held high Curial offices as Apostolic Delegate for the French-speaking parts of Africa) should be "disciplined" without due process - before either the Congregation for Bishops or the Congregation for the Faith - and that sentence should be passed in the name of the Holy Father without the "accused" having appeared before his judge: since he founded the Fraternity in 1969 Mgr. Lefebvre has twice made a formal request to be received in audience by His Holiness and in both cases no audience was in fact granted.

Suffering from so many defects, both as regards form and equity, the decisions of the Cardinals' Commission cannot bind anyone in conscience - least of all the Archbishop himself. Life at Ecône is continuing without change and Mgr. Lefebvre is consulting his many friends in Rome as to the proper procedure with which to appeal against the Roman judgment.

On 10 June 1975 Mgr. Lefebvre's appeal was rejected on the grounds that the condemnation of the three Cardinals had been approved in forma specifica by the Pope and that therefore no appeal was admissible. Had this appeal gone forward it would have been necessary to produce the "express mandate" of the Holy Father authorizing the three Cardinals to act against Mgr. Lefebvre and also the approbation in forma specifica of the action which they took. There is every reason to believe that no such documents exist and that therefore the action taken against Mgr. Lefebvre was uncanonical and automatically void. Had these documents existed there is not the least doubt that the Commission of Cardinals would have produced them. The decision against Mgr. Lefebvre could then have been set out, as was that against Fr. Coache, which, although unjust, at least denoted an observance of the correct legal procedure. The decision against Fr. Coache was phrased as follows:

On 1 March 1975 there was a meeting of the Commission of Cardinals which the Holy Father had designated by a letter of the Secretariat of State No. 265 485 of 4 November 1974 to re-examine ex novo etc. The above-mentioned decree was submitted to the consideration of Pope Paul VI who, re mature pensa, approved it in omnibus et singulis on 7 June 1975, and ordered that it should be notified as soon as possible to all the parties concerned.4

It is quite clear that the Pope's letter to Mgr. Lefebvre of 29 June 1975 (which will be found in its chronological order) was an attempt to give retroactive legality to a manifestly illegal process. This letter, far from allaying doubts concerning the regularity of the procedure against the Archbishop, constituted the clumsiest of possible public admissions that it had been irregular. This a posteriori legalization of an illegal act will certainly scandalize anyone in the least familiar with the most elementary principles of jurisprudence. As Mgr. Lefebvre expressed it himself:

Has anyone ever seen, in Canon Law, or in other legal systems, a law, a decree, a decision endowed with a retroactive effect? One condemns and then judges afterwards.5

A final point with regard to Mgr. Lefebvre's appeal - it was rejected in only five days whereas such appeals normally involve months or even a year or more of study.

On 14 June 1975, Mgr. Lefebvre's lawyers lodged an appeal with the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature. He did not even receive a reply to this appeal, and in fact he discovered that Cardinal Staffa had been threatened with dismissal if he so much as examined any appeal coming from Mgr. Lefebvre.6

There may be readers who find it impossible to believe that those charged with governing the Church founded by Christ could behave in such a manner. It will suffice to cite the case of Father Coache once more to dispel their illusions. Among the many invaluable historical documents published by Itinéraires is its Dossier: The Unjust Condemnation of Fr. Coache (160 pages in length) in its issue of January 1976. It includes numerous letters to and from Fr. Coache, his Bishop, and various Vatican departments. Fr. Coache had incurred the displeasure of his Bishop for the crime of organizing a procession of the Blessed Sacrament, and he was to be deprived of his parish. He informed his Bishop that he would appeal to Rome against the decision and duly wrote his appeal. But learning there was a postal strike in Italy, he delayed posting it. Some days later the Vicar General arrived with a telegram from the Vatican announcing that his appeal had been rejected. Fr. Coache opened the drawer containing the envelope with his appeal in it, showed it to the Vicar General and said: "Here's my appeal. I haven't posted it yet!" Exit the Vicar General in confusion. A few days later, the postal strike being over, a letter from the Vatican confirming the rejection of his appeal arrived. The Latin text and translation are set out below. This letter proves that no Catholic today can presume that any statement coming from the Vatican is true. The same goes for the "establishment" of the "Conciliar Church" in any country. I have a number of examples on record of straightforward lies told by prominent Liberal clerics in England.

The text of the letter from the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy is taken from the January 1976 issue of Itinéraires.


Prot. 124205

Romae, 6 Junii 1969.

Excellentissime Domine,

Examini subiecto recursu Reverendi sacerdotis Coache Aloisii, istius dioeceseos, haec Sacra Congregatio respondit: "Recursum esse reiciendum."
Velit Excellentia Tua de hac responsione certiorem facere recurrentem, qui pareat praeceptis Ordinarii sui.
Dum haec Tecum communico cuncta fausta Tibi a Domino adprecor ac permanere gaudeo.
Excellentiae Tuae Rev. mae addictissimus.

P. Palazzini, a Secretis.

Excellentissimo ac Rev. mo Domino,





A translation of this letter follows.

Excellentissime Domine,
Having examined Fr. Coache's Appeal, our Sacred Congregation has decreed: "The Appeal is rejected."
Please have the goodness to communicate this decision to the plaintiff in order that he may obey the orders of his Bishop, etc. etc.


An Editor Silenced

There was considerable sympathy for Ecône and the Old Mass in England. Particularly significant in this connection was the editorial of the Catholic Herald of 13 June 1975 (the issue which reported the suppression of Ecône).

It began by admitting that most of the letters received by the editor concerned the liturgy, and that most of these letters were against the reforms. It went on to refer to the recent episcopal pronunciamento, which was simply a restatement of the October 1974 renewed proscription of the Old Mass by the Congregation for Divine Worship. Describing this as "a landmark in ecumenical history," the editorial stated:

The present position of the Catholic seems to be this: If he wants to attend a Tridentine Mass, the priest who proposes to say the Mass has first to receive permission from a bishop; if, on the other hand, the Catholic wishes to attend a non-conformist service, at the heart of which may be a denial of the Real Presence, he does not have to seek permission at all. Indeed, some priests positively encourage the faithful to attend the services of other denominations. This may be a good thing. At the same time it adds up to a nice irony.

Those who wish to attend the Tridentine Mass as a matter of course - while not wishing to deprive others of the New Order - do not do so necessarily because they love Latin. Many of them, for instance, find the new Latin Mass tiresome. And many of those who wish to see a return of the Tridentine rite cannot utter a word of Latin (though they are perfectly capable of reading the crib in their missals). They wish merely to see the old Order permitted because it had a dignity and beauty they find lacking in the New Order.

Clearly, at any rate, the reforms have gone far enough. The time has come for Catholics to cry: "An end to it." Perhaps then the bickering will stop.

It is hardly surprising that the present Liberal establishment could not countenance the prospect of an official Catholic weekly presenting the news objectively and commenting upon it in balanced editorials. It was soon made clear to Stuan Reid, the newly appointed editor, that although he had been guaranteed editorial freedom, this meant only freedom to write what was acceptable to the Liberal establishment. He was told that he must either submit his editorials to censorship or have them written for him by someone who could be guaranteed not to deviate from the party line. Under these circumstances he felt that he had no honorable option but to resign.

A Priest Dismissed

On 15 June 1975, Fr. Pierre Épiney, the young parish priest of Riddes, the nearest parish to the Seminary at Ecône, was summarily deprived of his parish by Mgr. Adam, because of his "refusal to submit to the Sovereign Pontiff and to Vatican II.”

In an open letter to Fr. Épiney, Mgr. Adam stated that this was the most cruel decision in his 23-year episcopate but that he would be failing in his duty if "by my silence, I were to collude with your disobedience." Within a few days of the Bishop's decision being known over 800 of the adult parishioners had signed a petition in support of Fr. Épiney and more have since been added. This represents almost all the adult practicing Catholics in the parish. An earlier petition to have Fr. Épiney removed attracted only 12 signatures. Fr. Épiney complied with Mgr. Adam's order to vacate his parish church on 15 June but conducted an evening vigil before the Blessed Sacrament which concluded exactly at midnight, when he left the Church which had been packed to the doors for the vigil.

Evidently, there is only one serious sin in the contemporary Church - "to refuse to submit to Vatican II." One of the grounds for the dismissal of Fr. Épiney was that he had returned to the celebration of the Tridentine Mass. As, to the certain knowledge of Mgr. Adam, he has been saying only this form of Mass for several years, the Bishop's sudden pangs of conscience are curious to say the least.

Needless to say, the real reason for Fr. Épiney's dismissal was his refusal to obey the diktat of the faceless Roman authority who insisted that "no support whatsoever must be given to Mgr. Lefebvre."

On 29 June 1975, Pope Paul VI dispatched his first letter to Archbishop Lefebvre. This letter was made public in a dossier on Ecône published in the Nouvelliste of Sion on 12 December 1975. (Sion is the diocese in which Ecône is situated.)

29 June 1975 - Letter of Pope Paul VI to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre


To our Brother in the Episcopate, Marcel Lefebvre
Former Archbishop-Bishop of Tulle.

Dear Brother,

It is with sorrow that We write to you today. With sorrow because We appreciate the interior anguish of a man who sees the annihilation of his hopes, the ruin of the initiative which he believes he has taken for the good of the Church. With sorrow because We think of the confusion of the young people who have followed you, full of ardor, and now find themselves in a blind alley. But Our grief is even greater to note that the decision of the competent authority - although formulated very clearly, and fully justified, it may be said, by your refusal to modify your public and persistent opposition to the Second Vatican Council, to the post-conciliar reforms, and to the orientations to which the Pope himself is committed - that this decision should still lend itself to discussion even to the extent of leading you to seek some juridical possibility of invalidating it.



The precise reason for the Pope's "grief" at Mgr. Lefebvre's attempt to "invalidate" the action taken against him is that he has had the temerity to resort to the standard legal procedure and lodge an appeal to the competent tribunal. As, according to the Commission of Cardinals and stated expressly in its letter of 6 May 1975 (see p.59), the sole motive for the action taken against Mgr. Lefebvre was the Declaration of 21 November 1974, the competent authority to decide upon the orthodoxy of this letter was the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Mgr. Lefebvre has asked that his Declaration be examined by this Congregation, the "competent authority," but this request has been denied.

Careful note should also be taken of the manner in which no distinction is made between "opposition to the Second Vatican Council, to the post-conciliar reforms, and to the orientations to which the Pope himself is committed." All must be accepted together as a strict package.

Although, strictly speaking, it is not necessary to recapitulate, We do however deem it opportune to confirm to you that We have insisted on being informed concerning the entire development of the inquiry concerning the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, and from the very beginning the Cardinals' Commission, which We set up, regularly and most scrupulously rendered an account of its work. Finally, the conclusions which it proposed to Us, We made all and each of them Ours, and We personally ordered that they be immediately put into force.

This is the first documentary evidence to support the claim that the Pope had given approval to the action taken against Mgr. Lefebvre in forma specifica. Papal approval is normally given to acts of the Curia in forma communi. This simply gives the necessary legal status to the curial act in question when such approval is necessary. A decree which has received such approbation still remains the decree of those who enacted it - it is an act of the Holy See rather than a specifically papal act. If such an act contained legal irregularities sufficient to invalidate it, then it would be invalid despite having received papal approval in forma communi. Without proof to the contrary, papal approbation should always be presumed to have been given in forma communi. The special approbation known as in forma specifica is granted only after the Pope has given the matter his close personal attention in every aspect and possibly made changes in the text submitted to him. Such approval is indicated by such formulas as ex motu proprio, ex scientia certa, de apostolicae auctoritatis plenitudine. This manner of approbation transforms the act into a specifically papal one and the steps leading up to it are considered as having only consultative status. Normally, even if there had been legal irregularities in the preliminary stages, these could not affect the juridical validity of a decision which the Pope had made his own. Up to the publication of this letter there had been no more than a gratuitous affirmation by Cardinal Villot that the Pope had approved the steps taken against Mgr. Lefebvre in forma specifica, thus blocking the appeal which could have revealed, inter alia, that no such approval had been given up to that point. The question that must be asked is whether this letter from the Pope is an attempt to give approval in forma specifica retrospectively. If it is not, why can no earlier document be produced?

Thus, dear Brother, it is in the name of the veneration for the successor of St. Peter that you profess in your letter of 31 May, more than that, it is in the name of the Vicar of Christ that We ask of you a public act of submission, in order to make amends for the offense which your writings, your speeches, and your attitudes have caused with regard to the Church and its Magisterium.

Mgr. Lefebvre's profession of veneration for the successor of St. Peter is the only point in his letter of 31 May to which specific reference is made. No answer is made to his claim that Natural and Canon Law have been violated or that his Declaration should be submitted for judgment to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Such an act necessarily implies, among other things, the acceptance of the measures taken concerning the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X and all the practical consequences of these measures. We beseech God that He may enlighten you and lead you thus to act, despite your present disinclination to do so. And We appeal to your sense of episcopal responsibility that you may recognize the good that would thereby result for the Church.

Certainly, problems of another order entirely preoccupy Us equally - the superficiality of certain interpretations of conciliar documents, of individual or collective initiatives deriving sometimes rather from arbitrary wilfulness (libre arbitre) than from confident adhesion to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition, of initiatives which arbitrarily evoke the faith to justify them. We know them, We suffer because of them, and for Our part, We strive in season and out of season to remedy them.

Pope Paul VI thus shows himself to be aware of the abuses which are widespread in every aspect of the Church's life, in doctrine, in the liturgy, in morality. He returns to this theme on future occasions, most notably in his Consistorial Address of 24 May 1976 and in his long letter to Mgr. Lefebvre dated 11 October 1976, which can be found under this date. In this letter Pope Paul even concedes that these abuses are going to the extent of sacrilege. He invariably stated that he was taking action to remedy these abuses, but it must be stated, with all the respect due to the Holy Father, that the anguished faithful in many countries saw no sign at all of any action being taken to correct abuses during his pontificate, particularly in the liturgy. To give just one example, Pope Paul himself made it quite clear that he wished the traditional manner of receiving Holy Communion to be adhered to in his Instruction Memoriale Domini of 29 May 1969. But since this Instruction was published he has legalized the abuse of Communion in the hand throughout the West. A detailed examination of the manner in which one liturgical abuse after another has spread throughout the world, with the acquiescence of the Vatican, will be provided in my book Pope Paul's New Mass. The beginning of the story has already been documented in Pope John's Council.

But how can one use things such as these to justify oneself in committing excesses which are gravely harmful?

This is truly an astonishing statement. How is it possible to condemn as harmful excesses the training of priests in the traditional manner, and in almost total conformity to the norms laid down during and subsequent to Vatican II; in continuing to teach traditional doctrine and morality in total conformity with the acts of the Magisterium dating back 2,000 years, and in conformity with such documents of Pope Paul VI himself as Mysterium Fidei, his Credo, or his Humanae Vitae; and in continuing to offer Mass in accordance with the Missal of Saint Pius V, a Missal which has provided the source of the spiritual life of so many saints in so many countries, and to which Pope Paul himself paid tribute in his Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum?

Such is not the right way to do things, since it makes use of ways comparable to those which are denounced. What can one say of a member who wishes to act alone, independently of the Body to which he belongs?

It also quite astonishing to find Mgr. Lefebvre's "faults" equated with the abuses he denounces. His "faults" are to continue teaching the traditional faith, using the traditional liturgy, and forming seminarians in the traditional manner even if this involves disobeying the Vatican and even the Pope himself. How can such devotion to the traditional faith be compared with the abuses mentioned by the Archbishop in his letter of 31 May where he refers to the Dutch Bishops who have publicly questioned the virginal conception of Our Lord - a doctrine fundamental to our entire faith? Pope Paul VI did not denounce the Dutch hierarchy.

You permit the case of St. Athanasius to be invoked in your favor.

If some Catholics claim that there is a parallel between the case of Archbishop Lefebvre and that of St. Athanasius, what can the Archbishop do about it? Appendix I shows that a good case can be made for invoking such a parallel.

It is true that this great Bishop remained practically alone in the defense of the true faith, despite attacks from all quarters. But what precisely was involved was the defense of the faith of the recent Council of Nicea. The Council was the norm which inspired his fidelity, as also in the case of St. Ambrose.

St. Athanasius defended not so much the Council of Nicea as the traditional faith which this very important dogmatic council taught. Mgr. Lefebvre would certainly defend any of the traditional articles of faith restated in the documents of Vatican II, as, indeed, some of them are.

How can anyone today compare himself to St. Athanasius in daring to combat a council such as the Second Vatican Council, which has no less authority, which in certain respects is even more important than that of Nicea?

Within the space of a few lines the charge against Mgr. Lefebvre has been changed from allowing himself to be compared to St. Athanasius to actually comparing himself with the great saint - something that he has neither done nor would ever contemplate doing! There is, in fact, a very striking comparison between Archbishop Lefebvre and St. Athanasius. Pope Liberius subscribed to one of the ambiguous formulae of Sirmium, which seriously compromised the traditional faith, and he confirmed the excommunication of St. Athanasius. It is true that Liberius acted under pressure and later repented - but it is equally true that it was Athanasius who upheld the faith and was canonized. The story of Liberius and Athanasius is told in some detail in Appendix I.

It is really hard to believe that Pope Paul VI could claim seriously that Vatican II is equal in authority and in some respects more important than the Council of Nicea. The Council of Nicea, the first Ecumenical Council, promulgated infallible teaching concerned with the divinity of Christ - nothing could be more fundamental or more important. Vatican II deliberately refrained from utilizing that assistance of the Holy Ghost which would have enabled it to promulgate infallible teaching. The teaching of Nicea belongs to the Extraordinary Magisterium and those who deny it are anathematized. The teaching of Vatican II belongs to the Ordinary Magisterium and no such sanction is applied to anyone rejecting it. There is thus no possible way in which the teaching of Vatican II could be considered equal in authority to Nicea, still less more important. When the Pope makes such claims he is expressing his personal opinion and his views in no way demand our assent. The question of the relative status of the two councils is considered in Appendix III.

We beg you therefore to meditate concerning the warning which We address to you with firmness and in virtue of Our Apostolic authority. Your elder (brother) in the faith, He Who has received the mission of confirming His brothers, addresses you, His heart full of hope.

He wishes He could already rejoice in being understood, heard and obeyed. He awaits with impatience the day when He will have the happiness to open to you His arms, to make manifest a refound communion, when you will have replied to the demands He has just formulated. At present He confides this intention to the Lord, who rejects no prayers.

In veritate et caritate,
Paulus PP VI
The Vatican 29 June 1975


The Significance of Pope Paul's Letter

Jean Madiran, editor of Itinéraires, considers that the personal intervention of the Pope marks a second and tragic phase in the campaign against the Archbishop. In the issue dated February 1977 he writes (pp. 122-123):

What is most tragic, in the second phase of this deplorable business, is that the Pope has been prevailed on to condemn the one bishop who is a genuine defender of pontifical authority, and to condemn him precisely for that.

Mgr. Lefebvre's Declaration of November 1974, which is in all points Catholic, has been condemned by the Holy See "in all points," including the first.

"We cleave with all our heart and soul to Catholic Rome, guardian of the Catholic faith and of the traditions necessary to maintain that faith, to eternal Rome, mistress of wisdom and truth."

To succeed in getting the Pope to condemn the only bishop in Europe, as far as we know, who speaks publicly in such terms, and to condemn him precisely for that, is indeed a masterpiece of self-destruction of the Church.

On the other hand, those who make themselves out to be supporters of "obedience" - and who practice it now and then - destroy authority when they preach and put into effect an arbitrary, blind, and servile concept of obedience. Those who "obey the Church" when she condemns Joan of Arc, those who "obey the Pope" when he signs and promulgates the first version, unacceptable, of Article 7, destroy, by making a hateful caricature of it, the very authority to which they pretend to appeal. It is only the Catholic idea of obedience which gives a safe and legitimate foundation for pontifical authority. They are not defending pontifical authority but destroying it - those who say Paul VI must be obeyed because he is a man of progress, a truly modern pope, a progressive democrat, an open and collegial spirit, and the like: for those standards are matters of opinion, debatable, changeable, and at the mercy of the manipulators of public opinion with their subjective evaluations and their presentation of them on radio and television.

Today Mgr. Lefebvre is the only bishop in Europe and perhaps in the whole world who proclaims aloud, and openly preaches, the true doctrine of authority in the Church. He is disowned and attacked by the present holders of that authority: which amounts to attempted suicide.

Pontifical authority has only one foundation: Catholic tradition, the first monument of which is the New Testament. All motives for obeying the Pope which are outside Catholic tradition are false, deceptive and fragile. Servile obedience seems for a time to insure for those who benefit from it the enjoyment of a comfortable despotism. But it is only an artificial construction, which sows disorder and is doomed to destruction.

In any case, we are not taken in! Most of those who demand from us unconditional obedience to the spirit of the Council and to the Pope who appeals to it are just those who, until the Council, provided the theory and gave the example of systematic non-obedience. Those Modernists and progressives, the theorists and practiced exponents of disobedience to the Church, are suspect when they start crying up obedience; and it is at once likely that the obedience they recommend is not good.

And when the disobedience they promote is an obedience at one and the same time unconditional and based on worldly motives ("Paul VI is a modern Pope, a true democrat who understands his times and is open to evolution"), evidently that is not Catholic.

Mgr. Lefebvre states in his Declaration that: "If there is a certain contradiction manifest in his words and deeds (the Pope's) as well as in the acts of his dicasteries,7 then we cleave to what has always been taught and we turn a deaf ear to the novelties which destroy the Church."

That is Catholic truth, immediately recognized as such, with no hesitation or uncertainty, by any heart inhabited by theological faith.

Moreover, Mgr. Lefebvre has proclaimed that truth with great moderation, and with great delicacy towards the very controversial figure of the reigning pontiff.

The Issue Made Clear

With the Pope's letter of 29 June 1975, the issues at stake have been made quite clear. Our attitude to subsequent events will be governed by our reaction to the manner in which the Society of St. Pius X and its Seminary at Ecône were suppressed. Given that the Pope's letter of 29 June is legally acceptable as approval of this suppression in forma specifica, it would be technically correct to concede that the Archbishop is being disobedient. Let it be noted here that he and his legal advisers do not accept that even in the light of the Pope's letter of 29 June 1975 the decision against him can be considered as legally valid. Could it be proved that the decision conformed with the strict legal requirements of Canon Law, it was clearly an outrage against the Natural Law, and a Catholic would be entitled to resist such a decision.

As will be shown in Appendix II, The Right to Resist an Abuse of Power, Bishop Grosseteste was certainly resisting a perfectly legal papal command in 1253 - but it would surprise me if a single reader of this book would say that this great English Bishop was wrong. What every theologian of repute would certainly accept is that resisting the Pope is not ipso facto wrong, what matters is the reason for resistance. What has never ceased to astonish me from the beginning of the whole affair is not the manner in which Catholic Liberals pour invective upon the Archbishop - this is only to be expected - but the manner in which self-proclaimed champions of orthodoxy condemn him for the sin of disobedience with an alacrity which would have left the most accomplished pharisee at a loss for words, and the manner in which they issue their condemnations without even a pretense of taking into consideration the reasons which have prompted Mgr. Lefebvre to make his stand. The case can be summarized as follows:

1. The Society of Saint Pius X was established according to all the requirements of Canon Law, with the approval of the Vatican and the active encouragement of the Congregation of the Clergy and its Prefect, Cardinal Wright.

2. The Society soon established the most flourishing and orthodox Seminary in Europe at enormous financial cost, borne by thousands of faithful Catholics all over the world.

3. An Apostolic Visitation of the Seminary brought to light no reason for complaint.

4. Mgr. Lefebvre was summoned to appear before three Cardinals for a discussion which turned out to be a trial.

5. The entire case against him was based on a statement provoked by unorthodox opinions expressed by the Apostolic Visitors to Ecône.

6. The entire Society was suppressed as the result of a single statement made by only one of its members.

7. The Archbishop rightly insisted that if the statement was alleged to be unorthodox the only tribunal competent to assess it was the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He asked to have his Declaration considered by this Congregation. His request was refused.

8. Up to this point, no public statement had been issued quoting a specific passage in this Declaration which was alleged to be unorthodox.

9. Not one iota of evidence has ever been produced to prove that the Commission of Cardinals had been constituted by the Pope according to the required canonical norms or that the Pope had approved its decisions in forma specifica.

10. However, even had this Commission of Cardinals formed a legally constituted tribunal with the authority to try and condemn Mgr. Lefebvre (without considering it necessary to mention this fact to him), it has been shown on p. 61 that the decisions taken against Mgr. Lefebvre were not those of the tribunal, still less of the Pope, but of some anonymous authority.

11. At the moment when it would have been necessary to produce the relevant documents in response to the Archbishop’s appeal, it was stated that his appeal could not be heard as the Pope had approved the decisions of the Commission of Cardinals in forma specifica - the very point which the Archbishop disputed and for which his lawyer would required proof.

12. On this basis the Archbishop was expected to close his Seminary in mid-term and send professors and seminarians home.

Mgr. Lefebvre claims that this constituted an abuse of power. The reader must decide whether he is justified in making this claim. The question at issue is this: Is it outrageous that the Archbishop should have refused to submit to the Pope, or is it outrageous that the Pope should have demanded that the Archbishop should submit to such a travesty of justice?

On 22 October 1976, The Cambridge Review, a non-Catholic publication, included an article on the legal aspects of the treatment accorded to Mgr. Lefebvre, part of which is reproduced below.

The Cambridge Review Speaks Out

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's stand against the new form of the Roman Mass has finally assured full publicity to the arguments of the Catholic traditionalists. There is one aspect of his position, however, that has received almost no attention from the press, and which is, of course, determinedly played down by his ecclesiastical opponents: and that is the strength of his position in Canon Law. In what follows we shall investigate some of the legal arguments, and in so doing we shall notice that the vaunted "reforms" of the Second Vatican Council have done almost nothing to reduce the Vatican 's preference for administrative despotism over legal procedures.

Let us take, in the first place, the attempt by the Bishop of Fribourg to suppress Lefebvre's Fraternity of St. Pius X and hence, of course, the famous seminary at Ecône. The position in Canon Law is this: A Bishop has authority to suppress a religious house when it is one that he has erected within his own diocese. But if the order to which the house belongs extends beyond the boundaries of his own diocese, he has no such authority, since he would be trespassing on the jurisdiction of other bishops. Only the Holy See can suppress a congregation that exists in more than one diocese. In fact, the Bishop of Fribourg erected Lefebvre's Fraternity in his own diocese at Lefebvre's request. The Fraternity is now a religious congregation, duly set up, existing in a number of countries. In Canon Law this makes it a persona moralis, that is to say, a legal person or corporation - similar in this respect to an Oxford or Cambridge College.

But although the Bishop had no authority himself to suppress the order, he was given Vatican permission to revoke the decrees by which the order had been established. Does this mean that the Vatican empowered the Bishop to use the full authority of the Holy See to suppress the Fraternity in toto - or only as it existed in his diocese? The words of the Vatican decree leave it ambiguous. Such (no doubt deliberate) ambiguity, and the fact that the Bishop was merely empowered and not instructed to carry out the act of suppression indicates that the Vatican does not wish to take responsibility for an act which it instigated. Furthermore, according to canon lawyers, ambiguity in such a case usually allows of a strict construction of the decree - i.e., that only the order within the diocese of Fribourg was allowed to be suppressed. Such shiftiness on the part of the Vatican is not attractive.

The point of investigating the legality of the purported suppression of Lefebvre's order is that it illuminates the whole course of subsequent events. What was the Archbishop to do faced with his suppression? Since the Roman Church does, in fact, possess legal procedures, the proper and normal course was for him to appeal against the decision to the Administrative Section of the Signatura Apostolica - the highest Papal court. This he duly did, after taking legal advice. Yet while his appeal was actually before the court, a letter arrived from the Secretariat of State which announced that the decision taken against Lefebvre was a Papal one, against which no appeal was possible. Hence every legal recourse by the Archbishop was blocked, and he had been denied any hearing. The Papal action was, of course, valid in law, given the ample authority of the Roman Pontiff; but it can be considered illicit in its violation of natural justice, which is, after all, supposed to be one of the foundations of Canon Law. Morally such an attempt to deny a man's rights and frustrate his life's work, while refusing him any legal recourse, is (to an Englishman at least) appalling.

But these legal questions raised in the treatment of Lefebvre are of secondary interest. What really matters is his refusal to accept the New Mass. Here again, the press have laid heavy stress upon his "defiance of the Pope", etc., and no doubt the average English Catholic, brought up on exaggerated notions of the deference due to all Papal acts, however foolish, assumes that that is the end of the matter. Indeed, Catholic newspapers have already resorted to the formula that Lefebvre has "placed himself outside the Church even without being formally excommunicated" - which neatly avoids the embarrassment of finding grounds on which he could properly be excommunicated. In fact the misrepresentation has been almost scandalous; and of course the strength of Lefebvre's case in Canon Law has gone entirely unnoticed.

It is remarkable that many Catholics are under the impression that the Second Vatican Council went some way towards abrogating the Latin Mass, merely tolerating it in certain circumstances. The words of Hans Küng are relevant here:

"It could and should be recognized that Mgr. Lefebvre is right in one aspect. There is no doubt that post-conciliar development in a number of cases has gone far beyond what was agreed at the Council, not only de facto but also de jure, with the agreement of the Church leaders. According to Vatican II, for example, Latin was to be retained in principle as the language of the Church of what is known as the Latin rite; the vernacular was permitted only exceptionally in individual parts of the Church. Today with Rome's consent the whole Catholic liturgy, even in Rome itself, is overwhelmingly in the vernacular."

The proponents of the new forms never tire of asserting - quite falsely - that this is somehow an outcome of the Council. This falsehood is encouraged by no less a body than the Sacred Congregation of Rites. This body - the supreme authority, under the Pope, in liturgical matters - has been issuing legislation enforcing the new rite, and regularly claiming that its decrees embody the "norms" of the Council. It has, for instance, authorized Bishops to prescribe a purely vernacular Mass on Sundays. This is completely opposed to the decision of the Council that the vernacular may be permitted in certain parts of the Mass, and that "in ritibus latinis usus linguae Latinae servetur". The claim of the Sacred Congregation of Rites to be carrying out decisions of the Council in thus allowing Bishops to force priests to say vernacular Masses is entirely spurious.

But the Catholic traditionalists can derive further support from Canon Law. It is almost universally assumed that the Tridentine Mass has been abolished and that Lefebvre and his are followers acting illegally in continuing to celebrate it. But is this so? Here again the legal position is extremely interesting and provides support for Lefebvre.

The Tridentine rite was not invented by Pius V. It is rather the freezing of the Roman rite at one particular stage of its development. This rite, which was the "local" rite of the whole Western Church (with some variants, like the Ambrosisan and Sarum rites) was in immemorial use in the Roman Church: what is called a consuetudo immemorabilis et particularis. This ancient consuetudo was given the force of law by Pius V after the Council of Trent; and he decreed that his law must never be abrogated. It is worth noting that Pius V's legislation was the first such interference in the Liturgy by a Pope in the whole history of the Church. Hitherto a rite was deemed to derive its legitimacy from its "immemorial" use as a particular tradition. Tradition, not legislation, was the claim to legitimacy - as it still is in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Now according to almost all canon lawyers, if a piece of Papal legislation enforcing an already existing rite (like Pius V’s enforcement of the Tridentine rite) is subsequently abrogated, then the rite itself reverts to its former status: it remains a valid and licit rite unless it is itself specifically abrogated. (An analogy would lie in the relation of Common Law to Statute Law.) And in fact the Pope did not abrogate the consuetudo immemorabilis of the Latin Church, but only Pius V's legislation. Therefore the Tridentine Mass remains entirely licit, and no Bishop, of Northampton or elsewhere, can properly dismiss a priest for saying it.

These are juridical arguments, and they help one to see that the Vatican has been behaving evasively and (one is tempted to say) dishonestly towards the traditionalists. They do not touch those features of the new rite that for many Catholics made their remaining in the Church merely a matter of grim loyalty. For them the loss of any numinous quality in favor of a superficial notion of "participation" has been most painful. Then there are the many absurdities of the new arrangements - the handshake which is supposed to be the equivalent of the Kiss of Peace, a liturgical form found previously only amongst the Mormons; the odd gesture of consecration made by priests "concelebrating" Mass - a son of Fascist salute at half-cock. These and other attempts to adapt the liturgy to a bourgeois imagination have wrought a serious impoverishment.

But of course the objections of the traditionalists are not fundamentally "aesthetic" (if that is the right word for their sense of such impoverishment). Lefebvre's final objection to the new rite is that its formulations are ambiguous, that it makes a heterodox interpretation of the doctrine possible. (An heretical interpretation of the Tridentine rite would require the ingenuity of the Newman of Tract XI). Contrary to popular impression, Lefebvre has never denied the validity of the new rite itself.

For the Archbishop and his followers, the changes in the Mass are central examples of what they see as stealthy attempts to alter doctrine. Indeed the offense which brought down the whole apparatus of Vatican censure upon Lefebvre was his famous Declaration that he and his seminarians were loyal to Rome, "but to the Rome of tradition, not the Rome of Modernists." It is asserted by Ecône seminarians that this Declaration was provoked by an address that one member of an Apostolic Visitation delivered to the Ecône students, in which he was understood to deny both the Virgin Birth and the immortality of the soul.

This Declaration led to Lefebvre's being interrogated by an ad hoc committee of three Cardinals (Garrone, Wright, and Tabera). Partial transcripts of these strange proceedings have been published, and make it clear what a travesty of any judicial proceeding it was. Garrone, who emerges as an unintelligent man lacking self-control, hectors and shouts down the Archbishop. At the same time it emerges that he is judge, prosecuting counsel, and tale-bearer to the Pope. During this interrogation Lefebvre asks that he be judged by the Holy Office, which is alone authorized to pronounce that his declaration was heretical. This request is, of course, refused, since no grounds could possibly be found for an adverse judgment. Once again an avenue of appeal is blocked; the Vatican is clearly determined that there shall be no legal process. All this is done in the name of the Pope, and through his authority.

29 June 1975 - The Ordinations at Ecône

The Feast of SS. Peter and Paul, 29 June 1975, was celebrated at Ecône with the ordination to the priesthood of three deacons. The necessary legal procedure for their incardination in the dioceses of bishops sympathetic to Archbishop Lefebvre had already been completed. Approximately a thousand of the faithful were present and hundreds were unable to find a place inside the chapel. Subject to the approval of the civil authorities, a new and much larger chapel will eventually be built at Ecône.

In July 1975, Mgr. Lefebvre's second appeal was rejected. Technically, as from July 1975, the Society of St. Pius X and its foundations no longer existed. In the language of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four, the Seminary at Ecône, the most flourishing and most orthodox seminary in the West, then became an unseminary. The most serious aspect of this situation was that some members of religious orders teaching at Ecône had to leave, as their superiors would not allow them to remain in an institution which had no legal existence.

About a dozen students did not return in September as a result of the changed situation. But given the enormous pressure brought to bear upon the students and their families, this is a significantly small proportion.

However, the number of young men seeking to enter Ecône was still so high that dozens had to be refused even after filling the vacancies caused by those who had left.

15 July 1975

On 15 July 1975, Mgr. Lefebvre wrote to thank Hamish Fraser for devoting an entire issue of Approaches to the campaign against Ecône. This letter is significant for its affirmation of the Archbishop's belief that Cardinal Villot was the moving spirit behind the campaign.



Dear Mr. Hamish Fraser,

I have read with much interest your brochure on the war against Ecône and I thank you for it with all my heart, for it indeed throws light on our problems and you do so dispassionately and with an exactitude that I like very much. It is my wish that this brochure may have a really wide distribution.

For the moment, I have been refused an audience with the Holy Father.

It is Cardinal Villot himself who intervened and it is he also who nullified the appeal to the Apostolic Signature. It is he, personally, who took things in hand and who seems determined to encompass our disappearance.

But we have such a volume of support from thousands and thousands of people that we have decided to continue despite everything, persuaded as we are that we are doing the work desired by the Church and by the Pope himself.

Thanking you again for your faithful friendship, I assure you of mine and of my prayers.

†Marcel Lefebvre



The Catholic Herald (London) of 25 July 1975 carried an N. C. Report stating that Mgr. Mamie had invited the students from Ecône to contact Mgr. Adam (Bishop of Sion) or himself in order that arrangements could be made for them to continue their studies for the priesthood at the University of Fribourg. Cardinal Marty, Archbishop of Paris, had associated himself with this invitation and the bishops promised that any student who wished could be incardinated into his original diocese or into a religious order.

The French daily, L'Aurore, reported on 21 July that Cardinal Garrone had offered to arrange for the French-speaking seminarians to enter the Pontifical French Seminary in Rome. The enemies of Ecône were clearly distressed that, notwithstanding their machinations, the Seminary still existed.



1. The Letter to Cardinal Staffa of 21 May 1975.

2. Non-observance of Natural and Canon Law which evidently annuls the preceding paragraph.

3. The article of 8 May 1975.

4. Hanu, pp. 222-223 (191).

5. Hanu, p. 223 (191).

6. Hanu p. 216, 223 (185, 191)

7. The Roman Congregations

Chapter 6

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