Volume 3, Chapter
7 April 1980
On the evening
of Easter Monday, 1980, I had a discussion lasting over two hours
with Cardinal Seper in his private apartment in Rome. He had expressed
a wish to meet me after reading some of my books given to him by
Archbishop Lefebvre. I was accompanied by my wife who, like the
Cardinal, is Croatian, and was, where necessary, able to translate
for us. One of my sons was also present.
of Cardinal Seper derived from the manner in which he conducted
the discussions with Mgr. Lefebvre is not a very sympathetic one.
This is because he is seen only in his role as Prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, acting in his official capacity.
In private, he was relaxed and good humored. During our discussion,
the Croatian nun who takes care of him, brought us coffee and cake
from time to time. On each occasion my wife launched into a protracted
discussion with her concerning the recipes, and wrote a number of
them down. The Cardinal found this very amusing and asked my son
whether he thought his mother would actually use any of the recipes.
“No,” he replied. The Cardinal roared with laughter
and said that this was precisely what he had suspected. He was,
of course, totally correct and the recipes have still not been tried.
a number of topics as well as the case of Archbishop Lefebvre. The
Cardinal's Congregation was assessing the Agreed Statements of the
Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), which
covered such topics as the Eucharist and the Ministry. By using
ambiguous terminology, formulated with the greatest care by theologians
from both sides, agreements were produced purporting to prove that
Catholics and Anglicans hold precisely the same beliefs on doctrines
where the teaching of the two communions is radically incompatible.
Thus, the Agreement on the Ministry nowhere states that only an
ordained priest can celebrate a valid Eucharist. The Catholic side
claims that as the document does not deny this fundamental teaching
it must be considered to affirm it. The Anglican side claims that
as it does not affirm the doctrine it must be considered to deny
it. The principal Anglican theologian on the Commission, Dr. Julian
Charley, stated specifically that the agreement accepts that a layman
can celebrate the Eucharist in the absence of an ordained minister.
I was able to give the Cardinal a number of commentaries on the
Agreed Statements written by Dr. Charley showing the extent to which
they can be interpreted in a manner that is incompatible with Catholic
teaching. Cardinal Seper assured me that the ARCIC documents would
never be approved by his Congregation. This gave me great satisfaction
as when I had pointed out the deficiencies of these documents to
Cardinal Hume, he had expressed the opinion that one day they would
become the official teaching of the Church.
for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Cardinal Ratzinger, Cardinal
Seper's successor, eventually published a devastating critique of
the ARCIC documents, showing clearly that they are totally unacceptable
as the basis for a doctrinal agreement between Catholics and Anglicans.
I was pleased to see that all the points I had put to Cardinal Seper
were included in the Congregation’s critique.
was very amused when I informed him that The Tablet had
demanded the suppression of his Congregation following the action
it had taken against Hans Küng. “Isn’t that the
paper that used to be Catholic?” he asked. (The Tablet
had, at one time, been the outstanding Catholic journal in Great
Britain. It now does little more than purvey fashionable progressive
asked for my opinion as to the worst Modernists among the English
bishops, and I raised the questions as to why the Vatican did not
take action against American bishops who were defying the Holy See
on such important questions as valid Eucharistic matter. He admitted
quite openly that the Vatican no longer exercises effective control
over the American bishops. He asked whether I thought it feasible
for the Holy See to suspend the entire hierarchy of the United States.
I agreed that this was hardly a practical proposition but when I
recounted the conversation to an American priest1
a few days later, he remarked that it would not be necessary
to suspend the entire hierarchy to bring the American bishops into
line, simply half a dozen of the more blatant Modernists.
was concerned, it was evident that not only was the Cardinal totally
orthodox and traditional, but that he was an outstanding theologian.
However, when we came to discuss the liturgy in the context of the
case of Archbishop Lefebvre, I found that he was unable to understand
the issues that were troubling traditional Catholics. He saw the
imposition of the New Mass simply as a disciplinary matter. It had
been promulgated validly in accordance with Canon Law, and it was
therefore the duty of every Catholic to accept it without question
and not to deviate from the rubrics. He recognized that there was
a liturgical problem, but believed that it could be solved simply
by faithful adherence to the missal of Pope Paul VI. This was the
Mass he used. He was totally orthodox, and as it did not trouble
him, he could not see any reason why it should trouble anyone, providing
that it was celebrated reverently and without abuses. He told me
with great satisfaction how a group of German tourists had attempted
to receive Communion in the hand when assisting at his Mass in St.
Peter's Basilica a few days before. He had made them all kneel down
and receive Communion on the tongue.
remarked that Mgr. Lefebvre made too much fuss about unimportant
issues. Why object to Mass facing the people when this was the practice
of the early Church? As the celebration of Mass facing the people
had never been the practice of the Church in East or West at any
time in her history prior to Vatican II this was not the best example
the Cardinal could have chosen.2
His lack of concern where the New Mass is concerned is probably
the result of being brought up in a country where there was no large
Protestant minority. The same may be true of Pope John Paul II.
Slavonic Catholics come into contact with members of the Orthodox
Church far more frequently than they do with Protestants. The Eucharistic
teaching of the Orthodox Church is very close to that of the Catholic
Church. There has never been the saying: “It is the Mass that
matters," among Slavonic Catholics. Thus, the changes made
in the Mass following the Second Vatican Council do not have the
same significance for them as they do in some countries such as
England where similar changes were made by the Protestant Reformers.
In Slavonic countries Marian rather than Eucharistic devotions tend
to form the focus of Catholic piety. It is also true of both Cardinal
Seper and Pope John Paul II that their people live under Communist
governments, and maintaining the unity of the Catholic people is
their greatest priority. Cardinal Seper was, therefore, far more
disturbed by reluctance in accepting without question a disciplinary
change imposed by the Pope than by the fact that the liturgical
expression of Catholic Eucharistic teaching had been considerably
weakened in the Novus Ordo Missæ.
There is not
the least doubt that Cardinal Seper was a devout and totally orthodox
Catholic. He was a dedicated servant of the Church and did his duty
courageously and dispassionately, condemning error whenever he saw
it and witnessing to the Truth. It is unfortunate that he was unable
to appreciate the fact that the stand taken by Mgr. Lefebvre had
the object of upholding Tradition, and could not be compared to
the rebellion of such priests as Hans Küng or Charles Curran
whose teaching served to undermine orthodoxy.
When the history
of the post-conciliar debacle comes to be written, Cardinal Seper
will be one of the few prelates to emerge with credit. His Congregation
issued a series of totally orthodox documents upholding the traditional
teaching on faith and morals. These documents have been largely
ignored by the bishops, and appear to be unknown to most traditional
Catholics. Those who believe that authentic Catholic teaching no
longer comes to us from Rome should study some of the documents
issued by this Congregation – such as The Declaration
on Euthanasia, Instruction on Infant Baptism, Sexual Ethics, Mysterium
Ecclesiæ Women in the Priesthood, or the Declaration on Professor
had complained to Father Milan Mikulich, a Croatian priest in Portland,
Oregon, that diocesan bishops failed to implement the instructions
emanating from Rome. This was perfectly true, but in reality, the
Cardinal’s greatest problem was not the bishops, but Pope
Paul VI. Pope Paul invariably ratified the documents issued by the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then allowed them
to be ignored with impunity. Weakness at the top permeates through
any organization, the Church included.
was to die on 29 December 1981, at the age of seventy-six. He remained
Prefect of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith until he retired, the
month before he died. May he rest in peace.
Father Carl Pulvermacher, O.F.M.
See Pope Paul’s New Mass, Chapter XIX.
Courtesy of the Angelus
Press, Regina Coeli House
2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109