Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 3, Chapter XLVIII

Letter of Cardinal Seper to Mgr. Lefebvre

19 February 1981

Your Excellency,

I duly received your letter dated 15 December 1980 on 27 December 1980. I did not fail to study its contents with interest. As was my duty, I immediately drew it to the attention of the Holy Father, who in any case was aware from the letter that you addressed to him directly on 16 October 1980 what your position was as to a solution. It is with his full agreement that I am replying.

I was delighted to note your expression of hope for a normalization of relations in the near future, and I thank you for the new explanatory details that you have given me in your letter.

However, I must take note also of the the fact that you do not reply to two particular points of my letter of 20 October 1980, that is, to my request for "a clear expression of regret” and my demand that you accept Canon Law in all that concerns your pastoral ministry and your work.

I would like to add another comment which seems important to me. Even if, as you say, interpreting the Second Vatican Council according to the criteria of Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church causes you to have serious reservations about certain of its documents, this cannot constitute grounds for you to attack and discredit this Council, whether orally or in writing; rather it should cause you to seek to understand and integrate the teachings of these documents into the age-old Tradition of the Church.

Finally, I must tell you that the proposed “Declaration” that you say you are ready to sign is not precise enough with regard to the situation which has arisen; it falls too far short of what the Holy Father asks of you, and of what I asked of you in my letter of 20 October 1980. Furthermore, the terms for the " Agreement Proposed by Cardinals and Experts" linked to the Declaration cannot be accepted as they stand. Most of these terms give rise to serious difficulties in their present form; thus, the right to use only the liturgical books published by Pope John XXIII is tantamount to a rejection of the whole of the liturgical reform, which was, however, decided by a legitimate ecumenical Council. The establishment of separate parishes for those who use these books would be something without precedent in ecclesiastical and canonical terms; to declare invalid the "suspensio a divinis" imposed upon you would be equivalent to saying that the objective reasons at the root of this measure were not of importance; finally, the immediate recognition of pontifical right for the Society of St. Pius X would constitute a favor not usually granted to a pia unio before it has passed through the stage of becoming of religious institute by diocesan right. In a more general sense, such a plan for agreement obviously anticipates too much of what would be the very object of a pontifical delegate's mission (as I shall show later) and the result of his discussions with you.

To clarify the situation, let me explain to you here in detail the points that the Holy Father thinks it indispensable that you should declare; for most of them I can do no more than sum up the essential points of my previous letter:

  1. A clear expression of regret for the part that you played in creating a division (notably through the ordinations) and for your attacks, intemperate in content and terminology, against the Council, numerous bishops and the Apostolic See.
  2. Adherence to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council "understood in the light of the whole of holy Tradition, and on the basis of the unvarying Magisterium of Holy Mother Church” (cf. the Allocution of His Holiness Pope John Paul II, 5 November 1979, A.A.S. LXXI [1979-II], p. 1452), and bearing in mind the theological qualification that this Council wished to give to its teaching (cf. Notice given during the course of the 123rd General Congregation, 16 November 1964, Acta Synodalia S. Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II, vol III, para. VIII, p. 10); recognition of the religiosum voluntatis et intellectus obsequium owed to the Roman Pontiff even when he is not speaking ex cathedra, and the teaching on Faith and Morals given in Christ's name by the bishops in communion with the Roman Pontiff (cf. Lumen Gentium No.25); a halt to all polemics tending to discredit certain of the teachings of Vatican II.
  3. Acceptance without restrictions not only of the validity of the Novus Ordo Mass in its original Latin edition, but also of the legitimacy of the liturgical reform demanded by Vatican II – both in principle and when applied in conformity with the Missal and the other liturgical books promulgated by the Apostolic See – and renunciation of all polemics tending to cast suspicion upon the orthodoxy of the Ordo Missæ promulgated by Pope Paul VI.
  4. Acceptance of the norms of Canon Law for all that concerns your pastoral ministry and activities, as well as for the Society of St. Pius X.

The pontifical delegate, appointed in accordance with your wishes for a limited period and with a precisely determined task, will have as his mission to discuss with you all specific problems arising from a normalization of relations between you and the Society of St. Pius X on the one hand and the Apostolic See on the other. In particular, he will have to settle with you all questions as to the official removal of censures, the liturgical rites of the Society, and the future position of your Society under Canon Law. The Holy Father intends to designate as his delegate a member of the Sacred College whom you know, and whose good intentions towards you are beyond doubt. Such a designation will be possible as soon as you reply to this letter in a positive way.

While awaiting such a reply, and in the hope that it will open the road to a definitive solution, I assure you of my fraternal prayers, and ask you, Your Excellency, to permit me to express my feelings of respect and devotion in Our Lord.

Franc. Card. Seper

Chapter 47

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