Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 3, Chapter LVII

Letter of Cardinal Seper to Mgr. Lefebvre

26 October 1981

Your Excellency,

I duly received your letter of 4 April 1981 on 9 April 1981. I thank you for it and ask you to excuse my lateness in replying. After the feasts of Eastertide were over, and having reflected for some time, I was preparing to do so and was due to submit a plan to the Holy Father two days after the sacrilegious attempt on his life on the evening of 13 May. You will accordingly understand why the present letter reaches you after so long a delay. I had to wait for the Holy Father to recover and for the regular audiences that he grants me to begin again before I could present him with a text and ask for his approval, since as you know, our correspondence only occurs with his approval and is ever the object of his attention.

It would seem to me that you will not be completely surprised if I tell you that your reply of 4 April 1981 cannot unfortunately be considered satisfactory and does not allow the rapid appointment of a pontifical delegate. I think it essential to point out to you the reasons for this assessment, following the four points mentioned:

1. In the first place there was asked of you "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" (cf. my letter of 19 February 1981). All that you reply is: "If certain of my words or deeds have displeased the Holy Father, I bitterly regret this." In fact, there is no explicit recognition of a situation of division created by your actions, but only a conditional statement of extreme brevity. This cannot, then, be considered as "a clear expression of regret" which we wish of you for reasons explained in my previous letters.

2. As far as Vatican II is concerned, your reply does not correspond to the sense of what I asked of you: if you subscribe to a statement of the Holy Father, explaining how the Council should be received, nevertheless for all that you do not declare that you yourself abide by the teachings of the Council itself; furthermore, you still remain silent as to the second part of what I asked, "bearing in mind the theological qualification, etc..." as also to the other aspects concerning "recognition of the religiosum voluntatis et intellectus obsequium" and a halt to all further polemics.

On this last point I cannot but note with sadness that in many of the statements made during your travels last summer, notably in Argentina from 11 to 18 August, according to all the press reports you once more attacked the teachings of Vatican II, and named and took to task unjustly cardinals who, in the Roman Curia or elsewhere, discharge duties that they owe to the Sovereign Pontiff's confidence.

3. As regards the Liturgy, it is true that you signed the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, and I take note of your declaration to the effect that its applications are not invalid or heretical in themselves. But it would seem that you must go further, that you must recognize the legitimacy of the liturgical reform as applied, which includes positive acceptance of the use of the new Ordo Missae.

Besides, do you not think that your answer could cause problems when it is known from other sources what you had the Secretary General of the Society of St. Pius X write recently to a parish priest? This priest had expressed his astonishment at the advice that you give to your seminarians that they should miss Mass rather than attend a Mass celebrated according to the Novus Ordo. Your Secretary General's reply was that such a piece of advice was justified by the fact that the Novus Ordo Mass, because of its alterations, its omissions, and its goal, is bad.1

Yet more recent information, which I hope is inaccurate, leads us to believe that you have even instructed the members of the Society of St. Pius X, as a condition of membership, never to assist at a Mass celebrated according to the Novus Ordo for this does not satisfy Sunday and holy day obligation)2 and to convince the faithful that it would be better only to assist a few times a year at a "traditional Mass" rather than to satisfy the obligation by attending a "new Mass." How, then, can there be any doubt about what you really think on this point that is so important for a reconciliation?

4. Finally, you have not dealt with the specific demand that you accept the norms of Canon Law for all that concerns your pastoral ministry and activities, as well as for the Society of St. Pius X. However, you were shown clearly that this principle is part of the conditions which will make it possible to designate a pontifical delegate.

For all these reasons, Your Excellency, I ask you most urgently to re read all the points formulated in my two preceding letters, of 20 October 1980 and 19 February 1981, and not to equivocate about making them the basis of the obligations that you will accept. In return, I can guarantee you the Holy Father's sympathy and good will. He has not hesitated to confide to me the place that you occupy in his daily prayer.

Let me add that I assure you of mine, and let me express my respectful devotion in Our Lord.

Franc. Card. Seper


1. It is an overstatement to claim that the Novas Ordo Missae is intrinsically bad when celebrated strictly according to the Missal of Pope Paul VI. It is hard to see how such a claim can be reconciled with the doctrine of the indefectibility of the Church. See Appendix I to Apologia IV.

2. The Archbishop has not stated that celebrations of the Novas Ordo Missae cannot fulfill the Sunday obligation. In his statement of 8 November 1979, he had stated that many celebrations of the New Mass, due to certain practices which he lists, must be deemed sacrilegious and hence are not only incapable of fulfilling the Sunday obligation but must have the same rules applied to them that the Church applies to assistance at the worship of the Orthodox Churches and Protestant sects (see Apologia 11, pp. 369 370). He agreed, however, in a discussion with me (and confirmed in writing) that those who feel obliged in conscience to assist at a New Mass on Sunday fulfill their Sunday obligation, presuming, of course, that the celebration does not involve irreverence (see Apologia 11, p. 367

Chapter 56

Courtesy of the Angelus Press, Regina Coeli House
2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109