Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 3, Chapter LXIV


7 April 1982

Your Excellency,

I would like to inform you without delay that I have been able to give a preliminary account of our discussion of 27 March last to the Holy Father. He was kind enough to express his satisfaction with it, and decided that the results obtained on the occasion of this meeting should be examined jointly by a small group of Cardinals of my choice gathered around me. When I have obtained their opinions, I shall be in a position to inform the Sovereign Pontiff in more detail. He will then give instructions as to what is to follow.

So as to have a secure base from which to work, it seems to be to be necessary to set down in writing points taken from the letter of the late Cardinal Seper dated 20 October 1980, which could serve towards a declaration.

  1. Mgr. Lefebvre declares his support for 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 the Church" (cf. John Paul II, Allocution to the Sacred College, 5 November 1979. A.A.S. LXXI (1979/II) p. 1452). This adherence takes into account the theological qualification given by the Council itself (Note made during the 125th General Congregation, 16 November 1964).
  2. Mgr. Lefebvre accepts the legitimacy of the liturgical reforms requested by the Second Vatican Council. He recognizes that, when applied in conformity to the Missal and other liturgical books promulgated by the Holy See that they are neither heretical nor invalid, for all that he has considerable reservations about the way in which the reforms have actually been put into practice.
  3. ) In so far as pastoral ministry and works are concerned, Mgr. Lefebvre agrees to conform to the norms of Canon Law, especially in so far as ordinations, confirmations, pontifical ceremonies, the establishment of Religious Institutions, the training of clergy and apostolic activity in the dioceses are concerned. He will eventually accept the appointment of a Pontifical Delegate charged with studying with him the means of regularizing his own position as well as that of the members of the Society of St. Pius X.
  4. Finally, Mgr. Lefebvre regrets those of his words and deeds which have displeased the Holy See.

I would be grateful if you could let me have your comments as soon as possible, should you be of the opinion that the above four points do not render the content of our recent conversation exactly.

Meanwhile, Your Excellency, I ask you to accept, with the assurance of my prayers, my brotherly and devoted best wishes.

Joseph Card. Ratzinger



Mgr. Lefebvre's Reply to Cardinal Ratzinger

21 April 1982

Your Eminence,

I have received your letter of 7 April. I have studied it with great interest, and willingly recognize that the declaration which you put forward is very close to that which I believe it would be possible to sign.

The first point in particular presents no more problems as soon as "tradition" and the "rule of theological interpretation" become the norms that enlighten our judgment of the conciliar texts.

The second point would be more appropriately expressed as follows:

"Mgr. Lefebvre signed the conciliar Decree on the Liturgy, so accepting the possibility of reform. He has never affirmed that the texts of the new liturgical books in their original Latin versions were heretical or invalid in themselves, but he believes that the reform of the Liturgy as implemented necessitates grave reservations, as Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci rightly stated."

The third point, which aims to place the Society and my work in a regular position with regard to Canon Law, is subject to acceptance by the Holy See of the requests put forward in my letters to the Holy Father and to Cardinal Seper in the course of the past two years. Might it not be put in the following way:

"Mgr. Lefebvre wishes that an Apostolic Delegate should be appointed, and should make a Visitation; when the Delegate has seen the work of the Society and its associated bodies, he could, in agreement with the Society, propose a project for the regularization of the Society and of its activities."

The fourth point really could be expressed in slightly modified terms:

"Mgr. Lefebvre regrets those of his words and deeds which may have displeased the Holy See."

I consider it indispensable that subjoined to the declaration or in some other document there should be indicated the intentions of the Holy See concerning what would be granted in respect of the Liturgy and of recognition of the Society.

In the hope that these explanatory details will enable Your Eminence to propose a definitive text, I ask you to take note of my feelings of respect and heartfelt devotion in Christo et Maria.

+ Marvel Lefebvre


27 May 1982

Letter of Mgr. Lefebvre to Cardinal Ratzinger

Your Eminence,

Upon my return from a journey to the U.S.A. and Canada, I am anxious to inform you that on learning at Winnipeg in Canada of the deplorable affair of Father Fernandez-Krohn1 at Fatima, I immediately made a public declaration on Canadian national television, deploring this act of madness committed by a priest whom I had ordained.

I accompanied this statement with some information about this violent tempered priest, who, alas! has caused us many problems. He left us a year after his ordination, opposing the Society's loyalty to the Pope. He repented, and we took him back out of pity, with the intention of making him more tractable to reason, but he refused to take up his responsibilities vis-a-vis the Society and began once more to behave in a violent fashion towards myself and my brethren.

We had resolved to distance ourselves from him for good when he perpetrated this demented act which is truly a source of grief to all the members of the Society.

To the best of my knowledge, this information has not yet crossed the Atlantic. I hope, however, that the Apostolic Delegate to Canada will have passed it to Rome.

Your Eminence, please tell the Holy Father once again of our filial respect, and accept my expressions of respect and devotion in Jesus and Mary.

+ Marvel Lefebvre


Reply of Cardinal Ratzinger

23 June 1982

Your Excellency,

I thank you for your letter of 27 May last, and am anxious to inform you that I have not failed to pass it on to the Holy Father. Besides, the position that you took in Canada was already known in Rome.

I am grateful to you for the sentiments which you expressed on the occasion of the unfortunate events at Fatima. Do permit me, this notwithstanding, a personal afterthought. It is quite clear that you are in no way personally responsible for the sacrilegious attempt upon the Holy Father's life perpetrated by Father Fernandez‑Krohn. However, the fact that you agreed to ordain him priest gives rise to questions about the rigorousness of the criteria as to worthiness applied in his case. In a more general sense, are you sufficiently concerned to restrain and combat what must be called the fanaticism of certain members of the Society of St. Pius X? Reports recently reached me of a sad example of this, a sermon preached by one of them at Wurzburg on the occasion of his first Mass; this showed feelings falling little short of hatred for the legitimate Pastor of the diocese.

Please accept, Your Excellency, my feelings of fraternal respect and devotion in Our Lord.

Joseph Card. Ratzinger


Letter of Cardinal Ratzinger to Mgr. Lefebvre

23 June 1982

Your Excellency,

I have received your letter of 21 April last, and I thank you for it. Please excuse my delay in replying: as I said earlier, I was first obliged to consult a group of Cardinals of my choice, then to consult the Holy Father frequently. You know how busy he has been for the last few weeks.

Following these discussions, I am now informing you of our conclusions, and the thoughts which I have had about our meeting in March and our subsequent correspondence,

according to the four points foreseen for some future declaration, as put forward in your letter.

1. The first point‑concerning adhesion to the teachings of Vatican II‑ no longer seems to present any difficulties on either side. Naturally, this implies that the Council, understood in this way, will no longer be the object of polemical attacks by yourself, as Cardinal Seper asked of you in his letter of 26 October 1981.

2. In the matter of the second point, first of all it is too restrictive to mention acceptance of the possibility of a reform. The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium decided upon a reform of the liturgy and set out the general and particular norms, often in a highly detailed way.

Secondly, we do not think it possible to accept the way in which you limit your acceptance to the Latin text only. Indeed, the Apostolic See cannot accept the suspicion that most Masses and Sacraments legitimately celebrated in the Church in the vernacular and according to approved translations, could be invalid. Accordingly we think it necessary to return to the formula as before: "applied in conformity to the Missal and other liturgical books promulgated by the Holy See."

Besides, given that you are said to be the author of a text according to which: "the new Masses are not only incapable of fulfilling our Sunday obligation, but are such that we must apply to them the canonical rules which the Church customarily applies to communicatio in sacris with Orthodox Churches and Protestant sects." (in Cor Unum - internal liaisory Bulletin for members of the Society of St. Pius X, November 1979), we consider that the projected declaration should contain a formula which distances itself clearly from such a statement.

As to an expression of your reservations concerning the concrete realization of the liturgical reforms, we think it preferable that this should not figure in an official declaration. You could add it as a footnote, on your own responsibility, and, of course, in a moderate form, previously approved by the Holy See.

3. The opening part of the third point, left out of the latest draft proposed by yourself, is absolutely indispensable. On this issue, allow me to express my astonishment, my sorrow even, at the way in which you pursue your visits and activities in various countries and dioceses, as was recently the case in Canada and will be soon in Venice‑not to forget the grave and ever present question of ordinations to the priesthood. All this can but render more arduous the path to reconciliation.

The second part, retained by yourself, which concerns the Pontifical Delegate, presents no special difficulty. It will, however, be necessary to examine and to elaborate the details of this mission, notably with regard to the members of the Society of St. Pius X, whose willingness to commit themselves to an undertaking such as yours will have to be proved.

4. The formula which you retain for the fourth point involves a considerable softening of it, which could nevertheless be accepted in a spirit of magnanimity. However, many bishops have been severely hurt by your actions in their dioceses; I could give many important instances. It is accordingly necessary that this last point should include them in some way in the expression of regrets, at the very least in a general manner, as follows, for example: "words and deeds which may have displeased the Holy See and troubled common order in the Church as established by Canon Law."

You ask, furthermore, that as an addendum to the Declaration, or in another document, there should be indicated the intentions of the Holy See concerning the Liturgy and the Society of St. Pius X. That is a question of which careful note has been taken. In the present state of affairs, I can make you no detailed promises; but I am anxious to assure you that, on this subject, I am in continual contact with the Holy Father.

In closing, I thank you in advance for the attention that you will doubtless give the contents of this letter, and the reflection which you will devote to it in the presence of Our Lord and of the Virgin Mary. Equally, I assure you of my complete preparedness to meet you again at a date that you suggest, bearing in mind that I shall be absent from Rome from 3 July to 6 September next.

Please allow me to express, together with the assurance of my prayers, Your Excellency, my feelings of fraternal respect and devotion.

Joseph Card. Ratzinger

1. A priest of the Society ordained by Mgr. Lefebvre who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul 11 at Fatima.

Chapter 63

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