2, Chapter XIV
Lefebvre and the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
21 May 1975, Archbishop Lefebvre wrote a letter to Cardinal Staffa
claiming that the procedure by those who had condemned him and ordered
the suppression of his Society was uncanonical (Apologia,
Vol. I, pp. 73-74). In that letter he made the following demand:
“I demand to be judged by the only tribunal competent in these matters,
the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” He made
this demand because the Commission of Cardinals had condemned him
on a matter of faith, his Declaration of 21 November 1974 (Apologia,
Vol. I, pp. 38-40). Despite all the rumors of his impending excommunication
which were circulated in 1977, no such sanction was imposed. Instead,
the Archbishop was given what he had demanded, the opportunity to
have his case examined by the appropriate congregation according
to accepted canonical norms.
will be noted that during the course of the examination conducted
by the Sacred Congregation, the Archbishop was treated with great
courtesy, that all the criticisms made of him were expressed clearly
in writing, and that he was given the opportunity to answer them
fully in writing. The members of the Sacred Congregation are theologians
of the highest competence, and their examination of the Archbishop
is very searching and, in places, rather technical-as are some of
his replies. Readers who are not familiar with the controversy concerning
religious liberty might find the discussion on this point somewhat
hard to follow.
have added no comments to the original documents which are cited
here. References are made to the Archbishop's books from time to
time, but this is always to a French edition. Where an English text
is available I have added the relevant page numbers in square brackets.
Occasionally, this has not been possible. There have been two editions
of the book Un Evêque Parle, the second contains material
which is not included in A Bishop Speaks, the English edition.1
Yves Congar's book, La crise dans l'Eglise et Mgr. Lefebvre is
cited, I have replaced references to the French edition by references
to the English version, Challenge to the Church (London,
1977). All the abbreviations used can be found in the list on page
of Cardinal Seper to Mgr. Lefebvre
Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei
Piazza del S. Ulffizio, 11
Holiness Pope Paul VI has entrusted the Sacred Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith with the examination of your
situation in the Church in the light of the doctrinal positions
you have taken up in your statements and writings, and also
in your undertakings.
searching examination required by the Holy Father has been
conducted in conformity with the Ratio agendi of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (AAS, 63 1971,
234-236), and with a real concern for objectivity. Unfortunately
errors and dangerous opinions have been found in your spoken
and written declarations, and they show themselves also in
Ratio agendi of the Congregation prescribes: "13.
Propositions which have been made and have been judged erroneous
or dangerous are to be pointed out to their author, so that,
within the prescribed month, he may send in his written answer.
If there should be need also of discussion, the author will
be invited to meet men appointed by the Sacred Congregation
and to confer with them."
beg you, therefore, Excellency, to take cognizance of the
official notification which the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith sends you. You will find it, together with appropriate
explanations, in the enclosed Annex. It contains serious criticisms,
which are not, however, judgments without appeal. This Congregation
requires you, within the time stated by the Ratio agendi
in the article quoted above, to reply to those criticisms.
Your answer can take various forms -a justification, or the
clearing up of a misunderstanding, or a firm avowal of error
that you are ready to correct, or of a deviation from doctrine
that you are willing to put straight. Those answers will be
studied with benevolent interest; for the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith has an ardent desire that, with
God's help, you will be able to find the way to a true reconciliation
with the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.
Excellency, the assurance of my prayers and the expression
of my devotedness in Our Lord.
Annex, Monseigneur, will take up asserti0ns which are found in your
speeches and writings and which the Sacred Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith considers dangerous or erroneous. Certain
of them will be linked with your enterprises and your behavior,
where those seem to throw light on their bearing, The Annex is in
two parts, each with its subdivisions. The first part deals with
particular assertions on 1) religious liberty according to
Vatican II; 2) the Ordo Missae promulgated by Pope Paul VI;
3) the rite of Confirmation also promulgated by him; 4) the sacrament
of Penance. The object of the second part is more general assertions
1) on the authority of the Second Vatican Council; 2) on the
authority of Pope Paul VI.
– Particular Assertions
Religious liberty according to the Second Vatican Council
have expressed yourself many times, Monseigneur, on this subject
- for example in the following text: "That term (religious
liberty) has never been understood in the sense admitted by the
Council. All earlier documents of the Church which speak of religious
liberty are referring to the liberty of (true)religion, not to the
liberty of the religions. Always, when the Church has spoken of
that liberty, she has spoken of the liberty of the (true) religion
and of tolerance for other religions. We tolerate error. To give
it liberty is to give it a right - and it has no rights. Truth alone
has rights. To admit the liberty of religions is to give error the
same right as truth, which is impossible. The Church can never say
such a thing. In my opinion it is blasphemy to dare to say that...If
we have the faith we have no right to admit that: it is the error
in common law which was condemned by Pius IX and all the popes.”
(M. Lefebvre, Un évêque parle, Jarzé, 1976, pp. 135-136].)
declaration calls for the following remarks:
– The Declaration on Religious Liberty should be read in the
context of the other conciliar documents, in particular the dogmatic
Constitution Lumen Gentium. It says clearly that “the one
true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to
which the Lord Jesus entrusted the task of spreading it among all
men" (DH, 1).
– The Council in no way teaches the religious indifferentism
condemned by the popes. On the contrary it affirms that men have
the moral obligation of seeking the truth, of recognizing it and
of ordering their whole life according to its demands (DH, 2). It
recalls to the faithful the duty of the missionary apostolate and
that of forming the conscience by the “sacred and certain "
doctrine of the Catholic Church, "by the will of Christ, the
teacher of truth" (cf. DH, 14).
– The Council recognizes the human person's right to religious
liberty, that is, the right to be, with regard to all human power,
exempt from coercion (coercitio) in seeking, choosing, and
professing (even publicly) a religion (DH, 2). It bases that right
not on an alleged "right" which is equally of truth or
error, but on the transcendence of the person and of his ultimate
choices with regard to civil society, on man's innate manner of
tending to the truth and of recognizing it according to the judgment
of his conscience, and on the liberty of the act of faith (DH, 2,3,
– The affirmation of this right of religious liberty is in
line with earlier pontifical documents (cf. DH, 2 note 2) which,
in face of étatisme 2
and modem totalitarianisms,
affirmed the rights of the human person. In the conciliar Declaration
that 'point of doctrine is clearly part of the teaching of the Magisterium,
and, though it is not the object of a definition, it demands docility
and assent (cf. Const. Dogm. Lumen Gentium, 25).
Catholics are therefore not permitted to reject it as erroneous,
but must accept it in the exact sense and bearing given it by the
Council, keeping in mind "the traditional Catholic teaching
on the moral duty of individuals and societies towards the true
religion and the one Church of Christ" (cf. DH, 1).
The Ordo Missae promulgated by Pope Paul VI
criticism of the Ordo Missae promulgated by Paul VI goes
well beyond a liturgical preference: it has an essentially doctrinal
character. You say rightly that there are three essential realities
in the Sacrifice of the Mass: "The Priest... the real and substantial
presence of the Victim who is Christ ...the sacrificial oblation
realized by the priest in the Consecration" (Un évêque parle...p.
142 ). Unfortunately, you add that "the whole of the (liturgical)
reform directly or indirectly impairs these three Truths which are
essential for the Catholic faith," that "all that has
been prescribed is redolent of a new conception nearer to the Protestant
conception than to the Catholic conception" (loc. cit.). And
you declare: “There is nothing left in this new conception of the
Mass…That is why I do not see how one can make a seminary with this
new Mass" (op. cit. p. 163 ). You refrain, however, from
saying that the new Mass is heretical: "I will never say that,”
you assure us (op. cit. p. 228 ).
But, "the changes of the new rite" are calculated to make
"young priests lose the intention of doing what the Church
does and no longer say valid Masses" (op. cit. pp. 285-286
[200-201]); cf. p. 143, 199 [96, 137]). Unhappily you get to speaking
in a much less moderate way: "How can one hesitate," you
say, “between a Mass which is a true Sacrifice and a Mass which
is positively Protestant worship, a meal, a eucharist, a supper
as Luther already said?" (Speech: "Pour l'homme de L'Egglise,”
p. 20). In that last expression can be seen an excess of language
which is certainly to be condemned, but the rest is already sufficiently
Catholic, in fact, may not cast doubt on the conformity with the
doctrine of faith of a sacramental rite promulgated by the Supreme
Pastor, above all when the rite is that of the Mass which is at
the heart of the Church's life.
course, the link between the priest and the accomplishment of the
sacrifice of the Mass in the consecration (and transubstantiation)
must be preserved. But the Ordo Missae of Paul VI does that
by reserving to the priest alone the words of consecration and the
whole of the canon, entirely as in the old rite.
new eucharistic liturgy does not impair faith in the real and substantial
presence of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. The
number of genuflexions has been cut down, but they are kept as a
sign of adoration at the culminating points of the Mass: consecration
and communion. Traditional faith in the Real Presence is still perfectly
signified by the elevation and the final prayer of the canon; it
is emphasized in the distribution of communion, and clearly affirmed
in many prayers after communion.
the sacrificial and propitiatory character of the Mass, reaffirmed
absolutely in conformity with the Council of Trent in Proemium
no 2 of the lnstitutio generalis of the new
Roman Missal, is clearly and expressly signified not only in many
prayers after the offering of the oblata but also in the
you yourself admit the validity of the new Ordo Missae, and
doubt only the worth of the intention of many who use it. But your
declarations about it and your opposition to its use spread among
the faithful mistrust, confusion, and even rebellion.
have often tried to justify your opposition by the need of fighting
the abuses and disorders which in many countries accompany the adoption
of the liturgical reform. But it is not by throwing suspicion on
the orthodoxy of an Ordo Missae promulgated by the Supreme
Authority in the Church that you will obtain a positive result.
The Sacrament of Confirmation
have stated: "(The ministers of the sacrament of Confirmation)
should specify the particular grace of the sacrament by which the
Holy Spirit is given. If these words are not said: 'I confirm thee
in the name of the Father. ..' there is no sacrament" (Un
évêque parle, p. 287  ). And you added: "Now there
is a current formula, 'I sign thee with the Cross: receive the Holy
new Ordo Confirmationis promulgated by Paul VI prescribes
the following "form" of the sacrament: "Receive the
mark of the Gift of the Holy Spirit" (1971); and the French
Ritual published after this new Ordo translated it: "Receive
the mark of the Holy Spirit who is given to thee." That translation
connection with what you think, Monseigneur, about the "form"
of the sacrament of Confirmation, you have several times conferred
Confirmation illicitly, and even performed “reconfirmations.” But
are you aware that the "form" adopted by Paul VI is the
form of the Byzantine rite of confirmation long before the Eastern
Schism (it is known from as early as the fourth century)? And, inversely,
that the formula “...Confirmo te," absent for many centuries,
was taken up during the Middle Ages?
affirmation of yours, quoted above, is therefore unjustifiable,
and one could speak of an error objectively near to heresy. It amounts
to saying that for centuries the Church did not have valid confirmation,
and besides it disregards Catholic doctrine about the Church's power
over sacramental rites provide the "substance" of the
sacraments is safeguarded (cf. Conc. Trid. Sess. XXI, Doctrina de
communione sub utraque specie et parvulorum, OS 1728; Pius XII,
Const. Apost. Sacramentum Ordinis, 30.11.1947, OS 3857, 3858;
Paul VI, Const. Apost. Divinae Consortium Naturae, 15.8.
1971, AAS LX111 (1971), p. 657-664).
The Sacrament of Penance
stated, in an address on Good Friday, 1977: "General absolutions
can arouse contrition but they are not sacramental” (Un évêque
parle, p. 151 ). What you have in mind according to the
context, is the Ordo for the reconciliation of many penitents
with confession and general absolution. But for a long time the
common opinion of theologians has been that in case of necessity
a collective absolution without confession of all grave sins is
valid and licit. The obligation remains of submitting directly to
the power of the keys grave sins which could not be confessed. On
25 March 1944 the Sacred Penitentiary issued an Instruction declaring
in what special cases those absolutions are licit. On 16 June 1972
the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith promulgated
Pastoral norms for the giving of general absolution which
were then inserted into the Praenotanda of the new Ordo
paenitentiae (nn. 31-34). Those norms (which maintain the obligation
of completing the absolution given collectively with the confession
of grave sins) are entirely in line with the earlier Instruction.
The abuses which have been noted in the practice of general absolution
cannot justify your general assertion that those absolutions are
– More General Assertions
more or less general declarations which you have made, Monseigneur,
against the authority of the Second Vatican Council and against
that of Pope Paul VI often treat of both those points at one and
the same time. But we shall here deal first of all with your statements
which concern only the authority of the Council or are concerned
more directly with it, and then we shall deal with those concerning
only the authority of Paul VI or concerning it principally.
declarations are the more serious in that they are joined with a
praxis going in the same direction as they. Naturally the
question arises: are we faced with a schismatic movement? That question
must be examined objectively. We recall - for it can throw light
on the examination-the definition of schismaticus given in
Canon Law: "If (anyone) refuses to be subject to the Supreme
Pontiff or refuses to be in communion with the members of the Church
who are subject to him, he is a schismatic" (CIC, can. 1325,
para. 2). There are then, two refusals (closely bound together)
which make a Christian schismatic: the refusal (in practice) to
remain a subject of the Sovereign Pontiff, and the refusal of communion
with the members of the Church who remain subject to him.
The Authority of Vatican II
are not content, Monseigneur, with opposing, as contrary to Tradition,
the Declaration of Vatican II on religious liberty and certain isolated
conciliar affirmations, you also condemn, in the Council's teaching,
a spirit largely in opposition to the Christian message.
write, in fact, in your book J'accuse le Concile (1976),
p. 5 [vii], "Liberal and Modernist tendencies appeared (at
the Council) and had a preponderating influence, thanks to a veritable
conspiracy by the Cardinals from the banks of the Rhine supported,
unfortunately, by Paul VI." Then, on pages 7-9 [10-12] of the
same book: "We are justified in asserting…that the spirit which
dominated the Council and inspired so many ambiguous and equivocal
and even frankly erroneous texts was not the Holy Spirit but the
spirit of the modern world, a Liberal, Teilhardian and Modernist
spirit, opposed to the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ. All the official
reforms and orientations of Rome are demanded and imposed in the
name of the Council. But those reforms and orientations are frankly
Liberal and Protestant in tendency...The good texts have been used
to gain acceptance for texts which are equivocal and sown with mines
and pitfalls. We have only one solution: to abandon those dangerous
witnesses and to cling to firmly to Tradition, the official Magisterium
of the Church during
twenty centuries." Your Declaration of 21 November 1974 had
already sounded the same note (Un évêque parle, p. 270-272
kind of global condemnation of the Council (in spite of “good texts”)
because of "Liberal and Modernist tendencies” which had "a
preponderating influence" and which justify the statement that
"the spirit which dominated the Council was a Liberal, Teilhardian
and Modernist spirit opposed to the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ"
so that "the only solution is to abandon those dangerous witnesses
and cling firmly to Tradition"- we must say that that kind
of global condemnation is remarkably serious.
the voice of the Council was that of the whole episcopate in union
with its head, the Successor of Peter, and it is the whole Roman
episcopate subject to the Pope, with the faithful people, which
accepts the Council and the conciliar reforms. If your words are
taken in their full meaning, is there not justification for saying
that you refuse, or are ready to refuse, communion with the members
of the Church subject to the Pope?
praxis makes things no 'better. Indeed, you ordain priests
against the express will of the Pope and without the "dimissorial
letters" required by Canon Law; you send priests whom you have
ordained to priories where they exercise their ministry without
authorization from the Ordinary of the place; you deliver addresses
designed to spread your ideas in dioceses where the bishop has refused
his consent; with priests whom you have ordained, and who depend
on you alone, you are beginning, whether you like it or not, to
form an association ready to become a dissident ecclesial community.
this connection we must refer to the astonishing declaration you
made (Press Conference on 15 September 1976, in Itinéraires,
Dec. 1976,pp. 126-127) on the subject of the administration
of the Sacrament of Penance by the priests you ordained illicitly,
and who have no faculties for hearing confessions. You judged that
those priests possessed the jurisdiction provided by Canon Law in
case of necessity: You said: "I think we are in extraordinary
circumstances, not physical but moral, such that our young priests
have the right to use those extraordinary faculties." Is not
that to argue as though the legitimate hierarchy had ceased to exist
in the regions where those priests happened to be?
in your more or less general declarations against the Council and
the reforms demanded by it account must be taken of emotionalism,
or, as you put it, "a feeling of indignation, no doubt excessive"
(Un évêque parle, p. 292). It is also true that you have
several times declared you will not consecrate a bishop, and that
you have affirmed your conviction of "remaining faithful to
the Catholic and Roman Church and to all the successors of Peter"
(op. cit., p. 272). Yes. But is all that enough to rub out what
The Authority of Pope Paul VI
the subject of the authority of Pope Paul VI and, more precisely,
on that of the right attitude to take to his authority, you have
made statements that differ from one another.
comes to this, that you would seem, in texts taken in isolation,
to challenge that authority in a very general way. So, in the sentence
used as a motto for your book Un évêque parle...: "Satan's
master-stroke is to have managed to throw (the whole of the Church)
into disobedience to all tradition by obedience (to the Council
and to the conciliar reform prescribed by the Holy See)." Similarly
in this sentence from Fraternité sacerdotale S. Pie X,
Lettre aux amis et bienfaiteurs, n0 9 (October 1975):
"It is because we reckon that all our faith is endangered by
the post-conciliar reforms and tendencies that we have the duty
of 'disobeying' and of keeping the traditions. The greatest service
we can render the Catholic Church, the successor of Peter, the salvation
of souls and of our own soul, is to reject the reformed and Liberal
Church, for we believe in Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God
made man, who is neither Liberal nor reformable." (Note. That
text is reproduced in Un évêque parle, p. 323 , but
in the first sentence the word "all" is omitted.)
the other hand, you have texts which forcibly affirm your submission
to the present successor of Peter, Pope Paul VI. You write: "Your
Holiness knows perfectly what is the faith that I profess; it is
that of your 'Credo'. You know also my profound submission to the
Successor of Peter, which I renew into the keeping of Your Holiness"
(Letter of 22 June 1976 [Apologia, pp. 196-7]). Also, you
reply to the Abbé de Nantes who had suggested that the break "of
a bishop with Rome” was "desirable": "Know that if
a bishop breaks with Rome it will not be me" (Un eveque
parle, p. 273. [Apologia, Vol. I, pp. 49-51)].
are these different texts to be reconciled? You have often explained.
You say, for example: "We are the most zealous defenders of
his authority (that of the present Pope) as successor of Peter...We
applaud the Pope when he echoes Tradition and is faithful to the
transmission of the Deposit of Faith. We accept the novelties which
conform intimately with Tradition and Faith. But we do not feel
ourselves bound by obedience to novelties which run counter to Tradition
and threaten our Faith” (Lettre aux amis bienfaiteurs, no
9, Oct. 1975; cf. Un évêque parle, p. 323 [Apologia,
p. 152]). In short, you agree to obey the Pope insofar as he acts
as the true successor of Peter, and you refuse to obey the Pope
insofar as he acts in the opposite way. That applies (according
to the texts quoted in this and in the preceding paragraph) to the
whole of the post-conciliar reform of Paul VI.
distinction is not an objective justification of your attitude.
We have already said why your major objections to the Pope’s decisions
in liturgical matters are not acceptable. It is appropriate here
to recall, besides, that the Pope has “supreme power of jurisdiction”
“not only in what concerns faith and morals but also in what belongs
to the discipline and government of the Church throughout
the world” (Conc. Vat. I, Const. Pastor Aeternus, DS 3064).
The obedience due to him (ibid. DS 3064) is expressed notably
in our time by the adhesion of all the bishops with the great majority
of which Pope Paul Vi has put its provisions into effect. Should
not that be enough to make you add a serious factor of doubt to
what you and your friends proclaim so calmly, and to lead you finally
to a liberating submission?
Conclusion of this Second Part
remain ready to listen to your reply, but the Sacred Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith considers that, by your declarations
about submission to the Council and to the post-conciliar reforms
of Paul VI – declarations with which your whole behaviour and especially
you illicit ordinations of priests are in accord – you have fallen
into grave disobedience, and that all these declarations and acts,
by their own logic, lead to schism. The Congregations knows the
good intentions you manifest, but thinks they do not justify your
– Final Remarks
Annex, Monseigneur, is a “disputation”; its object, therefore, is
limited. It says nothing of the merits you have accumulated in the
course of a long missionary and episcopal career, and it does no
more than allude to various kinds of attenuating circumstances as
they affect your present situation. But the Congregation which is
writing to you knows those things.
ardently desires your full reconciliation with the Pope and with
the Church. It thinks reconciliation possible, with a great grace
of light which it begs God to grant you. It is sure that the Vicar
of Christ wants only a genuine manifestation of submission on your
part to welcome you as a father, and that he would desire everything
of value in your work to be saved.
believe that in choosing the way of submission you will bring a
great benefit to the Church, you will grow in public esteem, and,
what is supremely important, you will act as a true disciple of
Christ who saved us with His humble obedience (Ph. 2:8).
Jérôme Hamer, O.P.
A Bishop Speaks. Writings and Addresses of Mgr. Marcel Lefebvre
(Edinburgh, 1976),230 pages. Available from The Angelus Press,
Box 1387, Dickinson, Texas 77539.
Totalitarian concepts in which the rights of the individual and
the Church are totally subservient to the State.
Apologia, Vol. I, pp. 38-40.
Courtesy of the Angelus
Press, Regina Coeli House
2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109