Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 2, Chapter XXXII

Archbishop Lefebvre before the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith


11 January 1979


Introduction to the Conference

This Introduction was read on 11 January at 10 o’clock, at the inauguration of the conference which was to run on into 12 January. At the interview those present were His Erninence Cardinal Seper, His Excellency Mgr. Harner, Secretary for the S.C. for the Doctrine of the Faith, R. Fr. Duroux, two other experts and a secretary.


Introduction by His Eminence the Cardinal Prefect

I thank Your Excellency for being willing to come to this meeting, the object and spirit of which I must now specify.

Our talks result from the mission entrusted to our Congregation by Pope Paul VI on 19 October 1976, which was confirmed by his two successors, Pope John Paul I and His Holiness John Paul II, that is to say, the examination of your case, not only under its doctrinal aspect but also under such disciplinary and pastoral aspects as it may have.

We have fulfi1led this task according to the prescriptions of our Agendi ratio in doctrinarum examine of 15 January 1971. It is within that framework that I sent you, on 26 January and 22 March 1978, two letters of "contestation" to which you gave written replies on 28 February and 13 April of the same year. It is within that framework that this conference is taking place.

Our business is, in fact, the conference provided for in articles 13-15 of that Ratio agendi. It will help if I read the articles now.


(The three articles were then read.)
These articles lead, for our reunion, to these consequences:

1. We are acting at the level of the external forum, without entering that of your subjective intentions and your conscience.

2. We are not here to proceed to a judgment, nor even to make decisions, but to provide full information for those who have to judge and decide, that is to say, the Cardinals who are members of this Congregation and, in the last resort, the Sovereign Pontiff.

3. Our questions will be therefore limited, taking account of the two written answers you have already given; they are formulated for the purpose of clarification and are not intended to be controversial.

4. Your answers to these different questions will be written down, and the completed version will be submitted to you for approval and for any requests for rectification. When signed by yourself and by me they will constitute the only document receivable as evidence of this interview. It will be submitted to examination by the Cardinals of this Congregation and will be passed on to the Holy Father.

Let me add that silence and total discretion will surround all that happens in this reunion. All those participating in the name of the Congregation are, besides, bound to rigorous observance of pontifical secret (cf. Instruction of 4 February 1974, art. I, para. 3).

I should like to conclude by remarking that we should not confine ourselves to what is necessarily technical in this conference. It is meant as a stage in a process of reconciliation which is ardently desired; but I think it is an indispensable stage, for the reconciliation must be without ambiguity and it can only take place if there is absolute clarity.

It is on the basis of those reflections that I now wish to open the conference properly so called.


11 and 12 January 1979

The answers to this "questionnaire" were first of all drawn up by the secretary after the interview. I was allowed to modify them as I liked.

The whole set of questions and answers had then to be signed by H.E. Cardinal Seper and by myself.

The answers published here are the corrected answers.1

In the main the answers were written up well, and there were few corrections or modifications.


In a preliminary note (12 July 1976) to a letter addressed to the Holy Father, you wrote:

Let there be no mistake, it is not a question of a dispute between Mgr. Lefebvre and Pope Paul VI. It is a question of the radical incompatibility of the Catholic Church and the Conciliar Church, the Mass of Paul VI representing the program of the Conciliar Church.

That idea is made explicit in the homily given on the preceding 29 June during the ordination Mass at Ecône:

Well! It is precisely the insistent demands of those sent from Rome that we change our rite which makes us reflect. And we are convinced that this new rite of Mass expresses a new faith, a faith which is not ours, a faith which is not the Catholic Faith. This new Mass is a symbol, an expression, an image of a new faith, a Modernist faith…It is plain that this new rite is subtended, so to say, it supposes another conception of the Catholic faith, another religion… Smoothly the Protestant notion of the Mass is being introduced into Holy Church.



Are we to conclude from those statements that according to you, the Pope, promulgating and imposing the new Ordo Missae, and all the bishops who have received it, have founded and assembled visibly around them a new "Conciliar" Church radically incompatible with the Catholic Church?


I remark, first of all, that the expression "Conciliar Church" comes not from me but from H.E. Mgr. Benelli who, in an official letter, asked that our priests and seminarians should submit themselves to the "Conciliar Church."2

I consider that a spirit tending to Modernism and Protestantism shows itself in the conception of the new Mass and in all the Liturgical Reform as well. Protestants themselves say that it is so, and Mgr. Bugnini himself admits it implicitly when he states that this Liturgical Reform was conceived in an ecumenical spirit. (1 could prepare a study showing how that Protestant spirit exists in the Ordo Missae.)



Do you hold that a faithful Catholic can think and say that a sacramental rite, in particular that of the Mass, approved and promulgated by the Sovereign Pontiff, can be out of conformity with the Catholic faith or "favoring heresy"?


That rite in itself does not profess the Catholic faith in as clear a manner as did the old Ordo Missae, and consequently it can favor heresy. But I do not know to whom to attribute it, nor if the Pope is responsible for it.

What is astounding is that an Ordo Missae savoring of Protestantism and therefore “favoring heresy” should be spread abroad by the Roman Curia.



Do you admit that the doctrine of the Council of Trent on the Eucharistic Sacrifice is expressly and absolutely reaffirmed in no. 2 of the Proemium of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani promulgated by Pope Paul VI?


I admit that in the Proemium of the edition of 1970 the doctrine of the Council of Trent is expressed materially. But the fact that it had been necessary to make an addition shows clearly the incomplete character of the edition of 1969. Besides, the whole rite of Mass has remained just as it was in the edition of 1969.



You have administered the sacrament of Confirmation in various dioceses against the will of the bishop of the place, sometimes even to children who had already received it. You justify these acts saying that the sacramental formula of the new Ordo Con[irmationis is often badly translated or shortened, or even omitted, and that in certain dioceses Confirmation is no longer given.

a) In administering Confirmation which sacramental formula have you used yourself? (If Mgr. Lefebvre says he used the old one, ask him if he recognizes the new one as valid, and, if he says Yes, ask him why he did not use it.)

b) If the facts you have alleged to justify the exercise of this ministry were found to be true, would that give you the right to act without taking account of the Church's discipline fixed by Canon Law?


To a) I used the old sacramental formula. But I recognize the validity of the new Latin formula. I use the old formula to meet the wishes of the faithful.

To b) "Salus animarum suprema lex" – the salvation of souls is the supreme law. I cannot refuse the sacrament to the faithful who ask me for it. It is at the request of the faithful, attached to Tradition, that I use the old sacramental formula, and also for safety's sake, keeping to formulas which have communicated grace for centuries with certainty.



According to Catholic doctrine, it is forbidden to repeat the conferring of a sacrament which imprints a character if the minister is not certain of the invalidity of the sacramental rite conferred before or at least unless he has a prudens dubium of validity.

How did you ascertain that each of the children already confirmed had been confirmed invalidly?


I asked each of the parents and the children to find out if they had been confirmed and how it had been done. Most of the children had not been confirmed before. For those who had been I could have a prudent doubt of the validity of the sacrament they had received. I add that I give Confirmation only with reluctance, delaying as long as possible in the hope that the bishops will do it.



The reiteration of a sacrament without there being at least a prudens dubium of validity is objectively speaking a serious lack of respect for sacramental worship.

Did it ever occur to you that you were running such a risk?


No, for, as I have just said, I asked parents and children beforehand, and I could thus have a prudens dubium of the validity of the sacrament administered before.



In your answer of 13 April 1978 to the Sacred Congregation and, more explicitly, in your minor work Le coup de maitre de Satan, pp. 46-47, you maintain that the priests ordained by you now find themselves, in view of the present circumstances (the liturgical reform everywhere, bringing doubt of the validity of the sacraments), in that necessity in which Canon Law itself grants the jurisdictional powers required for the validity of the sacraments. Thus, referring to canons 882, 1098, and 2261, par. 2, you consider that they have the right to adminster Baptism, Penance, Anointing of the sick and to receive the consent of spouses. That ministry is exercised in the priories you have founded on your own initiative in various dioceses.

a) Who are the auctores probati (approved authors) who share your interpretation of the above-mentioned canons?

b) Is not that to think and act as though the legitimate hierarchy did not exist, and to begin to form, willingly or not, a dissident community?


To a) In my interpretation I join together canon 882 and 2261 par. 2. For both of them I refer to the explanations given in Jones's treatise. It is a very broad interpretation but it is justified by an exceptional situation. One can see in these canons the maternal spirit of the Church which does not wish to leave souls in danger of eternal death.

To b) It may be thought that in a general way, in some countries, the hierarchy is not playing its part. There is no question of my founding a dissident community, but of ensuring that the Catholic Church continues on a basis of Canon Law and the great principles of theology.



You have founded, or taken the responsibility for, religious communities which are independent of any regular authority; you have opened a Carmel (Quiévrain) and you are preparing to found a monastery of Cistercian monks; you admit auxiliary brothers and cooperators; you do not hesitate to receive religious professions.

Who has authorized you to do all that? Is such activity of yours in conformity with the Canon Law of religious life?


As for the Fraternity of St. Pius X, its statutes provide for the reception of auxiliary brothers and women religious.

As for the Carmel at Quiévrain, it is not I who founded it; it is an enterprise of my sister's who left her Carmel in Australia with the authorization of her Prioress to found another monastery.

I have not made a Cistercian foundation, nor do I foresee one.




The "Pieuse Union" which bears the name "Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X" was erected 1 November 1970 by H.E. Mgr. François Charriére, Bishop of Fribourg.

a) Does the juridical statute of the Fraternity allow you to proceed to ordinations?

b) If Yes, on the basis of what canon or of what other juridical document?


To a) Initially, I think not. In any case, before 1976 the members of the Fraternity were incardinated in different dioceses. However, I began to have doubts, at first when H. E. Mgr. Adam told me that the Fraternity allowed me to incardinate (which I did not do at that time), and especially when Cardinal Antoniutti gave two priest religious an indult permitting them to enter the Fraternity straight from their religious order. That meant that the Sacred Congregation for Religious considered the Fraternity capable of incardinating. In any case, before 1976 I never proceeded to ordain without having dimissorial letters.

To b) No answer required.



a) Before proceeding to the different diaconal and sacerdotal ordinations that you have done, but especially be- fore those of 29 June 1976, did you receive for all candidates the dimissorial letters required by law?

b) If not, why were you not withheld from proceeding with those ordinations by the knowledge of the grave penalties incurred in that case both by the ordaining bishop and by the seminarians ordained?


To a) I have just answered affirmatively for the ordinations prior to 1976. I shall have to make sure about those on 29 June 1976. At present I consider the seminarians I ordain to be incardinated in the Fraternity.

To b) I reckon that all the measures that have been taken against me are illegal, and that consequently neither I nor the seminarians I ordain incur canonical penalties.



Before proceeding to the ordinations on 29 June 1976, you were twice informed of the Holy Father's express wish that you should refrain from doing them.

a) That being so, on what provisions of the law do you base yourself to legitimize the ordinations you did on that day?

b) Did you understand that in proceeding to those ordinations you were increasing the gravity, for yourself and for the seminarians ordained, of the responsiblities and the penalties already incurred?


I should first of all recall the reasons which make me think the measures taken against me to be illegal:

  1. The decree of suppression of the Saint Pius X Fraternity should not have been issued by H.E. Mgr. Mamie but by Holy See.

  2. I was not informed of any result or any act relating to the Apostolic Visitation of the Ecône Seminary.

  3. The Commission of Cardinals before which I was summoned had neither a mandate nor a precise purpose; in spite of the promises made, I was refused the written account of the proceedings and the registration of the interviews.

  4. I entered an appeal before the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. Five days later, a letter from the Cardinal Secretary of State forbade that Tribunal to act on my appeal. That was pressure by the executive power on the judicial power.

For those reasons I could not consider valid the decisions taken in my regard.

To a) I therefore answer that I do not recognize as legal the measures taken against me. Moreover, I could not obey the will of the Holy See, for I could not verify what exactly was the will of the Holy Father.

To b) No answer required.



On the following 22 July you received official notification of the suspension a divinis declared against you by the Holy Father. That disciplinary  measure forbade you to say Mass, administer the Sacraments, or preach. You did not submit to the new order you had received.

a) Abstracting from your subjective responsibility, and therefore from the censures which may or may not weigh on your conscience, do you admit that, in the external forum, you are under the penalty of suspension and therefore obliged to behave publicly as suspended?

b) If No, why not?

c) If Yes, what justification do you give for your behavior which causes and continues scandal in the Church?


To a) No, I do not admit that I am under the penalty of suspension, not even in the external forum.

To b) The reason is that all the measures taken against me (since November 1974) are illegal and invalid. The first measure is plainly so, and the others are only the consequences of the first.

To c) The scandal which exists is the destruction of the Church, and not what I do. I think on the contrary that my action has served the Church, prompting reactions to that destruction.



The First Vatican Council defined that the Roman Pontiff has “a plenary and sovereign power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, not only in what pertains to faith and morals but also in what pertains to the discipline and government of the Church,” and this power is ordinary and immediate "over each and all of the pastors and the faithful" (DS, 3064).

a) Do you accept these assertions as a dogma of faith?

b) Supposing – for the sake of argument-that the Pope were to make errors, do you think he loses his power of jurisdiction on that account?


To a) Yes.

To b) No, I do not think so if it is a question of errors in government and discipline. It is clear that one may not follow him in his errors, especially if they have consequences for the faith.

On the other hand, one must know if it is the Pope who commands. My uncertainty about the real will of the Pope is based on the fact that for a long time I was prevented from seeing Pope Paul VI, and that, when I met him, I found that he had been told calumnies against me.



  1. Do you not make a selection in the texts of Vatican II, rejecting not only disciplinary measures which trouble you but also doctrinal assertions which you consider contrary to the faith?

  2. According to what principle do you decide what can be retained and what must be rejected?

  3. Who decides in the last resort in the Church what is and what is not in conformity with Tradition?

  4. By publicly criticizing Vatican Council II and progressively enlarging your accusations against it, have you not cast discredit on the supreme magisterial authorities, the Pope and the Bishops united with him in Council under his authority? And have you not contributed to the division of Catholics?


To 1) I am ready to sign a declaration accepting Vatican Council II interpreted according to Tradition. I consider that in certain texts there are things contrary to Tradition and to the Magisterium of the Church as it has previously expressed itself, notably in the Declaration on Religious Liberty.

To 2) According to Tradition.

To 3) It is the Magisterium of the Church. But here I observe:

that the Second Vatican Council must be understood as a pastoral magisterium;

that after this Council there have not been, on the part of the Pope or on the part of the Commission for the interpretation of the decrees of Vatican Council II, acts establishing an authentic elucidation of the conciliar texts, in particular those concerning religious liberty.

To 4) I do not think so. However, if my criticisms have seemed stronger after the Council, it is because of its application in reforms which have confirmed the fears of interpretation of the texts of the Council in a Liberal and progressive sense.

I may have used somewhat exaggerated expressions in my addresses, but their literary genre must be kept in mind. But nobody should be forbidden to criticize a text, even if, in so doing, he indirectly attacks the authorities. It is the authorities who ought to give a fuller explanation of the texts of the Council in the sense of Tradition. Finally, I do not divide Catholics. I think it is the Council which has been the occasion for the divisions already existing in the Church to show themselves in a crucial way.



Canon 1325, par .2, which treats of schism, runs as follows: “After being baptized, if anyone (…) refuses to be the subject to the Supreme Pontiff or to be in communion with the members of the Church subject to him, he is schismatic."

How does your way of acting in the concrete differ from the schismatic behavior defined in this canon?


I do not refuse to be subject to the Sovereign Pontiff. The best proof of that is my recent visit to the Holy Father and my presence here. I think I am allowed, as many others have done in the course of history, to show that I have reservations about some decisions of the Pope and the Roman Curia. But I do that out of love for the Church and the Successor of Peter, hoping that things will come right quickly; and I do not consider myself as a leader. If papal infallibility is not involved, a bishop’s public presentation of his difficulties does not constitute an act of rebellion if he is relying on Tradition. The difficulties that I raise about the whole of the liturgical reform take account of the fact that Pope Paul VI considered it to be a disciplinary reform.



In your letter of 13 April 1978 to the Sacred Congregation you enclosed "General considerations on the state of the Church since Vatican Council II which alone permit of an adequate reply to the questions asked about the Ordo Missae, our continuation of the activity of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X in spite of the interdictions received from the bishops and from Rome."

On the basis of those considerations, it seems to us that your position can be stated in the following thesis:

A bishop, judging in conscience that the Pope and the Episcopate are in general no longer using their authority to ensure the faithful an exact transmission of the faith, may legitimately, so as to maintain the Catholic faith, ordain priests without being a diocesan bishop, without having received dimissorial letters and against the formal and express prohibition of the Pope, and may assign to those priests the exercise of the ecclesiastical ministry in different dioceses.

a) Does that thesis state your position correctly?

b) Is that thesis in conformity with the traditional doctrine of the Church to which you mean to hold fast?


To a) No. I have not acted, starting from a principle like that one. It is the facts, the circumstances in which I found myself, which compelled me to take certain positions, and in particular the fact that I had in the Fraternity of St. Pius X a work already legally constituted which I had to continue.

To b) I think that history can furnish examples of similar acts done, in certain circumstances, not against but aside from the will of the Pope. But this question is too serious and too important to be answered at once. I prefer, therefore, to postpone my answer.

Written Answer Given by Mgr. Lefebvre the Next Day, 13 January 1979

In the case where the Roman Curia sends out documents or performs acts inspired by a Liberal and Modernist spirit, it is the duty of the bishops to protest publicly and to object.

Similarly, if the Catholic Universities and the Seminaries are themselves infested with Liberalism and Modernism, it is the duty of the bishops to found Seminaries in which Catholic doctrine is taught.

It whole countries fall into Modernism, Liberalism and Marxism, and the faithful, aware of the danger to their faith, ask for faithful priests to serve them and their children, it is the duty of the bishops who have stayed Catholic to respond to their appeal.

St. Athanasius, St. Eusebius of Samosata, and St. Epiphanius asserted and acted on those same principles, which stand to reason when the state of the Church is catastrophic.

It is also obvious that those bishops should make every effort to help the Pope provide remedies for that situation.



How do you envisage the return to a normal state of affairs of yourself and of the priests, seminarians and faithful who count on you?

  1. What you reckon you can ask and hope for:
    from the Holy See: in what concerns your seminaries, your priories, and the celebration of the Mass of Saint Pius V?
    from the bishops and from the episcopal conferences dependent on them?
  2. What are you ready to do, yourself, to that end? What undertakings are you prepared to subscribe?
    in what concerns the works established by you, notably the seminaries and the priories?
    in what concerns your teaching (on the Mass and the Council…) and your behavior (ordinations, confirmations, eucharistic celebrations, etc.).


To 1) a) The Fraternity of St. Pius X includes both seminaries and priories; its purpose is to found seminaries (in the spirit of the Council, that is to say, international seminaries with a view to better distribution of the clergy, and with a whole year of spirituality),4to train priests, to give spiritual help to priests and to open houses for spiritual exercises. I should hope to obtain that this Fraternity be recognized as a society of common life without vows, directly under the Pope, and dependent on the Sacred Congregation for Religious. That implies that I ask for the continuance of both seminaries and priories: the priories, purposely established in the countryside, are meant to be at the disposition of the bishops chiefly for the apostolate of spiritual exercises and the spiritual support of priests. I shall send you a copy of the statutes of the Fraternity. Finally, with regard to the liturgy, I ask that the members of the Fraternity of St. Pius X:

  • may use for the celebration of Mass the Ordo of St. Pius V, it being understood that they will celebrate only according to that ;

  • may use the old liturgical rites;

  • and in particular may be ordained according to the old rite of ordination, which includes the tonsure and minor orders.

To 1) b) I am prepared to go and see the bishops of those where the Fraternity has a foundation. I expect from them a recognition of the priories according to Canon Law, the acceptance of the ministry performed by the members of the Fraternity living there.

To 2) a) I am prepared to subscribe the undertakings imposed by Law, without asking for special privileges. I can accept transitory phase, including the nomination of an Apostolic Delegate.

To 2) b) As I said above (under ~IV, 1) I am ready to sign a declaration accepting Vatican Council II interpreted according to Tradition. As to my teaching on the Mass, it can only be what is in conformity with the traditional Magisterium of the Church. As to my behavior, on the hypothesis of normalization, I shall conform myself to the prescriptions of the Law. Moreover, I can accept to suspend ordinations and confirmations for several months if I can be certain of a favorable response to the foregoing request. That proposition is one that I have already made in the past.


12 January 1979
Letter of Mgr. Lefebvre to Cardinal Seper

Your Eminence,

When I left this morning's interview, I read in Tempo the communiqué  issued by the head of the Vatican Press Office.

I was greatly surprised to see that the interviews we have had are in preparation for a meeting of Cardinals who will make a decision that will be submitted to the Holy Father.

But this is not at all what you told me at the beginning of the interviews, and I do not think this is what the Holy Father had in mind when he told me he was choosing you, as a friend in whom he has complete confidence, to take charge of this business.

The Director of the Press Office, moreover, named the Cardinals who are to be judges; and it appears that those who will be present are those who have already condemned me. What is the use of giving them a new dossier? They will act as they have already acted in that Commission of Cardinals for whom interviews were just a matter of form, as they had already decided on condemnation.

I must say that the refusal to let me have a witness in face of five interrogators, the way in which traps were set for me, particularly this morning when attempts were made to get me to affirm statements which I did not want to accept, give me no confidence in the outcome of this trial, though the formal desire of the Pope is the other way, as you yourself have said many times.

I therefore appeal to the Pope himself, as I did in my letter on Christmas Eve.

As to the procés-verbal. I am willing to sign it, but after I have been able to examine it at leisure. These two meetings have tired me, and I am in no shape to come back to the Holy Office to make corrections and to sign. The business is too serious, too important, to be ended with such speed.

For that reason I shall take the liberty of sending the priest who is my companion to collect the proofs, so that I may have time to reflect and to suggest some slight changes before I sign.

I think that is a simple measure of prudence and will present no difficulty. I shall send back the document within a week, through the Nunciature in Berne.

I shall therefore ask the Holy Father, and not those who have already condemned me, to act as judge after studying this document.

This letter is written in the hope of reaching not a condemnation but a solution, which is the Holy Father’s wish, and yours.

Yours respectfully and cordially devoted in Christ and Mary,

+Marcel Lefebvre

1. On the signing and delivery of these answers, see the Explanatory Note on p. 301.

2. See Apologia, Vol. I, p. 199.

3. Mgr. Lefebvre’s first oral reply was: You are setting a trap for me!

4. See Apologia, Vol. I, P. 445 for the testimony of Cardinal Wright to the effect that the society of St. Pius X conformed to the end proposed by Vatican Council II for the distribution of the clergy in the world


Chapter 31

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