2, Chapter XXXII
to the Conference
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.
by His Eminence the Cardinal Prefect
thank Your Excellency for being willing to come to this meeting,
the object and spirit of which I must now specify.
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 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.
business is, in fact, the conference provided for in articles 13-15
of that Ratio agendi. It will help if I read the articles
three articles were then read.)
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.
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).
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
is on the basis of those reflections that I now wish to open the
conference properly so called.
11 and 12 January 1979
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.
whole set of questions and answers had then to be signed by H.E.
Cardinal Seper and by myself.
answers published here are the corrected answers.1
the main the answers were written up well, and there were few corrections
a preliminary note (12 July 1976) to a letter addressed to the Holy
Father, you wrote:
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.
idea is made explicit in the homily given on the preceding 29 June
during the ordination Mass at Ecône:
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.
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?
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
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.)
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"?
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.
is astounding is that an Ordo Missae savoring of Protestantism
and therefore “favoring heresy” should be spread abroad by the Roman
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
did you ascertain that each of the children already confirmed had
been confirmed invalidly?
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.
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.
it ever occur to you that you were running such a risk?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
has authorized you to do all that? Is such activity of yours in
conformity with the Canon Law of religious life?
for the Fraternity of St. Pius X, its statutes provide for the reception
of auxiliary brothers and women religious.
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.
have not made a Cistercian foundation, nor do I foresee one.
"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?
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
b) No answer required.
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
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?
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.
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.
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
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?
should first of all recall the reasons which make me think the measures
taken against me to be illegal:
- The decree
of suppression of the Saint Pius X Fraternity should not have
been issued by H.E. Mgr. Mamie but by Holy See.
- I was not
informed of any result or any act relating to the Apostolic Visitation
of the Ecône Seminary.
- 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
- 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.
those reasons I could not consider valid the decisions taken in
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
b) No answer required.
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
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,
c) If Yes,
what justification do you give for your behavior which causes
and continues scandal in the Church?
a) No, I do not admit that I am under the penalty of suspension,
not even in the external forum.
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.
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.
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?
– for the sake of argument-that the Pope were to make errors,
do you think he loses his power of jurisdiction on that account?
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.
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
- 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?
to what principle do you decide what can be retained and what
must be rejected?
- Who decides
in the last resort in the Church what is and what is not in conformity
- 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?
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.
2) According to Tradition.
3) It is the Magisterium of the Church. But here I observe:
the Second Vatican Council must be understood as a pastoral magisterium;
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
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.
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.
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."
does your way of acting in the concrete differ from the schismatic
behavior defined in this canon?
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.
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."
the basis of those considerations, it seems to us that your position
can be stated in the following thesis:
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?
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.
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.
Answer Given by Mgr. Lefebvre the Next Day, 13 January 1979
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.
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.
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.
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.
is also obvious that those bishops should make every effort to help
the Pope provide remedies for that situation.
do you envisage the return to a normal state of affairs of yourself
and of the priests, seminarians and faithful who count on you?
- What you
reckon you can ask and hope for:
the Holy See: in what concerns your seminaries, your priories,
and the celebration of the Mass of Saint Pius V?
the bishops and from the episcopal conferences dependent on them?
- What are
you ready to do, yourself, to that end? What undertakings are
you prepared to subscribe?
what concerns the works established by you, notably the seminaries
and the priories?
what concerns your teaching (on the Mass and the Council…) and
your behavior (ordinations, confirmations, eucharistic celebrations,
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.
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.
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.
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.
Letter of Mgr. Lefebvre to Cardinal Seper
I left this morning's interview, I read in Tempo the communiqué
issued by the head of the Vatican Press Office.
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.
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.
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.
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.
therefore appeal to the Pope himself, as I did in my letter on Christmas
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.
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.
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
shall therefore ask the Holy Father, and not those who have already
condemned me, to act as judge after studying this document.
letter is written in the hope of reaching not a condemnation but
a solution, which is the Holy Father’s wish, and yours.
respectfully and cordially devoted in Christ and Mary,
On the signing and delivery of these answers, see the Explanatory
Note on p. 301.
See Apologia, Vol. I, p. 199.
Mgr. Lefebvre’s first oral reply was: You are setting
a trap for me!
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
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