Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 2, Chapter V

Archbishop Lefebvre in Rome

6 June 1977


ON 6 JUNE 1977 Archbishop Lefebvre delivered an address in Rome Pallavicini Palace. Princess Elvina Pallavicini had “sent out 400 invitations to this gathering. Her stately home, decorated  with works by Botticelli, Rubens and Van Dyck is near the Vatican" (The Boston Globe, 1 June 1977). The 5 June 1977 issue of The Courier-Journal and Times (U.S.A.), quoted Cardinal Poletti, the Vicar-General of Rome, as stating in L 'Osservatore Romano that the lecture would be “a presumptuous act showing a total lack of good taste and education" The London Universe carried a special report in its 3 June issue by Ronald Singleton, who has a pathological dislike for the Archbishop or anyone who upholds Catholic Tradition, a fact easily proved by reading his reports. “What he is about is  still unclear," Singleton revealed. “Will his theme, 'The Church after Vatican Council II' be open to questions and answers? Will he attack the Holy Father with louder defiance?”

As Archbishop Lefebvre has never attacked any Pope, but has always referred to Pope Paul VI and his successors in terms of the utmost respect, it would have been interesting if Singleton of The Universe could have explained how he could do so "with louder defiance." But, alas, neither Singleton nor The Universe are open to questions and answers.

Singleton also felt competent to provide Universe readers with a psychological profile of the Princess: "The hostess at this gathering is the aged, bitter, lonely widow Elvina Pallavicini, who married a member of the De Bernis family, a gold-medal French war hero, a woman consumed by nostalgia, who views the Vatican of Paul VI with horror and resentment." This is not, perhaps, the most gallant way to speak of a lady, but I presume that those who consider ladies should be treated with courtesy, unless they manifestly deserve not to be, are "consumed by nostalgia." If Singleton was open to questions and answers we might have learned how he managed to gain such a penetrating insight into the mind of the Princess. I wonder, too, if he would have abused the Princess in this way had she invited Hans Kung or Charles Curran to address a gathering in her palace? Somehow I think it unlikely.

The Catholic Herald, also published in London, is a drearily predictable mouthpiece for the Conciliar Church, but even this squalid weekly managed to sink to a particularly low level in reporting on the Archbishop's lecture in Rome. Here is the complete report from its 10 June 1977 edition:

Incursion into Heart of Rome by Lefebvre

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre carried his lone struggle to preserve an immobile seventeenth century Catholic church into the Holy See's own city of Rome this week and failed signally to make any impression.

The French prelate's rhetoric in his denunciation of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, the majority of French and Italian bishops and the entire results of Vatican II evoked even laughter from a cynical audience, made up mainly of journalists.

More than 1,000 had been invited to listen to the Archbishop's two-hour talk in the Pallaircini-Rospligliosi Palace opposite the Quirnale, home of the Italian republic and one time papal summer palace.

About 700, at least 500 of whom were journalists or merely curious, jammed the small 'conference room and the steps leading up from the courtyard-on "which loudspeakers had been placed.

The so-called "black nobility," the mainstay of Italy's princely families, were noticeable by their absence. There were a handful of lesser nobility who were antagonistic to Pope Paul because he had disbanded the Holy See's noble guards.

Much more significantly, the less than 200, who applauded Lefebvre were the youthful thugs of the fascist-right MSI party and elderly supporters of the Sapincere and Action Française of the 1920s-movement banned by the Vatican in 1921 and 1926.

Officially, the Vatican took no note of Lefebvre's incursion into Church territory and his oratory against the Pope and the post-conciliar Church.

Unofficially, one prelate said, "This is a singularly unpopular movement which has been built up because of its spectacular nature into a schism.

“One bishop, some 5,000 supporters in France and a few thousand others throughout the whole world can scarcely be considered a schism. The Church has survived much more serious moves, which threatened and in cases were schism."


An Alternative View

As an experiment, with a totally predictable result, I sent a copy of this report to the Rome correspondent of the National Review (New York), and asked her to write to the Editor of the Catholic Herald making some comments as an eyewitness. The experiment was to see if the Herald would be willing to print a letter exposing its falsehoods - needless to say, it didn’t. Here is the unpublished letter of Mrs. Martinez, dated 21 June 1977.


 As a journalist present at the Pallavicini Palace in Rome on June 6, I can take issue with virtually every line of the report published in the Herald on June 10. However I will limit myself to the following excerpts.

1) "Archbishop Lefebvre ...failed signally to make any impression."

Already in late May the lecture was making news in all Italian media. There was front-page coverage for edicts forbidding Knights of Malta and the Holy Sepulchre to attend, followed by counter declarations by Knights resenting interference on the part of the Grand Masters. The rush to persuade Princess Pallavicini to cancel the affair was played up with stories about the Cardinal close to the Pope (Pignedoli, it was said) who pleaded with her and about emissaries from exiled King Umberto in Portugal. Then came the Princess's well publicized press communiqué saying it was "incomprehensible that the private expression of theses which every bishop in the world held until a few years ago should so greatly disturb the security of (ecclesial) authority:”

2) "The Vatican took no official note."

On June 5 L 'Osservatore Romano carried a scathing denunciation, repeated in all the media, calling the lecture (to be given in a private house to invited guests) "offensive to the Faith, to the Catholic Church and to the Divine Head, Jesus." The guests were called "aberrant nostalgics, prisoners of repetitive traditions which have nothing to do with their vaunted fidelity to its Church." The declaration was signed by Cardinal Poletti, Pope Paul's Vicar for Rome.

3) "About 700, of whom 500 were journalists or merely curious, were jam packed into the small conference room..."

Make it over 2,000, the crowd that sat and stood in the great "throne room" of the family's Pope, Clement IX-  and who filled two large adjacent halls, sat on the grand staircase going down two stories to the courtyard filled with people who listened over loud speakers.

4) "The French prelate's rhetoric...evoked laughter from a cynical crowd."

There was just one laugh when Mgr. Lefebvre described the new trial marriage "sacrament" invented by the President of the French Episcopal Conference. No cynics, the audience reverently stood with bowed heads to recite the Ave Maria at the opening and the Salve Regina at the close of the lecture.

5) “The Less than 200 who applauded (out of 700 present)”

The top Roman daily, left-leaning Il Messaggero, described “unremitting, thunderous applause” and “criticism of the Vatican’s Ostpolitik brought clamorous applause” and finally, “at the conclusion the ovation was deafening.” This paper, as did all other Italian dailies, gave big front-page coverage with photos on June 7, Il Messaggero devoting in addition its entire third page to the same subject.

6) The “less than 200” were “fascist thugs” or “elderly followers” of movement banned by the Vatican in 1921 and 1926.

Constantino Canstantini, leading feature writer for Il Messaggero, found “lots of familiar faces, the crowd one sees at the Chess club and the Tennis Circle; there were film personalities, lots of dark glasses and new hair-dos” while down in the courtyard, arms linked to hold back a crowd there was “a galaxy of youth, slim but well-nourished, nearly all in impeccable navy blue, sons of patrician families or members of such ‘in’ groups as Cristianita or Excalibur.

And - the hostess’ name is not “Pallaircini,”  the palace opposite here is not the “Quirnale.”

Yours truly,

Mary Martinez,
Rome Correspondent for
National Review, New York.



A Secular Daily Comments

The Daily Telegraph is probably the most respected and objective daily paper in Britain, replacing The Times in this respect. Its “Way of the World” column for 17 June 1977 suggested that the Catholic Herald could receive an award “for the Most Promising Left-wing Journal of the Year.” It continued:

On such questions as ecumenism, the role of the World Council of Churches, East-West “detente” and so on its Leftist record is impeccable. As for its treatment of Archbishop Lefebvre and his campaign against Modernism in the Catholic Church, to call it tendentious would be charitable.

The current issue contains a superb example of a certain kind of reporting. It deals with an address the Archbishop recently delivered in Rome itself. "The French prelate's rhetoric..." says the unnamed reporter, "evoked even laughter from a 'cynical audience, made up mainly of journalists. More than 1,000 had been invited to listen to the Archbishop's two hour talk...”

"About 700, at least 500 of whom were journalists or merely curious"- watch these figures -'jammed the small conference room ...The so-called 'black nobility " the mainstay of Italy's princely families, were noticeable by their absence; There were a handful of lesser nobility"- were some of them journalists? -"who were antagonistic to Pope Paul because he had disbanded the Holy See's noble guards.

"Much more significantly, the less than 200 who applauded Lefebvre were the youthful thugs of the fascist right MSI party and elderly supporters of the Sapincere and Action Française of the 1920s -movements banned by the Vatican in 1921 and 1926."

In all this, you will notice, there is not a single indication that what is being reported is not so much fact as a slyly-contrived mixture made up of about ten per cent fact and ninety per cent slanted opinion, with a heavy component of "smear by association," a favorite journalistic device.

The "report" concludes with another classic journalistic device: anonymous belittlement. " 'Unofficially " one prelate said, 'this is a singularly unpopular movement which has been built up because of its spectacular nature into a schism.' "

Singularly unpopular? We shall see. One of the most noticeable signs of our times is the continual and systematic turning of truth on its head.


The Ottaviani Invitation

The 17 June 1977 issue of the Italian journal Vita included a most interesting revelation in its religion column '. The column for this issue was entitled "La telefonata misteriosa"- "The Mysterious Telephone Call." The column began:

If it is true - as reported by a certain daily and by a weekly - that among the phone calls to the Princess Pallavicini to dissuade her from receiving at her home Mgr. M. Lefebvre, one was made by Cardinal Ottaviani, it seems that someone was pleased to use his name improperly.

The basis for this claim was information given to the journal by two ladies who had managed to visit the Cardinal on Saturday 4 June, two days before the lecture. I happen to know one of them personally. They found the Cardinal “guarded " by a young and rather aggressive Monsignor, who was called to the telephone during their visit. One of them asked if the Cardinal had accepted his invitation to the conference to be given by Archbishop Lefebvre the following Monday at the Casa Pallavicini.

"What conference?"

"But come now, does not Your Eminence know that Mgr. Lefebvre will hold a conference?"

"No, I know nothing," replied the Cardinal.

"But did you not receive the invitation?"

"No, no invitation."

The phone call ended, the secretary returned to the sitting room, and the Cardinal asked him if by chance there had been an invitation for him from the Princess Pallavicini. The secretary replied that, yes, an invitation had been received, but that he had not spoken about it: "It will be among the papers.”

He then became angry and informed the ladies that had he known they would mention the Archbishop's conference he would not have let them enter, as the Cardinal could not possibly offend the Pope by going there. The Cardinal then insisted upon knowing about the invitation, and before the ladies left he said: "You will see, you will see, all will be adjusted for poor Mgr. Lefebvre!" (Vedrà, vedrà, tutto si aggiusterà Monsignor Lefebvre!)

The problem posed by this incident is that the Cardinal could hardly have tried to persuade the Princess to deny her home to the Archbishop when he was unaware of the proposed conference.1


An Ironic Diversion

This examination of the manner in which the Archbishop's visit to Rome was reported, and it is typical of all the reporting on him to appear in the "official" Catholic press, makes it easy to understand why Catholics who rely on the "official" press for their information tend to have such an unfavorable view of Mgr. Lefebvre. But the hostility aroused by the fact that the Archbishop had dared to make his views public has an ironic aspect. Perhaps the most radical disagreement between Archbishop Lefebvre and the Conciliar Church concerns his objection to a passage in the Vatican II Declaration on Religious Freedom. The Declaration claims that all men have a right founded in the very dignity of the human person not to be prevented from acting in accordance with their beliefs in public, providing that a breach of public order does not ensue.2 Yet when the Archbishop exercises this “right" he is reviled for doing so. It is evident that many of those who quote the documents of Vatican II as if they are divinely revealed truths do so in a somewhat selective manner. I doubt whether they would be too pleased at being informed that in attacking the Archbishop for giving this and other conferences they are acting contrary to the letter and spirit of Vatican II.



A few days after the Archbishop's lecture, which provoked such indignation in Vatican circles, another visitor came to Rome-Janos Kadar, who might appropriately be termed the Butcher of Hungary for his role in the savage suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. As Minister of the Interior, he had been responsible for the farcical trial, the torture, and the imprisonment of Cardinal Mindszenty. He shared with Rakosi responsibility for the campaign of persecution against Hungarian Catholics. He was responsible for the presence of Soviet tanks in the streets of Budapest in 1956, and initiated a campaign of ruthless persecution after the Soviet victory, which involved the imprisonment of scores of teen-aged boys until the age when they could be hanged legally, executing them upon their birthdays. One might have imagined that such a man would have been even less welcome in Rome than Archbishop Lefebvre, but, on 9 June 1977, the Feast of Corpus Christi, he was received together with his entourage in audience by Pope Paul VI, who, according to a report published in the 23 June 1977 English edition of L 'Osservatore Romano, expressed the hope that Kadar's visit would promote: "mutual understanding and positive cooperation in the service of noble causes of interest not only to the Hungarian people but also to other peoples and all mankind, particularly in defense of peace and in promoting the social, economic, cultural moral progress of the nations." (My emphasis.)

Kadar’s reception by Pope Paul VI marked the culmination of a process which, according to Cardinal Mindszenty, had been initiated in 1958. Writing in his memoirs he remarked:

Meanwhile [i.e., 1958] "coexistence" and "détente...had become magic words in international politics. Even the blatantly communist dictatorships wanted to appear in a good light, chiefly so that public opinion in the West would not oppose the forthcoming disarmament, economic, and trade conferences with the Soviet bloc. The prestige of the Kadar regime had reached a particular low. Around this time it had been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations (twenty times altogether).

But who could better assist a communist, anti-religious dictatorship to win international recognition than the Vatican itself? If you want visible triumphs, seek to associate yourself with the Roman Church which is still regarded as the foremost moral authority in the world. Such was the advice that world communism’s brains trust apparently offered the Kadar government. And so Janos Kadar appeared wearing a mask of peace, and took the first steps towards Rome.3 .

The final step was, as we have seen, taken literally and metaphorically on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 1977, when Pope Paul VI, head of the “foremost moral authority in the world,” asked Janos Kadar, head of “a communist, anti-religious dictatorship,” to cooperate with him for the “moral progress of the nations.”


1. This incident parallels very closely the background to the false claim that Cardinal Ottaviani had repudiated his criticisms of the New Mass-see Pope Paul's New Mass. Chapter XXII1.

2. There is a long tradition of papal teaching that in a mainly Catholic country, the government would have the right to prevent attacks upon the Catholic Faith in the interests of the common good. Archbishop Lefebvre claims that the teaching of the Vatican II Declaration on Religious Liberty cannot be reconciled with this tradition (see Apologia, Vol. I, Appendix IV).

3.Jozsef Cardinal Mindszenty, Memoirs (Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, 1974), page 225.


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