Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 2, Chapter VII

Pope Paul's Response

20 June 1977


Sixth Letter of Pope Paul VI to Archbishop Lefebvre

To Our Brother in the
Episcopate, Marcel Lefebvre,
Former Archbishop-Bishop of Tulle.

 A few days from the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, when you have announced publicly your intention of carrying out, on this occasion, a new and very serious act of disobedience to ecclesiastical authority, Our thoughts do not cease to turn towards you, and the young people whom you are leading along the path you have taken.

We admonish you with all Our strength; do not worsen the bad example given by our attitude, do not make your break from the unity and charity of the Catholic communion irreparable. Even were it to grieve you to do so, abstain from conferring holy orders by using a power which has been granted you, not for personal use, but for the service of the Church alone.

Indeed, it has come to Our knowledge that you could under certain circumstances postpone the carrying out of such a design for a few months, but only with conditions which, in their content, seem truly unacceptable to Us. Is it also necessary to tell you of Our pain at seeing you impose conditions upon the Pope? Have We not already assured you that We shall try as best We can to find a solution to all the questions which concern you?

We continue, Brother, to hope that you will be reconciled with Us. We wish to believe that there is yet time. May the Holy Ghost illumine you, and may He help you to make the only decision worthy of a bishop.


Paulus PP VI
The Vatican, 20 June 1977



26 June 1977

Telegram from Archbishop Lefebvre to Cardinal Ratzinger


His Eminence Cardinal Ratzinger
Collegio dell'anima
Via della Pace 20
00186 ROMA

Deeply grateful for your fraternal assistance stop I confirm am in complete agreement with text of aide mémoire drafted for attention of Mgr. Stimpfle transmitted 16 June by telex number 618/77 and delivered to Cardinal Benelli 18 June at Rome stop profoundly saddened to learn of the rejection of the three proposals stop hope profoundly for better appreciation of the true significance of these proposals which for my part still remain valid.

+Marcel Lefebvre


27 Jun 1977

The Allocution of Pope Paul VI to the Consistory of Cardinals

This allocution was delivered two days before the 29 June ordinations, and was similar in content to that of 1976 (Vol. I, pp. 173-191).

The Pope praised the liturgical reform, claiming that it had “borne blessed fruits.” These "blessed fruits" included: "a greater participation in the liturgical action, a more lively awareness of the sacred action, a greater and wider knowledge of the inexhaustible treasures of Sacred Scripture, and an increase of a sense of community in the Church." Had these benefits indeed resulted from the liturgical reform it would certainly have been followed by an increase in Mass attendance and piety among the faithful. In no case can any such increase in Mass attendance be shown to have followed the liturgical reform, indeed, in the countries from which the Society of St. Pius X draws its principal support there have been declines ranging from the serious to the catastrophic, e. g., more than 60% in France and Holland, 50% in Italy, 30% in the United States of America, and 20% in England.What these figures mean is that tens of millions of Catholics who were assisting at Mass before the "blessed fruits" of the liturgical reform no longer do so. As on previous occasions, the Pope attributed any ill effects of the reform solely to unofficial initiatives. He expressed his confidence that "the bishops are unceasingly vigilant upon this point." As my book Pope Paul’s New Mass makes clear, not only were most bishops far from vigilant, but some encouraged and endorsed abuses e. g., the scandalous abuse of invalid Masses in the United States, caused by the use of cake instead of Eucharistic matter (see Appendix VI). In fact, the lack of episcopal vigilance was so manifest that Pope John Paul II felt obliged to issue a public apology to the faithful for the scandal they have received from liturgical abuses, an apology which he made in his own name and in that of the "unceasingly vigilant episcopate" (Letter, Dominicae Cenae, 24 February 1980), and on 3 April 1980 he approved the Instruction Inaestimabile Donum. demanding the cessation of twenty-six grave liturgical abuses which it listed, an Instruction which has been virtually ignored in the countries where these abuses were occurring. In some American dioceses, for example, the bishops are not simply lacking in vigilance but are active leaders in public defiance of the Holy See on such matters as the distribution of Communion under both kinds, admitting Protestants to Holy Communion, or allowing girls to serve Mass.

The extent to which the American Bishops are among the leaders in the movement to destroy Catholicism in the USA was made clear in 1982 in a book entitled The Crisis of Authority .1 The author is Mgr. George Kelly, author of twenty-seven books, Professor in Contemporary Catholic Problems and Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies at St. John's University. Mgr. Kelly is not a traditionalist, indeed he is extremely hostile to Archbishop Lefebvre. But commenting upon the book in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, the leading journal for priests in the English-speaking world, the Editor, Father Kenneth Baker, S.J., noted the extent to which Mgr. Kelly's thinking had developed since an earlier book, The Battle for the American Church ( 1979). Father Baker remarked:

In his Battle for the American Church Kelly had argued that the main problem of the Church in the U.S.A. was located in the dissident theologians, priests and religious. In Crisis he moves a step further and argues that the main problem now is the refusal of most bishops to be bishops, i.e., to guard the faith, rebuke those in error, to teach with the authority of Christ and, if necessary, to cut off heretics and schismatics from the body of the Church.

It scarcely needs saying that this criticism of the American bishops is equally applicable to the hierarchies of France, Holland, Canada, Belgium, and England and Wales, and, no doubt, to those in many other countries. Mgr. Kelly's books provide the best documented and most scathing indictment of the Conciliar Church yet to appear in the English language. It will be interesting to see whether he will move yet one step further, the final step, and admit that the main problem faced by the Church since Vatican II is the refusal of the Pope to be Pope, and, except in rare instances, "to guard the faith, rebuke those in error, to teach with the authority of Christ and, if necessary, to cut off heretics and schismatics from the body of the Church." Sadly, few conservative priests like Mgr. Kelly can overcome the psychological barrier which prevent them from taking this step, or face up to the consequences for themselves which such a decision would involve.

Where Pope Paul VI was concerned, it is my opinion that his refusal to face the fact that his liturgical reform had been a fiasco was also primarily psychological. In no way do I wish to suggest that he was motivated by malice or a desire to harm the Church. His attitude is common among men in executive positions in business, politics, education, the armed forces, or the Church-men who have initiated or approved policies which have failed to achieve the success predicted, but who cannot bring themselves to admit that the policies or their judgment was at fault. They either claim that the policies have produced the fruits predicted, or locate the reason for failure in some factor external to the policies themselves. There is nothing sinister or even unusual about such an attitude, other popes have harmed the Church by adhering to manifestly unsuccessful policies. This attitude of Pope Paul VI makes it clear why there was no possibility of his reaching an agreement with Archbishop Lefebvre, because to do so would have been tantamount to admitting that he had endorsed policies which had been a disaster to the Church indeed, that his pontificate had been among the most disastrous in the history of the Church. It is difficult, almost impossible, to imagine any public figure making such an admission even to himself. Archbishop Lefebvre was in the position of the boy who told the Emperor that he had no clothes, and, sadly, in this case "the Emperor" could not bring himself to admit that "the boy" was telling the truth.

At a consistory a Pope makes two speeches, one all open address and one to a secret consistory of the Cardinals from which all but the Pope and Cardinals are excluded. Among the new Cardinals at this consistory were Cardinals Benelli, Ratzinger, and Ciappi. In his speech to the open consistory, Pope Paul praised Cardinal Benelli for his work as Substitute (Deputy) of the Secretary of State in which "you have worked to execute Our Will, without sparing time or energy." Cardinal Benelli died in 1982, may he rest in peace. He was not sympathetic to Archbishop Lefebvre or the traditionalist movement, and was responsible for coining the term "Conciliar Church" (see Vol. I., p. 199), but he was certainly anti-communist and generally disliked by the Liberals. Cardinal Ratzinger succeeded Cardinal Seper as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and hence as the chief Vatican negotiator with the Archbishop. There is no doubt that in his younger days he was suspected of theological Liberalism, but is now regarded as very conservative. Cardinal Ciappi is one of the finest theologians in the Church, having been theologian to Pope Pius XII, Pope John XXIII, and to Pope Paul VI. He is almost certainly the author of such documents as Pope Paul's Encyclical Mysterium Fidei and his Credo of the People of God.

The quotation which follows is taken from Pope Paul's speech to the Secret Consistory, which was published in L 'Osservatore Romano (English edition) of 7 July 1977. It was, of course, reported in the press on 28 June, at the moment most likely to put heavy psychological pressure on Archbishop Lefebvre to abandon the ordinations planned for 29 June. The impassioned opening to his ordination sermon (see page 62) can almost be seen as an answer to the Pope's address to the Secret Consistory.


Pope Paul Speaks to His Cardinals

The pope’s attention is drawn today once more to a particular point of the Church’s life: the indisputably beneficial fruits of the liturgical reform. Since the promulgation of the conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concillium great progress has taken place, progress that responds to the premises laid down by the liturgical movement of the last part of the nineteenth century. It has fulfilled that movement’s deep aspirations for which so many churchmen and scholars have worked and prayed. The new Rite of the Mass, promulgated by Us after long and painstaking preparation by the competent bodies, and into which there have been introduced-side by side with the Roman Canon, which remains substantially unchanged, other Eucharistic Prayers, has borne blessed fruits. These include a greater participation in the liturgical action, a more lively awareness of the sacred action, a greater and wider knowledge of the inexhaustible treasures of Sacred Scripture and an increase of a sense of community in the Church.

The course of these recent years shows that we are on the right path. But unfortunately, in spite of vast preponderance of the healthy and good forces of the clergy and the faithful, abuses have been committed and liberties have been taken in applying the liturgical reform. The time has now come definitely to leave aside divisive ferments, which are equally pernicious on both sides, and to apply fully, in accordance with the correct criteria that inspired it, the reform approved by Us in application of the wishes of the Council.

As for those who, in the name of a misunderstood creative freedom, have caused so much damage to the Church with their improvisations, banalites and frivolities, and even certain deplorable profanations, We strongly call upon them to keep to the established norm. If this norm is not respected, grave damage could be done to the essence of dogma, not to speak of ecclesiastical discipline, according to the golden rule lex orandi, lex credendi. We call for absolute fidelity in order to safeguard the regula fidei. We are certain that, in this work, We are supported by the untiring, circumspect and paternal action of the Bishops, who are responsible for Catholic faith and prayer in the individual dioceses.

But with equal right We address Ourself to those who take up an unbending attitude of non-acceptance in the name of a tradition that proves to be more a banner for contumacious insubordination than a sign of authentic fidelity .We call upon them to accept, as is their strict duty, the voice of the Pope and of the Bishops, to understand the beneficial meaning of the modifications made to the sacred rites in incidental matters (modifications which represent a true continuity, and indeed often recall the old in adapting to the new), and not

to remain obstinately closed in their incomprehensible preconceptions. In the name of God We exhort them: "We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (II Cor. 5:20).

These recommendations, which spring from Our heart, are intended to emphasize the deeply-felt need for that unity of the Church of which We have spoken at the beginning of this Address.

We mean above all unity in charity. On the eve of the Holy Year We launched a pressing appeal for reconciliation within the Church (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Paterna cum Benevolentia, 8 December 1974: AAS 67, 1975, pp. 5-23). We think it necessary to insist anew on this appeal, since, it seems to Us, the flock tends at times to be divided, and the Church's members undergo the worldly temptation to oppose one another. Now it is in the ardor with which they seek unity that the true disciples of Christ are recognized; it is in the harmony of fraternal sentiments, inspired by humility, mutual respect, benevolence and understanding, that the Christian communities reflect the true face of the Church; on the other hand the spectacle of divisions damages the credibility of the Christian message.

We therefore address Ourself to all Our sons and daughters, that there may be banished from within the ecclesial community those sources of corrosive criticism, division of minds, insubordination to authority, and mutual suspicion that have occasionally succeeded in paralyzing abundant spiritual energies and in holding up the Church's conquering advance on behalf of the Kingdom of God. We desire that everyone should feel at ease in the ecclesial family, without exercising exclusion or isolation harmful to unity in charity; and We desire that there should not be sought the dominance of some to the detriment of others. "United, heart and soul" (Acts 4:32), like the Christians of the first mother community in Jerusalem, under the aegis of Peter, we must work, pray, suffer and strive in order to bear witness to the Risen Christ, “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

But Christ has wished that this unity in charity should never be separated from unity in truth, without which the former could become linked to an indefensible pluralism or a fatal indifferentism. The regula fidei to which We have already referred demands this perfect consistency in fidelity to the word of God, without any obscuring of the clear source of truth, which flows from the Most Blessed Trinity, and is communicated to humanity by Christ, the Son of God and Son of man, the cornerstone on which the Church is founded. Nor must there be any interruption of the continuity that had passed down that Revelation through the centuries with unaltered fidelity and has drawn forth the treasures hidden within it, in continuos deepening, but eodem sensu eademque sententia (St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, 23).

But the question arises. According to the very teaching of Christ and the unchangeable constitution of the Church, who is responsible for judging fidelity to the deposit of faith, the conformity of a doctrine or rule of conduct to the living Tradition of the Church? It is the authentic Magisterium, which comes from the Apostolic See and the body of bishops in communion with that See. Ever since the beginning, this has always been the touchstone of truth, be it a matter of faith or morals, sacramental discipline, or the more important orientations of pastoral action for the proclamation of the Gospel in the world.

Today it is very necessary to remember this, since certain interpretations of doctrine imperil the faith of believers who are not sufficiently mature or instructed. As We have already said, when We dealt with abuses in the liturgy, We are certain that the Bishops are unceasingly vigilant on this point. And We warmly urge everyone - Bishops, priests, religious and laity - to work with one mind for unity in truth.

And  with a full heart of sadness We express again the suffering which the unlawful ordinations cause Us -ordinations which Our Brother in the Episcopate is preparing to confer wrongfully, as he has done in the past. We firmly deplore these ordinations. In this way he is emphasizing his personal opposition to the Church and his activity of division and rebellion in matters of extreme gravity, notwithstanding Our own patient exhortations and the suspension he incurred formally forbidding him to persist in his designs contrary to the canonical norm. Young people are thus being placed outside of the Church's authentic ministry, which, by the sacred law of the Church, they will be forbidden to exercise. The faithful who will follow them are led astray in a posture of confusion if not in downright t rebellion greatly harmful to themselves and to ecclesial communion. Whatever may be the pretexts, this constitutes a wound to the Church, one of those which Saint Paul condemned so severely. We ask this Brother of Ours to be mindful of the breach he is producing, the disorientation which he is causing, the division which he is introducing with the gravest responsibility .Our Predecessors, to whose discipline he presumes to appeal, would not have tolerated a disobedience as obstinate as it is pernicious for so long a period as We have so patiently done. We ask you to pray with Us to the Holy Spirit that He may enlighten consciences.

Christ wanted His Church to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic. But if unity is broken by one side or another, a shadow is thrown over the entire ecclesial reality in its constituent marks. For unity Christ prayed    (cf. Jn. 17:20-26); for unity He gave His life: "Jesus was to die...to gather together in unity the scattered children of God"(Jn. 11:51f). Unity was His gift to the Church at the beginning of her life, so that before the world and for the world she might be a united witness to the Word of God and to His salvation.

This unity which the Catholic Church guards intact is what We earnestly commend to all our Brothers and sons and daughters. As We approach the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, columns of the Church for which they gave their lives, We entrust to them the protection of this unity; for this We call upon the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church. And, in asking the generous, conscious and active cooperation of all Our Brothers and sons and daughters, We impart in support of firm and worthy intentions Our special Apostolic Blessing.

1. Available from the Homilectic and Pastoral Review, 86 Riverside Drive, New York, N.Y. at $11.95, postpaid


Chapter 6

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