granted by Mgr. Lefebvre to
Eric M. de Saventhem,
of the International Federation Una Voce
Saventhem: Excellency, it is known that
you were in Rome on
the 10th and 11th January for further discussions with Cardinal
Seper, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Was it at Pope John Paul’s request that the Cardinal received you?
Lefebvre: There has been some misunderstanding
on this matter. It is true that an investigation has been in progress
since January, 1978, and that it was to be continued by talks in
Rome. Meanwhile, during the audience, the Holy Father, Pope John
Paul II, assigned to Cardinal Seper, as to a trusted friend, the
question of Ecône. It does not seem that he had in mind a procedure
already in progress, hence the misunderstanding.
Saventhem: Have you been interrogated?
Lefebvre: Yes, twice, for three-hour periods.
Seventeen series of questions by five interrogators accompanied
by a secretary; but I was refused permission to bring even one witness.
Saventhem: Early in January, a large circulation
American magazine stated that, during the audience of the 18th November
last, the Holy Father confronted you with an ultimatum: either you
submitted to the Pope, or else you left the Church. Since then numerous
papers have repeated the, burden of that report, as if your excommunication
Lefebvre: That is pure invention. The object
of the discussions, I suppose, was to clarify the position with
a view to finding a solution.
Saventhem: Nevertheless, the report that the Pope
might soon lift the canonical sanctions imposed on you has not been
confirmed. In fact, one wonders how the a divinis suspension
could be lifted unless you agreed to refrain forever from ordaining
seminarians without dimissorial letters.
Lefebvre: This problem arises from the canonical
status of our confraternity. The ordinations branded by some as
"wildcat" had become necessary from the moment when the
Secretariat of State, in a circular letter to all Episcopal Conferences,
forbade diocesan bishops to incardinate our seminarians: and to
give them dimissorial letters. This prohibition is an encroachment
without precedent on one of the oldest episcopal prerogatives. Without
it we would always have found resident bishops willing to regularize
the canonical status of our young men. In order to solve this problem,
it would be sufficient for our Society to be recognized as coming
directly under pontifical authority.
Saventhem: Would not such an official recognition
imply that you had previously answered Pope Paul's priority request
to you to declare publicly your sincere adherence to the Second
Ecumenical Council of the Vatican
and to all its texts?
Lefebvre In reply to that request I had already
written the following to Pope Paul VI: "1 accept everything
that, in the Council and its reforms, is in full agreement with
Tradition." I have never been told why this declaration was
considered inadequate; After all, a Catholic can adhere to the texts
of a Council only in the light of the continuing constant teaching
of the Church. That is a fundamental principle of the Catholic Faith,
and my very clear impression is that, under Pope John Paul II, we
shall see it confirmed; as much in the interpretation as in the
application of conciliar texts.
Saventhem: Did you discuss this matter with the
Holy Father during your audience?
Lefebvre: I am thinking rather about what
he declared publicly in his very first message to the world after
the election. Referring to the conciliar Magna Carta – the
Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – the Pope said that it must
be read in "the light of tradition," and that we must
"integrate into it the dogmatic formulations laid down by the
First Vatican Council." Only thus would the text become for
all, priests and faithful, "the secret of an unerring orientation."
If I were asked to declare my adherence to the conciliar texts "read
in the light of tradition and integrated with the dogmatic formulations
previously laid down by the Magisterium of the Church," I would
sign without hesitation.
Saventhem: Have you, in fact, signed a text of
this nature, either before the audience with the Holy Father, or
during your discussions with Cardinal Seper?
Lefebvre: I can say that, in the course
of the audience, the Pope accepted that declaration regarding the
Council, and that it will be signed with Cardinal Seper at some
Saventhem: Excellency, your confraternity now
runs not only seminaries; but a dozen priories and two convents.
All these institutions continue their liturgical life notwithstanding
the rule of conduct promulgated by Pope Paul VI. Moreover, they
refuse to conform with the "new orientations" adopted
almost everywhere else. Even if Rome
were willing to allow you to perform "the experiment of tradition,"
is there not a risk that, at diocesan government level, very serious
problems would arise?
Lefebvre: Let us begin with liturgical norms.
They should, and could be made more flexible; that is the sole responsibility
of the Holy See. With regard to the Mass, Pope Paul VI certainly
never officially forbade the use of the Old Rite. Indeed, Mr. President,
it was thanks to your wife that we have had oral confirmation of
this from Cardinal Benelli himself. * On the other hand,
it is known that a good number of cardinals and bishops have expressed
the desire to see the pre-conciliar rites re-admitted everywhere.
Without doubt, there would be local problems, but there would also
be the immense relief of numerous priests and faithful on recovering
traditional rites and the devotion that accompanies them. Bishops
would straightway experience the benefit to their dioceses. I dare
to hope that the new Pope, in his pastoral solicitude, will not
long delay this conciliatory gesture.
Saventhem: There still remain the various post-conciliar
"orientations" which Your Excellency has stigmatized as
incompatible with the tradition and Magisterium of the Church and
which your confraternity resolutely continues to oppose. Would you
say that the claim that these orientations are derived from Vatican
II is exaggerated?
Lefebvre: It is true that in many fields
– ecumenism: the institutions of the Church; liturgy; reform of
seminaries and of religious life - the standards set by the Council
have been left far behind. In their application, the new orientations
have been used as a pretext for leaping into "creativity"
and continuous evolution.
Saventhem: There are nevertheless other new orientations
manifestly favored by the Council. I am thinking especially of the
so-called liturgical renewal.
Lefebvre: I think I can state that all the
novel orientations were favored by the spirit of the Council, as
well as by the too often ambiguous written word. The liberal spirit
of the Council, by its nature, leads to compromise with the spirit
of man and of the modern world-which is in opposition to the Catholic
spirit. That is especially the case in documents such as those on
religious liberty; on the Church in the world and on non-Christian
religions. Our fidelity to the Church prompts us to labor resolutely
and patiently for a return to her great traditions. Our priories
might be seen as beacons to mark our way on the long road ahead
Saventhem: Have you found, in your conversations
with him, Cardinal Seper open to the ideas you have just expressed?
Lefebvre: I value the Cardinal's sincerity
very highly and I hope that he will seize the opportunity given
to him by the Holy Father to manifest courageously the attachment
which he certainly has for Tradition; but about which he has deemed
it right, in obedience, to maintain silence during the last years.
Millions of Catholics await with longing the application of religious
freedom to the centuries-old tradition of the Church.
Saventhem: In thanking you, Excellency, for this interview,
I take the liberty, on behalf of those millions of Catholics, of
assuring you and His Eminence Cardinal Seper of our most fervent
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