LEFEBVRE and the
Letter of Cardinal Ratzinger
to Archbishop Lefebvre
thank you sincerely for your letter of July 8, and for your recent
book with its dedication; I will not fail to read it with interest.
The file that you have sent me concerning the answer of
the Sacred Congregation to the Dubia on Religious Liberty
shall be studied with all the required attention and the results
shall be sent to you in good time.
great desire to safeguard Tradition by procuring for it “the means
to live and develop” manifests your attachment to the Faith of all
times, but can only be realized in communion with the Vicar of Christ
to whom the Deposit of Faith and the government of the Church are
Holy Father understands your cares and shares them. Therefore,
in his name, I offer you a new proposal, thereby wishing to give
you a final possibility for agreement on the problems that you bear
at heart: the canonical situation of the Society of Saint Pius
X and the future of your seminaries. Here are its
The Holy See cannot give auxiliaries to the Society of
Saint Pius X unless it possesses an adequate juridical structure
and unless the relations with the Apostolic See are solved beforehand.
The Holy See is disposed to nominate without delay and
without previous conditions a Cardinal Visitor for the purpose
of finding for the Society of Saint Pius X a juridical status
in conformity with the rules of the present Canon Law.
According to the divine institution of the Church, such
a juridical status necessarily includes reverence and obedience
on the part of the superiors and members of the Society to the
Successor of Peter, Vicar of Christ (see the norms indicated in
Lumen Gentium, §25). Within the limits of
this obedience and the framework of the canonical rules, the
Holy See is disposed to concede to the Society a rightful autonomy
and to guarantee:
the continuity of the liturgy according to the liturgical
books as they were in the Church in 1962;
the right to train seminarians in its own seminaries
according to the particular charisma of the Society;
the priestly ordination of candidates to the priesthood,
under the responsibility which the Cardinal Visitor would assume,
until further decision.
Until the approbation of the final juridical status of
the Society, the Cardinal Visitor shall guarantee the orthodoxy
of the teachings in your seminaries, the ecclesial spirit and
the unity with the Holy See. During this period
the Cardinal Visitor shall make the decision concerning admission
of seminarians to the priesthood, taking into account the recommendation
of the competent superiors.
The juridical status that has to be found shall outline
the modalities of positive and fitting relations between the
Society and different dioceses, according to the rules set by
the Law in similar cases.
ask you, Excellency, to consider attentively this proposal so that
a positive and equitable solution may be found, assuring the continuity
of your work in submission to the authority of the Church.
in spite of the multiple efforts of the Holy See towards a reconciliation,
you persist in your project of giving to yourself one or more auxiliaries
without the agreement of the Pope and against him, it will clearly
appear to everyone that the “final rupture,” which you mention
in your letter, in no way could be attributed to the Church, but
would exclusively depend upon your personal initiative. Its
consequences would be grievous for the Church—that you say you love
so much—for yourself and for your work.
instituted, the Church has the promises of the assistance of Christ
until the end of time. The breaking of its unity by
an act of grievous disobedience on your part would cause incalculable
damage and would destroy the future of your work itself, since outside
of unity with Peter it would have no future except the ruin of all
that you have desired and undertaken. History has
oftentimes witnessed the uselessness of an apostolate accomplished
outside of the submission to the Church and to its head.
giving a personal interpretation of the texts of the magisterium,
you would paradoxically give an example of this Liberalism which
you fight so strongly, and would act contrarily to the goal you
pursue. Indeed, it is to Peter that the Lord has entrusted
the government of His Church; the Pope is therefore the principal
artisan of her unity. Assured of the promises of Christ,
he will never be able to oppose in the Church the authentic magisterium
and holy Tradition.
do you find my words severe? I would have liked to
express myself in another way, but the gravity of the matter at
stake does not give me any other choice. Anyhow, I
am sure you acknowledge the generosity of the proposal which is
made to you in the name of the Holy Father, and which constitutes
a real means to safeguard your work in the unity and catholicity
of the Church.
the beginning of this Marian Year, to the Virgin “Mater Ecclesiæ”
I entrust the solution of this long disagreement which opposes us,
confident that her powerful intercession will obtain the graces
and light necessary for this. With the assurance of
my prayer, please receive, Excellency, the expression of my respectful
devotion in the Lord.
The accusation of personal interpretation of the magisterium is
a false accusation; Archbishop Lefebvre has received and kept
faithfully the interpretations of the Popes which were taught
to him by Fr. Le Floch at the French Seminary in Rome. The documents
which the Archbishop had attached to his letter of July 8, 1987
Lefebvre hesitated a long time before answering this letter. He
feared the extensive power of the Visitor. It is useful to make
the reader aware that there was a precedent. An order of nuns
called the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus, founded
last century, had an excellent adviser in the 1950’s, Fr. Calmel,
O.P., and an excellent Mother Superior, Mother Hélène Jamet. Under
such guidance, the order revised their Rule before the Council,
with the purpose to unify their religious life and their teaching
life: they teach by the example of their religious life, and their
teaching is offered to God as a part of their religious life.
After the Second Vatican Council, every religious order was asked
to update its Rule in order to conform it to the “spirit of the
Council.” Since they had changed their Rule ten years before,
they refused to again change it. Much pressure was exercised on
them to change it. In 1974, in order to avoid constant tension
within the community, the superior, Mother Anne Marie Simoulin,
decided to send the sisters who wanted to keep the old Rule to
make a foundation at Brignoles with Fr. Calmel who was faithful
to the traditional Dominican Mass; she stayed with the others.
bishop imposed a Visitor on the sisters who remained. This Visitor
had extensive powers too. His actions were the cause of great
upheaval; he supported the few sisters who wanted to modernize
the Rule. Though the Dominican Mass had never been banned and
many Dominican priests were still able to say it, Mother Simoulin
had much difficulty in having it said. For instance, the Visitor
proposed that the sisters would have the traditional Dominican
Mass, while the students would have the Novus Ordo. Mother
Simoulin explained that it was impossible for them to teach the
students in such a situation. After a year of such controversy,
Mother Simoulin decided to take with her the sisters who did not
want such an impossible situation, and founded the second traditional
Dominican school at Fanjeaux. There were 40 nuns in these two
traditional foundations, while the rest of the Order, that
is, about 160 nuns stayed with the Visitor.
now there are around 200 traditional Dominican nuns in 12 traditional
Dominican schools in France. They already have 15 American-born
sisters, and have founded a school in Post Falls, Idaho in 1991,
their first foundation in the US. The rest of the original Order,
because of lack of vocations and the death of the older sisters,
has dwindled to around 60 nuns.
Courtesy of the Angelus
Press, Regina Coeli House
2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109