Archbishop LEFEBVRE and the VATICAN

July 28, 1987

Letter of Cardinal Ratzinger
to Archbishop Lefebvre


I 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.

Your 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 entrusted.

The 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 contents:

1)    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.

2)    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.

3)    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:

a)    the continuity of the liturgy according to the liturgical books as they were in the Church in 1962;

b)    the right to train seminarians in its own seminaries accord­ing to the particular charisma of the Society;

c)    the priestly ordination of candidates to the priesthood, under the responsibility which the Cardinal Visitor would assume, until further decision.

4)    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.

5)    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.

I 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.

If, 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.

Divinely 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.

By 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.

Excellency, 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.

At 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.

Joseph Card. Ratzinger

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 manifested it.

Archbishop 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.

The 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.

Together 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

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