LEFEBVRE and the
April 28, 1988
Letter of Cardinal Ratzinger
to Archbishop Lefebvre
I am now in
a position to answer your last letter of April 15. Indeed
I was able to submit it recently to the Sovereign Pontiff and to
discuss with Him the results at which the Commission arrived during
the sessions of April 12-14 last. It is thus with
His agreement that I can communicate to you the following.
The Holy Father
was satisfied with these results and He considers that they provide
a valuable foundation to bring to a good end the work of reconciliation.
This concerns in particular the juridical framework foreseen
for the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X.
As you have
been able to observe, on certain points the document of the commission
indicates alternate solutions or underlines a particular complexity.
Several of these questions could be solved by the Roman
Commission foreseen after the canonical erection of the Society
but others should be solved as soon as possible. Now
this requires common study and reflection and could take still more
time. Thus definitive answer cannot be given to you
for the moment but it will be at latest in the first half of June.
With regard to the nomination
of a bishop39 the
Holy Father tends to regard your proposition taking into account
the practical and psychological reasons for such a nomination.
However this one could not happen right now, even if there
were no other reason than the preparation and examination of the
files according to the usual procedure of episcopal nominations.
His Holiness has pointed out that which was marked in the document
of the Commission, viz. that on the one hand the guarantee
of stability and of the continuation of the life and activity of
the Society would be assured by its erection as a Society of Pontifical
Right and by the Pontifical approval of its Statutes and on the
other hand it would be quite possible to find a temporary solution
for the ordinations which are already scheduled.
to the doctrinal declaration, the Holy Father desires that the formula
established as the outcome of the work of the Commission be kept
without the addition of the three modifications which you proposed
in your letter. It appears indeed that point No. 3
(see p.66) as it is in the formula sufficiently expresses with due
precision the points of doctrine, of canon law and liturgical regulations
which could present a difficulty and the engagement that you would
take in their regard. But such a restriction cannot
take place without regard to the very precise object of the adherence
expressed at object No. 4 and of the promise formulated at No. 5.
At the end,
allow me to assure you that though the definitive solution must
wait some while because such an important problem cannot be resolved
by being treated with precipitation, the desire of the Holy Father
is however to reach it as soon as possible on the basis of the positive
elements which already exist. This is the object of
all our cares and of our common prayer.
In this spirit
I beg you to accept, Excellence, the expression of my faithful and
respectfully dedicated feelings in the Lord.
letter manifests the intention of the Vatican to delay as much
as possible the episcopal consecration. One can ponder
the following expressions: “common study and reflection and could
take still more time;” “definitive answer cannot be given to you
for the moment;” “the Holy Father tends to regard your proposition;”
“could not happen right now;” “even if there were no other reason
than;” “the definitive solution must wait some while, etc.”
the most alarming passage in this letter is the fifth paragraph.
The whole intent of that paragraph is to say that, once the
Society of Saint Pius X is recognized with a proper canonical
situation, then there is no need of a Bishop, at least for a long
time. This is what Archbishop Lefebvre feared the most:
that after the approval of the Society, and a great increase of
its number as the natural consequence which everyone could see,
the Vatican would have said to him: “See you are going very well,
you do not need a Bishop!” On the contrary, he saw the
need of Bishops dedicated to Tradition, first as defenders of
the Faith. Bishops, not priests, are part of the “Teaching Church,”
even if they do not have a flock assigned to them.40
was need that the Bishops who would do the ceremonies of Ordinations
or Confirmations be wholly attached to the tradition of the Church.
Indeed to have these ceremonies performed by bishops who otherwise
say the Novus Ordo would be a danger. Their preaching and
example would insinuate to the young priests or confirmands that
the Novus Ordo is acceptable, as the current situation
within the Fraternity of St. Peter proves.
Note that Archbishop Lefebvre had asked for consideration
for several bishops. Cardi¬nal Ratzinger makes no reference
at all to this.
The Pope assigns the flock to the local bishops, thereby
giving them jurisdiction on this flock. Archbishop Lefebvre
never claimed to be able to assign flock to the four Bishops
he consecrated. They are nonetheless successors of the Apostles
and as such part of the Teaching Church.
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