Archbishop LEFEBVRE and the VATICAN

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.

Moreover, 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.

With regard 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.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

This 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.”

But 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

There 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.


39. Note that Archbishop Lefebvre had asked for consideration for several bishops. Cardi¬nal Ratzinger makes no reference at all to this.

40. 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.

Courtesy of the Angelus Press, Regina Coeli House
2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109

Home | Newsletters | Library | Vocations | History | Links | Search | Contact