Archbishop LEFEBVRE and the VATICAN

May 6, 1988

Letter of Archbishop Lefebvre
to Cardinal Ratzinger

On the very evening the Protocol was signed, May 5, 1988, after mature reflection and, he says, by a grace of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Archbishop Lefebvre clearly perceived that, in spite of the principle recognized by Rome that the episcopate was to be conferred on a member of the Society, this Accord was not satisfactory; thus the very next day, May 6, he wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger to express his misgivings, on the grounds that Rome was not willing to fix a date for the episcopal consecration.


Yesterday it was with real satisfaction that I put my signature on the Protocol drafted during the preceding days. However, you yourself have witnessed my deep disappointment upon the reading of the letter which you gave me,55] bringing the Holy Father’s answer concerning the episcopal consecrations.

Practically, to postpone the episcopal consecrations to a later undetermined date would be the fourth time that it would have been postponed.56

The date of June 30 was clearly indicated in my previous letters as the latest possible.

I have already given you a file concerning the candidates. There are still two months to make the mandate.

Given the particular circumstances of this proposal, the Holy Father can very well shorten the procedure so that the mandate be communicated to us around mid-June.

In case the answer will be negative, I would find myself in conscience obliged to proceed with the consecrations, relying upon the agreement given by the Holy See in the Protocol for the consecration of one bishop member of the Society.

The reticence expressed on the subject of the episcopal consecration of a member of the Society, either by writing or by word of mouth, gives me reason to fear delays. Everything is now prepared for the ceremony of June 30: hotel reservations, transportation, rental of a huge tent to house the ceremony.

The disappointment of our priests and faithful would be extreme. All of them hope that this consecration will be realized with the agreement of the Holy See; but being already disappointed by previous delays they will not understand that I would accept a further delay. They are aware and desirous above all of having truly Catholic bishops, transmitting the true Faith to them, and communicating to them in a way that is certain the graces of salvation to which they aspire for themselves and for their children.

In the hope that this request shall not be an insurmountable obstacle to the reconciliation in process, please, Eminence, accept my respectful and fraternal sentiments in Christo et Maria.

Marcel Lefebvre

Former Archbishop-Bishop of Tulle

Recalling the evening of May 5 to a reporter for 30 Days magazine,57the Archbishop himself described how he came to write the preceding letter:

Yes, I signed the accord, but with extreme distrust. The same distrust I had when I came to Rome. I had made an effort in order to see whether something had changed in Rome, if they had decided to return to Tradition.

But all the disillusionments of these years kept coming back into my mind. The climate of distrust that characterized the meetings first with Cardinal Seper, then with Cardinal Ratzinger. The immense, laborious exchange of correspondence, and then all the things that happened against Tradition, in France and elsewhere. And the tricks that were played on us: Fr. Augustine at Flavigny forced to celebrate the Mass of Paul VI after he had returned to communion with Rome, the two seminaries set up in Rome for the deserters from Ecône over the years. Both were closed, and the seminarians sent back to those bishops from whom they had fled. And the last attempt, the Mater Ecclesiæ, will close down next year. The letter that I received from the Abbé Carlo58 is proof to me of the ill-will of Rome. And the apostolic visit of Cardinal Gagnon about which they obstinately refused to tell me anything. “These meetings are the result of that visit,” Ratzinger’s secretary said to me. But not a word about the report presented to the Pope. Just as it happened in 1974 after the visit of the two Belgian visitors. Still today I know nothing about the report they made.

And Assisi, the visit to the Synagogue,59 the Cardinals who a few days before had gone to genuflect in front of Gorbachev. And now they were deceiving us again.

During the night between May 5 and May 6, I said to myself: “All this is impossible. I cannot accept Ratzinger’s answer, which avoids fixing the date of the ordination.” Then I thought that I should write a letter to the Pope and to Ratzinger: if they would not grant me the ordination on June 30, I would do it anyway. On the morning of May 6, I wrote the letter and I sent it to them.


Was this letter the cause of the cessation of the negotiations?

This May 5 Protocol had several flaws. In the present letter His Grace highlights one, the most urgent one, i.e., the vagueness of the Protocol concerning the consecrations of bishops: No date was fixed, no candidate agreed upon.

Many accused Archbishop Lefebvre of having reneged on the Protocol by this letter. However, a careful reading of both cannot show any opposition between them. No date was mentioned in the Protocol, therefore he asked for a date. This was not to oppose the protocol, but rather to take steps to put it in practice. Archbishop Lefebvre did threaten in this letter, because, as he said, every step forward in the negotiation had only been obtained upon the pressure of such threats.

Such a threat did achieve its purpose, as Cardinal Ratzinger did give a date in his letter of May 30, 1988.

In that letter of May 30, 1988, by asking for “a greater number of dossiers on possible candidates,” Cardinal Ratzinger practically rejected all the candidates proposed by Archbishop Lefebvre. That was the real cause of the break of negotiations. Indeed what guarantee that the new names His Grace would have proposed, would be accepted by August 15? By rejecting the candidates proposed by Archbishop Lefebvre, Cardinal Ratzinger made clear that the Vatican was not sincere in fulfilling its promises for a Bishop.

55. This sentence would seem to indicate that there was a letter from the Pope to Archbishop Lefebvre given on May 5. There was no such letter. It rather refers to the “Draft of a Letter Given to Archbishop Lefebvre for the Holy Father” (See previous document, p.81); it refers in particular to the two sentences: “Of course, I leave to Your Holiness the decision concerning the person to be chosen and the opportune moment. May I just express the wish that this be not in the too distant future.” The vagueness of such expression naturally aroused the fears of Archbishop Lefebvre.

56. The first date had been set for the 40th anniversary of his episcopal consecration (Oct. 3, 1987). Late September, upon the report of some improvement of attitude in Rome with the hope of a proper visit of the Society, it was postponed to the Feast of St. John the Evangelist (Dec. 27, 1987); at the time of the visit, with the new hope of a true solution, it was postponed to Good Shepherd Sunday (Apr. 17, 1988), and later, due to the slowness of the negotiations to St. Paul’s Commemoration (June 30, 1988).

57. 30 Days, July 1988, pp.12-13.

58. One of the seminarians at Ecône staying at Mater Ecclesiæ.See his letter of June 2, 1988, in Part II, p.167.

59. i.e., the ecumenical day of prayer held in Assisi on October 27, 1986 and the Pope’s visit to the synagogue of Rome on April 13, 1986.

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2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109

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