Archbishop LEFEBVRE and the VATICAN

May 10, 1988

Conference of Archbishop Lefebvre
at St. Nicolas du Chardonnet

In this conference less than a week after the crucial moments in the relations between himself and the Vatican, Archbishop Lefebvre gives to his priests gathered at St. Nicolas du Chardonnet (Paris, France), for their monthly meeting, a detailed account of these moments. The text of this conference is appropriately included here.

If there is no agreement with Rome, we shall just have to continue our work. But supposing that there is an agreement with Rome, we would find ourselves in a different atmosphere. This would be a new period in the Society, a new period for Tradition, that will require infinite precautions.

Why do I say, “if” there is an agreement? It is not difficult; I shall explain it to you in a few words.

Thus I have signed the Protocol; I have it here. It contains five pages. The first is on doctrinal questions, and the others on disciplinary questions.

On the doctrinal questions the discussion was a little difficult. They prepared this text; we did not. They put it on the table. We corrected some omissions. It is always the same question: a few sentences on the Pope saying that we recognize the Pope, that we submit ourselves to the Sovereign Pontiff, that we acknowledge his primacy.

And they had added that we acknowledge him as “the head of the college of bishops.” I said “I don’t like that. It is an ambiguous notion. The best proof of this is that an explanatory note had to be included in the Council, to explain what ‘college’ meant in this sense, saying that it was not a true college.” So I said, “You should not put that. It will give the impression that we accept Collegiality.” So they said, “Let’s put ‘the body of bishops.’” The Pope is the head of the episcopal body.

Then they said we had to accept the paragraph in Lumen Gentium which deals with the magisterium of the Church, §25. When you read this paragraph, you understand it condemns them, not us; they would have to sign it because it is not so badly written and it contains a whole paragraph stressing the immutability of doctrine, the immutability of the Faith, the immutability of the formulas. We agree with that. There are those who need to sign this. Thus there is no difficulty in accepting this paragraph which expresses traditional doctrine.

Then they added a Number Three which made us swallow the pill that followed. It was not easy to accept but with this Number Three, we were “saved from the waters.” In this Number Three they recognized that there were some points in the Council and in the reform of the liturgy and of the Canon Law, which we considered irreconcilable with Tradition. They agreed to speak of this, which they had always refused before. Every time that we had said something was not reconcilable with Tradition, such as Religious Liberty, they used to say, “You can’t say that; there is nothing in the Council opposed to Tradition. Let us change the expression. We cannot say that there is anything irreconcilable with Tradition.”

Then came the question of the liturgy. We recognized that “the validity of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments celebrated with the intention of doing what the Church does, and according to the rites indicated in the typical editions of the Roman Missal.” It was maybe too much, but since they had put that there were some points in the liturgy that were eventually against Tradition—I wanted to add, “taking into account what was stated in §3...” but they did not accept it.

Number Five was on Canon Law. We promised “to respect the common discipline of the Church and the ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law promulgated by Pope John Paul II.” They wanted to say “all ecclesiastical law.” I objected, it would have been to recognize all the new Canon Law.61  So they took away the word “all.” As you see, it was a constant fight.

At the conclusion of Number Three they put “we pledge that we will have a positive attitude of study and communication with the Apostolic See, avoiding all polemics,” as we had done on Religious Liberty (with the Dubia). “Without polemics,” I said, “We never did any polemics!” “Oh, no. See what you did to the Pope.” They were referring to the little drawings which the Pope looked at attentively—and maybe they were looking at them with a little smile—So I said, “This was not polemics; it was a catechism lesson! Indeed, who is responsible for these actions? It is not us, it is the Pope. If the Pope would not do reprehensible things, we would say nothing. But since he does things which are absolutely unbelievable, unacceptable, therefore, we react; it is absolutely natural. Let the Pope stop doing these reprehensible things, incomprehensible, unthinkable, and we will stop reacting.” They said nothing They did not answer.

Then we spoke of the juridical questions.

The first was on the Roman Commission. There we lost some points. We wanted all the members of the Roman Commission to be members of Tradition. It did not matter whether they would be of the Society or not, but they should be members of Tradition in order to be able to judge of the things of Tradition. But they said, “No, this is not an embassy. We must be present, too.” Thus the President would be Cardinal Ratzinger. There would be a Vice-President, too; but they did not want to release his name, but he probably would not be from Tradition. Then there would be other members from Rome and only two from Tradition. I said, “Well! That’s very few.”

Please note that. You shall see that throughout the discussions, and already you found that on the doctrinal discussions, their intentions have clearly appeared. I suspected they had such intentions but I did not expect them to manifest them so clearly. Their intention is clear. They want to put their hands on the Roman Commission. For the Society of Saint Pius X its recognition would not raise any difficulty, but all the other foundations which surround the Society would have to deal directly with the Roman Commission. They would have no more relations with the Society. They put “the members of the community living according to the rules of various religious institutes...are to be given case by case a particular statute regulating their relations with their respective order.” One can see their intentions, separating these traditional communities from the Society and putting them under their (modernist) superiors general, making them defend themselves.

Then they agreed to recognize the Society as of pontifical right with some exemptions in the pastoral domain for the administration of the sacraments. This would be good only for the existing houses.

Then came the question of the bishops. They said very clearly, “You do not need a bishop. As soon as the Society is recognized with a canonical status with the Holy See, you can ask any bishop to perform your ordinations and confirmations. There are 3,000 bishops in the world ready to give you ordinations and confirmations...even Cardinal Gagnon and Cardinal Oddi are ready to give you confirmations and perform your ordinations!” I said, “This is impossible. This is condition sine qua non.The faithful will never accept this. Indeed, what would these bishops preach?” With the intentions that we can see among them, their preaching will always be, “you must accept the Council, you must accept what the Pope does, you must accept the novelties. We respect your Tradition, you must respect our new rights. No difference.”

So, we have been very severe. So, they have put a little paragraph, “for psychological reasons, the consecration of a member of the Society appears useful.”

What procedure to follow? After signing the Protocol, they wanted me to write a letter to the Pope, asking for the re-establishment of a normal situation for the Society, for the pontifical right, the suppression of the canonical penalties, exemptions, and privileges—so-called privileges—on the liturgy. Thus, I have signed, I have written that letter.

I signed it on Thursday, Feast of St. Pius V. They did not know it was the Feast of St. Pius V because they have relocated his feast to another date….

Thus I have said, “We must know where to stand concerning June 30; it’s coming soon.” So, with these thoughts, I did not sleep all night. I told myself, “They are going to get us.” Indeed, the Cardinal had made a few frightening reflections. “Well! There is only one Church....As we respect your feelings, you must also respect Religious Liberty, the New Mass, the sacraments. It is inconceivable that you turn the faithful away from these new sacraments, from the New Mass...For example, if there is an agreement, it is evident that in churches such as St. Nicolas du Chardonnet, Cardinal Lustiger shall ask that a New Mass be said there. This is the one Church, in it there is the Tradition that we shall grant you but there are also the new rites that you must accept for the faithful of your parish who do not want Tradition.” I said, “Well! Go and tell that to our parishioners and see how they receive you!”

They call all this a “reconciliation.” This means that we accept what they do and they accept what we do. Thus, we have to align ourselves on Dom Augustin62 and Fongombault.63

This is not possible. All this makes me hesitate. We have asked the Cardinal when shall we be able to consecrate a bishop. On June 30? He said, “No, this is much too early. It takes time to make a bishop. In Germany it takes nine months to make a bishop.” When I told that to Cardinal Oddi, he said, “That must be a beautiful baby then!” I said, “Well, give us a date. Let’s be precise. The 15th of August?” “No, on August 15 there is no one in Rome. It is the holidays from July 15 to September 15.” “What about November 1?” “I can’t tell you.” “What about Christmas?” “I don’t know.”

I said to myself, “Finished. I have understood. They do not want to give us a bishop.” They put it on the paper because we were ready to quit the negotiations without it, but they will maneuver. They are convinced that when the Society is acknowledged we don’t need a bishop.

So, I took my pen on Friday morning and wrote to the Cardinal: “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, bringing the Holy Father’s answer concerning the episcopal consecrations.” Indeed, in that letter—I do not have it here—which he brought me from the Holy Father, there is an astonishing sentence. It goes like, “It is possible that we consider one day granting you a consecration,” as if it was something very vague, a mere possibility, an eventuality. I cannot accept that.

[Here, the Archbishop read the rest of the letter dated May 6, 1988. See pp.83,84.]

So, I immediately received an answer. On Friday morning I took my letter to the Cardinal before my departure from Rome. And, on that very evening, Fr. du Chalard was given the answer of the Cardinal, even before the Cardinal saw the Pope at 7:30 p.m. He should have waited to see the Pope and tell him, “Look what I just received from Archbishop Lefebvre. What shall we do?” He did not even wait.

[Here, the Archbishop read the Cardinal’s letter of May 6, 1988. See p.86.]

Fr. du Chalard brought that letter to me at Ecône on Sunday morning. I said to him, “Tell the Secretary of the Cardinal that for me the whole thing is finished. I am not changing the date of June 30. It is the final date. I feel my strength diminishing. I even have difficulty in travelling by car.64

I think it would be to put in danger the continuation of the Society and the seminaries if I do not perform these consecrations.” I think they will agree to that date. They are too anxious for this reconciliation.

Again, for them, this reconciliation means, “We shall give you this Tradition for a little while but, after two or three years when you will have understood that you must accept the reforms, then, your community Masses will be the New Mass—as for Dom Augustin—you may be allowed to say the traditional Mass in private but no more. Vatican II happened; you must accept Vatican II and its consequences. It is inadmissible that there be in the Church people who do not accept the reforms and consequences of Vatican II.”

One can see that this is their way of thinking. I want to remain firm. They are afraid. They think that if there is a bishop, he will lead all the faithful attached to Tradition, he will give strength to Tradition by his preaching. For confirmations, ordinations, any occasion, a bishop strengthens the faith of the faithful. So they say, “If there is a bishop we cannot stop it.” They want none of this.

But their intention is very clear. If I write the letter they want to the Pope, we are officially recognized. They ask us to be patient for a little while, they do not give us any date. And after the summer holiday, they tell us, “Look, now, you have been living for three months with this official recognition. You do not need a bishop. You can address yourself to any bishop for ordinations.” This is almost certain; otherwise, they would give us a date. If they were really sincere about giving us a bishop, it would not have been difficult for them to say, “For sure, at least by Christmas, you will have a bishop.” But, no, they did not want that. It was clear that they had previously agreed among themselves on this: they were four in front of us, none of them said anything; not even one said to the Cardinal, “Eminence, couldn’t we...?”

I think that by the end of this month they will call in Fr. du Chalard and say to him, “Well, let us settle. We shall give you a bishop.”

I tell you that this makes a problem for me, given their will to impose Vatican II. After the Visit, they could have said a little word such as, “We can see that Tradition has brought a lot of good. We are happy to welcome you, and to allow you to continue.” But, no, not even the least compliment.

One can feel very well that they want to hold us under their influence. I fear this influence. These Romans would go and visit the Dominicans, the Benedictines, the priories of the Society. All these traditional foundations will be isolated from the Society. They will send their superiors general, who will talk to these sisters and say, “Be open-minded. Don’t be against the New Mass....” They will give conferences to the sisters....Above that, one has to reckon with the local bishops. What shall they say?...

We shall see what Providence shall manifest.

We are living through dramatic days. It is the whole of Tradition that is at stake. We must not make a mistake and let all these influences loose. There certainly are some advantages. It is like a bet: they bet that they shall “get us,” and we bet that we will “get them!” They say that by having the upper hand on us, they will have the last word. We say that with the authorization of Rome, there will be such a development of our works that they won’t be able to do anything against us. This bet is difficult to calculate. They have some flushes; we have some flushes.

I did tell them, we really wish to have the authorization of Rome. Everyone wishes to have it, but we cannot remain in limbo.

[At this point, a priest interrupted the Archbishop to ask two pertinent questions.]

Fr. Boivin65: “Shall there be one or several bishops?”

Archbishop Lefebvre: If there is no authorization from Rome, there shall be several bishops. Personally, I think that some important events shall come. Europe was invaded twice and cut from America, from Africa—no more communication. So I think it will be useful to have several bishops. I did insist and ask the Cardinal for two or three, also because of the immensity of the work. He has never accepted, or one at the most...

Fr. Boivin: “What about the churches?”

Archbishop Lefebvre: The existing places of worship will be ratified. They would ask the local bishops to consider them as regular places of worship in their diocese. But for any new one, there would be need of an agreement. It would be the duty of the Roman Commission to see what would be the conditions. It would certainly be more difficult. As they said for St. Nicolas du Chardonnet, if the bishops give us a parish—Cardinal Decourtray at Lyon has promised a beautiful church—they would require that one New Mass be said in that parish. Cardinal Decourtray did that with Fr. Cottin. He said to him, “I allow you to say the old Mass, but I request that at least one New Mass be said by the assistant priest.” Thus there would be as much for the novelties as for Tradition. Of course, this is impossible. We have chosen Tradition because we deem the novelties to be bad and to hurt the Faith. It is the position of some conservative groups such as Una Voce who accept the New Mass. They would like to re-align us along these lines. This is not possible. This would be contrary to all that we have fought for.


61. i.e., including Canon 844. See Part II of this volume, p.150.

62. Dom Augustin had founded a traditional Benedictine monastery in the early 1970’s. In 1985, after the Indult, he had secret meetings with the Vatican to make a special arrangement from himself. The Vatican required: 1) the New Mass as the Community Mass, 2) the new Breviary, 3) new rites of Ordination, 4) unconditional submission to the local bishop, who even for a while forbade them to preach the Exercises of St. Ignatius, which had been the main apostolic work of this monastery.

63. A conservative Benedictine monastery in France which accepted the New Mass only in the mid-1970’s, under pressure from the local bishop.

63. Fr. Lorans, former Rector of the Seminary of Ecône (1983-88), told me that the health of the Archbishop was greatly affected by these negotiations. A choice between being strangled or shot is hard! But after the decision to proceed with the consecrations was made, without accepting the Protocol, a great peace and a better health in the Archbishop was noticeable to all those around him.

65. Fr. Claude Boivin, then District Bursar (Treasurer) of the District of France for the Society of Saint Pius X.

Courtesy of the Angelus Press, Regina Coeli House
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