Correspondence between Cardinal Ratzinger and Archbishop Lefebvre
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 reading the letter that you gave me informing me of the Holy Father’s answer concerning episcopal consecrations.
Practically speaking, a postponement of the episcopal consecrations to a later undetermined date would be the fourth time that I had postponed the date of the ceremony. June 30 was clearly indicated in my previous letters as the latest possible date.
I have already given you a file concerning the candidates. There are still two months to establish the mandate.
Given the particular circumstances of this proposal, the Holy Father can very easily simplify the procedure so that the mandate can be communicated to us around mid-June.
If the answer was no, I would find myself in conscience obliged to proceed with the consecrations, relying on the agreement given by the Holy See in the Protocol for the consecration of one bishop who is a member of the Society.
The hesitations expressed on the subject of the episcopal consecration of a member of the Society, either by writing or by word of mouth, give me reason to fear delays. Everything is now prepared for the ceremony on June 30: hotel reservations, transportation, rental of huge tents to shelter the ceremony.
The disappointment of our priests and lay faithful would be extreme. All of them hope that this consecration will be performed with the agreement of the Holy See; but having been disappointed already by previous delays they would not understand it if I accepted a new delay. They are aware and desirous above all of having true Catholic bishops transmitting the true Faith to them and communicating to them in a sure way 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, Your Eminence, accept my respectful and fraternal sentiments in Christo et Maria.
+ Marcel Lefebvre
Former Archbishop-Bishop of Tulle
I have carefully read the letter which you just sent me, in which you tell me of your intentions concerning the episcopal consecration of a member of the Society on June 30 of this year.
Since these intentions are in sharp contrast with what you agreed to during our conversation on May 4 and signed your name to in the Protocol yesterday, I wish to inform you that the release of the press communique has to be deferred.
I earnestly hope that you would reconsider your position in keeping with the results of the dialogue, so that the communique might be released.
In this hope, I ask you, Your Excellency, ...
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Albano, May 24, 1988
To His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
It seems to me necessary to clarify what I wrote to you on May 6 of this year.
Upon reflection, it appears plain to us that the purpose of these dialogues is to reabsorb us into the Conciliar Church, the only Church that you mentioned to us in your catechetical instructions.
We hoped that you would give us the means to continue and develop the works of Tradition, especially by giving us some coadjutors, at least three, and by giving a majority to Tradition on the Roman Commission.
Now, on these two points which we deem necessary to maintain our works outside of all progressivist and conciliar influence, we are not satisfied.
Therefore, with much regret, we consider ourselves obliged to ask you, before June 1, to indicate clearly to us what the intentions of the Holy See are on these two points: consecration of three bishops requested for June 30, and a majority of members from Tradition on the Roman Commission.
If I receive no answer to this request, I shall proceed with the publication of the names of the candidates to the episcopacy whom I will consecrate on June 30 with the collaboration of His Excellency Bishop de Castro Mayer.
My health and the apostolic needs for the growth of our works do not allow any further delay.
In the hope that these requests will be taken into consideration, please accept, Your Eminence, my respectful and fraternally devoted sentiments in Jesus and Mary.
+ Marcel Lefebvre
May 30, 1988
After being received in audience by the Holy Father on Friday, May 27, as I had indicated to you during our conversation on the 24th, I am in a position to respond to the letter you had given to me the same day, concerning the problems of a majority of the members of the Society on the Roman Commission, and the consecration of bishops.
Concerning the first point, the Holy Father deems it proper to adhere to the principles decided on in Part III, section 2 of the Protocol which you accepted. This Commission is an organization of the Holy See in the service of the Society and of the various authorities with which it will have to deal in order to establish and consolidate the work of reconciliation. Moreover, it is not the Commission, but the Holy Father who in the final analysis will make the decisions; thus the question of a majority does not arise; the interests of the Society are guaranteed by its representation within the Commission, and the fears which you have expressed with respect to the other members are groundless, since the choice of members will be made by the Holy Father himself.
Regarding the second point, the Holy Father confirms what I had already indicated to you in his behalf, namely that he is willing to appoint a member of the Society as a bishop (as described in Part II, section 5, paragraph 2 of the Protocol), and to accelerate the usual process of nomination, so that the consecration could take place on the concluding day of this Marian Year, on August 15.
From the practical point of view this requires that you present without delay to His Holiness a greater number of dossiers on possible candidates, so as to allow him to choose freely a candidate who corresponds to the profile envisaged in the agreements and at the same time the general criteria of aptitude which the Church maintains for the appointment of bishops.
Finally, you know that the Holy Father awaits from you a letter containing essentially the points which we have spoken about, particularly in our conversation of May 24. However, since you recently announced again your intention to ordain three bishops on June 30 with or without Rome’s approval, it is necessary that in this letter (cf. Part II, section 4 of the Protocol), you state clearly that you renounce the idea, and that you place yourself in full obedience to the decision of the Holy Father.
With this final step, accomplished as soon as possible, the process of reconciliation would reach its conclusion, and a public announcement of this fact could be given.
Your Excellency, as I conclude this letter, I can only repeat to you as I did last Tuesday, and with yet more gravity, if that is possible: when one considers the positive content of the agreement which the benevolence of Pope John Paul II has allowed us to reach, there is no proportion between the last few difficulties that you expressed and the damage that would be caused now by a break, a rupture with the Apostolic See on your part, merely for these reasons. You must have confidence in the Holy Father: he has shown his goodness and understanding toward you and toward the Society, and it is the best guarantee of the future. Finally, you must—as we all must—have confidence in the Lord, who has allowed the path of reconciliation to be opened as it is today, and enabled the goal to appear so close now.
Kindly accept, Your Excellency, the expression of my fraternal and respectfully devoted sentiments in the Lord.
Joseph Card. Ratzinger
Econe, June 2, 1988
Most Holy Father,
The conversations and meetings with Cardinal Ratzinger and his collaborators, although they took place in an atmosphere of courtesy and charity, persuaded us that the moment for a frank and efficacious collaboration between us has not yet arrived.
For indeed, if the ordinary Christian is authorized to ask the competent Church authorities to preserve for him the Faith of his baptism, how much more true is that for priests, religious, and nuns?
It is to keep the Faith of our baptism intact that we have had to resist the spirit of Vatican II and the reforms inspired by it.
The false ecumenism, which is at the origin of all the Council’s innovations, in the liturgy, in the new relationship between the Church and the world, in the conception of the Church itself, is leading the Church to its ruin and Catholics to apostasy.
Being radically opposed to this destruction of our Faith and determined to remain within the traditional doctrine and discipline of the Church, especially as far as the formation of priests and religious life is concerned, we find ourselves in the absolute necessity of having ecclesiastical authorities who embrace our concerns and will help us to protect ourselves against the spirit of Vatican II and the spirit of Assisi.
That is why we are asking for several bishops chosen from within Catholic Tradition, and for a majority of the members on the projected Roman Commission for Tradition, in order to protect ourselves against all compromise.
Given the refusal to consider our requests, and it being evident that the purpose of this reconciliation is not at all the same in the eyes of the Holy See as it is in our eyes, we believe it preferable to wait for times more propitious for the return of Rome to Tradition.
That is why we shall give ourselves the means to carry on the work which Providence has entrusted to us, being assured by His Eminence Cardinal Ratzinger's letter of May 30th that the episcopal consecration is not contrary to the will of the Holy See, since it was granted for August 15.
We shall continue to pray that modern Rome, infested with Modernism, may once again become Catholic Rome and rediscover its 2,000 year-old tradition. Then the problem of our reconciliation will have no further reason to exist and the Church will experience a new youth.
Be so good, Most Holy Father, as to accept the expression of my most respectful and filially devoted sentiments in Jesus and Mary.
+ Marcel Lefebvre, Archbishop-Bishop Emeritus of Tulle,
Founder of the Society of St. Pius X
To His Excellency Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
Archbishop-Bishop Emeritus of Tulle
It is with intense and profound affliction that I read your letter dated June 2.
Guided solely by concern for the unity of the Church in fidelity to revealed Truth—an imperative duty imposed on the Successor of the Apostle Peter—I had arranged last year an Apostolic Visitation of the Society of St. Pius X and its work, which was carried out by Edward Cardinal Gagnon. Conversations followed, first with the experts of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then between yourself and Cardinal Ratzinger. In the course of these meetings solutions had been drawn up, accepted, and signed by you on May 5, 1988. They permitted the Society of St. Pius X to exist and to work in the Church in full communion with the Supreme Pontiff, the guardian of unity in the Truth. For its part, the Apostolic See pursued only one end in these conversations with you: to promote and safeguard this unity in obedience to Divine Revelation, as translated and interpreted by the Church’s Magisterium, notably in the 21 Ecumenical Councils from Nicaea to Vatican II.
In the letter you sent me you appear to reject all that was agreed on in the previous conversations, since you clearly manifest your intention to “provide for yourself the means to continue your work,” particularly by proceeding shortly without apostolic mandate to one or several episcopal ordinations, and this in flagrant contradiction not only with the norms of Canon Law, but also with the Protocol signed on May 5 and the directions relevant to this problem contained in the letter which Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to you on my instructions on May 30.
With a paternal heart, but with all the gravity required by the present circumstances, I exhort you, Reverend Brother, not to embark on a course which, if persisted in, can only appear as a schismatic act whose inevitable theological and canonical consequences are known to you. I earnestly invite you to return, in humility, to full obedience to Christ’s Vicar.
Not only do I invite you to do so, but I ask it of you through the wounds of Christ our Redeemer, in the name of Christ who, on the eve of His Passion, prayed for His disciples “that they may all be one” (Jn. 17:20).
To this request and to this invitation I unite my daily prayer to Mary, Mother of Christ.
Dear Brother, do not permit that the year dedicated in a very special way to the Mother of God should bring another wound to her Mother’s Heart!
Joannes Paulus PP.II
From the Vatican,
June 9, 1988
Indeed it is difficult to understand why the talks ceased unless we put them into their historical context.
Although we never wanted to have a break in relations with Conciliar Rome, even after the first visitation from Rome on November 11, 1974, was followed by measures that were sectarian and null—the suppression of our work on May 6, 1975, and the “suspension” in July 1976—these relations could only take place in a climate of mistrust.
Louis Veuillot says that there is no one more sectarian than a Liberal; indeed, having made a compromise between error and Revelation, he feels condemned by those who remain in the Truth, and thus if he is in power, he persecutes them fiercely. This is the case with us and with all those who are opposed to the liberal documents and liberal reforms of the Council.
They absolutely want us to have a “guilt complex” with regard to them, but they are the ones who are guilty of duplicity.
Thus it was always in a tense albeit polite atmosphere that relations took place with Cardinal Seper and Cardinal Ratzinger between 1976 and 1987, but also with some hope that as the self-destruction of the Church accelerated, they would finally regard us with benevolence.
Until that time, the goal of the contacts for Rome was to make us accept the Council and its reforms, and to make us acknowledge our error. The logic of events necessarily led me to ask for a successor, if not two or three, to assure our ordinations and confirmations. Given the persistent refusal of Rome, on June 29, 1987, I announced my decision to consecrate bishops.
On July 28, Cardinal Ratzinger opened up some new horizons which legitimately gave us reason to think that finally Rome was looking more favorably on us. No longer was there any question of a doctrinal document to be signed, or of asking for forgiveness; instead an Apostolic Visitor was finally announced, the Society could be recognized, the Liturgy would be as before the Council, the seminarians would remain in the same frame of mind!
Thus we agreed to enter into this new dialogue, but on the condition that our identity would be well protected against liberal influences by means of bishops taken from within Tradition, and by a majority of members in the Roman Commission for Tradition. Now, after the visit of Cardinal Gagnon, of which we still know nothing, the disappointments have accumulated.
The talks that followed in April and May were a distinct disappointment to us. They sent us a doctrinal document, they added the new Canon Law to it, Rome reserved for itself five out of seven members on the Roman Commission, among them a President (who will be Cardinal Ratzinger) and the Vice-President.
The question of a bishop was resolved after much hemming and hawing; they insisted on proving to us that we did not need one.
The cardinal informed us that we would now have to allow one New Mass to be celebrated [weekly] at St. Nicolas du Chardonnet. He insisted on the one and only Church, that of Vatican II.
Despite these disappointments, I signed the Protocol on May 5. But already the date of the episcopal consecration caused a problem. Then a draft letter asking the pope for forgiveness was put into my hands.
I considered myself obliged to write a letter threatening to perform the episcopal consecrations in order to manage to get the date of August 15 for the episcopal consecration.
The atmosphere is no longer one of fraternal collaboration and pure and simple recognition of the Society—not at all. For Rome the goal of the talks is reconciliation, as Cardinal Gagnon says in an interview granted to the Italian newspaper L’Avvenire, meaning the return of the lost sheep to the flock. That is what I say in my letter to the pope dated June 2: “The purpose of the talks has not been the same for you as for us.”
And when we think of the history of relations of Rome with the traditionalists from 1965 to this day, we are compelled to observe that there has been an unceasing and cruel persecution to force us to submit to the Council. The most recent example is that of the Mater Ecclesiae Seminary for drop-outs from Econe, who in less than two years have been made to serve the conciliar revolution, contrary to all promises!
The present conciliar and Modernist Rome can never tolerate the existence of a vigorous branch of the Catholic Church which condemns it by its very vitality.
No doubt we shall have to wait yet another few years, therefore, for Rome to recover her bi-millennial Tradition. As for us, we continue to show, with the grace of God, that this Tradition is the only source of sanctification and salvation for souls, and the only possibility of renewal for the Church.
+ Marcel Lefebvre
June 19, 1988