Letter #80, 2021, Monday, August 2, Feast of Our Lady of the Angels of the Portiuncula (the cradle of the Franciscan Order)

    Traditionalist (Catholic) movements—both those that went into schism, as did the followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and those who remained in communion with Rome—have long been associated with hard-right and authoritarian political regimes. Everything from the effort to restore the monarchy in France (a hopeless cause), to suppression of the indigenous peoples of Brazil (an ongoing problem), has flown under the flag of Catholic traditionalism. Pope Benedict did not believe the danger was there, but it was.” –excerpt from an article on the liturgy by Rita Ferrone in Commonweal magazine on July 23, 2021. The article approves of Pope Francis’ decision to suppress the old Mass, saying July 16, the day he published Traditionis custodes [“Of the tradition the guardians”] was “a great day for the Roman Rite and for the legacy of the Second Vatican Council.” However, many of her arguments seem to be drawn from a political perspective, not a theological one (see comments below)

    July 16, 2021 was a great day for the Roman Rite and for the legacy of the Second Vatican Council. Finally, after years of accommodating those who dislike or actually reject the liturgical reforms of the Council, the Catholic Church’s highest authority took a definitive step to re-establish the reformed rites as normative for the whole Latin Rite Church, without exception.” —Rita Ferrone, in the same article

    A number of Catholic commentators, including Rita Ferrone in Commonweal magazine article cited above (full text below), have applauded the publication of Traditionis Custodes [“Of tradition the guardians”] on July 16 by Pope Francis, in which the Pope decrees that the “old Mass” is no longer part of the Roman rite of the Mass — as it was considered to be by Pope Benedict XVI — and makes the reformed liturgy of Pope Paul VI the sole liturgy of the Roman rite.

    A few preliminary observations.


    Audi alteram partem” (“Hear the other side”)

    Audi alteram partem and audiatur et altera pars are Latin phrases meaning “listen to the other side” or “let the other side also be heard.” It is the principle that no person should be judged without a fair hearing in which each party is given the opportunity to respond to the evidence against them.

    Since I have been sending, day by day, various sharp critiques of the Pope’s decree, it seemed fitting and fair to begin to send also writings that applaud the Pope’s decision. I have tried to be fair in my writing in the past, and will continue to try to be fair — difficult as that may be, considering that human reason is often adversely affected (as Dr. Spock in Star Trek often noted) by human emotion.


    This means, first of all, examining my own — our own –presuppositions.

    And the writings and criticisms of others can be a quick, effective, useful way to confront such presuppositions.

    Hence, I read with interest, and include below, the important essay of Rita Ferrone.

Subscribe to Inside the Vatican magazine

    However, I must say that the arguments of this essay, and of many similar ones, seem, in the end, deeply flawed, and so, unpersuasive.

    The essential error is that certain ideas, certain affirmations, are taken as reliable cornerstones, presuppositions, upon which to build an argument, but… that these ideas, these affirmations, are not true, and so cannot be used as the cornerstones for a valid, persuasive, true argument.

    They are taken to be true, but they are not true,


    Now, in one sense, this helps us to accept the effort of each writer to build the case he or she is building — we understand that the writer is “in good faith” in so far as the writer, evidently, does actually believe, and trust, and not doubt, the affirmations presented.

    The affirmations are “taken for granted.”

    So any criticism of authors praising Pope Francis‘ decision on the liturgy is not a criticism of the author’s logic, or intelligence, or good faith; it is rather a lament that the author has not been informed about the falsity of certain fundamental affirmations which the author — like almost everyone, it seems — has accepted as true.


    What if the affirmations that are “taken for granted” are not “granted”?

    What if I do not “grant” them?

    What if I say: “I do not grant your affirmations.”


    Then the argument must shift.

    The argument must shift to… the truth of the affirmations.

    The affirmations would have to be studied, and confirmed, or set aside.


    And that, ultimately, is my goal.


    I would like the affirmations, the presuppositions, in the liturgical debate, to be studied.

    In total freedom and objectivity.


    Because I believe that precisely there, in the study of the presuppositions, the truth will slowly, bit by bit, be revealed.

    And that truth will show that the Second Vatican Council did not intend the “new Mass” promulgated by Paul VI, and that Paul VI and John Paul I and John Paul II and Benedict did not intend the suppression of the old Mass, and that Francis was not well-advised on all of this history, and wrote this decree without having full knowledge of these facts.


    And in this way, I see the possibility of holding the Church together, and of maintaining that liturgical balance which Benedict proposed for our ecclesial peace on July 7, 2007.

    So that is my goal: to come to a general consensus that the old liturgy was, and remains, venerable, holy, spiritually fruitful, and so should be permitted, even favored, by Rome.    

   Two more points:

     I have been reading through the journals of my late father, William Moynihan (he died on March 28, 2020, at the age of 93).

    I have his journal from his time in the U.S. Marine Corps in the late 1940s (born in 1926, a year before Pope Benedict, my father was in his early 20s when he was a Marine.)

    He was assigned to the Commandant’s headquarters in Washington D.C., and was part of the Marine Corps color guard, present at many events with President Truman. He was also in the same barracks as George C. Scott, who later played General George S. Patton in the film Patton, and my father often debated points of Catholic doctrine with George, and usually won, I have been told.

    And my father wrote in his journal that on one day in 1949, after many months of requests, he and several other Catholic marines received permission to have a Catholic Mass celebrated on the base — for the first time in history.

    Reading about this history has shown me how my father struggled to ensure the possibility of the celebration of the (old) Mass.

    So this is now a factor in my thinking, in regard to these questions.

    A factor which cuts in two directions: for one father, the Holy Father, the Pope, asks the Church to abandon the old Mass, while my own deceased father, from the pages of his Marine Corps journal, asks me to rejoice with him at the first ever celebration of the old Mass at headquarters in D.C.


    Second point: when I was a boy, the old Mass was what we celebrated each Sunday. It is now 2021; in 10 or 20 years, it will be the case that few or none will remember how it was. But still now, in 2021, there are many who do remember.

    And the old Mass we celebrated in little parish churches around the United States, and in all other countries, was our approach to the Holy Trinity, our approach — simple as we were — toward the Holy, toward the Real Presence of Christ.

    That was what we believed and how we felt during that hour on Sunday morning, in the liturgy, in a way different from every other hour of the week. The Mass was “set apart” in a certain “sacred time” from all the secular time of the rest of our lives.

    And this seemed to us — and Pope Benedict has referred to this in many writings — something great, and good, and life-giving, and soul-healing.

    And my father, an Irishman, was a poor man. He was a working man, not an aristocrat, not a royalist, not a member of any ruling class or right-wing regime, but simply an ordinary American who wished to support his family, and attend Sunday Mass, with his children, and be part of the Roman Catholic Church, in expectation of the kingdom that was “not of this world” but was certainly to come at the end of time.

    And that was my formation.

Inside the Vatican Pilgrimages

    Here is the Commonweal article by Rita Ferrone in favor of the decree of Pope Francis to end the old Mass, with my occasional comments in brackets:


    A Living Catholic Tradition (link)

    Pope Francis unifies the Roman Rite

    By Rita Ferrone, Commonweal magazine

    July 23, 2021

    July 16, 2021 was a great day for the Roman Rite and for the legacy of the Second Vatican Council. Finally, after years of accommodating those who dislike or actually reject the liturgical reforms of the Council, the Catholic Church’s highest authority took a definitive step to re-establish the reformed rites as normative for the whole Latin Rite Church, without exception.

    [Note: The author uses the phrase “the liturgical reforms of the Council.” However, the liturgical reforms came after the Council. In other words, what the Council called for (including more use of the vernacular language, that is, English and French and Spanish instead of Latin) did notinclude all of the changes that were made by the Consilium that drew up new prayers, suppressed other prayers, and so forth. Speaking in this way, the author suggests that the reformed new Mass of Paul VI was identical with what “the Council” called for. But it was not.]

    Pope Francis, in his motu proprio Traditionis custodes, not only firmly abrogated Pope Benedict’s motu proprio Summorum pontificum (2007) which had “freed” the older rites, allowing them to be celebrated by any priest at any time, he also declared and established that the reformed liturgy is “the unique lex orandi [law of prayer]” of the Church today.

    This puts an end to the bifurcation of the Roman Rite that Pope Benedict endorsed when he wrote Summorum pontificum. He invented the term “Extraordinary Form” to refer to the older rites, and called the reformed rites the “Ordinary Form.” The Roman Rite had never existed in two forms at the same time, yet that is what he envisioned. He urged the bishops to trust that these “two forms” of the Roman Rite would peacefully coexist and enrich one another. After thirteen years however, it became evident that this dream was not going to materialize.

    Clearly, some individuals find serene enjoyment in attending Mass according to the older rites and have no other agenda. But, overall, opening up more space for the older rites has deepened conflict in the Church and led to politicization of the Eucharist. This was always a danger. Traditionalist movements—both those that went into schism, as did the followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and those who remained in communion with Rome—have long been associated with hard-right and authoritarian political regimes. Everything from the effort to restore the monarchy in France (a hopeless cause), to suppression of the indigenous peoples of Brazil (an ongoing problem), has flown under the flag of Catholic traditionalism. Pope Benedict did not believe the danger was there, but it was.

    [Note: The author asserts that “Traditional movements… have long been associated with hard-right and authoritarian political regimes.” But this assertion is broad brush. It is not proven. It does not apply to many who attend the old Mass. And it suggests that something in the old Mass brings out this “right-wing” political orientation in those who attend. In other words, it wrongly casts a certain discredit on the old Mass itself, which produced thousands of saints over the centuries, including many saints who labored with the poor, founded hospitals, tended lepers, visited widows and the elderly and the sick, engaging in every sort of charitable social action. Logically, the old Mass could do this again. It could be the propulsive spiritual force which re-ignites a movement of sacrificial love toward the weak, frightened and oppressed, if it were promoted for this by all bishops, including Pope Francis. It could do what it always did do: fill Catholics with spiritual gifts. This depiction of the old Mass as a kind of spiritual entrance room for cruel, totalitarian, repressive souls, seems very unfair and one-sided.]

    Opposition to Pope Francis has also found a base in traditionalist communities. His teaching on marriage and family, his call for pastoral accompaniment, and especially his commitment to ecological responsibility and economic justice, have been virulently opposed in such circles. It is no accident that the American Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the pope’s most public antagonists, is a worldwide chaplain to Catholic traditionalist communities, or that the Austrian who threw the Pachamama statue into the Tiber during the Amazon Synod was a traditionalist, or that when the disgruntled former Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, tried to unseat Pope Francis, he allied himself with traditionalists.

    [Note: This paragraph repeats the argument of the previous paragraph. It describes the old Mass as in some way the source of evil, uncharitable energy. This I contest.]

    Even beyond the scandal of a series of attacks on a reigning pope, a political struggle over the enduring legacy of an ecumenical council has been hanging in the balance. Vatican II’s opening to the world—its commitment to ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, and discerning the signs of the timeshas been sharply criticized and rejected by advocates for the older rites.

    [Note: The author widens the argument to the issue of Vatican II. The Council was called in order to teach the doctrines of the Church more effectively. It was not called to teach any new doctrine. If Vatican II opened to the world (and it did), it did so in order to carry the traditional doctrine to every venue in the world, not to take the world’s doctrines into the Church. Yes, agreed, there was a new opening to ecumenism, and to dialogue. This was a tactic which opened pathways to engage others on fundamental questions. But it was not a change in doctrine. It is not possible to argue that those who attend the old Mass could not engage others on fundamental questions, as if attending the old Mass was a spiritual impediment to all dialogue.]

    Pope Francis has, no doubt, been hearing for a long time about such tensions and difficulties, but a turning point was reached when he commissioned a worldwide survey of bishops to evaluate Summorum pontificum. The results of the survey were deeply troubling, compelling him to act, he said in a letter accompanying his motu proprio.

Opening up more space for the older rites has deepened conflict in the Church and led to politicization of the Eucharist.

    [Note: Well, the results of the survey have not been released. The author says the results were “deeply troubling.” I have not basis to make that judgment.]

    The actual responses have not been made public. Only one document has been leaked: the summary report from France. It was fair-minded, yet also critical. Crucially, it observed that the goals of Pope Benedict’s project—reconciliation and enrichment—had not been reached. In a nice turn of phrase, the French bishops reported that those who desired the older rites were “pacified,” but not reconciled.

    [Note: Ok.]

    We’ve certainly seen harmful results in the United States, which has the world’s highest proportion of locations offering the older rites. Instead of promoting greater harmony with and closeness to the universal Church, broad availability of the older rites has been used as an opportunity to create a “church within a Church,” a community apart from the mainstream. Dubious pastoral practices have attended this development, such as using the Baltimore Catechism instead of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or reading the Douay-Reims Bible in preference to modern Scripture translations. It is not just a matter of lace and Latin. A reactionary thought world is being cultivated as well.

    [Note: A delicate point. The attenders of the old rite are first treated as pariahs by the rest of the Church, though they represent a profound fidelity with the whole tradition. In other words, if the attitude of the majority who have been formed by and attended the new Mass were deeply respectful toward the “old believers,” as to those who really “keep” the traditions of the faith, then those believers would feel respected, honored, treasured. They do not feel so because they are not respected, not honored, not treasured. The marginalization Pope Francis denounces in other cases has been practiced against them by the Church itself. The Church itself has (tragically) fostered whatever “sect-like” attitude may in fact have come to characterize the old believers. The entire situation is a tragedy.]

    One can hardly overstate the noise that freeing the older rites has introduced into liturgical discussions, even though the actual number of traditionalists remains small. A constant stream of criticism has poured forth from traditionalist enclaves challenging liturgical decisions flowing from the reform, such as use of the vernacular, Communion in the hand, women in the sanctuary, and the priest facing the people at Eucharist. This noisy opposition grabs attention and causes distraction. A graver problem is that some adherents of the older rites have sown doubts about the validity of the liturgical reform overall, and propagate the erroneous view that the reformed liturgy represents a betrayal of orthodoxy and a departure from “the true Church.” Rather than a softening, there has been a hardening of ideological opposition to the Council as a whole. This is no trivial matter. When someone attacks the liturgical reform, they attack the Council.

    [Note: On each of these points, there is room for debate. “Use of the vernacular”: there is reason to consider the use of a single “sacred language” a positive thin, at least in some ways; it is considered so in Judaism, in Orthodoxy, in Hinduism, in Islam, and in many other traditions. A single, sacred language does not alter over time. It does not alter over space. It provides a certain understanding in cases where many nationalities are present. Use of the vernacular does assist some understanding of words spoken, and the Council did call for use of the vernacular for this purpose. But it never called for the abolition of Latin and the imposition of the vernacular in all liturgy all the time. That is a distortion of what the Council called for. “Communion in the hand”: this was never called for by the Council; it was an entirely post-conciliar trend, beginning first in a limited number of places, and slowly expanded prior to receiving a reluctant permission from Rome. As for whether the “reformed liturgy” represents “a betrayal of orthodoxy” — which the author asserts is not the case — there have been debates about this at the highest level since the 1960s. The author is attempting to cut off such debate by the assertion that it is an “erroneous” view, as if the debate is settled. Catholic cardinals including Ottaviani and Bacci at the time, and other since, have kept the debate open; in this case, those who wish to close the debate are acting like inquisitors.]

    This situation is getting worse, too. Leading voices among traditionalists in America lately have totally abandoned Benedict’s project of “mutual enrichment.” There can be no real peace with the newer liturgical forms, they argue, because the reformed rite is fundamentally flawed, a modernist creation. It is not even a rite, they claim, but a mere “construction.”

    [Note: Well, some of these very concerns have been expressed by Benedict himself, who once said that the new liturgy, rather than emerging in an organic way from the tradition, was drafted “at a table” by a handful of professional liturgists. In other words, Benedict saw a problem.]

    In this context, Pope Francis’s move is one of great strategic importance. It corrects the balance. It safeguards the integrity of the Council. It decisively rejects frivolous claims (“this isn’t what the Council wanted”; “the reformed liturgy is irreverent and unorthodox”), and calls everyone back to one common path. It will not eliminate political conflicts or disagreements in the Church, but it deprives traditionalists of the possibility of using the Eucharist as a hub of resistance to the Council and its legitimate implementation.

    [Note: Again, the Council and the liturgical reform are two different things, occurring at two different times, in two different ways. All the bishops at the Council from 1962 to 1965 voted on the Council documents, and passed them. A handful of bishops and monsignors voted on the liturgical proposals, and passed them. These are two totally different procedures, with totally different authority.]

    Some have charged that Pope Francis acted autocratically in abrogating Summorum pontificum, but actually his actions have been far more collegial than those his predecessors took in expanding availability of the older rites. A brief look at the history reveals this. In 1980, when Pope John Paul II was considering giving an indult for celebration of the Tridentine Mass, he took a survey of the world’s bishops. Most expected it to cause division and were opposed. Only 1.5 percent were in favor. Nevertheless, he went ahead with it. He was hoping to effect a reconciliation with Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers who had broken with the Church because they would not accept Vatican II. This outreach proved unsuccessful.

    When John Paul considered whether to broaden this permission in 1988, he didn’t ask the bishops. Instead, he consulted with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger. Once again motivated by hope for the healing of a wound caused by schism (which is why the motu proprio is called Ecclesia Dei afflicta), he expanded access further. Still, there was no reconciliation with Lefebvre’s group, the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).

    [Note: There was very nearly a reconciliation. It was so close that we might say it did not occur “by a whisker.” And the issue was not the liturgy. It was the reliability of Rome in maintaining a promise to allow the continuity of the Society (SSPX). Archbishop Lefebvre actually signed the agreement(!) on May 5, 1988. I was in Rome at the time. The SSPX was back in the Church, fully and completely. It was done. And that night, Lefebvre went home to Albano (near Castel Gandolfo) and then stayed up all night in prayer. And in the morning he asked for one final assurance from Rome, that he would be able to consecrate a bishop alongside himself, to assure the continuity of the SSPX after his death, on June 30, 1988. Rome asked him to postpone the consecration for the 4th time. And he rescinded his signature, and went ahead to consecrate four bishops. (See full text below). This was another tragedy in the history of the Church.]

    When Benedict XVI issued Summorum pontificum in 2007, he conducted no survey, but it appears that some bishops did voice doubts and try to dissuade him. He overruled them. History repeated itself; the overtures to the SSPX were again rebuffed. He said (in 2007) that the bishops could evaluate how Summorum pontificum was going in three years. But no evaluation was sought until 2020 when Francis sent out his survey.

    If you want to find traditional liturgy, here it is—in the reformed rites.

    Once Pope Francis consulted with the bishops of the world, he saw it all clearly. It was time to put his foot down. Accordingly, as of July 16, 2021, there is no more “Extraordinary Form” and “Ordinary Form.” There is but one form of the Roman Rite: the liturgy as it was reformed by decree of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis reaffirmed what his predecessors have also been saying since the Council: This reform is an expression of the living Catholic tradition.

    [Note: Again, the author states that the new Mass of Paul VI was “the liturgy as it was reformed by the decree of the Second Vatican Council.” But this is not true. The decree of the Second Vatican Council did not call for the Mass as it was promulgated by Paul VI. This is a fact. The Council did call for a liturgical renewal. It did not specify the actual precise renewal that should occur. This is a question that requires deeper study.]

    Tradition is not the preservation of old things, it is a vital reality, guided by the Holy Spirit working through the Church and its leadership. Francis is saying, if you want to find traditional liturgy, here it is—in the reformed rites. He has not outlawed the older rites altogether. The liturgical books antecedent to the reform may still be used to celebrate the liturgy (according to the 1962 edition) but under limited circumstances, not in parishes, and not at the whim of individual priests. It is up to the local bishop to decide when and where these liturgies may be celebrated, and by whom. Pope Francis has made it clear that the bishops are not to give this permission to anyone who challenges the legitimacy and orthodoxy of the reform or who rejects the authority of the pope and bishops. Any priest ordained after July 16, 2021 who wants to celebrate the older rites must obtain permission from his bishop and from Rome.

    [Note: The author writes that “Tradition is not the preservation of old things, it is a vital reality, guided by the Holy Spirit working through the Church and its leadership.” In one sense, this is absolutely true, and important, and very eloquent. And yet… we do believe that “tradition” is a collection of beliefs and customs important to preserve because they refer to certain events, certain truths, certain credal beliefs, that we must adhere to even as we re-appropriate them in our own time.]

    The bishop also gets to decide how long such celebrations may continue. Several American bishops have already been responding to Traditionis custodes as though they have carte blanche to continue use of the older rites indefinitely. This is not true. Francis has specifically said that their job is to guide these communities that currently follow the older rites to a state of mind and soul where they can celebrate the mainstream liturgy of the Church with full, heartfelt assent. This is the goal—not pacification, not perpetuation of the older rites, but rather the embrace of the reformed liturgy as a “unitary expression of the Roman Rite.” The bishop, as a custodian of tradition, is obliged to exercise his authority in concert with the Holy See, and this means walking in the direction outlined by Pope Francis.

    [Note: Here the author presents the document as the expression of the mind of Pope Francis. The author does not consider that the document may have been drafted and promoted by others, then accepted by the Pope based on the representations of these others. Perhaps he added his signature without having been advised of the possible objections — some of them valid — that might arise among the faithful. This is not impossible.]

    Most Catholics never objected to Benedict’s initiative because, as they viewed it, it pertained to a small group of people and wouldn’t affect them personally. In an age when individualism and consumer choice seem like the normal state of affairs, it didn’t seem outlandish to provide boutique alternatives for different liturgical tastes, even if this included a taste for a liturgy that had been superseded by a lawful reform called for by an ecumenical council. But liturgy is not just a matter of personal taste. It is a matter of faith and obedience. It belongs to the collective, which is why it is enshrined in law and subject to authority.

    [Note: Again, this paragraph conflates the “lawful reform called for by an ecumenical council” with the reform that was promulgated by Paul VI. there was a difference, as many scholars have argued. This paragraph also overlooks the well-known efforts made by many in the late 1960s and early 1970s to “push the limits” liturgically, and often receive permission finally to do something they had done abusively for months or years. So in these cases liturgy was “a matter of personal taste” and of “disobedience.” The author ignores this completely.]

    It’s worth remembering that establishing the reformed liturgy as the “unitary expression of the Roman Rite” does not in any way compromise the Church’s commitment to inculturation, as Swiss liturgical scholar Martin Klöckener has rightly noted. Inculturation is an entirely different question, because in every case the reformed Roman Rite is the basis of inculturation.

    Pope Francis wants to advance the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. His recent decision to open instituted ministries of lectors and acolytes to women gives evidence of this, as does his emphasis on the Word of God, mystagogy, and liturgical catechesis. Through his openness to inculturation, his decision concerning washing women’s feet on Holy Thursday, his return of authority over liturgical translations to the bishops, and even by restricting private Masses at St. Peter’s Basilica in favor of concelebration, he has pressed forward with the reform.

    [Note: The same affirmation again made: that “the liturgical reforms of Vatican II” are these reforms. Vatican II in the Council document on the liturgy did not call for these reforms. This is misleading.]

    The last surviving Italian bishop who participated in the Second Vatican Council is the retired bishop of Ivrea, Luigi Bettazzi, age 98. He is also the last surviving signer of the “pact of the catacombs” (a pledge made by 40 council fathers to embrace evangelical poverty, humility, charity, justice, and witness). Four days after Francis promulgated his motu proprio, and surely with these events in mind, he said, “We are halfway across the ford, but let’s remember that we still have to cross it.” The ford is the full implementation of Vatican II.

    [Note: The full implementation of Vatican II is to be desired. It is to have Church which teaches the perennial truths of the faith in an effective persuasive way to the Church and to the world. But precisely for this reason, much that is presented as “in the Spirit of Vatican II” must be evaluated with more care, and some of it must be rejected, precisely out of respect and devotion to the Council.]

    [End, article by Rita Ferrone]

    Here is the text of the Protocol of Agreement that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre agreed to sign in 1988, on May 5 in Rome, along with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

    And below this protocol of agreement text is the letter Lefebvre wrote after signing this protocol. The Vatican did not positively respond, leading Lefebvre to withdraw his signature. to the protocol.

    Thus began the split of the SSPX from Rome.

    Protocol of Agreement, May 5, 1988 (link)


    I, Marcel Lefebvre, Archbishop-Bishop Emeritus of Tulle, as well as the members of the Society of St. Pius X founded by me:

  1. Promise always to be faithful to the Catholic Church and the Roman Pontiff, its Supreme Pastor, Vicar of Christ, Successor of Blessed Peter in his primacy as head of the body of bishops.
  2. We declare our acceptance of the doctrine contained in §25 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium of Vatican Council II on the ecclesiastical Magisterium and the adherence which is due to it.
  3. Regarding certain points taught by Vatican Council II or concerning later reforms of the liturgy and law, and which do not appear to us easily reconcilable with Tradition, we pledge that we will have a positive attitude of study and communication with the Apostolic See, avoiding all polemics.
  4. Moreover, we declare that we recognize 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 and the Rituals of the Sacraments promulgated by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II.
  5. Finally, we promise 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, without prejudice to the special discipline granted to the Society by particular law.


    Considering the fact that for 18 years now the Society of St. Pius X has been understood to be a society of common life—and after studying the proposals formulated by His Excellency Marcel Lefebvre and the conclusions of the Apostolic Visitation conducted by His Eminence Cardinal Gagnon—the canonical form most suitable is that of a society of apostolic life.    

    1. Society of Apostolic Life

    This solution is canonically possible and has the advantage of possibly incorporating lay people as well (for example, coadjutor brothers) into the clerical Society of Apostolic Life.

    According to the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1983, Canons 731-746, this Society enjoys full autonomy, can form its members, can incardinate clerics, and provides for the common life of its members.

    In the proper Statutes, with flexibility and room for creativity in comparison with the known models of such Societies of apostolic life, some exemption is foreseen with respect to the diocesan bishops (cf. canon 591) in matters concerning public worship, the cura animarum [pastoral care of souls], and other apostolic activities, taking into account canons 679-683. As for jurisdiction with regard to the faithful who have recourse to the priests of the Society, it will be conferred on these priests either by the local Ordinaries or by the Apostolic See.

    2. Roman Commission

    A commission to coordinate relations with the different dicasteries and diocesan bishops, and also to resolve problems and disputes that may arise, will be established through the good offices of the Holy See, and will be endowed with the necessary faculties to deal with the above-mentioned questions (for example, at the request of the faithful, the establishment of a house of worship where there is no house of the Society, ad mentem [in keeping with] canon 683, §2).

    This commission will be composed of a president, a vice-president, and five members, two of which shall be from the Society.

    Among other things it would have the function of supervising and offering assistance to consolidate the work of reconciliation, and to settle questions related to the religious communities having a juridical or moral bond with the Society.

    3. Condition of Persons Affiliated with the Society

    3.1. The members of the clerical Society of Apostolic Life (priests and lay coadjutor brothers) are governed by the Statutes of the Society of Pontifical Right.

    3.2. The oblates, both male and female, whether or not they have taken private vows, and the members of the Third Order affiliated with the Society, all belong to an association of the faithful affiliated with the Society according to the terms of canon 303, and collaborate with it.

    3.3. The Sisters (i.e. the Congregation founded by Archbishop Lefebvre) who take public vows constitute a true institute of consecrated life, with its own structure and proper autonomy, even though a certain kind of bond with the Superior of the Society may be envisaged for the unity of its spirituality. This Congregation—at least at the beginning—would be dependent on the Roman Commission, instead of the Congregation for Religious.

    3.4. To members of the communities living according to the rule of various religious institutes (Carmelites, Benedictines, Dominicans, etc.) who have a moral bond with the Society, a particular status should be granted regulating their relations with their respective Order.

    3.5. Priests who, individually, are morally connected with the Society will receive a personal status taking into account their aspirations and at the same time the obligations resulting from their incardination. Other particular cases of the same nature will be examined and resolved by the Roman Commission.

    As for the lay people who ask for pastoral assistance from the communities of the Society: they remain under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop, but—in particular because of the liturgical rites of the Society’s communities—they can go to them for the administration of the sacraments (for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and matrimony, the usual notifications must still be given to their proper parish; cf. canons 878, 896, 1122).

    Note: There is good reason to consider the particular complexity:

  1. of the question of the reception of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and matrimony by the laity in the communities of the Society;
  2. of the question of communities practicing the rule of such and such a religious institute, without belonging to it.

The Roman Commission will have the responsibility for resolving these problems.

    4. Ordinations

    As for the ordinations, two phases must be distinguished:

  1. In the immediate future: For the ordinations scheduled to take place in the immediate future, Archbishop Lefebvre would be authorized to confer them or, if he were unable, another bishop accepted by him.
  2. Once the Society of Apostolic Life is erected:

    As far as possible, and in the judgment of the Superior General, the normal way is to be followed: to send dimissorial letters to a bishop who agrees to ordain members of the Society.

    In view of the particular situation of the Society (see above): the ordination of a member of the Society as a bishop, who, among other duties, would also be able to proceed with ordinations.

    5. The Problem of a Bishop

    1. At the doctrinal (ecclesiological) level, the guarantee of stability and maintenance of the life and activity of the Society is assured by its erection as a Society of Apostolic Life of pontifical right, and by the approval of its Statutes by the Holy Father.

    2. However, for practical and psychological reasons, the consecration of a member of the Society as a bishop appears useful. This is why, in the framework of the doctrinal and canonical solution of reconciliation, we suggest to the Holy Father that he name a bishop chosen from within the Society, upon the presentation [of a terna of candidates] by Archbishop Lefebvre. It follows from the above-cited principle (5.1) that this bishop normally is not the Superior General of the Society, but it appears opportune that he should be a member of the Roman Commission.

    6. Particular Problems to be Resolved (by Decree or Declaration)

    1. Lifting of the suspensio a divinis on Archbishop Lefebvre and dispensation from the irregularities incurred by the fact of the ordinations.

    2. Sanatio in radice, at least ad cautelam (as a precaution), of the marriages already celebrated by the priests of the Society without the required delegation.

    3. Provision for an “amnesty” and an agreement for the houses and places of worship erected—or used—by the Society until now without the authorization of the [local] bishops.

    [SIGNED] Joseph Card. Ratzinger  Marcel Lefebvre

    Letter of Archbishop Lefebvre to Cardinal Ratzinger

    May 6, 1988

    Your Eminence,

    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 Tullep

Facebook Comments