30 Years Ago Operation Survival: The Story of the Episcopal Consecrations (2)

Source: FSSPX News

Archbishop Lefebvre and Fr. Schmidberger at a press conference on the consecrations

The Dawn of a Solution

On July 28, 1987, Cardinal Ratzinger thanked Archbishop Lefebvre for his July 8 letter. He wrote, “Your great desire to safeguard Tradition by procuring for it ‘the means to live and develop’ manifests your attachment to the Faith of all times but can only be realized in communion with the Vicar of Christ to whom the Deposit of Faith and the government of the Church are entrusted. The Holy Father understands your cares and shares them. Therefore, in his name, I offer you a new proposal, thereby wishing to give you a final possibility for agreement on the problems that you bear at heart: the canonical situation of the Society of Saint Pius X and the future of your seminaries.”

This proposal intended to give the Society an adequate juridical structure that would enable the Holy See to grant it auxiliary bishops. A cardinal visitor would be nominated immediately in order to find a satisfactory juridical form. The only condition was for the superiors and members of the Society to manifest their reverence and obedience to the successor of Peter according to the norms laid out in paragraph 25 of the dogmatic constitution of Vatican Council II on the Church, Lumen Gentium. Rome was ready to “concede to the Society a rightful autonomy and to guarantee the continuity of the liturgy according to the liturgical books as they were in the Church in 1962, the right to train seminarians in its own seminaries according to the particular charisma of the Society, and the priestly ordination of candidates to the priesthood.”

This was no small concession. Of course, the goal of the proposal was to keep Archbishop Lefebvre from creating one or several auxiliaries without the pope’s approval and thus make himself guilty of a “final rupture”, the letter went on to say. Cardinal Ratzinger warned his correspondent of the incalculable harm that he would do to the unity of the Church through his grave disobedience that would inevitably lead to the ruin of his work…

Faithful to his habit of never getting ahead of Providence, and together with the Council directed by the Superior General, Fr. Franz Schmidberger, Archbishop Lefebvre decided to grasp the outstretched hand; he had no illusions, but he still had hope.

A Small Hope

On October 1, 1987, the founder of the Society of St. Pius X thanked the cardinal. He mentioned several hints that made him hope in the “dawn of a solution”. Archbishop Lefebvre was particularly struck by the fact that Rome requested no preliminary declaration: “the absence of a declaration makes us think that, at last, we are recognized as perfectly Catholic.” He rejoiced at the visit from a cardinal to observe the works and vitality of Tradition de visu. He hailed the fact that the continuity of liturgy of 1962 was guaranteed and that “the right to continue the formation of our seminarians as we are currently doing” was granted. He strongly suggested that the cardinal visitor be Cardinal Edouard Gagnon. The Holy See granted this wish and Cardinal Gagnon, prefect of the Pontifical Council for the Family, was nominated as Apostolic Visitor. In the fall, between November 11 and December 9, he visited several seminaries, priories, district houses and schools, and met with priests, families and seminarians, monks and nuns. Everywhere he went, he appreciated the profoundly Catholic atmosphere that reigned. 

On October 3, in a sermon in Econe for the fortieth anniversary of his episcopal consecration, Archbishop Lefebvre explained the new possibility that seemed to be presenting itself. Without falling into “an exaggerated optimism”, there is “a small hope; (…) if Rome really wants to give us true autonomy, the one that we have now, but with submission, we would want this, we have always desired to be subject to the Holy Father. It is not a question of despising the authority of the Holy Father; on the contrary. But we have been as if thrown outside because we were traditionalists. Well, if, as I have often asked, Rome agrees to have us make the experiment of Tradition, well then, there will be no more problems. We will be free to continue the work that we are doing, as we are doing it now, under the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff.” This was his great desire, and he invited the priests and faithful to pray “that the Good Lord make it possible for us to contribute in an official, free, public manner to the building up of the Church, to the salvation of souls…” 

In this spirit, Archbishop Lefebvre sent Cardinal Gagnon an important letter with suggestions for a canonical arrangement.

Yes to the Canonical Recognition of the Society, but No Compromise with the Conciliar Reforms

In his letter dated November 21, 1987, the archbishop insisted that the great family of Tradition should be allowed to develop in a true Catholic atmosphere, “attached to the Roman Church, attached to Peter and his successors, but absolutely and radically allergic to the conciliar spirit of religious liberty, ecumenism, collegiality, and the spirit of Assisi, the fruits of Modernism and Liberalism condemned so many times by the Holy See.” 

In this context, Archbishop Lefebvre declared: “We willingly agree to being recognized by the Pope such as we are, and to having a seat in the Eternal City, to adding our collaboration in the renewal of the Church; we have never desired to break with the Successor of Peter, nor to consider the Holy See as vacant, in spite of the trials this has caused for us. We submit to you a project of reintegration and normalization of our relations with Rome.”

The Proposal for an Arrangement mentions the conciliar text Presbyterorum Ordinis (§10) then expresses an essential condition: “If the Holy See sincerely desires that we officially become efficacious collaborators for the renewal of the Church, under its authority, it is utterly necessary that we be received as we are, that we not be asked to modify our teaching or means of sanctification, which are those of the Church of all time.” Archbishop Lefebvre asked that a Roman Secretariat be erected to promote initiatives maintaining Tradition. Its goal would be to normalize the works of Tradition by conferring the episcopate on several of its members and promoting a harmonious collaboration with the diocesan bishops.

As for the canonical status of the Society and the different religious societies associated with it, the founder of Econe suggested grouping them together under and Ordinariate, as is done for armies. He demanded that the penalties be lifted, that the Statutes of the Society be recognized, and to be allowed to provide for his episcopal succession. Not only did Archbishop Lefebvre quote a Council document, but he also invoked the norms of the Apostolic Constitution Spirituali Militum Curae by John Paul II (April 21, 1986) to suggest a juridical arrangement that in his opinion would be fitting for the development of the different congregations and societies flourishing in Tradition. Lastly, he asked that the jurisdiction of the Society priests over the faithful be received from Rome through the Superior General, and likewise for the other superiors of traditional societies. In conclusion, Archbishop Lefebvre asked that the episcopal consecrations take place on Good Shepherd Sunday, April 17, 1988.

Cardinal Gagnon ended his apostolic visit to the seminary of Econe on December 8, officially assisting at the Pontifical High Mass celebrated by Archbishop Lefebvre, even though the latter was still under the suspens. He left a comment in the seminary’s guest book, praising the work being done there and saying it should be spread throughout the entire Church. A few months later, on February 15, 1988, the cardinal wrote to Archbishop Lefebvre that Pope John Paul II had read his long report and the proposals attentively. He announced that canonists were working on the canonical structure and that a juridical and doctrinal project would be presented to him “by the end of April.” He invited the archbishop to be patient and discreet so as not to arouse the opposition of those “who do not desire a reconciliation.”

Archbishop Lefebvre’s Expectations

On February 20, Archbishop Lefebvre answered this letter, voicing his fear “that the procedure chosen for a solution would prolong indefinitely and thus put me in a moral obligation to proceed with the episcopal consecrations without the authorization of the Holy See which should be able to be avoided.” He suggested that the Sovereign Pontiff make “a decision, even a temporary one, that would not engage the future and would allow the experience of the exercise of tradition, in a manner officially approved by the Church. The doctrinal problems could be the object of discussions after the canonical solution, otherwise we would be back at the starting point.” And he said he hoped to be able to read Cardinal Gagnon’s report, and would not be left in the dark as after the visit of three cardinals to the seminary of Econe in 1974. 

In his letter to Cardinal Gagnon, the archbishop included a letter to the Holy Father. In it he expressed his profound satisfaction with the cardinal’s visit. He suggested a temporary solution to John Paul II so as not to disappoint the hopes that had been aroused. “To take up again the doctrinal problems right away seems to be excluded, since this would be returning to the point of departure and would renew the difficulties which have endured for 15 years. The idea of a Commission intervening after the juridical arrangement appears the most suitable one if we really want to find a practical solution.” 

Concretely, he asked that the Society of St. Pius X be recognized as being “of pontifical right” and that a commission presided over by a cardinal be established in Rome. This organism would regulate “all the canonical problems of Tradition, and would conduct relations with the Holy See, the dicasteries and the bishops.” Archbishop Lefebvre asked for an agreement in principle, in order to present to Cardinal Gagnon the names of the future bishops whose consecration “appears indispensable and urgent.” He insisted: “Given my age and my fatigue. It is now two years that I have not done any ordinations at the seminary in the United States. (…) I no longer have the health to be crossing oceans. This is why I entreat Your Holiness to resolve this point before June 30 of this year.” He added that the bishops “would always be chosen from among the priests of Tradition” and would have jurisdiction over persons rather than a territorial jurisdiction. Lastly, he asked that they be exempt from the jurisdiction of the local Ordinaries, while seeking to establish good relations. To this end, the superiors of traditional works would report on their activities to the local Ordinaries, without being “required to ask for authorization” to found new centers. In conclusion, Archbishop Lefebvre summed up what had always been his position: “We would be happy to renew normal relations with the Holy See, but without changing in any way what we are; for it is in this way that we are assured of remaining children of God and the Roman Church.”

From Canada, on March 11, Cardinal Gagnon informed Archbishop Lefebvre that a project would be presented to him mid-April. On March 18, Cardinal Ratzinger suggested a meeting of experts (a theologian and a canonist) before making any final decisions.

Tomorrow: The May 1988 Protocol

Le cardinal Gagnon au milieu des séminaristes de Flavigny le 2 décembre 1987.

Oui à la reconnaissance canonique de la Fraternité, mais sans compromis avec les réformes conciliaires

Dans sa lettre accompagnatrice, datée du 21 novembre 1987, l’archevêque insiste pour que la grande famille de la Tradition puisse se développer dans une ambiance vraiment catholique, en restant « attachée à l’Eglise romaine, attachée à Pierre et à ses successeurs, mais absolument et radicalement allergique à l’esprit conciliaire de la liberté religieuse, de l’œcuménisme, de la collégialité, à l’esprit d’Assise, fruits du modernisme, du libéralisme tant de fois condamnés par le Saint-Siège ».

Dans ce contexte, Mgr Lefebvre déclare : « Nous acceptons volontiers d’être reconnus par le pape tels que nous sommes et d’avoir un siège dans la Ville éternelle, d’apporter notre collaboration au renouveau de l’Eglise ; nous n’avons jamais voulu rompre avec le Successeur de Pierre, ni considérer que le Saint-Siège est vacant, malgré les épreuves que cela nous a values. Nous vous soumettons un projet de réintégration et de normalisation de nos rapports avec Rome ».

La proposition de Règlement évoque le texte conciliaire Presbyterorum ordinis (n°10) puis exprime une condition sine qua non : « Si le Saint-Siège désire sincèrement que nous devenions officiellement des collaborateurs efficaces pour le renouveau de l’Eglise, sous son autorité, il est de toute nécessité que nous soyons reçus comme nous sommes, qu’on ne nous demande pas de modifier notre enseignement, ni nos moyens de sanctification, qui sont ceux de l’Eglise de toujours ». Aussi Mgr Lefebvre demande-t-il que soit érigé un Secrétariat romain afin de favoriser les initiatives qui maintiennent la Tradition. Ses pouvoirs auraient pour but de normaliser les œuvres de la Tradition en octroyant l’épiscopat à plusieurs de ses membres tout en favorisant une harmonieuse collaboration avec les évêques diocésains.

Quant au statut canonique de la Fraternité et des différentes sociétés religieuses associées, le fondateur d’Ecône propose de les regrouper sous un Ordinariat, à l’image de ce qui se fait pour les militaires. Il réclame la levée des sanctions, la reconnaissance des Statuts de la Fraternité et de pourvoir à sa succession épiscopale. Non seulement Mgr Lefebvre cite un document du Concile, mais il invoque également les normes de la Constitution apostolique Spirituali militum curæ de Jean-Paul II (21 avril 1986) pour trouver un cadre juridique qu’il juge correspondre au développement des différentes congrégations et sociétés qui fleurissent dans la Tradition. Enfin, il demande à ce que la juridiction des prêtres de la Fraternité sur les fidèles soit reçue de Rome par le Supérieur général, et qu’il en soit de même des autres supérieurs de sociétés traditionnelles. En conclusion, Mgr Lefebvre souhaite que les consécrations épiscopales aient lieu avant le dimanche du Bon Pasteur, soit le 17 avril 1988.

Le cardinal Gagnon achève sa visite apostolique au séminaire d’Ecône le 8 décembre, où il assiste officiellement à la messe pontificale que célèbre Mgr Lefebvre, pourtant toujours suspens. Il laisse dans le livre d’or du séminaire une appréciation louangeuse sur le travail qui s’y accomplit et qui devrait, selon lui, être étendu à toute l’Eglise. Quelques mois plus tard, le 15 février 1988, le cardinal écrit à Mgr Lefebvre que le pape Jean-Paul II a lu attentivement son long rapport et les propositions qui lui ont été remises. Il lui annonce que des canonistes sont en train de travailler à la structure canonique et qu’un projet juridique et doctrinal lui sera présenté « d’ici la fin d’avril ». Il invite donc son correspondant à la patience et, également, à la discrétion pour ne pas susciter les oppositions de ceux « qui ne désirent pas une réconciliation ».

Les attentes de Mgr Lefebvre

Le 20 février, Mgr Lefebvre lui répond en lui faisant part de sa crainte « que la procédure employée pour une solution se prolonge indéfiniment et ne me mette ainsi dans l’obligation morale de procéder à des consécrations épiscopales sans l’autorisation du Saint-Siège, ce qui devrait pouvoir être évité ». Il suggère que le Souverain Pontife prenne « une décision même provisoire qui n’engage pas l’avenir et qui permettrait de faire l’expérience de l’exercice de la Tradition officiellement agréé par l’Eglise. Les problèmes doctrinaux pourraient faire l’objet d’échanges postérieurs à la solution canonique, sinon nous nous retrouverons au point de départ ». Enfin, il espère pouvoir prendre connaissance du rapport du cardinal Gagnon, et qu’il n’en sera pas frustré comme lors de la visite du séminaire d’Ecône par trois cardinaux en 1974.

A sa lettre au cardinal Gagnon, l’archevêque joint un courrier adressé au Saint Père. Il y exprime la profonde satisfaction que la visite cardinalice a causée. Il propose à Jean-Paul II une solution provisoire pour ne pas décevoir l’espoir qui est né. Pour cela, « il apparaît exclu de reprendre les problèmes doctrinaux immédiatement ; c’est revenir au point de départ et reprendre les difficultés qui durent depuis 15 ans. L’idée d’une commission intervenant après le règlement juridique est la plus convenable si l’on veut trouver réellement une solution pratique ».

Concrètement, il demande que la Fraternité Saint-Pie X soit reconnue « de droit pontifical » et que soit établie à Rome une commission présidée par un cardinal protecteur. Cet organisme réglerait « tous les problèmes canoniques de la Tradition et entretiendrait les relations avec le Saint Siège, les dicastères et les évêques ». Mgr Lefebvre demande un accord de principe pour présenter au cardinal Gagnon les noms des futurs évêques dont la consécration « apparaît indispensable et urgente ». Il insiste : « étant donné mon âge et ma fatigue. Voilà deux ans que je n’ai pas fait les ordinations au séminaire des Etats-Unis (…), je n’ai plus la santé pour traverser les océans. C’est pourquoi je supplie votre Sainteté de résoudre ce point avant le 30 juin de cette année ». Il précise que les évêques, « toujours choisis parmi les prêtres de la Tradition », auraient une juridiction sur les personnes au lieu d’une juridiction territoriale. Enfin, il demande l’exemption vis-à-vis de la juridiction des Ordinaires des lieux, tout en cherchant à ce que de bonnes relations puissent s’instaurer. Pour cela, les supérieurs d’œuvres traditionnelles feront des rapports sur leurs activités auprès de l’Ordinaire, sans être « tenus à demander une autorisation » pour fonder un nouveau centre. En conclusion, Mgr Lefebvre résume sa position de toujours : « Nous serions très heureux de renouer des relations normales avec le Saint-Siège, mais sans changer, en quoi que ce soit, ce que nous sommes ; car c’est ainsi que nous sommes assurés de demeurer enfants de Dieu et de l’Eglise romaine ».

Du Canada, le 11 mars, le cardinal Gagnon informe Mgr Lefebvre qu’un projet devrait lui être présenté à la mi-avril. Le cardinal Ratzinger, le 18 mars, propose une rencontre entre des experts (un théologien et un canoniste) avant de prendre des décisions définitives.

Suite : Le protocole de mai 1988


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