The case of Fr. Laguérie in Bordeaux

Source: FSSPX News

I. The facts of the case

by Fr. Alain Lorans

On July 22, Fr. Philippe Laguérie sent a letter to 35 priests of the SSPX, which was very critical of the rector and several professors of the seminary of Ecône. A cursory reading of this document, which was very poorly written, gives serious reason to doubt that Fr. Laguérie wrote it.

The document, the tracts and communiqués that followed it, gave erroneous statistics with the intention of denouncing a catastrophic development at the seminary of Ecône. For example, it was claimed that there were 62 departures in 7 years, when in reality there were 49 departures in 8 years, the majority being voluntary (to return to secular life), and the others were obligatory. Similarly, it was claimed that the number of ordinations was in a free fall: not a single ordination at the seminary in Germany next year and after, while in reality there will be 6 in June 2005, which represents the second largest number of ordinations since the founding of the seminary of Zaitzkofen. The coming years are also expected to have a satisfactory number of ordinands. Moreover, one cannot say that there have been numerous departures from this seminary, as they are limited to three this past year. At Ecône, there will be five ordinations for the 2004-2005 term, not one or three as mentioned in the different tracts and press releases. Another charge raises to five the number of departures from the seminary at Winona this year. In general, the Society ordains between 15 and 30 priests every year in its four major seminaries (Switzerland, Germany, the United States and Argentina), this year there will be 17.

Moreover, the document contains abrupt judgments of former seminarians who are now priests, namely, the seminary officials cited. These judgments indicate that such and such priest could be accused of laziness or bad behavior. For example, a priest who is a professor in one of the schools of the Society learned that he had been accused of immaturity. These unsubstantiated accusations, which were sent to 35 priests by Fr. Philippe Laguérie ended up in the hands not only of those concerned but other priests, seminarians and faithful. Such is the fate of circular letters, which are paradoxically supposed to be confidential.

If Fr. Philippe Laguérie had followed the advice expressly given to him in mid-July, he would have chosen the hierarchical path, alerting the district Superior, the Superior General, even the four bishops of the SSPX by way of an internal memo on the situation of Ecône, which he judged to be serious. In the strictest sense this is his right. But Fr. Philippe Laguérie preferred to exert pressure on the Superior General against the rector of Ecône, which, moreover, he admits. No society can allow one of its members to manipulate the Superior General in order to obtain the dismissal of another member.

On July 24, faced with this serious error of judgment, the district Superior asked Fr. Philippe Laguérie to phone the Superior General to ask for pardon. Instead, Fr. Laguérie justified his actions. Therefore, at the end of July he was summoned to present himself to the Superior General. Declaring that he could not get to Switzerland in 48 hours, Fr. Laguérie was offered a date of his choosing the following week. He responded that he would wait for Msgr. Fellay’s next trip to France. Faced with these delaying tactics, the Superior General was compelled to inform him by a letter dated July 29 of the sanction he would impose: a transfer to the position of prior in Mexico.

II. The overtures made to Fr. Philippe Laguérie by the Superiors of the Society

by Fr. Régis de Cacqueray, Superior of the District of France

Fr. Alain Lorans has given you the sequence of events that lead our Superior General, Msgr. Fellay, in accord with his General Council, to take the decision to transfer Fr. Philippe Laguérie to Mexico.

My testimony is that of the hierarchical superior of Fr. Laguérie. I answer directly to Msgr. Fellay and have thus been in constant contact with both of them during this crisis of the past few weeks.

My role consisted not only in relaying messages from one to the other, but also in facilitating their contacts and above all putting together propositions that would lead to a reconciliation. This did not occur. It is only right however to report the existence of these facts so that one can evaluate the importance of the efforts taken to avoid a break.

I found out about the document on Ecône on July 22 when I went down to Bordeaux for a busy day of work with Fr. Laguérie. Despite some sensitive cases, the day went particularly well. Before I left, Fr. Laguérie gave me a folder on the seminary, which he said he had sent to several senior priests “in confidence".

Beginning the next day, I received phone calls from priests of the district – and not only senior ones – who said they had received this document. I began to be concerned, and after having seen for myself the seriously defamatory nature of this document, I phoned Fr. Philippe Laguérie on the 24th and urged him, after trying to make him realize how serious his actions were, to contact Mgsr. Fellay directly and make his apologies. Msgr. Fellay, at this time, had still not received the report of Fr. Laguérie. Fr. Laguérie did in fact call him, but far from apologizing, he tried to justify what he did.

Fr. Lorans just explained to you the casualness with which Fr. Laguérie treated the summons he received from Msgr. Fellay. My initial steps consisted in arranging a first meeting between Msgr. Fellay and Fr. Laguérie, which finally took place in Sierre (in the Valais [a canton of Switzerland that also includes Ecône - translator’s note]) on August 13.

The meeting in Sierre

Msgr. Fellay confirmed to Fr. Laguérie that, despite his serious error, he would let him remain a prior and let him know that his transfer did not have to be to Mexico. He told him he could request some priory outside of Europe. The departure from Bordeaux, on the other hand, was not negotiable.

Fr. Laguérie, for his part, said he was prepared to make a public apology for the “questionable” method he used, but in fact he did not follow through on this and went away unhappy with the interview because his departure from Bordeaux was confirmed.

The missed second meeting at Le Pointet

This second interview that I tried to arrange did not ultimately take place. Msgr. Fellay and Fr. Laguérie had both agreed to it beforehand.

Fr. Laguérie made the following conditions:

1) that several senior priests of his choosing be present. Msgr. Fellay agreed.

2) that the question of the seminary and of the departures therefrom be reexamined. Msgr. Fellay agreed to this as well.

3) but Fr. Laguérie also wanted to give to this “council of elders” – or to an kind of appeal board set up within the Society’s headquarters – a power greater than that of the Superior General, which would be able to overturn the decision to sanction him by way of a transfer. Msgr. Fellay could not accept this, since such a commission had no foundation in the statutes of the Society of St. Pius X, and was moreover without precedent. The second meeting never took place because of this refusal.

My own intervention the evening of August 21

I went to Bordeaux once again. During the course of a long discussion with Fr. Laguérie, I agreed to urge Msgr. Fellay to make a new concession. I agreed to make a personal appeal, so as to bring this drama to a close, to have the transfer from Bordeaux reexamined. This was the most I could do…

I told Fr. Laguérie as much and asked him to understand that Msgr. Fellay could not in this context, even if he wanted to, form such a commission, which cannot exist within a religious society according to Church law. I therefore urged him to give up this idea. Alas, Fr. Laguérie refused. This refusal constrained me to read the communiqué of the transfer of Fr. Laguérie during the mass at Saint-Eloi the following day.

The final negotiation of September 1 and 2

Fr. Philippe Laguérie informed us that he had made an appeal to the bishop of Fribourg [the diocese in which Ecône is located and which originally approved the Society in 1970 – translator’s note]. We came to a substantial agreement on the phone about how we would present this to the public: “The Society of St. Pius X acknowledges the appeal of Fr. Philippe Laguérie. The nomination of a new prior will be suspended and a provisional administrator will be appointed. Fr. Laguérie agrees, for his part, to leave the priory for the time being.” It was eleven o’clock.

I asked him to please fax me written confirmation of his acceptance of this or a similar statement within the next 30 minutes. At 6 p.m. I had still not received it. I called Fr. Laguérie who said he was having trouble finding the right words. I asked him to give me a time when he would send it. “Tomorrow (September 2) at noon," he responded.

At noon the following day, there was no news. At 4 p.m. I received a fax in which Fr. Laguérie wrote: “Even though I truly desire a resolution, a partial agreement would not do any good at this time," and he put the negotiations indefinitely on hold until he found out whether or not his appeal would be heard.

I called him back that evening to tell him there was nothing more I could do and I urged him to call Msgr. Fellay right away. He said he would, but he did not.

On September 3, Msgr. Fellay sent him a formal notice to leave the priory within 24 hours as a sign of submission, but he did not do it. However, Fr. Laguérie called me the morning of the 3rd. He wanted to change the statement of September 1 and his list of demands to such an extent that I told him right then it was impossible to reach an agreement so late and on such completely different conditions. Nevertheless, I called Msgr. Fellay who, despite everything, made a final counter-proposal, which laid out the conditions for the formal notice to leave Bordeaux. Msgr. Fellay acknowledged that there were some interesting points in Fr. Laguérie’s proposal. The one condition that was non-negotiable was his leaving Bordeaux. Everything else could be discussed (even including a new post in France). I immediately relayed this to Fr. Laguérie, who made no response.

In relaying my personal testimony, I have not detailed all the other interventions, those of Msgr. Williamson and Msgr. Tissier de Mallerais in particular, and those of many senior priests who, at the request of Msgr. Fellay or on their own initiative, tried to reason with Fr. Laguérie.

If I myself have spent three weeks entirely devoted to this situation, many others worked alongside me to try to dissuade Fr. Laguérie from his obstinacy. In vain… As his advocate from the Rota [the supreme ecclesiastical court in the Church – translator’s note], Master Maurizio Incerpi, wrote: “My personal view is that if the Society of St. Pius X had ecclesiastical recognition it would be very difficult for Fr. Laguérie to get a favorable judgment in this case, for he knows quite well, I think, that he must obey his superiors, even when their decisions seem unjust,” (from a letter of Master Maurizio Incerpi to Master Jérôme Turot dated September 4th, 2004).

III. Answers to rumors about the Society of Saint Pius X

By Fr. Grégoire Celier

Here are some modest attempts to answer the criticisms with regard to the current situation of the Society of Saint Pius X – these objections are drawn from the tract distributed by supporters of Fr. Laguérie on Sunday September 5, 2004 at Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet, without it being certain, however, that Fr. Laguérie had given his agreement to this tract.

1. You cannot deny that there are serious problems at the seminary at Écône!

First of all, we repeat that the statistics in the report circulated by Fr. Laguérie (not to mention subsequent tracts and communiqués) are grossly inaccurate, while the motives reported for the departure of the seminarians are, in the majority of cases, fanciful. Now, as these statistics and these motives are given as proof of the problems at the seminary at Écône, we can expect that the conclusion to which Fr. Laguérie wishes to leads his readers, will be every bit as erroneous.

We are all obviously very solicitous with regard to vocations, it is a question which we, as priests, have very close to our hearts. We all desire that there may be many vocations and many new priests.

The principal person concerned, and the most solicitous, is obviously the Superior General, Bishop Fellay, whose prime role, determined by the Constitutions of the Society, is to watch over the seminaries “as the apple of his eye".

In fact, the Superior General consecrated his latest canonical visit, during the first term of this year, to receiving each seminarian individually, questioning him particularly on this point: does the seminarian think that there is a good atmosphere at the seminary? If not, what problems does he discern?

Furthermore, the Superior General has conducted an independent enquiry on several cases of departure, he has received the seminarians in question, re-examining the dossier, questioning not only the protagonists, but also people outside of the seminary (for example, the prior of the seminarian’s place of origin, the director of the seminary at Flavigny), in order to verify that this departure was neither unjust, nor unjustified.

It must not be forgotten either, that the seminary’s purpose is to test and verify the reality of a vocation, which means that departures are almost inevitable (when the seminary authorities observe the unsuitability of the candidate or when the seminarian himself discovers that, in fact, he does not have a vocation). And in fact, the majority of the departures in question are quite simply spontaneous ones of this nature.

This does not mean that the seminary at Écône is exempt from any fault. There is always room for improvement, as for example, with regard to communication. But the polemic which has been raised misses the real problem: that of the recruitment and perseverence of seminarians. There may be several explanations for this, for example:

- It may just be a cyclic effect, against which nothing much can be done.

- It may be a question of problems due to the evolution of the young, new problems, to which the professors are not necessarily and immediately in a position to respond, intellectually, educationally, etc.

- It may be because of a certain inadequacy of the teaching profession as a whole (for example, predominantly intellectual priests with little pastoral experience, with whom a seminarian, who is less intellectual and more inclined to the pastoral, would have difficulty identifying).

- It may be due to an inadequacy of certain customs at the seminary, excellent in the 1970s but which no longer correspond with the psychology of young people today.

- Finally and above all, there may be in some seminarians certain weaknesses (of character, intellect, etc.) which are the direct fruit of modern education and the current atmosphere in society.

If problems do actually exist, it is proper to analyse them and to find a remedy for them as soon as possible.

However, finding a remedy for difficulties of this kind is much more difficult than one imagines, as one must guard against destabilizing everything and ultimately doing more harm than good.

Obviously one may believe that the Superior General did not act quickly enough, or strictly enough in the face of these difficulties, that he did not choose the right solutions, etc. But it must be remembered first of all, that the Superior General does not resolve such problems without surrounding himself with the best advisers; then it is he who has the maximum information on the question, notably through his annual canonical visit where he personally receives each seminarian; finally it is he who is in first and direct charge of this important part of our apostolate, and, in consequence, it is he who receives the necessary graces.

2. At the root of this affair is the Church of Saint-Eloi.

In fact, the Superiors were furious at Fr. Laguérie’s acquisition of this church. What is more, the district superior, Fr. de Cacqueray, made a secret visit to Mgr. Ricard, during which Mgr. Ricard demanded the head of Fr. Laguérie in exchange for his neutrality with regard to Saint-Eloi.

First of all, I can affirm unreservedly that everyone, from the least of the faithful to the Superior General, including Fr. de Cacqueray, was delighted by the acquisition of the church of Saint-Eloi and the agreement signed between the city of Bordeaux and the Eglise Saint-Eloi Association, allowing the Society of Saint Pius X to celebrate Mass there. One sign of this, amongst others, was the message of congratulation addressed by Bishop Fellay to Fr. Laguérie, on February 2, 2002.

Subsequently, proceedings have opposed the City of Bordeaux, Mgr. Ricard and the Eglise Saint-Eloi Association, over the absence of deconsecration of this church. From this time, differences of analysis of this situation have surfaced between Fr. Laguérie and his superiors. The district superior and the Superior General believed that there were certain juridicial weaknesses in the dossier of the Eglise Saint-Eloi association, which has been proved to be the case, since the two legal actions were lost, and the agreement annulled by the city council.

These differences of analysis have in no way called into question the unity of opinion of the superior and the prior, over the benefit which the ministry of this church brings to the faithful of Bordeaux.

Concerning the visit to Mgr. Ricard, apart from the fact that Fr. Laguérie himself went to see this bishop, it should be remembered that our constitutions presuppose that the relationship with the civil and religious authorities fall within the direct competence of the district superior. He often delegates this to the local prior, but he may very well consider it more judicious to establish contact himself, and he is not obliged to inform the local prior (even if he does so in most cases). In this case, the district superior had warned Fr. Laguérie many months before of his plan to pay a visit to Mgr. Ricard, and at the conclusion of this visit, he updated Fr. Laguérie on the current situation concerning the church of Saint-Eloi and Bordeaux.

It is obviously normal for the district superior to meet the president of the Bishops Conference, and the agenda of such a meeting concerned not only the church of Saint- Eloi, but many other issues which are of interest to both the Society and the bishops of France.

It would be inappropriate to suspect imaginary secret negotiations between the district superior and Mgr. Ricard, when Fr. Laguérie himself concealed from his superiors his role as president of the Eglise Saint-Eloi Association, which was decided on September 15 2003, declared at the Prefecture on June 4, 2004, and of which the superior of the district was informed only on August 25 – and not by Fr. Laguérie. So wherein lies the concealment and the secrecy? We must add that the development of the legal dossier directly implicated the good of the district as a whole. This is why the district superior told Fr. Laguérie that he was taking personal charge of this affair. Why did Fr. Laguérie disobey?

3) The Society of Saint Pius X refuses all appeals and applications when a priest is punished, this borders on totalitarianism!

First of all it must be remembered that every priest makes an explicit promise of obedience. To obey certainly does not mean “to do as I please." Obedience implies the inconvenience of submitting our will to decisions which we do not like, even those which are painful to us. To this priestly obedience, promised solemnly during ordination, is added the obedience emanating from membership in an ecclesiastical society. In such societies, the superiors have the power to impose their precepts, to appoint posts, to punish, etc., in a way analogous with the exercise of authority of parents over their children. A child does not raise an appeal because his parents punish him for a misdemeanor. This is part of normal life in such a society. This is also why, in thirty-four years of its existence, no member has ever appealed against a punishment imposed by the superior. An appeal could be imagined only in a really extraordinary case, which certainly does not apply in a transfer. Even the “rotal ” lawyer chosen by Fr. Laguérie to make the appeal to Rome reminded him of these elementary matters (see Fr. de Cacqueray’s text).

Having said this, according to the law (civil or canonical), each action is ranked in a category requiring particular treatment. At the time, therefore, that Fr. Laguérie made it known to the Superior General that he intended to appeal against his transfer-sanction, the Superior General pointed out to him explicitly and on several occasions, (Fr. Laguérie not being supposed to be a specialist in Canon law) the adapted procedure for his case. Since the sanction is administrative and not judicial, the appropriate legal action is called a “recourse” rather than an “appeal”. Given the structure of the Society (comparable to a society of pontifical right), this recourse can be made only to Rome.

Unfortunately, since Rome considers the Society to be annulled since 1975, and therefore legally non-existant, such a recourse has no chance of succeeding: it will be automatically rejected by Rome. This will come as no surprise to any member of the Society, least of all Fr. Laguérie. In the current situation of the Society, there is no legal recourse according to normal channels against a decision of the Superior General taken unanimously with his Council. This situation is not at all the fault of the Society (all this resulting from the unjust and illegal “suppression” of the Society), but this is a fact without appeal (to say the least!).

In itself and according to the law, no one can reproach Fr. Laguérie for making an appeal or a recourse against a sanction which he considers unjust. But that is not the problem.

In May 1975, the bishop of Fribourg (Switzerland) claimed to have removed the Society’s canonical status, a fact that we have always contested and against which we appealed at the time. Since that day, the system of the exercise of jurisdiction in the Society, that is to say, of the exercise of authority and of its correlative, obedience, finds itself, in a certain way, deprived of its cornerstone. The Society finds itself cut off de facto from the authority of Rome. This Authority, the Society continues to recognize, but Rome no longer wants to recognize the Society. Thus, although we recognize the supreme authority of the Pope and the Holy See, as well as that of the bishops in their respective dioceses, (for example, we mention them during the canon of the Mass), it is de facto impossible for us to appeal to them. This is one of the sufferings of our current state, it is also a weakness of our canonical situation. Only a free but indisputable acceptance of all the members can overcome this fragility which we will suffer as long as we are not recognized by Rome. (Likewise, we accept these other afflictions, such as the interdiction of celebrating in churches and other restrictions and victimizations).

This situation is not without danger. As far as authority is concerned, there is a danger of usurping the place of the supreme authority (that is to say ultimately, of the pope). As far as subordinates are concerned, this authority could always be called into question. In order to overcome the first difficulty, and possible abuses of power, the Superior General, the highest authority of the Society, has a principle of never taking an important decision alone, but always respecting the deliberative voices of his two advisers. For more serious questions, he also consults the bishops. As regards its members, it becomes obvious, however, that a determined and definitive questioning of a decision of the Superior General can only end in departure from the Society.

There is a stone missing from our building, and it is the cornerstone; we cannot do anything about it, it is a fact. Owing to the fact that we recognize that this stone is de jure the Holy See, it is absolutely impossible for us to claim to replace it with anything else: this would be either to go into schism or to invent a new entity above the Superior General, a super superior…to go into a never ending spiral. In other terms, touching on one of the fundamental points of the current situation, it is the very existence of the Society which is threatened.

This is what Fr. Laguérie has done. During the twenty-nine years that we have been in this situation, he is the first to have dared to lay a finger on it. He wanted to put a personal exigence above the needs of the common good of our Society, to which no-one can question his right, de jure, but, de facto, he can not do this without demolishing the Society from top to bottom.

Furthermore, it is necessary to emphasize the inconsistency in Fr. Laguérie, in appealing to the authorities which he otherwise questions – and sometimes vehemently – as is the case with Mgr. Ricard, against whom he appealed and who was firmly taken to task in Le Mascaret. And we can broaden these issues to the Roman authorities, with whom we vigorously dispute certain deviations, such as ecumenism, and who are hostile to us for doctrinal reasons.

There is therefore no other solution for Fr. Laguérie, if he maintains his opposition, but to leave the Society.

4) You cannot deny that the Society of Saint Pius X is drawing back, closing in upon itelf, becoming rigid, that it is driving away from its very heart the most active and dynamic priests.

An examination of the reality of the life of the Society in France in recent years shows that this claim is groundless.

The district of France is constantly acquiring and renewing churches just about everywhere, radiating its apostolate. The district also wages an intellectual and pastoral struggle, as for example, the symposia on Vatican II, the conferences of the Saint Pius X Institute and Civitas, the development of Clovis-Fideliter-France Livres, of Pacte-Certitudes-Servir directed by Fr. de Tanoüarn, of the DICI website directed by Fr. Lorans, of the ACIM and Cahiers Saint-Raphael, the studies on the liturgical reform and on ecumenism, addressed to Rome, the evening dedicated to the Mel Gibson film, the Rassemblement annuel des Oeuvres catholique, etc., bear witness. The district also carries on the combat with the bishops and the clergy through its Letter to our brother priests, through the publication of critical studies with all the priests of France, by the press conference by Bishop Fellay in Rome, last February 2, on the occasion of the publication of the study on ecumenism, etc. The district also wages a spiritual combat through its spiritual retreats (more than 1000 retreatants per year), through the pilgrimage to Montmartre, to Lourdes and all the regional pilgrimages, through processions, etc. Lastly, the district wages an educational battle through its many primary, secondary and senior schools (more than 1000 young people educated, not counting the Dominican schools for girls). Etc.

In view of these facts and other evidence of the spirited, vigorous action of the priests of the district, it is false to say that everything is focused on the length of skirts and the wearing of the mantilla, or on other details which have their importance, but which nevertheless remain details. The tactlessness of a few, which is always possible, must not be allowed to discredit the work of all and make us forget the missionary radiance of the 140 priests of the district and the tens of thousands of faithful who support them.

For sure, we lost Fr. Aulagnier several months ago. Yes, we have just lost Fr. Philippe Laguérie and Fr. Christophe Héry. This is a great loss and a great sadness for us. The Society is going to miss their fine qualities. But it could be said that they have more left the Society, than the Society has left them. They have unfortunately, perhaps with the best of intentions initially, created the conditions in which cohabitation is impossible.

We hope that, on reflection, having discovered in particular, the narrowing of scope of their apostolate in the wake of their separation, these priests will come back to the unchanged and dynamic combat of the Society.