of Archbishop Lefebvre
29 March 1988
of the Seminary of the Society of St. Pius X in Switzerland, Father
Lorans, having asked me to help in drawing up this issue of the
Letter from Econe, it seemed to me, in these circumstances,
that it would not be without benefit to put before you again what
I wrote on January 20, 1978, concerning certain objections which
could be made as to our attitude with regard to the problems created
by the present situation of the Church.
One of these
questions was: "How do you see obedience to the Pope?"
Here is the reply I gave ten years ago:
governing obedience are known and are so in conformity with sane
reason and common sense that one is driven to wonder how intelligent
persons can make a statement like, "They prefer to be mistaken
with the Pope, than to be with the truth against the Pope."
That is not
what the natural law teaches, nor the Magisterium of the Church.
Obedience presupposes an authority, which gives an order or issues
a law. Human authorities, even those instituted by God, have no
authority other than to attain the end apportioned them by God
and not to turn away from it. When an authority uses power in
opposition to the law for which this power was given it, such
an authority has no right to be obeyed and one must disobey it.
to disobey is accepted with regard to a family father who would
encourage his daughter to prostitute herself, with regard to the
civil authority which would oblige doctors to perform abortions
and kill innocent souls, yet people accept in every case the authority
of the Pope, who is supposedly infallible in his government and
in all words. Such an attitude betrays a sad ignorance of history
and of the true nature of papal infallibility.
A long time
ago St Paul said to St Peter that he was "Not walking
according to the truth of the Gospel" (Gal. 2:14).
St. Paul encouraged the faithful not to obey him, St. Paul, if
he happened to preach any other gospel than the Gospel that he
had already taught them (Gal. 1:8).
when he speaks of fraternal correction, alludes to St Paul's resistance
to St. Peter and he makes the following comment: "To resist
openly and in public goes beyond the measure of fraternal correction.
St Paul would not have done it towards St. Peter if he had not
in some way been his equal…We must realize, however, that if there
was question of a danger for the faith, the superiors would have
to be rebuked by their inferiors, even in public." This is
clear from the manner and reason for St. Paul's acting as he did
with regard to St. Peter, whose subject he was, in such a way,
says the gloss of St. Augustine, "that the very head of the
Church showed to superiors that if they ever chanced to leave
the straight and narrow path, they should accept to be corrected
by their inferiors" (St. Thomas IIa, IIae, q.33, art.4, ad
evoked by St. Thomas is not merely imaginary because it took place
with regard to John XXII during his life. This pope thought he
could state as a personal opinion that the souls of the elect
do not enjoy the Beatific Vision until after the Last Judgment
He wrote this opinion down in 1331 and in 1332 he preached a similar
opinion with regard to the pains of the damned. He had the intention
of putting forward this opinion in a solemn decree.
But the very
lively action on the part of the Dominicans, above all in Paris,
and of the Franciscans, made him renounce this opinion in favor
of the traditional opinion defined by his successor, Benedict
XII, in 1336.
is what Pope Leo XIII said in his Encyclical Libertas Praestantissimum,
June 20, 1888: "If, then, by anyone in authority, something
be sanctioned out of conformity with the principles of right reason,
and consequently hurtful to the commonwealth, such an enactment
can have no binding force of law." And a little further on,
he says: "But where the power to command is wanting, or where
a law is enacted contrary to reason, or to the eternal law, or
to some ordinance of God, obedience is unlawful, lest while obeying
man, we become disobedient to God."
Now our disobedience
is motivated by the need to keep the Catholic Faith. The orders
being given us clearly express that they are being given us in
order to oblige us to submit without reserve to the Second Vatican
Council, to the post-conciliar reforms, and to the prescriptions
of the Holy See, that is to say, to the orientations and acts
which are undermining our Faith and destroying the Church. It
is impossible for us to do this. To collaborate in the destruction
of the Church is to betray the Church and to betray Our Lord Jesus
Now all the
theologians worthy of this name teach that if the pope, by his
acts, destroys the Church, we cannot obey him (Vitoria: Obras,
pp. 486-487; Suarez: De Fide, disp. X, sec. VI, no.16;
St. Robert Bellarmine: de Rom. Pont., Book 2, Ch. 29; Cornelius
a Lapide: ad Gal. 2,11, etc.) and he must be respectfully, but
governing obedience to the Pope's authority are the same as those
governing relations between a delegated authority and its subjects.
They do not apply to the Divine Authority which is always infallible
and indefectible and hence incapable of failing. To the extent that
God has communicated His infallibility to the Pope and to the extent
that the Pope intends to use this infallibility, which involves
four very precise conditions in its exercise, there can be no failure.
these precisely fixed conditions, the authority of the Pope is fallible
and so the criteria, which bind us to obedience, apply to his acts.
Hence it is not inconceivable that there could be a duty of disobedience
with regard to the Pope.
which was granted him, was granted him for precise purposes and
in the last resort for the glory of the Holy Trinity, for Our Lord
Jesus Christ, and for the salvation of souls.
be carried out by the Pope in opposition to this purpose would have
no legal value and no right to be obeyed, nay, rather, it would
oblige us to disobey in order for us to remain obedient to God and
faithful to the Church.
true for everything that the recent popes have commanded in the
name of Religious Liberty or ecumenism since the Council: all the
reforms carried out under this heading are deprived of any legal
standing or force of law. In these cases the popes use their authority
contrary to the end for which this authority was given them. They
have a right to be disobeyed by us.
and its history show publicly this need to remain faithful to God
and to the Church. The years 1974, 1975 and 1976 leave us with the
memory of this incredible clash between Econe and the Vatican, between
the Pope and myself.
was the condemnation, the suspension a divinis, wholly null
and void because the Pope was tyrannically abusing his authority
in order to defend laws contrary to the good of the Church and to
the good of souls.
are an historical application of the principles concerning the duty
was the occasion for a departure of a certain number of priests
who were friends or members of the Society, who were scared by the
condemnation, and did not understand the duty to disobey under certain
circumstances. Since then, twelve years have passed. Officially,
the condemnation still stands; relations with the Pope are still
tense, especially as the consequences of this ecumenism are drawing
us into an apostasy, which forced us to react vigorously. However,
the announcement of consecration of bishops in June stirred Rome
into action: it at last made up its mind to fulfill our request
for an Apostolic Visitation by sending on November 11, 1987, Cardinal
Gagnon and Msgr. Perl. As far as we were able to judge by the speeches
and reflections of our Visitors, their judgment was very favorable
indeed, and the Cardinal did not hesitate to attend the Pontifical
Mass on December 8th, at Econe, celebrated by the prelate suspended
What can we
conclude from all this except that our disobedience is bearing good
fruit, recognized by the envoys of the authority, which we disobey?
And here we are now confronted with new decisions to be taken. We
are more than ever encouraged to give the Society the means it needs
to continue its essential work, the formation of true priests of
the holy, and Catholic, and Roman Church. That is to say, to give
me successors in the episcopate.
this need, but will the Pope accept these bishops from the ranks
of Tradition? For ourselves it cannot be otherwise. Any other solution
would be the sign that they want to align us with the conciliar
revolution, and there our duty to disobey immediately revives. The
negotiations are now under way and we shall soon know the true intentions
of Rome. They will decide the future. We must continue to pray and
to watch. May the Holy Ghost guide us through the intercession of
Our Lady of Fatima!
Courtesy of the Angelus
Press, Regina Coeli House
2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109
Vol. XI, No.
7, July 1988