early as 1947 (not counting his years in the French Seminary),
Archbishop Lefebvre frequented the Roman Curia in an assiduous
way. As archbishop of Dakar, but especially as Apostolic Delegate
(1948-1959), every year in October he came “to give an account
of his administration”. For whatever concerned the Apostolic
Delegation (a political and diplomatic position), he mainly
dealt with the Secretariate of State, and for other matters
of the missionary apostolate, he met prelates of the Congregation
of the Propaganda Fidei.
for other more particular matters he also frequented other Dicasteries,
such as the Congregation of Religious for the foundation of
native religious Congregations, for the establishment of religious
communities, for difficulties between various Orders. He also
met with the Congregation for the Eastern Rites on the occasion
of the arrival of the Maronites in Africa.
The visit of the Delegate always ended with an audience with
the Holy Father, Pope PiusXII. Archbishop Lefebvre has remained
very discreet on every thing he has done for the good of the
Church. His Carmelite Sister, Mother Marie-Christiane, recalled
how, in the 1950s and 1960s, Marcel knew the art of changing
the topic of conversation whenever she interrogated him on his
doings in Africa and in Rome. But it has come to public knowledge
that between the young missionary bishop and the Angelic Pastor,
there was a common view on things and a mutual appreciation.
Pius XII’s man
to the testimony of Fr. Laurentin and of many others, we do
know that Archbishop Lefebvre was Pius XII’s man for whatever
concerned Africa. A little but highly significant anecdote:
during this annual audience, Pius XII used to empty his drawers
full of rosaries and of medals into the hands of his Apostolic
Delegate, saying “It is for your Africans”.
he left Africa (1962), he continued to frequent the Roman Curia.
In particular, in his functions of Superior General of the most
important missionary congregation world-wide, the Holy Ghost
Fathers, he had to have very frequent contacts with the Congregation
of the Religious. Moreover, to execute the reiterated demands
of many General Chapters of his Congregation, he managed to
transfer the Mother House from Paris to Rome, which made him
live in the Eternal City, with new occasions to visit the Curia.
and Pope Pius XII
particular circumstance allowed him to have a very deep knowledge
of the gears of the Vatican administration as well as a great
number of Church dignitaries: he was in fact appointed by John
XXIII as a member of the Central Preparatory Commission for
Vatican II, a commission composed of one hundred and twenty
members, both cardinals and bishops.
this Roman experience, one can add his relations with the political,
diplomatical, economical and cultural authorities of the many
countries under his care, either as Apostolic Delegate, or as
Lefebvre had the great advantage of an exceptional experience
and an intimate knowledge of the Roman and universal situation
of the Church. He knew very well religious life, seminaries,
the mechanism of Episcopal nominations, the functioning of Episcopal
(he himself started many — although these were not the Post
Vatican II Bishops’ Conferences based on false collegiality
– Ed.), diocesan clergy, religious congregations, etc.
cannot be surprised then of the very active part he played during
the II Vatican Council, as the true leader of the minority gathered
in the Coetus Internationalis Patrum, and
as one of the main moral authorities that reacted in front of
the Conciliar revolution.
The Letter and the Spirit of Canon Law
Lefebvre, imbued with the soul of a builder and of a powerful
organizer (as is proven by his reputation in Africa, and especially
in Dakar), never saw himself as the founder of a congregation.
When he in fact did lay the foundations of the Priestly Society
of St Pius X, he was already 64 years old, with a magnificent
ecclesiastical career behind him. He did this foundation truly
compelled by Divine Providence. And now one can say that there
was a reason for the said Divine Providence to have given him,
in the course of this career, such an intimate knowledge of
the gears of the Roman Curia: he would need it all during the
tremendous crisis that was about to explode.
Lefebvre was always careful to get all the canonical and ecclesiastical
authorizations in the foundation of his work, to root it deeply
in the Church and to ensure heavenly blessings. The Statutes
of the SSPX, the creation of the seminary of Ecône, the opening
of the first houses of the SSPX, the incardination of its members,
all was done according to the rules and in the strict observance
of Canon Law.
the Church authorities, in an unjust, illegal manner contrary
to faith, began to destroy the SSPX, first by withdrawing any
previously given authorization, then in denying any new authorization,
he found himself obliged to by-pass the laws. Nevertheless,
he never believed that the present situation of crisis entitled
him absolute freedom from Church laws. On the contrary, he endeavor
to follow the letter of Canon Law as much as possible, and when
this was truly impossible, then he followed the spirit of the
law, laying land-marks which would be necessary
for a future regularization.
still have magnificent lectures on this topic in which the Prelate
explains the spirit of Canon Law, what is implicit in it, and
how theology is the support of all Church Laws. “Salus animarum
suprema lex – Salvation of souls is the supreme law” — this
traditional axiom has always guided the major decisions of the
Archbishop, though always by safeguarding the principle of authority,
for instance, by avoiding to ordain priests without incardination
in the Church, ‘vagi’ as these are called, freelance priests
having each their own personal apostolate. It is clear that
the situation in which the SSPX and its Founder found themselves
from 1974 onwards did not facilitate the relations with Rome.
Nevertheless, Archbishop Lefebvre never lost his Roman spirit,
or his will to keep contact with Rome. Proof of this can be
found in the many collections of exchanges and meetings between
Rome and Ecône (for ex. in French,
La condamnation sauvage de Mgr Lefebvre, or Mgr Lefebvre
et le St Office, published timely
be Itinéraires, — or in English, Apologia pro Marcel
Lefebvre, in three volumes, and Archbishop
Lefebvre and the Vatican, both published by Angelus Press).
Prelate never slammed the door in Rome’s face. On the contrary,
he always went to the limit of what was possible in dialogue
and discussions. Whenever he saw the slightest possibility to
improve the situation with Rome, he would go there forthwith.
the beginning of the SSPX, he met more frequently with the Holy
Office, in Rome, and especially with Cardinals Seper and Ratzinger
(the present Pope). This is a further proof, if needs be, that
the ‘problem with Ecône’ has never been a mere disciplinary
matter, but rather a doctrinal issue, born of the present crisis
in the Church. The only constant reproach made to him was that
he did not accept the novelties. This is truly to his honor,
and one day the Church will thank him for his heroic resistance
in front of the disastrous innovations coming from the highest
Roman authorities. Proof of the pudding, one
day Cardinal Oddi had this strange observation: “The drama with
Archbishop Lefebvre is that
he has too much faith”!
any case, there was not a single year that did not see the Archbishop
coming to Rome at least once, but usually, often.
his meetings at the Holy Office (whenever they were granted
him), Archbishop Lefebvre never hesitated, especially in delicate
moments, to consult Roman personalities, such as Cardinals Palazzini
and Oddi, but also the Salesian Don Dario Composta, the Conventual
Coccia, and others whose names we must withhold by discretion.
the first years of John Paul II’s pontificate, many meetings
took place in the Holy Office, under the aegis of Cardinal Seper.
Now, behind the scenes, this Cardinal was about to solve the
“Lefebvre Problem” by a real court case. Once, at that time,
when the Archbishop met Don Francisco Putti, founder of the
well-informed periodical SiSiNoNo, Don Putti convinced
him that a trap was being laid and that to save the SSPX, he
had to cut off the discussions, refusing to be judged by judges,
three of which had already condemned him. From that day onward,
the Prelate was infinitely thankful to Don Putti and never missed
visiting him each time he came to Rome.
Audience with Paul VI
this issue of contacts with Rome, one must mention the papal
audiences. All in all, two audiences in 21 years! This is not
much for this man who had met the pope so frequently in the
course of his ecclesiastical career. Especially when one thinks
that this man was front page news of the media, and that the
said popes, who always spoke of ‘dialogue’, ‘ecumenism’, ‘repentance’,
received non-stop representatives of the Orthodox, of the Protestants,
of the Jews, of Buddhists, of Islam, of Marxism, etc. The first
audience was with Paul VI, in Castel Gandolfo, on September
11, 1976, at the end of the ‘hot summer’. The Archbishop arrived
in Albano (the SSPX house near Rome) on September 9.
In order to settle the last minute details of this unexpected
audience, the next day he went to Rome to discuss the matter
at the Ecclesiastical College of Capranica, with Don Dominico
Labellarte, the organizer of this meeting. To meet in such a
place was in fact quite ironic, since some time earlier, this
same College declared itself favorable to the Italian referendum
allowing … the legalization of divorce!
the details of this audience, as well as for the next, readers
are asked to refer with great profit to the Biography of
Archbishop Lefebvre, by Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, published
Audience with John Paul II
second audience was with pope John Paul II at the beginning
of his pontificate. It was organized by Cardinal Siri, archbishop
of Genoa, and took place on November 18, 1978.
new pope appeared to have the vague desire to settle the whole
matter rather rapidly, but he reconsidered the issue and entrusted
it to the care of the Roman Curia, where, again, it got
stuck in the mud.
was their first and last meeting (exception made of their meetings
during Vatican II, but then they did not know each other). Subsequently,
Archbishop Lefebvre often returned to Rome, always ready to
meet the pope, but the latter never expressed the desire of
further meetings. As a result, the Founder of the Society of
St Pius X departed for his eternity, on March 25, 1991, without
having seen his work rehabilitated nor the crisis of the Church
first successor (1983-1994), Fr. Franz Schmidberger, was never
able to meet pope John Paul II. His second successor, Bishop
Bernard Fellay (1994 - today) had a brief audience with
pope John Paul II on December 30, 2000, but nothing concrete
came out of it.
now, under the new pontificate of Benedict XVI, we continue
in the line traced for us by Archbishop Lefebvre in his November
21, 1974 Declaration, a real Magna Charta for all those
who love the Roman Church:
hold firmly with all our heart and with all our mind to Catholic
Rome, Guardian of the Catholic Faith and of the traditions necessary
to the maintenance of this faith, to the eternal Rome, mistress
of wisdom and truth.
refuse on the other hand, and have always refused, to follow
the Rome of Neo-Modernist and Neo-Protestant tendencies, which
became clearly manifest during the Second Vatican Council, and
after the Council, in all the reforms which issued from it.”
Fideliter, no. 167, Sept.-Oct. 2005, pp.26-31. The author
of this article, Fr. Du Chalard, is one of the most senior priests
of the SSPX, ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1976, and many
years stationed in the SSPX house in Albano, near Rome.)