28 September 2022

Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre - The War of Attrition Continues

By Michael Davies

12 June 1976
Letter from Mgr. Benelli
to the Apostolic Nuncio in Berne

Official letter from the Vatican Secretariat of State,
Registered under the number 307,554,
and addressed to Mgr. Ambrogio Marchioni,
Nuncio at Berne.


On the subject of Monseigneur Marcel Lefebvre, the Sovereign Pontiff asks me to communicate to you the three following points, and I ask you to bring them without delay to the knowledge of the prelate, at the same time giving him a copy of this letter:

1° You will hand over officially to Mgr. Lefebvre - who seemed to be absent from Switzerland on the 24 May - the Latin text and the French translation of the allocution given by His Holiness on the occasion of the recent secret Consistory of Cardinals, which all the bishops have already had opportunity of knowing.

The official presentation of the Latin text and its French translation: it is not that Mgr. Lefebvre is suspected of not understanding Latin. It is the effect of the tendency to "officialize" as "French translation " a version which is manifestly translated not from the Latin text but from the Italian, which is the original version. This new Vatican practice, which is a source of defects, confusion, and anarchy, has been progressively extended and imposed since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958.

2° You should, at the same time, inform Mgr. Marcel Lefebvre that, de mandato speciali Summi Pontificis, in the present circumstances and according to the prescriptions of canon 2373,1°, of the Code of Canon Law, he must strictly abstain from conferring orders from the moment he receives the present injunction.

This reference to Canon Law indicates suspension for a year from the administration of the sacrament of Holy Order, suspension reserved to the Holy See, and incurred ipso facto by one who ordains a priest without authorization from the former's Ordinary: in precise terms, without the "dimissorial letters" by which a bishop "refers" one of his subjects to another bishop to receive from him the sacrament of Holy Order.

3° In the discourse to the Consistory on 24 May 1976, the Holy Father was at pains to recall, himself, the fraternal approaches he had several times tried to make to Mgr. Lefebvre. He has said repeatedly, and now says again, that he is ready to receive him as soon as he has given public testimony of his obedience to the present successor of Saint Peter and of his acceptance of Vatican Council II. The conditions are well known to Mgr. Lefebvre: they are still those which I specified to him, in the name of His Holiness, when we met on 19 March, and of which I reminded him in my letter of 21 April last.

There had been approaches by Pope Paul VI, all mentioned in the preceding pages: not one was fraternal; not one was paternal. It is not enough to say it has been done for it to become true. Paul VI had refused to take into consideration the letter that Mgr. Lefebvre sent him on 31 May 1975; he has acted as though he did not know of this recourse to him put into his hands.

So there is indeed question of conditions which had been made known by Mgr. Benelli in the name of His Holiness. If one refers to Mgr. Benelli's letter of 21 April, it can be seen that there was no explicit question of conditions made known in the name of the Pope, but of "a step envisaged," which suggests the idea of a friendly conversation rather than that of an ultimatum. It is in euphemisms of this sort that the whole "fraternal" character of Vatican approaches to Mgr. Lefebvre consists.

Well, the Holy Father has confirmed that no such testimony has yet reached him, in spite of the promises about it made several times.

Mgr. Benelli no doubt means the promises that he himself had several times made to Pope Paul VI. Mgr. Lefebvre, for his part, has never, at any moment, promised to adopt the Mass of Article 7 nor to profess that Vatican II has "as much authority as Nicea, and more importance.

The public scandal continues to be such that the Sovereign Pontiff could wait no longer before asking the Sacred College to take notice of the continuance of this non-ecclesial attitude. Today, also, he can wait no longer. He therefore adjures Mgr. Lefebvre not to harden himself in a position which would lead him further and further into a blind alley, when he can still, "in humility and edification," make the gesture which His Holiness awaits "with paternal hope."

Accept, Monseigneur, with my thanks for your mediation in this grave matter, the assurance of my faithful and cordial devotion in Our Lord.

+ J. Beneni

22 June 1976
Letter of Mgr. Lefebvre to Pope Paul VI

This letter was made public by Mgr. Lefebvre on 12 July 1976. He added a "preliminary note" which will be found below, in its chronological place.


Most Holy Father,

Will Your Holiness please fully understand the sorrow which grips me, and my stupefaction, on the one side at hearing the paternal appeals Your Holiness addresses to me, and on the other the cruelty of the blows which do not cease striking us, the latest of them striking worst of all my dear Seminarians and their families on the eve of their priesthood for which they have been preparing for five or six years.

Your Holiness has known me since 1948, and you know perfectly well what the faith is that I profess, the faith of your Credo, and you know equally my profound submission to the Successor of Peter which I renew into the hands of Your Holiness.

The trouble and the confusion spread in the Church these last years, which Your Holiness denounces in your last discourse to the Consistory, are precisely the reason for the serious reserves I make about the perilous adaptation of the Church to the modem world.

But I am deeply convinced that I am in full communion with the thought and the faith of Your Holiness. I implore Your Holiness, therefore, to allow me to have a dialogue with envoys chosen by you from among the Cardinals who have known me for a long time,1 and, with the help of God's grace, there is no doubt that the difficulties will be smoothed out.


Hoping that this suggestion will be acceptable to Your Holiness, I assure you of my entire availability, and of my respectful and filial affection in Christ and Mary.

+ Marcel Lefebvre

25 June 1976
Letter from Mgr. Benelli to Mgr. Lefebvre


The Holy Father has received your letter of 22 June. He desires me to inform you of his mind on this subject. Certainly as I myself said to you last April in a fraternal letter, what is asked of you calls for courageous obedience on your part, the more so as you have voluntarily pursued your course in what was manifestly a blind alley. But you cannot describe as cruelty the attitude of the Holy See, which is only registering your conduct and taking the measures it calls for.

On 19 March, I told you quite frankly what, in your negative judgments on the Council, in your frequent statements on the offices of the Holy See and their directives applying the Council, in your way of acting counter to the responsibility of other bishops in their respective dioceses, was inadmissible for His Holiness, contrary to ecclesial communion, and damaging for the unity and peace of the Church. All that was required of you was a clear admission that you were wrong on those points necessary for every Catholic spirit, and after that one could have considered the best way of facing the remaining problems arising from your acts.

The "wrong" which is Mgr. Lefebvre's, and which he is "asked only to admit," thus becomes almost imperceptible. It is limited to speaking freely - supposedly too freely - too "negatively." Is that how he has left the "communion" of Paul VI? Here, once more, one sees the inability of the Holy See to state precisely with what Mgr. Lefebvre is reproached. This imprecision in the complaints contrasts with the precision of the conditions imposed for his submission in the preceding letter of Mgr. Benelli (dated 21 April). It is like-wise remarkable that, in enumerating "what is inadmissible for His Holiness," Mgr. Benelli does not mention the celebration of the traditional Mass. If that Mass is validly forbidden, why this off-hand silence about a grave fault, the most grave?

But, not only have you not done that during more than three months, in spite of your promises, but you have continued on the same line, even taking new initiatives in several parts of Europe and America. This public scandal could not but draw on you a public admonition from the Holy Father, on 24 May last. You could see, moreover, that the Holy Father attacks with the same firmness abuses committed in the other sense, outside or contrary to the true sense of the Council, which you claim is the origin of your attitude.

A flagrant untruth! In the other sense the "same firmness" of Paul VI demands no public submission, names no one, notably no bishop, and declares no one to be "outside the Church."

But after this summons, severe but paternal and hopeful, you remain obstinate and propose to ordain priests in the same spirit, on your own responsibility, independently of the Ordinaries, within the framework of a Society which the competent ecclesiastical authority has juridically suspended.

The Holy Father charges me this very day to confirm the measure of which you have been informed in his name, de mandata speciali: you are to abstain, now, from conferring any order. Do not use as a pretext the confused state of the seminarians who were to be ordained: this is just the opportunity to explain to them and to their families that you cannot ordain them to the service of the Church against the will of the supreme Pastor of the Church. There is nothing desperate in their case: if they have good will and are seriously prepared for a presbyteral ministry in genuine fidelity to the Conciliar Church.

Here we have it, then. Everything is clear at last. The only priests acceptable to the Vatican are priests prepared to make an act of "genuine fidelity to the Conciliar Church." It is, therefore, not traditionalists who are making a distinction between the Catholic Church, the eternal Church, and the Church of Vatican II. This distinction is made by an official spokesman for the Conciliar Church. Since the seminarians at Econe have already promised their fidelity to the Catholic Church they cannot transfer it to the Conciliar Church.

Those responsible will find the best solution for them, but they must begin with an act of obedience to the Church.

To the Church? Yes, but Mgr. Benelli has already given the game away. It is to the Conciliar Church that they must make this act of obedience. Here before our eyes is the drama of the occupation of the Church Militant by an alien power. In the name of the Catholic Church, Catholics are required to subject themselves to the Conciliar Church.

They were informed in good time. In case of transgression, they should know that they expose themselves to the canonical penalty provided in canon 2374;2 and if, temerariously, they disregard it, they expose themselves to irregularity3 (cf. canon 985, 7), while the one who ordains them would incur suspension for a year ab ordinum collatione, according to can. 2373, paras 1 and 3, independently of the order recently communicated to him by the mediation of the Apostolic Nuncio.

Rev. Father Dhanis, Consultor of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, will bring you this letter. So that everything shall be perfectly clear, it goes without saying that he is ready to give whatever explanations you may want.

Accept, Monseigneur, the assurance of my prayer for your intentions in these grave circumstances, and of my devotion in Our Lord.

+ Benelli

1. Since Paul VI had constantly refused to give him a personal hearing, Mgr, Lefebvre proposes that the dialogue shall take place with Cardinals chosen from among those who have known him for a long time (and not any more in the scandalous conditions of 1975, with the three Cardinals of unworthy behavior).

2. i.e. the penalty of suspension.

3. "Irregularity" is the perpetual canonical impediment to the reception and exercise of Holy Orders. The impediment can be removed only by dispensation, as distinct from impediments called simple, which cease with the cessation of their cause.

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