President of the International Federation Una Voce
Mgr. Lefebvre: There has been some misunderstanding on this matter. It is true that an investigation has been in progress since January, 1978, and that it was to be continued by talks in Rome. Meanwhile, during the audience, the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, assigned to Cardinal Seper, as to a trusted friend, the question of Ecône. It does not seem that he had in mind a procedure already in progress, hence the misunderstanding.
Dr. de Saventhem: Have you been interrogated?
Mgr. Lefebvre: Yes, twice, for three-hour periods. Seventeen series of questions by five interrogators accompanied by a secretary; but I was refused permission to bring even one witness.
Dr. de Saventhem: Early in January, a large circulation American magazine stated that, during the audience of the 18th November last, the Holy Father confronted you with an ultimatum: either you submitted to the Pope, or else you left the Church. Since then numerous papers have repeated the, burden of that report, as if your excommunication was imminent.
Mgr. Lefebvre: That is pure invention. The object of the discussions, I suppose, was to clarify the position with a view to finding a solution.
Dr. de Saventhem: Nevertheless, the report that the Pope might soon lift the canonical sanctions imposed on you has not been confirmed. In fact, one wonders how the a divinis suspension could be lifted unless you agreed to refrain forever from ordaining seminarians without dimissorial letters.
Mgr. Lefebvre: This problem arises from the canonical status of our confraternity. The ordinations branded by some as "wildcat" had become necessary from the moment when the Secretariat of State, in a circular letter to all Episcopal Conferences, forbade diocesan bishops to incardinate our seminarians: and to give them dimissorial letters. This prohibition is an encroachment without precedent on one of the oldest episcopal prerogatives. Without it we would always have found resident bishops willing to regularize the canonical status of our young men. In order to solve this problem, it would be sufficient for our Society to be recognized as coming directly under pontifical authority.
Dr. de Saventhem: Would not such an official recognition imply that you had previously answered Pope Paul's priority request to you to declare publicly your sincere adherence to the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican and to all its texts?
Mgr. Lefebvre: In reply to that request I had already written the following to Pope Paul VI: "I accept everything that, in the Council and its reforms, is in full agreement with Tradition." I have never been told why this declaration was considered inadequate; After all, a Catholic can adhere to the texts of a Council only in the light of the continuing constant teaching of the Church. That is a fundamental principle of the Catholic Faith, and my very clear impression is that, under Pope John Paul II, we shall see it confirmed; as much in the interpretation as in the application of conciliar texts.
Dr. de Saventhem: Did you discuss this matter with the Holy Father during your audience?
Mgr. Lefebvre: I am thinking rather about what he declared publicly in his very first message to the world after the election. Referring to the conciliar Magna Carta – the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – the Pope said that it must be read in "the light of tradition," and that we must "integrate into it the dogmatic formulations laid down by the First Vatican Council." Only thus would the text become for all, priests and faithful, "the secret of an unerring orientation." If I were asked to declare my adherence to the conciliar texts "read in the light of tradition and integrated with the dogmatic formulations previously laid down by the Magisterium of the Church," I would sign without hesitation.
Dr. de Saventhem: Have you, in fact, signed a text of this nature, either before the audience with the Holy Father, or during your discussions with Cardinal Seper?
Mgr. Lefebvre: I can say that, in the course of the audience, the Pope accepted that declaration regarding the Council, and that it will be signed with Cardinal Seper at some time.
Dr. de Saventhem: Excellency, your confraternity now runs not only seminaries; but a dozen priories and two convents. All these institutions continue their liturgical life notwithstanding the rule of conduct promulgated by Pope Paul VI. Moreover, they refuse to conform with the "new orientations" adopted almost everywhere else. Even if Rome were willing to allow you to perform "the experiment of tradition," is there not a risk that, at diocesan government level, very serious problems would arise?
* On the other hand, it is known that a good number of cardinals and bishops have expressed the desire to see the pre-conciliar rites re-admitted everywhere. Without doubt, there would be local problems, but there would also be the immense relief of numerous priests and faithful on recovering traditional rites and the devotion that accompanies them. Bishops would straightway experience the benefit to their dioceses. I dare to hope that the new Pope, in his pastoral solicitude, will not long delay this conciliatory gesture.
Dr. de Saventhem: There still remain the various post-conciliar "orientations" which Your Excellency has stigmatized as incompatible with the tradition and Magisterium of the Church and which your confraternity resolutely continues to oppose. Would you say that the claim that these orientations are derived from Vatican II is exaggerated?
Mgr. Lefebvre: It is true that in many fields – ecumenism: the institutions of the Church; liturgy; reform of seminaries and of religious life - the standards set by the Council have been left far behind. In their application, the new orientations have been used as a pretext for leaping into "creativity" and continuous evolution.
Dr. de Saventhem: There are nevertheless other new orientations manifestly favored by the Council. I am thinking especially of the so-called liturgical renewal.
Mgr. Lefebvre: I think I can state that all the novel orientations were favored by the spirit of the Council, as well as by the too often ambiguous written word. The liberal spirit of the Council, by its nature, leads to compromise with the spirit of man and of the modern world-which is in opposition to the Catholic spirit. That is especially the case in documents such as those on religious liberty; on the Church in the world and on non-Christian religions. Our fidelity to the Church prompts us to labor resolutely and patiently for a return to her great traditions. Our priories might be seen as beacons to mark our way on the long road ahead of us.
Dr. de Saventhem: Have you found, in your conversations with him, Cardinal Seper open to the ideas you have just expressed?
Mgr. Lefebvre: I value the Cardinal's sincerity very highly and I hope that he will seize the opportunity given to him by the Holy Father to manifest courageously the attachment which he certainly has for Tradition; but about which he has deemed it right, in obedience, to maintain silence during the last years. Millions of Catholics await with longing the application of religious freedom to the centuries-old tradition of the Church.
Dr. de Saventhem: In thanking you, Excellency, for this interview, I take the liberty, on behalf of those millions of Catholics, of assuring you and His Eminence Cardinal Seper of our most fervent prayers.
Originally published in Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre, Vol. II (1983) by Michael Davies, who later became the second President of FIUV.