1. With great affliction the Church has learned of the unlawful episcopal
ordination conferred on 30 June last by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, which has
frustrated all the efforts made during the previous years to ensure the full
communion with the Church of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X founded by
the same Mons. Lefebvre. These efforts, especially intense during recent months,
in which the Apostolic See has shown comprehension to the limits of the
possible, were all to no avail (1).
2. This affliction was particularly felt by the Successor of Peter to whom in
the first place pertains the guardianship of the unity of the Church (2), even
though the number of persons directly involved in these events might be few,
since every person is loved by God on his own account and has been redeemed by
the blood of Christ shed on the Cross for the salvation of all.
The particular circumstances, both objective and subjective in which
Archbishop Lefebvre acted, provide everyone with an occasion for profound
reflection and for a renewed pledge of fidelity to Christ and to His Church.
3. In itself, this act was one of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in a very
grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the Church, such as is
the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally
perpetuated. Hence such disobedience -- which implies in practice the rejection
of the Roman primacy -- constitutes a schismatic act (3). In performing such an
act, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning sent to them by the Cardinal
Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops on 17 June last, Mons. Lefebvre and the
priests Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tisser de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and
Alfonso de Galarreta, have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication
envisaged by ecclesiastical law (4).
4. The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and
contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take
sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the
Second Vatican Council clearly taught, "comes from the apostles and
progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in
insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about
in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who
ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of
spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of
those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate,
the sure charism of truth" (5).
But especially contradictory is a notion of Tradition which opposes the
universal Magesterium of the Church possessed by the Bishops of Rome and the
Body of Bishops. It is impossible to remain faithful to the Tradition while
breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle
Peter, Christ Himself entrusted the ministry of unity in His Church (6).
5. Faced with the situation that has arisen, I deem it my duty to inform all
the Catholic faithful of some aspects which this sad event has highlighted.
a) The outcome of the movement promoted by Mons. Lefebvre can and must be,
for all the Catholic faithful, a motive for sincere reflection concerning their
own fidelity to the Church's Tradition, authentically interpreted by the
ecclesiastical Magisterium, ordinary and extraordinary, especially in the
Ecumenical Councils from Nicaea to Vatican II. From this reflection all should
draw a renewed and efficacious conviction of the necessity of strengthening till
more their fidelity by rejecting erroneous interpretations and arbitrary and
unauthorized application of doctrine, liturgy, and discipline.
To the bishops especially it pertains, by reason of their pastoral mission,
to exercise the important duty of a clearsighted vigilance full of charity and
firmness, so that this fidelity may be everywhere safeguarded (7).
However, it is necessary that all the Pastors and other faithful have a new
awareness, not only of the lawfulness but also the richness for the Church of a
diversity of charisms, traditions of spirtuality and apostolate, which also
constitutes the beauty of unity in variety; of that blended "harmony"
which the earthly Church raises up to Heaven under the impulse of the Holy