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Conference given by His Excellency Mgr. Lefebvre to the Seminarians at Ecône regarding his recent Audience with Pope John Paul II
21 December 1978

My dear friends,

I hope there is no representative of the press among you! Somebody in disguise! In any case, I ask you to be discreet and not, after this evening, to be running to the telephone to spread what I shall be saying about the audience. The business is not yet ended, and talks are in progress; there will be further meetings, not perhaps with the Holy Father himself but probably with Cardinal Seper, so what has been begun must not be hampered. This is a new stage in our relations with Rome, with a Rome somewhat changed, not the old Rome with which we had no difficulty.

Cardinal Siri’s Mediation

The Holy Father was informed that I was in Rome by Cardinal Siri whom I had gone to visit on my arrival in Rome. Cardinal Siri wanted to intervene so that I should have this audience. I did not myself ask Cardinal Siri for the audience – I was thinking of having it later, as it was still too soon and it would be better to wait until the Pope had been informed and events would show what line the Pope would take, what he was thinking. But as soon as I met Cardinal Siri he said: “Fine! Next week I have an audience with the Pope, and if you like I'll talk to him about it. We'll certainly discuss it."

He did have an audience the next week, on the Monday. I had visited him on Friday and on the following Monday he had his audience (he hadn't told me the day: it could have been Thursday, Friday). That Monday evening he told me, saying: "Good. It is arranged. The Holy Father will receive you on Saturday at 4:30 in his private apartments"- on Saturday, for, as the Pope had said to him, he wanted the meeting to be on Our Lady's day so that it would be under her patronage. I was to get in touch with one of his friends who would bring me to the Holy Father's private apartments – as it was not an official audience it could not take place in the offices where the Pope is accustomed to receive those who have an audience with him.

I have often been to see the Popes, one after another, Pope Pius XII, Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI – but always in the official places, never in the private apartments. So I thought it better to keep out of sight for a day or two so as to avoid being eventually interrogated by people in the Vatican, who always know everything. It is difficult, I said to myself: I don't know how I can get to the Vatican without the news being in the press beforehand. Monday to Saturday evening! It would be a miracle if nothing appeared in the press. And, if it did get in, would I have the audience?

Arrival at the Vatican
Saturday afternoon, 18 November 1978

However, things were so well arranged that nobody knew. I started on Saturday afternoon in Monsieur Pedroni’s car. He drove me to the little Holy Office Square where the entrance to the Vatican now is. There we were joined by the car of the secretary appointed by Cardinal Siri, and I went off in that car, so that no one should see a car with a Swiss – still less a Valais! – registration, especially as no one comes to the Vatican on Saturday afternoons: they are all away on holiday. But the Swiss Guards saw me change from one car to another. And it seems, though I did not notice it myself, that when Monsieur Pedroni and the Abbé du Chalard stayed on in the Holy Office Square, and were strolling under the colonnade of St. Peter's waiting for me to return from the audience, they were spotted by a young man who was already there, and who waited as they did, smiling from time to time. They both said: "That is surely someone in the know. He saw Monseigneur leave and is waiting for him to come back. He is certainly up to something!" And that is just what happened. As soon as I got back he rushed to the telephone to pass on his news, so that the same evening on the radio and the next the Italian newspapers the news was out.

In the Pope’s Private Apartments

When we got to the Court of Saint Damasus, there was nobody there except a Swiss Guard. Mgr. Magee, an Irishman, who had been secretary to Pope Paul VI, came down as soon as he saw the car and led me to a private life which goes up directly to the Holy Father’s private apartments. That made things easier. I did not know of that lift, and I should have taken the official lift up to the third floor – I knew where it was. So we reached the private apartments, and the secretary took me for a short visit up to the Chapel, a Chapel which is completely standard, not in the modern but totally in the old style – a fine simple altar, altar screen, candlesticks, the Cross, tabernacle; a nun dressed as a nun was praying before the Blessed Sacrament. I genuflected, stayed there for a few moments, and left. I was led then into a salon where there was a round table and seven or eight armchairs, all alike. I asked myself: “Where is the Holy Father going to sit?” I could not say. Was I be led into another salon, nearby? I stayed where I was, and the secretary said: “The Holy Father will be coming.”

A Warm Welcome

And so it was. Scarcely had he closed the door when the Holy Father arrived and embraced me warmly. I confess that it occurred to me that he had done the same with the communist mayor a few days before! However, ecumenism is the current practice! So he gave me a friendly embrace, sat at my side, and, very simple, without ceremony, he got straight into the conservation: “I am glad to see you. I know one of your good friends, Cardinal Thiandoum. I had met him before, but he came specially to talk to about you.” So we spoke of Dakar and such-like subjects. I said that I had ordained him priest. The Pope asked: “Did you also consecrate him?”

I replied: "No, I did not consecrate him as I had already left, but it was he who succeeded me: it was the Apostolic Delegate, my successor, who consecrated him."

"Ah," he replied, "so you have been an Apostolic Delegate?"

"Yes, indeed. I was Apostolic Delegate for eleven years."

"So, then, you must have been engaged in diplomacy.

"Oh, ever so little, ever so little."

Though by his office an Apostolic Delegate is not a diplomat, he is nonetheless the delegate of the Holy Father and the French government agreed to give him all the honors of a Nuncio, which made him the diplomatic representative of the Holy Father.

The Archbishop Explains the Seminary

We chatted like that for a while. Then: "But we had better get down to business."

"Yes, Holy Father. If you wish I will tell you briefly the position of the Fraternity, how it began, etc."

I gave him the story that you know already, from Fribourg with Mgr. Charriere, the decree of erection, the canonical existence of the Fraternity for five years, perfectly legal in its foundation; the seminary authorized by Mgr. Adam; the Albano House authorized by Mgr. Mamie (though he is not very favorable, as I told the Pope) and by Mgr. Maccario.1

The Pope interjected: "So your Albano House is quite legal?"

And I replied: "Yes." Someone must have told him it was a wildcat house!

The Plan for the Suppression of the Fraternity

“The French Bishops then became jealous of this seminary which was growing fast." And I quoted to him what Cardinal Lefebvre (whom I knew well: he is my cousin) had written and had printed: that there could be no pardoning Mgr. Lefebvre for taking up, at the Council, positions contrary to those of the French Bishops. I said: "You can see what the French episcopate already thought of me. Obviously, seeing this growing seminary and the prospect of its training priests as they could not do themselves, they were disturbed. So they entered into a veritable conspiracy, with Cardinal Villot and Cardinal Garrone, and later with Cardinal Wright and Cardinal Tabera: they decided to pretend to have an official investigation. They sent two Apostolic Visitors2 who did not even visit the Chapel, and who left no word behind them, no report. I do not know what the conclusions were from their visit, but what they said was scandalous. I myself said to them: “I know very well why you are here – to condemn and to suppress this seminary. That means so many fewer priests, although the whole world is short of them and here in France the number of seminarists is going down rapidly. Why come to this seminary? What shall we do when there are no more priests?' To which they both replied at once: 'Oh, we’ll ordain married men!' They were from Rome, and that, you will agree, was a bit too much!"

He listened, with great attention. I went on: "The meeting which I had with the Cardinals just for information was not a tribunal! Cardinal Garrone himself said so: it was merely an interview in which explanations could be given to supplement the (Apostolic) visitation of 11 November 1974.3 Yet, a few weeks later came the condemnations, totally illegal, for it was Mgr. Mamie who withdrew the canonical institution, which he had no right to do: when a bishop has accepted a Congregation in his diocese he cannot suppress it: Rome has to issue a decree of suppression, not the bishop of the place (Canon 493). When that happened I went back to Rome, to the Signatura Apostolica, where Cardinal Staffa received my protest. I even paid the fee due for its reception; and, together with my lawyer and Cardinal Staffa 's delegate, we signed the protocol of the reception of my complaint at the Signatura. But a few days later Cardinal Villot wrote a letter in his own hand forbidding the examination of my case and an investigation into whether I was right or not."

I said then to the Holy Father: "I don't know if the communists can improve on that!" He laughed. "Faced with that contempt for natural rights, good sense and canon law, it seemed to me that I was not obliged to submit to such a measure. That is why I kept the seminary going. Obviously that has made our relations with Rome delicate; but I hope the priests trained in the Fraternity are good priests, devoted to Rome."

The Same Old Accusation: You are Against the Pope: NO!

"Now what, precisely, are we accused of? Since this difficulty with Rome we are accused of being 'against the Pope, against the Council, and against the reforms, especially the liturgical reform.' Listen: we are not at all against the Pope – that is absolutely false! We were calumniated on those points to Pope Paul VI, and that is why it was made so difficult for us to see him, and why he was so hard on us. He was made to believe that I got the seminarians to take an oath against the Pope. He accused me of that in my audience with him. That is too bad! I can understand why they did not want me to go near the Pope – they had told him such serious calumnies." I added: "It was not through Cardinal Villot that I saw the Pope. It happened quite unexpectedly. A Father LaBellarte, whom I did not know, said to me one day: 'Go to Rome and see the Pope. He wants to see you.' I replied: “I shall not see the Pope. They have always prevented me from seeing him. I’ve been waiting for five years to see him, and they have refused me every time.’ ‘Oh, yes, you'll see him.' In fact, I saw Pope Paul VI, but against the will of Cardinal Villot who, the evening before, learning that I was to have the audience, forced the Pope to have Mgr. Benelli present at our audience.”4

I could tell that he was listening to me with great attention and interest. I told him again: "We pray for the Pope. We are perhaps one of the few seminaries which still pray for the Pope. At Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament we sing the prayer for the Pope, in the Canon of the Mass we name the Pope. The Albano House was founded precisely for the acquisition of romanita,5 to attach us to Rome, to the successor of Peter to all that is represented by Rome and the Roman Church.”

It was then that he asked me: "How many seminarians have you?”

“One hundred and seventy."

“Ah, one hundred and seventy!"

“Yes, there are thirty at Albano, ninety at Ecône, and the rest at our two other seminaries in the U.S.A. and Germany."

You are Against the Council! No!

I continued: “As to the Council, there are certainly things in the Council which are hard to admit; but I should be ready to sign a sentence like this: 'I accept the Acts of the Council interpreted in the sense of tradition.' That is a sentence which I think I could eventually accept and sign, if you so wish.”

“But that is fine, fine! But that is ordinary and obvious! Would you really agree to sign such a sentence?"

I replied: "Certainly, I am ready to sign it, provided it contains the phrase 'interpreted in the sense of tradition'."

He said again: "But that is just ordinary," He seemed to be thinking that that settled the business of the Pope and the business of the Council, Both questions were settled, so now what about the question of the Liturgy?

The Liturgical Reform…in Poland!

I said, "Oh, yes. The question of the liturgy…We are evidently very attached to the Mass of Saint Pius V and also to the traditional rites. All around us we see these reforms and their consequences: the destruction of churches, the closing of seminaries, the lack of respect for the Blessed Sacrament."

At that point, of course, and without a pause, as though his mind were still in Poland, he said to me: "But, you know, in Poland it is all going very well! The reforms have been effected, but I assure you there is plenty of respect for the Blessed Sacrament. Besides, we have had lots of difficulties with the communists. Our people are very respectful to the Blessed Sacrament, and are very devout. We fight for devotion to the Holy Eucharist, processions, any show of devotion: we fight. And what has caused us most pain, let me tell you, and made us suffer, is the suppression of Latin. I myself think that it was most painful for us. But now! What do you want to do? The seminarians no longer know Latin; they all read the breviary in the vernacular; Latin is not taught any- where; what do you want to do? What do you want us to do? Besides, perhaps the people understand the Mass better, what is said at Mass."

I then permitted myself to say: " Are you not afraid, all the same, that because of those reforms a certain Protestant and neo-modemist spirit will in the end creep slowly but surely into seminaries, parishes, everywhere?"

"Oh, I know very well that there have been complaints from the faithful who are afraid. We are not altogether free from difficulties, but, after all, they don't amount to much."

Then I said to him: "Holy Father, listen. I have in my pocket a letter from a Polish bishop."

He looked at it: "N..., he is the communists' Enemy Number One. They are scared of him." He read part of the letter and then he said to me: "Yes, but you have to be careful. I wonder if this letter is genuine. One of the communist tricks is to compose false letters and spread them left, right and center as to divide the Catholics and divide the bishops."

“Of course, I am no judge of that."

“Anyway," he said, "these liturgical questions: they are disciplinary questions, disciplinary: perhaps we had better look into the question."

Religious Liberty

He went back to the Council: "You know, the Decree on Religious Liberty has been a great help to us in Poland."

“No doubt. It can serve in that way – an argumentum ad hominen; but all the same there have been serious consequences of that declaration since its approval by the Council, above all the laicization and de-Christianization of Catholic States." I quoted Colombia, the Canton of Valais, and the words of the Nuncio at Berne whom I had myself asked why Mgr. Adam had written to his diocesans inviting them to vote suppression of the first article in the Valais Constitution according to which the Catholic religion is the only one officially recognized in the Canton of Valais. I said to the Nuncio: “That is a bit too much!”

The Nuncio replied: “But the social reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ is very difficult these days.”

Then I said: "And the Encyclical Quas Primas. What about that, then?" He replied: "Today, Pope Pius XI would not write it!”

The Holy Father then said to me: "That's not the way to say it. We should say, rather: 'He would not write it in the same way’."

I replied: “That may be so…but the social Reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ should certainly be acknowledged in Catholic States. There are plenty of communist States based on the communist religion, and Muslim States whose official religion is Islam, and Protestant States whose official religion is Protestantism. I don't see why Catholic States…why there can't be officially Catholic States." The Pope answered: “Oh, yes, yes, that's true."

“We Must Come to a Practical Solution”

"But now," he said, "we must be practical, we must come to a conclusion."

I answered: "Could you nominate an intermediary with whom I could discuss, and examine things more closely?"

He said: "Precisely! I thought of that, and it will be Cardinal Seper. I very much want it to be Cardinal Seper, he is a friend of mine, I know him well, he knows your business and will be dealing with it. I'll call him at once."

Cardinal Seper: “You are making a banner out of the Mass of Saint Pius V!”

"Good! He is efficient!"

The Pope got up at once – smartly, I can tell you! He is lively. He went to his office and phoned for Cardinal Seper to come, and he arrived three or four minutes later. He sat on my right. I wish a photograph could have been taken! The Pope on my left, Cardinal Seper on my right – very democratic!

The Pope summed up quickly for the Cardinal and said: "We must find a solution without delay."

But the Cardinal then proved difficult. "Yes," he said. "But wait a moment. They are making a banner out of the Mass of Saint Pius V."

"Oh," I said, "Not a banner! The Mass is of capital importance, essential in the Church, and that is why for us it is a grave and primary problem.”

The Cardinal answered: "What Pope Paul VI said to me was true! He would have made it possible to say the Mass of Saint Pius V if you had not turned that Mass into a banner!”

By that he meant that we criticize the other Mass, that we do not want it: and, upon my word, that is exactly true.

He went on: "Monseigneur, two and a half years ago you came to see me.

"So I did."

"You came to ask my advice. What did I tell you? I told you: 'Obedience, obedience, obedience, obedience!' There!"

"Yes. And what did obedience require me to do?"

"If you had closed your seminary and all your Houses, if you had stopped everything, stopped it for a year and a half or two years, everything could then have been arranged."

"That I think is a totally gratuitous assertion. I do not know what would have become of us. We should have been dead, and we should have continued dead, just that!"

The End of the Audience

The Pope intervened: "Yes. Look into that…stay here, I have to go, Cardinal Baggio is waiting for me with dossiers this high! Your Eminence, stay and talk."

But the Cardinal had no wish to stay with me. He got up, saying: “No. Not now. In any case, Monseigneur, you will be receiving a letter in two or three weeks asking you to come again to Rome for an interview. We can talk of these things then. Besides, you must be given the results of the study we made of what you sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith." That was the end. I paid my respects to the Pope who once more embraced me warmly. I said good-bye to Cardinal Seper, and we parted. And that's how matters stand for the moment.

Can We give a Direction to the Reform, and Limit the Damage?

What I noticed in the Holy Father is that he is very pious, that he has a great love for the Blessed Virgin, that he is completely anti-marxist (I do not say anti-communist, but anti-marxist), and that he will do all he can to suppress abuses and keep the reform within limit; but I must confess that he appears to be basically in agreement with the Council and with the reforms – he just does not question them. And that is serious, because it means that he is for ecumenism, for collegiality, and for religious liberty.

Always the same Three Things!

Those are the three capital ideas from the Council. It is they which make the spirit of the Council. They are what the progressives wanted and what in practice they obtained – watered down perhaps, but they got them, and they will not loosen their hold on them! Study those ideas, and see how serious they are!

1. Collegiality: that means number against person, the law of number against the authority of the person. It is no longer the person who has authority, but number! It is democracy, or at least the democratic principle. It is no longer Our Lord Who commands through the authorities (it is Our Lord Who is the Authority, and in the Church all those who have authority – Pope, Bishops, Priests – share in the authority of Our Lord). By the very fact that number is put in the place of the person, that authority is given to number, authority is in the people, in the rank and file, in the group. That is absolutely contrary to what Our Lord wanted, to the personal authority which He always wanted to give: the Pope has a personal authority; the Bishop has a personal authority by his consecration; the Priest has a personal authority by his sacramental character, his ordination; in the Church authority is personal. The subject of authority (he who is going to exercise it) may be designated democratically, but the authority cannot be so given. That is an important principle. On a false principle Our Lord could lose His crown.

2. Ecumenism: Fraternity. That is not directly contrary to Our Lord, but ecumenism is, for it is a fraternity which destroys paternity. Who makes the unity of brothers? It is the father. Ecumenism makes us all brothers in a sentimental communion but no longer in the faith, no longer in the faith taught us by Our Lord, no longer in the "Father" we have in the Creed. That unity is not in the Father but in a vague feeling of subjectivism, of religious sentiment : it is Modernism.

3. Religious Liberty: that is conscience in place of law. Once more something subjective in place of law, which is objective. And what is this law? It is the Word of God. The Word of God is the Law: Our Savior Himself is our Law. You can see how all that is directly opposed to the authority of Our Lord!

On Those Three Principles the Church Cannot Survive.

That, for the Church, is a catastrophe. The Church cannot live in an atmosphere directly opposed to Our Lord, its Founder, opposed to what makes the unity of the Church, her truth and her law. They have no hope of damming the harm done by those principles. They will try to set limits, to make the catechisms a little more orthodox; but until they have gone back to those fundamentals of the Council and brought them into line with tradition there is nothing to be done. It is that which is serious.

He is no Longer a Polish Bishop!

It is a pity. He seems to be attached to order and discipline; but he is certainly filled with Liberal ideas. Cardinal Wyszynski could well tell himself: "He did well as Archbishop of Cracow, because he fought the communists." That is what makes the unity of Poland, anti-communism and devotion to the Blessed Virgin – the devil is in communism, and then there is the Blessed Virgin: with two such elements it is easy to see how the Poles can be united among themselves and with their bishops. But Poland and the circumstances of Poland are one thing: what matters is what he is going to do as Pope. For in the West, communism does not have such a hold, and as for devotion to the Blessed Virgin, he himself has it, but where is it now in the surrounding world? And that is the problem. What he was able to do as bishop united with the other Polish bishops to save the reign of Our Lord from disappearing – will he be able to do that as Pope, in other, completely different, circumstances?

Hope of Recovery

At least we can pray to the Blessed Virgin that when he becomes aware of the gross difficulties he will meet in the exercise of his power as Pope he will reconsider himself and perhaps conclude that he must return to Tradition. That is a grace for which we should pray to the Blessed Virgin. In another three or four months we shall know one way or another, when he has had a look at his surroundings and at what is happening in Western Europe.


[Emphasis - The Catacombs]