Texts Condemning Traditionalism
Decree “Dominus Marcellus Lefebvre,” Jul. 1, 1988 – Excommunicating Archbishop Lefebvre
Apostolic Letter “Ecclesia Dei Afflicta,” Jul. 2, 1988 – Excommunicating Archbishop Lefebvre and his Followers
Decree of Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legal Texts, Aug. 24, 1996 – On the Excommunication for Schism which All the Adherents to the Movement of Archbishop Lefebvre Incur
Pope John Paul II condemned modern Traditionalism in the Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei Afflicta. The occasion was the consecration to the episcopate by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988 of four candidates whom the Vatican had not approved, but more fundamental issues were involved. Lefebvre, like other Traditionalists rejected the aggiornamento (updating of the Church) declared by the Second Vatican Council (1962-5), which included the promotion of pluralism, religious liberalism, ecumenism and interfaith dialogue.
As with the earlier condemnations of Jansenism and of Feeneyism, the Catholic Church has once again contradicted its own earlier teaching. The heretical course has continued and salvation now includes everyone universally in beatitude and the Church is equally expansive with all of the various religions being imperfect parts of the Church and, as such, sufficient means of salvation. The Church now wants to convert no one and to settle down as just another friendly religion among many others, co-operating with them in a shared ministry of prayer and dialogue. Vatican II obviously broke with previous magisterial teaching and did much to discredit the pretensions of the magisterium as a whole. Some Traditionalists are now rightly found criticising non-infallible documents from before Vatican II, such as the condemnations of Feeneyism and Jansenism.
John Paul admitted in this document that the Church changed its teaching at Vatican II and he called upon theologians to help the Vatican show continuity with past teaching. For it is a blatant change of teaching and practice of world historic proportions to first condemn religious liberty, burn heretics and ban other religions for over one and a half thousand years prior to Vatican II and then promote religious tolerance and liberty of conscience as an inalienable right of man. John Paul criticised Traditionalists for not accepting that the doctrine handed down can change upon the reflection of men. This is quite unorthodox and would undermine the very concept of orthodoxy itself.
We shall exhibit the unorthodoxy of Ecclesia Dei Afflicata by comparing statements from it with statements from two past magisterial documents, that is, the text of the First Vatican Council (1870) and the Oath Against Modernism (1910).
John Paul II – The Decree “Dominus Marcellus Lefebvre,” Jul. 1, 1988 – Excommunicating Archbishop Lefebvre
Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre, Archbishop-Bishop Emeritus of Tulle, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning of 17 June last and the repeated appeals to desist from his intention, has performed a schismatical act by the episcopal consecration of four priests, without pontifical mandate and contrary to the will of the Supreme Pontiff, and has therefore incurred the penalty envisaged by Canon 1364, paragraph 1, and canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law.
Having taken account of all the juridical effects, I declare that the above mentioned Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre, and Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta have incurred ipso facto excommunication latae sententiae reserved to the Apostolic See.
Moreover, I declare that Monsignor Antonio de Castro Mayer, Bishop emeritus of Campos, since he took part directly in the liturgical celebration as co-consecrator and adhered publicly to the schismatical act, has incurred excommunication latae sententiae as envisaged by canon 1364, paragraph 1.
The priests and faithful are warned not to support the schism of Monsignor Lefebvre, otherwise they shall incur ipso facto the very grave penalty of excommunication.
+ BERNARDINUS Card. GANTIN
John Paul II –
Apostolic Letter “Ecclesia Dei Afflicta,” Jul. 2, 1988 – Excommunicating
2. This affliction was particularly felt by the Successor 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. For 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 Tissier 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 Magisterium of the Church possessed by the Bishop 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 still more their fidelity by rejecting erroneous interpretations and arbitrary and unauthorized applications in matters of doctrine, liturgy and discipline.
To the bishops especially it pertains, by reason of their pastoral mission, to exercise the important duty of a clear-sighted vigilance full of charity and firmness, so that this fidelity may be everywhere safeguarded. (7)
However, it is necessary that all the Pastors and the other faithful have a new awareness, not only of the lawfulness but also of the richness for the Church of a diversity of charisms, traditions of spirituality 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 Spirit.
b) Moreover, I should like to remind theologians and other experts in the ecclesiastical sciences that they should feel themselves called upon to answer in the present circumstances. Indeed, the extent and depth of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council call for a renewed commitment to deeper study in order to reveal clearly the Council’s continuity with Tradition, especially in points of doctrine which, perhaps because they are new, have not yet been well understood by some sections of the Church.
c) In the present circumstances I wish especially to make an appeal both solemn and heartfelt, paternal and fraternal, to all those who until now have been linked in various ways to the movement of Archbishop Lefebvre, that they may fulfil the grave duty of remaining united to the Vicar of Christ in the unity of the Catholic Church, and of ceasing their support in any way for that movement. Everyone should be aware that formal adherence to the schism is a grave offence against God and carries the penalty of excommunication decreed by the Church’s law. (8)
To all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition I wish to manifest my will to facilitate their ecclesial communion by means of the necessary measures to guarantee respect for their rightful aspirations. In this matter I ask for the support of the bishops and of all those engaged in the pastoral ministry in the Church.
6. Taking account of the importance and complexity of the problems referred to in this document, by virtue of my Apostolic Authority I decree the following:
a) a Commission is instituted whose task it will be to collaborate with the bishops, with the Departments of the Roman Curia and with the circles concerned, for the purpose of facilitating full ecclesial communion of priests, seminarians, religious communities or individuals until now linked in various ways to the Fraternity founded by Mons. Lefebvre, who may wish to remain united to the Successor Peter in the Catholic Church, while preserving their spiritual and liturgical traditions, in the light of the Protocol signed on 5 May last by Cardinal Ratzinger and Mons. Lefebvre;
b) this Commission is composed of a Cardinal President and other members of the Roman Curia, in a number that will be deemed opportune according to circumstances;
c) moreover, respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962. (9)
7. As this year specially dedicated to the Blessed Virgin is now drawing to a close, I wish to exhort all to join in unceasing prayer that the Vicar of Christ, through the intercession of the Mother of the church, addresses to the Father in the very words of the Son: “That they all may be one!”.
Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s. 2 July 1988, the tenth year of the pontificate.
(1) Cf. “Informatory Note” of 16 June 1988: L’Osservatore Romano. English edition, 27 June 1988, pp. 1-2.
(2) Cf. Vatican Council I, Const. Pastor Ćternus, cap. 3: DS 3060.
(3) Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 751.
(4) Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1382.
(5) Vatican Council II. Const. Dei Verbum, n. 8. Cf. Vatican Council I, Const. Dei Filius, cap. 4: DS 3020.
(6) Cf. Mt. 16:18; Lk. 10:16; Vatican Council I, Const. Pastor Ćternus, cap. 3: DS 3060.
(7) Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 386; Paul VI. Apost. Exhort. Quinque iam anni, 8 Dec. 1970: AAS 63 (1971) pp. 97-106.
(8) Cf. Code
of Canon Law, can. 1364.
John Paul II – Decree of Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legal Texts, Aug. 24, 1996 – On the Excommunication for Schism which All the Adherents to the Movement of Archbishop Lefebvre Incur
1 . From the Motu Proprio “Ecclesia dei” of 2nd July 1988 and from the Decree “Dominus Marcellus Lefebvre” of the Congregation for Bishops, of 1st July 1988, it appears above all that the schism of Monsignor Lefebvre was declared in immediate reaction to the episcopal ordinations conferred on 30th June 1988 without pontifical mandate (cf CIC, Can. 1382). All the same it also appears clear from the aforementioned documents that such a most grave act of disobedience formed the consummation of a progressive global situation of a schismatic character.
2. In effect no. 4. of the Motu Proprio explains the nature of the “doctrinal root of this schismatic act,” and no. 5. c) warns that a “formal adherence to the schism” (by which one must understand “the movement of Archbishop Lefebvre”) would bring with it the excommunication established by the universal law of the Church (CIC, can. 1364 para.1). Also the decree of the Congregation for Bishops makes explicit reference to the “schismatic nature” of the aforesaid episcopal ordinations and mentions the most grave penalty of excommunication which adherence “to the schism of Monsignor Lefebvre” would bring with it.
3. Unfortunately, the schismatic act which gave rise to the Motu Proprio and the Decree did no more than draw to a conclusion, in a particularly visible and unequivocal manner — with a most grave formal act of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff — a process of distancing from hierarchical communion. As long as there are no changes which may lead to the re-establishment of this necessary communion, the whole Lefebvrian movement is to be held schismatic, in view of the existence of a formal declaration by the Supreme Authority on this matter.
4. One cannot furnish any judgement on the argumentation of Murray’s thesis (see below) because it is not known, and the two articles which refer to it appear confused. However, doubt cannot reasonably be cast upon the validity of the excommunication of the Bishops declared in the Motu Proprio and the Decree. In particular it does not seem that one may be able to find, as far as the imputability of the penalty is concerned, any exempting or lessening circumstances. (cf CIC, can. 1323) As far as the state of necessity in which Mons. Lefebvre thought to find himself, one must keep before one that such a state must be verified objectively, and there is never a necessity to ordain Bishops contrary to the will of the Roman Pontiff, Head of the College of Bishops. This would, in fact, imply the possibility of “serving” the church by means of an attempt against its unity in an area connected with the very foundations of this unity.
5. As the Motu Proprio declares in no. 5 c) the excommunication latae sententiae for schism regards those who “adhere formally” to the said schismatic movement. Even if the question of the exact import of the notion of “formal adherence to the schism” would be a matter for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it seems to this pontifical Council that such formal adherence would have to imply two complementary elements:
a) one of internal nature, consisting in a free and informed agreement with the substance of the schism, in other words, in the choice made in such a way of the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre which puts such an option above obedience to the Pope (at the root of this attitude there will usually be positions contrary to the magisterium of the Church),
b) the other of an external character, consisting in the externalising of this option, the most manifest sign of which will be the exclusive participation in Lefebvrian “ecclesial” acts, without taking part in the acts of the Catholic Church (one is dealing however with a sign that is not univocal, since there is the possibility that a member of the faithful may take part in the liturgical functions of the followers of Lefebvre but without going along with their schismatic spirit).
6. In the case of the Lefebvrian deacons and priests there seems no doubt that their ministerial activity in the ambit of the schismatic movement is a more than evident sign of the fact that the two requirements mentioned above (n.5) are met, and thus that there is a formal adherence.
7. On the other hand, in the case of the rest of the faithful it is obvious that an occasional participation in liturgical acts or the activity of the Lefebvrian movement, done without making one’s own the attitude of doctrinal and disciplinary disunion of such a movement, does not suffice for one to be able to speak of formal adherence to the movement. In pastoral practice the result can be that it is more difficult to judge their situation. One must take account above all of the person’s intentions, and the putting into practice of this internal disposition. For this reason the various situations are going to be judged case by case, in the competent forums both internal and external.
8. All the same, it will always be necessary to distinguish between the moral question on the existence or not of the sin of schism and the juridical-penal question on the existence of the delict of schism, and its consequent sanction. In this latter case the dispositions of Book V1 of the Code of Canon Law (including Cann.1323-1324) will be applied.
9. It does not seem advisable to make more precise the requirements for the delict of schism (but one would need to ask the competent Dicastery, cf. Ap. Const. “Pastor Bonus”, art 52). One might risk creating more problems by means of rigid norms of a penal kind which would not cover every case, leaving uncovered cases of substantial schism, or having regard to external behaviour which is not always subjectively schismatic.
10. Always from the pastoral point of view it would also seem opportune to recommend once again to sacred pastors all the norms of the Motu Proprio “Ecclesia Dei” with which the solicitude of the Vicar of Christ encouraged to dialogue and has provided the supernatural and human means necessary to facilitate the return of the Lefebvrians to full ecclesial communion.