1. With great affliction the church has learned of the unlawful
episcopal ordination conferred on June 30 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 Society of St. Pius X founded by the same Archbishop
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.
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, 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. In performing such an act,
notwithstanding the formal canonical warning sent to them by the
cardinal prefect of the Congregation for Bishops last June 17,
Archbishop 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
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."
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.
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 Archbishop 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
However, it is necessary that all the pastors and 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 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 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 fulfill 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 offense against God and carries the penalty of excommunication
decreed by the church's law.
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 society
founded by Archbishop Lefebvre who may wish to remain united to the
successor of Peter in the Catholic Church while preserving their
spiritual and liturgical traditions in the light of the protocol
signed on last May 5 by Cardinal Ratzinger and Archbishop 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 by 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.
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, which 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, July 2, 1988, the 10th year of the
Two days following
the illicit (but valid) ordinations of four bishops by
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the document Ecclesia Dei Adflicta
was issued. However, just 11 days later, the present Holy Father
spoke some very direct words regarding the SSPX episcopal consecrations
[which were the catalysts for this decree], placing them into
the wider context of the crisis in the Church. Speaking as the
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the
future Pope Benedict addressed the National Conference of
Chilean Bishops in Santiago.
“Without any doubt, the problem that Lefebvre has posed has not been
concluded by the rupture of June 30th. It would be too simple to
take refuge in a sort of triumphalism, and to think that this
difficulty has ceased to exist from the moment in which the movement
led by Lefebvre has separated itself by a clean break with the
Church. A Christian never can, or should, take pleasure in a
"Even though it is absolutely certain the fault cannot be attributed
to the Holy See, it is a duty for us to examine ourselves, as to
what errors we have made, and which ones we are making even now. The
criteria with which we judge the past in the Vatican II decree on
ecumenism must be used -- as is logical -- to judge the present as
"One of the basic discoveries of the theology of ecumenism is that
schisms can take place only when certain truths and certain values
of the Christian faith are no longer lived and loved within the
Church. The truth which is marginalized becomes autonomous, remains
detached from the whole of the ecclesiastical structure, and a new
movement then forms itself around it.
"We must reflect on this fact: that a large number of Catholics, far
beyond the narrow circle of the Fraternity of Lefebvre, see this man
as a guide, in some sense, or at least as a useful ally. It will not
do to attribute everything to political motives, to nostalgia, or to
cultural factors of minor importance.
"These causes are not capable of explaining the attraction which is
felt even by the young, and especially by the young, who come from
many quite different nations, and who are surrounded by completely
distinct political and cultural realities. Indeed they show what is
from any point of view a restricted and one-sided outlook; but there
is no doubt whatever that a phenomenon of this sort would be
inconceivable unless there were good elements at work here, which in
general do not find sufficient opportunity to live within the Church
"For all these reasons, we ought to see this matter primarily as the
occasion for an examination of conscience. We should allow ourselves
to ask fundamental questions, about the defects in the pastoral life
of the Church, which are exposed by these events. Thus we will be
able to offer a place within the Church to those who are seeking and
demanding it, and succeed in destroying all reason for schism. We
can make such schism pointless by renewing the interior realities of
the Church. There are three points, I think, that it is important to
"While there are many motives that might have led a great number of
people to seek a refuge in the traditional liturgy, the chief one is
that they find the dignity of the sacred preserved there.
"After the Council there were many priests who deliberately raised 'desacralization'
to the level of a program, on the plea that the New Testament
abolished the cult of the Temple: the veil of the Temple which was
torn from top to bottom at the moment of Christ's death on the cross
is, according to certain people, the sign of the end of the sacred.
The death of Jesus, outside the City walls, that is to say, in the
public world, is now the true religion. Religion, if it has any
being at all, must have it in the nonsacredness of daily life, in
love that is lived.
"Inspired by such reasoning, they put aside the sacred vestments;
they have despoiled the churches as much as they could of that
splendor which brings to mind the sacred; and they have reduced the
liturgy to the language and the gestures of ordinary life, by means
of greetings, common signs of friendship, and such things.”
For the complete text of Papa
Ratzinger’s remarks, please go to http://www.unavoce.org/cardinal_ratzinger_chile.htm
1. Cf. Informatory note of June 16, 1988; L'Osservatore Romano,
English ed., June 27, 1988, pp. 1-2.
2. Cf. Vatican Council I, "Pastor Aeternus," Ch. 3;
3. Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 751.
ibid., Canon 1382.
5. Vatican Council II, "Dei Verbum," 8; cf. Vatican Council I, "Dei
Filius," Ch. 4; DS 3020.