2 July 1988
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 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
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
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
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
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
Joannes Paulus PP. II
(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 Ęternus, 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 Ęternus,
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.
(9) Cf. Congregation for Divine Worship, Letter Quattuor abhinc annos.
3 Oct. 1984: AAS 76 (1984) pp. 1088-1089.