Twenty Years of Struggle

A conference given by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre on September 1986 during a priestly retreat at St. Pius X International Seminary in Econe.

The Society of St. Pius X was founded 17 years ago. On June 6, 1969, Bishop Charriere wrote a letter authorizing the foundation of a seminary and on November 1, 1970, he approved the foundation of the Society of St. Pius X in his diocese of Fribourg. For those who do not know well its history it will be good to record its principal steps, especially at a time and in the present circumstances in which we strive to continue and develop what Divine Providence gave us to do.

If events would bring a change towards a return to Tradition within the Church, of course, our situation would be simplified. We would certainly be welcomed by the hierarchy as we were at our beginning and those problems of our relations with the Bishops and Rome would no longer exist.

However, at the present time we must keep the authenticity of the Society which has been founded during very particular circumstances, but in a way that could have been during normal times. It was occasioned by the degradation of seminaries. But there were similar societies, such as that of St. Vincent de Paul or of St. John Eudes which were founded with a similar goal, which was and still is to give a good priestly formation to future priests, and to enable them to exercise their ministry for a true restoration in the Church.

The Society was founded, first of all, to make good priests and thus to open seminaries. This is in perfect conformity with the Tradition of the Church, to continue the traditional priestly formation for the good of the Church.

We have no other goal nor have we ever innovated except in the sense of Tradition, by restoring some elements which were lacking in the formation given to seminarians, especially at the spiritual level. This is the reason why we have added to the studies of philosophy and theology one year of spirituality. This year of spirituality completes the preparation of the seminarians to the priesthood by putting them in a truly spiritual atmosphere. It is certainly not an innovation in the modernist direction but rather in the direction of the tradition of the Church.

Thus our foundation took care to add to the studies a deep spiritual formation by this additional year, which constitutes a kind of novitiate, and which leads to the knowledge of what spirituality is and to the practice of the interior life—purgative, illuminative and mystical life which requires a true conversion of heart.

Our Society has not been founded on the model of a religious congregation. Why? Because in practice it happens too frequently that there are too many difficulties encountered by religious to exercise an apostolate in the world and still respecting truly the strict poverty as it is requested in the religious congregations, where one cannot own anything and cannot use anything without asking the authorization of a Superior. In all things one must depend on the Superior. It was thus preferable not to be bound by such a vow of poverty which could not be put into practice. It was better to found a Society of common life without vows but with engagements.

Thus Divine Providence had decided that our Society would be on the model of the Societies of common life without vows. This has proved to be a good decision. And there is no reason not to continue as such.

The Society official approved by Rome

It is with this constitution that the Priestly Society of St. Pius X was approved and erected in his diocese by Bishop Charriere, bishop of Fribourg, and it is with this same constitution that it has been approved by Rome.

This point is very important and even fundamental, and one must not hesitate to remind those who do not know well the history of our Society. This Roman document is indeed capital, because it is absolutely official. It is dated February 18, 1971, with the stamp of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, and it is signed by its Prefect Cardinal Wright, and sub-signed by Archbishop Palazzini, who was at that time his secretary, and who is today a cardinal. This official document coming from a Roman Congregation approving and praising "the wisdom of the rules" of the statutes of the Society, cannot be considered except as "a decree of praise" and thus authorized our Society to be considered as of Pontifical right, with capability to incardinate.

Other official acts made by the Congregation for the Religious with Prefect Cardinal Antoniutti came to complete and confirm this official approbation, since they allowed Fr. Snyder [an American Trappist from the Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky—Ed] and another American religious to be duly incardinated into the Society. These were truly official acts of Rome.

These official documents necessarily lead to the following observation: the Congregation for the Clergy considered de facto our Society competent to incardinate regularly and validly.

Personally, however, I did not feel the need to resort to this possibility, until we had been officially but illegally suppressed. Until then I had always taken pains to have bishops give the incardinations. I turned to Bishop de Castro Mayer of Brazil, to Bishop Castan Lacoma in Spain and to Bishop Guibert in La Reunion. These three bishops would accept to provide dimissorial letters to priests of our Society who would thereby find themselves incardinated in their respective diocese. As for Fr. Aulagnier, he was incardinated in his own diocese of Clermont‑Ferrand, by Bishop de la Chanonie. At that time we were doubly in order. Bishop Adam told me explicitly: "Why do you not incardinate in your Society?" I answered: "It appears to me that it is only diocesan." I was therefore following the canonical regulations more strictly than necessary.

Indeed, these documents from the Congregation for the Clergy concerning the incardination of these two American clerics into our Society, are even more important than the letter signed by Cardinal Wright. That was incidentally the answer that I gave to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when I was interrogated about these incardinations. I was told:

You do not have the right to incardinate in your Society.

I do not have the right? In that case the Congregation for the Clergy should be informed that it was mistaken in incardinating in our Society!"

This document from Cardinal Wright, if one studies it closely, is not only a letter but a "decree of praise," since it effectively praises the statutes of the Society. It is a thoroughly official document. It is in no way a private letter. In this fashion, and for five years, we enjoyed the total approbation of the diocesan church and of Rome. We were rooted in the Church as a good branch in a tree. This is fundamental to the providential action accomplished by the Society, and reinforces us in our existence and in our activities in general. Being truly of the Church, officially recognized by the Church, we have been persecuted.

Why are we persecuted?

We are persecuted only because we maintain Tradition and in particular the liturgical Tradition.

In keeping as always the facts in their chronological order it is also of the greatest interest to reread the letter addressed to me by Bishop Mamie on May 6, 1975, to thoroughly absorb the true reasons which motivated the Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg to withdraw illegally the documents effected by his predecessor and particularly the decree establishing the Society as of the November 1, 1970. This is a testimony of Bishop Mamie in which he admits, in his own writing, that the Society having a seat at Fribourg was the object of a decree of establishment titled Pia Unio and signed by his predecessor which "approve and confirm the statutes of the said Society."

He did not have the right to act in this manner and to withdraw of his own authority this canonical recognition. It is explicitly contrary to canon law (Canon 493). Now, on two occasions Bishop Mamie in his letter refers to the liturgy:

I reminded you of your refusal with regard to the celebration of Holy Mass according to the rite established by His Holiness Paul VI"


As far as we are concerned, we continue to request of the Catholic faithful and of Catholic priests to accept and to apply all of the orientations or decisions of the Second Vatican Council, all of the teachings of John XXIII and of Paul VI, all of the directives of the secretariats instituted by the Council including those related to the new liturgy. This we have done, and we will continue to do even in the most difficult of days with the grace of God, because if it is the only path to edify the Church."

Such were the writings of Bishop Mamie at that time.

Thus twice in his letter he refers to the liturgy. "Because you oppose the liturgy." This then is indeed the principal and essential motive for taking these indescribable and illegal measures against us. It is necessary to remember this fact. The matter of the priestly ordinations was a later development. In reality, the true reason we have been and are persecuted—illegally once again—by Bishop Mamie, by the cardinals of Rome and the bishops of France, is our attachment to the Immemorial Mass. "Since you continue with this liturgy, you are against the Vatican Council. Since you are against the Council, you are against the pope. It is inadmissable. Therefore we suppress your order." The reasoning was simple.

And so they exhibited the Ordo of Archbishop Bugnini and created out of thin air the obligation of the New Mass, which was imposed by the services of the Vatican and by the bishops of France. It was unfortunately in this manner that the old Mass was abandoned by communities such as the abbey of Fontgombault, under the pretext that it was necessary to obey the bishops. All of this was imposed by force, by coercion. We also were to be coerced at all costs into abandoning this liturgy and by the same token to close our seminary.

Confronted with this imposture and the illegality with which all of this was accomplished and above all confronted with the spirit in which this persecution was orchestrated, a modernist, progressivist and masonic spirit, we felt duty bound to continue. One cannot accept something which was done illegally, with a bad spirit, against Tradition and against the Church, and for the destruction of the Church.

We have always refused to collaborate in the destruction of the Church

This we have always refused to do. Since we refused this, it is obvious that we placed ourselves in opposition to those who appear to be the legal Church. We were the outlaws of the Church and they appeared to respect the law. We believe this appearance to be in exact sense. In fact it is they who have distanced themselves from the legality of the Church and we, on the contrary, who have remained within the legality and validity. Since their actions considered objectively are carried out in a spirit of destruction of the Church, we found ourselves practically speaking under the obligation to act in a manner which appears disobedient simply by continuing to celebrate the Immemorial Mass and by continuing to ordain priests according to what appears contrary to the legality of the Church. This is true. It is a strange state of affairs indeed to appear illegal the legality up until the Council. And yet this was the reason why I was struck with suspension and why the priests who accepted to be ordained suffered interdiction.

But we did not stop there with our apparently illegal actions with regards to the particulars of the law, such as the hearing of confessions, the blessing of marriages performed in our presence in the dioceses. Many of the things which we have accomplished are of themselves and strictly speaking against the letter of the law, but why did we do these things? Quite simply because we believed that that which was undertaken against us was illegal and that they did not have the right to suppress our Order.

The fundamental law of the Church is the salvation of souls

In view of this, we have acted according to the fundamental laws of the Church to save souls, to save the priesthood, and to continue the Church. It is effectively these fundamental laws which are at stake. We oppose certain particular laws of the Church in order to save these fundamental laws. By using some of these particular laws against us, the fundamental laws are destroyed. It is contrary to the welfare of souls, contrary to the mission of the Church.

The new Code of Canon Law contains articles which are contrary to the mission of the Church. When it is permitted to give Holy Communion to a Protestant, it cannot be denied that is contrary to the mission of the Church. When the affirmation is made that there are two supreme authorities in the Church, it cannot be denied that this is contrary to the mission of the Church. This definition of the Church as the People of God in which all of the ministries basically can be found and in which there is no longer any distinction between the clergy and the lay people, is contrary to the dogma. All of this is contrary to the mission of the Church. The fundamental principles of the Code of Canon Law are being destroyed! How are we expected to submit and obey?

In order to save the fundamental laws of the Church, we are forced not to observe certain particular laws. In all of this who is right, who is wrong? Clearly right are those who pursue the mission of the Church. The particular laws are made to support the fundamental laws, which is the salvation of souls, for the glory of God, for the continuation of the Church. It is perfectly clear.

We are reminded at every opportunity: Archbishop Lefebvre is suspended and his priests are suspended, they are not authorized to accomplish their ministry. This is to invoke in this case the particular laws. But they would do well to remember that they are destroying the Church, not the particular laws but the fundamental laws through this new Code of Canon Law which is thoroughly inspired by this bad spirit of modernism which has been expressed in the Council and after the Council.

What we hope for, of course, is that everything would be normal, that we should find ourselves no longer in this apparently illegal situation. But we cannot be accused of having changed anything in the Church. We must always reflect upon and spiritually situate ourselves in the fact that we are of the Church and that we continue the Church. And why do we continue? Because we pursue the goals of the Church. If we can be accused of failing in the application of certain practical laws, no one can say that the Society does not act according to the goals of the Church. No one can deny this.

Now, even in its particular laws, the Church has had the wisdom to always include an open door for the salvation of souls. The Church has foreseen cases which could be extraordinary. This applies to the question of jurisdiction for confessions. Practically, it is the individual who seeks out the priest in order to receive the Sacrament of Penance who gives the priest the jurisdiction through the intermediary of the Code of Canon Law. Even if an individual were to seek out an excommunicated priest to hear his confession, this priest would receive the necessary jurisdiction (canon 2261).

For marriage, Canon Law has provided an exception: those who cannot find a properly delegated priest who would marry them according to the spirit of the Church, as their parents were married—and it is obviously a basic right for young men and women to be married in the same rite as their parents and not in a rite that is not only often disgusting and in an atmosphere that is far from devotional and fitting for such an important a sacred act as the Sacrament of Matrimony. If the engaged young man and woman do not find a priest for a whole month, then they may marry. They are the ministers of the sacrament, and in such a case they are exempt from the canonical form (canons 1098 and 209). They can marry in front of witnesses. If there is a priest, he must be present. This priest would not have a special delegation, but he would be present at their marriage, as Canon Law requires, and he will give the Nuptial Blessing to them.

There is also an exception for the Sacrament of Confirmation. The priest has the right to give Confirmation in certain cases. This is also in the Code of Canon Law. The priest must give the sacrament to someone who is in danger of death if he has not already received it. A priest can give Confirmation in other exceptional cases. In the missions, this possibility was extended to cases relating to marriage. The priests had the right before the marriage, if the couple had not yet received it.

I have never said that all modern confirmations were invalid, but one is entitled to raise questions as to the wording which is employed and certainly as regards the oil which is used. This is important after all. I have received many reports from persons who have formally informed me of the expression used by the bishop. These are invalid expressions. Simply "Receive the Holy Spirit," or, "I send you in mission." This may not be frequent, but it has occurred and it is invalid. In any case, there are numerous bishops who feel that Confirmation is a useless Sacrament, that the Holy Ghost has already been given at Baptism, that it is a supplementary ceremony to recall that which was accomplished at baptism.

The former archbishop of Chambery explicitly wrote this in his diocesan magazine: "Confirmation does not give the Holy Spirit which we have received at baptism." I showed this magazine to Cardinal Ratzinger and said: "You object to my giving Confirmations, look at what the bishops think of Confirmation." The archbishop in question is now retired but was at the time 72, 73 years old and was therefore trained in the old school. He had known the Sacrament of Confirmation as it had been taught previously. No doubt the faith of the bishop has no influence on Confirmation, but is it possible to treat the Sacrament in this fashion? It is the same reasoning as that of the Protestants, and it is legitimate to ask if the intention of these bishops is to do that which the Church wants to do.

If we wish to survive and for the blessings of God to continue to descend on the Society, we must remain faithful to these fundamental laws of the Church.

Without the Mass everything collapses

If our priests came to abandon the true liturgy, the true Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the true sacraments, then it would be no longer worth while to continue. It would be suicide!

When Rome asked: "But surely you can adopt the new liturgy and continue your seminaries, that won't make them disappear," I answered:

Yes, it will make our seminaries disappear. They would not be able to accept the new liturgy, it would amount to introducing the poison of the conciliar spirit into the community. If others were unable to hold on, it is because they adopted this new liturgy, all of these reforms and this new spirit. As for us, if we accept the same things, we will have the same results."

This is why we must absolutely maintain our traditional line, in spite of the appearance of disobedience and the persecutions of those who use their authority in an unjust and often illegal manner.

We are driven more and more by continually worsening circumstances. If only things seemed to be improving, if we could see tangible signs of a return to Tradition, then everything would be different. But, unfortunately, the situation is worse. The bishops who replace those who retire or who die, have received less theological training. They are imbued with the spirit of the Council, with this Protestant, modernist spirit and it is increasingly serious. Confronted with this continuous worsening of the situation, are we not obliged to take measures which are obviously extraordinary?

Our attitude is justified by all of these events. After all, the progressive priests challenge us whenever they can, saying: "You do not have the jurisdiction, you do not have the right to hear confessions." Soon everything that we do would be invalid according to them. It is almost as if to say that our Mass would not be accused of being invalid. This is the state of mind among those fanatical progressives who oppose and insult us. We must not hesitate in responding that it is necessary to take advantage of the laws of the Church which the Church permits in exceptional circumstances of extreme gravity.

God knows that we are confronted with those circumstances!