Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bishop Forester to Fr. Bryan Houghton, March 13, 1977

To the Reverend Bryan Houghton, Avignon, France.
Sunday, March 13th, 1977.

Dear Bryan,

I do not know if you read the copies of my correspondence or if you merely file them. If you read them, you will notice that yesterday I wrote to Klushko mentioning the Lefebvre affair. It really is a scandalous business. I have never met Lefebvre nor corresponded with him but I took copious notes of whatever was published. Upon re-reading these notes I am so shocked that I intend to inflict the story on you. I hope it does not bore you stiff.

By no means does the scandal stop with the disappearance of the tapes. The Tribunal, you will remember, was composed of Cardinals Garrone, Wright and Tabera. I know nothing about Tabera but I met Garrone when he was Archbishop of Toulouse and from reliable sources have heard nothing but praise of Wright. These last two are quite certainly honourable men and it is out of keeping with their known character that they should deliberately have acted deceitfully. Thus when on January 25th Garrone invited Lefebvre to a chat, this is what he intended. Higher authority must have intervened to turn it into the grilling of February 13th and March 3rd.

Anyway, the Tribunal’s verdict is dated May 6th, 1975. It is not devoid of interest.

In the first place, the sentence was executed before judgment was given. I wonder if this is unique in the history of law. Moreover, it was executed on the authority of Tabera, a member of the Tribunal. Yes, on April 25th, eleven days before the verdict was signed, Tabera wrote to Bishop Mamie of Fribourg “calling upon you to proceed without delay” to the suppression of Lefebvre’s Confraternity of St Pius X. He give for this authority “the conclusions reached by the special Commsion of Cardinals—but they had reached no conclusions at that date. The only explanation I can think of is that he was forcing his colleagues’ hands, presumably on instructions from higher authority. Bishop Mamie obeyed. On May 6th, consequently on the very day that the verdict was signed and before he could conceivably have received a certified copy of it, he notified Archbishop Lefebvre that he and all his works ceased to exist: “This decision takes immediate effect.”

The verdict of May 6th is a surprising document. The three clauses of condemnation are preceded by a covering letter. This reads like an exercise of dry humour. Here is what it says about the grilling: “We remain most grateful for the friendly atmosphere in which our recent discussions took place, without our differing points of view ever impairing the serene and deep fellowship between us (communion profonde et sereine).” What a joke! The central argument is even more rum: “It is inadmissible that people should be called upon to pass their own personal judgement on orders emanating from the Pope, whether to submit or not: herein lies the traditional argument of the sects who appeal to yesterday’s Pope to avoid obeying today’s.” Surely the Cardinals have their tongues in their cheeks? Inevitably all heretics appeal to tomorrow’s Pope or the future Council, if not more radically to the Holy Ghost or the Second Coming—as do our Pentecostalists, Charismatics and Teilhardists today.

At last we come to the three clauses of the actual verdict. In each clause the operative words are in inverted commas. I need not expatiate on the significance of this astonishing fact. I quote them in full with the inverted commas:
1. “A letter shall be sent to Mgr Mamie by which is recognized his right to withdraw his predecessor’s approbation of the Confraternity and its Statutes.” The deed has been done by letter from His Eminence Cardinal Tabera, Prefect of the S. Congregation for Religious.

2. Once the Confraternity is suppressed, “no longer having any juridical basis, its offshoots, and notably the seminary at Ecône, cease by the same token to have the right to exist.”

3. It is evident—and we are called upon to give clear notice thereof—“that no support may be given to Mgr Lefebvre as long as the ideas contained in his Manifesto of November 21st, 1974 shall remain the rule governing his actions.”
Quite apart from the inverted commas, I love the insertion in clause 3: “and we are called upon to give clear notice thereof—nous sommes invités à le notifier clairement”! Has there ever been another judgement thus to proclaim itself a sham? I know that Cardinals Garrone and Wright have been criticized for signing the verdict. I disagree: honour must be given where it is due. They only signed to what had already been accomplished by Tabera and Mamie—and they say so. They also made it quite clear that the verdict was not theirs.

In view of the Cardinals’ verdict and the suppression of his Confraternity by the Bishop of Fribourg, on May 21st Lefebvre appealed to the Supreme Court of the Church, the Segnatura. Its Perfect is one Cardinal Staffa, reputedly a man of principle. Lefebvre’s grounds were threefold: 1. lack of legal form in the suppression of his Confraternity since, under Cn 493, only the Holy See, not the Bishop of Fribourg, could do so; 2. since he, Lefebvre, is condemned in matters of faith, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is alone competent and not Garrone’s Tribunal; 3. a condemnation of his Declaration of November 1974 affects none but himself; it affects neither his Confraternity nor his Seminary. These grounds seem perfectly reasonable.

Ah, the dear old Segnatura! If Rome is hailed as the Eternal City, the Segnatura exemplifies what is meant. No panic, no flap at the Segnatura, all is seemliness and due decorum. When Lefebvre posted his appeal that evening of May 21st, he must have felt that perfect peace was his for at east a twelve-month.

Not a bit of it! His appeal was duly registered at the Segnatura on June 5th; its rejection is dated June 10th. What, overtime at the Segnatura? Impossible! Lefebvre’s lawyer on the spot had a different explanation: Cardinal Villot sent a note in his own handwriting to Cardinal Staffa “directing him to prohibit the appeal.”

On the face of it, this does not look too good: the highest administrative officer in the Church giving directions to the highest judicial officer. This would be worse than Watergate. But, admitting the physical fact of Villot’s intervention, is this exactly what happened? In view of Staffa’s reputation, I suspect not. It is worth looking at the wording of Staffa’s rejection of the appeal. In the name of the Supreme Tribunal he declares himself “incompetent” under Canon 1556. And what says Cn 1556? “Prima Sedes a nemine judicatur—the Primatial See is judged by no one.” This implies rather a lot: that Tabera was right and prior to April 25th the Supreme Pontiff had by personal act condemned Lefebvre and all his works—presumably on the evidence of the vanished tapes; that the inverted commas in the Garrone verdict were quotations from this Papal condemnation and his tribunal was mere window-dressing; that Villot’s note to Staffa was to inform the latter of the Supreme Pontiff’s sentence; that Staffa did no more than record a fact. The trouble with all this is that the essential document is missing: the Papal decree condemning Lefebvre and all his works. One really cannot base public acts on private documents. The whole business is made to look shifty by the constant shifting between a judicial process and the appeal to a secret decree. Small wonder that Lefebvre should pay scant attention to his condemnation. Small wonder that I should lay down conditions to any interview with Klushko or his representative.

This is not quite the end of Act I in the Lefebvre tragedy. There are the two letters addressed to him by the Pope dated July 10th and September 10th, 1975. It is the first which needs to be examined, as the second is little more than a request for an answer. The Pope starts off by assuring Lefebvre that he is well informed of everything concerning his case and the seminary at Ecône. The tapes are not mentioned but I cannot help feeling that he is referring to them. He also shoulders full responsibility for ordering the immediate closure of Ecône—which ties in with Tabera’s letter to Bishop Mamie of April 25th. Then comes the operative sentence demanding of Lefebvre “a public act of submission to the Council, to the post-Conciliar reforms and to the ‘orientations’ to which the Pope himself is pledged (aux orientations qui engagent le Pape lui-même).” These three totally different things are all lumped together and Lefebvre is supposed to swallow the lot. Submission to the Council presents no difficulty. The documents are wordy and ambiguous but are probably all right as far as they go. A legitimate criticism is that they do not go far enough—but that is a different matter. Submission to the “post-Conciliar reforms” needs a lot of clarification. Everyone, including Lefebvre, is doubtless willing to submit to those reforms which have been duly promulgated as soon as we know which they are: the New Ordo, for instance, is certainly not among them. Is Lefebvre supposed to submit to administrative follies which are still to come, apart from those which already exist? But to submit to the “orientations” to which the Pope feels pledged is perfectly preposterous. What a wonderfully vague word is “orientations”: one’s bearings, outlook, point of view, direction, party line. Up to and including the Council, Catholics were bound to believe all defined doctrines and to obey the commands of the Church’s magisterium. Now, apparently, we are expected to submit to an “outlook.” We must all look in the same direction as the reigning Pontiff: “Company, eyes left!” This is giving us blinkers as never before. The new triumphalism is more exigent than the old. The trouble is that in a sense Paul VI is absolutely right: the new look in the Catholic Church is due precisely to the substitution of a human outlook for Divine Revelation. It is consequently largely sociological and political instead of dogmatic and spiritual. Heaven help us!

The end of the letter is no less curious. “You make yourself out to be a second Athanasius; but he was supporting the decrees of the Council of Nicaea whereas you are opposing Vatican II, which has no less authority than Nicaea and in many respects is more important.” Exactly: Nicaea merely defined the Divinity of Christ, whereas Vatican II has given rise to an “orientation,” an outlook. As a matter of fact, of course, Lefebvre is defending the decrees of all Councils, from Nicaea to Vatican II inclusive: he is defending decrees as against “orientations.”

Thus ends Act I. The plot is set. God alone can unravel it.

I hope I have not bored you with all this, but it has helped me a lot to put it down on paper. It was Klushko’s letter which reminded me of Lefebvre. I made some notes on the affair in December 1975. On looking through them now, it seems more important and far sadder than it did at the time.
Now for less lugubrious subjects. . . .

— Bryan Houghton, Mitre and Crook, 1979, pp. 193–197.