The May 5, 1988 Protocol
The meeting of the experts took place from Tuesday, April 12, to Thursday, April 14, 1988, in Rome. In the presence of Fr. Benoît Duroux, O.P., who acted as mediator, Don Fernando Ocariz, theologian, and Don Tarcisio Bertone, canonist, faced Frs. Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, theologian, and Patrice Laroche, canonist. The basis for an agreement was laid out and immediately submitted to Archbishop Lefebvre. He did not hide his satisfaction. On April 15, after reading the report by Fr. Duroux, he wrote from Albano to Cardinal Ratzinger that he was very happy that “we are coming closer to an agreement.”
Archbishop Lefebvre was delighted that the Society of St. Pius X was to be erected as a Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right, enjoying complete autonomy and able to form its own members, incardinate its clergy, and provide for the community life of its members. What is more, according to the terms of the report that would serve as the agreement protocol, Rome granted a “certain exemption with respect to the diocesan bishops for what concerns public worship, the cura animarum, and other apostolic activities.” Jurisdiction over the faithful would be conferred either by the local Ordinaries or by the Apostolic See. A Roman Commission would be created by the Holy See and only “one or two members belonging to the Society” would be a part of it. Lastly, the document mentioned that “for practical and psychological reasons, the consecration of a member of the Society as a bishop appears useful.” Essentially, Archbishop Lefebvre’s proposals had been heard.
And in his letter to Cardinal Ratzinger, he expressed his great delight at finally having a successor in the episcopate. But, he remarked, “only one bishop will hardly suffice for the heavy work load; wouldn’t it be possible to have two, or at the least, couldn’t the possibility of raising its number in the next six months or a year be provided for?” He also mentioned an idea that would one day have a great future: with this agreement, “wouldn’t it be desirable that the possibility to use the liturgical books of John XXIII be granted for all the bishops and all priests?” It would take almost twenty years for Rome to recognize that all the priests of the Catholic world have the right to use the liturgy from before the Council…
In the end, Archbishop Lefebvre accepted the principle and contents of a short doctrinal declaration, although he had absolutely refused to do so at first. He sent the text on the same day, April 15, 1988. Except for a few details, it was the same text he would go to Rome to sign three weeks later, on May 5. It consisted in five points:
1 – “We promise to be always faithful to the Catholic Church and the Roman Pontiff, its Supreme Pastor, Vicar of Christ, Successor of Blessed Peter in his primacy as head of the College of bishops.
2 – “We declare our acceptance of the doctrine contained in §25 of the dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium of Vatican Council II on the ecclesiastical magisterium and the adherence which is due to it.
3 – “Regarding certain points taught by Vatican Council II or concerning later reforms of the liturgy and law, and which do not appear to us easily reconcilable with Tradition, we pledge that we will have a positive attitude of study and communication with the Apostolic See, avoiding all polemics.
4 – “Moreover, taking into account what was said in §3, we declare that we recognize the validity of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments celebrated with the intention of doing what the Church does, and according to the rites indicated in the typical editions of the Roman Missal and the Rituals of the Sacraments promulgated by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II.
5 – “Finally, we promise to respect the common discipline of the Church and thus the disciplinary laws contained in the Code of Canon Law promulgated by Pope John Paul II, without prejudice to the special discipline granted to the Society by particular law.” http://www.sspxasia.com/Documents/Archbishop-Lefebvre/Archbishop_Lefebvr...
Between April 15 and May 5, Archbishop Lefebvre was convinced he had obtained a good agreement and insured the stability and permanence of his work. He wrote enthusiastically to one of his priests on April 20 that the negotiations “seem to be heading towards an acceptable solution that would grant us what we have always asked. It would be hard not to see the action of Our Lady of Fatima in this step back from Rome. I will soon have to go to Rome to sign the final agreements, if there is no change in what was concluded last week.”
It was thus that he participated in a final meeting in Albano, near Rome, and signed the declaration of the Protocol of Accord on May 5, feast of St. Pius V. The same day, he wrote to Pope John Paul II to thank him for his initiative that “has reached a solution acceptable by both sides.” The document he had just signed could, he believed, “be the starting point of the several measures which will give back to us a legal status in the Church: the legal recognition of the Society of Saint Pius X as a society of pontifical right, the use of the liturgical books of John XXIII, the constitution of a Roman Commission and the other measures indicated in the Protocol of Accord.” There was still much to be done. He assured the Sovereign Pontiff that “the members of the Society and all the persons who are morally united to it are rejoicing at this agreement and give thanks to God and to yourself.”
A press release was prepared for May 7, along with another letter to the pope on the details of the next steps. But the next morning, on Friday, May 6, after a terrible night, Archbishop Lefebvre retracted his signature. What happened?
Uneasiness, Disappointment, Requests for Clarifications
Up until the very end, Archbishop Lefebvre thought he could sign this text and trust his interlocutors to grant him at least one successor and guarantee the permanence of his work. The essential was to obtain if possible one or several episcopal consecrations with the authorization of the Holy See. The Protocol of Accord that Archbishop Lefebvre accepted to sign on May 5, 1988, said that “for practical and psychological reasons, the consecration of a member of the Society as a bishop appears useful” (#5.2). No date was set. But above all, as he was signing the protocol, Cardinal Ratzinger gave Archbishop Lefebvre a letter dated April 28, 1988, that aroused unease and disappointment in the Churchman’s mind.
In this letter, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote that the nomination of a bishop “could not happen right now, even if there were no other reason than the preparation and examination of the files.” As we have seen, Archbishop Lefebvre considered it very important for it to be done as soon as possible. During the mid-April discussions in Rome, he asked for this episcopal consecration of a Society priest to be done very soon, as he had mentioned in his letter to John Paul II on February 20 of the same year. The urgency of nominating a successor was due first of all to “Archbishop Lefebvre’s old age and his physical exhaustion the past few months” (Note on the episcopate in the Society, annexed to the April 15, 1988 report). What was granted at an arm’s length (“the consecration of a bishop appears useful”) was to be put off until an unknown date.
We can understand why Archbishop wrote on May 6 to Cardinal Ratzinger these lines that so well express his state of mind: “Yesterday it was with real satisfaction that I put my signature on the Protocol drafted during the preceding days. However, you yourself have witnessed my deep disappointment upon the reading of the letter which you gave me, bringing the Holy Father’s answer concerning the episcopal consecrations. Practically, to postpone the episcopal consecrations to a later undetermined date would be the fourth time that it would have been postponed. The date of June 30 was clearly indicated in my previous letters as the latest possible. I have already given you a file concerning the candidates. There are still two months to make the mandate. Given the particular circumstances of this proposal, the Holy Father can very well shorten the procedure so that the mandate be communicated to us around mid-June. In case the answer will be negative, I would find myself in conscience obliged to proceed with the consecrations, relying upon the agreement given by the Holy See in the Protocol for the consecration of one bishop member of the Society.”
The archbishop mentioned the Roman reticence expressed both orally and in writing, that contrasted with the expectations of the priests and faithful, who would not understand the reasons for yet another delay and were “desirous above all of having truly Catholic bishops, transmitting the true Faith to them, and communicating to them in a way that is certain the graces of salvation to which they aspire for themselves and for their children.” He concluded by expressing his “hope that this request shall not be an insurmountable obstacle to the reconciliation in process.”
The same day, Cardinal Ratzinger postponed the publication of the press release and asked Archbishop Lefebvre to reconsider his position, claiming that his intentions regarding the episcopal consecration of a member of the Society on June 30 were in complete contradiction with what he had accepted in the protocol. He was splitting hairs and ignoring the repeated requests to grant the founder of Econe an episcopal successor. The archbishop came back disappointed.
“They Want to Lead Us Up the Garden Path.”
In the press conference he held in Econe on June 15, he revealed some details from the discussions that had taken place.
Archbishop Lefebvre: “You have time to prepare before June 30, to do the investigation and give me the mandate…”
Cardinal Ratzinger: “Oh, no! No, no! It is impossible; June 30 is impossible.”
“When then? August 15? At the end of the Marian year?”
“Oh, no! No, no, your Excellency. You know that there is no one left in Rome on August 15. Everyone is on vacation from July 15 to September 15; you mustn’t count on August 15, it is impossible.”
“Then shall we say November 1, All Saints’ Day?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I cannot say.”
“I really cannot say.”
The general impression, Archbishop Lefebvre would later say, was that they wanted to “lead him up the garden path.” He lost all trust and no longer believed the promises of his interlocutors… He also had the impression they were wasting his energy, even as the preparations were well underway in Econe.
New Demands from Rome
On May 17, Cardinal Ratzinger gave Fr. Emmanuel du Chalard, Archbishop Lefebvre’s intermediary in Rome, the draft of a letter “more in conformity with requirements of the style of the Roman Curia.”
In fact, the letter the archbishop had sent to Pope John Paul II was no longer enough. He needed to “humbly ask pardon for all that, notwithstanding my good faith, may have caused displeasure to the Vicar of Christ.” And above all, he had to simply suggest, “without requesting a definite date” (“senza esigere alcuna data”), that a bishop be consecrated as his successor. Here are the exact terms of the letter he was asked to send the Holy Father: “The canonical regularization of the Society does not provide for the consecration of a bishop who would take my place because it is not necessary, per se. However, paying attention above all to the practical need of one who would perform the pontifical functions according to the rite anterior to the liturgical reform, I would be most happy for Your Holiness to nominate a bishop who could, in a certain sense, succeed me.” The letter had to be humble and unconditional, so that it would be easier for the pope to grant his requests. Once again, what had been granted at an arm’s length continued to be discussed and delayed.
When Fr. du Chalard confirmed the founder of Econe’s intention to consecrate three bishops on June 30, the cardinal asked him to transmit an invitation to return to Rome. Another meeting was scheduled for May 24.
Tomorrow: A True Renewal of the Church or a Reintegration into the Conciliar Church?