""The Bordeaux affair" the stakes of a crisis" - undated



Time gets often the better of passions. In the same way, the months which go by let the pretexts collapse. That’s the way things are going on in the crisis which has been shaking the French District of the Society of Saint Pius X for several months. The impassioned summer has gone off, or at least we can hope so ; the fall has taken the masks off, it’s obvious ; we still have to look in hindsight at the situation, until such time as the paralyzing cold freeze some situations as unfortunate as dangerous.

Far from posing as a judge of events (let the merciful One judge) and even less of the people (all of them are dear to us), these lines mean to bring out the deep stakes of a crisis, necessary precondition for whoever wants to position oneself serenely and in security. These stakes are too important for a simple affective tie or any propensity of the soul to determine our attitude in this gust, capable of carrying away more than one person.

For, we have to admit it : the supposed affair of the seminaries was just a pretext. The numerous lacks and profound ignorances of the famous report sent to thirty-five priests, the fact that its signatory is not even its writer, all of that proves ad nauseam the one who took on these lines was not well-informed of the accurate situation in the seminaries. His judgment is invalidated accordingly, and even more the remedies offered. Moreover, a very few people speak about this matter, whereas days go by peacefully in Ecône... All of that, therefore, was just a pretext or an occasion. the fall has taken the masks off, and the true motives of these dissensions come to a clear light. They are strictly within the Society but, since the dispute has been brought into the public arena for several months, it’s important to explain the motives as simply as possible : here are the only ones capable of explaining the disagreement which clashes some priests with the superiors of the Society of Saint Pius X.

1)      the criticism made towards the superiors of the Society

A heavy yoke to bear

Actually, the malaise is old. For several years, the priests now out on a limb had difficulty in placing themselves in relation to the Society of Saint Pius X ; not that they questioned the nature of the fight, but they didn’t find themselves in the proper way of life of the Society. In other words, this malaise is not of the order of doctrine but of the order of morality : spirit of independence way too much marked, refusal to reside, or simply difficulty in bearing renunciations inherent to life in a commune. These fellow-priests, leaning on the argument of apostolic zeal, came to consider the statutes of the Society – its religious rules – as fetters which choke missionary activities rather than like a bit which steers them and concentrates their power so as to increase them. Brought down to the level of means moreover unsuitable for the necessities of the modern apostolate, these statutes were not only considered optional but like a hindrance, a withdrawn attitude which prevent the Society priests from reaching the crowd of souls unfamiliar to Tradition, but certainly thirsting after divine love. Therefore, every reorientation of the Superiors about that could have really been interpreted alternately like a jansenising supernaturalism, a standardization at the expense of personal charisma, or more simply a withdrawn puritanism to the detriment of the spreading of the Kingdom of God.

The issues of the seminaries

The supposed crisis of the seminaries is located in this aggravating unrest. For several years, the priests in charge of these houses of training have noticed something increasing : a relative maladjustment of our French-speaking seminary for the youth which enters it from now on. Often coming from Tradition but also from a world ever more remote from values even the natural ones, the youth of today cannot be identified with the one which entered Ecône thirty years ago, so it’s necessary to refine the method of training of the candidates to the priesthood. In 1983 already, Archbishop Lefebvre had revised the training once, which had materialized by adding one more year of training. This necessity of adapting was judged very differently by some other fellow-priests, maybe too influenced by a commotion arisen several years ago. A strong-willed seminarian, as he was a cigar-lover, fond of good meals and scornful of the rules of his seminary, had been dismissed from the Society after many warnings, which had not had the good fortune to please certain young people who applied for it, they judged it too quickly at the alder of this first case. So, they blamed the rector of Ecône for this fact and the General Superior himself too, both of them being accused of jansenistic inflexibility or excessive fixation on the Statutes. This story made laugh sadly those who, by their duties, knew about the precise situation for each spontaneous or solicited departure...

However such particular cases to which it would be as tedious as indecent to get back may be, the deep stakes of the crisis we are undergoing stand outside the seminaries. They completely lie in the place we have to admit for the Statutes of the Society : are they a simple apostolic means of which we can clear our responsability as soon as we consider them inefficacious to fill the churches? But, in this case, can we honestly claim to adhere to a religious society of which we scorn the constitutions so openly? Such are the questions asked now.

2)      What place for the Statutes?

The example of human societies

For whoever knows how to take stock, things are only but clear. Saint Thomas repeated sufficient times that every human society is defined by its constitution ; its gist is here, what the philosopher would call its formal cause. As an example, that’s in its monarchial and catholic constitution France recognized herself. Violating this fundamental order comes down to shake society itself, to threaten its identity and why not its existence. So, it would be right for us to consider as a revolutionary-minded and a subversive-minded person the one who would mean this way, whatever his subjective intentions are.

What a religious society is

What is true for the political field is true for the religious societies. They define themselves by their constitutions called “Statutes” in the case of the Society of Saint Pius X. That’s their spine. They are the constitutions Rome acknowledges, they bind the subject to his religious order ; in return for his commitment to respect this constitution, the Order allows this subject to be included among its members. Nobody can touch this order of things without questioning the very identity of the aforementioned society. The life of our founder proves it sufficiently. Archbishop Lefebvre resigned from his responsability of general Superior of the Holy Ghost Fathers, because he didn’t accept the modification of its constitutions : he prefered to withdraw rather than making an attempt against his community by supporting with his signature some revolutionary maneuvers eager to supplant some religious rules considered unsuitable for the modern world.

Therefore, the place of the Statutes in the Society is very clear : they are not only a simple means (between some other ones) with the view of the apostolate, they come under the very definition of the Society, they are the very spine of it.

Inconsequent criticism

Considering these principles, one can be only but terror-stricken by hearing some fellow-priests taxing with supernaturalism the Superiors who watch over the Statutes. Probably, they don’t grasp the real issue of their attitude. How can they blame our Society for a jasenising morality, whereas it’s only about a simple conformity to its being? It’s important to admit that our superiors are allowed to expect us to implement prudently (that is to say appropriately to the circumstances) these Statutes : we committed ourselves publicly to doing so, furthermore before the Blessed Sacrament. Moreover, the confidence of the Superiors will take root in this usual respect of these Statutes in the place of their subordinates. How could they lend credibility to somebody who everyday would fail to keep his word knowingly and pertinaciously? For, don’t forget that : scorning the Statutes, it’s also scorning one’s own word when one committed oneself to respecting them...

Moreover : the Superiors expect more of their priests, especially when they are in charge of a house. Because every law by itself is very soul-destroying (a lifeless spine is nothing but a cadaverous skeleton) the Superiors, besides the law, can only but claim the spirit of the law ; in our situation, the spirit of the Society, such as Archbishop Lefebvre wrote it in 1981/82, or what’s more during the paschal retreat he preached in Ecône in 1988. Claiming these fundamentals is by no way doing some supernaturalism : by setting out this reminder, the Superiors don’t mean to diminish the importance of the missionary zeal, nor to neglect human qualities. These ones are obviously necessary for the one who intends to take care of the souls. But, so necessary as they are, these qualities of temperament will never be sufficient by themselves, whatever their eminence is : nothing is more dangerous and useless than the energy of an untamed horse, nothing is more dreadful for an army corps than a sniper who is against all rule.

3)      What place for the Society of Saint Pius X?

A sad conception of the Society

Neglecting the Statutes will cause serious difficulties. If they are the very innermost component of our religious society (its formal cause), what would become of the Society if its statutes were optional or simply relegated to a position of secondary importance? It would merely be a soulless body, a shapeless matter ; in other words, a simple mishmash of members (its priests) without any principle of intrinsic unity. The religious society which draws strength from its unity, would give way to a simple alliance of priests forming a league to struggle more efficiently for the Faith. Failing this intrisic unity (given by formal cause), it’s only a common aim which would unite them (simple extrinsic unity), the combat of Tradition to be specific. Such is the sad conception the dissenting priests have of the Society, probably without realizing it anyway. It’s nevertheless what is coming up in the Mascaret Journal of November 2004.

An erroneous conception of the priesthood

One can read in it that the priest is above all a man of Mission. The tone is set : to neglect the formal reason of things, one can only but confine himself to the end. Though the end must be well considered : for if it’s true that the priesthood is finalized by the good of the Church and not by the good of the subject, we cannot conclude that the proper end of the priest is the apostolate and that it’s the main way for his own sanctification. For, there are for the priestly mediator two great ways of contributing to the good of the Church : it’s his own upward mediation (praying God on behalf of the people) of which the supreme act if the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass ; and after that it’s a downward mediation (giving God to the souls) : this is the apostolate. Considering the second aspect of the mediation, the first one characterizes fundamentally the priesthood ; Saint Thomas Aquinas, following the Epistle to the Hebrews, claims it very clearly.

Defining the priest by the second aspect of this mediation – the apostolate – it is taking responsability for the old commonplaces of the book “France country of mission” and for the error of prospect of the Vatican II Council : the priest is defined by his power on the mystical Body of Christ which is the Church (increasing it by the apostolate) and not only at first on his physical Body (the Eucharist). Obviously, the program of priestly sanctity is much less exciting. First of all, the priest doesn’t sanctify himself by carving out an empire – even an apostolic one – but by reproducing in his innermost being what he realizes on the altar, this is well reminded by the rite of the priestly ordination : “imitamini quod tractatis, reproduce in yourself what you do (on the altar)”.

A partial and biased conception of the jurisdiction

Vatican II, characterizing the priest by his power on the mystical Body of Christ, reminded at least that this power exists only in subordination to the Ordinary, in other words to the bishop of the place or to the major superior if it’s a religious congregation. This thing is very normal. Besides the fact that a lonely priest can go gravely adrift, this subordination is the very constituent of his apostolic works. He will act on the mystical body of Christ as a priest, that is to say as a minister of the Church, as far as he represents the Church and as he is mandated by her. The representativeness ensues from what we call incardination, kind of link of vassalage which binds to the Ordinary, whereas the jurisdiction determines the concrete mission assigned to the sacred minister. This simple definition is enough to prove that the jurisdiction, even a substitute one, cannot be usually fulfilled if beforehand there is no incardination.

These distinctions would have been a precious help to the writers of the Mascaret. They seem to think themselves self-sufficient jurisdictionally because they lean on the crisis the Church is undergoing and the fact that it ensues indeed a substitute jurisdiction from it. According to their words, the current situation would confer a substitute jurisdiction on every priest, simply in view of the fact that he is priest and independently of any incardination by the very case of necessity. Then, the Society of Saint Pius X would be a conglomeration described above, reassembling some self-sufficient priests to fulfill their substitute apostolate. Such is the conception put forward by the former prior of Bordeaux when he answers the people who blame him for fulfilling from now on an unlawful ministry : “Saying that the ministry of a priest is unlawful, it means that he doesn’t have any jurisdiction. There are two possibilities then : either we understand that he doesn’t have the personal jurisdiction which comes down from the pope to the bishops, the priests, the vicars. But in this case, no priest of Tradition has this one and it incites priests to seek it. Or we understand that it’s the one granted by law in case of necessity (right request of the faithful) and refusing this one to one priest is refusing the same one to all the other priests because it depends on the present circumstances, equal for everybody.”

“There are two possibilities then” : no, things are not so simple. Because the Society of Saint Pius X was officially recognized by the Church, because all of us we judged its elimination as iniquitous as groundless and so invalid, all of us... and Archbishop Lefebvre the first one – the Society of Saint Pius X was recognized its power of incardination, according to the indult which should have normally been granted by the Sacred Congregation of the clergy (cf. Statutes, ch. IV, art. 2). As long as the case won’t have been retried legally and uprightly by Rome, there is an ordinary jurisdiction in the Society which comes down from the Pope (even against his own will) to the General Superior to allow him in particular the incardination of its members. This ordinary jurisdiction, not territorial but personal, is not exercised over the faithful (then the substitute jurisdiction is refered to) but over the members of our Society, like the actual one in every religious order. Therefore, a priest taken individually, can exercise the substitute jurisdiction granted by the Church over the faithful because of the current circumstances but in accordance with and in the scope of this previous incardination – or any other one, like the one of a diocesan or religious priest unfairly dismissed for choosing Tradition -. Forgetting that is forgetting that the Church has always loathed the lone priest (without incardination), to the extent of excommunicating him ipso facto in the past. Therefore, it’s impossible to consider that each and every priest of Tradition possess by himself and equally to his other fellow-priests a substitute jurisdiction, and that the Society is just a simple conventional association of these priests, meant to federate their apostolate in aid of the cause of “tradition”.

Some new claims

To be truthful, this conception of the priesthood and of the Society of Saint Pius X is manifest on the lips of our former fellow-priests. During several years, they denounced this status of lone priest and considered it like the worst condition for a priest. Since last summer, their behavior has not been the outcome of a basic divergence about these questions. The truth is in an opposite relationship : the new conception they sketch is the consequence of a behavior ever more out of step with the Statutes of the Society. It is only an attempt at legitimating theoritically – and no doubt hopefully specifically - a practical attitude maybe more deep-rooted. Whatever judgment we can pass on the behaviors these former fellow-priests had, willing to impose these conceptions as new as erroneous on the seminaries and the whole Society is destructive : it is planning, in the medium term, the break-up of the Society of Saint Pius X.

4)      A return to post-war years?

So as to be convinced of the destructive nature of these claims, it’s just enough to look at the recent history of the French clergy. Because the blames leveled by our fellow-priests against the Society are not new. At the end of the Second World War, these blames were on the lips of the priests who found themselves back in the normal framework of parochial and diocesan life after too many years of the Resistance spent in the habit of an eclectic and self-sufficient apostolate. The mentality of these priests is mentioned by Paul Vigneron, author accredited in the subject. In his book called Crises of the French contemporary clergy in history, he begins to desribe the general state of mind of this new clergy : “A rebelious attitude and sometimes a tendency towards downright desobedience spread out quickly in the French clergy from the end of the War whereas so far this one looked upon obedience to the catholic hierarchy as an essential virtue and regarded the acceptance of humble parochial tasks as a fruitful mortification.” The author uses four features to describe the principles of this rebelious clergy:

1°) They blame the christian community for ossifying their lives and for choking in the frameworks way too much atrophying ; these new apostles claim a free christianism, “baroque” (in Portuguese : out of the standards), the only one capable of joining man of today.

2°) So, it is necessary to “get out of the ghettos”, to go beyond the circle of friends to reach the crowds of people we think to be more thirsty of God and more generous that our own faithful. Fifty years later, one can read in the Mascaret : “He ordained us so as to preach to the people” said Saint Peter (Act 10, 42), and not to a restricted circle of friends, of pure ones or of initiates. The sanctity of the priest is the fulfilling of duties of mercy towards the crowd of souls who are thirsty for the love of Christ or who ignore him.” To get out of the ghettos, therefore ; Paul Vigneron will describe the concrete attitude of this clergy : “these pioneers will be profoundly tempted to scandalize systematically the right-thinking, to criticize the hierarchy and so as to make the christian message more accessible to the infidel, to loosen or to break the bonds with the institution.”

3°) This apostolic effort, because it is too human, will be made by attraction, this attraction being often reduced to mimetism : “when the dechristianized circles see some priests mime their attitudes, working manually like them, willing to speak a slangy language, then the conversion of the masses will be possible”, Paul Vigneron writes. It applies obviously to a concrete way of life, hardly compatible with a life scheme offered by any Statute, wheter diocesan or religious.

4°) The ultimate criterion allowing the action of the priest to be assessed is the apostolic efficiency. His sanctity is not elsewhere. Such an assertion invalidates proportionally or at least implicitely the virtues called “passive” ; it provokes deterioration of prayers, desertion of mortification. So, when the Mascaret claims this apostolate to be the source of sanctification for the priest (“obviously, the priesthood will be sanctified by its practising”), it can only but remind the sad lines Father Chenu wrote, notorious for his invalidating the tract of Dom Chautard. It was in 1947 : “Today, the apostolate is an evangelical token sanctifying by itself, and not juxtaposed on inward life. The amount of action it consists of can always be an occasion of activism ; but here it’s a failing per accidens and not this quasi-determinism against which we would hold out only by leaning up against it.” Isn’t it, with one stroke of the pen, the great message our former fellow-priests wanted to aim at the Superiors of the Society of Saint Pius X in one moment of insanity? We know the deleterious fruit conveyed by such principles. The short-lived enthusiam they provoked was the consequence of their legitimating the way of easiness, whereas their only lasting effect was preparing the crowds to the aggiornamento of the Vatican II Council.

5)      Conclusion : the Society in its genuineness

Precisely in opposition to this erroneous conception of the priesthood, very spread out after the war, Archbishop Lefebvre wanted to focus the Society of Saint Pius X on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest is an apostle only because he is the man of the Mass : “Because the Mass is apostolic”, he writes in our Statutes. Seeing and living again this true thought on the priest, according to Archbishop Lefebvre, was the essential condition of enriching the apostolate supernaturally so as to get the better of modernism omnipresent from then on. Our current superiors don’t have any other belief. It is simply false to denounce a drift in the Society, as it’s profoundly unfair to tax the Superiors with Jansenism : they watch over the Society. Let these Superiors fulfill their mission, as well as the tricky adaptation of the priestly training which is maybe necessary again.

In these times of struggle where the Devil tries to spread division in our own ranks, let’s not be circumvented by some agitations which will only but turn away the souls from the true fights. Considering that imperfection is inherent to any human society and that consequently the Society of Saint Pius X is not exempt from it, it would be inconsistent seizing upon these weaknesses, what’s more lending them too much importance, to give a free rein to one’s passions. Alas, these passions have talked too much, mingling probably with their feelings some unsuspected stakes, but actually true nevertheless.

At the end of the first century, Saint Clement of Rome had to intervene with the faithful of Corinth in order to resolve a disagreement nearly similar to ours. The words he had addressed to them are meant for us : “Your splits turned a lot of people away, they threw many into despondency, a lot into uncertainty, and all of us into grief. Let’s intercede on behalf of those who gave way to certain weaknesses, so that humility and goodness may be given to them and so they may not follow their tendencies anymore but the will of God. As for those who laid the foundations of dissension, let them obey, let them be corrected in the spirit of repentance and be swayed with all their heart.”

Father Patrick de La Rocque