"Fr. Laguérie's rights" - By Father G. de Tanoüarn, SSPX, September 2004

The French version was published in in september 2004

PDF version for printing

A great deal has been said here and there in relation to the "Bordeaux affair".  I have let some time pass and have fallen somewhat behind my schedule (may readers please excuse me), to avoid reacting in the heat of the moment and adding fuel to the flames.  The following note is purely doctrinal, since it is in doctrine that we must seek our certainties when our points of reference seem to waver.  I will not give in to the craze of controversy by acting like playground children arguing about "who started it".  The SSPX is currently torn apart by one of the worst crises in its history.  Some may say that it is just another mere family quarrel!  God forbid!  Here I will endeavour to show, as simply as possible, the hidden sides of this crisis and the stakes of the dispute.  One cannot overlook the fact that whatever the disciplinary outcome of this issue, the questions raised will remain unless they are resolved at the root...  They are liable to call into question the survival of the SSPX, or at least jeopardize – for some time – the services provided by the Society to perplexed Catholics.  Leaving their pride aside, the members (and why not also the Faithful) of the Society must therefore address two most serious issues raised in the context of what is now known as the "Laguérie Affair".

The supernatural is invisible

The story starts with an issue that Fr. Laguérie raised himself, i.e. the training of seminarians and the criteria of religious vocations.  Saint Pius X, our patron saint, made considerable efforts in his time to uphold what one could call the "roman theology of vocations".  Canon Lahitton gave a decisive work on this issue, with the Pope's blessing.  He works on the principle that the supernatural does not give rise to any perceptible or intellectual experience, in the order of the created.  A supernatural vocation can therefore not be discerned on the basis of a humanly motivated judgement.  The supernatural is invisible!  In order to discern a vocation, it is enough to ascertain that the candidate is fitting for the priesthood, i.e. that he has the moral and intellectual capacities required to become a priest, and also that he has proper and straight intentions.  Once the call of the Bishop has formalized these requisites, there is unmistakably a priestly vocation.  It is this doctrine of vocations that was taught at Ecône in my day.  Fr. Barielle, much missed, had produced a small booklet on the subject, "Ai-je la vocation?", which many of us have read.

These days, the directors require of candidates other abilities, which remain unrevealed despite the requests of various priests and school directors, who need to know these criteria in order to orientate candidates appropriately.  There have been cases of seminarians expelled for reasons such as having "too much influence", or lacking "not docility but docibility", not obedience but malleability...  The use of these "new criteria" has caused badly-managed departures from the Seminary, thus surprising the faithful, who witness the return of young men who seemed perfectly fit to become priests and who are sent back to "square one" for no decisive apparent reason, after three, four or sometimes even five years.

A second authority could strengthen the superior's decisions.

But the "Laguérie Affair" also triggers a second fundamental issue.  A prodigy child of Tradition, Fr. Laguérie has been called subversive on the grounds that he dared to send figures, detailing the problem that has persisted at Ecône for several years now, to thirty of his fellow "elder" priests.  One of the Society's best components in France has thus been called a "mutineer", one of the most faithful disciples of Archbishop Lefebvre has been accused as a rebel, merely because he appealed against the sanction imposed...  Some consider that the authority in the Society should be allowed to impose sanctions on a purely discretionary basis, and do not even so much as acknowledge the principle of a possibility of legal recourse to a second authority able to counterbalance or moderate the superior's decisions.  The current crisis within the Church allegedly justifies the absolute power of the superior general of the SSPX.  In my opinion, such extremist views are based on an error of perspective.  Far from reducing authority within the Society, a legal organisation of the Superior General's powers would stabilise and strengthen the whole Society (and, at the same time, would consolidate the said powers), by increasing its longevity and making it a proper institution rather than a militant movement.

As for making a principle of refusing any recourse, this inopportunely restricts the development of the Society.  There is, however, a divine right authority, in itself absolute and unlimited in its order: the authority of the pope.  "Apostolica sedes a nemine judicatur", as the adage says – the Holy See may be judged by no-one.  However, as regards human law, there is no such thing as an absolute authority.  Worse, such an authority can only represent itself: it must therefore necessarily confine itself in its exercise, whilst at the same time centralizing matters more and more as time goes by.  That makes double reasons for withdrawal into oneself and double reasons for opposing to change and thus dying-down!  A twofold weakness, despite any potential shows of force!

In the most daily practice, this absolute authority is weak because it is exercised on a solitary basis.  It must therefore limit in advance the chances of its own interventions, by aiming at all costs at security among the members of the group governed.  Security in the recruitment of candidates to the priesthood: could this be the reason for the crisis affecting our seminaries?  New criteria are devised, not made known but more restrictive than the traditional criteria, since what is required is submissive individuals...  Security in the spreading of catholic Tradition among the faithful.  For a long time now, we have regularly heard Society representatives advise not to let newcomers too hastily into our churches and chapels, to avoid "contamination" by unassimilated elements.  Could it not be the constitutional weakness of the Society referred to above that would explain – and, to a certain extent, justify – such positions?  This requirement for security, due to the weakness of the structures of the Society, could well be placing a brake on the daily development of Traditional Catholicism.

From this viewpoint, the so-called "Laguérie Affair", far from being an impediment or a scandal, is actually a historic opportunity for the Traditional Catholic movement, which must now react and acknowledge, ever more as always, its substitution duty in the terrible crisis currently affecting the Catholic Church.  There are precedents of such legal substitution.  The Society has set up a canonical department dealing with marriage annulments.  Why not create a body able to regulate – under the terms of the code – the Society's own internal functioning?  Why not open a canonical office able to deal with recourse made by members who consider that they have been unjustly sanctioned?

A priest friend of mine, in the conciliar Church, told me, with a mocking smile: "Since the Society rejected Church law by consecrating four Bishops without permission from Rome, it placed itself once and for all outside of the scope of the law.  On this basis, any recourse is meaningless".  Should we accept this type of logical line, most unfavourable to the Society?  Should we let ourselves be expelled from the Church, on the grounds that we consecrated four bishops for the good of the Church?  In my opinion, that would be joining in the game of those who eagerly await the destabilization of our Institute together with the destruction of its work of restoration in favour of the Church.

A two-headed authority?

From another standpoint, the Society Headquarters express fear.  If Fr. Laguérie's right to appeal is taken into account, it would entail the creation of extraordinary legal structures, leading to a form of two-headed authority.  According to Bishop Fellay, if such structures existed within the Society, the authority would be two-headed...  Bishop Fellay wrote to Fr. Laguérie that a court of appeal within the Society would be tantamount to "a kind of soviet", judging the Superior's decisions.  This, however, would not be the case.  There is not the slightest question of a revolutionary soviet that would substitute for the Superior's executive powers.  It is not a matter of judging Bishop Fellay, but of re-judging Fr. Laguérie.  When the French "Conseil d'Etat" enacts a decree quashing an administrative decision made by the President of France, it does not substitute for the President nor does it create any two-headed authority!

One must simply acknowledge that a Superior is never almighty.  According to the tripartite division of powers, which is used in Canon Law, it is naturally acceptable to say that the Superior has the last word as regards the executive, since he is responsible for the running of the organisation in question.  But regarding the legislative power, the supreme authority is held exclusively by the General Chapter.  In the case of a serious crisis such as this, it would seem quite conceivable for the four bishops (free from any executive duties and subject to the Superior General) to form a kind of "council of wise men", which would not play any part in the functioning of the Society, but which would, by virtue of the universal character of the episcopate, attend to the safekeeping of faith and justice.  Far from diminishing the Superior's powers, such an arrangement would strengthen him by providing him with powers properly subject to law.

One can always oppose that such was not the way Archbishop Lefebvre governed, and that is doubtless!  However, how many crises did the Society have to live through in its early years!  In those days, our founder's personal aura gave him persuasion abilities that remain without comparison.

I see no other solution, under the present circumstances, in order to maintain law and order within the SSPX, than to comply with the universal law of the Church and set up a disciplinary body.  Each bishop has his own court of justice.  For the Society to consider circumventing the requirement to implement law and order within itself would be tantamount to rejecting the equilibrium of general law by voluntarily refusing to abide by parts of the same.

How, on this basis, could the Society mature properly, as an organization founded by Providence for the good of the Church and the salvation of as many souls as possible?