The Protocol signed by Archbishop Lefebvre

Since there is much discussion these days about talks with Rome and those who use the Archbishop as their example of what must be accepted or rejected, it is always worthwhile to review what the Archbishop himself felt he could in good conscience sign in May of 1988. Remember that this document was signed after the suppression of Econe, after the Archbishop penned “I Accuse The Council”, and after the scandal of Assisi in 1986.

He subsequently withdrew his signature and gave one precise reason for changing his mind – He did not trust that the Vatican would follow through and allow him to consecrate a bishop from within the Society. This was his litmus test as to whether there was a viable opportunity to convert Rome. According to Bp Tissier’s book, even on the day of the episcopal consecrations, he was willing to postpone them if Rome agreed to this condition. This, in fact, was the “conversion of Rome” that the archbishop awaited.

Here are the conditions of the PROTOCOL that were acceptable to Archbishop Lefebvre.  The underlines are my own to emphasize what the Archbishop was willing to agree to without conferring with Bishops-elect Williamson, Fellay, DeGalaretta, or Tissier, and without getting the approval of a senior council of SSPX priests or independent priests, nuns, brothers or prominent laity.


Signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre on May 5, 1988

I, Marcel Lefebvre, archbishop-bishop emeritus of Tulle, along with the members of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X, which I founded:

1. We promise always to be faithful to the Catholic Church and to the Roman Pontiff, its supreme pastor, the vicar of Christ, successor of blessed Peter in his primacy and head of the body of bishops.
2. We declare that we will accept the doctrine contained in No. 25 of the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution, “Lumen Gentium” on the ecclesiastical magisterium and the adherence owed it.
3. Regarding certain points taught by the Second Vatican Council or concerning subsequent reforms of the liturgy and law which appear difficult to reconcile with tradition, we commit ourselves to a positive attitude of study and of communication with the Apostolic See, avoiding all polemics.
4. We declare moreover that we will recognize the validity of the sacrifice of the Mass and of the sacraments celebrated with the intention of doing what the Church does and according to the rites in the typical editions of the missal and rituals of the sacraments promulgated by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II.
5. Last, we promise to respect the common discipline of the Church and the ecclesiastical laws, particularly those contained in the Code of Canon Law promulgated by Pope John Paul II, except for the special discipline conceded to the fraternity by particular law.

Taking into consideration the fact that the Priestly Society of St. Pius X has been formed for 18 years as a society of common life – and based on a study of suggestions by Archbishop Lefebvre and the conclusions of the visit made by His Eminence Cardinal Gagnon – the most suitable canonical model is that of a society of apostolic life.

1. Society of Apostolic Life.
It is a canonically possible solution, with the advantage of the possibility of bringing laity into the clerical society of apostolic life (for example, coadjutor brothers).
According to the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1983, Canons 731-746, this society has full autonomy, can form its members, can incardinate priests and assures the common life of all its members.
In its own statutes, with flexibility and creative possibility in the light of the known models of these societies of apostolic life, one anticipates a certain exemption in regard to diocesan bishops (cf. Canon 591) in what concerns public worship, the ‘cura animarum’ and other apostolic activities, taking into consideration Canons 679-683. As for jurisdiction regarding the faithful who seek out the priests of the society, it will be conferred on them by the local ordinaries or by the Apostolic See.

2. Roman Commission.
A commission to coordinate relations among the diverse dicasteries and the diocesan bishops as well as to resolve eventual problems and contentions will be established by the Holy See and given the necessary faculties to treat the above-indicated questions (for example, the establishment at the request of the faithful of a place of worship in a place where there is no house of the society, ‘ad mentem,’ Canon 383.2).

3. Condition of People Linked to the Society.
3.1 The members of the clerical society of apostolic life (priests and coadjutor lay brothers): They are governed by the statutes of the society of pontifical right.
3.2 Men and women oblates, with or without private vows, and members of the Third Order linked to the society: They belong to an association of the faithful linked to the society in terms of Canon 303, and they collaborate with it.
3.3 The sisters (that is, the congregation founded by Archbishop Lefebvre) who make public vows: They will constitute a true institute of consecrated life, with its own structure and autonomy, even if one foresees a certain link for the unity of spirituality with the superior of the society. This congregation – at least at the beginning – will be responsible to the Roman Commission instead of the Congregation for Religious.
3.4 Members of communities living by the rule of diverse religious institutes (Carmelites, Benedictines, Dominicans, etc.) and morally linked with the society: It is fitting to accord them, case by case, a particular status regulating their relations with their respective order.
3.5 Priests who as individuals are morally linked with the fraternity will receive a personal status, taking into account their aspirations, and, at the same time, the obligations resulting from their incardination. Other particular cases of this kind will be examined and resolved by the Roman commission.
In what concerns lay people who seek the pastoral help of the society’s communities: They remain under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishops but – notably for the liturgical rites of the society’s communities – can look to these communities for the administration of the sacraments (for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and marriage, notification of their own parish remains necessary; canons 878, 896, 1122).

NOTE: There is reason to consider the particular complexity:
1. Of the question of the reception by the laity of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, marriage, in the communities of the society.
2. Of the question of communities practicing – without being connected to them – the rule of this or that religious institute.
It is for the Roman commission to resolve these items.

4. Ordinations.
For ordinations, it is necessary to distinguish two phases:
4.1 Immediately: For the ordinations planned shortly, Archbishop Lefebvre would be authorized to confer them or, if he couldn’t, another bishop agreed to by him.
4.2 Once established, the society of apostolic life:
4.2.1 When possible, in the judgment of the Superior General, follows the normal procedure: remitting the dimissorial letters to a bishop who agrees to ordain members of the society.
4.2.2 Because of the particular situation of the fraternity (cf. infra): ordination by a bishop of the society who, among other tasks, would have that of proceeding with ordinations.

5. Problem of a Bishop.
5.1 At the doctrinal level (ecclesiological), the guarantee of stability and maintenance of the life and activity of the society is assured by its erection as a society of apostolic life of pontifical right and approval of its statutes by the Holy Father.
5.2 But, for practical and psychological reasons, the consecration of a bishop member of the society appears useful. This is why, in the context of the doctrinal and canonical solution of the reconciliation, we will suggest to the Holy Father that he name a bishop chosen in the society, proposed by Archbishop Lefebvre. As a consequence of the principle indicated above (5.1), this bishop is not normally superior general of the society. But it would be good that he be a member of the Roman commission.

6. Particular Problems to Resolve by Decree or Declaration.
— Lifting the ‘suspensio a divinis’ of Archbishop Lefebvre and dispensing the irregularities incurred through ordinations.
Anticipation of an “amnesty” and an agreement for the society’s houses and places of worship erected — or used — until now without authorization by bishops.

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8 comments on “The Protocol signed by Archbishop Lefebvre

  1. When challenged about his criticism of the FSSP and the Benedictines for accepting the same Protocol, his answer was emphatic: “No, they have NOT signed the same Protocol, for they have not been granted a Bishop.” This was and always remained his key point.

  2. I didn’t see any mention, in the above protocol, of Archbishop LeFebvre having to sign a “doctrinal preamble”. Isn’t that the big sticking point in the latest negotiations?

    • Was it. I thought the catch was that the Society was required to accept Vatican II in its entirety and to accept the Novus Ordo rite of Mass as valid and licit (that is: absolutely legitimate and good). (As I understand it, Church Law somehow states that a thing cannot be considered “licit” if it contradicts or is dangerous to the Faith. But that’s just my understanding based on what I’ve read on AQ. Can anyone provide evidence to back this up?)
      In any case, I don’t remember the Society being required to sign a final “Doctrinal Preamble” in order to receive the “Canonical Agreement” which was being discussed. They were two separate documents, as far as I remember.
      Still, I’m not sure.

    • The sticking point for “the resistance” is that there is any negotiation at all before Rome has converted, preamble or not. They do not understand what the Archbishop would accept as “conversion”.

  3. The Protocol above represents the entire arrangement which the Archbishop and Cdl Ratzinger worked out over the course of several weeks. It does not represent a take-it-or-leave-it proposition from the Vatican but rather a collaborative effort. An important point is that the Archbishop was willing to collaborate even though he had previously questioned the Catholicity of Rome and even the question of the heresy of the hierarchy.

    Everything the SSPX was to be bound by concerning Vatican II, the Code of Cannon Law, and the Novus Ordo Missae is contained above. There certainly is wiggle room in what the Society would accept.

    • vinnyf said, “There certainly is wiggle room (in the original Protocol) in what the Society would accept.”

      Thanks, you’ve made my point.

      Apparently, Rome is not now allowing any wiggle room in the preamble that it is demanding Bishop Fellay to now sign. Otherwise he would have signed it, right?

  4. Vinnyf.

    You make some excellent points. The problem is that the cultish mentality of those who claim to be ‘resistance’ does not allow them for a consistent grasp of reality . It would seem unless it comes from Fr. Pfieffer and co, it can’t be true.

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