APOSTOLIC LETTER OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
Given at His Own Initiative
By which a particular Commission is instituted to facilitate full ecclesial communion of
the members of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X or those joined with it.
1. With great affliction the Church has learned of the unlawful
episcopal ordination conferred on 30 June last by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, which has
frustrated all the efforts made during the previous years to ensure the full communion
with the Church of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X founded by the same Mons.
Lefebvre. These efforts, especially intense during recent months, in which the Apostolic
See has shown comprehension to the limits of the possible, were all to no avail .
2. This affliction was particularly felt by the Successor of Peter to
whom in the first place pertains the guardianship of the unity of the Church
, even though the number of persons directly involved in
these events might be few, since every person is loved by God on his own account and has
been redeemed by the blood of Christ shed on the Cross for the salvation of all.
The particular circumstances, both objective and subjective in which
Archbishop Lefebvre acted, provide everyone with an occasion for profound reflection and
for a renewed pledge of fidelity to Christ and to His Church.
3. In itself, this act was one of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in
a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the Church, such as is the
ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated. Hence
such disobedience -- which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy --
constitutes a schismatic act . In performing such an
act, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning sent to them by the Cardinal Prefect of
the Congregation for Bishops on 17 June last, Mons. Lefebvre and the priests Bernard
Fellay, Bernard Tisser de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Alfonso de Galarreta, have
incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law .
4. The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete
and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently
into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council
clearly taught, "comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help
of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are
being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and
study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate
sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of
those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure
charism of truth" .
But especially contradictory is a notion of Tradition which opposes the
universal Magesterium of the Church possessed by the Bishops of Rome and the Body of
Bishops. It is impossible to remain faithful to Tradition while breaking the ecclesial
bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle Peter, Christ Himself entrusted the
ministry of unity in His Church .
5. Faced with the situation that has arisen, I deem it my duty to
inform all the Catholic faithful of some aspects which this sad event has highlighted.
a) The outcome of the movement promoted by Mons. Lefebvre can and must be, for all the
Catholic faithful, a motive for sincere reflection concerning their own fidelity to the
Church's Tradition, authentically interpreted by the ecclesiastical Magisterium, ordinary
and extraordinary, especially in the Ecumenical Councils from Nicaea to Vatican II. From
this reflection all should draw a renewed and efficacious conviction of the necessity of
strengthening till more their fidelity by rejecting erroneous interpretations and
arbitrary and unauthorized application of doctrine, liturgy, and discipline.
To the bishops especially it pertains, by reason of their pastoral mission, to exercise
the important duty of a clear-sighted vigilance full of charity and firmness, so that this
fidelity may be everywhere safeguarded .
However, it is necessary that all the Pastors and other faithful have a new awareness, not
only of the lawfulness but also the richness for the Church of a diversity of charisms,
traditions of spirituality and apostolate, which also constitutes the beauty of unity in
variety; of that blended "harmony" which the earthly Church raises up to Heaven
under the impulse of the Holy Spirit.
b) Moreover, I should like to remind theologians and other experts in the ecclesiastical
sciences that they should feel called upon to answer in the present circumstances. Indeed,
the extent and depth of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council call for a renewed
commitment to deeper study in order to reveal clearly the Council's continuity with
Tradition, especially in points of doctrine which, perhaps because they are new, have not
yet been well understood by some sections of the Church.
c) In the present circumstances I wish especially to make an appeal both solemn and
heartfelt, paternal and fraternal, to all those who until now have been linked in various
ways to the movement of Archbishop Lefebvre, that they may fulfill the grave duty of
remaining united to the Vicar of Christ in the unity of the Catholic Church, and of
ceasing their support in any way for that movement. Everyone should be aware that formal
adherence to the schism is a grave offense against God and carries the penalty of
excommunication decreed by the Church's law .
To all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and
disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition, I wish to manifest my will to facilitate their
ecclesial communion by means of the necessary measures to guarantee respect for their
aspirations. In this matter I ask for the support of the bishops and of all those engaged
in the pastoral ministry in the Church.
6. Taking account of the importance and complexity of the problems
referred to in this document, by virtue of my Apostolic Authority I decree the following:
a) a Commission is instituted whose task it will be to collaborate with the bishops, with
the Departments of the Roman Curia and with the circles concerned, for the purpose of
facilitating full ecclesial communion of priests, seminarians, religious communities, or
individuals until now linked in various ways to the Fraternity founded by Mons. Lefebvre,
who may wish to remain united to the Successor of Peter in the Catholic Church while
preserving their spiritual and liturgical traditions, in light of the Protocol signed on 5
May last by Cardinal Ratzinger and Mons. Lefebvre;
b) this Commission is composed of a Cardinal President and other members of the Roman
Curia, in a number that will be deemed opportune according to circumstances;
c) moreover, respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are
attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the
directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See, for the use of the Roman
Missal according to the typical edition of 1962 .
7. As this year specially dedicated to the Blessed Virgin is now
drawing to a close, I wish to exhort all to join in the unceasing prayer which the Vicar
of Christ, through the intercession of the Mother of the Church, addresses to the Father
in the very words of the Son: "That they all may be one!"
Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, July 2, 1988, in the tenth years of Our