Letter of Cardinal Ratzinger to Mgr. Lefebvre
23 June 1982
I have received your letter of 21 April last, and I thank you for it. Please excuse my delay in replying: as I said earlier, I was first obliged to consult a group of Cardinals of my choice, then to consult the Holy Father frequently. You know how busy he has been for the last few weeks.
Following these discussions, I am now informing you of our conclusions, and the thoughts which I have had about our meeting in March and our subsequent correspondence,
according to the four points foreseen for some future declaration, as put forward in your letter.
1. The first point‑concerning adhesion to the teachings of Vatican II‑ no longer seems to present any difficulties on either side. Naturally, this implies that the Council, understood in this way, will no longer be the object of polemical attacks by yourself, as Cardinal Seper asked of you in his letter of 26 October 1981.
2. In the matter of the second point, first of all it is too restrictive to mention acceptance of the possibility of a reform. The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium decided upon a reform of the liturgy and set out the general and particular norms, often in a highly detailed way.
Secondly, we do not think it possible to accept the way in which you limit your acceptance to the Latin text only. Indeed, the Apostolic See cannot accept the suspicion that most Masses and Sacraments legitimately celebrated in the Church in the vernacular and according to approved translations, could be invalid. Accordingly we think it necessary to return to the formula as before: "applied in conformity to the Missal and other liturgical books promulgated by the Holy See."
Besides, given that you are said to be the author of a text according to which: "the new Masses are not only incapable of fulfilling our Sunday obligation, but are such that we must apply to them the canonical rules which the Church customarily applies to communicatio in sacris with Orthodox Churches and Protestant sects." (in Cor Unum - internal liaisory Bulletin for members of the Society of St. Pius X, November 1979), we consider that the projected declaration should contain a formula which distances itself clearly from such a statement.
As to an expression of your reservations concerning the concrete realization of the liturgical reforms, we think it preferable that this should not figure in an official declaration. You could add it as a footnote, on your own responsibility, and, of course, in a moderate form, previously approved by the Holy See.
3. The opening part of the third point, left out of the latest draft proposed by yourself, is absolutely indispensable. On this issue, allow me to express my astonishment, my sorrow even, at the way in which you pursue your visits and activities in various countries and dioceses, as was recently the case in Canada and will be soon in Venice‑not to forget the grave and ever present question of ordinations to the priesthood. All this can but render more arduous the path to reconciliation.
The second part, retained by yourself, which concerns the Pontifical Delegate, presents no special difficulty. It will, however, be necessary to examine and to elaborate the details of this mission, notably with regard to the members of the Society of St. Pius X, whose willingness to commit themselves to an undertaking such as yours will have to be proved.
4. The formula which you retain for the fourth point involves a considerable softening of it, which could nevertheless be accepted in a spirit of magnanimity. However, many bishops have been severely hurt by your actions in their dioceses; I could give many important instances. It is accordingly necessary that this last point should include them in some way in the expression of regrets, at the very least in a general manner, as follows, for example: "words and deeds which may have displeased the Holy See and troubled common order in the Church as established by Canon Law."
You ask, furthermore, that as an addendum to the Declaration, or in another document, there should be indicated the intentions of the Holy See concerning the Liturgy and the Society of St. Pius X. That is a question of which careful note has been taken. In the present state of affairs, I can make you no detailed promises; but I am anxious to assure you that, on this subject, I am in continual contact with the Holy Father.
In closing, I thank you in advance for the attention that you will doubtless give the contents of this letter, and the reflection which you will devote to it in the presence of Our Lord and of the Virgin Mary. Equally, I assure you of my complete preparedness to meet you again at a date that you suggest, bearing in mind that I shall be absent from Rome from 3 July to 6 September next.
Please allow me to express, together with the assurance of my prayers, Your Excellency, my feelings of fraternal respect and devotion.
Joseph Card. Ratzinger