The context is as follows: this text is from 15th April, following the 16th March letter of Cardinal Levada in response to our letter of 12th January. In his reply, Cardinal Levada expressed the refusal of the Roman authorities to our proposal that we replace the Doctrinal Preamble [of Sept’ 2011 – Ed.] with the Tridentine profession of faith accompanied by adhesion to Pastor Aeternus and Lumen Gentium No.25 understood in the light of preconciliar Magisterium (“according to the anti-modernist oath”). Cardinal Levada added that our rejection of the doctrinal preamble approved by Benedict XVI amounted to a rupture of communion with the Roman Pontiff, which would result in the canonical sanctions incurred by schism.
From the start what has guided us in our relations with Rome is the principle of the faith: without the faith it is impossible to please God (cf. Heb.11, 6). We cannot accept what lays waste to, or even weakens, our Faith received from the Church at baptism. If we wish to remain Catholic, it is this principle to which we must be attached and upon which we ground our actions. Putting this principle in danger in order to obtain some practical advantage or other , even a canonical recognition, has always been out of the question.
Some people have clearly not been paying attention to the fact that I have always said that a practical agreement would not take place if the sine qua non conditions set out by us several times, as much in the different positions as in the reply to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (12th January, 2011), which were a reiteration of the very words of Archbishop Lefebvre, were not met. And therefore that, even if the April document had been agreed to, that would not have been enough for the conclusion of a canonical normalisation. One of the capital points of these sine qua non conditions was and is still the freedom to attack and denounce errors in the Church, including those that come from the Council.
When he handed over his letter of 16th March, Cardinal Levada gave us to understand that the Roman authorities thought that the Society completely rejected the Magisterium of all the Popes, as well as all the acts of the Magisterium, since 1962. Because, according to him, we don’t recognise any force whatsoever in these acts in the facts, in spite of everything which we could say. This accusation is false, and it was important that it be refuted, since just as we allow ourselves to be unjustly condemned for our fidelity to 2,00-year-old Tradition, so also we will not allow ourselves to be accused of a rupture with Rome, something which our founder always refused. That’s the ridge line that he fixed for us, above the temptation of a ‘ralliement’ (false compromise) with the conciliar errors (which we rejected with the 12th January letter and which has not escaped Cardinal Levada) but also above the temptation to sedevacantism (which is what we have attempted to do in this Doctrinal Declaration).
This context shows that the Doctrinal Declaration never claimed to be an exhaustive expression of our thoughts on the Council and the present-day Magisterium. It did not replace our doctrinal position as it has been laid forth during the two years of doctrinal talks; it was only intended to supplement it regarding a particular point: the accusation of schism. That’s why this declaration strove to ^give examples of our submission to the magisterial authority in itself (in se), whilst maintaining clearly our opposition to lots of acts of the Magisterium today (hic et hunc). In order to show our recognition of the Roman authorities, concerning the conciliar reforms, we went back to several points of the text which Mgr. Lefebvre said he could sign (Letter of 15th April, 1988). The title “Doctrinal Declaration” is likewise borrowed from Mgr. Lefebvre, in 1988, for we did not want to reuse the title of the “Doctrinal Preamble” whose contents we rejected in our reply of 12th January as Cardinal Levada noted in his letter of 16th March.
Our position is certainly delicate, since we wish neither to be heretical nor schismatic also we proposed a text divided into two parts, the first part enunciating the general principles and laying the conditions totally, absolutely for the second part which touched on particular points of Vatican II and the main reforms which came from it. In order to avoid any kind of ambiguity in this second part – ambiguity which we already denounced in our reply of 12th January – (see Cor Unum No.103, p.52ff.) – it seemed sufficient to strongly recall that the Magisterium could not in any way rely on itself or on the assistance of the Holy Ghost to teach a novelty contrary to the constant Magisterium of the Church.
Having excluded the possibility of novelty or contradiction with the previous teaching authority, by that same fact all ambiguity was rejected, as regards our judgement of the Council, including the famous an unacceptable “hermeneutic of reform in continuity”. With the withdrawal, we are stating that our thoughts have not been understood in this sense by several eminent members of the Society, who saw in it an ambiguity, or even a false compromise with the idea of the hermeneutic of continuity, which we have, however, always refused.
The Roman authorities for their part did not see in this declaration a compromise with the hermeneutic of continuity. That’s why, having established in a working document a precise comparative table of the differences between the 14th September 2011 Preamble and our Declaration of 15th April 2012, they altered and changed the meaning of the adjustments which we had made and which we judged indispensable, then they added passages which we had removed and which we judged inacceptable. That’s the text which was handed back to us on 13th June, 2012.
We might also note, amongst the things which were altered: in No. III, 6 at the place where we recognised the validity of the NOM and the legitimacy or legality of its promulgation (as Mgr. Lefebvre did in 1988), we find in the 13th June text a recognition of the validity and liceity of the NOM and the sacraments of Paul VI and John-Paul II.
Amongst the things which were added one might note multiple references to the new Catechism and also to the hermeneutic of continuity; thus in No. III,5 what we wrote about religious liberty “whose formulation is with difficulty reconcilable with the doctrinal affirmations of the previous Magisterium” becomes: “whose formulation could appear to some people to be difficult to reconcile”. With the same No.III,5 the theological explanation of expressions of the Council which didn’t appear reconcilable with the previous Magisterium of the Church becomes an explanation “notably to help people understand their continuity with the previous Magisterium of the Church.”
After sending to Rome the texts of the General Chapter of last July, I met Mgr. Di Noia on 28th August 2012, and I informed him that I was withdrawing our April proposal, which could no longer serve as a basis from which to work. There remains the Doctrinal Preamble of 14th September, 2011, whose substance was taken up again on 13th June, 2012, and our double response: the letters of 30th November, 2011 and 12th January 2012 on the one hand; on the other, the 14th July 2012 Declaration of the General Chapter with the conditions required for any canonical recognition.
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