Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cardinal Siri and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre

Recent events surrounding the Society of St. Pius X have brought forward some considerations of the general history of the concilar and post-concilar era, but more particularly that history as it relates to the SSPX and the person of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre himself. One such consideration recently touched upon the relationship of Guiseppe Cardinal Siri, the famed Archbishop of Genoa, and Lefebvre.

Now the person of Siri has often been one of interest, and his own efforts to effect the interpretation of the Council in the light of continuity is something that might find some renewed interest in our own day, particularly in the light of the "Benedictine" project of re-asserting this proper hermeneutic and implementation of the Conciliar decrees. (Those who would like to read more specifics on Siri's activities in relation to the sacred liturgy, may wish to re-review a piece written by Fr. Uwe Michael Lang in L'Osservatore Romano this past Autumn, and which was published in English in an NLM translation: Giuseppe Cardinal Siri: The Splendour of Liturgical Ceremonial and its Relationship to the Faith)

It was the combination of these angles that suggested to me there may be some interest in recent article which discussed Siri's working relationship with Lefebvre during the conciliar and post-conciliar period, inclusive of his attempts to bring some rapproachment between Lefebvre and the Holy See.

The account was written in Italian by Gianteo Bordero for Ragionpolitica and might provide some interesting historical context to the situation presently being addressed in Rome.

I should note that the history of this relationship is not something which I personally have a great deal of knowledge of. What research I have been able to pursue confirms certain details raised in this piece, but if anyone more familiar with this history wishes to make note of any caveats, or feels there is any misrepresentation of the facts in the article, please do note them.

Here it is in an NLM translation:

How Cardinal Siri tried to Avoid the Schism of Lefebvre

by Gianteo Bordero

A bold and courageous attempt, driven by a truly Catholic spirit, and aimed at preserving the unity of the Church. This was what Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, Archbishop of Genoa from 1946 to 1987, decided to take with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre before the latter was subject to latae sententiae excommunication, following the ordination of four bishops consecrated without the necessary authorization of the Pope in 1988.

The relationship between the Siri and Lefebvre began during the years of Vatican II, when around the Archbishop of the capital of Liguria, the then President of CEI [NLM: the Italian Episcopal Conference], there gathered a significant group of members of the episcopate who were against the twisting of the Council into an assembly for a radical break with the tradition of the Church. On the evening of October 22, 1963, in the midst of debate about the conciliar documents on the Church (which caused the resounding statement of the position of Pope Paul VI in the Nota Praevia of 16 November 1964 on the meaning of the word 'collegiality') the two met at the first meeting of what would later become the Coetus Internationalis Patrum, a group that originally collected thirty Fathers' worried and dissatisfied with the work on the Council floor" (Benny Lai, Il Papa non eletto, Laterza 1993), coordinated by the Brazilian Bishop Gerardo de Proença Sigaud and by the same Archbishop Lefebvre.

In the months immediately following, during a break of the Council deliberations, Lefebvre decided to send to Genoa, Father Christian Charlot, then a seminarian and his aide, to meet with Cardinal Siri and suggest the creation of an international seminary in which young men destined for the priesthood could receive training in harmony with the Catholic tradition, in opposition to the progressive drift of much theology. Charlot, who later became a priest of the Fraternity of Mary and then a trusted collaborator of Siri, was interviewed by Father Raymond Spiazzi in the book “Cardinal Giuseppe Siri” (Edizioni Studio Domenicano, 1990): "On the matter of the seminary, he [Siri] said: 'It is an excellent thing, it must be well organized, but always in the spirit of the Church, in obedience". About the Coetus Internationalis Patrum: "Siri said it should our meetings should not destroy what the Church has established. He did not want a union of the Fathers of the Council, irrespective of role, to be a pressure group. If the Church had wanted him as a Cardinal, there was a reason; Cardinals must have one eye on the universal Church and to help the Pope in this."


It was precisely because of his love for the Catholic Church and its unity that Cardinal Siri, in the years leading to the excommunication, tried in every way to prevent what already seemed like a possible, painful schism within the Church. With Father Charlot, who meanwhile had become part of the "Fraternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary," [Siri] replied positively to the invitation of Archbishop Lefebvre for his collaboration with the seminary. Charlot recalls: 'We said yes, provided they would accept our spirit: to enter positively into a mystical vision of the Church, learn the conciliar reforms and try to enliven them with the spirit of the eternal Church. Lefebvre was not closed [to this].


[T]he efforts of the Genoese Cardinal to repair relations between Rome and Ecône remained alive and were greatest in subsequent years, after the suspension a divinis of Monsignor Lefebvre which occurred in 1976 due to the ordination of priests despite the prohibition imposed by the Vatican. Siri was very active on this subject in 1977-1978. In the last months of that year, after some second thoughts of Lefebvre and public words of appreciation from Lefebvre for the Cardinal during the second conclave of that year, [Siri] asked him to Genoa, proposing a plan of agreement: “full submission to the authority of the Pope and also full adhesion to the norms of the Council. The only request of Lefebvre concerned permission to celebrate Mass in Latin according to the rite of St. Pius V.” (B. Lai , Il Papa non eletto)

The cardinal was received in audience by Pope John Paul II on 13 November 1978 and then submitted to the pope the draft agreement that Lefebvre seemed willing to accept. Pope Wojtyla gave his consent and he decided to receive the founder of St. Pius X in the Vatican on November 18.

Siri advised John Paul II to inform of Lefebvre’s visit only, in person, Cardinal Franjo Seper, president of the Holy Office. And he suggested publishing only after the fact a brief report in L'Osservatore Romano which was to announce that the monsignor had "settled his difficulties with the Holy See." But something did not go well, and after the meeting between the Pope and Lefebvre there was no announcement of the peace made between the Holy See and the Fraternity of St. Pius X.


Thus the attempt of Siri failed. If it had been successful, almost certainly the final break of 1988 would not have taken place, culminating with the excommunication and schism. On June 22 of that year, when Lefebvre announced his intention to ordain four bishops, the Genoese cardinal wrote to Lefebvre: "Monsignor, I beseech you on my knees not to break from the Church! You have been an apostle, a bishop, you must remain in your place. At our age we are at the door of eternity. Think! I am always waiting for you, here in the Church and later in Paradise ." It was yet another painful testimony of what was essential for Siri: love for the Church and unity of its members first of all.


© Copyright Ragionpolitica, February 3, 2009

Original Article: Così il cardinal Siri tentò di evitare lo scisma lefebvriano

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