The Appeal from the Pope to the Pope: Father de Nantes’ “Great Affair”
ON March 30 and 31, 2017, the prestigious Pantheon-Sorbonne University, in collaboration with several French law schools, organised a colloquium, in Sceaux, devoted to “The deposition of a Pope – Loci theologiae, canonical models and constitutional issues.” Fifteen university scholars tackled this subject that is as complex as it is unusual, essentially from an historical viewpoint. After having surveyed past centuries, the colloquium dealt with the contemporary period and, in particular with the case of Paul VI. From the outset, the organisers denied that it was their intention to make connections with the present day, but in Sceaux, they were incidentally speaking about the fortunately extremely rare hypothesis of the deposition of a Pope, at the very moment when a slight wind of revolt was blowing against Pope Francis who, moreover, is a faithful disciple of Pope Paul VI in both words and deeds.
This colloquium proved to be of great interest since two eminent legal experts, Cyrille Dounot, professor of history of law at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, and Oliver Échappé, Counsellor at the French Court of Cassation, broke the conspiracy of silence by presenting the accusations of heresy, schism and scandal that Father Georges de Nantes, the theologian of the Catholic Counter-Reformation had leveled against Paul VI with a view to obtaining his disposition. They had the intellectual honesty to do so, for our Father is the only theologian who succeeded in defining and implementing a modern canonical procedure for expelling, deposing, ousting a Pope who has deviated from the doctrine of the Catholic Faith.
They did not hesitate to present our Father as “ the seminal writer, the main theorist of this question, the first to have dealt with it, the one who is the most precise and, at the same time, the most persevering in his demonstrations.” In two precise and exact lectures, which showed that they had carefully read the Letters to My Friends and The Catholic Counter-Reformation, they clearly presented what was to become for our Father, the “great affair of his life.”
This colloquium gives us the opportunity to re-examine this extraordinary trial that our Father, gripped by anxiety for the salvation of souls, instigated immediately after the Second Vatican Council against the Sovereign Judge, for the honour and love of Jesus and Mary, and of the Church.
I. THE COMBAT OF THE SON AGAINST HIS FATHER.
“Holy Church engendered me to the divine life on April 5, 1924,” our Father related, “and on that day I adhered to her Credo! She confirmed me in this Catholic Faith, to witness to it, on March 19, 1931. Finally, she called me to the Priesthood and ordained me priest on March 27, 1948, to take an active share in the ministry of teaching, of the sacraments and of the direction of souls. Despite my many sins, offences and negligences, I have never ceased to admire, love and serve this Catholic Church, the only Divine and Holy Church, to which I owe all and to which my life is for ever consecrated.
“During the first part of my priestly ministry, I encountered many obstacles and contradictions to this fidelity: those of the flesh, the world and the Devil, as is normal. I have fought and suffered for the Faith, without finding cause for surprise in the errors and disorders encountered, in others as well as in myself.” (Letter to My Friends, no. 231, July 1966, p. 1)
Disorders encountered in others? These were the progressivism and Modernism contracted for life by the elder Country Missionary Brothers. Our Father endeavoured to make the young brothers immune to them. They listened to him only too well, which led to him being dismissed. These disorders also involved avant-garde liturgies and pastoral practice, such as those in St. Bruno’s Parish in Grenoble. Their only apparent tangible effect was to destroy the network of admirable and dynamic works that the previous parish priest, had developed ‘under Pétain.’ Our Father went along with everything, but in the summer of 1950, it became unbearable. “Their formal refusal of the encyclical Humanis Generis seemed to me irreconcilable with the Catholic Faith. I said so; it was not appreciated.” Having been reproached for destroying an entire year of lamentable pastoral activities doomed to failure in only three months of work during the summer, he was requested to return no more to St. Bruno’s Parish.
These disorders also entailed the dubious dealings of Christian Democracy with Communism, which our Father denounced during the winter of 1952, notably in a lecture given in Nantes. It resulted in him being expelled from the Diocese of Paris and was undoubtedly what triggered the intrigues that prevented him from being appointed professor of theology at the Major Seminary of Grenoble. The last of these disorders was the abandoning of French Algeria to Islam and to Communist barbarity by men of the Church and by a State tragically acting in concert to betray this Christian community in Africa. Our Father “was one of those very few priests who openly militated against subversion and against the raving anti-colonialism of the clergy, rampant, alas, in Rome too!” As a ‘reward’ for this, he was arrested by the police and, even worse, on March 11, 1963, His Lordship Julien Le Couëdic, who at the time was Bishop of Troyes, removed him from the parishes to which he had been appointed the parish priest five years earlier.
OPPOSITION TO THE REFORMATION.
“Yet now, in this second stage,” our Father continued, “errors and disorders, which hitherto had always been designated as such by the Church, are presented, in the name of a necessary Evolution and under the guise of ecclesiastical Authority, as the new truth and as what is right for today.” (ibid.) Since our Father had been dismissed from his parishes, he was able to scrutinise carefully the works of the Council, at the very moment when it was setting its decisive orientations. Our Father had providentially prepared himself for such a task since in 1950 he had led a great campaign against the book of the Dominican, Fr. Yves Congar, True and False Reform in the Church, which was to become the charter of the Second Vatican Council. Between 1959 and 1963, our Father published a theological study entitled The Mystery of the Church and the Antichrist, which dealt with the progressivism that he saw in action in the Church of France.
Nothing had been compromised during the first session of the Council, but a deplorable bad spirit pervaded the Assembly. The second session experienced what Fr. Congar dared to call its “ October Revolution,” with the famous exploratory votes. From then on, all could be feared. “The Third Session saw the Reformist wave unfurl to the extent of shaking the Church’s dogmas and structures.”(CCR n° 88, July 1977, p. 9) “The Fourth Session saw the annihilation of the traditionalist opposition and an unbridled forsaking of everything.” (ibid.) From Maison Saint-Joseph, our Father understood all that was at stake, and unrelentingly denounced the heresy that was shamelessly being flaunted in the conciliar aula. “Cruelly, I threw in the face of these false brethren the unveiled plan of all their efforts, a Judaeo-Masonic plan adopted by their reformism: the constitution of a universal religious organisation, the whole spiritual energy of which would be placed in the service of a ‘new World to be constructed,’ on the ruins of the other, according to the Socialist-Marxist plan, in the cult of Man. The MASDU, the “Movement for the Spiritual Animation of Universal Democracy.” (Letter to My Friends no. 231, July 1966, p. 4)
OPPOSITION TO THE POPE.
Parallel to his opposition to the Council, our Father had to begin “the fight of the son against his Father, of the priest against the Pope.” (CRC no. 82, August 1974, p. 1. Abridged translation in CCR no. 53, “I Have Been Fighting Alone,” August 1974, pp. 16-18.) For about a year following Paul VI’s election, our Father maintained full confidence in him. Nevertheless, the encyclical Ecclesiam Suam of August 6, 1964, forced our Father to recognise that Paul VI was personally committed to the very principle of Congarian reformism. It was clearly evident that the suspect or even absurd theories that were circulating among the majority of the Council Fathers and that finally appeared in the Acts of the Council were those of the Pope himself.
Thus, our Father had to warn his readers that a Pope can fail in his duty as Pastor and supreme Doctor. He evoked in detail the sad example of Pope Honorius (cf. Letter to My Friends no. 188, November 1964.) In writing this letter, our Father had taken a first step that would inexorably lead him from criticising the Pope, to opposing him and even to initiating proceedings against him.
On January 6, 1967, a year after the closing of the Council, in his Letter to My Friends no. 240, our Father was able to make an assessment of a mad year during which every sort of disorder flourished in a Church carried away by her MASDU pipe dream. However, “when I arrived at this point in my Letter, in the evening of January 6, for the first time in ten years the pen fell from my hand. After this catastrophic assessment, I was about to present all the documents that confirm it. They prove the reality of the decadence. Day after day since the closing of the Council, they demonstrate the global nature of the movement that is sweeping the Church away” and which imposes this conclusion: “A fundamental compact, a collusion, exists between the highest responsible Authority and the subordinate executors of the reformation with the aim of ‘creating a new Church in the service of a new world.’”
The highest responsible Authority in the Church was none other than the Pope himself, Pope Paul VI. Basing himself on this premise, our Father decided to publicly denounce the reformation of the Second Vatican Council as a second Reformation “in order to encourage all good men to undertake the Counter-Reformation of the 20th century” (ibid., p. 8). To direct this combat, he established two concurrent rules; the first, for him and for those of his friends who were willing to follow him: never to declare that they alone constitute the Church, thus “repudiating this post-conciliar Reformed Church as schismatic and heretical,” the second: to combat “within the Body of the Church, i.e., the visible society in which fallible men conserve the power they have to err or to do wrong, this latent schism, this parasitical heresy, this inadmissible novelty that defiles her divine purity and conceals her true life.” (ibid., pp. 5-6)
The first action taken in this combat that would become a trial consisted in addressing “the Sovereign Pontiff as the Supreme Pastor of the Church, and Our Lord Bishops as the legitimate pastors of our dioceses, in person, in order to demand and obtain the resolution of unbearable doubts, from their infallible Magisterium.” (ibid., p. 6) “Of course,” he added, “we are aware that we are carrying the lamp of our faith in maladroit hands, the flame of Christ’s love in fragile souls. We, nevertheless, conserve the Treasure of the Tradition that has been entrusted to us to be faithfully passed down to the upcoming generation. It is because we believe in the Church that we remain in her, openly fighting against false brethren. It is because I believe in the indefectibility of the Apostolic See that I am going to address the Sovereign Pontiff to ask him earnestly to put an end to the post-conciliar revolution.” (Letter to My Friends no. 250, August 25, 1967)
After having announced it several months in advance, Fr. de Nantes sent a “ Letter to His Holiness Pope Paul VI” on October 11, 1967. It began with these words “ The pride of the reformers.” It is a clear and comprehensive presentation of the plan for a certain unprecedented and insane reformation of the Church – the main idea of both the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI’s pontificate –, directed against the very person who was the initiator of this reformation.
Our Father did not lose faith in the Church. Pending her recovery effected by her supreme Magisterium, he solemnly warned the Pope that he would protect himself from this reformation as from the greatest of sins, because it is “Satanic in its essence, impious in its manifestations and its laws […]. We will discern to our best, according to the infallible criterion of Tradition, what proceeds from Your customary and Catholic Magisterium in order to submit ourselves to it, and what comes from this usurped authority for the Reformation of the Church, which we will always hold to be null and void.” (CRC no. 2, November 1967, p. 12)
A month later, Fr. de Nantes published an analysis conducted by a “ theological study team” on the encyclical, Populorum Progressio that described a programme to transform the world, improve the lot of men, instore universal peace, with the participation of all religions and ideologies. This analysis forthrightly raised the tragic question of the Pope’s fidelity to the Catholic Faith. Our Father immediately added extensive quotations taken from Cardinal Journet’s book, The Church of the Word Incarnate, which dealt with the right that the members of the faithful have, to accuse the Pope of heresy or schism and even to go so far as to demand his deposition (CRC no. 3, December 1967).
Why? “Because good Catholics, and they exist at all degrees of the hierarchy as well as among the faithful, are caught in a vice between two temptations which they must resist. They must either accept everything: the chaos and the corruption of liturgy, faith and morals, all of which is ordered or authorised by a unanimous hierarchy headed by the Pope, a temptation to which they are strongly encouraged and constrained to submit! Or else, they must reject everything en masse because it is all really too stupid, too distressing, shameless and evil, but in doing so they forsake a Church which is provoking them into revolt and which openly desires their departure. Now these two easy solutions, too easy by far, are sins. One does not forsake the Church of Jesus Christ! Neither does one rally to the Modernist Reformation or to the progressivist Revolution! So what is the solution? The solution is to reject the Reformation while remaining in the Church. There, however, is no way to dissociate the present Reformation from the Church that is imposing it! Unless...
“… unless we attack the very Person of the Pope, since he, and he alone, stands at the crossroads of these two worlds, those of order and disorder, of Tradition and subversion, of the Work of Christ and the machinations of Belial […].One can only disobey a Modernist parish priest by invoking, not one’s own faith or individual conscience, but the faith of the Church as embodied in the Bishop. If, however, the Bishop defends his heretical subordinate, one will have to resist one’s prevaricating Bishop by invoking the faith and the discipline of the Roman Church as embodied in the Pope, and appealing to Rome. Yet what if every appeal to Rome should also be in vain? If the Pope should scorn our concern and our indignation? If his obstinate, absolute and terrifying will should uphold those who are demolishing the Church and assassinating the Faith?
“If this is indeed the papal Will, the will of the true Vicar of Jesus Christ, then God would be divided against Himself and it would be the end of our faith. There remains one final possibility which explains everything: that the will of the Pope is that of an apostate. The only way to escape this unbearable suspicion is to provoke the Pope into declaring himself. For if the Pope is unworthy, if his support for all kinds of subversion is an object of just condemnation, then our faith retains its certitude, a certitude based on the infallible, immortal Church, which has within her the energy necessary to evict the apostates who are destroying her.” (CRC no. 38, November 1970, p. 7)
How does one go about deposing a Pope? The dinner-debate, which was organised on January 30, 1970, by The Union of Independent Intellectuals, gave the theologian of the Catholic Counter-Reformation the opportunity to tackle this very delicate question and to present the procedure that should be followed. “ But the Pope is infallible!” someone in the audience suddenly objected. Indeed, the extraordinary privilege of this absolutely certain assistance of the Holy Spirit from which the Pope benefits seems, at first sight, to be an invincible obstacle to his eviction from the See of Rome. The theologian of the Catholic Counter-Reformation would demonstrate, contrary to the commonly held view in the Church, that this papal infallibility not only does not preclude a hypothetical deposition of a Pope, but it is its very cornerstone.
II. PONTIFICAL INFALLIBILITY, THE CORNERSTONE TO THE DEPOSITION OF THE POPE
The issue of the Pope’s deposition obliges us to reflect upon his authority over the Church defined as “this visible, historic and hierarchical society, whose Founder and constant Head is Christ, and whose vivifying and sanctifying Soul is the Holy Spirit. She is perfect. By her truth, her holiness and her order she transcends the human elements of which she is composed. The consideration of this historic miracle induces faith in her supernatural mystery: if she appears proof against any natural explanation, either spiritualist or materialist, it is because her Hierarchy has been endowed with divine powers, in the unique symbiosis of a divine Person and a human community […].
“The task of founding the Church in accordance with the plans made by Christ was entrusted to the Apostles and was to be implemented on the Day of Pentecost. It obviously required special gifts from the Holy Spirit, truly singular and extraordinary ones, for the generation of the builders. This is why the Twelve, the Apostles, were made the columns of the Church, endowed with powers so vast and so exceptional that the totality could not be passed on even to their successors.”
Our Father placed great emphasis on this limit imposed on the powers of the Apostles’ successors precisely because the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council flouted it (cf. Letter to My Friends no. 212, September 15, 1965). Nevertheless, “in order for the Church to have a sound foundation, continuity and perpetual fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ, the fundamental acts of the Pastors of the Church had to be necessarily and indubitably effective, followed by their divine effects. These acts fall within the province of infallible Powers, unconditionally assisted by the Holy Spirit. Others acts are greatly contingent and depend as much on human frailty as on the assistance of the Spirit of God; they issue from less extensive powers that require discernment.” (CRC no. 69, June 1973, p. 5)
In order to preserve the Church, the successors of the Apostles exercise the powers of order, teaching and government. Their authority, however, is subordinate to that of the Bishop of Rome who, by the express will of Our Lord, is endowed with supreme authority.
CAN A POPE BE HERETICAL?
This question directly calls into question the Head of the Apostles’ power of teaching and certain distinctions must be made.
The teaching of the private man, whether he be Pope or a simple bishop, remains fallible. Even if they are endowed with a dignity, these individuals have marginal liberty to teach under their personal responsibility, personal theories and opinions in the capacity of “private theologians”. These are worth no more than their intrinsic demonstrative strength. It is of utmost importance that this sort of teaching not be confused, at least in appearance, with the Magisterium. By contrast, the Church in her unanimous belief is infallible. What all the faithful of the Church believe together, unanimously, as divine revelation is infallibly true.
As for the Ordinary Magisterium, it is “the echo of the unanimous Tradition of the Church.” It, however, is only endowed with a conditional infallibility. “When the Pope, or a bishop, or even a priest, teaches what the Church has always and universally held to be certain, then he is necessarily and infallibly speaking the truth. In this sense, it would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that we are all infallible, but only insofar (and the exact extent is often difficult to determine) as we are repeating what we ourselves have learned from the Church. So, with some listening to and believing the constant doctrine of the Church, and others teaching and explaining it without mixing anything new or peculiar therein, everyone has a share in the Church’s certitude.
“On the other hand, if the Pope or the bishops should put forward new or controversial opinions – even as part of their ‘authentic’ teaching, proposed by virtue of their office with the authority of their particular rank –, then such doctrine cannot be considered as coming under the Ordinary Magisterium. It presents no guarantee of infallibility. It is the great weakness of this Ordinary Magisterium that there is no clear line of demarcation separating it from the realm of human opinions.
“Thus, ever since Pacem in Terris and the so-called Pastoral Constitutions or Decrees or Declarations of Vatican II, an error is commonly made concerning the authority attaching to these acts of the Pope and Council. Though clearly ‘authentic,’ they lack any kind of traditional or universal character! As none of this hotchpotch of novelties can justly lay claim to the authority of Tradition, it cannot belong to the Ordinary Magisterium and has no more value than those who have fabricated it.” (ibid., p. 5 et 6)
Finally, we should evoke the Extraordinary or Solemn Magisterium that is of itself strictly and fully infallible. “This is something indispensable to the Church for, should it happen that on a certain point of doctrine the tradition was not clear or unanimous, or if a long-accepted belief were suddenly contested or even rejected by certain people, then those who possess all power for preserving and defending the deposit of the Revelation will be led to resolve the conflict, to adjudicate the question once and for all by means of a proclamation in the indisputable form of the Truth. The assistance of the Holy Spirit has been promised to them for such decisions. The term solemn or “ ex cathedra” is applied to this infallibility of the Pope and the Council.
“Such a charism is stupefying; it makes man like a God, certain of possessing the absolute truth! Yet it is a truth of our faith, believed from all time and proclaimed by the First Vatican Council. It was necessary that it should be so. Recourse to this intrinsic infallibility, as indicated by the very form of the Act which defines the Faith, is the ultimate solution to the doctrinal crises faced by the Church, for in such situations there is no other solution than to believe without further discussion or argument, simply because ‘Rome has spoken,’ because the Pope has spoken ‘ex cathedra,’ because the Council has promulgated a ‘dogmatic constitution’ accompanied with anathemas. It is then that we may be fully confident of hearing the Truth.” (ibid., p. 6)
If solemn teaching constitutes the ultimate recourse to resolve a disagreement of a doctrinal nature, the person who proclaims it does not enjoy infallibility in all cases, as the text of the First Vatican Council’s declaration clearly states: “ The Holy Spirit has not been promised to Peter’s successors to allow them to publish, as though revealed by the Holy Spirit, a new doctrine, but in holiness and fidelity to guard, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, those revelations handed down by the Apostles, that is to say the deposit of Faith.”
Bishop Fessler, the secretary of the First Vatican Council, explained, with Pius IX’s full approval, that the Pope “ is only endowed with the gift of infallibility in the exercise of his office of Supreme ‘Doctor,’ when teaching the truth revealed by God that is necessary for salvation, and not in disciplinary affairs, nor when he acts as a judge in ecclesiastical trials, nor in the other functions to which his office of Head of the Church might extend. Likewise, in dogmatic decrees, dogmatic bulls, etc., everything that is found in them should not be indiscriminately considered as an object of infallibility.” (Brother Pascal of the Holy Sacrament, Bishop Freppel, Vol. 1, pp. 497-498)
Thus, “in certain matters, under certain precise conditions,” our Father wrote, “the infallibility of the Magisterium is indisputable and absolute: it is, as it were, God Himself Who is speaking through the Pope, through the Council. In other matters, or when certain conditions are wanting, it is human defectibility that prevails over divine assistance. Even then, it would be good and prudent to believe those whom the Holy Spirit assists so that they do not err and procure the good of souls. There remains, nevertheless, a certain possibility for the pastors to betray their functions and to be mistaken out of ignorance, or to deceive and mislead us out of malice. (CRC no. 69, June 1973, p. 6)
Even the Pope? “Yes, outside of his ex cathedra teaching and outside of his Ordinary Magisterium, when he ceases to repeat what the unanimous tradition holds to have been revealed, and therefore when he speaks as a private theologian.” (ibid., p. 7)
Moreover, an explicit reference to the possibility that the Pope has of deviating from the faith, i.e. to his heresy, is found in a canon of the Decree of Gratian. “ Let no mortal being have the audacity to reprimand a Pope on account of his faults, for he whose duty it is to judge all other men cannot be judged by anyone, unless he should be called to task for having deviated from the Faith.” Even the Vatican Council that proclaimed both the dogma of papal infallibility and its limits, “also strongly proclaimed that outside these conditions, the Pope remained capable of erring and thus could not be blindly followed” (ibid.).
Finally, “several Popes strayed into errors in matters of Faith and persisted in them to the point of condemning the adherents of orthodoxy, sometimes with a certain solemnity.” (ibid., p. 8) Our Father drew up a list of five Popes who, “for one brief moment in their Pontificate, concerning some obscure, particular point, failed in their duty to uphold the purity and integrity of the Faith, or – perhaps one should say – the firmness of their Magisterium. They were acting from motives of diplomacy or the desire to keep the peace rather than from those of formal heresy. What are five cases in almost twenty centuries, among 263 Popes? Insignificant – but for the fact that they show that such a thing can happen.” (ibid.)
Our Father concluded that such a situation, the case of a heretical Pope, is supremely improbable. Thus it is the last hypothesis, the one to be imagined when all the others prove themselves insufficient. “It is the hypothesis of desperation. I can well understand that people do not follow us when we have recourse to this solution, which is possible in the absolute, but statistically improbable […]. Yet, when no other solution remains, when all the proofs have been gathered and converge, neither is faith shaken, nor does hope die, nor does charity find itself wounded to say: our Pope is a heretic.” (ibid., p. 9)
ABOUT THE ACTION TO BE TAKEN AGAINST A HERETICAL POPE.
Theologians propose two solutions, and our Father a third one, as Professor Dounot correctly pointed out.
“ Papa hæreticus depositus est... A heretical Pope is deposed.” This is the solution advocated by Robert Bellarmine in the heyday of the Counter-Reformation. “Heresy being a form of spiritual death, a withdrawal from the Church, any Pope who should fall into heresy, would find himself ipso facto cut off from the Church. He is, by this very fact, deposed. He ceases to occupy the Apostolic See of his own accord.” (ibid., p. 10) This theory was well adapted to an epoch when everyone clearly distinguished the Catholic Faith from error.
“What neither Suarez nor Bellarmine could have foreseen, is that a time would come when evolutionism and subjectivism would spread such darkness in people’s minds that it would be impossible for them to immediately identify heresy, particularly in the private doctrines of a pope. Given the current confusion, in which Protestant private judgement is further complicated by Modernist immanentism, if we were to accept this solution, anyone might declare the Pope a heretic according to his own private whim and conclude that, as far as his own direction was concerned, there was no longer any pope.” (CRC no. 30, March 1970, p. 7) Thus, the theologian of the Catholic Counter-Reformation was of the opinion that this solution would be impracticable as it would have no effect other than to cause confusion and lead to contesting any Pope whoever he might be.
“ Papa haereticus deponendus est, a heretical Pope must be deposed.” This is the solution proposed by Cardinal Cajetan and other theologians. It implies two important consequences. “If it so happens that a Pope is a heretic, he must be deposed for him to cease being the Pope. Furthermore, the person who accuses the Pope of heresy must not leave it at that, but must ask for the legal process for his deposition to be undertaken, since he cannot make a universally and immediately executory decision of his personal judgement.” (CRC no. 69, June 1973, p. 10)
This is a wise solution, yet it raises further questions, in particular, who will judge the Pope? Cajetan’s answer is unsatisfactory. He maintains that in undertaking such a process of deposition of a heretical Pope, the Church is not in fact passing a verdict on the offender, but is merely bringing him to the attention of the Sovereign Judge Who is God Himself. “It is hard to see just what Cajetan had in mind,” Fr. de Nantes comments. “He is in an obvious dilemma. We are left only with the idea that any ecclesiastical tribunal in such a trial would be competent merely to institute proceedings, but not to pass sentence.” (ibid.)
Our Father brought the key to the difficulty that Cajetan was unable to solve, and for good reason, since it presupposes a definition of pontifical infallibility. “For, to the decisive question: who in the final resort will sovereignly decide the matter once the trial of a heretical, schismatic or scandalous Pope has commenced? – only the dogma of Vatican I provides the possibility of a realistic solution. Who will judge the Pope? Why, the Pope himself, in his infallible doctrinal Magisterium!” (ibid.)
Who will bring forward the accusation? Here is the sure answer of our Father: any Christian, provided that he be a member of Holy Church – this point is important. Before what court? “The only true tribunal competent in matters of Faith is the Church herself, by virtue of her authority as the Spouse of the Lord. Her competence is universal, her judgements are infallible. The believing Church owes her faith to and retains her ‘sensus fidei’ through the constant help and support given by the teaching Church. The Process would have to be instituted before the whole Church, either by representative members of the Hierarchy, or by a tribunal consisting of theologians merely charged with establishing whether or not the teaching and the acts of the Pontiff are compatible with the Catholic Faith and the Tradition of the Church, subject to an infallible sentence that is not within their competence.”
“It would fall to the Pope himself to pick the members of this tribunal charged with instructing the Process in all freedom and impartiality. It would seem to me preferable if the members were simple, unpretentious theologians rather than bishops and cardinals who might be tempted to set themselves up into a Council, to arrogate a superiority over the Pope and to claim for themselves the right to pass judgement upon the Pope and to condemn him without appeal.” (ibid., p. 11. Conference given on March 1, 1973 and published in the June 1973 issue: CRC no. 69, CCR no. 40)
Who will be the Sovereign Judge? The Pope speaking ex cathedra. “The infallible Pope will thus pass judgement on the fallible Pope. He alone can be judge and litigant in his own case, for even if he were a “ demon in his soul,” to use the words of Cajetan, he would nevertheless be “ holy by virtue of his office.”(ibid.)
What are the possible outcomes of such a process? Our Father enumerates three of them:
A new definition of the Faith. The Pope would rebut his accuser and repeat the contested teachings, which until then he had only given in the exercise of his authentic Magisterium, this time in the form of a solemn pronouncement. His opponent and the followers of the latter would have to submit under pain of excommunication.
A recantation by the Pope. “It would surely be impossible for the Pope to recant!” Olivier Échappé affirmed. He is either speaking without reflection or else he is lacking in faith. “For if a Pope who has been guilty of serious error is faced with the alternatives of either affirming the unchangeable Catholic Faith – and thus admitting his own error – or denying the Catholic Faith in order to persist in his own view, it is possible and even highly probable that he would recant. The five Popes who were guilty of heresy in the past all recanted!
“It is essential to act firmly against a heretical Pope, but at the same time we must pray for him and for the Church. For once a major trial has been brought against the Pope for heresy, schism and scandal, it could end, for the greater glory of God and the inestimable benefit of the Church, with the Pope making an act of retraction, a sublime example of humility and obedience to God.” (ibid.)
The establishment of the Pope’s defection. The Pope might refuse to listen to his accuser, to settle the object of the dispute. “In such a case, the Church of Rome would have to draw up an acknowledgement of refusal and dereliction of duty: the Pope is unwilling to exercise his supreme Magistrature!” (ibid.)
His repeated refusal would constitute a resignation and the sentence of deposition would thus be the canonical conclusion of this acknowledgement of the Pope’s resignation. “The Church of Rome would then declare the Apostolic See vacant and she would call a conclave for the election of a Successor.” (ibid.)
No one came forth to give such an admonition, to undertake such proceedings against Pope Paul VI. Our Father, who had been the only person to lead the Catholic Counter-Reformation since the end of the Council, thus took it upon himself, he alone, as a simple priest, to bear this truly overwhelming cross. It would be, in his own words, the “great affair” of his life, an affair in which a son was to rise up against his father, the reigning Pope, to accuse him of heresy, schism and scandal with a view to deposing him. We must now present a detailed account of this unprecedented trial. It began on July 16, 1966.
III. ABOUT THE APPEAL FROM THE POPE TO THE POPE
On December 10, 1965, upon his return from Rome, Bishop Le Couëdic, undoubtedly acting under collegial pressure of the Bishops of France, enjoined Fr. De Nantes to leave the diocese and to stop publishing the Letters to My Friends, under pain of a suspension a divinis, that is to say, he would no longer be authorised to celebrate Holy Mass.
This disregarded the fact that the Catholic Faith was at stake: “If I were to surrender,” our Father replied to him, “not to your reasons – you do not give me any; no one from official sources gives me any – but to the terrible threats of your spiritual power, if I were to yield to your order to remain silent and submit to this evolution, this mutation of the Church, if I were to agree to go lucidly along with this mystification that is its protective smoke screen, I would be unable to do so without losing my faith in the Holy Church of Jesus Christ.” (Letter to My Friends no. 220, January 6, 1966). Although our Father announced that he would accept this disciplinary sanction if it were inflicted on him, he would not let it reduce him to silence. This would thus lead to further sanctions.
There would then probably be “a few free minds, a few ardent hearts who will want to know the exact reason for this violent and unusual treatment […]. The content of these famous Letters will have to be examined seriously […]. I cannot be accused of apostasy or schism: I declare that I adhere to our Roman Catholic Creed, that I recognise Pope Paul VI and the bishops in communion with him in the true Faith as the sole legitimate religious authority. The only other possible reason that remains is heresy. The Magisterium alone can judge heresy and heresy is not dependent on my intentions. I would have to be caught in the act of heresy in order for you to justify yourself first of all before God, before my friends and before the faithful as a whole, concerning the condemnations brought against me.” (ibid. p. 6)
Thus, Fr. de Nantes proposed to his bishop that a doctrinal judgement on all his past writings should be demanded from the Sovereign Magisterium in the Court of Rome, even if it meant suspending, but only temporarily, his criticism of the Council, and submitting his writing to episcopal pre-publication censorship. Bishop Le Couëdic agreed in principal with the proposal and he intervened in the Assembly of French Bishops to persuade his confreres not to issue a warning against our Father.
AN ATTEMPT AT RECONCILIATION.
No sooner had Bishop Le Couëdic agreed to obtain a doctrinal judgement than a first obstacle arose in the person of Cardinal Joseph Lefebvre, an assessor of the Holy Office, President of the Assembly of Bishops of France and Archbishop of Bourges. Cardinal Ottaviani had commissioned him with the task of enjoining our Father, on the one hand to abandon the idea of a canonical examination of his writings (he recognised their doctrinal rectitude, for that matter), and on the other, above all, to abandon his criticism of the Reformation and of the hierarchy which, in his opinion, disqualified his writings, in order to embark on a path of “confidence and admiration towards the present, practically infallible and impeccable, Magisterium, of unreserved acceptation of the New Church, considered as a whole, in her totalitarian Reformation […].” (Confidential letter, May 1, 1966)
Confronting alone the person who would turn out to be his judge, our Father stood his ground. He simply yet resolutely reminded him that he was requesting a canonical judgement and was concerned about the procedure to be followed to refer his case to the reformed Holy Office. Cardinal Lefebvre advised him to address a letter to Cardinal Ottaviani to ask to be sentenced, while pointing out to him that the abrogated procedural rules would be applied since the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s new Code had not yet been adopted.
“The first step – an attempt at reconciliation, and more important, a meeting with the inferior court judge of the Church of France – had been taken, painfully. Thus, my petition for a canonical process now had to be instituted before the Apostolic See in Rome.” (ibid.)
THE JULY 16, 1966 PETITION.
In a petition dated July 16, 1966, Fr. de Nantes officially deferred to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the 220 Letters to My Friends that had been written between 1956 and 1966, and which were organised according to a detailed and precise chronological summary. They formed the substance of the doctrinal examination and constituted incriminatory documents against the Fathers of the Council and Pope Paul VI.
In a second part, our Father stated the motives of such a singular initiative: “The Council firstly abandoned the exercise of its divine Authority, refusing to engage in doctrinal work,” while demanding everyone’s obedience in the pastoral sphere. Alarming disorders ensued from this situation. The divine authority of the Church, however, must remain in order “to teach us the Church’s dogmas and laws, without asking us, first and foremost, to adopt its new opinions.” (Letter to My Friends no. 231, July 16, 1966, p. 6-8)
“Henceforth, two interwoven but distinct powers, coexist within the Church. The one is divine, unchangeable and sovereign; the other is human, sectarian and ever changing. The precarious survival of an oppressed traditionalist school, of an openly counter-reformist minority, is a sign that the Church cannot be absorbed by any sect, and that the divine will never be supplanted by the human in her living Magisterium. Beyond reformation, dialogue, ecumenism, opening to and serving the world and the cult of man, there remains the Church, which is ‘God’s great thought about the World,’ the inviolably faithful Bride of Jesus Christ, Son of God, the One, the Holy, the Catholic, the Apostolic and I add – because this word specifies the mainspring of all our hope – the Roman Church.” (ibid., p. 9)
Accordingly, Fr. de Nantes required of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the name of both the Roman Church, Mother and Mistress of all the Churches and the Pope, that it powerfully and decisively perform a work of discernment “among the various Spirits disputing the Saviour’s blessed inheritance” (ibid., p. 11.) It would be incumbent upon it to decide between two Spirits. On the one hand, a Spirit in the service of which the conciliar Assembly has placed itself. This Spirit inspires and enlightens each conscience, brings about a mysterious convergence of ideas and commitments, opposite and beyond the ecclesiastical Institution, in order to reach a general reconciliation of all men that surpasses their divergences of opinions, religions and interests. It, however, inspires loathing and contempt for all that was and still remains today of the Roman Catholic Church. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit, Whose mission “is a mission of tradition […], Who inspires penance, conversion, religious instruction and the sanctification of the faithful.” He cannot separate Himself from Jesus Christ. Neither can He detach Himself from the Church. On the contrary, He “inspires all men, but more especially the faithful and still more the Pastors of the flock, with esteem, respect and love for all that is Catholic, and with defiance, contempt and hatred for errors and disorders inimical to it.” (ibid.)
Our Father had thus perfectly defined the object of the litigation and would impose on the Holy Office a redoubtable alternative: the doctrinal examination of his writings would mean adjudicating between him and the Pope!
Out of courtesy Fr. de Nantes had given a copy of this petition to Bishop Le Couëdic so that he could take cognizance of it before forwarding it to the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith through the hierarchical channel. The Bishop who scarcely a few months previously had boasted to his confreres that he would reduce to silence the sole opponent of the conciliar Reformation, was himself “reduced” to transmitting to the Holy Office, and what is more, under his authority, a powerful document that called the Council and the Pope into question.
In these circumstances, Bishop Le Couëdic categorically refused to forward the petition. The stated motive was the alleged offensive nature of the document instituting the proceedings, as though the Bishop of Troyes had the authority to assess the admissibility of petitions addressed to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, especially for such a reason. Our Father, therefore, sent his petition directly to the Roman dicastery and above all published it, despite an incredible prohibition imposed by the Bishop of Troyes.
Our Father thus saved his canonical action from being lost in the maze of Rome, but he paid a heavy price for this publication: Bishop Le Couëdic immediately suspended him a divinis, for life, since neither he nor his successors ever deigned to lift the suspension. As for our Father he refrained from appealing. At the very moment when he was publicly contesting the orthodoxy of the Reformation of the Church, it seemed to him that it would be best to show complete submission to the disciplinary decisions of the hierarchy, even if arbitrary, as long as they were aimed at him alone. For our Father, moreover, it was important not to let himself be distracted from the essential and sacred action that he was undertaking for the triumph of the holy Faith, simply to defend his honour and personal rights.
THE PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION OF THE TRIAL.
For two years, nothing filtered through concerning the meticulous study of the voluminous dossier of the Letters to My Friends that the Holy Office had undertaken. In April 1968, however, the procedure accelerated: our Father was summoned to Rome, contrary to the usual practice of secrecy towards the persons whose writings are being examined. It would seem that our Father had benefited from the new measures given by Pope Paul VI in the Apostolic Letter Integræ Servandæ of December 7, 1965, that requires the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith no longer to condemn the authors of the books that it is examining without having heard them, giving them the possibility of defending themselves.
The first hearing of the investigation took place on April 25, 1968. It was opened by Msgr. Paul Philippe, the secretary of the dicastery. He asked our Father to swear to an oath of absolute secrecy. The defendant refused, which left the secretary perplex. Finally, our Father proposed to limit the period of secrecy to the duration of the trial, until its conclusion. That ended the incident. Our Father had thwarted the trap of an oath that would have withdrawn every possibility he would have to speak about his own trial and comment on it.
Then, the hearing took place in the presence of three consultors, “learned, well-disposed theologians with no weakness” (CRC no. 24, September 1969, p. 4., published in English in CCR no. 78, September 1976, pp. 3-20.) They were Fathers Gagnebet and Duroux, Dominicans, and Dhanis, the enigmatic Jesuit, a fierce opponent of Fatima.
The substance of what was to be examined was precise: “It was to question the idea of a ‘Catholic Counter-Reformation in the twentieth century’. Since the hierarchy had proclaimed the Reformation of the Church, might one sustain doctrinally a traditionalism that was fiercely opposed to it and might one oppose practically its authoritative implementation?” (ibid.)
The debates first dealt with the doctrines upon which our Father had elaborated throughout his Letters to My Friends, and it was soon evident that he had the Catholic Faith. When replying to a series of questions intended to put him in an awkward position, our Father had the wisdom to avoid taking a stand based either on a narrow-minded sectarianism or on a certain breadth of vision through which it would have been possible to steer him through the breach towards the openings effected by Vatican II.
This first part of the trial therefore ended to the advantage of the defendant. The consultors could then no longer differ dealing with the main object of this trial: the accusations levelled by Fr. de Nantes against the authors of the conciliar Reformation and foremost among them: the Sovereign Pontiff.
“I, the defendant, became the prosecutor. My examiners were transformed into the counsel for the defence, or rather they became the defendants. By virtue of our exact and firm Catholic Faith, I rose up against the dogmatic presuppositions of a so-called pastoral Reformation. The consultors had not been able to catch me out, but now they sought to refute my criticisms of the new reformed religion […]. Thereupon ensued some rather confused discussions. On the meaning and significance of the conciliar and papal slogans we were far from agreement: collegiality, the serving Church, religious liberty, opening to the world, ecumenism, peace, culture, etc. It was a war of words.
“At this point my examiners lost the clarity, the objectivity, and the security that the Catholicism of all times affords. Their calmness and self-composure gave way to impatience and aggressiveness. These learned gentlemen sank up to their boots into the sludge of the conciliar equivocations, ambiguities, and confusions that one could sense they had not yet left behind. In order to cope, they accused me of seeing the acts of the Council and the discourses of Paul VI only through the interpretations of others. They contrasted the promulgated texts with the whole apparatus of the discussions and commentaries that had prepared and followed them. They supported an unreal Council, in conflict with the para-Council and the post-Council.
“The sort of battlefield through which we were galloping was in their dazed eyes the site of a new and radiant human City in mid-construction. They wanted to believe in the mirage. For me, as far as the eye could see, it was the ruins of the Holy City, devastated by a cyclone. Whenever we recalled such and such an act or discourse, they would have me taste its sugar and its tea; they failed to notice the arsenic that made it into a poison […].
“The madness of the whole world was of little importance for them. They judged none but me, since I had been the only one insolent enough to have requested it, and they condemned my conservative opposition, even more criminal than the other, the revolutionary, which it reinforced, they said, causing the greatest damage to Rome’s authority. I tried to take up some of my proofs. It was useless. One does not clarify in twenty hours what hundreds of cunning theologians have rendered inextricably confusing in five years of conciliar Byzantinism […].
“They had nothing more to tell me than their conviction, their human, desperate persuasion of grand personages who are secretly just as disquieted and disturbed as we are. I recopy the way I had jotted down their entreaties, which are really in the nature of confessions: Yes, Masdu exists, but not in the Council, nor in the thinking and the acts of the Pope, fear not... Take on Cardonnel; no one will say anything, but do not take on the Pope... In the long run, we will manage to reabsorb the aberrations, the postconciliar disorders, but be confident, the Council is the work of the Holy Spirit... No, the Pope is not a heretic, he cannot be... No, there is no heresy in the Council, there cannot by any... Instead of criticising them, you should, with all your talent and your influence, demonstrate that they did not say and desire what some have made them out to say and desire...’
“Poor, admirable Roman theologians. How I would have liked to share your good faith! Yet when you ended up believing that I was carried away by your example or convinced by your authority, I was only measuring the abyss that separated you from the rest of the Church and from the Pope himself. I remained hurt but inert to your appeal: ‘Tell us simply that you accept the Council and that you have trust in the Holy Father with a pure, straightforward, and unreserved allegiance, and no one will demand anything else from you!’
“I had to bring things to an end. I dictated to the Italian clerk of court: ‘Est, est. Non, non. ’ ‘What do you mean by that?’ the president asked me. ‘That means that what is, is and remains so, independently of my accusations.’ ‘You persist, therefore, in your criticisms of the Pope and the Council?’ ‘Yes’” (CRC no. 24, September 1969, pp. 3-4.)
At the end of the preliminary investigation of his trial, the applicant was invited to read and countersign the record written by the ecclesiastical clerk of the court. This man, an Italian, had manifestly not understood anything. The judges and plaintiff agreed: this worthless document was inadmissible. What should be done? Who, in three days, could write a precise, accurate, exhaustive and, most of all, impartial report concerning these long hours of subtle theological debate? The judges, quite embarrassed, entrusted this task to the plaintiff who wrote the record that the consultors approved and countersigned!
The case was remitted to the following July 1, the date on which the cardinals, members of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would announce their verdict.
THE NOTIFICATION OF AUGUST 10, 1969.
The proceedings initiated by Fr. de Nantes apparently came to an end with the publication of a notification published in the August 10, 1969 issue of Osservatore romano. It was passed on by various news agencies among which AFP:
“ Notification concerning Fr. de Nantes. At the request of Fr. de Nantes, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith having examined his writings and having heard him on two occasions, July 6, 1968 [in reality the hearing took place on July 5] and May 23, 1969, has judged it right to ask that he subscribe to a formula retracting his errors and grave accusations of heresy against Pope Paul VI and the Council. Fr. de Nantes having refused on two occasions to comply with the demand of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the said Congregation tried on one final occasion, July 11, 1969, to persuade him to submit to the official decision of the competent Roman Dicastery, to which he had been the first to appeal.
“ Father de Nantes replied to this solemn demand by a categorical refusal, dated July 16, 1969. He therein challenged the right of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to demand of him a submission and he thereby affirmed his previous position regarding the Council, the Aggiornamento of the Church, the episcopate of his nation, the “ heresies ” of Paul VI and the appeal addressed to the Roman clergy with a view to Paul VI’s canonical deposition. The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cannot but take note of this refusal of its legitimate authority by observing with extreme sadness, that in rebelling in this way against the Magisterium and the Catholic hierarchy, Fr. de Nantes disqualifies the totality of his writings and activities whereby he claims to be serving the Church whilst giving an example of rebellion against the episcopate of his country and against the Roman Pontiff himself. Gathered in ordinary congregation, the Cardinals of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have decided, therefore, to publicise the present notification, which the Holy Father has deigned to approve.”
This notification, damning for our Father’s reputation, refers to the errors which, on several occasions, he was allegedly asked to retract, to his refusal to submit to the authority of his judges and to his general rebellion. What really took place between July 1, 1968 and August 10, 1969?
On July 1, 1968, Fr. de Nantes was summoned once again to the Palace of the Holy Office. Alas! No judgement was rendered, yet he was required purely and simply to retract his criticisms against the Pope, the Second Vatican Council and the French bishops, and to swear a complete, unconditional and unlimited obedience to all of them. Thus the preliminary investigation of the trial that had taken place two months earlier had not been taken into account. The doctrinal judgement that had been demanded with such resolve had not been rendered, yet Fr. de Nantes was being required to make an unlimited, ‘Muslim’ submission, accompanied by an overwhelming threat: his refusal of a general retraction would be penalised by an excommunication.
Our Father, alone before his consultors, was plunged into the depth of perplexity. He had four days to make his decision known, four days during which he experienced the most dramatic alternative before God, his Master and his Judge. He had no one from whom he could ask advice, except Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, at that time Superior General of the Fathers of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. He went to speak with him, expecting the surest instructions from him:
“I informed my august interlocutor of my strong resolve to sign. He interrupted me firmly: ‘You cannot do this. You do not have the right to do so.’ It was clear and formal, and it was immediately justified by most invincible reasons backed up by the authority and example of the person to whom I was listening: ‘We ourselves wrote to the Sovereign Pontiff in due course that the cause of all the evil is in the Acts of the Council. Be firm in the truth.’” (CRC no. 24, September 1969, p. 6)
Archbishop Lefebvre recommended to our Father that he do what his own conscience was undoubtedly reproaching him for not having done a few years previously, namely refuse to the bitter end the Acts of the Council that had been submitted for vote by the Fathers. It later transpired that after having courageously led the minority that opposed the Reformation during the conciliar debates, he capitulated by accepting to sign everything including the declaration on religious freedom, which constituted a concrete act of apostasy. This would subsequently explain many things, beginning with the fact that he abstained from accompanying our Father in order to confront together his judges during the second meeting set for July 5 in the Palace of the Holy Office.
Our Father thus returned to the Holy Office, his soul at peace. He was given a simple formula of recantation, which had been emended and approved by the Holy Father in person. It required firstly that our Father declare that he “ would submit to all the doctrinal and disciplinary acts of H. H. Pope Paul VI and of the Second Vatican Council.” Secondly, it required that he retract “ the grave accusations […] against the acts of the Sovereign Pontiff and of the Council” and “ disavow the accusation of heresy brought against Pope VI and the aberrant conclusion” that he had drawn therefrom “ concerning the advisability of his deposition by the Cardinals.” Thirdly, it required him to promise obedience, “ in accordance with canonical norms,” to his Bishop and to the Episcopate of his nation. Finally, the fourth and last article required him to undertake “ always to speak and write with respect concerning the acts and teachings of the Pope, the Council and the Bishops.”
“I obtained one half-hour to pray in the adjacent chapel. Once there, my duty clearly appeared to me. Although no doctrinal judgement had been handed down concerning my writings, the cardinals led one to believe that that this was the case by imposing on me as a sanction the retraction and submission that should normally follow a condemnation. Consenting to such a parody of the Magisterium would be tantamount to making me an accomplice, against the Church, of the injustice of men. So I declared that in conscience I could not endorse the first three articles; on the other hand, I could accept the fourth one which concerned respect towards persons and only had to do with the form, disputable, I admit, of my writings.” (CRC no. 24, September 1969, p. 7)
Our Father took leave of the consultors who threatened him with excommunication and eternal damnation. Then, changing his mind, he returned and once again committed himself, in writing, to preserve in inviolable secrecy all these proceedings until their conclusion. Our Father thought of everything and proved his love for the Church, which was his sole guide in all the decisions that he had to take alone in this whole affair. In fact, by maintaining secrecy, he hoped that he would forestall an excommunication that henceforth seemed inescapable, “not for his sake, nor for the sake of the poor dejected souls of the faithful but for sake of the Church. My excommunication, I thought, would have the inevitable effect of somehow posteriorly canonising this cursed Council, as well as every word of the Pope’s, with a necessary infallibility.” (ibid.)
Thus, during almost a year, our Father received no news from Rome. Undoubtedly, the cardinals of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would gladly have been satisfied with this status quo if the French episcopate had not, at the same time, published new catechisms inspired by the “ Fonds commun obligatoire.” Fr. de Nantes had shown its scandalously heretical character and had made it his duty to set off on a veritable National Crusade in order to denounce it. Everywhere he went, he spoke before full-house audiences.
“This campaign roused public opinion. Our bishops realised that they had been unmasked, and felt that they were doomed. They had to silence me. I hoped that Roman wisdom and prudence would indefinitely defer the sanction. No doubt the French Episcopate would bring strong pressure to bear in order to break our Crusade. The Pope had to choose between the Episcopate and me, and this is what brought about the ultimatum.” (CCR no. 78, September 1976p. 9)
First, there was the interval of May 23, 1969, to which the Notification of August 10 of the same year alluded. “On that occasion they sent me Cardinal Lefebvre, who in Rome shows himself to be a man of sound doctrine but who in France stands surety for every upheaval. He was sent to speak with me of submission but I asked him first whether he insisted on supporting the New Catechism and the French Pastoral Note with his authority. He answered in the affirmative and I therefore declined to accept him as a judge and envoy of the Holy See. Really, they were going too far!” (CRC no. 24, September 1969, p. 7)
A new ultimatum followed on July 11, from Cardinal Seper. The new Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith summoned Fr. de Nantes to subscribe to a formula of absolute submission and general recantation within three days. It was the very same one that had been presented to him the previous year. Our Father did not reply with a “ categorical refusal” as is stated in the Notification, but with a magnificent Profession of Catholic Faith dated July 16, 1969. It was in the name of this very Faith that it was impossible for him to accept the four articles of the formula that he was being required to sign, unless it was first amended to conform to the Catholic Faith.
The Holy Office no longer differed its reply and it came in the form of this terse press release that propagated “a spate of blatant lies.”
LIES AND DIFFAMATION.
It contained a lie concerning the alleged errors of Fr. de Nantes. He had purportedly been demanded to retract them during the hearings of July 5, 1968 and May 23, 1969. Yet the three consultors had found no doctrinal error of which he was culpable, just as Cardinal Lefebvre had foreseen in 1966 and as is attested by the very text of the formula of recantation that he had been enjoined to sign on four occasions. If this official text of the dicastery, emended and approved by Pope Paul VI in person, required him to recant his “ grave accusations […] against the acts of the Sovereign Pontiff and of the Council […] and to disavow the accusation of heresy brought against Pope Paul VI, it made no mention of any doctrinal error allegedly committed by Fr. de Nantes.
It contained a lie concerning the alleged rebellion of the accused against the legitimate authority of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. During the July 5, 1968 hearing, our Father had only formulated a simple refusal: the refusal of a text and not of the Authority that was imposing it on him, disobedience to a specific order, but certainly not a rebellion against every order from on high. As for Cardinal Seper’s July 11, 1969 ultimatum, our Father did not reply with an act of rebellion, but with a profession of Catholic Faith that the Notification deliberately failed to mention and which, on the contrary, manifested his submission and obedience to the Apostolic hierarchy in the immense extent of its powers, but within just limits.
Finally, it contained the Church’s defamation of Fr. de Nantes and his entire work. “This press release singles me out for the notice of the entire Church on the strength of vague and unproven accusations […] as a dishonoured priest. The collective author of this defamation is at pains, furthermore, to evade responsibility for it. According to what is written, it is not the Judge who shoulders responsibility for this strange and unheard of decision but the person who is the object of it: this rebellious priest disqualifies himself in claiming to serve the Church, whilst being in rebellion […]. The inflammatory power of this official imputation – be it slander or calumny – is incalculable.
“In former times, the terrible Holy Office used to define the errors of those whom it condemned if they avowed and stood by them. The faith of the people was thereby enlightened and souls remained in peace. The aforesaid Reformed Congregation declares its victim disqualified and defames him before the whole world without quoting his errors. The slander is already strong and its proofs are too weak.” (CRC no. 24, September 1969, p. 8)
HE WAS DEFAMED, BUT NOT CONDEMNED.
By defaming Fr. de Nantes before public opinion, the Notification announced urbi et orbi, to the whole Church and the entire world, that a priest had denounced the “ heresies” of Paul VI and reminded the Roman Clergy that it behoves them to depose him! One must, however, conclude from the Notification that this priest was neither excommunicated nor interdicted nor condemned to a one-month or one year-suspension. Nothing. No canonical sanctions, once it has been pointed out that the “ disqualification,” purportedly self-inflicted by the accused, and which Cardinal Lefebvre had envisaged as early as 1966 … is not one. The Counsellor Échappé was resolute in making this clear to the audience that he was addressing at the colloquium in Sorbonne University.
“The “ decision” of the Supreme Authority, our Father continued, “becomes indecisive. The recalling of the grave accusation, very grave, the gravest that could possibly be uttered with regard to the Church’s Supreme Authority, merely founders into ‘extreme sadness.’ What sadness? The sadness expressed by the person thus assailed upon seeing the meagre writings and trifling works of a priest, his accuser, disqualified by such an accusation!” (ibid.)
Fr. de Nantes was indeed defamed but not condemned. This implicitly and necessarily acknowledges the fact that the author of the writings which had been the object of careful study by the consultors of the Holy Office, holds the truth, while the person whom these very writings criticise is in error. Thus, the admission of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which, in the end, had fulfilled its function, raises the question of the indictment of the Pope so that he might be judged.
THE BOOKS OF ACCUSATION.
In January 1970, the theologian of the Counter-Reformation observed that “there would be no restoration or deliverance for the Church unless Paul VI changes or is changed.” He, however, did not want to act hastily and preferred to appeal to God’s help, to His faithfulness and His mercy to move the Holy Father’s heart, or else remove him from his See, “within three years.”
Three years passed during which the Church continued to sink into apostasy without God having deigned to change the Pope’s heart or remove him from his office to pass it on to someone worthier of it. Our Father concluded: “We must therefore accept now to do with the help of God what God did not want to do without us. Praying, begging and groaning for the Church’s deliverance no longer suffices, nor even does suffering so dreadfully not only through her but for her sake. We must attempt the ultimate step. It falls within our competence; it is our duty. We have to go to Rome and remonstrate with the Pope in person concerning the heresy, schism and scandal for which he bears the primary responsibility. (CRC n° 64, January 1973, p. 1) Mr. Échappé pointed out that our Father “ had not chosen the wrong judicial channel. Here he was perfectly aware of what he was doing. He knew full well that he was asking the person who he was accusing to judge him. He did so in a manner fully consistent with his interpretation of the complex history of Law for deposing a pope.”
As he had announced, our Father went to Rome to bring a Book of Accusation that reported quotations of the Pope in such a number as to warrant severe admonition. They are centred around the main accusation concerning the proclamation of religious freedom and the “ cult of man,” on December 7, 1965. “The decision is for you to make,” our Father declared to Paul VI. “You are still the Vicar of Jesus Christ upon earth. Pass judgement upon yourself and, if I have lied, cut me off from the Church. You, however, know that I am not lying. If I have told the truth, then cut yourself off from this Sacred Body which you have betrayed!”(Liber 1, p. 13)
On April 10, 1973, the day of his arrival in Rome, the only answer our Father received was a cordon of Italian plain clothes policemen and carabinieri, fully armed who barred him the access to the Apostolic Palace. The Pope did not want to receive him. Why? “Solely and absolutely because he did not want to receive the Book […]. Paul VI had no curiosity to know what the book contained: he was familiar with the gist of it already, as the result of the Process at the Holy Office instituted against myself, at my own request, between 1965 and 1969. As a result of that he knows also what conclusion would follow any Process against himself, were such a one ever to be opened!”
In November 1973, pursuing his canonical appeal to the end, our Father, with Brother Gérard, distributed the Book of Accusation to all the cardinals and priests of Rome and, for their information, to all the members of the Roman Curia, so that the Pope might be summoned by his own clergy to account for the serious accusations contained in this book. Alas! This distribution elicited no reaction from any member of this clergy.
On August 6, 1978, Paul VI gave up his soul to God without having recanted anything, without having publicly abjured any of his heresies and his works. After the brief pontificate of John Paul I, John Paul II acceded to the See of Saint Peter. His first encyclical Redemptor Hominis showed that the Polish pope was laying claim to Paul VI’s heritage to the point of adopting his cult of man. Our Father resolved to resume his Catholic Counter-Reformation fight. That would lead him to write a second Book of Accusation that he attempted to file on May 13, 1983. His aim was to dismantle this infernal mechanism, whereby John Paul II claimed to justify the “ new humanism,” proclaimed by his predecessor Paul VI during the Council. This new humanism consisted in a Hegelian synthesis between the modern world and his atheistic philosophy on the one hand, and the Catholic religion, on the other. Msgr. Hamer, then Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, refused to receive the Liber on the grounds that the accusations were unjustified and gravely offensive. He also demanded that our Father retract all his “ errors” and accusations of heresy brought against Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council… In short, he was confronting him with the deceitful Notification of 1969 and imposing on him the same formula of recantation that had preceded it. Our Father flatly refused.
In 1993, our Father wrote a third Book of Accusation against the author of the so-called Catechism of the Catholic Church, in which he detected twelve major heresies. He brought it to Rome on May 13, and this time, he succeeded in placing it in the hands of Msgr. Caotorta, a member of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He told him that “ this Book of Accusation is a canonical appeal for the opening of a heresy trial, as soon as possible, under pain of dereliction of duty.” Yet, there was never any question of a trial. As Msgr. Sandri, then an assessor of the Secretariat of State, explained to our Brother Bruno during an audience in Rome, on Mai 21, 1993, eight days after our Father had lodged his accusation: “ If we did what you are asking, it would mean that it all has a fundus veritatis, a basis of truth. If we were to begin examining, that in itself would already imply that you are right.”
Our Father encompassed the theological, the historical, and above all the canonical aspects of the issue of a heretical Pope in one single glance. From 1966 on, alone, without any human support, but with an incredible supernatural force, drawn from his “ Catholic faith that remains unchanged, unchangeable, and non-negotiable by reason of its divine perfection,” he successfully pursued proceedings against Paul VI and, later on, against John Paul II. Neither of them deigned respond to the admonitions that were made to them by our Father to whom no doctrinal error could be imputed, still less proved.
Their silence proves their dereliction of duty and our Father’s three Books of Accusation for Heresy, Schism and Scandal will forever remain three stumbling blocks in the “glorious” pontificates of these two Popes who, nevertheless, have left the Church in the state of “ a city half in ruins. ” These Books condemn not only them but all the Popes who would succeed them in the See of Peter and who would subscribe to their teachings.
Unless they deign at long last to turn to Our Lady of Fatima Who promised them the triumph of Her Immaculate Heart, on the condition, however, that they humbly fulfil Her small demands: the consecration of Russia that will bring about its conversion, the approval of the reparatory Communion of the first Saturday of the month and the recognition of the Rosary as a liturgical prayer.
Brother Pierre-Julien of the Divine Mary.