We must maintain Tradition and pass it on


This is a full transcript of the conference given in Paris by Don Davide Pagliarani, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, at the conclusion of the XVI Theological Congress of Courrier de Rome, in partnership with DICI, on January 15th, 2022.

It is certain that we are at a crucial moment, a moment that is both sad and logical. We have reached a point that was foreseeable. It is true that the Society of Saint Pius X is not directly affected by the motu proprio Traditionis custodes, for the reasons you all know. However, in all reality, this new situation that has arisen, shows more than ever that the position of the Society of Saint Pius X is the only viable position that holds together.

I am, perhaps, not the best person to say it, but there are facts that are objective and they are obvious.

Why is that? Simply because even if the various institutes under Ecclesia Dei, who are directly implicated by this motu proprio, are not part of the Society of Saint Pius X, they exist however, because the Society of Saint Pius X exists. Their origin, from a general point of view, is linked in one way or another to the history of the Society. Therefore they depend upon it, at least indirectly. Furthermore, this new situation underlines even more the scope of the Society’s role and mission – and inevitably, the need for Tradition in its entirety.

Tradition is a single unit, because the Faith is one. The need for an unhindered profession of this Faith is now felt more than ever. First and foremost, the true freedom of God’s children is the freedom to profess their Faith.

Pope Francis’ opposition

If I may digress for a moment… We are inevitably going to talk about the Ecclesia Dei institutes. Therefore, I would like to make it clear that on a personal level, I have nothing against those who belong to these institutes – neither the faithful, nor their members. We are totally outside the realm of personal opposition. On the human level, everywhere there are nice people and unbearable people. This is true for the whole of humanity, and it is also true for us, in a certain manner. I insist on this preliminary remark as it will allow me to be freer in my presentation.

The problem is not that the Society of Saint Pius X could “launch an attack on the Ecclesia Dei institutes”. In fact, at the moment, it is Pope Francis himself who seems to be tired of the Ecclesia Dei institutes, and more generally, tired of all priests who are attached to the Tridentine Mass. So let us go back to the beginning of Ecclesia Dei. This text, of July 2nd, 1988[1], contains the condemnation of the Society of Saint Pius X and of Archbishop Lefebvre, and also reaches out to the Ecclesia Dei institutes.

Even if it is well known, it is worth reading a few passages so as to make comments on it, in the light of recent events.

The motu proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta

First of all, here is the theological reason why Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society were condemned: “The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, "comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth".

“But especially contradictory is a notion of Tradition which opposes the universal Magisterium of the Church possessed by the Bishop of Rome and the Body of Bishops. It is impossible to remain faithful to the Tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his Church.”

And there you have the crux of the problem.

This act of Archbishop Lefebvre, in 1988 – like the entire history of the Society of Saint Pius X – is an act of fidelity to the Catholic Church. It is an act of fidelity to the Pope, to the Catholic hierarchy and to souls. And that is regardless of what the Roman authorities may say or not say. Regardless of what they think or what they prefer not to think.

On the other hand, with the notion of a Living Tradition, what do we end up with? It was difficult to foresee it in 1988. However today, we have Amoris lætitia, we have the worship of the Earth, and we have the Pachamama. And there are other consequences that we don’t know about yet, because with this dynamic and evolutionary notion of Tradition, you can end up with absolutely any result. In truth, they are in another dimension. They are cut off from the Tradition that is rooted in the Apostles and in Divine Revelation, and which is itself a source of Revelation.

A little further on, in the same text, we find the outstretched hand of Pope John Paul II, towards those who were to become “Ecclesia Dei” groups:

“I wish especially to make an appeal both solemn and heartfelt, paternal and fraternal, to all those who until now have been linked in various ways to the movement of Archbishop Lefebvre, that they may fulfil the grave duty of remaining united to the Vicar of Christ in the unity of the Catholic Church, and of ceasing their support in any way for that movement. Everyone should be aware that formal adherence to the schism is a grave offence against God and carries the penalty of excommunication decreed by the Church’s law.

“To all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition I wish to manifest my will to facilitate their ecclesial communion by means of the necessary measures to guarantee respect for their rightful aspirations.”

You can easily see the problem here. Unity is obtained through the Faith. Unity cannot be achieved by an indult or a privilege, which, for some, aims at one thing, and for others, the opposite. For the priests and faithful who wanted to keep the Tridentine Mass, it was the way of keeping to Tradition, albeit in a certain form. However, for the Roman authorities – who are now openly admitting it – it was a way of making them adhere, slowly but surely, to the “conciliar Church” and to adhere to the Church’s modern way of thinking. All this was established and promised in the light of the protocol signed on May 5th, 1988[2], by Cardinal Ratzinger and Archbishop Lefebvre. So let’s now look back at the wisdom of Archbishop Lefebvre.

Archbishop Lefebvre signed this protocol and, if you like, he held to it for a few hours. But after spending the night in prayer and solitude, he understood what God expected him to do. He who had to take a decision that would be so important for history, so important for the Church and for souls, understood after a few hours in solitude, what those who are part of “Ecclesia Dei” can also understand, thirty years later.

“The Benedict XVI experience”

One thing that is important to understand, and even if it has been mentioned this morning, it is important to return to, what I call in a simplified way, “the Benedict XVI experience”: Summorum Pontificum[3], which must be understood in the light of the “hermeneutic of continuity”, the major axis of the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

With Summorum Pontificum, the Tridentine Mass was then granted a much wider right. This allowed a certain number of priests to discover it; and by celebrating it – it must be acknowledged – many priests began to question their priesthood, and to question the Council and the New Mass. It is precisely this process that frightened the Vatican. However, the perspective of this motu proprio, which remained flawed, was based on an error: two forms of the same rite of Mass, and above all, I would like to add, the illusion of improving something in the current crisis without discussing the causes of the crisis. This was the error of Pope Benedict XVI and the limitations of this motu proprio: it just could not work. It could work for a while, but sooner or later it would lead to what has happened.

Mistakes cannot be corrected without acknowledging them as mistakes and without rejecting them. This is crucial. The hermeneutics of continuity has tried to “overcome” or to short-circuit these problems. The Church has a lesson here for the future.

How often have we asked ourselves the question: when will the Council be corrected? Will the Council have to be rejected? Can it be simply forgotten? Will all the good things in the Council be saved? After all, the Council does not only contain errors… But here, we have to be realistic. It is true that the Council does not only contain errors – it would be metaphysically impossible. Error is always mixed with truth. But let us be honest and realistic. What really made the Council, what was the backbone of the Council - the real Second Vatican Council - was the New Mass, ecumenism, the dignity of man and religious freedom. They were the essential elements and the errors that changed the Church. They are the centrepiece of the real Council that changed the Catholic Church!

Everything else in the conciliar documents – and I’m simplifying things a bit – all the quotations from the Church Fathers and the quotes from previous councils are simply the padding to go around the essential central elements, like a picture frame around a picture. Again, we must be honest. The real Second Vatican Council, it must be rejected. The Catholic Church cannot regenerate herself if it is not rejected. We have the experiment of Pope Benedict XVI and it cannot work: to put truth next to error; to put the two Masses next to each other, so that one can “fertilise” the other; to have “a reform of the reform through continuity”… it is a total illusion.

All this we know. We know these principles theoretically and speculatively. However, now we have the concrete proof that is extremely useful for the future.

Error and truth cannot go hand in hand

The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, who was responsible for supervising and guiding the Ecclesia Dei institutes, was abolished exactly three years ago, in January 2019. Here is a quote from the Pope’s letter announcing this decision:

“Considering that today the conditions which led the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II to institute the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei have changed; and noting that the Institutes and Religious Communities which customarily celebrate in the extraordinary form have today found proper stability of number and of life.”

In other words, the Ecclesia Dei institutes have been sufficiently reintegrated, and that is why the Commission that is supposed to protect them is abolished.

Archbishop Arthur Roche[4], Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is often quoted because never has an official authority been so explicit and clear. In his response to Cardinal Vincent Nichols[5], Archbishop of Westminster (England), Archbishop Roche wrote:

“The misinterpretation and promotion of the use of these [traditional liturgical] texts, after only limited concessions by previous Pontiffs, has been used to encourage a liturgy at variance with Conciliar reform (and which, in fact, was abrogated by Pope Paul VI), and an ecclesiology that is not part of the Church’s Magisterium. […] It is clear that the principal commentary on the new law governing the granting of the antecedents liturgical texts, by way of exceptional concession, and not by way of promotion, is the accompanying letter from Pope Francis to the Bishops. It is also evident that these exceptional concessions should only be granted to those who accept the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs. All that is in the new law is oriented to the return and stabilisation of the liturgy as decreed by the Second Vatican Council.” – I think that is sufficiently clear!

Let us backtrack a little… I remember that in 2016, the bishop appointed by Rome to negotiate with the Society of Saint Pius X, said: “I don’t see why the Council should be imposed on you. In the end, we don’t ask the faithful who go to Mass in a parish church if they accept the Council. So, why should it be imposed on you?” However, Archbishop Roche is now saying the exact opposite. In fact, during negotiations, it happens that we can hear things that do not correspond perfectly to reality, and we also hear promises that cannot be kept.

So what is the central point of all that has been said today and of all that has been emphasised? What is the main intuition of Traditionis custodes? We can sum it all up in this principle: the Tridentine Mass cannot be celebrated as the expression of the true Catholic Church, nor of the true Catholic Faith. We can even add: its celebration can be allowed on condition that it is not celebrated for what it really is. With that, you can see the paradox! The whole problem is there.

In practice, for the Ecclesia Dei institutes, they have come back to the same situation as in 1988. Today, they are faced with the same choices and, even more than ever, there is an urgent choice to be made between two options:

- Either, to retain the unconditional freedom to profess the Faith in its entirety, and take the proportionate means – leaving Divine Providence to deal with the consequences. That was the choice made by the Society of Saint Pius X with Archbishop Lefebvre;

- Or, to submit this possibility (of celebrating the Tridentine Mass) to the will of an authority that is going in the opposite direction – and who even admits it and says it publicly.

Yet, the latter choice is a dead end. It is impossible to move forward without the unity of wills. You cannot link together two entities whose wills are going in opposition directions. Sooner or later you will arrive at the situation that we have in the current crisis. They gave a privilege, they gave an indult, creating a particular but wobbly situation, and then they waited for the duration of about a generation – it has been about thirty years. However, what was granted, for some, has a special meaning, aiming at a particular goal; and for others, their aim is the opposite goal. It is impossible to want, at the same time, the good of souls through Tradition and a New Church without Tradition.

History is the best teacher

History is a great teacher of life and of prudence, and the Ecclesia Dei institutes are today faced with a choice. However, they do have an advantage. They have the hindsight that Archbishop Lefebvre did not have at the time. Fifty years later, people with good will, have additional elements to help them evaluate what is happening in the Church. They now can evaluate even the long-term consequences of the principles that were laid down.

Here we cannot remain silent on this choice and this decision that Archbishop Lefebvre made more than thirty years ago. 1988 was the most crucial moment in the history of the Society of Saint Pius X.

Humanly speaking we cannot explain it – with simple human experiences, life’s wisdom, culture and human understanding – we cannot truly explain the depth of the wisdom of the decision that Archbishop Lefebvre took in 1988. Those factors are insufficient. It can only be an infallible sign of holiness, this capacity to be moved by the Holy Ghost and to see things clearly, when many other interpretations could still be conceivable and could have been taken into account.

To have the courage to take such a decision, which would irrevocably orientate the Society, his own person, and in a certain way, the whole Catholic Church and the role of Tradition in the Church; to have taken that decision, alone in prayer before Almighty God, and a decision whose relevance, accuracy and depth of vision has been verified more than thirty years later! All this cannot be explained without taking into account that gift of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of counsel, by which a soul is docile insofar as it is holy, and insofar as it is pure. It is history, the teacher of life, which gives us the answer.

Building on the requirements of the Faith

But let us come back to the Ecclesia Dei institutes… After the time of a generation – and as we have said, they have more than enough hindsight – they are now faced with a choice that is not between Summorum Pontificum and Traditionis custodes. Certainly not. We must get out of this artificial logic. As we have seen, a basic continuity between these different measures has been highlighted. Even if materially they are very different, they both have a common basis. The choice is not between Summorum Pontificum and Traditionis custodes, nor between “indult A” or “indult B” or “privilege C” – we must get out of that perspective.

The choice is between the declaration of 1974[6] – a declaration of adhesion and of unconditional and unreserved fidelity to eternal Rome – and the concession of a particular indult, with the consequences that are already known. At risk is the definitive dead end for the Ecclesia Dei institutes. Here you cannot count on any acquired rights; you must rely on the requirements of the Faith.

Why? Because you may have a particular right, a privilege[7], or a particular « charisma » in your congregation, but Rome can change the constitutions, and even more, Rome can suppress congregations! It suppressed the Jesuits, it suppressed the Society of Saint Pius X, it can suppress without any problem, any other congregation or institute – I will not name them out of discretion – but Rome can do that. And if one has fought for decades – based solely on special privileges given to particular congregations – all that can be suppressed.

So what is eternal and makes our fight invincible? It is Faith. Verbum Domini manet in æternum (1 Peter 1:25).

It is Faith that is the necessary foundation for the current battle, our fight for Tradition. It is Faith and not any privilege.

The instrumental use of the Mass of Pope Saint Pius V

There is also another aspect of Traditionis custodes that deserves to be highlighted. It is the accusation that the traditional missal is used in an instrumental way. Pope Francis makes the accusation that “you use this missal as a flag of another Church, of another faith, the one you call the true faith”. But, in truth, who is using this missal in an instrumental way?

As we have seen this morning, the Tridentine Mass in itself, intrinsically, expresses a different conception of the Catholic Church, a different conception of the spiritual life and a different conception of the priesthood. This is inevitable. And that is why it had to be replaced by another Mass, which could correspond to a new conception of the Church, the spiritual life and the priesthood. The use of this traditional missal in the Church was not, therefore, instrumental: it was the normal use of the Mass, nourishing the Catholic conception of a Christian life.

On the other hand, there is an instrumental use of the missal of Saint Pius V that has been made by the Roman authorities. They have used it for their own ends, to encourage conservative Catholics to go down a certain path. However, you cannot play with the missal. You cannot play with the sacraments. You cannot say: “yes, we gave you this missal for thirty or forty years so you can move gradually towards the conception used by the dominant current in the Church… But now the time of transition is over.”

You just cannot use the Mass in this way. I was going to say, it is a homeopathic use, but it is better to say it is a homeopathic abuse. The principle of homeopathy is to treat an illness with the very source of the illness, in order to provoke in the immune system a gradual reaction to the illness you want to treat. The Roman authorities have done this with the missal of Saint Pius V – and they admit it. But you just cannot do that. You cannot use the Mass, which is seen as a problem, to cure a problem with the faithful. It is a use that is purely instrumental, and that is inadmissible.

There is only one Redemption

So therefore, we can already conclude. How can we pass on Tradition? How can we maintain it? What is the role of the Society of Saint Pius X?

Humanly speaking, we are not better than anybody else. Humanly speaking, we do not deserve more than the others. But our strength, which is not a personal quality, lies elsewhere. Our strength is in what we cannot give up. Our strength is in our Faith and in Tradition. Our strength is in the Mass, and in the Mass as the flag and standard of the Faith and Tradition.

In his motu proprio, Pope Francis says something that is very true – if we can disregard certain aspects of it. It is true that the Catholic Church has only one Mass. It is true that the Church has only one form of worship. But this singular form of worship is not the New Mass. That is the whole problem.

This unique form of worship is the Mass of all time, and why is that? It is because there is only one Redemption.

In the Old Testament, you can see how everything converges towards the Cross and towards Calvary. The multitude of different sacrifices that the Jews offered, in one way or another, represent the sacrifice of the Cross, which, in its unique perfection, sums them all up. The whole life of Our Blessed Lord looked towards the Cross and towards His Passion. That is why it had this extraordinary unity. If I can put it this way, the whole life of Our Lord Jesus Christ was built entirely around one idea: to arrive at the Cross. And this sacrifice of the Cross is so perfect that Our Blessed Lord offers it only once.

Now the life of the Church, like the life of each individual soul, is simply an extension of this central idea that unifies everything. The life of the Church and of redeemed souls is one, drawn from the very unity of the Cross and Redemption. There is only one Christ and there is only one Cross, through which we can worship Almighty God and be sanctified. Therefore, it is necessarily this same unity that we find in the Mass, which is the application of Redemption to the life of the Church and to the life of souls. And that is because there is only one act of Redemption, which is perfect. There is therefore, also only one way of perpetuating this Redemption, of actualising it in time, in order to apply it to souls: thus, there is only one Catholic Mass – there are not two. This extension of our Redemption is one, because it simply perpetuates the single, central intention that flowed from the soul of Our Lord Jesus Christ and unified His entire life.

So, in truth, what do we want? What does the Society of Saint Pius X want? We want the Cross! We want the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ! We want to celebrate that Cross and we want to enter into the mystery of that Cross. We want to make that Cross our own. It is not possible to have two crosses and there are not two possible Redemptions, nor two Masses.

On the other hand, what is the alternative to this unique Christian life? It is the useless, frustrating adaptation to a human nature that in reality is always the same. In other words, it is this modern idea that we must adapt to a changing human nature, which always needs something new. But this idea is false. Why is it wrong? Because the sources of sin are always the same and can always and only be cured using the same methods.

This lie – because it is a lie – that modern man must be approached and cared for in a different way today, produces the fruits of a lie. It produces the disintegration of the life of the Church. Without this application of Redemption, the life of the Church loses its principle of unity.

Therefore, it is in this sense that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is truly our flag and our standard. And in a battle, the standard is the last thing you let fall.

There is also one last thing that the Society must obtain, and this is crucial. We want this Mass, not only for ourselves, but we want it for the Universal Church. We do not want simply a side altar in the Church. Nor do we want the right to enter with our banner into an amphitheatre where everything else is also permitted. Certainly not!

We want this Mass for ourselves and at the same time for everyone. It is not a little privilege that we want. This Mass is a right for us and for all souls, without exception. This is how the Society of Saint Pius X is, and will continue to be, an active part of the Catholic Church. That is because it aims at the good of the Church. The Society does not aim at obtaining a particular privilege. Obviously, Divine Providence will choose the moment, the modalities, the graduality and the circumstances, but as far as we are concerned, we want this Mass and we want it now – unconditionally and for everyone.

And this we want without entering into an overly human perspective that looks for a particular privilege. We do not want to enter into negotiations where we are conceded things bit by bit: to be given a church here, a time for Mass there, the possibility to use the maniple, or the biretta, or the Holy Week liturgy of Saint Pius X, … Definitely not! We do not want to enter into this scenario.

Quite simply, we want two things: the Faith and the Mass. We want Catholic doctrine and the Cross that nourish the spiritual life and the moral life of souls. We want them now, unconditionally and for everyone. And if we keep this perspective, the Society of Saint Pius X will always be, and perfectly be, a work of the Catholic Church. The Society will always work at the very heart of the Church, which has no other aim than to obtain the salvation of souls, in the Church and for the Church.

Translated from the French text, which maintained the oral style in order to maintain the particular character of the conference.


[1] Apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei adflicta of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, given motu proprio in Rome on July 2nd, 1988.

“A Commission is instituted whose task it will be to collaborate with the bishops, with the Departments of the Roman Curia and with the circles concerned, for the purpose of facilitating full ecclesial communion of priests, seminarians, religious communities or individuals until now linked in various ways to the Fraternity founded by Monsignor Lefebvre, who may wish to remain united to the Successor Peter in the Catholic Church, while preserving their spiritual and liturgical traditions, in the light of the Protocol signed on 5th May last, by Cardinal Ratzinger and Mgr Lefebvre” (Ecclesia Dei adflicta, N° 6a).

[2] Between April 15th and May 5th, 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre estimated that he had obtained a good agreement, which would ensure the stability and continuity of his work. Thus, on May 4th, he took part in final discussions in Albano, and on May 5th he signed the declaration of the Protocol of Accord in Rome, on the Feast of Saint Pius V. The Protocol of Accord that Archbishop Lefebvre agreed to sign states that “for practical and psychological reasons, the consecration of a member of the Society as a bishop appears useful” (N°5, 2). However, no date was set. As he was signing the protocol, Cardinal Ratzinger gave Archbishop Lefebvre a letter, dated April 28th, 1988, which sowed confusion and disappointment in the mind of this great churchman.

The very next day, Friday May 6th, Archbishop Lefebvre wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger the following lines: “Yesterday it was with real satisfaction that I put my signature to the Protocol drafted during the preceding days. However, you yourself witnessed my deep disappointment upon reading the letter that you gave me, bringing the Holy Father’s answer concerning the episcopal consecrations. Practically, I am asked to postpone the episcopal consecrations to an unspecified later date. This would be the fourth time that it would have been postponed. The date of June 30th was clearly indicated in one of my previous letters as the final possible date. I have already given you a folder concerning the candidates. There are still two months to draw up the mandate. Given the particular circumstances of this proposal, the Holy Father can very well shorten the procedure so that the mandate be communicated to us around mid-June. In the event of a negative answer, I would find myself in conscience obliged to proceed with the consecration, relying upon the authorisation given by the Holy See in the Protocol for the consecration of one bishop member of the Society.” See: https://fsspx.news/en/news-events/news/30-years-ago-operation-survival-…

[3] Apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, given motu proprio in Rome on July 7th, 2007.

[4] After the resignation of Cardinal Robert Sarah, due to the age limit, on February 20th, 2021, the office of Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments was vacant. On May 27th, 2021, Pope Francis appointed the then Secretary of the Congregation, Archbishop Arthur Roche. Born in England in 1950, he trained principally in Spain, before being ordained to the priesthood in 1975, for the Leeds’ diocese (part of the Ecclesiastical province of Liverpool). From 1991 to 1996, he lived in Rome, studying at the Gregorian University and serving as spiritual director at the English College. In 1996, he became General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

[5] In a letter dated July 28th, 2021, Cardinal Vincent Nichols asked for clarification on the application of Traditionis custodes, in six questions. This letter was published by the website Gloria.tv on November 5th, 2021, with Archbishop Roche’s reply, dated August 4th. The exchange of letters was confirmed by Cardinal Nichols to Catholic News Agency, on November 8th, 2021.

[6] Archbishop Lefebvre’s declaration of November 21st, 1974, began with the words: “We hold firmly with all our heart and with all our mind to Catholic Rome, Guardian of the Catholic Faith and of the traditions necessary to the maintenance of this faith, to the eternal Rome, mistress of wisdom and truth.” See: https://fsspx.org/en/1974-declaration-of-archbishop-lefebvre

[7] In Latin, privata lex, a private law.