The case of Fr. Philippe
in Bordeaux, France
This edition number
100 [of DICI: www.dici.org;
the SSPX's international website] is dedicated to the case
of Fr. Philippe Laguerie in Bordeaux, France. It recounts, with
notable details, the efforts relayed at the press conference
organized by Fr. Regis de Cacqueray, Superior of the French
District of the Society of St. Pius X, on Tuesday, September 7,
2004, at the church of St. Nicolas du Chardonnet in Paris.
The publication of
these documents will allow the reader to judge the objectivity of
the commentaries appearing in the press.
The case of Fr. Philippe
Laguerie in Bordeaux
I: The facts of the case
by Fr. Alain Lorans
On July 22nd, Fr.
Philippe Laguerie sent a letter to 35 priests of the Society of
St. Pius X, which was very critical of the rector and several
professors of the seminary of Econe. A cursory reading of this
document, which was very poorly written, gives serious reason to
doubt that Fr. Laguerie wrote it.
The document, the
tracts and communiqués that followed it, gave erroneous statistics
with the intention of denouncing a catastrophic development at the
seminary of Econe. For example, it was claimed that there were 62
departures in 7 years, when in reality there were 49 departures in
8 years, the majority being voluntary (to return to secular life),
and the others were obligatory. Similarly, it was claimed that the
number of ordinations was in a free fall: not a single ordination
at the seminary in Germany next year and after, while in reality
there will be 6 in June 2005, which represents the second largest
number of ordinations since the founding of the seminary of
Zaitzkofen. The coming years are also expected to have a
satisfactory number of ordinands. Moreover, one cannot say that
there have been numerous departures from this seminary, as they
are limited to three this past year. At Econe, there will be five
ordinations for the 2004-2005 term, not one or three as mentioned
in the different tracts and press releases. Another charge raises
by five the number of departures from the seminary at Winona this
year. In general, the Society ordains between 15 and 30 priests
every year in its four major seminaries (Switzerland, Germany, the
United States and Argentina), this year there will be 17.
document contains abrupt judgments of former seminarians, cited by
name, who are now priests. These judgments indicate that such and
such priest could be accused of laziness or bad behavior. For
example, a priest who is a professor in one of the schools of the
Society learned that he had been accused of immaturity. These
unsubstantiated accusations, which were sent to 35 priests by Fr.
Philippe Laguerie ended up in the hands not only of those
concerned but other priests, seminarians and faithful. Such is the
fate of circular letters, which are paradoxically supposed to be
If Fr. Philippe
Laguerie had followed the advice expressly given to him in
mid-July, he would have chosen the hierarchical path, alerting the
District Superior [of France], the Superior General, even the four
bishops of the SSPX by way of an internal memo on the situation of
Econe, which he judged to be serious. In the strictest sense this
is his right. But Fr. Philippe Laguerie preferred to exert
pressure on the Superior General against the rector of Econe,
which, moreover, he admits. No society can allow one of its
members to manipulate the Superior General in order to obtain the
resignation of another member.
On July 24th, faced
with this serious error of judgment, the District Superior asked
Fr. Philippe Laguerie to phone the Superior General to ask for
pardon. Instead, Fr. Laguerie justified his actions. Therefore, at
the end of July he was summoned to present himself to the Superior
General. Declaring that he could not get to Switzerland within 48
hours, Fr. Laguerie was offered a date of his choosing the
following week. He responded that he would wait for Bishop
Fellay’s next trip to France. Faced with these delaying tactics,
the Superior General was compelled to inform him by a letter dated
July 29 of the sanction he would impose: a transfer to the
position of prior in Mexico.
II: The overtures made to Fr. Philippe
Laguerie by the Superiors of the Society
by Fr. Regis de Cacqueray, District Superior of France
Fr. Alain Lorans
has given you the sequence of events that led our Superior
General, Bishop Fellay, in accord with his General Council, to
take the decision to transfer Fr. Philippe Laguerie to Mexico.
My testimony is
that of the hierarchical superior of Fr. Laguerie. I answer
directly to Bishop Fellay and have thus been in constant contact
with both of them during this crisis of the past few weeks.
My role consisted
not only in relaying messages from one to the other, but also in
facilitating their contacts and above all putting together
propositions that would lead to a reconciliation. This did not
occur. It is only right, however, to report the existence of these
facts so that one can evaluate the importance of the efforts made
to avoid a break.
I found out about
the document on Ecône on July 22nd, when I went down to Bordeaux
for a busy day of work with Fr. Laguerie. Despite some sensitive
cases, the day went particularly well. Before I left, Fr. Laguerie
gave me a file on the seminary, which he said he had sent to
several senior priests "in confidence".
Beginning the next
day, I received phone calls from priests of the district — and not
only senior ones — who said they had received this document. I
began to be concerned, and after having seen for myself the
seriously defamatory nature of this document, I phoned Fr.
Philippe Laguerie on the 24th and urged him, after trying to make
him realize how serious his actions were, to contact Bishop Fellay
directly and make his apologies. Bishop Fellay, at this time, had
still not received the report of Fr. Laguerie. Fr. Laguerie did in
fact call him, but far from apologizing, he tried to justify what
Fr. Lorans just
explained to you the casualness with which Fr. Laguerie treated
the summons he received from Bishop Fellay. My initial steps
consisted in arranging a first meeting between Bishop Fellay and
Fr. Laguerie, which finally took place in Sierre (in the Valais [a
canton of Switzerland that also includes Econe —translator’s
note]) on August 13th.
The meeting in
confirmed to Fr. Laguerie that, despite his serious error, he
would let him remain a prior and let him know that his transfer
did not have to be to Mexico. He told him he could request some
priory outside of Europe. The departure from Bordeaux, on the
other hand, was not negotiable.
Fr. Laguerie, for
his part, said he was prepared to make a public apology for the
"questionable" method he used, but in fact he did not follow
through on this and went away unhappy with the interview because
his departure from Bordeaux was confirmed.
The missed second
meeting at Le Pointet
interview that I tried to arrange did not ultimately take place.
Bishop Fellay and Fr. Laguerie had both agreed to it beforehand.
Fr. Laguerie made
the following conditions:
senior priests of his choosing be present. Bishop Fellay agreed.
that the question
of the seminary and of the departures there from be reexamined.
Bishop Fellay agreed to this as well.
but Fr. Laguerie
also wanted to give to this "council of elders" — or to an kind
of appeal board set up within the Society’s headquarters — a
power greater than that of the Superior General, which would be
able to overturn the decision to sanction him by way of a
transfer. Bishop Fellay could not accept this, since such a
commission had no foundation in the statutes of the Society of
St. Pius X, and was moreover without precedent. The second
meeting never took place because of this refusal.
My own intervention
the evening of August 21st
I went to Bordeaux
once again. During the course of a long discussion with Fr.
Laguerie, I agreed to urge Bishop Fellay to make a new concession.
I agreed to make a personal appeal, so as to bring this drama to a
close, to have the transfer from Bordeaux reexamined. This was the
most I could do….
I told Fr. Laguerie
as much and asked him to understand that Bishop Fellay could not
in this context, even if he wanted to, form such a commission,
which cannot exist within a religious society according to Church
law. I therefore urged him to give up this idea. Alas, Fr.
Laguerie refused. This refusal constrained me to read the
communiqué of the transfer of Fr. Laguerie during the Mass at
St. Eloi the following day.
negotiation of September 1st and 2nd
Laguerie informed us that he had made an appeal to the bishop of
Fribourg [the diocese in which Econe is located and which
originally approved the Society in 1970 —translator’s note]. We
came to a substantial agreement on the phone about how we would
present this to the public: "The Society of St. Pius X
acknowledges the appeal of Fr. Philippe Laguerie. The nomination
of a new prior will be suspended and a provisional administrator
will be appointed. Fr. Laguerie agrees, for his part, to leave the
priory for the time being." It was eleven o’clock.
I asked him to
please fax me written confirmation of his acceptance of this or a
similar statement within the next 30 minutes. At 6 p.m. I had
still not received it. I called Fr. Laguerie who said he was
having trouble finding the right words. I asked him to give me a
time when he would send it. "Tomorrow (September 2nd) at
noon", he responded.
At noon the
following day, there was no news. At 4 p.m. I received a fax in
which Fr. Laguerie wrote: "Even though I truly desire a
resolution, a partial agreement would not do any good at this
time" and he put the negotiations indefinitely on hold until
he found out whether or not his appeal would be heard.
I called him back
that evening to tell him there was nothing more I could do, and I
urged him to call Bishop Fellay right away. He said he would, but
he did not.
On September 3rd,
Bishop Fellay sent him a formal notice to leave the priory within
24 hours as a sign of submission, but he did not do it. However,
Fr. Laguerie called me the morning of the 3rd. He wanted to change
the statement of September 1st and his list of demands to such an
extent that I told him right then that it was impossible to reach
an agreement so late and on such completely different conditions.
Nevertheless, I called Bishop Fellay who, despite everything, made
a final counter-proposal, which laid out the conditions for the
formal notice to leave Bordeaux. Bishop Fellay acknowledged that
there were some interesting points in Fr. Laguerie’s proposal. The
one condition that was non-negotiable was his leaving Bordeaux.
Everything else could be discussed (even including a new post in
France). I immediately relayed this to Fr. Laguerie, who made no
In relaying my
personal testimony, I have not detailed all the other
interventions, those of Bishop Williamson and Bishop Tissier de
Mallerais in particular, and those of many senior priests who, at
the request of Bishop Fellay or on their own initiative, tried to
reason with Fr. Laguerie.
If I myself have
spent three weeks entirely devoted to this situation, many others
worked alongside me to try to dissuade Fr. Laguerie from his
obstinacy. In vain… As his advocate from the Rota [the supreme
ecclesiastical court in the Church —translator’s note], Master
Maurizio Incerpi, wrote: "My personal view is that if the
Society of St. Pius X had ecclesiastical recognition it
would be very difficult for Fr. Laguerie to get a favorable
judgment in this case, for he knows quite well, I think, that he
must obey his superiors, even when their decisions seem unjust"
(from a letter of Maurizio Incerpi to Jerome Turot dated September
III: Response to some rumors concerning
the Society of St. Pius X
By Fr. Gregoire Celier
Here are some
modest attempts to answer the criticisms with regard to the
current situation of the Society of St. Pius X — these
objections are drawn from the tract distributed by supporters of
Fr. Laguerie on Sunday, September 5, 2004 at St. Nicolas du Chardonnet, without it being certain, however, that Fr.
had given his agreement to this tract.
1. You cannot deny
that there are serious problems at the seminary at Econe!
First of all, we
repeat that the statistics in the report circulated by Fr.
Laguerie (not to mention subsequent tracts and communiqués) are
grossly inaccurate, while the motives reported for the departure
of the seminarians are, in the majority of cases, fanciful. Now,
as these statistics and these motives are given as proof of the
problems at the seminary at Econe, we can expect that the
conclusion to which Fr. Laguerie wishes to lead his readers, will
be every bit as erroneous.
We are all
obviously very solicitous with regard to vocations; it is a
question which we, as priests, have very close to our hearts. We
all desire that there may be many vocations and many new priests.
person concerned, and the most solicitous, is obviously the
Superior General, Bishop Fellay, whose prime role, determined by
the Constitutions of the Society, is to watch over the seminaries
"as the apple of his eye."
In fact, the
Superior General devoted his latest canonical visit [in Econe],
during the first term of this year [i.e., of the 2003-2004
academic year], to receiving each seminarian individually,
questioning him particularly on this point: does the seminarian
think that there is a good atmosphere at the seminary? If not,
what problems does he discern?
Superior General has conducted an independent enquiry on several
cases of departure; he received the seminarian in question,
re-examining the dossier, questioning not only the protagonists,
but also people outside of the seminary (for example, the prior of
the seminarian’s place of origin, the director of the seminary at
Flavigny), in order to verify that this departure was neither
unjust, nor unjustified.
It must not be
forgotten either, that the seminary’s purpose is to test and
verify the reality of a vocation, which means that departures are
almost inevitable (when the seminary authorities observe the
unsuitability of the candidate or when the seminarian himself
discovers that, in fact, he does not have a vocation). And in
fact, the majority of the departures in question are quite simply
spontaneous ones of this nature.
This does not mean
that the seminary at Econe is exempt from any fault. There is
always room for improvement, as for example, with regard to
communication. But the polemic which has been raised misses the
real problem: that of the recruitment and perseverance of
seminarians. There may be several explanations for this, for
It may just be a
cyclic effect, against which nothing much can be done.
It may be a
question of problems due to the evolution of youth; new
problems, to which the professors are not necessarily and
immediately in a position to respond, intellectually,
It may be because
of a certain inadequacy of the teaching staff as a whole (for
example, predominantly intellectual priests with little pastoral
experience, with whom a seminarian, who is less intellectual and
more inclined to the pastoral, would have difficulty
It may be due to
an inadequacy of certain customs at the seminary, excellent in
the 1970’s, but which no longer correspond with the psychology
of young people today.
Finally and above
all, there may be in some seminarians certain weaknesses (of
character, intellect, etc.) which are the direct fruit of modern
education and the current atmosphere in society.
If problems do
actually exist, it is proper to analyze them and to find a remedy
for them as soon as possible.
However, finding a
remedy for difficulties of this kind is much more difficult than
one imagines, as one must guard against destabilizing everything
and ultimately doing more harm than good.
Obviously one may
believe that the Superior General did not act quickly enough, or
strictly enough in the face of these difficulties, that he did not
choose the right solutions, etc. But it must be remembered first
of all, that the Superior General does not resolve such problems
without surrounding himself with the best advisers; then it is he
who has the maximum information on the question, notably through
his annual canonical visit where he personally receives each
seminarian; finally it is he who is in first and direct charge of
this important part of our apostolate, and, in consequence, it is
he who receives the necessary graces.
2) At the root of
this affair is the church of St. Eloi. In fact, the superiors
were furious at Fr.
Laguerie’s acquisition of this church. What is more, the [French]
District Superior, Fr. de Cacqueray, made a secret visit to
Bishop Ricard, during which Bishop
Ricard demanded the head of Fr.
Laguerie in exchange for his neutrality with regard to St. Eloi.
First of all, I can
affirm unreservedly that everyone, from the least of the faithful
to the Superior General, including Fr. de Cacqueray, was delighted
by the acquisition of the church of St. Eloi and the agreement
signed between the city of Bordeaux and the Association Eglise St. Eloi, allowing the Society of St. Pius X to celebrate
Mass there. One sign of this, amongst others, was the message of
congratulations addressed by Bishop Fellay to Fr. Laguerie on
February 2, 2002.
proceedings have opposed the city of Bordeaux, Bishop Ricard, and
the Association Eglise St. Eloi, over the failure to
decommission this church. From this time, differences of analysis
of this situation have surfaced between Fr. Laguerie and his
superiors. The [French] District Superior and the Superior General
believed that there were certain juridical weaknesses in the
dossier of the Association Eglise St. Eloi, which has
been proved to be the case, since the two legal actions were lost,
and the agreement annulled by the city council.
of analysis have in no way called into question the unity of
opinion of the superior and the prior over the benefit which the
ministry of this church brings to the faithful of Bordeaux.
visit to Bishop Ricard, apart from the fact that Fr. Laguerie
himself went to see this bishop, it should be remembered that our
constitutions presuppose that the relationship with the civil and
religious authorities fall within the direct competence of the
District Superior. He often delegates this to the local prior, but
he may very well consider it more judicious to establish contact
himself, and he is not obliged to inform the local prior (even if
he does so in most cases). In this case, the District Superior had
warned Fr. Laguerie many months before of his plan to pay a visit
to Bishop Ricard, and at the conclusion of this visit, he updated
Fr. Laguerie on the current situation concerning the church of
St. Eloi and Bordeaux.
It is obviously
normal for the district superior to meet the president of the bishops’
conference, and the agenda of such a meeting concerned not only
the church of St. Eloi, but many other issues which
are of interest to both the Society and the bishops of France.
It would be
inappropriate to suspect imaginary secret negotiations between the
District Superior and Bishop Ricard, when Fr. Laguerie himself
concealed from his superiors his role as president of the
Eglise St. Eloi, which was decided on September
15, 2003, declared at the Prefecture on June 4, 2004, and of which
the District Superior was informed only on August 25th — and not
by Fr. Laguerie. So wherein lies the concealment and the secrecy?
We must add that the development of the legal dossier directly
implicated the good of the [French] District as a whole. This is
why the District Superior told Fr. Laguerie that he was taking
personal charge of this affair. Why did Fr. Laguerie disobey?
3) The Society of
Saint Pius X refuses all appeals and applications when a priest is
punished; this borders on totalitarianism!
First of all, it
must be remembered that every priest makes an explicit promise of
obedience. To obey certainly does not mean "to do as I please."
Obedience implies the annoyance of submitting our will to
decisions which we do not like, even those which are painful to
us. To this priestly obedience, promised solemnly during
ordination, is added the obedience emanating from membership of an
ecclesiastical society. In such societies, the superiors have the
power to impose their precepts, to appoint to posts, to punish,
etc., in a way analogous with the exercise of authority of parents
over their children. A child does not raise an appeal because his
parents punish him for a misdemeanor. This is part of normal life
in such a society. This is also why, in the 34 years of the
Society’s existence, no member has ever appealed against a
punishment imposed by the superior. An appeal could be envisioned
only in a really extraordinary case, which certainly does not
apply in a transfer. Even the "Rotal" lawyer chosen by Fr.
Laguerie to make the appeal to Rome reminded him of these
elementary matters (see above, Fr. de Cacqueray’s text).
Having said this,
according to the law (civil or canonical), each action is ranked
in a category requiring particular treatment. At the time
therefore, that Fr. Laguerie made it known to the Superior General
that he intended to appeal against his transfer-sanction, the
Superior General pointed out to him explicitly and on several
occasions, (Fr. Laguerie not being supposed to be a specialist in
canon law) the procedure adapted to his case. Since the sanction
is administrative and not judicial, the appropriate legal action
is called a "recourse" rather than an "appeal." Given the
structure of the Society (comparable to a society of Pontifical
Right), this recourse can be made only to Rome.
since Rome considers the Society to be suppressed since 1975, and
therefore legally non-existent, such a recourse has no chance of
succeeding: it will be automatically rejected by Rome. This will
come as no surprise to any member of the Society, least of all to
Fr. Laguerie. In the current situation of the Society, there is no
legal recourse according to normal channels against a decision of
the Superior General taken unanimously with his Council. This
situation is not at all the fault of the Society (all this
resulting from the unjust and illegal "suppression" of the
Society), but this is an unassailable fact (to say the least!).
In itself and by
right, no one can reproach Fr. Laguerie for making an appeal or a
recourse against a sanction which he considers unjust. But that is
not the problem.
In May 1975, the
bishop of Fribourg (Switzerland) claimed to have removed the
Society’s canonical status, a fact that we have always contested
and against which we appealed at the time. Since that day, the
system of the exercise of jurisdiction in the Society, that is to
say, of the exercise of authority and of its correlative,
obedience, finds itself, in a certain way, deprived of its
cornerstone. The Society finds itself cut off de facto from
the authority of Rome. This authority the Society continues to
recognize, but Rome no longer wants to recognize the Society.
Thus, although we recognize the supreme authority of the pope and
the Holy See, as well as that of the bishops in their respective
dioceses, (for example, we mention them during the Canon of the
Mass), it is de facto impossible for us to appeal to them.
This is one of the sufferings of our current state, it is also a
weakness of our canonical situation. Only a free but
unquestioning acceptance of all the members can overcome this
fragility, which we will suffer as long as we are not recognized
by Rome. (Likewise, we accept these other afflictions, such as the
interdiction of celebrating in churches and other restrictions and
This situation is
not without danger. As far as authority is concerned, there is a
danger of usurping the place of the supreme authority (that is to
say ultimately, of the pope). As far as subordinates are
concerned, this authority could always be called into question. In
order to overcome the first difficulty, and possible abuses of
power, the Superior General, the highest authority of the Society,
has a principle of never taking an important decision alone, but
always respecting the deliberative voices of his two advisers. For
more serious questions, he also consults the bishops. As regards
its members, it becomes obvious, however, that a determined and
definitive questioning of a decision of the Superior General can
only end in departure from the Society.
There is a stone
missing from our building, and it is the cornerstone; we cannot do
anything about it, it is a fact. Owing to the fact that we
recognize that this stone is de jure the Holy See, it is
absolutely impossible for us to claim to replace it with anything
else: this would be either to go into schism or to invent a new
entity above the Superior General, a super Superior …to go into a
never-ending spiral. In other terms, touching on one of the
fundamental points of the current situation, it is the very
existence of the Society which is threatened.
This is what Fr.
Laguerie has done. During the 29 years that we have been in this
situation, he is the first to have dared to go there. He wanted to
put his personal needs above the needs of the common good of our
Society, to which no-one can question his right, de jure,
but, de facto, he cannot do this without demolishing the
Society from top to bottom.
Furthermore, it is
necessary to emphasize Fr. Laguerie’s inconsistency, in appealing
to the authorities which he otherwise questions — and sometimes
vehemently — as is the case with Bishop Ricard, against whom he
appealed and who was firmly taken to task in Le Mascaret.
Recourse is morally impossible to an authority — even Rome —whose
prevarication in matters of faith and doctrine we have to
denounce, such as ecumenism, and which, for this reason, is
hostile to us.
therefore, no other solution for Fr. Laguerie, if he maintains his
opposition, but to leave the Society.
4) You cannot deny
that the Society of St. Pius X is drawing back, closing
in upon itself, becoming rigid, that it is driving away from its
very heart the most active and dynamic priests.
An examination of
the reality of the life of the Society in France in recent years
shows that this claim is groundless.
The French District
is constantly acquiring and restoring churches just about
everywhere, radiating its apostolate. The district also wages an
intellectual and pastoral struggle, as for example, the
symposia on Vatican II, the conferences of the St. Pius X
Institute and Civitas, the development of Clovis-Fideliter-France
Livres, of Pacte-Certitudes-Servir directed by Fr. de
Tanoüarn, of the DICI website directed by Fr. Lorans, of
the ACIM and Cahiers Saint-Raphael, the studies on the
liturgical reform and on ecumenism, addressed to Rome, the evening
dedicated to the Mel Gibson film, the Rassemblement annuel des
Oeuvres catholique, etc., bear witness. The district also
carries on the combat with the bishops and the clergy through its
Letters to our Fellow Priests, through the publication of
critical studies with all the priests of France, by the press
conference by Bishop Fellay in Rome, last February 2nd, on the
occasion of the publication of the study on ecumenism, etc. The
district also wages a spiritual combat through its spiritual
retreats (more than 1000 retreatants per year), through the
pilgrimage to Montmartre, to Lourdes, and all the regional
pilgrimages, through processions, etc. Lastly, the district wages
an educational battle through its many primary, secondary and
senior schools (more than 1000 young people educated, not counting
the Dominican schools for girls). Etcetera.
In view of these
facts and other evidence of the spirited, vigorous action of the
priests of the district, it is false to say that everything is
focused on the length of skirts and the wearing of the mantilla,
or on other details which have their importance, but which
nevertheless remain details. The tactlessness of a few, which is
always possible, must not be allowed to discredit the work of all
and make us forget the missionary radiance of the 140 priests of
the district and the tens of thousands of faithful who support
Certainly we lost
Fr. Aulagnier several months ago. Yes, we have just lost Fr.
Philippe Laguerie and Fr. Christophe Hery. This is a great loss
and a great sadness for us. The Society is going to miss their
fine qualities. But it would be more accurate to say that they
have left the Society, than that the Society has left them. They
have unfortunately, perhaps with the best of intentions initially,
created the conditions in which collaboration is impossible.
We hope that, on
reflection, having discovered in particular the narrowing of scope
of their apostolate in the wake of this separation, these priests
will come back to the unchanged and dynamic combat of the Society.