On July 22nd, an anonymous blogger for Rorate Caeli who goes by the name “New Catholic” wrote a post titled “Thank God for Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux.”
“New Catholic” – whoever he (or she) is – expressed praise for the work of the late Dom Gerard Calvet, the founder of the Abbey of St. Mary Magdalene in Le Barroux, France.
Long-time supporters of the Society of St. Pius X may remember the drama of Dom Gerard. Those under the age of 30 probably don’t.
On July 6th, 1988, the Superiors of the Society of St. Pius X’s Districts, Seminaries and autonomous houses wrote an open letter to Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
Among other things, the letter declares that the SSPX is “in full communion with all the Popes and Bishops before the Second Vatican Council.” Noting the “blindness of spirit” and the “hardening of heart” of the “Roman authorities,” the Superiors proclaim that “we have never wished to belong to this system which calls itself the Conciliar Church.”
They then say the following:
We ask for nothing better than to be declared out of communion with this adulterous spirit which has been blowing in the Church for the last 25 years; we ask for nothing better than to be declared outside of this impious communion of the ungodly.
Not all friends of the Society agreed. One such friend was Dom Gerard Calvet, superior of the Benedictine Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene.
In his statement, Dom Gerard notes that in negotiating with Rome he was able to have his demands granted “without doctrinal counter-part” and “without concession.” The Holy Father, Gerard said, was “offering us to be integrated into the Benedictine Confederation as we are,” and “that no silence be imposed on our anti-Modernist preaching.”
Gerard goes on to list several reasons why he put himself into the hands of the Romans.
One (1) reason was because he believed it would be better for Tradition to “enter into” the Roman Church. “That the tradition of the Church be pushed out of her official, visible perimeter brings prejudice to it,” he claimed.
A second (2) reason why Dom Gerard agreed to an arrangement was because he believed that even though the Church was run by Modernists, it is “better to be in agreement with the laws of the Church rather than contravene them.”
A third (3) reason was the belief that it would be better for Tradition if the Roman authorities viewed his apostolate not as a disobedient one but as a Catholic one. This way, the laity would be put at ease and eventually more souls would come to the Latin Mass:
Lastly the reason, perhaps the determining one, which inclined us to accept that the suspens a divinis be lifted from our priests, is a missionary reason: should not the maximum number of faithful be enabled to assist at our Masses and liturgical celebrations without being hindered by their local priests or bishop? I think, especially, of some young college students, scouts and seminarians who have never seen a traditional Mass.
Followers of Abp. Lefebvre responded swiftly to Dom Gerard’s declaration. Rev. Fr. Franz Schmidberger, the Superior General of the Society from 1983-1994, refuted each point Gerard put forth.
Responding to Gerard’s first (1) claim, Fr. Schmidberger said:
It seems rather contrary to the plan of Divine Providence that the Catholic Tradition of the Church be re-integrated into the pluralism of the Conciliar Church, as long as the latter dishonors the Catholic Church and scandalizes its unity and visibility.
Responding to Gerard’s second (2) claim, Fr. Schmidberger said:
It is an honor for Le Barroux to have been rejected by the other Benedictines for its integral fidelity to the Mass of All Times, and thus to have become a wonderful sign of contradict…when the laws of the Church are abused everywhere, in such a way as to desiccate the living sources of Faith and grace, it is better not to succumb to this scheme.
Responding to Gerard’s third (3) claim, Fr. Schmidberger said:
If the priests of Le Barroux considered that they were validly suspended, they have been living for 15 years in mortal sin. If they think that the so-called suspens a divinis merely damages their apostolic influence, they are wrong. The hard way of the Cross is more fruitful than the easy way.
Fr. Schmidberger’s three responses may well be summed up in the following manner:
What does Truth have with Belial? The same that Tradition has with Modernism. Nothing. The Conciliar Church, so long as she clings to her errors, dishonors Christ. It seems contrary to God’s plan that Tradition be integrated into this scandalous structure. Far from being a recognition of Tradition, the Modernists are placing you, Dom Gerard, into an ecumenical zoo in the name of pluralism. To be considered outside this scheme is an honor, and a wonderful sign of contradiction. It lets the faithful know that we practice different religions, and that there can be no union with truth and error. Certainly it is a cross to be seen as “outside the Church” and “suspended a divinis” but we must hold together until Rome recovers her ways. It is in God’s hands.
Dom Thomas Aquino, the Prior of the Monastery of Santa Cruz in Nova Friburgo, Brazil echoed Fr. Schmidberger’s remarks in a letter he sent to Dom Gerard on August 25th.
Dom Thomas Aquino said that Gerard’s agreement signified an “insertion” into the “Conciliar Church.” He believed the deal would have the long term goal of a “full reconciliation with the Apostolic See according to the terms of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, a document which has proclaimed the excommunication of Archbishop Lefebvre.”
He then made the following comparison:
We follow the Catholic Church, but at the present time Abp. Lefebvre and Bp. de Castro Mayer have been the only two bishops to stand against the auto-demolition of the Church. It is not possible to separate ourselves from them. So, as in the fourth century at the time of Arianism, to be “in communion with Athanasius” (and not with Pope Liberius), was a sign of orthodoxy, so now to be united with Archbishop Lefebvre and Bp. de Castro Mayer is a sign of fidelity to the Church of all times.
In October of 2001, Fr. Lourenco Fleichman wrote a letter wherein he voiced opposition to the agreement between Rome and the priests of the Diocese of Campos, Brazil. The name of Dom Gerard was invoked:
Dom Gerard, placing the particular interests of his monastery above the Church’s good, accepted a separation from Archbishop Lefebvre in order to “normalize” his juridical and canonical status, thereby letting fall the sword of combat.
Dom Gerard gave me three reasons that he considered sufficient for going ahead and concluding the agreement…1) many new persons would rejoin Tradition; 2) we would have a foot in the door of modernist Rome for preaching Tradition; 3) we could still go back to our former position in case we were unduly pressured.
Fr. Fleichman then explained to the priests of Campos why each of those claims are erroneous:
1) The new people that will join you will not desire to convert to true Tradition. They will come to you because the legal obstacles have been removed, and not for reasons of faith. They will be very sympathetic, but they will not be seeking the whole truth with the doctrinal conviction that leads souls to martyrdom.
2) Being in modernist Rome – and this is proven – invariably results in contamination by the guiding principles of Vatican II, administered in homeopathic doses until the fruit falls, as the St. Peter’s Fraternity fell.
3) As for going back: who among them has ever returned to his former position? They would rather concelebrate with the Pope than go back. And if they did go back, what would become of the faithful in their parishes? Would they all go back? How many would be entangled over the question of legality? I consider such an attitude reckless; it does not take into account the constancy of the souls that Providence has entrusted to you. You regularize on paper a phony problem of excommunication, and the faithful have only to follow and obey, and then, tomorrow, to about face and retreat with you. I cannot quite see in this the respect for souls the priestly life requires.
On the website DICI – the official communications agency of the Society of St. Pus X – there appeared an obituary for Dom Gerard upon his passing in 2008:
Abp. Lefebvre was even invited once to preach the annual retreat to the monks at Le Barroux. But “with the passage of time the ghosts of union with the Church and the Benedictine order would wear down the monastery’s ability to resist,” and in 1988, after the bishops’ consecrations, Dom Gerard, in a declaration…deemed it “prejudicial to the very Tradition of the Church” to be “relegated outside of the official visible perimeters of the Church.” As Bishop Tissier de Mallerais notes: “Archbishop Lefebvre lamented the defection of one for whom he had done so much.” (Quotes taken from Marcel Lefebvre: The Biography)
How, then, did it all end for Dom Gerard and the Abbey of St. Mary Magdalene in Le Barroux?
Again, recall that Dom Gerard was 1) promised that he would be recognized “without doctrinal concessions” 2) that he would be “integrated” into the Benedictine Confederation “as we are” 3) that “no silence” would be imposed on his “anti-Modernist preaching” 4) that he would “have a foot in the door of modernist Rome for preaching Tradition” 5) that he believed he could resist contamination from the Conciliar Church and 6) that he thought “many new persons would rejoin Tradition.”
In a six part essay titled “A short history of the SSPX,” Fr. Ramon Angles SSPX informs us of Dom Gerard’s fate:
1988: Another Benedictine with a different concept of loyalty, Dom Gerard Calvet, prior of Le Barroux, breaks with the Archbishop and condemns the episcopal consecrations at which he was present, turning himself into Rome’s hands “without any doctrinal or liturgical concession.” In 1995, Abbot Calvet concelebrates the New Mass with John Paul II in Rome.
If only Dom Gerard had heeded the following words of Abp. Lefebvre we could truly say “Thank God for Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux”:
Taking into account the strong will of the present Roman authorities to reduce Tradition to naught, to gather the world to the spirit of Vatican II and the spirit of Assisi, we have preferred to withdraw ourselves and to say that we could not continue. It was not possible. We would have evidently been…putting ourselves into the hands of those who wish to draw us into the spirit of the Council and the spirit of Assisi. This was simply not possible
This is why I sent a letter to the Pope, saying to him very clearly: “We simply cannot accept this spirit and proposals, despite all the desires which we have to be in full union with you. Given this new spirit which now rules in Rome and which you wish to communicate to us, we prefer to continue in Tradition; to keep Tradition while waiting for Tradition to regain its place at Rome, while waiting for Tradition to reassume its place in the Roman authorities, in their minds.” This will last for as long as the Good Lord has foreseen.
If I had made this deal with Rome, by continuing with the agreements we had signed, and by putting them into practice, I would have performed “Operation Suicide.” There was no choice, we must live! – Episcopal Consecrations, June 30, 1988