Return to Rome by Lefebvrist leaders
by Vivienne Hewitt in Rome JUST a month after Pope John Paul excommunicated French traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the four bishops he consecrated in defiance on June 30 in Switzerland, a group of disenchanted Lefebvrian priests has defected.
According to Vatican reports, one of the Lefebvrian priesthood's leading members, Swiss Fr Joseph Bisig, one of five members on the breakaway society of St Pius X's advisory council, led a delegation to Rome at the beginning of July.
Fr Bisig met the Pope and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, between July 5 and 7.
And for the priests of the "schism within a schism" Pope John Paul will put into practice the protocol of peace provision which he had hoped would reunite Lefevbre with Rome, and which the 8 3-year-old intransigent prelate signed on May 5, but later renounced.
Fr Bisig's group will be called The Fraternity of St Peter. Traditionalist but faithful to Rome and the Pope, it will be based in Friburg, Switzerland and has plans to open Vaticanbacked seminaries. About 40 former Lefebvrian clergy told Cardinal Ratzinger they were concerned that Lefebvre had ignored the Vatican's efforts to reach a compromise, and are ready to leave the St Pius X Fraternity headquarters at Econe outside Geneva and defect to Friburg.
Sixteen priests are already at work in Friburg at the new fraternity's base and about 20 seminarians have followed them. The group will be directed by Fr Bisig, Fr Dennis Coiffet who is French and Swiss Fr Gabriel Bauman.
Fr Bisig reached his accord with the Pope at the beginning of July and had two further meetings, in Switzerland and France, with Vatican hierarchy over the past three weeks. The Vatican has confirmed that Fr Bisig had an audience with the Pope and met with Cardinal Ratzinger, who had acted as the Pontiff's mediator in the Lefebvre negotiations.
The meetings followed a papal appeal to Lefebvre priests after the excommunication order was issued to return to the Roman fold, assured of full recognition of their status.
Meanwhile, the Lefebvrian Society's superior in Rome said this week the movement was "not concerned in the least" at Fr Bisig's and other defections. "We knew this might happen. We are very sorry about it and we are praying for them", said Fr Antonio Esposito.
"I am sure this group is much smaller than we have been led to believe because after the excommunication orders our movement has grown in numbers".
Evidence to the contrary was supplied last week, however, in another Lefebvrist stronghold. Six priests and nine seminarians in the West German city of Stuttgart announced that the prelate's break with Rome had compelled them to sever their connections with the Lefebvrists at Econe, and return to their allegiance with Rome.
A recent leak from the report compiled by Cardinal Eduoard Gagnon on the Lefebvrist fraternity suggested that some 85 per cent would eventually return to Rome, leaving a splinter group in schism.