Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira


On Bishop Isnard’s Anti-TFP Decree

"Folha de S. Paulo"  May 27, 1973

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There have been some repercussions in the press to a decree by His Excellency Clemente Isnard, Bishop of Nova Friburgo (RJ), forbidding his clergy to give Communion to TFP members when they present themselves in a group or with their insignia. The prelate alleges three reasons to justify his attitude against the TFP: defamation of Cursillos in Christianity; contempt for authority and for his person; and support of a “schismatic” book about the new Ordo Missae.

 I will start with the third allegation, certainly the most important. And I say from the outset that Bishop Isnard’s allegation does not embarrass me in the slightest.

 Let me explain.

* * *

 First of all, the document by the Bishop of Nova Friburgo gives me the opportunity -- and what a decisive one! -- to show how a recent accusation against the TFP by Bishop Lorscheiter, the Secretary General of the CNBB, is unfounded.

 To understand what happened we need to go back in time a little. When the bishops held a meeting in São Paulo in February, certain sectors of Catholic opinion were eagerly hoping for a total condemnation of the TFP and an approval of the Cursillos. With that they hoped to significantly diminish the impact of the TFP’s large campaign to spread a new and already well known Pastoral Letter by Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer.

 That hope was blatantly misplaced. If Cursillo members or sympathizers wanted to save their organization from the harm the Pastoral Letter caused it, the only loyal and noble way would be to refute the impressive document of the Bishop of Campos. But keeping silent and then resorting to a sleight-of-hand (in this case through the CNBB) to try and crush our campaign was a blatantly sinuous and tasteless move.

 Be that as it may, the fact is that during the CNBB meeting a commission of bishops proposed a resolution whose wording made it seem necessary, but at the same time useless, to address to the TFP a word of reproach or guidance. One reason for this alleged uselessness was that issuing a “text with a doctrinal explanation would mean opening a controversy, something so fitting the group’s [i.e., our organization’s] taste."

 The full CNBB assembly did not accept this motion, clearly derogatory to the TFP. So, for one reason or another, the TFP’s name is not mentioned in the CNBB's final communiqué. Also, the communique makes a polite reference to the Cursillos which falls far short of the outright praise they expected.

 I state these facts with all self-assurance, certain that no one will contest them.

 Once the CNBB assembly was over, in order to mitigate the disappointment of the Cursillos, Bishop Lorscheiter very contradictorily stated to the press that the CNBB did not make a statement (implying a censure) about the TFP because that is precisely what the TFP would want the bishops to do. In other words, the bishop thinks the TFP likes to engage in polemics for no reason. Bishop Lorscheiter was trying to revive, in different terms, the accusation that the CNBB’s plenary assembly had rejected.

 I will now prove to Bishop Lorscheiter how the TFP, far from liking controversy for its own sake, avoids disputes when it deems them at variance the with the good of the Church and of the country. Bishop Isnard’s own violent decree is what leads me to do so.

 * * *

 It is quite true that in 1970 one of the TFP’s directors, Mr. Arnaldo Vidigal Xavier da Silveira, wrote a thorough study, based on solid documentation, about the new Ordo Missae. The TFP approved this study.

 Due to certain doctrinal implications of the sensitive issue which it addresses, this study would likely raise a number of theological and canonical issues the Brazilian public is not familiar with. The book’s publication could give rise to serious factors of division and disruption in the country’s already highly troubled and divided religious horizon.

 If we liked to have people talk about us at all cost and polemicize over anything, as Bishop Lorscheiter imagines, we would have published the book from the outset. We decided not to do so, but only distributed some copies of the work to a limited number of elite personalities, asking for their private opinion.

 One of the recipients of the study — a top-ranking ecclesiastical personality who has disagreed with us more than once – was so impressed with the books’ possible impact on public opinion that he wrote a mutual friend asking “on his knees, if need be” that the TFP not publish the work. For this reason we have kept the most scrupulous silence about it from June, 1970 until now.

 Habent sua fata libelli -- each book has its history, one would say in plain English. From that date to this day, the book by the brilliant TFP director has made its way. But we have kept a most persevering silence about its discreet journey.

 Meanwhile, in a large number of churches, priests who were probably unaware of all this kept tirelessly subjecting our members and volunteers to public invectives and humiliations of all kinds, regarding our attitude towards the new Ordo Missae. But no one in our ranks ever opened his mouth to defend himself with the arguments contained in the book, because we continue to consider the request by that top ecclesiastical authority “on his knees” as well-founded. In all humility and patience, we chose to keep silent.

 I prefer to assume that Bishop Lorscheiter – who fancies we are so fond of fame and controversy – was unaware of much of these facts and of just how unfounded his accusation really was.

 Now, Bishop Isnard publishes an official ecclesiastical document fulminating canonical penalties against the TFP for adhering to Mr. da Silveira’s book, which he brands as “schismatic." One would say this is a lot more than the straw that broke the camel’s back.

 Even at this step we will not come out and publish the book’s contents. This is what the TFP has established, with the full consent of the book’s author, because we do not believe that the damage the Bishop of Nova Friburgo’s decree inflicts on us is considerable. We will change our direction only if other events emerge which absolutely compel us to speak.

 In other words, if something happens which we would see as causing truly serious damage to the TFP’s reputation we will come out in public with the whole subject. Not out of self-love, but because serious damage to the TFP’s reputation would so favor the left that the spiritual and temporal common good would require us to break our silence.

 If that happens, responsibility for it will fall squarely upon - mind you – those who have forced us to do so.

In his book, Mr. da Silveira expressly affirms his unwavering fidelity to the doctrine and discipline of the Church. And while he raises some delicate issues of theology or canon law, he does so by declaring in advance that he defers to the full extent required by Canon Law to whatever the Church herself eventually decides. This is precisely the position of the TFP. Our consciences are therefore entirely at peace with regard to our perfect union with the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.

 We have lived our whole lives in the Church and for the Church. In her we intend to die; and also for her, if Divine Providence so decides.

 Bishop Isnard’s accusation of schism does not disturb us.

 Lacking space in this article, I will analyze the remaining parts of his statement, God willing, in my next one.