An Interview with Fr. Cyprian, O.S.B.


Le Barroux was a Traditional Benedictine monastery affiliated with Archbishop Lefebvre until last July's Consecrations. The Archbishop had been the one ordaining their priests, and members of the Society often found Le Barroux to be an excellent place to make a retreat. After working so closely with Archbishop Lefebvre and supporting the consecration of new bishops in the work "Five Reasons in Favor of the Consecrations," the abbot, Dom Gerard suddenly did an about-face after Cardinal Mayer visited the monastery. Fr. Cyprian details the events that led up to this sudden break with Archbishop Lefebvre, and his own eventual decision to leave Le Barroux in September of 1988.

Q. Father, most of our readers know you as an American who became a Benedictine monk at the Le Barroux monastery in France where you lived from late 1980 until you left under tragic circumstances in September, 1988. Father, why did you go to Le Barroux in the first place?

A. I left my work at the Society's school at St. Mary's, KS to go to Le Barroux after a long search for the true monastic life. For several years I had been visiting various monasteries in America and then I found out about the SSPX. Through the Society I rediscovered the traditional practice of the Faith and from that moment everything began to fall into place. I went to St. Mary's and heard Archbishop Lefebvre speak during a pilgrimage. His approach to the crisis in the Church made a tremendous amount of sense. I asked the priest of St. Mary's if a monastery existed that shared that same approach. He told me that there was only one traditional monastery in the whole world. It was Benedictine and it was in absolute harmony with the Archbishop and the Society. So the choice was easy to make. I went to France that same year in the fall of 1980.

Q. Father, why did you leave?

A.  Several monks as well as myself left the monastery at Le Barroux right after the consecrations at Ecône because from that summer of 1988 onward, things had radically changed at our monastery.

For the monks at Le Barroux, two opposing events took place even though they revolved around the one historical event of the consecrations themselves. First, our superiors had just finished a long, careful preparation of our community of monks and nuns, as well as our faithful and benefactors, so that everyone understood exactly what would take place on June 30th. They even went so far as to publish a brochure entitled, "Five Reasons in Favor of the Consecrations" so as to dispel any worries among our followers.

Then, all of a sudden, only weeks before the consecrations would take place, the totally unexpected arrival of Cardinal Mayer and Msgr. Perl was announced to the community. A secret council of monks was immediately called together and for the next few days of the Cardinal's surprise visit negotiations took place twice a day in private. The rest of the community being excluded from these meetings, we had to wait until the evening Chapter gathering that we have each day before Compline to hear any news of the secret meetings. Dom Gerard only asked us for our prayers, saying that something very good was about to happen to the monastery.

After Cardinal Mayer and Msgr. Perl left to return to Rome, our superiors had been successfully dissuaded from their support of the upcoming consecrations. Dom Gerard then announced to all of us, with an air of victory, that the monastery would soon be regularized with Rome; reinstated into the Benedictine confederation, and that as soon as a letter arrived from the Nuncio in Paris, all our priests would no longer be under the pains of the suspension "a divinis" and the other irregularities incurred through their being ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre. All of these so-called wondrous things were brought to our doorstep because the Archbishop had denounced the protocol of May 5th, and now Cardinal Mayer had just given it to us instead.

Q. Father, didn't these words arouse a little suspicion among the monks?

A. Many of us were very worried and were wondering what exactly must have transpired during those secret council meetings with Cardinal Mayer and Msgr. Perl. Later on we all found out. There was a catch to all of this. The condition placed on the monastery's regularization with Rome was this: no more Lefebvre; period. Archbishop Lefebvre cold no longer have any contact with Le Barroux: he could no longer be our bishop. In other words, no more ordinations for our candidates to the priesthood, no more consecrations for our nuns, no more dedications of our buildings and churches, no more confirmations for our faithful from anyone in the Society of St. Pius X, and so forth. But Cardinal Mayer finally had a change of heart and conceded that the Archbishop could maybe visit the monastery as a mere guest like any layman.

Given those conditions I don't see why he would ever want to return. Didn't any of the monks or nuns seem surprised by those conditions?

A.  Many of the monks seemed very shocked—it seemed too absurd to believe. But now all of a sudden our superiors were doing some very fast talking to try and make everything sound reasonable. We began hearing things like this: 'After all, Msgr. Lefebvre is only a bishop like any other in the Church, and besides, from our viewpoint we really shouldn't favor one bishop over another.' Now we had free choice of any bishop who seemed to qualify for our requirements of orthodoxy—any bishop at all except, of course, Archbishop Lefebvre. And whenever the name Lefebvre was brought up, immediately there were connotations and accusations of schism and excommunication from our superiors. For some strange reason, Dom Gerard came out of the secret talks with Cardinal Mayer asking us to pray hard for poor old rebellious Marcel Lefebvre who was now on the brink of an irreparable schism with Rome.

Q. It really seems like somewhere along the line the superiors of Le Barroux made a drastic about-face in their position regarding the consecrations.

A.  Yes, and that is precisely what became, for several monks, the problem of conscience compelling them to leave the monastery. The same Dom Gerard who, until June, 1988 always took the public defense of the Archbishop, was now rabidly opposed to him. Now all of a sudden, we were hearing such things as "the Archbishop is a senile old man who has clearly shown signs of losing his mind, and he is nothing less than obsessed by his hatred of Vatican II, and he is formally schismatic and most definitely excommunicated. All he wants to do is play polemics and dialectics with Rome, etc., etc." I couldn't believe my ears! And now, according to Le Barroux's theologian, "all marriages performed by priests of the SSPX are invalid and no Catholic in his right frame of mind can follow the Archbishop."

Q. But Father, we read that Dom Gerard announced the consecrations as a kind of "prophetic act," to use his own words. Did he really say that?

A. Oh yes; and Fr. Joseph cites him in his famous letter he published in the French Catholic paper, "Monde et Vie" to explain why he, too, left Le Barroux. I recall Dom Gerard saying that the decision to proceed with the consecrations against all apparent opposition was indeed a prophetic act, and that the Archbishop is a saint having enlightenment from heaven to go through with them. In contrast to such compliments, we were now hearing the same Dom Gerard denounce the same Msgr. Lefebvre as a schismatic, etc., as I mentioned earlier.

Q. Did any other monks leave Le Barroux in protest?

A.  It was never in a spirit of protest that anyone left Le Barroux. It was something much more serious than simply trying to prove a point. Monks do not leave their monastery and abandon their vows of stability and obedience merely in order to try and prove something. All those monks who left were, in conscience, left with no alternative. It had become virtually impossible to support Msgr. Lefebvre and remain living at Le Barroux at the same time.

Q. But you say that Archbishop Lefebvre ordained some twenty priests of your community. Didn't they disapprove of Dom Gerard's new stand?

A.  Only six of the twenty left. Three in Brazil, two in France, plus myself and one other who is still wavering back and forth. Also, there is a professed brother, and an American novice who is now a seminarian in Winona. I do not count the novices and postulants in our monastery in Brazil who remained with their superior, Fr. Thomas Aquinas, when he refused to accept the Rome deal.

Q. And what about the nuns? Aren't there three Americans in the convent?

A.  Yes, and one of them wrote me a letter after I left. It was clear to me that, after I re-read all the adjectives she put to my name, she knew nothing of the truth about what really happened at Le Barroux. The nuns only know what they are told by their superiors. Normally, this would be absolutely legitimate, but under the present circumstances it is very sad. Now there is no way to get through to them. All mail and phone calls are screened.

Q. Father, we read in other publications various arguments in support of the present situation at the monastery. They would lead us to believe that things really aren't all that bad at Le Barroux. Could this be the reason why so few monks have left?

A.  I'll relate to you one more little incident.

A few days prior to my departure, I had a rather heated discussion with my superior. He knew I was still very perplexed by the sudden drastic change in the monastery's orientation. He knew I remained strongly in favor of the Archbishop and that I wasn't swallowing any of the excuses I was hearing. That particular day, one of the priests walked out, and on his way out the door he said I was about to do the same. I was summoned to my superior's room where he said to me somewhat furiously, "My dear Father, either you are with us or you are against us—which one is it?" On that very same day news of Fr. Thomas' refusal of the Rome deal was announced. Fr. Thomas decided to stand firm as the superior of the Brazilian monastery, complaining that he had been completely eclipsed from the secret meetings held with Cardinal Mayer. Dom Gerard, who was about to catch a plane to Brazil "in order to rescue the monastery from Fr. Thomas and his pirates," gave us a report of the incident before leaving. After commenting on the apparent disobedience and revolutionary behavior of the Brazilian monks, he concluded by exclaiming, "Now we see the true work of Lefebvre: he destroys monasteries by turning the monks against their father!" He said this because Fr. Thomas called Ecône to ask Msgr. Lefebvre's advice before publicly rejecting the Rome deal to maintain possession of his monastery.

The gist of these incidents is this: We are now seen by the community as monks who have discarded their sacred vows of obedience by preferring to remain supportive of the Archbishop, and thereby succumb to the worldly interests of the Church actuality in preference to being good monks. We had all been exhorted several times to make the "little sacrifice" of mortifying our natural human attachment to the Archbishop in order to be more supernaturally docile to our superior and more faithful to God through our vow of obedience.

Q. In other words you were being ordered to shut up, close your eyes and obey?

A.  Yes. Obedience in this case was supposed to overrule all else. And when our superiors were reminded that it was a question of the Faith being in danger by going along with the Church of Vatican II, the reply was this: "That is merely a simplistic slogan typical of uncultured people."

Q. Did all the monks who heard Dom Gerard's account of the Brazil incident really believe what they were hearing?

A.  Of course not. Many of us were suspicious that someone might be twisting the truth. Several of us felt sorry for Fr. Thomas Aquinas because his case was grossly mishandled by the superiors in France. Now, according to the Rome deal, he could have no more relations with the diocese of Campos, which is Bishop Castro Mayer and all of his priests who up until then, were helping to found the monastery in Brazil. Just as Rome prohibited any contact between Le Barroux and Msgr. Lefebvre, so too, contact was prohibited between Santa Cruz and Bishop de Castro Mayer. Fr. Thomas was never told what was going on in clear terms. His reaction was more than understandable.

Q. Father, all of this news is most saddening. How do you explain the speed with which your superiors made a complete about-face in their support of the Archbishop?

A.  The monks who left, as well as many concerned benefactors, feel as though a long discreet preparation was made for the present position of Le Barroux. They do not think the superiors were ever completely convinced that Msgr. Lefebvre had acted appropriately in his dealings with Rome ever since 1976 and the famous suspension "a divinis." They have followed the archbishop reluctantly, cringing every time he criticizes the strange behavior of our Holy Father. Many of them say the Archbishop must be sedevacantist.

Q. You showed us a clause in the Rule of St. Benedict requiring the vote of the entire community before any important decision is made. Didn't your superior comply with this when he presented the protocol to all the monks?

A.  Apparently he didn't feel this decision was important enough to consult the whole community. He secretly picked certain monks to attend the negotiations. No one except themselves knew about it. The decision was made immediately when Msgr. Perl threatened Dom Gerard that, if he did not decide right away, the monastery would never be regularized. Such is what one of the council monks confided to me. I was not allowed to attend the secret meetings.

Q. Such a decision, as to altogether abandon the Archbishop and almost twenty years of collaboration with the SSPX, did not require the consent of the entire community?

A. Not in our Superior's thinking.

Q. Didn't any of the monks begin wondering when they saw their brethren walking out the door?

A.  The departure of the six monks from Le Barroux, and the breaking away of the community in Brazil, was portrayed as something which had nothing at all to do with the consecrations at Ecône and the protocol which dissolved our relationship with the Archbishop.

Q. Maybe things were not so explicit at Le Barroux in the summer of 1988?

A.  The monastery in Brazil was considered to have been taken over by a band of "possessed pirates" (Fr. Thomas and his monks). Each of the other monks who left was discounted as not having a real vocation, being mentally retarded, or some other incredible accusation. Had we all left the same day, things surely would have been more difficult to cover-up before the eyes of the community.

Q. What conclusion do you draw, Father?

A. I think the conclusion is possibly threefold. First; the radical change in position of Le Barroux regarding the crisis in the Church—this change became most acutely manifest during the summer of the consecrations at Ecône.

Secondly, there is all of a sudden, a pernicious campaign against the Archbishop and the SSPX.

Thirdly, the strange abuse of the vow of obedience.

Q. Father, would you mind elaborating very briefly?

A. First, regarding the change at Le Barroux: there is presently a definite opening-up to the ideas of Vatican II, especially to the Religious Liberty of Vatican II. This is central to the revolutionary theology of the Council. The monastery's theologian has made a very lengthy exposé of the question and now concludes that Vatican II was right, and that Msgr. Lefebvre's position is unjustified and doubtful at best. And when I left, I was hearing things from the superiors such as, "Where is the real crisis in the Church?"; now there is a flat rejection of the Archbishop's entire approach to the crisis. For Le Barroux, the position of Archbishop Lefebvre is no longer worth the consideration of intelligent Catholics.

Secondly, the anti-campaign launched during the summer of 1988: when I joined the monastery in 1980 the Archbishop was revered there as a champion of the true Catholic faith chosen by God to save the Church from apostasy. When I left in 1988, that same Archbishop was now "a senile old man; the leader of a sect vowed to religious fanaticism. " The man who gave the monastery most of its benefactors, the man who sent the monastery most of its vocations—that man is now its enemy. He no longer has any value to Le Barroux, nor to anyone who wishes to remain Catholic, as it is now said there. Now Le Barroux's needs are entrusted to the Church of Vatican II.

Q. And it seems like the obedience you were being ordered to practice has many parallels with the obedience imposed on all of us in the early 1970's; when the bishops were forcing their dioceses to take on the bizarre changes said to be promulgated by Vatican II.

A.  True. Neither of these two kinds of so-called obedience has any semblance to real obedience. It is all mere double-talk.

Q. Father, what do you intend to do now?

A.  I have chosen to remain unchanged in my support of the archbishop and the SSPX. I would rather continue just as I started out at LeBarroux in 1980. Now I'll simply put one of the Archbishop's favorite expressions into practice:

"On continue..." It means, "Let us simply go on..."

Q. You will remain a Benedictine monk?

A. Just after I left Le Barroux in September of last year, I went to Ecône to talk to the archbishop about my future. I offered to join the Society as a gesture of my gratitude to him. He only laughed and said, "You are a monk. You must continue as a monk of the Church and leave the rest in God's hands."

Q. There is a rumor saying you will be starting a Benedictine monastery in Kentucky.

A. It is only a rumor, but if any young men are interested in the monastic life such as we lived it in Europe, I am considering teaching them what little I know so as to pass on the tradition. If anything materializes, it will be in complete harmony with Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX. God will then show us where to go from there. I leave all the rest up to His Providence.


Fr. Cyprian, O.S.B.
1730 North Stillwell Road

Boston, Kentucky 40107