Through the eyes of faith and in light of Church history, Archbishop Lefebvre saw in Rome the Magistra, the schoolmistress of wisdom and truth, and in the pope he saw the successor of Peter and the Vicar of Jesus Christ.
This is his fundamental romanitas. He later told his seminarians:
In Rome we were convinced that we were in a school of faith. Just living in Rome was a school of faith: the shrines, the Lenten station churches, the canonization ceremonies at St. Peter’s, the audiences with the Holy Father....
Even after the compulsory departure of Fr. Henri Le Floch, who in spite of his innocence was included in the condemnation of Action Française by Pius XI, Marcel Lefebvre lost none of his respect for that pope:
We in the French Seminary had the joy every year of being received by the Holy Father. He gave us a short allocution. We revered the Holy Father. God knows that we learned to love the pope, the Vicar of Christ!
A checkered view of Rome in the 1950s
Much later, as Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Lefebvre was received in audience each year by Pius XII. This pope inspired in him a great respect, which nevertheless did not prevent a certain sympathy from developing between them. By his yearly visits to Rome he also became acquainted with the Curia. He acknowledged its merits and shortcomings to his seminarians:
At the Secretariat of State, I was received by Bishop Tardini: he was a man of faith, for whom the service of Our Lord came before all else, a resolute man who was not afraid to fight and to state the truth! At the Holy Office [i.e., today’s CDF], Cardinal Ottaviani was a man completely dedicated to the Church, very concerned about the Church’s honor. That was their life: defending the rights of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Church. In contrast, the other Substitute of the Secretariat of State, then-Bishop Montini (the future Pope Paul VI), always seemed to me a bit evasive, imprecise, afraid of conflicts and difficulties.
After the Council, his judgment was severe:
Now,” he said in 1978, “diplomatic and human problems take priority over the Faith! The Church lives, nevertheless; she cannot die; but she has a face that is not her own.