VATICAN CITY -- Traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's top custodian of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, met Tuesday in what was described as an atmosphere of "open and sincere dialogue."
But church sources said there was little reason to expect the encounter to heal the rift between the Holy See and the 81-year-old French-born archbishop. Lefebvre was suspended "a divinis" in 1976, but has threatened repeatedly to consecrate one or more bishops, at the risk of excommunication, unless the Vatican changes its "liberal and neo-Protestant" ways.
In the Roman Catholic Church, only the pope can name bishops.
In Rimini, Italy, on July 12, where he attended a mass celebrated by one of 21 priests he ordained in June, the archbishop said he was considering the consecration of new bishops in the next year.
"Being excommunicated by a church that is not truly Catholic would not constitute a sin," said the former archbishop of Tulle, France, and Dakar, Senegal, adding that Pope John Paul II "has no character" and "did not impress me as a pope."
The brief joint statement released after the 80-minute meeting with Ratzinger made no mention of the serious divisions between Lefebvre and the main body of the church. The two churchmen said only that the subject of the meeting requested by Lefebvre was "the problems regarding the relations" between the Holy See and the prelate's Saint Pius X Fraternity.
The brief nine-line statement, signed by Lefebvre and by Ratzinger, who is prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, also said the two had agreed not to issue any other statements.
After the meeting, a smiling Lefebvre brushed reporters away. But one of his aides, who gave his name only as Franco, implied that the tensions between the two sides had not been resolved.
"Rome has to change. If not, the archbishop will begin consecrating bishops in six months to a year," the aide said.
The Saint Pius X Fraternity, with headquarters in Econe, Switzerland, was established by Lefebvre after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which he rejected as outside the true Catholic tradition. He claims there are at least 70 centers of his movement around the world.
In defiance of the Vatican, after setting up his seminary, Lefebvre began ordaining priests and continued to celebrate the 16th century Latin mass.
Because of his disobedience, in 1976 he was suspended from his priestly and episcopal functions by Pope Paul VI.