Amidst all the turmoil over Francis and cohorts, we detect a new trend among traditional Catholics. It seems a growing number of those fed up with the mess in Rome are looking for answers, and in the process, finding clues that lead back to the pivotal conclave of 1958. Until recently, most Catholic writers and editors, clerical and lay, have tended to dismiss the event — or ignore it altogether. Less than two years ago, at a Fatima Conference held in our area, I put a question to one of the speakers, Bishop Richard Williamson: did he know about the billowing white smoke at the papal conclave the night of October 26, 1958 that some say signaled the election of Cardinal Giuseppe Siri?
Well yes, he had. The story is “out there,” he admitted, but not really important. Indeed, it’s now all “water under the bridge.” Or so he told us at the conference. Recently, however, I unearthed an online video taken, it seems, earlier in 2012, wherein he gives a different opinion on the matter. Speaking, apparently, to a group of students, his Excellency announces that Cardinal Siri “may well have been elected pope in 1958 and/or in 1963.” Under “tremendous pressure” from undercover “bad guys,” however, who said they would kill all his family, he backed down. Williamson himself said he thought Siri was elected in one of those conclaves.
“That seems very possible,” he said.
So why the discrepancy between this video and the bishop’s answer at the conference? Given the subject it’s hard to say. The fact is that the Siri theory — or thesis, as some put it, has been under discussion and investigation for decades, but largely overlooked by the mainline Catholic media. Only lately have we detected a new trend, an obvious upsurge of interest out there which has apparently forced their hand, so to speak. Thus the recent video “The Cardinal Siri Theory,” which is part of an online series produced by Fatima Network. On this, John Vennari, editor of Catholic Family News, puts the question of the day, submitted by an anonymous third party, to his associate, Fr. Nicholas Gruner. Does the latter know about the “perplexing” events of the 1958 papal conclave, when Cardinal Siri of Genoa was elected pope but then made to step down? FBI documents, now declassified, “prove conclusively” that this was the case.
Or so our third party contends. Fr. Gruner, however, disagrees. Not that he addresses the issue of the FBI documents which, while cited in The Vatican Exposed, a book by Paul Williams, nobody we know seems able to find, not even live contacts in D.C. No, our Fatima priest goes straight to the election itself. While admitting Siri possibly, if not probably, got the necessary number of votes at the conclave, he insists it does not matter because, in any event, the cardinal did not accept the office. As Vennari puts it at one point during the discussion, this act comprises the “I do” of the process. Without it, a candidate, no matter what his number of votes, does not become pope.
Significantly this argument was also made by Malachi Martin in a recording made, apparently, in 1999, the year of his death. Siri, the ex-Jesuit says, was elected pope in 1958 but refused to accept the office because of threats made at the conclave on the lives of his family members. As far as we know, this was Martin’s first public mention of a Siri election in 1958. Previously, in his book Keys of This Blood, published in 1990, he wrote that Siri had gotten the required votes during the conclave of 1963 but failed to accept. No mention of this occurring in 1958 was included.
In the online video, Fr. Gruner makes no mention of the late great Martin. Since the former Jesuit died after falling down his stairs, some suspect he was the victim of a latter-day Goosey, Goosey Gander (1). Gruner, however, does not delve into such matters. Instead, referring to the papal conclave of 1958, he cites the testimony of an anonymous Frenchman, whom he met previously at a Catholic conference that included as many as forty others. Exactly when and where this occurred he does not say, and as we shall see, the time factor is crucial.
While the Frenchman remains unnamed, his words are very familiar to those of us who have read the article “The Pope: Could He Be Cardinal Siri?” (2) written in French by Louis Hubert Remy, translated into English by Heidi Hagen, and published by “Sangre de Cristo Newsnotes” in December, 1987. We have posted a copy of this below.
Here, however, the story gets complicated, for Vennari himself cited Remy's piece in his own article “The Cardinal Siri Theory” that appeared in Catholic Family News back in September, 2006! Not that our online host mentions this during the current interview. He says nothing about it, giving the impression that it’s all new to him. We are led to believe that at present Fr. Gruner is his sole source of information regarding the unnamed French contact. Having read the Remy article ourselves, however, we figure its author has to be Fr. Gruner’s alleged contact because the priest’s account echoes so much of what Remy says in print! This cannot be coincidental, even though their conclusions do differ, as Fr. Gruner manages to skew the meaning of Remy’s testimony.
So let us compare. Speaking to Vennari in the video, Fr. Gruner says his French contact, a known “sedevacantist”, told him that he visited once with Siri sometime towards the end of the cardinal’s life (Siri died in mid-1989). The main thing was that, asked the key question, “Were you elected pope?,” Siri reacted by putting his hands over his face, his head down; in two minutes he seemed to age 20 years. Then, as reported by Fr. Gruner, he said, “I can’t answer that. I’m bound by the vow of conclave secrecy.”
Aha! For Vennari, who is supposedly hearing this third-hand, without the benefit of anything in print, that is “dead proof right there!” As Gruner also points out during the interview, if Siri had truly been elected and accepted, thereby becoming pope, he could have told them the details, since the pope, and only the pope, is free to reveal what occurred during the conclave. The fact that Siri could not say more settles it, in their estimation.
But does it really? We say no. For one thing, besides failing to cite Remy by name, Gruner ignores that author’s conclusion, which contradicts his and Vennari’s! Though we wonder: has Gruner even read Remy’s article? While one might think he has, he doesn’t say so. With such a serious matter at hand, we should not assume. So let us take a closer look. In his piece, Remy starts by citing yet another article by Prince Scotersco, cousin of Prince Borghese, president of the 1963 conclave which produced Paul VI. The Prince writes that during the Conclave, a Cardinal left the Sistine Chapel and met with secret elements who, hearing Cardinal Siri had just been elected, said “the persecutions against the Church would continue at once.” So his eminence returned to the conclave, and Montini was elected instead.
Remy goes on to say that he heard the same story from Monsieur de la Franquerie, who was in contact with persons “well aware of these facts.” This resulted in the two of them, accompanied by a third friend, visiting Cardinal Siri in May of 1984. When the question was presented to their host regarding the above mentioned prelate, whom Remy identifies as Cardinal Tisserant, leaving the Conclave, Siri’s response was “clear, precise, firm and unquestionable: ‘No, no one left the Conclave.’ ” Of course he could not report what might have happened behind his back. But, as Remy reports, “What retained our attention was this firmness, this categorical NO of the Cardinal.”
Later, however, when asked whether he had been elected pope, Siri’s reaction was “completely different.”
…He started by remaining silent for a long time, then raised his eyes to heaven with a rictus of suffering and pain, joined his hands and said, weighing each word with gravity: “I am bound by the secret.” Then, after a long silence, heavy for us all, he said again: “I am bound by the secret. This secret is horrible. I would have books to write about the different conclaves. Very serious things have taken place. But I can say nothing.”
Let’s think about it. If he had not been elected pope he would have said so with as much promptness and firmness as he had replied to the preceding question. As he had been elected, he could not say so, as he was bound by the secret, and as he could not lie, he took refuge behind this secret.
Now let’s fast forward to the year 2014 and compare the quotes as rendered by Remy in his article with what Fr. Gruner says on his video. According to the latter, Siri said, “I am bound by the secret of the conclave.” Remy, however, who was undoubtedly Gruner’s source, quotes the cardinal as saying, “I am bound by the secret.” There is a big difference here. Gruner specifically calls it “the secret of the conclave,” which refers to an oath of silence taken by all participants, and which cannot be broken. Only the newly and duly elected pope is entitled to say what transpired therein. In his article, however, Remy quotes Siri as saying simply that he is bound by “the secret.” How can we assume this is that of the conclave? Why not that of the confessional? What if one or more of the cardinals confessed to Siri what would happen under the sacramental seal, thus preventing him from speaking openly? Canon Law is explicit regarding the matter.
1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore a confessor will diligently take care that neither by word nor by sign nor in any other way or for any reason will he betray in the slightest anyone’s sin.
2. Interpreters are likewise bound by the obligation of preserving the sacramental seal, as well as those who in any way come into knowledge of the confession.
1. Any use to the detriment of the penitent of knowledge acquired by confession is entirely prohibited to the confessor, even excluding all danger of revelation.
This is indeed most explicit.
Then there is the penalty inflicted on those who violate the Seal of the Confessional in any way:
1. A confessor who presumes to violate directly the sacramental seal remains in an excommunication most specially reserved to the Apostolic See; but one who only indirectly [violates the seal] is liable to the penalties mentioned in Canon 2368, paragraph 1. (These penalties are most severe.)
2. Whoever accidentally violates the prescription of Canon 889, paragraph 2, is struck with a salutary penalty for the gravity of the deed, which can even be excommunication.
There is also the additional possibility, of course, that, under duress, Siri agreed to take some other sort of oath. The fact remains that we do not know what happened in that conclave — or in those that followed. As for the possibility that Siri was elected, accepted and then forced to resign under duress, the law also addresses that:
Resignation, is invalid by law if it was made out of grave fear unjustly inflicted, (or from) fraud, substantial error, or simony.
Considering all this, are we in a position to judge the man?
Then there is the time factor. Let’s consider that. Remy in his piece mentions first the 1963 conclave, and, later, alludes to that of 1978. Of the latter he writes:
. . . it appears that someone among my trustworthy friends who knows him very well has assured me that the Cardinal had told them that he had been elected pope twice: instead of Paul VI and instead of Wojytla. The first time he had refused, the second time he had been obliged to refuse under the pressure of schism!
Significantly Remy’s article makes no mention of the 1958 conclave, though that was the one brought up in the question to Fr. Gruner at the beginning of the online video. We have to wonder: did Remy ever question Siri about this earlier election at a later time? Did he then talk about it to Gruner — or was our Fatima priest confused about the dates? It seems unlikely that Siri, asked about this election or that, would have had the same dramatic reaction, involving the same gestures, twice, on two separate occasions, regarding two or three different conclaves, in the presence of the same witness. And that the latter, in turn, would then confer with Fr. Gruner, who, in turn, discussed one of the reactions online without revealing sources.
Is this confusing or what?
Amidst all this, let us not forget the problem of the white smoke. Online videos show this billowing out of the conclave stove-pipe the evening of October 26, 1958 for five full minutes. While Fr. Gruner and John Vennari dismiss this, we cannot, for the simple reason that such smoke signals that a pope has been elected — and has accepted the office. We repeat, the white smoke does not emerge until after the elected man has agreed to take on the job. Or as John Vennari puts it, he says the “I do”.
Yet another aspect of interest involves a quote cited above from the Remy article. Our author has heard that during the conclave of 1978 Siri refused the papal office “under pressure of schism.” While not knowing the details of that event, we must note that this is not the first time the threat of “schism” has been mentioned as a possible, if not probable, weapon against the Church. Back in 1873, Fr. Gaudentius Rossi, an Italian Passionist who, after coming to this country, wrote in English under the name of Pellegrino, addressed the issue in his book The Christian Trumpet. In the preamble to the third edition, Fr. Rossi notes that in his and other similar works, “a schism caused by the election of one and even two anti-popes is predicted.”
Presumably such a dire event would occur—yes, at a papal conclave. Yet, writing over 140 years ago, before all the current mess, he thinks it possible, if not probable! As for who is ultimately to blame, he names Lucifer, the “first arch-heretic and schismatic,” who sees in an infallible Pope the “very center of order, and the unerring teacher of all truth”. Hence “his wily efforts at present to create a schism through the election of an anti-pope.” And Fr. Rossi was commenting in the 19th century! We ask our readers: are things out there any better now in the 21st?