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October 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Last week, a major exposé appeared as two Moynihan Letters (#26 and #28) at Inside the Vatican and was then republished at the traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli. It takes the form of a lengthy interview conducted by Kevin Symonds with Fr. Charles Theodore Murr (b. 1950), author of The Godmother: Mother Pascalina: A Feminine Tour de Force (2017), and a former secretary to Edouard Cardinal Gagnon who worked at the Vatican in the 1970s. During this period, Murr became close friends with Mother Pascalina Lehnert (1894–1983), Eugenio Pacelli’s housekeeper for 41 years, from his time as papal nuncio in Germany in the 1920s through his papal reign as Pius XII until his death in 1958. In the interview, Murr discusses a large number of personalities, including Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and particularly Annibale Bugnini (1912–1982), as well as Vatican II, the liturgical reform, the infiltration of Freemasonry into the Vatican, and Fatima. Fr. Murr divulges what he saw or heard from the very people involved, including cardinals who discovered the Masonic connections of high-ranking prelates.

For decades, Annibale Bugnini, the secretary of the Consilium for liturgical reform and the key figure in its execution, has been suspected or accused of being a Freemason. The matter remained doubtful to such an extent that the eminent French historian Yves Chiron, in his judicious biography of Bugnini, judged that the rumor was inadequately supported by facts. The situation began to change last May, when Kevin Symonds presented credible details, courtesy of Fr. Brian Harrison, naming Cardinal Dino Staffa as the one who brought Paul VI the “smoking gun” information on Bugnini’s Masonry, which precipitated the latter’s sudden fall from grace. It is therefore of major significance that Fr. Murr offers more and better evidence that independently confirms the same sequence of events.

Fr. Murr met Cardinal Gagnon in 1974. Soon, the cardinal would be assigned by Paul VI to do a Papal Visitation of the Roman Curia, during which Murr assisted Gagnon with documents and other practical matters. Asked what the Visitation concerned, Murr replies:

In 1975, toward the end of his pontificate, Pope Paul VI seemed convinced, finally and thoroughly, of what he himself declared in 1972, that “the smoke of Satan had entered the Church.” Some of the most high ranking members of the College of Cardinals — the Pope’s closest advisors — had gone to him personally and leveled some very damning accusations against key members of his own central government, that is, the Roman Curia. Very damning accusations — the consequences of which are still with us today. The Pope was so shaken by these accusations that he ordered an in-depth investigation, top to bottom, of the entire Roman Curia. He chose Gagnon for this assignment and it lasted three full years.

Murr goes on to reveal who the cardinals were who made these accusations:

Cardinals Dino Staffa, Silvio Oddi and Archbishop Giovanni Benelli. Staffa was a very powerful Curia official. At the time, he was Prefect of the Apostolica Signatura — more or less, the “Chief Justice” of Catholicism’s Supreme Court. Silvio Cardinal Oddi was another powerhouse. He later became the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy in 1979.

The mention of Cardinal Staffa dovetails with the personal experiences of both Eric de Saventhem and Michael Davies (consecutive presidents of the International Federation Una Voce).

When Symonds reminds Murr that, as reported in The Godmother, Mother Pascalina Lehnert believed Archbishop Annibale Bugnini to have been a Freemason, Murr furnishes further details:

Bugnini stood seriously accused by Staffa, Oddi and Benelli of being a Freemason and carrying out Freemasonic designs against the Church. Bishop Gagnon and Don Mario Marini also knew about the matter. For her part, Mother Pascalina — as with most of the “older and wiser” personages I knew — was on the Vatican’s inside track. She was close to [Cardinals] Ottaviani, Siri, Spellman and to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, etc., as well as to many others around the world and in the Roman Curia[.] … Not until sometime after the Second Vatican Council did people start waking up to what Bugnini was doing and then to what Bugnini was. Nothing of any consequence was mentioned about Monsignor Bugnini until the mid-1960s. Only after Pius XII’s death (and John XXIII’s) did Bugnini show his true colors. When Paul VI made him a bishop in 1972, people knew — or thought they knew — that he was in the Curia to stay.

Symonds then asks, “If Archbishop Bugnini was somehow involved with Freemasonry, what can we say, then, about Bugnini and the Conciliar liturgical reforms?” To which Murr replies:

I think it is better to ask whether “Freemasonic designs” had something to do with the liturgical reforms that Bugnini decided the Second Vatican Council desired. Were Bugnini’s reforms concerned with a more perfect adoration and worship of God, or with celebrating the Freemasonic concept of the brotherhood of man? When certain Council Fathers insisted that not one word of the 1,600-year-old Roman Canon be touched, by any stretch of the imagination, could that be taken to mean they wanted to concoct entirely new canons?

Symonds recounts the story told in the Memoirs of the eminent theologian and sometime member of the Consilium, Louis Bouyer (1913–2004), who learned directly from his friend Paul VI that Bugnini was “running interference” between the pope and the Consilium by lying to both sides about what the other wanted, and asks Murr point blank: “Once Bugnini’s shenanigans were discovered, why wouldn’t Paul VI ‘reverse course’ on the liturgical reforms?”

Murr responds:

To your question, I can only offer an educated guess. Freemasonic influences were hard at work in the Vatican during those critical post-conciliar years (and continue to be). This explanation, however, is insufficient to describe the present malaise within the Church because it is not balanced with the reality of sin and human frailty. The latter have real consequences for the Church when it comes to hierarchs[.] … Paul VI liked to put opposite personalities together such as the Frenchman Jean Cardinal Villot as his Secretary of State with Archbishop Benelli as the sostituto. I suspect it was because Paul hoped that the path of virtue or a via media would emerge from the subsequent conflicts. …

He tried to speak to everyone and to pacify different factions within the Church, most notably the so-called “progressives” and “conservatives.” How successful he was in this endeavor will be debated by historians and theologians. The fact remains, however, that the character of Paul VI demonstrated a weakness of will and this goes to the heart of your question.

Archbishop Benelli finally convinced the Holy Father to “deal with” the Bugnini affair. Benelli had the idea to combine two Vatican Congregations — Divine Worship and Rites — into one: The Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments [actually, in July 1975, The Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship, with its present name dating from 1988 — PAK]. Villot arranged for Bugnini to be named Nuncio to Iran as well as acted upon Benelli’s idea of combining the two liturgical dicasteries. Villot, however, continued to defend Bugnini’s “reforms.” Instead, then, of dealing with the obvious shadows cast upon Bugnini’s work, Paul VI simply retreated further into himself, not wanting to be involved any further in the conflict.

To the obvious question of why Bugnini was not more severely punished once his Freemasonic membership was discovered and revealed to Paul VI, Murr explains:

Paul VI was a lifelong career diplomat. In the Vatican, where international diplomacy was created (along with all the rules), a bishop and member of the Roman Curia is never “fired” — evidently, even when that bishop is a Freemason. Bishops are off-limits. Prior to the defrocking of Theodore McCarrick, this was a fundamental rule of Vatican diplomacy. Moreover, if the Holy Father had excommunicated or even “fired” Bugnini, that would raise questions with Bugnini’s work. Paul VI was unwilling to do this.

Instead, explains Murr, Paul VI followed the classic adage promoveatur ut amoveatur, let him be promoted so that he may be removed from the situation.

The merger of those two congregations was the answer. It was announced in 1975 along with Bugnini’s “promotion” as Vatican Nuncio to Iran. Iran: a Muslim theocracy with 18,000 tolerated Roman Catholics. I guess Paul VI concluded that Bugnini could do the least amount of harm under those rather stringent conditions.

(It should be noted that at first Bugnini was assigned to the post of nuncio to Uruguay; when he protested that he knew no Spanish, Iran was decided on instead, where the diplomatic language was French, which he knew. See Chiron’s biography, pp. 167–77.)

Symonds continues: “Archbishop Bugnini denied to his dying breath that he was a Freemason. If he was a Freemason, why do you think that he would directly lie about it?” Whereupon Murr says: “If that’s the question the answer is simple: because he was a Freemason!”

When asked if he has anything more to add about Bugnini, Murr discloses hitherto unknown details:

Yes, it was Benelli and Marini, not Gagnon, who played a major role in Bugnini’s “promotion” to Apostolic Nuncio to Tehran. Too many prelates and Church officials — very much including Virgilio Noè (who had the Pope’s ear daily and who stood next in line for Bugnini’s position, “should ever there be an opening”) — complained unashamedly about Bugnini to Paul VI. The Pope was pressured into taking action, and sending Bugnini into exile took much of the blame for many liturgical anomalies off himself. Also, there was some sort of a “last straw” when thousands of newly-printed Roman Missals had to be recalled (and destroyed) due to Bugnini’s “additions,” some unauthorized. This happened during Christmas vacation (while his supporters were away on vacation), 1975–76.

Clearly, this interview opens up many new lines for research. For example, Murr notes that Sebastiano Cardinal Baggio was certainly a Freemason — and Baggio played an important role in the selection of bishops for the worldwide Church from 1973 to 1984. According to Murr, Cardinals Staffa and Oddi possessed a dossier of corroborating evidence on Baggio which they shared with Paul VI; Gagnon, Mario Marini, and Benelli also knew of it. At the end of the interview, Murr mentions that he is currently writing a book on Baggio, “based upon conversations to which I was privy with Gagnon, Marini and Benelli.” If that book turns out to be nearly as interesting as The Godmother, it will be worth the wait.

Some people have already objected to the Murr interview as giving us “nothing better than rumors” and have said that unless we have direct documentary evidence, we cannot make historical assertions. This, however, is a rule that no professional historian actually operates by.

Historical certitude is achieved not only by means of primary documents, which are the most valuable sources, but also by a consistent mosaic of reports from figures involved in the events. Reasonable assumptions often need to be made to make sense out of a situation. For example, all history books include statements of this form: “Madame so-and-so was the mistress of King so-and-so.” But were they ever observed in flagrante delicto? No; it’s just that “everyone knew it.” Perhaps they only ever read novels to each other, or played chess, or recited Matins. Nevertheless, there are reasonable assumptions that can be made on the basis of human nature and the signs we know how to interpret. Similarly, when it comes to these new claims about Bugnini and the figures that surrounded him and Paul VI, we are capable of putting two and two together. The quality of the sources is sufficient to engender confidence and the internal coherence of the information with what is already known is undeniable.

It is thus fair to say there is no longer reasonable doubt that the single most dominant figure in the liturgical reform was, indeed, a Freemason. This may also explain, at least in part, why Bugnini’s private papers are kept under lock and key, inaccessible to any scholars, although perhaps it is too much to believe that incriminating materials have not already been destroyed by now.

Some Catholics may find themselves asking: why, in 2020, is this topic even important anymore? The year 1962, when the Council opened, or 1975, when Bugnini fell from grace — that’s a long time ago, and so much water has flowed under the bridge. The revised liturgical rites were approved by Paul VI and are used almost everywhere. Shouldn’t we just focus our energy today on how we can celebrate them better, and let the dead bury the dead?

Such a way of thinking greatly underestimates the gravity of what Fr. Murr’s interview reveals. Let us step back and consider the magnitude of the revelation.

Annibale Bugnini was one of the few constant “players” in liturgical reform at the Vatican over a very long period of time, from 1948 to 1975. He held successively more important positions until he was appointed principal secretary of the preconciliar committee that drafted the constitution on the sacred liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) for Vatican II, in which capacity he craftily advised his associates to take refuge in vagueness and procedural mechanisms so that the Council Fathers would not block their daring plans (see Chiron, p. 82). Paul VI, who shared his liturgical vision almost entirely, appointed him the principal secretary of the body entrusted with implementing this constitution. In that capacity, he was unquestionably the architect, or, perhaps better, the general contractor, of the liturgical reform in all its dimensions (the Mass, the sacraments, the papal rites, the Divine Office, the calendar, etc.). He largely controlled the committee membership that worked on the various tasks; he scheduled and ran the Consilium’s meetings, distributed the minutes, put the “right” people in contact with each other, offered private counsel and guidance, and, most influentially, regulated the flow of information between the Pope and the Consilium: what the Pope knew about the Consilium’s intentions, he heard largely from Bugnini; what the Consilium heard about the Pope’s wishes, they heard largely from Bugnini. Practically nothing that happened in the liturgical reform did not first pass through his mind and his mouth, to be imprinted with his attitudes and agendas. During his exile in Iran, he wrote a nearly 1,000-page book, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948–1975, in which he explains, step by step, how thousands of changes were made to Catholic worship and expresses his agreement with these changes.

It appears ever more certain that this man was a Freemason, and that what pleased him about the reform is analogous to what pleases the Freemasons today about almost everything Pope Francis says and does. It is, or should be, no news that Freemasonry and Catholicism are implacable enemies, with diametrically opposed creeds and cults. If this is not reason enough, then, to be skeptical about the liturgical reform as it played out, to distance oneself from it as much as possible, and to return wholeheartedly to the enduring tradition that was scorned and suppressed by the revolutionaries, I am not sure what could ever make a difference. Would we need to find out that Bugnini was a child-molester? A Satanist? For certain ultramontanist conservatives, nothing, it seems, can displace the blinders they have chosen to fasten to their heads. But for Catholics who, prompted by the Holy Spirit, seek out reverent, authentic worship in keeping with our centuries-old inheritance of faith, the traditional Roman liturgy is still present and always will be present in medio Ecclesiae, in the midst of the Church, where Our Lord will sustain its integrity until His coming in glory.

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Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California (B.A. Liberal Arts) and The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC (M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy). He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria and the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, then helped establish Wyoming Catholic College in 2006. There he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history and directed the choirs until leaving in 2018 to devote himself full-time to writing and lecturing.

Today he contributes regularly to many websites and publications, including New Liturgical Movement, OnePeterFive, LifeSiteNews, Rorate Caeli, The Remnant, and Catholic Family News, and has published thirteen books, including four on traditional Catholicism: Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014, also available in Czech, Polish, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Belarusian), Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017), Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018), and Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico, 2020). His work has been translated into at least eighteen languages.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over a thousand articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church.

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, visit his personal website,