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Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who admitted being part of clerical ‘Mafia’ that plotted Francis’ election, engaged in discussion outside Synod Hall.Patrick Craine/LifeSite

ROME, October 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – During the Synod of Bishops on the Family, which took place from 5-25 October, two well-informed German Vatican experts and journalists – Paul Badde and Julius Müller-Meiningen – have made reports, independently of one another and from their own evidence, concerning the vexed question as to whether there was indeed an influential group called the “Sankt Gallen Group”. That group is alleged to consist of liberal-minded cardinals and bishops who worked for the election of a pope who would himself help push the Church into a liberalizing and authority-devolving direction.

On 10 October, for example, Paul Badde gave an interview to the German section of the Catholic News Agency, CNA. Badde was asked about the then-circulating report about Cardinal Danneels and about his own public confession that there existed indeed a kind of “mafia club” and that he was also part of it. Badde answered candidly – after repeating the serious charges against Cardinal Danneels himself as a protector of pedophiles and a promoter of pro-abortion laws – and he then confirmed, from his own experience, that Danneels indeed was part of such a group, a “prideful participant of a 'sort of mafia' within the college of cardinals.”

With further details, Badde continued: “In April of 2005, I was given reliable information according to which only three days after the burial of John Paul II, the Cardinals Martini, from Milan, Lehman and Kasper from Germany, Bačkis from Lithuania, van Luyn from Netherlands, Danneels from Brussels, and O'Connor from London met in the so-called Villa Nazareth in Rome, the home of Cardinal Silvestrini who was then not any more eligible to vote; they then discussed in secret a tactic of how to avoid the election of Joseph Ratzinger.”

Badde also said that, afterwards, he had made a report about this matter, saying, in part, that this conduct clearly “violates the instruction Universi Dominici Gregis promulgated by the deceased pope who, already in 1996, had put into it his new and strict rules according to which there are to be, in no way, any internal negotiations either before or during the Conclave concerning the election of the successor of a pope.”

As Badde recounts it, it was the now-retired Cardinal of Cologne, Germany, Joachim Meisner, who had “passionately fought this group, and especially Cardinal Danneels.” And, with a hint full of implication, Badde concluded: “But now it is not he [Meisner], the old friend of Joseph Ratzinger, who is personally invited to the Synod, but Cardinal Danneels himself who is also retired and who is even half a year older than Meisner. This is a fact.”

In another recent interview on 16 October with EWTN Germany, Paul Badde said that the very presence at the current Synod of Bishops of Cardinal Danneels – who has been involved in a cover-up of an abuse scandal, and who has also encouraged abortion laws in his country – “weakens the credibility of the Church”. He said it sends a “signal which causes confusion.”

Badde also pointed out a connection between the themes of the ongoing Synod and these essential liberalizing elements of reform already proposed by, and striven after by, the Sankt Gallen Group.

As Badde put it, Ratzinger spoke clearly about the “dictatorship of relativism” (which he intended to resist), while Pope Francis now follows the line that purportedly “unlocks” new developments. The themes of the reformers are now often discussed at the current Synod, according to Badde: “There is no more talk about sin.” But, it has come to be, according to Badde, about the very preservation of the “Deposit of Faith.” For, when Cardinal Marx, for example, now says at a Synod Press Conference that “one should not call homosexuals sinners,” Badde adds “then that is not fully Catholic.”

As the second commentator on this matter of the Sankt Gallen Group and its influence, we turn now to another German journalist, Müller-Meiningen, whose sympathies lie more with the “progressivists” at the current Synod. But he has some additional information of great worth in the context of this article.

In a recent 7 October report for the German newspaper Die Zeit, he helpfully recounts the history of the Sankt Gallen Group and shows how one of their main goals – regionalism and a decentralization of the Church – is soon likely to be attained at the current Synod – at least in some incipient form.

Müller-Meiningen repeats the now rather well-known history that, in 1996, the Bishop of Sankt Gallen, Ivo Fürer – who also then was the Secretary of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences – organized a meeting in Heiligkreuztal, Germany, at the invitation of Cardinal Walter Kasper, who was then Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, to which this monastery of Heiligkreuztal itself belongs. As the journalist puts it, these invited seven important representatives of the Church “were dissatisfied with the course which the Church had taken [under John Paul II].” And he continues: “They did not foresee it, but these men actually prepared the ground for the pontificate of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. And they anticipated the essential questions of the current Synod of Bishops.”

In addition to Fürer and Kasper, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, then Archbishop of Milan, Italy, was present, and, according to Müller-Meiningen, he then “became the spiritual father of the round table.” Additionally, there were Paul Verschuren, Bishop of Helsinki, Bishop Jean Vilnet of Lille, Bishop Johan Weber, of Graz-Seckau, as well as the Bishop of Mainz, Karl Lehmann.

While there was no structured agenda for these meetings, certain themes were recurrently prominent. As Müller-Meiningen expresses it: “Pope John Paul II was constantly traveling, and the Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger were effectively leading the Church. They personified, in the eyes of these reform-oriented prelates, the authoritarian and centralizing governance of the Church.” And Müller-Meiningen continues: “What Fürer, Martini, Kasper, Lehmann and the others were demanding, was a community which gives more freedom to the local churches, which enables true collegiality, and which puts into its proper place the actual Roman centralism which was perceived as then being arrogant and overbearing and over-hovering.”

Müller-Meiningen then puts this aspect of the Sankt Gallen Group in context with the current Synod, saying that exactly this same dualism between papacy and local churches takes place here; and he asks:

Shall the bishops' conferences continue to be mere henchmen and “subsidiaries” of Rome, or do the dioceses need more freedom, in order to be able to answer the different pastoral questions which are so different in different parts in the world, according to the societal circumstances, and in a credible way?

This progressively inclined, German journalist, who works for different media outlets, also reminds us of the fact that Jorge Bergoglio as Archbishop of Buenos Aires himself “tended then already toward more self-determination of the local churches and was then at odds with [Cardinal] Sodano.” Now, as pope, according to Müller-Meiningen, he goes in the same direction when he starts a process, and with “two [sequential] synods concerning one and the same theme, and also with the help of questionnaires among the faithful.”

Müller-Meiningen, who has some very valuable connections with insider sources in the Vatican, then makes another very revealing remark: “'It would be already sufficient just to get a small, fundamental opening at the Synod, so that the bishops' conferences can concretely deal with their own individual problems according to their situation.' This is what is being said in the circles now surrounding the pope.”

Müller-Meiningen also claims that the Sankt Gallen Group “played a not unimportant role when Jorge Maria Bergoglio rose to the Seat of Peter.” With reference to two recently published books – one a biography about Danneels himself, the other being a biography of Pope Francis – he also says that “the Sankt Gallen Group had an essential influence upon the preparation of the election of Bergoglio.”

Even though the above-mentioned cardinals explicitly “deny any form of lobbyism or agreements in favor of the Argentine,” says Müller-Meiningen, there is no doubt “that they set upon the choice of Bergoglio in order to realize their own agenda in the Conclave of 2005, as well as at the election of 2013.” And the German journalist then quotes Cardinal Kasper himself as saying: “What Francis tries to implement, is, to a high degree, in accordance with the thoughts which we had at the time.” As Cardinal Lehmann also recounts, this Sankt Gallen Group was looking “especially for a renewal of the Church similar to, and a further following up to, the Second Vatican Council.”

Müller-Meiningen also quotes the Austrian retired Bishop Johan Weber who said that “each of us spoke about how we feel.” And there one could fruitfully exchange such varied experiences from all of the different European countries, including Germany, Italy, France, Netherlands, Belgium, and Austria – and one could do it “without making Church politics.”

Importantly, Müller-Meiningen recounts how the controversial Cardinal Danneels, who had been a member of the Sankt Gallen Group since 1999, was there – when Bergoglio presented himself right after his election from the Middle Loggia of St. Peter's Dome – conspicuously “standing, as one of the few cardinals, right up front on the balcony just next to Bergoglio.” And this, even though some had requested that he would not be at all allowed to participate in the 2013 Conclave, due to his covering-up of a sexual abuse scandal in 2010. (Note, too, that Cardinal Kasper, less than a year after Bergoglio's election, was to be highly praised and promoted by Pope Francis, in February of 2014, at the Consistory of Cardinals where he so provocatively presented his “Kasper Proposal”.)

Müller-Meiningen also reports on the first contacts between Bergoglio and the Sankt Gallen Group. In February of 2001, Kasper, Lehmann, and the Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, were all raised by Pope John Paul II to be cardinals, together with Bergoglio. At a meeting of cardinals in that May of 2001, where the topic of the relationship between the Universal Church and the local churches was being discussed, the participants got to know each other better. According to Müller-Meiningen, it was then that “Bergoglio made contact with Martini.”

At the following 2001 synod of bishops [“The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World”] in October of that same year, “the Sankt Gallen Group was very impressed with the skill and the views of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, who wrote the final report of the synod.” And, as the authors of the Danneels biography recount, “the appreciation was mutual.”

Moreover, Müller-Meiningen continues, the Sankt Gallen Group, at their yearly gatherings each January, recurrently discussed such themes as “sexual morality, the ordination of women, how to deal with remarried divorcees, also about the role of the local churches.”

Curial Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, who, since 2003, had replaced the ailing Cardinal Martini in the group, reported himself about the bad health of John Paul II. When the names of potential candidates of a future pope were discussed, Bishop Ivo Fürer, the organizer of the group, remembers, according to Müller-Meiningen: “Also the name Bergoglio came up.” Fürer later received  a post card from those members of the Sankt Gallen Group who had participated in the Conclave of 2005, and it contained the following words: “We are here in the spirit of Sankt Gallen.” Müller-Meiningen convincingly shows that the Sankt Gallen Group did not at all favor Cardinal Ratzinger.

An anonymous diary of one of the participating cardinals recounts how Bergoglio, after Martini withdrew his candidacy because of his own health problems, was gaining more and more votes, but, then, in the end, in order to avoid a split among the cardinals, Bergoglio withdrew his own candidature. After the election of Joseph Ratzinger, the Sankt Gallen Group formally met one last time, in 2006, when Ivo Fürer retired and left his post in Sankt Gallen.

Müller-Meiningen continues: “When Benedict XVI retired suddenly in February of 2013, a new chance unexpectedly offered itself to those same cardinals. As Austen Ivereigh, the former assistant of Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, describes in a detailed way in his [recent] biography of Francis, the 'European reformers' who had supported Bergoglio already in 2005 seized the initiative, together with some Latin-American cardinals.

Ivereigh describes how Murphy-O’Connor, who was not able to vote in the Conclave, but who was present at the pre-Conclave gatherings, informed Bergoglio about the plan. 'I understand,' is what the Argentine is supposed to have answered.”

And Müller-Meiningen's trenchant final sentence is, as follows: “The ideas of Sankt Gallen, especially with regard to the strengthening of the local churches, is, since then, at the top of the agenda in the Vatican.”

What that fair-minded, but admittedly more “progressivist,” journalist does not mention, however, is that Pope Francis, not long after his election as pope, in September of 2013, praised Cardinal Martini himself as a “father for the whole Church.” In October of 2013, Pope Francis also said in his famous interview with La Reppublica: “When Cardinal Martini talked about focusing on the councils and the synods, he knew how long and difficult it would be to go in that direction. Gently, but firmly and tenaciously.”

And now, on 19 October 2015, even during the ongoing Synod of Bishops on the Family, Pope Francis himself publishes a preface to a book about Cardinal Martini, praising him for “having promoted and accompanied the style of synodality, in the midst of the whole episcopal community, as it was likewise itself so much desired by the Second Vatican Council.” Adding to his tribute, Pope Francis says that “the inheritance which Cardinal Martini left to us is indeed a precious gift.”