Giuseppe Cardinal Siri ((20 May 1906 - 2 May 1989)
By N.D.C. Wansbutter, Esq.
Some years ago a prominent "mainstream" Catholic monthly, Inside the Vatican, took the time to debunk the so-called "Siri Thesis" that holds Giuseppe Cardinal Siri was elected Pope in the 1958 and '63 Conclaves. I find it interesting, because the number of people that believe this thesis are a very small number; why then would Inside the Vatican give the theory any legitimacy by going to the effort to disprove it?
I've always loved mystery-shrouded conspiracy theories, which is one of the reasons I was such an avid X-Files devotee in my younger days (I was, in fact, called "Monsier X-file" by my highschool French teacher). Therefore, like a Trad Catholic Mulder, I decided to look into this particular conspiracy theory and share my findings and thoughts with our readers.
The story seems to have a few variations, but they all boil down to this: that on the third ballot of the 1958 Papal Conclave, Cardinal Siri received the requisite 2/3 majority of votes and accepted the election, choosing the regnal name Gregory XVII. That he was somehow forced to change his mind and refuse the papacy, after an ultimatum from Communists, B'nai B'rith, Freemasons, or some combination, warning that widespread persecution of Catholics would result if the election stood (Fr. Malachi Martin claims to have been the one to deliver this message). And that the same thing happened again in 1963.
The sources of most of the information and conjecture on these two conclaves come from sources whose reliability and objectivity I would term questionable or unproven, such as the Dimond Brothers and a gentleman I've never heard of.
As far as I can tell, there are a few facts that involve no speculation, hearsay, or declassified F.B.I. documents, regarding the 1958 Papal Conclave:
- After the third ballot, smoke apparently white in colour emerged from the Sistine chapel and Vatican Radio declared: "The smoke is white. . . . There is absolutely no doubt. A pope has been elected."(The London Tablet, November 1, 1958 - according to many sources including Wikipedia)
- In response to confusion over the non-appearance of a pope after the white smoke, Monsignor Santaro, secretary of the College of Cardinals, informed the press that the smoke, indeed, had been white and that a new pope had been elected. (Houston Post, October 27, 1958, p. 1)
- After this same third ballot, the Swiss Guard assembled to give the ceremonial salute to the new pontiff, only to have to withdraw again in confusion.
- John XXIII asked the cardinals to remain in the conclave another night instead of leaving immediately as was customary to caution them again against revealing the secrets of his election to outsiders.
Cue the X-Files theme song ... the above items can be confirmed by searching newspapers from 1958, but of themselves prove nothing. They are highly suggestive that something strange went on (although it could have been mere accident and coincidence) and lend themselves to sense of eeriness, that something is not quite right with the picture("trust no one").
Aside from the "confirmable" facts, there is, then, the declassified F.B.I. file I alluded to which supposedly states that Cardinal Siri was prevented from feely assuming the office by a group of French cardinals and by threats. The source of the F.B.I. angle claims that they looked into the election because they suspected John XIII of communist sympathies -- this seems a bit of a stretch, plus one wonders where they got their information unless they had bugged the Sistine Chapel. Then there are the claims made by Fr. Malachi Martin in his book The Keys of This Blood that “communication” occurred between a member of the conclave and an “internationally based organization” regarding Cardinal Siri's election. This apparently dealt with a “grave matter of [Vatican] state security.” and as a result, after "some brutality" Cardinal Siri refused the papacy. I don't know much about Fr. Martin, I'll admit, so I leave it to those that do know him to assess his credibility (he claims to have been a "middle man" of sorts in these "communications").
What did Cardinal Siri himself, who remained the Archbishop of Genova until his retirement in 1987, say about all of this?
... when we asked him whether he had been elected pope ... [h]e 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.”
From The Pope: Could He Be Cardinal Siri? By Louis Hubert Remy, translated into English by Heidi Hagen for “The Sangre de Cristo Newsnotes” - No. 55 - December 1987
For me, these words of Cardinal Siri were more chilling than anything else I read on the subject. One wonders what possibly could be this "horrible" secret? If anything, these cryptic comments raise more questions than answers. Although, given what has happened to the Church since 1958, it is not just a leap to believe something happened, be it a Gregory XVII election or something else.
If Cardinal Siri really was elected, how could he have given into the pressure? What possible threat could have been made? If he had gone ahead, there would have been many martyrs, and the Church may have been smaller and persecuted - but for those who know the Gospel is this not a glorious fate? A good man could be cowed by the possibility of so much death and suffering, I suppose, and perhaps he thought another good man, more of a "stealth trad" could be elected if he stepped aside. But I can't imagine anything that would be worse than the current apostacy, that he could have been threatened with. But, of course, all of this may never have happened.
In the end, whether Cardinal Siri was elected or not has little bearing on my own determination concerning the Vatican II popes. Even if it is true that he was elected, Cardinal Siri turned down the papacy and unambiguously supported and submitted to John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II, and worked in obedience to them as ordinary of Genova. Certainly it could be argued that an abdication under duress is no true abdication but his submission to the Vatican II popes is scandalous whether Cardinal Siri was elected pope or not.
I am left in a reasonable doubt about what happened one way or another by the information I've read on this topic. One thing seems certain, and that is that Cardinal Siri gave the enemies of the Church ample reason to despise him and fear his ascendancy to the Papacy: he was described as "rabidly anti-Communist, an intransigent traditionalist in matters of Church doctrine". That these enemies would do all in their power to avert the disaster of such a man being elected Pope is beyond question; one need not accept the thesis at all to believe that much.
I expect we will never know what really happened, Papal Conclaves being secret and the 1958 one nearly 50 years old now. And yet ...